Cover, Excerpts & Trailer
by Meredith Bond, Aubrey Wynne, Valerie Twombly,
Kris Calvert, Katie Stephens, Nessie Strange, Kishan Paul, Isabella Harper & Michaela Miles
Nine stories. One happy ending.
When love drops in unexpected, the strangest things can happen.
Nine short stories from sweet to sultry, full of romance, magic and love from award winning and USA Today recommended authors.
Content/Theme(s): Historical, Paranormal, Fantasy, Contemporary
Release Date: February 3, 2015
Trailer, Excerpts & More on each story
Under The Mango Tree Historical Romance by Meredith Bond
Lakshmi is a good 18th century Indian girl who should not be avoiding her chores and enjoying a mango while hidden amongst the high branches of the mango tree in her mother’s garden. She truly should not be seen by a man who is not a member of her family—an Englishman, no less. And she absolutely should not even contemplate speaking with this man. But Lakshmi has never been one to follow the rules. This time, though, it could ruin—or make—the rest of her life.
Under The Mango Tree Excerpt:
Calcutta, India 1785
The tart juice from the not–quite ripe mango dripped down Lakshmi’s arm. This was her favorite way to eat a mango—up in the mango tree, perched on a branch, the fruit just plucked. She’d torn the skin open with her teeth, peeling it back to reveal the succulent golden–orange fruit.
Of course, her mother preferred her to eat the fruit after it had fully ripened. She should sit properly like a young lady in a pretty silk sari, daintily picking up the pieces with just the tips of her fingers. If her mother even caught her wearing this ratty old cotton sari she would be soundly scolded. If she were found up in the tree, she might just feel the end of a switch against her backside.
It was a risk worth taking, she thought. She licked up her arm to catch every drop of the delicious juice.
“What a lovely garden!” The voice nearly startled Lakshmi into falling from the tree. She caught herself, grabbing hold of the trunk.
“Thank you. It makes my mother proud.” The heavily accented English of her twin brother drifted up to her. “Do you have a garden?”
“There is one here at the house where I’m staying, although I haven’t had much of a chance to spend time in it,” the man said. His English was impeccable, but Lakshmi had never heard his voice before. Who was he?
“And, of course,” he continued, “at my estate in England there is an extensive garden. My mother also loves gardens. In the summer time hers is filled with roses and all sorts of pretty flowers, most of which I’m afraid I cannot even begin to name.”
An Englishman? Lakshmi grasped the tree trunk even harder, trying to peer through the leaves.
“I do not know the names of many of the flowers here either,” her brother laughed. “But they are pretty.”
She carefully placed the mango seed in the joint of the branch above her so that she would have both of her hands free, then shifted as quietly as possible. Who was this her brother was speaking with? She’d never even known that her brother knew any Englishmen.
“Where do you stay? Your estate?” her brother asked.
“It’s in Berkshire,” the man answered. “It’s about three hours’ ride from London.”
“Ah,” her brother said, as if he knew exactly where Berkshire was. Lakshmi nearly laughed at what a liar he was. She had studied the map of England and so knew that Berkshire lay to the west of London—but her brother had fudged his way through that geography lesson.
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Rolf’s Quest Historical Romance by Aubrey Wynne
Baron Rolf Arbrec, the royal wizard for King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, is burdened with a centuries-old quest to break the spell cast on his descendant, Merlin. To lift the enchantment, he must find true love without the use of magic or deceit, something that has eluded the men generations before him.
Finding genuine love is no easy task, even for a wizard, and time is running out not only to complete his Quest, but to give future generations a chance at happiness. When Melissa steps from his dreams and into his arms, he realizes his need for her love runs deeper than just a way to free Merlin.
Lady Melissa Garrick travels to London to meet her betrothed. Along the way, she encounters a man who haunts her dreams and makes her reconsider her destiny. Torn between loyalty to her family and her intense attraction to Rolf, she struggles to remain an obedient daughter. Though she desires him, will she defy her family and turn her back on her betrothed? Or will time run out and Rolf be doomed to a life of discontent and bitterness like his ancestors before him?
Rolf’s Quest Excerpt:
The surrounding mist climbed Melissa’s boots and swirled in and around her legs like an affectionate cat. Gentle but firm, it pushed her inside the magical forest. The stillness of the place struck her. The kind of hush that fell over a room when something significant was about to happen. Her heart raced in anticipation. In front of her towered a massive Hawthorne tree with charred branches that seemed to welcome her. Between the gnarled limbs was a large blackened hole that filled the center of the trunk.
“I have been waiting for you.” She jumped at the sound of an old man’s voice. She screamed as a face appeared in the tree. “I do not mean to frighten you, child. I admire your courage. It’s a quality essential to your future.”
“Why am I here?” Melissa asked.
“To meet your Fate,” answered the raspy voice. The distant sound of hoof beats distracted the ghost-like image. “And he has arrived.”
Melissa turned toward the forest opening in confusion. “The mist . . .”
“Yes, it conceals our home from trespassers on the outside but does not impede our view from within.” The elderly man chuckled. “Rolf did not exaggerate your beauty.”
The pounding of hooves grew nearer.
“Ah.” The old man shook his head, regret in his eyes. “I must go.”
Horse and rider burst through the tree line. The great beast halted before her, and the stranger dismounted. In one fluid motion, he wrapped a powerful arm around her waist and pulled her hard against his chest.
He spoke only one word. “Melissa.”
The blood pumping through her veins throbbed in her ears. “Rolf?” she whispered, clinging to him, afraid to raise her eyes.
His fingers lightly stroked her cheek and sent a shudder through her body. He lifted her chin, bent his head, and then paused. Uncertain, she looked up, her mouth half-open in a silent question. The intensity and passion in his eyes told her he now claimed her as his own. Their breath mingled for a moment before his lips brushed hers. Then she threw back her head, surrendered to the sheer pleasure of his kiss, and her world shattered.
The soft touch of his mouth sent a shiver through her that made her knees buckle. His chest was hard beneath her palms. He buried his fingers in her hair and forced her head back, demanding more. She clutched at his tunic to hold herself up.
“I must have you.” His teeth nipped her earlobe; the whispered words tickled and teased her neck. One hand roamed the length of her back, sending waves of heat through the core of her body. His manhood pushed against her skirt. She struggled against this desire; her betrothed waited beyond the trees. Her mind told her to run, yet her heart begged to remain. She stopped resisting, leaned into him and gave way to pure passion.
Her mouth opened to return the kiss, only to feel him slip away. Her eyes flew open, and his image wavered then faded into the darkness. “Come back to me. Do not leave me like this.”
Melissa awoke, tears wet upon her cheeks. Emptiness burned in her stomach. She wrapped her arms around herself and curled into a tight ball to shield her body from the pain. She should not have hesitated.
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Fall Into Darkness Paranormal Romance by Valerie Twombly
Eli lives by his own rules and bows to no one, even when summoned before the Tribunal Seven. They deem the hunter has lost his humanity and sentence the angel to earth with one mission: find some compassion or be condemned to hell.
Ashley considers herself a freak. With one glance into a person’s eyes, she foresees their death. When an attack brings a handsome stranger to her rescue, she can’t help but be drawn to his steel-blue gaze.
Fate will bring them together but desire could bond them for eternity.
Fall Into Darkness Excerpt:
Eli landed with a hard thud against the cold ground. He stared into the night sky. Stars glistened like tiny mirrors and the aurora borealis danced across the horizon with vibrant hues. The wind howled bitter across his naked chest and the snow at his back stung his still open wounds.
He pushed himself to a sitting position.
“Son of a bitch!” He shook his fist at the heavens. “You could have at least given me a shirt.”
With a huff, he moved to his feet and assessed the situation. It appeared his immortality was still intact. His wounds itched, which meant they were on the mend. He scanned the area, nothing but blowing snow and darkness.
He wore only the black biker boots and jeans he had on when he’d entered the Hall of Fate. Thankfully, he wouldn’t freeze to death, but that didn’t mean he enjoyed the shards of ice pelting his skin. His senses told him there was a town about fifty miles away, so he spun around and headed east.
“Fucking toss my ass down here and expect me to find my humanity.” He stormed across the frozen tundra. “You could have at least picked a nice, sandy beach. Fucking Seven.”
A woman’s scream pierced the night.
The hair on the back of his neck rose. “Shit.” He thought about ignoring it, but remembered why he was here and took off running toward the sound. As he entered a thicket of pines, needles scratched his skin and a sudden, recognizable scent hit his nose.
The acrid smell burned the back of his throat. He was close, but the screams had stopped and he wondered how many he would have to fight. He got his answer when he entered a clearing that revealed a female in a pool of blood and one Hellhound standing over the top of her. He searched the area for any kind of weapon, not fond of the idea of taking it down with his bare hands. There was a cabin a few yards away, but she didn’t have that kind of time. If he left her to search for a weapon, she’d more than likely be dead or gone when he returned. He would have to find another way. His gaze landed on an ax leaning against a woodpile. It would have to do.
He slunk forward and grabbed the handle. “Hey, you piece of shit.”
The beast swung its head, red eyes bore into him and it snarled.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you. Come pick on someone more your size.”
The hound stepped over its prey and stalked closer, its nose raised in the air. “Hunter, you have lost your wings,” it replied in a throaty growl.
“Don’t concern yourself with my body parts. I’d be more worried about losing your head if I were you.” He wielded the ax through the air to drive his point home.
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Alphabetical Disorder Fantasy Romance by Katie Stephens
Everyone in Mason’s Circus understands and respects the powers of the resident gypsies—the Romani tribe—and most steer clear of any involvement. But when Susie gets caught in a web of prophecy and magic that brings danger to the troupe, her non-Rom interpretation turns out to be flawed. She pushes aside the man of her dreams to date alphabetically, in the hopes of saving her circus family.
Sam has had his eye on Susie since she joined the company. He’s puzzled by her actions, but not blind to the way she responds to him. A patient man by nature, he battles his need to claim her immediately or allow her game to continue. When disaster strikes, they join forces with their Romani friends to stop the curse before it destroys the circus.
Alphabetical Disorder Excerpt:
She’d known Sam for years, thought about him, dreamed about him. Why had he never asked her out on a date?
She probably wasn’t his type.
Susie faced forward again. She couldn't date Sam anyway. She wasn't to S yet. She needed to find someone whose name began with … what was the next letter? Oh, yeah, J. Better yet, someone with a name using all the letters between J and R. Maybe there was someone out there with the name Quapolkman, Jr. Then she could skip all the way to S without breaking the rules. But that would defeat her purpose, wouldn’t it?
“Um, Sam, do you know anyone—a man—whose name begins with J?”
“J.” A small frown creased his forehead. “Well, there's Jason, over in the clown troupe. Then there's Jonathan in the arcade. And Jarod—”
“Crap. I’m sorry, Sam.” Susie put her hand on his arm, turning him to face her. “I still can’t believe he’s dead. I mean, I know he was your friend, and—” She broke off, at a loss for words.
Sam looked away without speaking, but not before she saw grief and pain clouding his blue eyes from the recent suicide of the troupe’s Elephant Man. A muscle twitched as he clenched his jaw. She wanted to hug him.
So she did.
She put her arms around that handsome, perfect man and just held him. A moment later, his arms slid around her waist. They stood there for a few minutes, for an eternity, holding each other. His one hand slowly rubbed up and down her back. The other pulled her closer into his warmth. She lifted her head from his chest, and the next thing she knew, he kissed her.
Soft, sweet. A whisper of lips moving together, stroking over and over. Not one of those desperate kisses, with tongues and teeth clashing. Susie had never felt a kiss like Sam’s before. That feeling, brought on by the tenderness of his touch, fulfilled a yearning deep inside. She didn't know if he noticed it or not. She became lost in the moment. Lost in him.
She lifted herself on her tiptoes, moved her arms up to surround his neck, caress his shoulders, pressing closer, wanting more. He never paused, just kept on melting her with those amazing kisses. Butterfly kisses. Angel kisses.
Minutes or hours later, Sam ended the kiss. Susie sighed as she opened her eyes and he smiled, his hands gliding down her arms, raising goose bumps.
“What were you saying about the letter J, love?”
A small explosion inside her brain, like the magical poof as the rabbit disappeared, brought her back to reality. “Crap. I have to go.” She pulled back and headed for the stables, annoyed for breaking the rules.
Disappointment winged through her, and she wished again that she fully understood what the prophecy and cards had told her. Then maybe she could give up this half-assed alphabetical curse and concentrate on the man she wanted.
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Roses Are Wrong, Violets Taboo Southern Romance by Kris Calvert
On the night before Valentine’s Day, floral and greenhouse owner, Alexander Chase Tabeau should be preparing for the biggest day of his family’s business. Instead he’s drowning his sorrows at the Voodoo bar after burying the only real parent he’s ever known – his grandfather, Pops. The rugged and handsome man promised Pops he would get his life together, leaving behind a string of undesirable women and focusing on what was most important – family.
Rose Westwood has always known what she wanted and planned her life down to the tiniest detail. She’s packed up her belongings and is ready to take a new and challenging position with her company as their first female vice president. Not wanting to be alone on her last night in Tampa, she stumbles into what she never planned on – the best night of her life.
With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Rose and Chase spend one night confessing their hopes for the future and their failures of the past. After opening their hearts to one another, the morning after sheds new light on their destiny. Can one night together change them both forever?
Roses Are Wrong, Violets Taboo Excerpt:
At first it was her purple dress that caught his eye. Then it was the fiery red hair she tossed with a flip of her hand as the wind blew in and projected her fresh smell into the old joint. When she turned around and began her catwalk into the bar, Alexander Chase Tabeau visibly caught his breath.
He didn’t realize he was staring until she caught his eye and raised one sexy brow in his direction. Embarrassed, he immediately turned back to his bourbon and drank it down in two swallows. He thought whomever belonged to the woman was one lucky son of a bitch.
“Grey Goose martini up with a twist, please?”
Her voice was sweet and childlike and Chase took notice. He dropped his chin and placed his empty glass on the bar and turned without thinking in her direction.
She gave him a smile, and Chase reciprocated with a single nod. The tension he’d felt in his body all day seemed to dissipate if only for a split second and somehow his face relaxed into a casual smile.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello,” Chase replied as he tapped the rim of his empty bourbon glass again.
“Grey Goose martini up with a twist,” recounted the bartender as he tossed a cardboard coaster onto the bar top and carefully placed the full glass down without spilling.
The barkeep pointed to Chase. “Another?”
“Rough day?” she asked as the bartender walked away.
“Something like that,” Chase replied as he eyed her drink and then raised his eyebrow to her.
“Yeah,” she replied. “Me too.”
“I’m Chase. Chase Tabeau,” he said as he held out his hand.
“Rose Westwood,” she replied, giving him a firm shake.
Chase turned back to the fresh bourbon and took a sip. His body was beginning to relax. Whether it was from the alcohol or the company he was unsure.
“How many is that?” she asked with a smile as she sipped the top of the martini glass, trying not to spill.
“I beg your pardon?” Chase asked, turning to look at her again.
“How many bourbons?” Rose asked with an embarrassed shrug. “I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Chase couldn’t tell if she thought he was drunk or if she was trying to save his soul. He answered her with no pretense. “Three.”
“Okay then,” she said as she nodded to herself and lifted the martini glass to her lips.
Chase watched her every move and for a moment imagined her full red lips on his body. She placed her mouth on the frosted martini glass and took a sip. The clear vodka and vermouth washed against her lips as if in slow motion. Chase thought it was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. Either that or the third bourbon had kicked in with a vengeance.
“Okay then, what?” Chase asked, lowering his voice and moving in closer to the sexy redhead.
Rose Westwood turned and looked Chase dead in the eye and cocked her head. “I was just curious how many drinks it takes to have the courage to sit in a bar alone.”
“Alone?” he asked
“Yes,” she murmured as she lifted her glass to her lips again. “You are alone, aren’t you?”
Chase Tabeau softened his demeanor and for a bit forgot the long haul of the last six months of caring for Pops. The hospice workers, the pain meds and bedpans all left his mind and he focused on one thing – the beautiful Rose Westwood.
“Well?” she asked.
“I’m not alone if you’re here.”
Rose paused and gave Chase a tiny nod. “Good answer.”
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Love’s Not Viral Contemporary Romance by Nessie Strange
Twenty-four-year-old bartender Aster Sanderson’s life is turned upside down when drunken Hollywood actor Bradley Stone snaps a picture of her...and tweets to his 12.8 million followers that she's his fiancee. As the internet blows up with the news and gossip flies out of control, she’s left feeling helpless. This has to be a misunderstanding, right? But when the actor in question shows up on her doorstep, it's clear he's unhinged and she soon becomes a prisoner in her own home (literally).
Her savior? Bradley’s handsome—and seemingly normal—older brother, James, who quickly stirs up feelings she never expected. Can they disarm the ticking time-bomb that Bradley Stone has become before any more damage is done? And is their mutual attraction the result of these unusual circumstances...or could it become something more?
Love’s Not Viral Excerpt:
He crosses the room and gingerly sits at the opposite end of my bed. At least this brother doesn’t have issues respecting personal space. “What am I helping with?”
“We’re getting to know each other. Passing the time. Also hopefully brainstorming ways to get out of here. Bonus points if we accomplish all three without bodily harm or loss of sanity.”
He chuckles. “You’re a funny girl. So what about you? Are you attached?”
“Well supposedly I’m engaged.” I adjust my legs, tuck them to the side of me, and hug a pillow to my chest. “But Tammy Two-Tits at Gossip Factory World—or whatever the fuck the magazine of the day is called—doesn’t think it will last.”
A pained expression washes over his face. “I’m really sorry that he mixed you up in this.” He’s staring at me again. No, it’s mutual staring. There’s something warm and inviting about him, something genuine, and I can’t help getting caught up in it. “I just can’t even imagine.”
I shrug. “I keep telling myself that I’ll look back on this and laugh someday. I just haven’t gotten to the point where it’s actually funny yet.”
“I don’t know what possessed him.”
“Well obviously he’s completely batshit crazy.” For a second there, I almost forget that this is Headcase’s brother. “Sorry.”
“I think crazy is a little harsh.” He’s chewing on his lower lip.
“I don’t.” Foot in mouth, Aster. I need an ally here, even if he’s from deep within enemy territory.
He sighs. “Bradley’s always been a little impulsive. He’s always had issues with anxiety, but the medication helps calm him down. When he’s stressed, though, and under a lot of pressure, it gets worse. The only explanation I can think of is he must’ve hit his breaking point. I don’t think he means any harm, I just think he’s got a lot on his plate right now, and things have gotten out of control…”
“You know, making excuses for him isn’t going to help anyone, least of all not him.”
He looks at the floor. I feel a twinge of guilt.
“Sorry, I’ve never had much of a filter. I keep forgetting that he’s your brother. I’m being really insensitive, aren’t I?”
“No, you’re right. We’ve always kind of spoiled him.”
Clearly talking about Bradley is not a good topic of conversation for us. I’m getting irritated and he’s more than a little uncomfortable. In fact, the decent vibe we’d started to establish is now off the charts awkward again. “You know what? Enough about him. Let’s watch some TV. A little brainless entertainment never hurt anyone.” I pat the bed next to me. “If you can keep your hands to yourself and take your shoes off, you can sit up here. Probably more comfortable and easier on your back if you’ve got something to lean up against. I know once you hit a certain age, these things can be an issue. At least, that’s what my dad always says.”
He laughs, but it comes out sounding like more of a snort. “I may be over thirty, but I’m not that old.” Still, he kicks off his sneakers and rounds the bed to sit beside me.
“Hey, I’m just being considerate.” I flick on the TV.
“Thanks. I think?”
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Taking The Plunge Contemporary Romance by Kishan Paul
Since graduating high school, Eve Cambridge has dropped ten dress sizes, became an RN, and dumped her jerk of a boyfriend – all on her own. So when her high school crush shows up in her life, she does what any normal self-reliant woman would do -- pepper spray him.
Since inheriting the family plumbing business, Peter Russo has tried to make the best of a career he never planned for. He’s made his share of mistakes, but he's worked hard to learn from them. Now that he's run into Eve, he's not so sure he isn't making another one. After all, she did almost blind him.
When logic and emotion don’t agree, which path should they follow?
Taking The Plunge Excerpt:
A woman stood about ten feet down the hall. Leaning against the threshold of one of the doors, she stared into a room, oblivious to his presence. Rays of the morning sun bathed her in a hue of gold.
Pete sucked in a breath. She looked like an angel. Tall and lean with just the right amount of curves, she wore light blue scrubs with blue cartoon characters all over her shirt. Her fiery-red hair was tied back in a ponytail with a few loose strands of waves against her cheek.
When her full red lips stretched into a smile, the muscles in his face tugged to do the same.
What made her grin like that?
He moved closer for a better view.
A few steps later, the red-headed beauty turned to him. His ability to breathe ceased the minute her blue eyes fixed on him.
Before he could say hello, she raised her arm and sprayed him.
The peppered air felt like smoldering granules of sand shoved into his eyes, mouth and nose--all at once. He dropped the bat, covered his face, coughing and yelling as the burning heat soared through his eyelids and sinuses.
“I’m the plumber. Dan sent me,” he managed to say through his coughing fit.
Keys clattered against the wood floors. “Oh my God! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He was too busy coughing up his lungs to accept the apology. Hands grabbed his shoulder, steadying him. Unable to open his eyes, he let her guide him through the hall.
When he tried to scrape the fire away from his skin, she pulled his hands back and planted them on a cold surface. “Don’t touch anything, it’ll only make it worse.”
He grunted and clenched the countertop. Tears and snot streamed down his face.
“I’m going to wash it off with water. Okay?”
At this point, Pete wouldn’t have cared if she poured acid on his head as long as it made the inferno stop. Although in the depths of hell, he nodded through his coughing fit and fought the urge to rip his eyelids off his face.
Gentle hands began to wash the sting away, while a soft voice whispered to him calmly. It took a long while for the pain to ebb enough so he could open his eyes without cursing.
Pete sat on the toilet and wiped his face with the towel she handed him. He cleared his sore throat. “Thank you,”
Evie grabbed his towel and dried her hands. “For what? Almost blinding you?”
He eyed the strands of her hair hanging in loose curls against her tanned cheeks and itched to tuck them behind her ears. But after the last twenty minutes of misery, thought better of it.
As if reading his thoughts, her cheeks flushed. She pushed the loose locks out of her face and stared at her toes. Damn she looked cute.
“I’m sorry I sprayed you.”
Pete chuckled. “I showed up unannounced, waving a baseball bat. I think I kind of deserved it.”
When Evie smiled, something fluttered in his stomach.
She bit her lip, obviously to keep from laughing. “Nice bat, by the way.”
How the hell had he not met her until now?
Before he got the chance to tell her just how nice his bat was, his butt started vibrating.
Pete reached into his back pocket, pulled out the cell and looked at the screen. “Your uncle.”
Her eyes widened. “Crap. He thinks I already left. Don’t tell him I’m here.” She turned and headed for the hall.
“Hold up.” Pete grabbed her arm with one hand while hitting the ignore button on the cell with the other. “Have dinner with me and I won’t.” He decided to play his cards and omit the part about how her uncle already knew she was still at the house.
She stared at the wrist he currently possessed. “You know, I still have the pepper spray.”
The cell buzzed a second time. Pete shrugged and kept a grip on her wrist. “I’ll take my chances.”
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The Trouble With Never Southern Romance by Isabella Harper
Summer McKenzie is starting fresh. With her soon to be ex-husband in another state, she’s ready to start over in her small Texas town. That is, until she runs into the one person that has never gone too far from her memories, or her heart.
Since graduating college, Caleb Davis has planted roots in the form of a thriving BBQ business. He’s got everything he’s ever wanted, except the one woman that he could never have. It’s clear she’s had a painful past, but he wants nothing more than to create a promising future.
Will she let love heal old wounds, or will she let her fears push him away?
The Trouble With Never Excerpt:
“God, I’m so sorry! I wasn’t paying attention. I’m so late and I--”
“Summer? Summer McKenzie?” A deep voice rumbled through her apology.
Crap. That was a name she hadn’t gone by in a long time. Coming home to a small town made it impossible not to run into people, but after avoiding all human contact for a week, she had been ready to come unhinged.
She glanced up from fumbling with her purse, keys, and phone to lock eyes with a pair of startling blue ones. Taller than she remembered, he filled out all the right places. His dark hair was a little unkempt in a sexy way, and the blue oxford rolled up at the elbows showcased his eyes. His hands were shoved in the pockets of jeans that fit snuggly over muscular legs. A woman would have to be dead not to notice how the good-looking boy she’d once known had grown into a handsome man.
“I heard you were back.” A quiet observation, not the accusatory tone she received from so many.
She searched his face for judgment but found only silent questions. She mentally thanked him and softened a little.
“Yes, I’m back. It’s been awhile.” Waves of guilt ebbed at her. Her choices had effectively severed a valuable friendship; one that she’d missed in the years since they’d drifted apart.
“How’ve you been?”
Since it was more of a southern hospitality question than a nosy one, it made her want to fall back on old habits. There’d been a time in her life when she’d have told him anything, and vice versa. But they were different people now.
Oh, you know. Just came to the conclusion that I’ve been a pretty doormat and cheated on for the past six years, maybe longer. My life has been one giant lie. I allowed someone I thought loved me to drive a wedge between me and those I hold dear. How have you been?
All the reasons why she stood in the middle of downtown Gardenia crashed to a head. Heat and embarrassment colored her cheeks.
Who am I kidding? Who would want me with all this baggage?
Not that it mattered; there was no time in her plan for a relationship. Nor room in her heart. Although, she suspected the one in front of her had never left it.
“I’m late for a class. I can’t really stay and chat …”
You just told him you were late a second ago, say something else.
She scolded herself for fidgeting.
You’re leaving, calm down.
Easy enough to tell herself, when she wasn’t staring into the eyes of the first boy she’d ever kissed. Even if she had been five at the time.
Nope, no time for that.
“I don’t want to make you any later then,” he grinned, his white teeth framed by soft lips and dark stubble. He stepped to the side and motioned for her to pass. “You look good.”
A flush stained her cheeks then drained as she realized she wore clingy yoga gear. Unconsciously, her hands flew to her hair, still brown and twisted into a messy topknot. She cringed. No words formed and she hated to appear rude.
“Well thanks, you don’t look so bad yourself.” Mentally, she face-palmed herself.
Seriously? The plan, stick with the plan.
“I guess I’ll be seeing you around, then?”
“I’m sure you will.” She shrugged, waved and continued toward her destination. The last thing she needed on her new mission was a distraction. She didn’t glance back as she hurried toward the car her mom had let her borrow. One more item she needed to get.
Once in the car, she succumbed to the urge to steal one last glance at Caleb in the rearview mirror. As she headed to class, something told her she’d need more than downward dog to help her relax.
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Keep Calm And Eat Chocolate Contemporary Romance by Michaela Miles
Eleanor Carrara is angry. At the world, at the people who had her committed to the institution, and at the people holding her captive in it. When the sexy, but calm and stoic Chris becomes a fellow resident of the facility, things begin to change. He taunts her, challenges her, and even makes her cry. But her anger dissolves as she realises he’s the one person who may be able to break through the armour built around her heart.
Christopher Tailor feels nothing. Haunted by the memories of his awful past, he is institutionalised, and utterly alone in the world. Meeting Elle changes everything. She’s conceited, rude, and completely unaware that in some ways she’s just as broken as he is. But something about her gets under his skin. He takes a chance and shares his secret with her.
Keep Calm And Eat Chocolate Excerpt:
Keep calm and eat chocolate.
It used to be my favorite motto, and the slogan of our family empire—an empire I was next in line to control until certain family members staged a coup. Now they’re sitting pretty in my house and my company. They spend my money and live it up, while I holiday in this amazing white palace where the lights never go out, and padded rooms is an exaggeration.
I know everyone in here says this, but I’m not crazy.
My family, if you could call them that, spent a long time trying to make it look like I am. It worked, or I wouldn’t have questioned myself and sought counselling, and they wouldn’t have put me in this place. I read the regulations once a few months ago: involuntary commitment order under section something of the blah-blah act of some year that’s not as archaic as I imagined.
How can it be legal to institutional someone for refusing medical treatment for a mental illness they don’t bloody well have?
At least the place reflect the current century. State of the art facilities, comfortable rooms, decent food, and the ability to purchase luxuries if you have the means. Actual money isn’t allowed, of course. If you follow the logic that I’m crazy, then a credit card is a lethal weapon. Everything must been done by fingerprint: access to rooms, our private locker, meds, the lot.
My day consists of set meal times, menus, exercise, recreation, activity times, therapy sessions, and medications. Not much of a change to my real life actually. Gym session, breakfast with my PA to review my calendar, meetings, correspondence, more meetings, often a function for dinner with a nice piece of man-candy on my arm, a run or a swim, sleep. Repeat.
Now, though, I don’t have a choice to blow off a meeting or grab a takeaway on my way home from a late night event.
The only upside to the place I now call home is the gardens. Not only do they obscure the fences, giving an illusion of freedom, but they are quiet and usually unoccupied. Most of the other residents have unnatural phobias involving open spaces, insects, or plants. In Henry’s case it’s the colour green. So I often have an hour or more to myself to focus on taking my real life back.
I’ve considered everything. I could jump the fence, drug the night staff, cause a riot, start a fire, even hire a helicopter to fly in and pick me up. Anything except participate in the program. I won’t admit to being crazy, and prove the bastards who put me here right.
That’s never going to happen.
Instead, I watch and listen. The staff assumes the residents either can’t understand or don’t care, so they talk freely. I know who has money problems, husbands with a bit on the side, naggy ex-wives, and the ones I could bribe to get out— if I had access to my damn money.
Arseholes. I still can’t believe the people I trusted had me snatched up in the middle of night and committed to this psychiatric facility, especially when they've seen what a vindictive bitch I can be. I bet they think I’m a problem solved. I also bet they haven’t planned on my use of the phone here to retain a new lawyer.
It’s the only task I’ve spent my time on; the only one I’ve thought about.
Until the day Christopher Tailor arrived.
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