Category Archives: multicultural romance

Cover Reveal and Chapter One of CHASING MOONLIGHT

Release Date: January 6th, 2017

Interracial Romance * Standalone * Historical * Full-length

❤ The Cover ❤

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❤ Blurb ❤

Jesse Peterson lives by the sweat of his brow and doesn’t hold back from defending his beliefs—even if that means getting dirty and breaking a few noses in the process. It goes without saying that his tendency to let his fists do the talking hasn’t come without a price. His family’s intolerance of his behavior, and his own distaste for the town’s corruption, have set him on a downward spiral from which he can’t seem to recover. With the growing sense of his personal convictions being too big for such a small town, he wonders if there’s still good reason to stay.

That question is answered the instant Quinn Dixon crosses his path.

As strong as she is beautiful, Quinn steals Jesse’s heart right away. But in Honeywell, Alabama, the horrors of Jim Crow are an everyday occurrence. Forced to settle for passing glances and secret rendezvous, neither has forgotten that these stolen moments could cost them everything.

Their freedom.

Their lives.

Once they’ve fallen, there’s simply no such thing as a life apart. Their love is forbidden, but is the truest either has ever found. For that, they’re willing to risk it all.

His conviction gives her hope. Her strength makes him believe. Their love defies reason.

*AUTHOR NOTE: “CHASING MOONLIGHT” is the third standalone novel within the “AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME” family saga. This is a full-length, interracial romance that takes you back to 1940s Alabama. Due to the nature of the story, as well as the era and locale in which it takes place, please be advised that this work of fiction contains sparse, racially-charged language and incidents some readers may be sensitive to. However, if heartfelt love stories with happy endings are what you crave, then this is the book for you!

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❤ Prologue ❤

Quinn Dixon

Towns like mine don’t breed trouble. Well, at least not the kind that couldn’t easily be swept under a rug or hidden behind a closed door. Folks here are too concerned with keeping up appearances and keeping down gossip. For that reason, they did their best not to step too far out of line, fearing that people might take notice. It suited them well enough to seem perfect, at least in their neighbors’ eyes, even if the good Lord knew better.

With little more scenery than the miles and miles of dusty road carving through the countryside, things around here seemed quiet. A little too quiet, Momma used to think. ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop’ was one of her favorite warnings for my sisters, my brother, and I. For this reason, she made sure to keep us busy either helping her inside or helping Daddy outside.

None of us ever hesitated to believe there was truth behind the words she spoke concerning our little sliver of Alabama known as Honeywell. If there was one thing Honeywell had a lot of, it was idle hands. From the greatest to the least, these people had skeletons in their closets… and their basements, and a few out back in their yards, too.

There was something else Momma used to say, something that stayed with me even now, years after she passed. She’d say that ‘what’s done in the dark will come to the light’.

Those words… they felt like being sentenced for committing a crime even when what you were hiding wasn’t criminal. That statement was carved into the far reaches of my mind because of a predicament I found myself in; one that started the summer of 1941.

According to Momma, my secret—albeit one worth whatever punishment might await me—would inevitably be brought to the light.

If she was right about this like she seemed to be about everything else… Lord, have mercy on my soul.

❤ Chapter One ❤

Honeywell, Alabama

June, 1941

Jesse

Kyle Bates stared from across the table; an unspoken dare in his eyes, a smug grin on his face. He waited, watching even the slightest of my movements, likely wondering if I’d leap on him or walk away.

The smell of stale cigarettes and cheap liquor hung heavy in the air of the windowless building, no doubt clinging to my hair and clothes, too, now that I’d been here for the better part of an hour. My fingertips pressed into my palms when I balled them into fists beneath the table.

“What you gonna do? Hit me?” he taunted with a smirk, turning around to make sure his goons were all in place. “Know what I think, fellas? I think Jesse here’s been whoopin’ on these little boys around town and they got him thinkin’ he can throw down with a real man. That’s what I think.”

Laughter filled the air and I didn’t say one word. Instead of getting caught up in the pissing match Kyle was trying to drag me into, I took note of my surroundings. One of his buddies had a knife tucked in his boot strap. Another was stretching his neck in preparation for whatever was about to go down, and the third signaled someone near the exit to close the door. I assumed that was to make sure I didn’t try to run.

Something I’d never done a day in my life.

That look on Kyle’s face was familiar. I’d seen it before. It was the look of doubt. Other guys often had the same expression when testing me, trying to see what I was made of. Despite my reputation around here, most seemed to think being the mayor’s grandson had softened me, made me a pushover. However, not a single one who took me on walked away without their minds being changed.

As I saw it, there was only one way out of this. Blame it on my ego, call it pride or whatever else you might think of, but walking away from Kyle wasn’t an option anymore. Not after he’d talked so much trash.

All sound left the room in a vacuum. No one moved. No one breathed. The rush of anticipation nearly had me hysterical.

Hell, yeah… I lived for this.

Kyle’s gaze went to the left, following the half-full beer mug I shoved off the edge of the table. I counted on him being just simpleminded enough to fall for that. With him distracted for that fraction of a second as the glass shattered, I overturned the table into his lap, sending the deck of cards fluttering down onto the floor around him.

His goons came at me fast, but a blow to one’s gut slowed him down. The other yelled out as I took him by the back of his head and introduced his face to a barstool. Out cold, his body slumped to the floor in a heap. Everyone else, even the last of Kyle’s backup, moved out of the way, realizing this fight was mine and Kyle’s alone.

Normally, I preferred to have my brother, Eddie, or my buddies, Thomas and Henry, around when fights broke out, but life had a way of being unpredictable. If I’d known Kyle had plans to cheat me out of a pocketful of money at the poker table, I wouldn’t have come alone. Now, I’d have to wing it.

Kyle finally leapt to his feet, fists in the air to block his face. He danced around a bit, but I stood firm, waiting for him to take a swing. A low grunt moved up his throat when he went for my face and missed. The motion made him stagger a bit. When he fell forward, my elbow came down hard into the center of his back and he hit the floor with a thud. It’d been so easy to take him down I was almost disappointed.

I could’ve ended it there, but where would the fun be in that?

A mixture of fear and shock filled his expression when I helped him up off the floor. As soon as he was steady on his feet, my knuckles met his nose and blood sprayed from it like a fountain. He stumbled back, reeling from the blow, but I gave him a break, letting him get his bearings. Fists in the air again, he squared up to defend himself.

I’d been fighting all my life, literally and figuratively, to prove that being Mayor Bartell’s grandson hadn’t made me less of a man. In fact, all the adversity had probably made me a bit harder than I needed to be. But the way I saw it, I’d make the men of this town believers one at a time if necessary. I figured they’d eventually stop trying me like this.

…but I secretly hoped they wouldn’t.

Kyle fell against my shoulder when I sank a fist into his gut. An ugly groan puffed from his mouth as all the air left his lungs. I stepped aside and let his body fall to the floor. He lay there, moaning and mumbling idle threats while I patted him down for the cash he’d cheated me out of. I shoved the bills in the pockets of my jeans and stood upright, staring down on him, listening as he continued to talk trash while he bled on the floor.

I eyed his friends, flashing the two who were conscious a smile as I straightened my shirt.

“Thanks for the game, fellas. It’s been my pleasure.” Grabbing my hat from the floor, I dusted it off before placing it back on my head, giving the men a nod. “Until next time.”

I’d just turned when a response came from the crowd. “On the contrary, Mr. Peterson. There won’t be a next time.”

Hell… I knew that voice. Knew it well, actually.

The hollow steps of Sheriff Daley’s boots came my way as the crowd parted. As the last of them stepped aside, Daley stared me down. After shaking his head in disappointment, he looked down at Kyle lying on the floor.

“Is this going to be an every weekend event for you, Jesse?” he asked, sounding even more frustrated with me than last time, which I didn’t think was possible.

I chuckled a bit, which I soon realized was a bad idea, and straightened my face again.

“Outside. Now,” he demanded.

Every eye in the building was on me as I exited and made my way down the dusty steps out front.

“When are you gonna learn—”

“Sheriff, this wasn’t my fault,” I reasoned. “Kyle had it coming to him. Used to be a time that cheating a man out his money was punishable by death. As I see it, a little whoopin’ was getting off easy.” I smiled again; couldn’t help it.

Sheriff Daley wasn’t amused. “Turn around,” he said, straight-faced as a set of cuffs dangled from his fingers. The last few times we’d done this, he didn’t bother with them, but I figured this was to teach me a lesson. He knew I wasn’t dangerous, not really. Hell, we were practically family after all the years he’d served under my grandfather.

“Is that really necessary?” I protested.

His answer was nothing more than a blank stare, so I turned and put my hands behind my back. I had to listen to him lecture me the entire ride to the police station, knowing I’d only get more of the same from my grandfather when he got word of what happened.

“Get comfortable; you’re spending the night this time.”

I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “Come again?”

He escorted me through the front door, bypassing Officer Jennings’ desk, which meant there wouldn’t be any paperwork, no record of this, but still.

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit unreasonable?” I countered. “Kyle is—”

“Kyle is probably still trying to find all his teeth on the floor back there,” Daley interjected.

A laugh almost slipped. “I didn’t even hit him in the mouth,” I rebutted, as if that was going to change anything.

First removing the cuffs, Sheriff Daley unlocked one of three empty holding cells for me. When I didn’t go willingly, he shoved me a bit.

“Sleep it off, and if you’re not too much trouble, I might let you go home in the morning,” were his parting words.

He rejoined Jennings in the front of the building and I stood there, resting my forehead against the cool bars. How was it that Kyle was the cheat, and yet, I was the one spending a night in jail?

“Fighting again?” Jennings asked, his voice echoing down the hallow hallway I’d just walked. I couldn’t see them, but could hear pretty clearly.

Sheriff Daley sighed. “What else? Boy can’t seem to get out of trouble without using his fists.”

That was a line I’d heard before, from my grandfather.

“You gonna call the mayor?” Jennings added.

There was a long pause. “S’pose I’m gonna have to, but I don’t know what good it’ll do. Don’t think anyone can talk sense into that boy.”

I wasn’t bothered by hearing them discuss me. I was used to it. People had their opinions, but I didn’t pay them much mind.

Daley took another deep breath and I settled on the thin mattress. “Seems like the whole town’s going insane today.”

“Got that right,” Jennings added. “First the incident in town, then Reverend Haywoods’ wife coming in here with her skirt in a bunch over nothing, now this.”

Jennings chuckled a bit. “That woman’s even got my old lady beat. Makes sense the reverend’s so religious; must take the grace of God to put up with her.”

The two shared a laugh and I settled in, listening to their conversation, my only source of entertainment for the night.

“What was she squawking about this time?” Daley asked.

A chair creaked and I assumed one of the two officers was making himself more comfortable. “Who knows? I was half-listening, to be honest with you. Something about a little colored boy ‘looking suspicious’ outside the market.”

“Did you check into it?”

“Uh huh,” Jennings replied. “Wasn’t nothin’ to it. I told the kid to run on home and he did what he was told.”

The conversation went quiet for a second and I pictured Daphne Haywood, reverend Haywood’s wife, barging into the station like the officers described. If I had to guess, she laid the dramatics on pretty heavy as usual.

“Sounds like you let him off too easy. He was probably casing the joint,” Daley stated, immediately jumping to conclusions. “If you ask me, letting them get away with that kind of behavior is a mistake. Makes ‘em uppity and nothing good’ll come of it. If I had been here when she stopped in, I would’ve gone down there to teach that boy a lesson myself.”

Jennings chuckled and I rolled my eyes at the sound of it. “Well, maybe next time we’ll both get lucky and you’ll be around if the Reverend’s wife stops in again.” He made a shuddering sound at the mention of another visit from the woman.

They moved on to talk of sports and the latest updates on the war. I stared at the ceiling from my cot, waiting for morning. At some point that lumpy, musty mattress put me to sleep and I was awakened by the gruff sound of my grandfather’s voice.

“Get the hell up, boy!”

I sat up with a start, squinting at the light filtering in from outside my cell. My eyes focused and settled on the scowl set on Grandfather’s face beneath his white beard.

“If you weren’t my kin, I’d take you round back and put this cane to your head.” As soon as the sentence concluded, he lifted said cane into the air for added effect.

Slowly, I stood from the cot, feeling the soreness in my neck and back right away. I took steps toward the bars just as Daley approached with his keys to unlock the cell. I stepped out and Grandfather had me by the collar the next second, toting me alongside him. As soon as we were outside, he snatched his hat from his head and slammed it down into the dirt as he began to pace.

I stood there and watched, waiting for the inevitable.

“What in tarnation goes on inside that head of yours? There couldn’t possibly be a brain in there, ‘cause if there was, I wouldn’t be gettin’ calls at the crack of dawn to drag your sorry rear-end out of jail!” he yelled.

I folded my arms over my chest and rested against the hood of his car, just listening.

“This might not mean anything to you, Jesse Ray Peterson, but I’m a hardworking man.”

I knew he was really pissed when he used my full name.

“It takes a lot of effort to gain and keep the respect of the town’s people,” he went on. “And every time you decide to go out and act like the hooligan you are, it means I have to work that much harder to prove to folks ‘round here that I’m capable of doing my job! Do you have any idea how much trouble you cause? Or do you not care?” he spat.

My hand went to the back of my neck and I rubbed it, trying to keep calm. He was mad, yes, but so was I. Far too often, he seemed to forget that I was a grown-damn-man myself and he’d talk down to me like some kid. His only concern was always for himself and how other folks saw him. It never came down to us being family, but I’d come to expect that.

“No disrespect, Grandpa, but… I never asked you to come to my rescue—not today, not ever. Now, if you were really all that concerned with ‘your town’,” I said snidely, “…then maybe you should go round up that no-good cheat, Kyle Bates, and throw him in a cell.”

His face turned red as a beet, standing out even more against his pristine, white suit and dress shirt. He never liked being talked back to, meaning he and I had quite a rocky relationship because I’d never been one to keep my mouth shut.

Not for him.

Not for anybody.

Just when he was getting ready to respond, a car pulled into the lot, the sound of tires on gravel causing his expression to straighten. I knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t argue in front of anyone. It’d sully his image.

“Get in the car,” he said through gritted teeth.

I pushed off the hood of his car. “Don’t need a ride.”

Without looking back, I walked in the direction of the store. Eddie and I had plans to make a drop of fresh eggs first thing this morning, so I knew he’d be here. I might be waiting an hour, but that was a better option than sitting in the car and being forced to listen to my grandfather’s rant all the way to my house.

From the sidewalk where I sat, I watched the old man pull off twice as fast as he should’ve been driving. I’d gotten under his skin like always. It burned him up that I was so much like my dad. He never liked him either, never thought he was good enough for my mother; his only daughter.

The sun was already high in the sky, beating down on top of my head while I sat there waiting, watching down the road for the faded red truck my brother would be driving. There was no telling how long he’d be. Cicadas buzzed high in the trees that’d been carved away for our small stretch of specialty shops and the diner. I looked left when the faint sound of a metal bell chimed over the door of the tailor’s shop. Mr. O’Malley tipped his hat my way and then went on to his car. I stared at the building he’d just come out of, or rather at the sign mounted in the window: ‘Whites Only’.

I looked away, choosing to stare down the road again instead. The familiar rumble of our truck could be heard long before it was seen. I was on my feet in an instant, brushing the dirt from my jeans at the realization that my ride was almost here.

Eddie was shocked to see me when he pulled up. He turned off the engine and stepped out, coming toward me.

“Rough night I heard,” he said with a bit of a grin.

I ran a hand through my hair. “Yeah… you could say that.”

It didn’t surprise me that he already knew what’d gone on. If word hadn’t come down from my grandfather, someone who’d been there last night must’ve been running their mouth.

I caught the door when Eddie opened it and followed him inside when he went to talk to the store owner, Mr. Jessup. I waited off to the side while they did their business. With a blood stain on my shoulder and still reeking of booze, I figured that’d be best. When Eddie was done, he brought the crate inside and then we were headed back home.

There was a lot on my mind, so I didn’t do much talking. He noticed and started asking questions.

“From the looks of things, I take it you won.” He chuckled.

“I guess if you consider spending a night in jail winning, then yeah,” I replied. “I guess I did.”

Eddie glanced over at me and then looked back at the road. “Grandpa come down hard on you?”

I exhaled sharply. “The usual,” was all I said.

I’d been getting into trouble since I could walk, according to my mother, so my grandfather and I had this routine down to a science. At this point, I was kinda numb to it all.

I rested my forehead against the window and stared out of it while my brother drove. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Honeywell. I loved the town itself, but could’ve done without most of the people. Kyle’s cheating ways and my grandfather’s self-centeredness were a small sample of what this place had to offer, but the two represented the population with surprising accuracy. It was enough to push thoughts into my head that I don’t have often.

It was enough to make me wonder what is it, exactly, that holds me here.

 ❤ Chapter Two ❤

Chapter Two

Quinn

Cooking, mopping floors, washing clothes, and mending dresses made for a mundane routine. By the time the sun rose, my shadow had already darkened the Haywood’s doorstep. My feet were still tired from the previous day’s work, but I was here, ready to serve the Reverend, his wife, and their two daughters, Macy and Lydia, all the same.

My bike was barely stable against the wood siding of the porch when Miss Daphne flung the front door wide open and started in on me.

“Well, good morning, young lady. Look alive! No one wants to watch you mope while breakfast is being served.” Miss Daphne’s soft, wispy voice gave the illusion of being in the presence of a gentle, kindhearted, southern belle. However, only Momma and I knew that to be a lie. There was nothing gentle and kindhearted about this woman and now I knew that firsthand.

All the years my mother had worked doing this very same job for the Haywoods, I found that my complaints about the Reverend and his family only mirrored hers. They were an insufferable bunch—spoiled and ungrateful. However, letting them know what I thought of them wouldn’t exactly make my job here any easier. So, with that, I secured a loose bobby-pin in the side of my bun and did what momma had done all those years… smiled big and reminded myself not to speak unless spoken to.

“The Reverend would like eggs and toast this morning with a side of bacon. He’ll take his breakfast in his study because he’s working on a sermon for Sunday,” Miss Daphne rattled off. “So make sure to keep quiet while getting your chores done, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh! And only two sugar cubes in his coffee this time. I’m not sure how you could’ve forgotten that, knowing us as long as you have,” she continued to ramble. “But the Reverend says you must’ve added a third yesterday and that simply won’t do, Quinn darling. He’s very particular about how he takes his coffee.”

Glancing back over her shoulder as we walked the narrow corridor to the kitchen, Miss Daphne cast a smile my way. I managed to return it, but was still pondering her false accusation; the one about me adding an extra cube of sugar to her husband’s coffee. However, defending myself would’ve been a waste of breath.

Just smile and keep that mouth of yours shut, Quinn Dixon. The sound of my mother’s voice filled my thoughts and I gritted my teeth together.

“Will you and the girls be eating anything, Miss Daphne?” I asked, swallowing my pride.

She smoothed her hands down her white apron, one she wore despite the fact that any work to be done around her home would be done by my hands.

“Yes, but I’m not in the mood for eggs.” She thought for a moment and then her eyes lit up. “Why don’t you whip us up a batch of those blueberry muffins you make?”

Whip up… she said that as if no real effort went into preparing special order meals for her and her family.

Another smile. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll get right on that.”

I kept my eyes trained on the yellow flowers that dotted the white linoleum covering the kitchen floor, wanting to keep my conversation with the lady of the house as short as possible. However, just as I thought I might get away, my name was called.

“Quinn?”

I blew out a breath before turning with a smile on my face. “Ma’am?”

Low-heeled shoes clicked and clacked against the floor when Miss Daphne closed the small distance between us. Her perfect, blonde curls bobbed gently on her shoulders when she did. There was a coldness that existed behind her gaze whenever we made eye contact, so it didn’t surprise me to see it there now.

“When you finish up in the kitchen, be a dear and press Macy’s yellow dress, would you? You know the one I mean—buttons down the front? Has that cute, little flower embroidered near the shoulder?” A smile spread across her face, parting her pale lips. “She’s got special plans this evening and I want to make sure she looks her best. You don’t mind doing that for me, do you, honey?”

I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or insulted that she always worded these special requests as if I had a choice.

“No, ma’am. Of course not. I’ll do that as soon as breakfast is on the table.”

She looked me over with the slightest hint of distaste behind the gaze, assessing my uniform to make sure nothing was out of place, I guessed—opaque stockings, knee-length, gray dress starched, white apron tied around my waist. Realizing that nothing concerning my attire was out of place, her eyes found mine again.

“And one more thing; I know you like to get home before dark, but… tonight’s real special for Macy,” she reiterated. “You do such lovely things with her hair; I was hoping you could stay a little later and make sure she looks her best?”

Words didn’t come immediately, mostly because I was taken aback by the fact that me riding home in the dark, alone on my bicycle, was of no concern to Miss Daphne as long as her little princess’s hair and dress were perfect.

“N-no, ma’am. That won’t be any trouble,” I stuttered, realizing I’d taken too long to answer.

Her head cocked to the side. “Now that’s what I like to hear. Macy will be real happy when I tell her you’re staying to help her get ready. She’s got a date tonight with Edward and Hazel Peterson’s boy? Jesse?”

When I didn’t answer, Miss Daphne giggled. “Quinn… for Pete’s sake, he’s Mayor Bartell’s grandson!”

Bartell was, of course, a name I was familiar with, but I hadn’t bothered to learn the names of our mayor’s extended family. I nodded once and smiled, being as polite as I could while secretly wishing she’d just leave me to my work.

“Well, at any rate, he’s escorting her out on the town this evening and she’s just tickled pink about it.”

My cheeks hurt form all these pretend smiles.

“But I’m boring you and holding you up from feeding that husband of mine, and we both know how cranky he can get when he’s kept waiting too long.”

With that, Miss Daphne turned to head toward the steps. My eyes were set on the spot where she stood long after she’d gone, wondering how my mother had done this day in and day out since as far back as I could remember. I’d only been here for a little over a year myself, but at twenty-one years old, I imagined I still had many more with the Haywoods ahead of me.

When Momma passed, the Reverend and Miss Daphne insisted that I come work for them just like my mother had. With no other job prospects in the foreseeable future, I accepted the offer. There was, of course, the money I brought in the few nights a week I served at Dixon’s—the barrelhouse my sisters, my brother, and I ran on our family’s property—but that was hardly enough. The wages the Haywoods offered were decent and I already knew this house like the back of my hand, so it only made sense.

Their oldest daughter, Macy, and I were practically the same age, give or take a couple years. We’d somewhat grown up together, although our distinct differences were never far out of sight. Miss Daphne made sure that line was never blurred, made sure I never forgot my place even as a child. To her, and to Macy, I was nothing more than the daughter of ‘the help’.

Two slices of bread popped up from the toaster, lightly browned just like the Reverend liked it. I spread a pallet of butter on each before reaching for the jam. Strawberry—one I made and jarred myself about a month ago. It was his favorite and I hated that I even knew that, hated that I had this family’s likes and dislikes memorized. It was one thing to do for folks out of love, but another to do for them out of obligation. The deep-seated resentment growing in my belly seemed to spread with each passing day.

With a heavy sigh, I dropped not three, but two lumps of sugar into Reverend Haywood’s coffee and situated the tray against my hip so I wouldn’t have trouble opening the door to the study. I knocked first and then waited for his reply.

“Come in,” he answered, and I took another breath before entering. “You’re timing is impeccable. I was just growing impatient smelling your cooking and not having a plate in front of me.” He smiled, but I was fresh out of false niceties and the day had just begun.

Without a word, I hastily made my way back toward the door. If asked why I was rushing off, I could blame it on Miss Daphne requesting that I be mindful not to disturb him. However, I knew there were other reasons I wanted out of this man’s study as quickly as possible.

“You didn’t even give me a chance to thank you,” Reverend Haywood crooned, unfolding his napkin to find the fork there. “Everything looks delicious,” he went on, eyeing his plate as I stood on the opposite side of his desk with my hands clasped before me.

“Thank you,” was all I said in return, waiting to be dismissed.

Reverend Haywood added a dash of pepper to his eggs like always, and then placed the crystal shaker back down on his tray.

Why does he still have me standing here? I had muffins to check on, a pot of tea on the stove, and…

“Your hair looks lovely,” he said, cutting into my thoughts as he bit off the end of a bacon strip. His eyes dragged over me from head to toe, finally coming back to my hair pulled away from my face into a bun.

“Thank you,” I repeated dryly, fidgeting a bit.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear it loose,” he added casually, tasting his eggs now.

I did my best not to check over my shoulder for Miss Daphne, but I knew she’d be down at any moment to make sure I was keeping busy.

“Do you wear it like that at home? Loose, I mean?” the Reverend added.

Why is he asking me all these questions?

“Uh… sometimes, Sir. All depends.”

He nodded and bit a slice of his toast, moaning with delight when the jam finally reached his taste buds. A look of sheer pleasure filled his expression. “This is exquisite. I’m positive it’s your best batch thus far.” He chewed and continued to enjoy his food. “I’d ask you your secret, but I’m sure you’d never tell me,” he added with a laugh.

The sound of floorboards creaking from above made us both aware of someone making their way toward the stairs. Reverend Haywood’s eyes fell on me after leaving the place on the ceiling where either his wife or one of his daughters had just crossed on the second floor. A smile was set on his lips, one that conveyed much more than the usual pleasantries, one that made me want to hurry out of the confines of the office I’d already spent far too much time in. He seemed to sense my uneasiness, but continued to hold my gaze.

“I’m taking up too much of your time,” he commented, perhaps suddenly becoming aware of something I’d realized long before. “Don’t let me keep you from your chores.”

I nodded once and immediately turned to leave without a word, feeling his eyes on me as I walked away with hasty steps. I’d barely made it back to the kitchen when Macy stepped in from the corridor, rubbing her fists against her eyes as she yawned. A mess of blonde hair, the same shade as her mother’s, flew in every direction; a sure sign that she just climbed out of bed before making her way downstairs.

“Something smells delicious,” she sighed, bending to peek through the small window on the oven door. I grabbed a teacup down from the cupboard just in time to see the dissatisfied look on Macy’s face.

“Muffins again?” she frowned. “Ugh… didn’t we just have those on Monday?”

Quinn… quiet.

“Yes, but your mother asked me to make them again,” I replied.

Macy shuffled away from the oven and plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table, apparently overcoming the need to complain about the breakfast menu. From the corner of my eye I watched her pick at the ends of her hair aimlessly while she thought.

“Did Mother mention that I need my yellow dress ironed?” she blurted when the question entered her mind.

I nodded and bobbed a teabag in the steaming-hot water. “Yes, ma’am, she did.”

“Good, ‘cause everything has to be perfect for tonight. Everything.”

I stared out the kitchen window at the empty clothesline as the first light of morning cast the yard in a pale, orange glow. “I understand.”

“I was thinking you could do my hair like you did it for the spring festival, you know? Nice, but not too over-the-top?”

I walked the ceramic cup over to her and placed a spoon down beside it. “I can do that.”

My answer seemed to satisfy Macy and she paused just long enough to sip her tea. “Mother told you I had plans, but did she tell you with whom?” Her face lit up again.

“She did. Mayor Bartell’s grandson, I believe. His name escapes me at the moment, though.”

The size of Macy’s smile doubled, letting me know she didn’t mind refreshing my memory. “Jesse Peterson. And yes, his mother is Mayor Bartell’s daughter. His daddy owns the big farm just south of the bridge.”

I didn’t respond because I wasn’t sure what farm she was speaking of.

“Oh, come on, Quinn. You don’t live under a rock. You must’ve seen it. You pass it on your way here every day. And you’re always on that god-awful bike, going slow as molasses in January, so it’s not like you could miss it.”

She took my silence as confirmation that I still couldn’t picture it. She waved a hand dismissively in my direction. “Well, anyway, he’s taking me to that dance at McKinley’s in town.”

I couldn’t have cared less what her plans were with this man, but I listened all the same. Didn’t have much choice.

“His mother had him bring by a few items to my mother the other night and, apparently, he was ‘smitten by me’. Mother’s words, not mine,” Macy added, unable to contain her smile. “She ran into Hazel, that’s Jesse’s mother, and they set the whole thing up.” Macy beamed from across the table as she rattled off the details. “What if we really hit it off, Quinn? What if he’s the one?”

Sweet Lord, please shut this girl up.

We weren’t friends, never had been, which meant she was only bragging, not bouncing her thoughts off me. With any luck, she and this Jesse would fall in love and get married so I’d have one less person to straighten up after.

Fingers crossed…

“Macy Jean Haywood,” Miss Daphne called loudly, breaking her own rule of not disturbing her husband while he prepared his sermon. “What on earth did you do with your white high-heels, child? I can’t find them anywhere!” There was a pause before she added. “Am I the only one who cares how you look when that boy shows up tonight?”

Macy rolled her eyes as I set the pan of muffins on the stovetop to cool. “They’re at the back of the closet, Mother,” she yelled back, rising from her seat to aid in the search. “I swear this woman aims to drive me insane, yelling like that this early in the morning. It’s no wonder Daddy’s hiding out in his study.”

I breathed a sigh of relief when Macy walked away. There was no time to sit here and listen to her pine over this Jesse Peterson, or whoever he was, all day. There was plenty of work to be done around here.

*****

To find out what happens when Quinn and Jesse meet, make sure I have you on my email list before the rest of chapter two and chapter three are released next Friday (Dec. 16th)

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to grab a copy of CHASING MOONLIGHT when it releases January 6th. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 

OVERDOSE is LIVE!

Grab your copy of my latest release, “OVERDOSE: A British Bad Boy Romance” while it’s available for only 99 pennies!! One-Click it today!!!

❤ Blurb ❤

**Special Notice: This romance is of the darker variety, contains adult themes, and sexually explicit content. The hero is flawed and dirty. Consider yourself warned**

Insomniac. Narcissist. Sex addict.

…the only description sex therapist, Vanessa Ferris, was given of her newest patient, a fellow psychologist, Dr. Zander Hale.

From the moment he entered her office, she knew he’d be trouble—possibly the good kind. What she wasn’t prepared for was how he’d blindside her; how he would challenge everything she thought she knew about her profession, about herself.

There are certain lines a doctor is warned never to cross with their patients, but she didn’t listen.

Now, they’re both addicted.

One hit was all it took.

***AUTHOR NOTE: “OVERDOSE” is a full-length standalone, bursting at the seams with sexual heat, thanks to one smoking hot bad-boy and his feisty, no nonsense therapist. Expect a dark tale of erotic romance with no cliffhanger. This story is not for the faint of heart and is definitely intended for readers 18 and older.
(130,000+ words)
***TRIGGER WARNING: Be advised, this book contains a brief, nondescript reference to sexual abuse and other violent acts that some readers may find offensive.

❤ The Official Trailer ❤

poster

A sneak peek of “Overdose: A British Bad Boy Romance”

Today’s the day! Can’t wait for you all to dig into this book, but for now, please enjoy a sneak peek of the first two chapters. When you’re done, I’d love for you to share, like, and comment! Release day is Sunday, October 9th, so Make sure you’re on my email list to get the notification as soon as it’s live!

And don’t forget, I still have a giveaway going for anyone interested in helping with my Release Day Countdown Event. For the chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card, a signed paperback copy of OVERDOSE, plus a bunch of swag, just CLICK HERE to sign up and then you can come back to read 🙂

Also, if you like to party and LOVE winning prizes, come hang out with me and some of your favorite authors of bad boy romance at my Facebook party, Bad Boys Do It Better, taking place Thursday, October 6th. JOIN NOW!

XOXO–Raven

❤ Blurb ❤

**Special Notice: This romance is of the darker variety, contains adult themes, and sexually explicit content. The hero is flawed and dirty. Consider yourself warned**

Insomniac. Narcissist. Sex addict.

…the only description sex therapist, Vanessa Ferris, was given of her newest patient, a fellow psychologist, Dr. Zander Hale.

From the moment he entered her office, she knew he’d be trouble—possibly the good kind. What she wasn’t prepared for was how he’d blindside her; how he would challenge everything she thought she knew about her profession, about herself.

There are certain lines a doctor is warned never to cross with their patients, but she didn’t listen.

Now, they’re both addicted.

One hit was all it took.

***AUTHOR NOTE: “OVERDOSE” is a full-length standalone, bursting at the seams with sexual heat, thanks to one smoking hot bad-boy and his feisty, no nonsense therapist. Expect a dark tale of erotic romance with no cliffhanger. This story is not for the faint of heart and is definitely intended for readers 18 and older.
(130,000+ words)***

❤ Chapter One ❤

“Your messages, Dr. Ferris.”

Vanessa flashed her secretary, Greta, the best smile she could muster this early in the morning and accepted the stack of pink memos. After uttering a quick, “Thank you,” she continued on toward her office at the end of the dimly lit hallway—a hallway with walls made of Tuscan fieldstone. The blend of ash and coal tones were too dark in her opinion, but there hadn’t been much consideration for her preferences when the décor was chosen. This practice was technically half hers, but these dark walls served as yet another reminder of how little that mattered.

She had no voice in this partnership.

Never had.

During the half hour before her first appointment, she intended to return a few calls and finish the still-warm cup of coffee in her hand. Passing by Simon’s door, the sound of his and a patient’s muffled voices could be heard inside. It was likely this early session had been Vanessa’s saving grace; the only reason Simon wasn’t waiting at her desk already this morning. That was his latest ploy and she hated it. Since he wasn’t getting much conversation from her outside the office, he resorted to cornering her inside the building where he knew she’d be civil.

Now that the divorce proceedings had begun, all she offered her soon-to-be ex was one word answers and even those were few and far between. It was bad enough they were still linked as business partners by their joint practice. In her eyes, that was enough; he didn’t deserve her time off the clock, too.

Not after all he’d done.

Thumbing through the messages again as she settled into her seat, Vanessa zeroed in on one from a former colleague, Dr. James Keiser—or, Jim, as she was accustomed to calling him. Generally speaking, he only called when an interesting case presented itself, one he thought she’d be better equipped to handle. Tapping a pen on the edge of her desk, she contemplated.

Who would it be this time?

His referrals were always so colorful; clients who presented a welcomed challenge.

“Jim? Hey, it’s Vanessa. Looks like you called after I left the office yesterday?”

When he hesitated, she sat back in her seat and prepared herself, swallowing down a sip of coffee while she held the phone.

“As a matter of fact, I did,” came a gruff voice on the other end of the line. “I know you’re busy, as am I, so I’ll cut right to the chase. How’s your patient roster looking these days? I think I may have someone who could benefit from seeing you.”

Vanessa shrugged to herself and calculated. “Full enough, but there’s always room for more,” she answered. Now wasn’t the time to turn down new patients; not with her plans to branch off from Simon in the near future. “Who do you have for me?”

“Male. Thirty-five years old. Insomniac, possible narcissistic personality disorder—”

“That’s all very interesting, but how about you get to the good part,” she cut in, smirking at Jim’s tendency to tiptoe around his point. “Why’re you sending him my way?” she asked pointedly. “Nothing you’ve mentioned thus far warrants sex therapy.”

“Well, in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, the patient also suffers from hypersexual disorder—your area of expertise, not mine,” he finally added.

A sex addict; nothing Vanessa hadn’t dealt with before. She nodded to herself thinking this case would likely be routine. “Okay. That sounds simple enough. Can you tell me more?”

Jim hesitated again and Vanessa’s brow lifted as intrigue set in. “Actually… I’d like for you to delve into this one on your own. And the sooner you can avail yourself, the better.”

Resting both elbows on her desk, she frowned. Why the rush?

“By any chance, do you have an opening today?” Jim’s persistence definitely piqued her interest.

She checked her schedule. “I can fit him in at one.”

“Perfect. I’ll send him over.”

When the call ended, Vanessa sat back and drafted a mental list of reasons her former colleague could’ve been so eager to get this patient in to see her. Glancing at the clock, she dismissed the thoughts and opened the drawer that held her pen and notepad. Her first appointment would begin soon.

Within ten minutes, Greta buzzed the intercom. “Your nine o’clock is here.”

“Thanks. Send her in, please.”

Perched in her chocolate-colored, leather armchair, Vanessa stared at the blank sheet of paper and waited for Jasmine Emerson to enter. The three short knocks at the door carried an air of familiarity now after seven months of weekly sessions.

“Come in.”

Jasmine stepped inside and took a seat. Pushing pale, blonde hair behind her shoulders, she gave a tight smile. Vanessa returned the gesture and assessed her patient’s posture and overall mood before speaking.

“Good morning, Jasmine.”

A distracted, “Morning, Dr. Ferris,” was returned. The heavy, southern drawl she spoke with slowed the pace of her words in a way Vanessa found charming. It wasn’t a common accent to hear in Denver, which made it even more pleasant.

Vanessa glanced down at her notes from the previous session. “So… how’d your little homework experiment turn out? Were you successful?”

Jasmine sighed, her expression speaking volumes. “No, not exactly. I mean, Drew and I tried what you said, but he was a little uncomfortable with the idea of me… you know… touching myself. According to him, masturbation isn’t natural for a woman.”

Vanessa had heard both men and women express this same notion—that self-gratification for a man is perfectly acceptable, but for a woman? Completely ‘unladylike’. If there was any truth to that theory, she was about as unladylike as they came, especially lately.

Clearing her throat, she pushed her personal issues to the back of her mind and focused on Jasmine.

“It’s not uncommon for men to have these views. Did you try talking to Drew about why he feels this way?”

Jasmine nodded, blinking blue eyes. “A little, but he wouldn’t really give me a straight answer. I guess the idea of it just freaked him out.” She sighed and slumped against the back of the couch.

“What’s on your mind?” Vanessa asked, seeing clear signs of frustration on her patient’s face and in her body language.

“Honestly? Sex. Sex is on my mind,” Jasmine admitted, laughing a little, but then her smile faded, giving way to the sadness Vanessa had grown accustomed to seeing her bear.

“I’m at my wits end,” she went on. “It’s been eighteen long months since my husband’s been a… a real husband to me and I’m losing hope that it’ll ever change. I suppose this would all be at least tolerable if the man believed in… you know… oral stimulation,” she added in a hushed tone, “but even that’s off the table. I shared with you that our families were deeply religious, but his upbringing was clearly stricter than mine. The man still believes anything other than plain, vanilla missionary is a sin.” There was a vacant look behind Jasmine’s eyes when she paused. “Lately… I’ve even considered filing for divorce.”

Hearing the word ‘divorce’ made Vanessa shudder. As someone currently going through that hell, she wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

“It’s common for soldiers with PTSD to suffer from prolonged impotence, Jasmine. No, not all of them manifest symptoms in the same way, but what your husband’s experiencing is actually quite normal.”

“Maybe. But what I’m going through isn’t normal. I find myself watching other men like a predator, Dr. Ferris. The pizza guy. My son’s high school friends—the legal ones,” she clarified. “The mailman.”

Vanessa cleared her throat again, but didn’t comment.

“Dr. Ferris, I’m not the type of woman to run around on her man, but this is my reality. It’s so… unnatural,” Jasmine added, not bothering to hide her frustration.

“Hold on to that feeling. Now tell me what ‘unnatural’ means? What exactly are you experiencing, feeling, when you say that?”

Jasmine toiled over Vanessa’s question for a moment. “I feel… vulnerable, like cheating is a very real possibility. And after twenty years of marriage, this is new to me. Drew and I went from four, five times a week to nothing. It’s hard to just turn off those feelings.”

“How did you deal with the sexual depravation while Drew was deployed? Is it possible to draw on those methods again?”

Jasmine sighed. “When he was away, I waited. The longest he was ever gone was six months, so I dealt with it. But we’re not talking six months; we’re at eighteen and counting.”

These sessions would’ve been so much more productive if Drew would give in and come to therapy with his wife. That would give Vanessa a chance to analyze his deep rooted sexual reservations and maybe offer some help. But for now, all she had to go on were Jasmine’s observations and assumptions.

She scribbled a few notes on her notepad and then met Jasmine’s gaze again.

“Do you truly believe you’d be happier being separated from your husband?”  Vanessa asked, making sure she conveyed no judgment in her tone.

Jasmine shifted in her seat, becoming even more visibly flustered. “Yes and no.”

“Why yes?”

Jasmine shrugged her shoulders. “That part should be obvious.” Vanessa didn’t say anything, so her patient elaborated. “Because if I was… if I wasn’t married anymore, I could have sex with other men without feeling guilty.” She lowered her head when shame washed over her for having admitted such a thing.

“And why ‘no’?” Vanessa asked.

“Because I love my husband, Dr. Ferris. Despite what you may think, if I could, I wouldn’t be with anyone else for the rest of my life.”

Vanessa could hear the emotion heavy in her patient’s voice. “I’m not judging you, Jasmine.”

“Maybe not out loud, but you have to be thinking what a terrible person I am. Hell… I’d judge me, too, if it wasn’t my situation. I’m a married woman contemplating leaving her husband—the loyal war hero—just to get my itch scratched.” Jasmine seemed to get lost inside her head for a moment. “I don’t want to leave him, I… I just don’t know what else to do.”

Vanessa’s thoughts drifted to her own situation as she listened to Jasmine voice her frustrations. She had her own hurt to bear, hurt that ran deep. Making the decision to leave Simon wasn’t an easy one, but it felt like the only option. Their trust, their bond, had been severed. No amount of time or effort could mend that. When she came out of her thoughts, she tuned in to Jasmine’s voice again.

“I just want sex. Like… a lot of it. Now. Does that make me a bad person?”

“No,” Vanessa replied. “It makes you human.”

Jasmine sighed and sank deeper into the couch. Vanessa made a few more notes and then asked what goal Jasmine wanted to set for her next session.

She blew out a breath and gave her answer some thought, posing it as a question when she finally spoke. “I could try masturbating for Drew again? See if I can get him to loosen up a bit?”

“Are you comfortable with that?” Vanessa asked.

“I mean… I am. It’s Drew who can’t handle it. Maybe if we talk about it first, I can figure out what his issue is with it.” As she stood, she sighed heavily like before. “At this point, I almost don’t even care what he thinks. He’s lucky I haven’t resorted to dry-humping random household objects just to get off.”

Vanessa held in a laugh and lowered her gaze to her paper.

“Same time next week?” Jasmine asked.

“Your slot should be open. Just double-check with Greta on your way out.”

Jasmine nodded politely and then shut the door behind her.

Alone at last.

Each session was draining in its own way. Some patients were needier than others—looking for Vanessa to iron out all of their problems in one half-hour or hour-long session. Others left her feeling ineffective, which kept her on a constant search for new ways to approach their cases. Each one was like its own individual marathon. Some patients just wanted a hand to hold when they crossed the finish line; others wanted to sit on the sidelines and watch Vanessa run the distance all on her own. She soon came to realize that being a psychologist was tiring, thankless work.

The sound of a knock on the door startled her. “Come in.”

She watched as Simon peered around the door before entering and instantly regretted not asking who it was the second she laid eyes on him. That smug face of his made her sick to her stomach. He gave a half smile behind a gold-toned beard, one that had become equal parts gray over the last decade.

“Can I help you?” she asked in a clipped tone, hating that he continued to push like this.

Didn’t she deserve space?

Didn’t he owe her that after everything?

She was almost positive Simon had no clue just how deep this newfound hatred for him ran.

He took in the sight of her sitting in her chair, his soon-to-be ex-wife, rocking the hell out of a navy blue power-suit. When he failed to respond to her previous question, Vanessa stared, observing him right back as he ogled her.

Ignorant to Vanessa’s mounting intolerance, Simon’s gaze came to rest on her thighs—smooth, tight, the shade of a rich, expensive blend of coffee with just a small drop of cream. A memory flashed in his head, a vision of those same legs spread across his desk just after office hours in the Psych Building.

Their story began more than a decade ago, back when he was a prominent Psychology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Vanessa was nothing more to him than an eager student who couldn’t outrun his charm. He was nearly twenty-years her senior, but the age difference was rarely felt. He had no trouble keeping up with her insatiable sexual appetite then or now.

Damn… he missed those days, when he was still allowed to touch her. After only one night with him, he had her thoroughly hooked, and she had him wrapped around her dainty finger.

But now… all he had to go on was the memory of what was.

From the start of their relationship, sex had been a major part of the connection. In fact, they hadn’t even gone on an actual date until Vanessa graduated with her Master’s degree. Meaning, for an entire year, commencing with the first day he saw her sitting in the front row of his lecture hall, the relationship was strictly sexual. Sure there was conversation afterward, but it wasn’t so much the intellectual or emotional bond that made them fall in love; it was the physical.

His eyes continued to wander as nostalgia reminded him of all he’d had and lost. He always loved her legs, especially when she had on a sleek pair of high heels like she did now. However, all he was allowed to do these days was look. Touching her was out of the question.

Six months had passed since Vanessa found pale-pink lipstick on the collar of a shirt he’d worn. It didn’t matter that he’d take all the cheating back if he could. To Vanessa, all that mattered was that her husband of nine years had been unfaithful… and he couldn’t blame her for that.

Feeling the cold hands of guilt inching their way up his back, Simon cleared his throat and stepped closer, running a hand through his blond and gray-streaked hair.

Vanessa continued to stare, repeating the phrase, “Can I help you?”

Simon initially thought to have a seat on the couch, but he knew he wasn’t welcome. That feeling should’ve been enough to keep him away altogether, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t fathom the idea of just letting his wife go. In his mind, regardless of how many offenses he committed, she would always belong to him.

“Did you uh… did you get my boy off to school all right this morning?” he asked, trying like hell to sound confident. It wasn’t like he didn’t have the right to inquire about their son, but damn if she didn’t make him feel like he didn’t. That icy glare of hers…

Blinking dark lashes Simon’s way, Vanessa sighed. “Don’t I always?”

Simon nodded and gave a tight smile, knowing his face had become red when it heated. Yes, he really did want to hear about his son, but that wasn’t the only reason he’d come to Vanessa’s office. He hated that, soon, the paperwork would all be final and he’d lose her for good. It was hard enough not getting to go home to her every night, but the idea of her no longer being his, the idea of her moving on one day… it was almost too much to handle. He loved her. She had to know that despite his actions; had to feel that.

In a fit of pure desperation, he spoke without giving much thought to what he might say. All he knew was that he had to say something. Time was running out. According to his lawyer, in a matter of weeks, maybe only two, everything would be finalized and he will have officially lost one of the two most important people in his life.

If only he’d been able to show her that. If only he’d been a better husband, a better man.

The words, “Let me take you to dinner this weekend,” kind of fell at Vanessa’s feet when they tumbled from Simon’s mouth. The statement came out forced and clumsy, but he didn’t care. For her, he’d be awkward and vulnerable, two things he’d never been, but he’d do whatever it took to win his wife back.

“We can call a babysitter for Ryan… or, or even take him with us if that’s what you want. I don’t care,” he went on. “Just… please.”  He paused to evaluate Vanessa’s blank expression.

When she puffed a short sigh and slid her glasses off, his gaze was trained on her dark-brown eyes. “Simon… I don’t know how much clearer I can make this.”

“Dammit, Nessa! Don’t shut me out!” He hadn’t meant to get upset, but he knew she was getting ready to reject this offer just like she had all the ones before it.

Weren’t they worth some sort of fight?

He felt like she’d been so dismissive about this whole thing. Granted, what he’d done was wrong, but… he was never given a chance to explain himself; was never given a chance to seek the help he knew he needed to resolve his… issues.

Issues he kept to himself.

Issues he knew could potentially push Vanessa even further away.

She’d cut him off with no real dialogue. Surely, someone with her expertise should’ve understood there was more to the story, he thought. His infidelity was just the tip of the iceberg.

That night was still so clear in his head. The second he walked through the door there wasn’t a question in his mind… she knew. At the time, he had no idea how she figured it out, but she knew. He could tell by the brokenness in her eyes. As soon as he stepped foot inside their bedroom, Vanessa came at him full-force, throwing her fists until he was able to restrain her. Through a blur of profanity and tears, she laid it all out on the table—what she found, how it made her feel, and what she wanted to happen next… she wanted him gone.

That was the end of it.

Simon had never been given the opportunity to tell her his side and that made him feel like he’d explode.

Vanessa stared after his outburst, trying to remember the last time Simon had raised his voice at her. She couldn’t recall, but knew it’d been years. She couldn’t understand why he’d even think she would accept such an invitation. Had she given him the idea that there was room to reconcile? No, she was sure she hadn’t. Yet and still, he was bold enough to ask.

“I think you should leave my office,” she said calmly, feeling the familiar sting of tears in the corners of her eyes. She could not and would not do this here, not in their place of business. Hell! She didn’t want to do it anywhere. There was nothing to talk about, nothing left of their relationship to salvage.

Simon read her mind, or read her face, rather.

The sound of Greta’s voice over the intercom broke the silence.  “Your next appointment’s in, Dr. Ferris. Should I send her in?”

A chill passed between Vanessa and Simon as they stared at one another, frustrated for two very different reasons.

“Sure,” Vanessa replied flatly.

Simon moved toward the door, feeling his back and shoulders tense after the fruitless exchange with his wife. She’d always been stubborn, but once upon a time he loved that about her. However, it was different when that stubbornness was aimed at him, serving the express purpose of keeping him out of her life.

Now, more than ever, he felt that their end was inevitable.

❤ Chapter Two ❤

“Your one o’clock, Dr. Ferris.”

Vanessa sighed heavily, second-guessing her decision to do this favor for her former colleague.

“Thanks, Greta. Send him in.”

While she waited, she tugged the hem of her skirt down over her crossed legs.

The door opened silently, minus the usual courtesy knock she expected. Watching from her seat, she observed her newest patient as he stepped into her office and surveyed the room, tucking a black, motorcycle helmet beneath his arm.

The first thought that came to her mind was how terribly attractive he was, like the kind of attractive that could easily make a woman do things she wouldn’t otherwise; the kind of attractive that bred trouble. This thought reminded her of the reason Jim had sent him her way—sex addiction. If she had to guess, his good looks made finding women to satisfy his urges pretty damn easy.

The distance between them disappeared as the beautiful stranger stepped closer.  Thick, dark hair on the crown of his head was neatly styled while the sides were shaven low. Vanessa stood and held in a breath as she continued to stare into eyes a peculiar shade of golden-brown. They sized her up slowly. The flecked orbs of his pupils seemed to burn brighter when he met her gaze and a dim smile touched his lips—damp as if he’d just moistened them with his tongue before crossing the threshold.

The fragrance he wore was subtle enough that it didn’t precede him. Instead, the scent came as sort of an afterthought once the two stood face to face. There was a perfect measure of sweetness and spice that made Vanessa breathe more deeply than what felt natural; drawing it in, savoring it, savoring him. She caught herself on the brink of getting carried away and drove the temporary fog from her thoughts.

In usual fashion, she greeted the gentleman with a smile just like she did all her other patients.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Vanessa Ferris,” she said, extending a hand.

“Zander Hale. Pleasure meeting you,” he said, taking Vanessa’s hand in his. Her eyes flickered at the sound of a heavy, British accent.

That was unexpected.

Motioning for Zander to have a seat on the burgundy couch across from her, Vanessa sank down into her own chair again, cross-legged just like before he entered. She skimmed the few details Dr. Keiser had shared—insomniac, possible narcissistic personality disorder, sex addiction. Gazing up, she found Zander already watching with inquisitive eyes as he eased his arms from the dark, leather riding jacket that clung to his frame.

Vanessa took a breath and did her best not to stare.

“I’d like to get to know you. Can you tell me a few things about yourself, Mr. Hale?”

“Zander,” he corrected. “And where exactly would you like me to start? Your request is a bit broad.” He stared at Vanessa expectantly, waiting for a more specific question.

She looked down at her mostly blank notepad and away from Zander’s intensity. “Well… your accent tells me you’re not from the States. Are you from England?”

“Yes. Beckenham, South London, to be more specific.”

When her patient fell silent again, Vanessa nodded. “Okay. What about family?  Wife? Children? Parents or siblings close by?”

Zander perched an elbow on the arm of the couch and cocked his head. “My mother is right where I left her. I have a brother. Younger. He moved here with me a decade ago. And no wife. No kids.”

“It’s interesting that you brought your brother here with you. Did he follow you for a reason?”

“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” Zander shot back, expressionless.

Vanessa took a shallow breath. No stranger to difficult patients, she was unmoved by Zander’s callousness.

“Well, today’s session is about me getting to know you.”

“That hardly seems fair,” he said with a smirk. “Sounds rather one-sided, wouldn’t you say? I’m just supposed to let you inside my head; let you poke around a bit, and then what? You feed me your ‘expert’ diagnosis after leeching off my bank account for a few years?” he asked.

“Is that your perception of therapy?” Vanessa asked calmly.

“Absolutely.”

“Why’s that?” She jotted down a note while waiting.

“Because that’s precisely the reason I chose the profession myself.”

Her pen stopped and she looked up into Zander’s intense gaze. “You’re a psychologist,” she reiterated.

He answered with a slow smile. “Does that scare you?”

“Why would that scare me? Your profession has very little to do with your treatment.”

He laughed cynically. “It has everything to do with it, actually.” He leaned forward and rested both elbows on his knees, closing the distance between himself and Vanessa just a bit. He liked to see a woman’s eyes dilate when he entered into that invisible bubble of personal space; the one that sets off all types of physiological alarms within the body when breached.

“Aren’t you the least bit interested in knowing what sort of sick, maniacal bastard has written textbooks on psychosis, neurosis, and erotomania, but can’t cure his own damn issues?” He laughed again. “I mean… aren’t you a little curious about what’s going on inside this head of mine?”

Vanessa remained still and void of expression after Zander’s outburst.

He held her cold gaze and couldn’t resist the urge to smile again as he realized something; his new doctor wasn’t easily rattled.

He liked that.

“I tell you what. Let’s cut to the chase. Let’s leave family out of it and just… dig right in, shall we?” he said, tapping a finger to his temple.

Vanessa nodded. “All right, you talk. I’ll listen.” If she was going to handle this case, she had to keep the upper hand.

Zander’s smile faded as he leaned his back against the couch, letting his eyes drag up the length of Vanessa’s brown legs. She cleared her throat, but didn’t look away from him.

“What’d the doc tell you I was in for?” Zander finally asked.

“The description I got was vague, so let’s just assume I know nothing.”

“Fair enough. To simplify things, I like sex. Need… sex,” he clarified.

Vanessa leaned her head to the side. “That doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary. Everyone’s sex drive is different. What makes yours qualify as a problem?”

The corners of Zander’s mouth lifted. He detected undertones of a challenge in Vanessa’s response.

“How often would you say you think about sex in a day?” she asked more pointedly.

“Always.”

She smiled, glancing down at the term ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ written on the sheet of paper. “I’m sure that’s an exaggeration.”

Zander remained stone-faced, prepared to prove his point. “Since entering your office, roughly…” he paused to look down at his watch, “…oh, six minutes ago, I’ve already imagined you sucking my cock from beneath your desk, fantasized about bending you over that table,” he said, pointing toward the mahogany antique to his right without breaking eye contact. “And, pardon my candor, but I’m currently fighting the urge to drop to my knees for a taste of you as we speak.”

While Vanessa sat still as a statue, Zander invaded that delicate boundary of space again before repeating the one word that summed it all up:

Always.”

She tried to steady her breathing while making another note. Zander turned to gaze out the window and Vanessa took a moment to watch him while his attention was elsewhere. His demeanor had shifted tremendously since he walked in. When the topic transitioned to sex, he became increasingly aggressive. Even now, his leg was shaking.

“How long have you suffered from—”

“Decades,” he answered, cutting her off. “Since I was fourteen, fifteen maybe.”

“You had your first sexual experience at fourteen?”

“Is that strange?”

Vanessa ignored the question, assuming it was rhetorical anyway. “What made you decide to seek help now?”

Zander let his eyes shift from the window, to Vanessa’s face again. “In short? These… urges, if you will, are a bit difficult to control. And judging by the myriad of credentials framed on that back wall,” he added, pointing, “I’m sure you can imagine how a condition such as this would eventually become an issue.”

Vanessa eased her glasses up from the tip of her nose and back into their rightful position. “How so?”

The question visibly annoyed her patient, but she confidently maintained eye contact while waiting for further explanation.

A sharp breath puffed from Zander’s lips. “Professionally. Romantically. Socially. What else would you like me to say?”

Vanessa again noted his hostility. He was seething in his seat while she stared on, indifferent to his unprovoked outburst.

“Sex brings about a plethora of reactions—physical, emotional, psychological—what is it that sex makes you feel?”

The silence that filled the air was unforeseen. She expected Zander to have a response readily available. As a psychologist himself, she assumed this was something he’d thought of before.

“Physically, it’s about the heat.”

Not what she expected to hear. “Tell me more.”

Zander shrugged and stared at the ceiling while he explained. “Body heat—that simple, and yet very significant, indicator that you’re not alone.”

“Does being alone—”

“Scare me?” he cut in. “No, but I don’t think any of us would choose it over the alternative.”

Inwardly, Vanessa agreed with Zander’s logic. “Okay… is that all for the physical?”

His eyes flickered a little before he gave way to a smile. “Really? You’re going make me say it?”

The corner of Vanessa’s mouth turned up, too. “We’re both adults, professionals. I’m only trying to gain an understanding of where this addiction stems from.”

Still smirking, Zander nodded and gave her the answer she sought. “Suit yourself. Physically? I love that first plunge—that initial burst of wet heat enveloping my cock.” He smiled bigger just thinking about it. “Drives me absolutely mad.”

Vanessa took a deep breath and squeezed her thighs together. She’d gone too long without sex—with someone other than herself, anyway—to listen to such explicit details without it affecting her. Although she figured Zander was none-the-wiser, she felt embarrassed by her body’s very human reaction to his words all the same.

Her cheeks blazed hot. When the corner of his mouth turned up into a smile, she held her breath.

“Do you think the feeling is equally as intense for women as it is for men? Sex, I mean?” he asked out the blue. “I’ve always wondered that.”

Vanessa shifted in her seat. “I can’t answer that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it would be inappropriate.”

Zander chuckled, nodding as he analyzed Vanessa’s statement. “So… it’s okay for you to ask me intimate questions, but I can’t do the same?”

She nodded. “That’s the nature of the doctor/patient relationship. You know that.  You’re a professional.”

“Precisely my point. My occupation blurs those lines a little, doesn’t it? We’re not simply doctor and patient; we’re equals, two well-seasoned professionals exploring the depths of my sub-conscious… together. I just think this would be far more interesting if you stepped out of the role of bartender and pulled up a stool on this side of the bar for a change. Perhaps there’s even an issue or two rolling around inside that head of yours, just waiting for someone like me to pluck it from the shadows.”

Vanessa felt a strong need to shift the conversation back to Zander. She ignored his reasoning and asked, “Does it make you uncomfortable to share with me?”

He stared in silence.

“You don’t want to continue?” she asked.

“Pardon me if this offends you in some way,” he cut in, ignoring her inquiry, “but I find you… incredibly attractive. Almost to the point of it being a distraction.”

She cleared her throat, but never missed a beat otherwise. “Thank you, but we have to stay on topic. Let’s talk about the emotions you attach to sex.”

Her quick, verbal maneuver made Zander smile. He’d cooperate for now. “Sex makes me feel… centered.”

“Centered?”

“Yes. Specifically, the moment I ejaculate—in a woman, on her… doesn’t much matter where.” He paused to smile again. “Even when I masturbate. Granted, the satisfaction isn’t quite as fulfilling, but it holds me over until I find another willing victim.”

Zander watched Vanessa squirm at the mere mention of him coming. He was pretty sure she thought he hadn’t noticed, but he did. Clearly, she’d never been in the presence of a man like him. Not much went unobserved. For instance, she’d licked her lips approximately four times in the last sixty seconds. Also, she’d crossed and uncrossed her legs every other minute since he entered her office—one of many tell-tale signs of sexual frustration in women. Zander felt a primal instinct kick in, resonating from deep within his chest.

“Victims? That’s how you view the women you sleep with?” Vanessa asked, cutting into his thoughts.

He shrugged.  “No. Just a clever play on words. I’m actually very sure I’ve left each and every one of my customers feeling quite satisfied.”

“Now they’re customers,” she said flatly. “So you consider sex a service?”

Zander laughed and draped his arm casually over the back of the couch, watching as Vanessa pushed her long, dark hair behind her shoulder. It was thick and he imagined it to be very soft to the touch. He envisioned himself raking his fingers through it when he spoke again.

“Do you always take everything so literally? Perhaps I should’ve warned you of my perpetual sarcasm, too, when I introduced myself. Is there a treatment for that?”

When Vanessa didn’t respond, or smile for that matter, Zander shook his head. With a sigh, he answered, “No, Dr. Ferris… sex is not a service.”

She wrote in her notepad instead of speaking. While he stared, it was like a switch flipped within him. All of a sudden, Zander regained the ability to see through the smoky haze of lust that overtakes him at inopportune times such as this. He was like a man possessed, but every now and again, the true Zander Hale was able to break through and redirect his own path.

When Vanessa looked up again, she tried to analyze the expression on Zander’s face.

He’d lost himself in her dark eyes, memorizing their exact shade in contrast to her chestnut-brown skin. Again, he felt conflicted.

While she waited for him to speak, she counted her breaths to keep them steady. The way he stared at her, into her, it was unnerving. She couldn’t let someone like him know her defenses were down; couldn’t let him know she was experiencing the longest sexual drought of her life thanks to the untimely demise of her marriage.

“I’m not entirely sure this arrangement is going to work out,” Zander finally blurted, the abruptness of the statement catching Vanessa by surprise.

She frowned a little. “And why is that?”

His eyes dropped to her breasts, watching as they rose and fell with each intake of air. The charm to her gold necklace rested in her cleavage and he forced himself to look up at her face again. However, this helped very little. Now, there were her full lips to fixate on, still moist from that incessant licking she’d been torturing him with. He turned away. It was all he could do to clear his thoughts.

“Because,” he replied, “I just have a feeling our sessions will be very counterproductive to my treatment. And, contrary to what you’ve observed here today, I do actually want to be cured.”

“Well, for starters,” Vanessa interjected, “I think ‘cured’ is the wrong word. That would imply there’s something wrong with you.”

Zander laughed cynically. “Wouldn’t you say that there is, in fact, something very wrong with me, Dr. Ferris?”

Vanessa shook her head. “No, Zander, I wouldn’t. There’re varying degrees of normal. Some of us are extreme in areas where others aren’t. You just so happen to be extremely sexual. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.”

She crossed her legs again and his heart raced.

Vanessa noticed him staring and cleared her throat to regain his attention.

“Now, I can’t force you to return next week, but I’ll schedule you anyway. Hopefully, you’ll go home and think about it, see that our session today did at least a little good, and you’ll be back here to see me next week.” She flashed a confident smile and Zander actually felt guilty that she had so much confidence in him.

“As you wish,” he breathed, standing to his feet.

Vanessa stood, too. “It was very nice meeting you.”

Zander nodded, but deep down he knew he should end things here, leave this building, and forget that it, or Dr. Ferris, even existed. However, it was a little late for that. She’d already left a lasting impression.

Vanessa extended her hand to shake his. “I’m sure that, if you give this a chance, you’ll be very happy you did.”

Reluctantly, Zander returned the gesture and held Vanessa’s gaze, feeling her soft, supple skin against his palm.

“I agree,” he replied, thinking to himself, ‘…But will you be happy I did?’

erwtxol0w8ehg(My Muse for Dr. Zander Hale: Actor, Joseph Morgan)

Wanna know what happens next? Make sure you add yourself to my email list before chapter three is delivered the morning of Friday, September 16th 😀 Just click here!

 

❤ The Official Trailer ❤

 COVER REVEAL VERSION_OVERDOSE

Add OVERDOSE on Goodreads today, by simply clicking HERE 😀

Updates and Announcements

First things first, Congrats to the winner of my $50 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway, Crystal Franklin!!! A huge THANK YOU to her and everyone who participated in the cover reveal for my upcoming release, OVERDOSE: A British Bad Boy Romance! You all truly made it a special event and I appreciate you tremendously. As an indie author, it’s sometimes difficult getting the word out about new projects, so I can’t express enough how priceless your efforts have been 🙂

Side Note: If anyone would like another chance to win in the coming weeks, I could use your help sharing my release day announcement. The prize will be another $50 Amazon gift card, a signed paperback copy of Overdose, and a ton of swag! CLICK HERE to sign up if you’re interested 😀

In other news…

ESPOSED, Book three of my AMBW, interracial romance series, “Free Falling“, was nominated in the romance category of the Summer Indie Romance Awards last week!!! I’m super appreciative of whoever thought to nominate me ❤ Voting will start in a few days, so I’ll be sure to share the link and info for that when available.

FF_Exposed_with award

Reminder: OVERDOSE release day: October 9th, 2016. Early chapters will be released exclusively to my newsletter. If you don’t want to miss them, CLICK HERE to sign up. It’s easy!

Further updates coming soon!

I’m More Than a Writer…

I’m a businesswoman, too 🙂 As I’m sure all my fellow indie authors (published and aspiring) have already discovered, no one is going to manage your writing career but you. The sooner you embrace this fact and accept it, the better lol.

Sharing your work with the world reaches far beyond simply crafting a story; you have to also find savvy ways to let others know your work exists. It took me a long time to find my rhythm. I started my writing journey quite… haphazardly. Yes, that’s a good word for it. Publishing my first book consisted of very little thought where marketing was concerned because I was such a novice. I, literally, spent a few days researching how to self-publish and then just went for it. No planning, no preparation whatsoever, just went for it. Thank God people saw potential in the story and purchased and shared their thoughts about the book with others. Had it not been for that, Gravity, would’ve just faded into the abyss. Makes me shudder when I think of how it could’ve gone, but there would’ve been no one to blame but myself.

Here’s my story:

I finished my first full-length book in 2009 not knowing I didn’t need a big publisher behind me. To me, that was the only way to go. So, cut to me spending hours at a time researching publishers and literary agents I thought might be interested in my particular style of writing. I sent countless email messages and snail-mail inquiries hoping just ONE of them would see the commercial potential in my work and contact me.

Yeah… that never happened lol.

Interracial and African-American Romance are niches within the romance genre and I suspect part of the problem was that my work wasn’t mainstream enough in publishers’ eyes; therefore, they likely thought it would be a hard sell. In other words, they may not have been sure the effort to find an audience for my books would have been worth the trouble. But don’t cry for me just yet! I’m actually okay with that! Had I not been rejected, I would’ve never known the joy of being in business for myself.

In fall of 2013 I was a stay-at-home mom/aunt who, all of a sudden, found herself kid-free during the day. My three kidlets and two nephews (whom I took care of during the day) had all officially started school and I made preparations to return to the workforce. I accepted a job offer for a high-paying position that I thought was the job of my dreams, but it was my husband who helped me see the light. He loved the idea of me staying home to pursue my writing career. Naturally, I thought he was insane for even suggesting it lol. I mean… I was offered the job of my dreams, remember? He was quite persuasive, though. His belief in me caused me to take a second-look. When I did, I couldn’t believe the conclusion I came to, but, long story short, I passed up the job offer and chose to spend my days doing what I love the most–writing.

The rest is history, I guess 😀

Now, here I am roughly two and a half years later, still doing what I love and earning a living at the same time. I’m contacted often by writers who have the same goal in mind and I offer whatever advice I can to help them. The last thing I want is for someone to encounter one of the same roadblocks I did and quit because of it. So, in an effort to aid fellow authors in achieving their dreams, too, I’ve decided to lend myself as a writing/publishing consultant. Whether you’re still in the plotting phase or you’re ready to release your first (or fifth) “book baby” to the world, I want to help you!

I study my craft and the writing industry almost as much as I write. As a result, I’ve garnered a wealth of knowledge I’d love to share. With eleven novels currently published, I aim to advise others on the “do’s” and “don’ts” I’ve learned along the way. Whether you’re just looking to publish your books and don’t really have any expectations where potential earnings are concerned or you want to delve into this as your full-time gig, I want to take the next step with you. If you’re interested in gaining insight into the world of writing, complete the form below to tell me more about your specific needs and where you are in the writing/publishing phase. Once you’ve submitted your responses, I’ll be in touch to set up an appointment to discuss things further 🙂

Until then, happy writing!

 

Who is Marco Rios?

I’ve got something new coming next month and I’m super excited about it!

MARCO is the first book in a series of standalones called The Men of Indecent Exposure and I can’t wait for you to meet them all in this installment 🙂 Marco and Brynn’s story is one of the lengthier books I’ve written in a little while (roughly 400 pages), but that’s due to their story being a bit more complicated to craft in light of their circumstances. Not sure what I mean by that? Mmm… check out the first chapter HERE and it’ll make sense lol.

I was supposed to be done with this one back in December and completely missed that deadline. Completely. Part of that was because of a few personal things I had going on (dealing with a death in the family in October among other things). And… honestly? This tale simply wasn’t as easy to weave as I initially thought it would be. I wanted you all to get the full experience with these two; all the important details, wanted you to understand them and their relationship 100%. So, I took my time with it and left nothing out. Hopefully, the extra energy I put into their story will be evident as you read 🙂

What to expect from this one:

  1. Realness. From the situation these two find themselves in from page one, to the emotions they experience while finding their way through it. I did my best to capture all of that.
  2. A story that ends with a happily ever after 🙂
  3. No cliffhanger. Yes, the guys stories will be connected because they’re all friends and work together at Indecent Exposure, but each installment will definitely be a standalone.
  4. A full-length read.

That’s it for now! I’ll have more to share in the coming weeks–teasers, maybe another excerpt in addition to the first chapter I shared yesterday, and a cover reveal coming up next Friday, March 25th! Can’t wait for that 😀

A few dates to keep in mind:

  • Release Day: April 25th, 2016 (or sooner… y’all know how I do lol)
  • First THREE chapters released to email subscribers: Saturday, March 26th, 2016. If you haven’t signed up, there’s still time. Just click this link and plug in your info 🙂
  • Cover Reveal: Friday, March 25th, 2016

 

XOXO,

Raven ❤

DELIVERED is Live!

Today, I hit a milestone… wait for it… I RELEASED MY 10th BOOK!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00014]

*Cover art by Najla Qamber of Najla Qamber Designs*

DELIVERED is a standalone within my Free Falling series, featuring secondary characters from the saga. It is completely unnecessary to have read the previous 4 installments to read this one. Head on over to Amazon to check it out!!!

❤ Blurb ❤

There were three simple rules:
Be available.
Be discreet.
Don’t fall in love.
They followed them all… except one.

Kai carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, always putting the needs of others before his own. Angel is almost thirty and finds herself starting over in more ways than one. Both sought an outlet, a no-strings-attached arrangement to escape reality, but what happens when that fantasy becomes the realest thing they’ve ever felt?

*This is a contemporary, interracial romance, featuring an Asian hero and African-American heroine. This is a full-length story with no cliffhanger whatsoever*

Grab your copy today!!!

“Delivered” Cover/Trailer Reveal!!!

DELIVERED: Angel & Kai

Coming January 18th, 2016!!!

❤ Blurb ❤

There were three simple rules:

Be available.

Be discreet.

Don’t fall in love.

They followed them all… except one.

Kai carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, always putting the needs of others before his own. Angel is almost thirty and finds herself starting over in more ways than one. Both sought an outlet, a no-strings-attached arrangement to escape reality, but what happens when that fantasy becomes the realest thing they’ve ever felt?

*** DELIVERED is a standalone romance within the Free Falling Series and features secondary characters from the saga. This book can be read out of sequence of the series***

Character Inspirations

If you missed the preview of the entire first chapter, click here!!!

The Cover!!!

***cover art provided by Najla Qamber of Najla Qamber Designs***

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00014]

 *The Trailer*

❤ Special thanks to all the friends/bloggers who helped me share the cover and trailer for DELIVERED today! Check them out and give their blogs a follow! ❤

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Chapter One_Delivered: Angel & Kai

Just a few things before you check out the first chapter of the book down below 🙂

With the release of “Delivered” just around the corner, I’ve decided to share the first chapter with you this morning! I’ll be releasing this chapter *and* the second through my email newsletter, so if you’re interested in reading more after this, just subscribe here to receive Chapter 2 this coming Monday, November 24th!

❤ For those who haven’t heard yet, DLIVERED: Angel and Kai (Free Falling, #4) is a standalone within my AMBW romance series, featuring secondary characters from the saga. Book one, Gravity, is still *FREE*, so go grab a copy today! ❤

Oh! And don’t forget, the cover/trailer reveal will be December 1st, so make sure you come back to check it out 🙂

Blurb

There were three simple rules:

Be available.

Be discreet.

Don’t fall in love.

They followed them all… except one.

Kai carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, always putting the needs of others before his own. Angel is almost thirty and finds herself starting over in more ways than one. Both sought an outlet, a no-strings-attached arrangement to escape reality, but what happens when that fantasy becomes the realest thing they’ve ever felt?

*** DELIVERED is a standalone romance within the Free Falling Series and features secondary characters from the saga. This book can be read out of sequence of the series***

Chapter One

Kai

An unfamiliar number flashed across my phone and I sent the caller straight to voicemail… again. Although, there was no name to confirm, I was positive it was the blind date I stood up—the third in the last two months. Maybe now my friends’ wives, girlfriends, and whoever else, would stop trying to pair me up with any and all single women they knew.

The tall buildings and busy streets synonymous with New York City, along with the haze of colorful lights, became almost hypnotic. Swiveling the drink in my hand, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the living room window. I stood there, still clad in the white dress shirt and gray slacks I’d worn to work. I had to ask myself if this—skipping dates, working way too many hours, closing myself off—was some form of self-sabotage. Instead of meeting up with a woman who’d been described to me as “everything I could ever possibly want,” I stayed at the office until ten o’ clock tonight, working on things that could’ve honestly waited until tomorrow.

Part of what kept me after hours—or at least the excuse I let myself use—was the arrival of my new assistant in the morning. I was sure she wouldn’t be able to handle some of the harder tasks I would have otherwise handed over, so I did them myself to keep from falling behind.

With my former assistant, Carla, suddenly confined to the house, I had to scramble for a replacement. Her doctor wanted her out for the remainder of her pregnancy, followed by a three-month stint of maternity leave afterward. I admittedly had very little confidence in the newcomer. For one, everything worked out just a little too conveniently. There was a very real possibility that this woman, Angel, being a relative of my boss’ wife, might not even be qualified. How could I be sure she didn’t just get this job because she had connections?

She and I actually had a chance to meet a couple weeks ago, purely by coincidence. I stopped off to grab paperwork from my boss’ place before heading out of town on business. Little did I know, the beautiful woman who momentarily stole my focus, the one who had my palms sweating like an adolescent boy, was actually her—Angel.

There was a family gathering at the house and she happened to answer when I showed up. Had I known then the role she’d play, I wouldn’t have stared as long as I did… as intensely as I did. My eyes were all over her right up until we were introduced and I realized who she was. The last thing I wanted was for her to get the wrong idea about me or our arrangement. It didn’t matter how attractive I found her to be, didn’t matter what wayward thoughts entered my head; our relationship would never be anything but professional. Hopefully the first impression I left hadn’t skewed that.

I sipped the strong liquor in my glass again and tried to accept tomorrow’s changes. There was no time in my schedule to hold someone’s hand until they learned the ropes. Nor would I apologize for liking things done a certain way or expecting them to be done right the first time. My hours in the office, already being limited, meant efficiency was not a luxury; it was a requirement.

In the middle of my thoughts, a stray image of Angel echoed inside my head and I pushed it aside, focusing my attention on the day to come. It’d be her first and, most likely, I’d just give her busy work to keep her out of my hair. The things I called on Carla for were difficult and more often than not, she knew what I needed before I even asked. That type of intuitiveness was priceless and I was sure I wouldn’t find that anywhere else.

With how complicated my job and my personal life could get, I needed someone in place who moved when I moved, knew how to read me without me having to say a word. Carla had worked for me for almost seven years, even followed me over from my previous company. So, to say that I was dreading the upcoming transition was a huge understatement.

Just six months and it’ll all be over.

Feeling a swell of tension spread across my shoulders, I took a seat on the piano bench and continued to stare outside, gazing at the view just beyond my apartment. It was late and I should’ve been getting into bed, but my thoughts went back to the blind date I didn’t even think enough of to call and cancel with. This woman, whoever she may be, was probably better off not getting pulled into my life anyway. She couldn’t possibly know this, but by standing her up, I’d just done her a huge favor, given her an easy out. There wasn’t a woman alive who’d willingly shoulder what I brought to the table.

Not a single one.

*****

Angel

My father’s voice was not the first I wanted to hear this morning, but I knew he’d keep calling until I gave in and picked up. However, about five minutes into this call, it was clear he just wanted to give me a hard time about taking this job. In his mind, I should’ve been working with him years ago. After all, he was the one who inspired me to pursue a career in accounting in the first place. The plan was to finish school and then train under him until I was experienced enough to take on clients of my own. Well… that sounded good on paper, but I’d long since finished school and still wasn’t sure if the rest of that plan held the same appeal it once had.

My father was clearly having a hard time accepting that.

“Well, okay, Dad. Love you to pieces, but I can’t do this right now. The cab just dropped me off and I’m on my way in. Gonna have to chat later.”

He sighed into the receiver, letting me know he didn’t appreciate me dismissing him. Brushing shoulders with other pedestrians, I envisioned the scowl I knew had to be set on his mouth. I tried not to laugh.

“Love you,” I repeated to soften him up.

“Mmm hmm. I love you, too,” he finally grumbled. “I’ll be expecting that call from you later on.”

Of course he would. “I know, but aren’t you gonna wish me good luck, though?”

As much as I know he didn’t want to, he appeased me with a flat, “Good luck,” but then his attention went to my mother as she spoke in the background. When his voice came back, it was to say that Mom wanted to get a word in before he hung up.

I couldn’t help the eye roll that came with the realization that she, too, probably wanted to give me a hard time this morning. About what, I wasn’t sure exactly.

“Okay, put her on.” A brief pause on the other end gave me a moment to inhale a sharp breath as the crosswalk signal changed and I stepped off the curb.

“Morning, honey. I know you’re on your way to work, but I wanted to chat with you for a few,” she said, sounding incredibly chipper.

I gazed up at the tall building I stood in front of and nodded as if she could see me. “I’m actually here already, so I won’t be able to talk long.”

“That’s fine. I’m just checking in to see if you got that number from Sam yet.”

My stomach sank at my mother’s words. I should’ve known this was the reason she was so eager to get the phone from my father. Nearly every time we talked lately it was to bug me about getting the number for the therapist my cousin saw years ago when she faced something tragic. I didn’t need the number for Sam’s doctor, but my mother couldn’t seem to accept that answer the twenty-‘leven times she’d mentioned it before now.

“Ma, I’m—”

“Angel Corrine Hawthorne, you are not fine,” she cut in, knowing what I was about to say. “And if you don’t get that number, I promise I’ll make the appointment myself.”

How is it that my mother could still make me feel like a kid and I’m damn near thirty? She meant well; trust me I was aware of this, but I’m a grown woman who’s been handling her own business for quite some time now.

Had things been rough after my break up with Lamar? Yes, absolutely. You don’t spend three years with a man and just bounce back when it ends. To me, I should’ve been allowed to cope in my own way, though. I chose to fill the void my ex left in my life by keeping busy, which was my reason for volunteering at a local youth center a couple times a week. Some women like to talk about their feelings, share their experience with anyone who’ll listen, but that’s not me. It was hard enough living through the breakup once, so rehashing it every time someone asked what happened just didn’t appeal to me. So, for that reason, I didn’t bother with giving people the details. All anyone needed to know was that Lamar wasn’t in the picture anymore.

Period.

Case closed.

“Ma, I love you dearly, but this really isn’t the time.” I bit my tongue to keep from adding, ‘And this really isn’t your business.’

My mother fell silent on the other end of the line and I knew it wouldn’t last long. The cushion of time I left myself to get into the office and get settled before things got too crazy was slowly slipping away.

“You don’t think it’s a little strange that you haven’t talked to anyone about what happened with Lamar? I mean, one day you two are talking marriage, the next he’s gone and you won’t tell anyone why?”

‘No! It’s not strange! This is my life and I’m not about to tell you every detail of it,” I wanted to say, but I didn’t feel like having to apologize for it later. So, instead, I spoke gently to my mother.

“I just don’t want to talk about it. Don’t see the point in talking about it,” I clarified.

I knew what people thought. With how abruptly Lamar was out of my life, the women closest to me—my mother, and my cousin, Sam—assumed it was another woman. Time and time again I assured them that wasn’t the case, but I believe they still held on to that theory in the back of their minds.

Now my day was off to a sucky start. Thanks, Mom.

A polite older gentleman held the heavy, brass-framed door for me as I entered the building, mouthing a silent ‘thank you’ right after.

“I’ll stop pushing,” was my mother’s next statement. Did I believe her? Hell no; it wasn’t in her nature not to push, but I’d take it for now. I was already nervous about today and didn’t need the extra stress.

“I know it’s only because you love me,” I replied. “But I really am okay.”

An unconvinced-sounding “Mmm hmm,” was her response, and shortly after that she let me end the call like I so desperately wanted.

Veering left toward a coffee kiosk just inside the lobby, I did my best to clear my head of both conversations I had with each of my parents—about my decision to take this job and all the talk about Lamar. All that stuff was old news. It was time to try some new things, time to take steps in a new direction.

Standing in line, my stomach churned when I considered grabbing something to go with the cup of tea I planned to order. My eyes drifted toward a cheese danish in the glass display and I felt queasy again. Yeah… eating was definitely not an option, not with these nerves going haywire like they were.

While I waited to be helped, I watched the men and women pass by in their expensive suits, also noticing their equally expensive handbags and briefcases as they entered the building. While I should’ve been at ease because of the familial connection I had here—this branch of the company being run by my cousin-in-law, AJ—I felt uptight about it, actually. Being honest, I’d been second-guessing this decision almost from the beginning. Yeah, the pay was good, but so was the pay at my other job. I’d basically walked away from stability, from certainty, to take this short-term position. I couldn’t help myself, though. For months, I’d been itching for a change, which was why Sam thought of me as soon as she found out about the opening.

So many things that used to fit, things that used to make sense in my life, just stopped feeling right. It was like I woke up one day and just felt like I was in the wrong skin. Now I was anxious all the time, like I should be doing something else with my life, like I should be somewhere else, only there’s nowhere else to go.

One thing I liked about this new position was that it wouldn’t be the same thing day in and day out and I needed a little unpredictability in my life—even if this was the only way I could get it. From what I understood, the hours were kinda odd. Apparently my new boss, Kai, was in and out at crazy times of the day and night, and I had to work around that. I was okay with the schedule, but based on how rigid I heard he was, I hadn’t yet decided if we would mesh well. If not, another good thing about this job was that it’s temporary. I wouldn’t be here for more than six months.

Deciding against even the cup of tea, my eyes glanced over toward the security guards as I passed them on my left. Forcing myself to take another deep breath, I headed for the elevator. Seven floors up, I was supposed to check in with AJ and then I’d be at Kai’s mercy. I sighed at the thought of it. According to what Sam told me, I should expect him to be all business with little room for much else. I even got the impression he was skeptical about anyone other than his recent assistant being able to handle this job. I’m professional. I’m teachable, but accounting is my niche. This was all new to me, so I guess I was a bit skeptical myself.

Apparently, this girl who was in my position before was freakin’ Superwoman or something. So, not only did I have to learn this job at lightning speed, I had some pretty big shoes to fill, too.

No pressure, right?

“Perfect.” Reading the ‘out of service’ sign posted between the two elevators, my shoulders slumped. Six-inch heels and seven flights of stairs just seemed fitting, considering how wonderfully my day had already been going. “You have got to be freakin’ kidding me. Both elevators? Really?”

I’d just raked my nails over my scalp, feeling strands of my hair between my fingers, when the words, “Don’t sweat it. It should be fixed by lunchtime,” pulled me from my thoughts. The voice was very deep, equally smooth.

The statement had been spoken off to my right, so I turned that way, dropping my hand back down to my side. A set of dark, sloping eyes gazed right back at me.

Kai.

A barely-there smile softened his otherwise demure expression.

To break up the long, inappropriate stare I cast his way when I first laid eyes on him, I blinked. Kai stepped closer, wearing the hell out of a single-breasted suit, one that complimented his complexion in French-blue. I didn’t speak, drinking in every detail as we stood there—from the way his low-trimmed stubble accentuated his mouth, to the way his bronzy, sun-kissed skin contrasted the jet-black tone of his hair—freshly cut, might I add. The tailored attire hugged his torso and arms just enough, emphasizing the unmistakable divots and curvature of trained muscle beneath the sleeves. However, despite the slight bulk of his frame, his height made him appear slimmer in stature as my eyes crept up every inch of him.

Kai. I thought his name to myself again, feeling it roll off my tongue, although, I only uttered it inside my head. He struck me as the quiet, broody type—didn’t smile much either time we met, but when he did it was dim, reserved. That intrigued me.

His eyes gave away his Asian heritage and I detected a general… I don’t know… sexiness about him. I couldn’t put it to words, but it was there.

He extended his hand. “I’m not sure if you remember me, but I’m Kai. We met a couple—”

“I remember,” I cut in, offering my hand in return. How unfortunate that he, this beautiful, sexy man, was my new boss; the one Sam had warned me would be particularly hard to work for. ‘A stickler for detail and a perfectionist’ were the words she used to describe him.

The corners of his mouth lifted into a smile. Albeit a tight, hesitant one, it was a smile nonetheless.

“Angel, right?” he asked, letting my name drip from his lips. His deep voice entwined with each syllable and I couldn’t remember it ever sounding so good. Who would’ve thought hearing my own damn name would be such a turn-on?

I nodded in response, but didn’t speak.

“It uh…” He paused and ran a hand across his chin before continuing, letting his palm and fingertips graze over the dark, neatly-trimmed stubble there. “It went out late yesterday evening,” he went on, gesturing toward the sign. “Apparently, both elevators are on the same circuit or something, so when one went, the other did, too. Maintenance is usually pretty good about these sorts of things, though.”

Realizing I hadn’t yet broken my gaze, I nodded and offered a weak smile. “Oh, okay… good to know.”

“The stairs are right this way.” I zeroed in on his tanned skin and the expensive, gold watch on his wrist when his hand motioned toward the double doors at the far wall of the lobby. We were obviously headed the same way, to the same floor, so naturally we ended up walking together.

I did my best not to look Kai’s way when he held the door for me and I tried to keep that up even as we ascended the steps, but that didn’t last long because he decided to strike up a conversation.

“Nervous about today?” he asked. I got the feeling he meant for the question to come across lighthearted, easy, but it was anything but. There was a hint of tension in his voice that only added to what I was already feeling.

My eyes went his way and I started to tell him I was fine, but the honest answer slipped out instead. “Very nervous.”

He laughed quietly, which surprised me.

“Don’t be. Hahn speaks highly of you,” he said, referring to my cousin-in-law, AJ. “And despite what you might’ve heard,” Kai went on, “I’m not a bad guy.”

Sam’s description of Kai as a boss definitely contradicted that statement, but I found myself hoping this was true.

“Well… as long as you’re okay with me asking a ton of questions while I’m learning, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Kai didn’t respond, didn’t say a word after that. Not one, leaving me to wonder if he preferred that I didn’t bother him.

Duly noted…

We went up a few flights of stairs in silence. It was awkward enough that, more than once, I considered stopping off, using the excuse that I needed to make a quick stop in the lady’s room just so I could get away from him. Being the talkative person that I am, it always left me feeling incredibly uncomfortable when people shut down on me. And that’s exactly what Kai had done. The moment I mentioned that I might need to come to him frequently for help, he froze up. His former assistant was awesome—I got it—but did that mean he wouldn’t even give me a chance?

I recalled the vibe I felt from him the first day we met, the vibe that dissipated the moment we found out we’d be working together. Was that what this was about? The reason I detected this chill toward me? Maybe he wanted to make sure I was aware of what our boundaries were? If that was the case, he had nothing to worry about. I mean, yeah, I know I didn’t imagine the mutual attraction between us at first glance, but he wasn’t the only one who shied away from it after we were formally introduced. I had no interest whatsoever in getting involved with a man who was now “technically” my boss.

Kai stepped to the door first when we reached our floor and held it for me.

“Thank you,” I said politely as I passed through. Kai responded with nothing more than a nod.

A narrow hallway led us to a pair of frosted, glass doors that read ‘Arata’ across both in bold letters. The brief exchange with Kai on the way up here did nothing but make me even more apprehensive about this, but it was too late to turn back now. Besides, I refused to throw in the towel on this. This change could only lead to good things. Despite my nerves, I could feel it. So, taking a deep breath, I stepped into the office.

Things were still quiet and I noted that several cubicles were empty as we passed. Kai must’ve noticed the inquisitive look on my face because he explained right after.

“Most of the employees don’t arrive until nine. I just prefer to start my day early when I can. I hope that’s not a problem.”

Staying poised as I followed his steps, I shook my head. “No. This is fine. I’m an early riser anyway,” I replied. “There’s no problem.”

Another nod from the man of few words.

While he led the way, I stared at the back of his head, at the dark, silky strands he styled neatly with a little bit of product. His shoulders moved in synch with his gait and I eyed his trim frame again, immediately chastising myself for doing so.

Kai’s steps slowed and I stopped beside him, clutching my handbag. His light touch to my elbow made goosebumps prickle on my arms despite there being no actual skin-on-skin contact between us; the long sleeve of my blouse prevented it. Still, the gentleness of the gesture was a stark contrast to his otherwise stoic demeanor.

“Hahn’s office is the second door on the left,” he said, referring to my cousin-in-law by his last name again. “Come see me when you’re done,” Kai added, gesturing toward another door, the one that apparently led to his own office.

His words trailed off and his fingers slipped away from the material of my top, but I swore I still felt them lingering for a moment. He’d gone his own way, casually easing one hand into the pocket of his suit pants while the other clutched the handle of a brown, leather briefcase. He was smooth, dapper, sexy, but I wouldn’t dare let any of those things cloud my judgement.

‘Find AJ,’ I said in my head, reminding myself what I was supposed to be doing. I’d been here once after hours with Sam, so even without Kai’s help, I would’ve found my way quickly. Giving a soft knock, I was invited in by a familiar voice, one that erased a bit of the morning’s anxiety.

“Mornin’.” AJ greeted me with a smile. I entered and I barely returned the gesture as I took a seat.

Already, I got the feeling Kai and I would clash. We were very different, possibly too different to work together effectively, but it was early yet. I required an open line of communication with whomever I worked with or for. Kai, on the other hand? Definitely a lone wolf. He made it clear that he wasn’t too keen on me popping in throughout the day to get help—even though I’m hella new here.

“So… you ready to get started?” AJ asked.

A long breath left my mouth and I thought about that.

“Uh… I think so,” I replied, the sound of which made him laugh. He’d known me for nearly a decade—long enough to distinguish a lie from the truth. Before asking anything else, he stood to close the door and then came back to sit after adjusting the jacket of his black suit.

“All right. Now, what’s really up?” he asked. “It’s just us.”

My eyes went to the picture at the corner of his desk when he finished speaking, the one of my cousin, Sam, and their handsome son who was all smiles as usual. It was then that I realized… yeah, I’d essentially be working for Kai, but I was among family here as well.

One eyebrow lifted as he waited for me to answer; however, I decided against sharing my feelings, kept the fact that I was intimidated as hell by this job to myself.

“You know what? Nothing. I’ll be fine,” I said, standing from the comfy seat.

“You sure?” he asked as I moved toward the door.

I nodded, momentarily missing the simplicity of having my old job down to a science. This job was new territory, but I decided to woman-up and stop assuming I’d fail before even getting started.

Even if I was beginning to think that’s exactly what Kai expected… failure.

“Well… good luck,” AJ added. “And if you need anything, don’t hesitate to stop in.”

I gave a nod, keeping his words in mind, and then closed his door behind me. It was time to face Kai again. When I reached his office, I lifted my hand to knock, but hesitated when I heard him speaking low.

“All right. I Love you, too,” he said to the caller on the other end.

I’d looked him over pretty well when I first laid eyes on him at Sam and AJ’s door—who the hell could blame me—and then again today on our way up here, so I knew he wasn’t wearing a wedding band. However, that didn’t eliminate the possibility of there being a girlfriend. This conversation didn’t confirm that he belonged to someone, but that was automatically where my thoughts led me… not that he was a prospect before that.

Once I heard him cradle the phone in its base, I waited another few seconds before knocking. I stepped inside when I was invited to do so. Kai’s eyes were glued to a document in his hands as I moved toward his desk. He finally looked up and I forced myself to pretend he was just an average-looking guy who wasn’t dressed to the nine, who didn’t smell like he soaked in bathwater laced with pheromones sent down directly from the heavens this morning. Nope… I had to try to think of him as just some regular guy. The fact that he intimidated the hell out of me made it a little easier, though.

Touching a finger to my hairline, I fought the urge to fan myself. Damn…who was I kidding? This man definitely wasn’t average.

“Well, I guess we’re ready to get this show on the road,” he started. “I’ll take you to your work area first, so you can put your things down.”

When he finished speaking, I nodded and then followed him back out into the main area of the office as he led the way with a relaxed saunter. We stopped at a small cubicle not too far from his door where I’d be stationed for convenience.

“There’s a cabinet right there that locks if you’d like to keep your purse or other personal belongings there,” he said, gesturing off to the left.

I nodded and accepted the key from his hand, taking advantage of the opportunity to double-check that ring finger. It was like I thought; empty.

I smiled casually and went ahead and locked up my purse. Next, Kai aimed a finger toward the cubicle beside mine. “That’s Reese’s area, Hahn’s assistant,” he said with the slightest bit of irritation in his tone. “She’s out of the office for the day, but she’s a talker. My advice: don’t let her suck you into her conversation. You’ll never get any work done that way. If she’s a problem, let me know. I’ll handle her.”

I got the impression he didn’t think very highly of this Reese, whoever she was. He was definitely all business.

“The copy room is right this way,” he said next, and I followed him again. “Oh, and I’m fine with you having access to your cell while you’re working,” he added, glancing down at his watch when the conversation paused. “You know, so you’re easily accessible if anyone needs to get in touch with you—husband, kids, whoever.”

The timing of that comment struck me as odd. If I didn’t know better, I might think he was fishing for information about me. That couldn’t have been it, though, so I dismissed the thought and replied, keeping up with the pace of his steps. “Don’t have either of those. Just lil’ old me.”

Kai’s eyes found mine when he glanced back, peering over his shoulder while we walked. Our gazes locked for a second before he turned away, but not before the brief exchange aroused a fluttery feeling in my gut.

“Well… it’s still fine to keep it handy… assuming you can even get a call through,” he went on. “Reception’s terrible inside the building, but if you do need to make a personal call, just keep it to a minimum.”

I didn’t say anything, just walked behind him in silence.

Seconds later, we approached a wooden door and Kai opened it. Plain white walls set the tone for the bleakly decorated area. There was nothing inside but three large copy machines, a fax machine, and two long, rectangular tables lined with staplers, small containers of paperclips, and other odds and ends.

“The copy room,” Kai reiterated

I nodded when he finished speaking.

“That’s pretty much it,” he concluded as we exited the small space. On the way back, he pointed out the break room and the restrooms, and then we were once again within the confines of his office.

Slowly, I crossed the room to the chair in front of his desk, and before taking his own seat, Kai removed his suit jacket, making it impossible to forget those incredibly well-defined arms as I stared at them through the light-blue dress shirt he wore.

“Now, on to the good stuff,” he joked. Or at least I think it was a joke. It was hard to tell because he spoke in the same dry tone he said everything else in. I piped up and focused, though, not wanting to miss the details of my position as he explained them—especially seeing as how he preferred that I didn’t ask for clarity later. “So, as you know, you’re replacing my assistant, Carla. Working for me, she wore quite a few hats, so I hope you don’t get overwhelmed.”

Discretely blowing a breath from my lungs, I nodded, acknowledging that I understood.

“Basically, I need you to be an extension of me—my eyes, ears, hands when I’m busy or away from the office. My plate gets kind of full, so sometimes I’ll pass things along to you that don’t require you to know much of the technical side of my job. A large part of what I do involves project management, so I’ll depend heavily on you for things like keeping an eye on budget, resource expenditure, time management. Will that be a problem?” he asked.

My heart was pounding already, but I didn’t want him to see me stressing. “No, that’s fine,” I lied.

“Good. I always leave myself a bit of wiggle room when I quote prices and timelines, but I still prefer to keep things as concise as possible. I’ve got a reputation for delivering on time and giving my clients more than what they expected. I’d like to keep it that way,” he added, attempting to soften the statement with a hard smile.

“When I don’t need you assisting me on projects,” he went on, “I may throw a presentation your way that needs fine-tuning, a proposal that needs to be finalized, but I’ll give you things like that with the details spelled out pretty thoroughly.”

‘As if that’ll help,’ I thought to myself.

“There will be day-to-day issues I’ll need you to troubleshoot so I can focus on what I have going on and there’s a weekly meeting here on Thursdays; I’ll send you my notes in an email every Wednesday. I’d like for you to organize them by subject and email them back to me, attached in document form.”

My head was spinning and I realized I should’ve brought a notebook in with me.

“Am I going too fast?” Kai asked politely.

I didn’t have the courage to tell him yes, so I lied again. “No. I can follow.”

The corner of his mouth hitched upward and he leaned back in his seat. “You’re overwhelmed,” he said, glancing down at his hands folded in his lap. “I told myself not to lay it all on you in one sitting like this; I just got ahead of myself. We’ll stop there for today and I’ll go over the rest tomorrow,” he offered, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I needed him to believe I could handle this job.

“Oh, no, it’s fine. Continue. Please.” Immediately after speaking the words, I wished like hell that he’d see through the façade and spare me, putting the rest off until tomorrow like he’d said.

Slowly, cautiously, Kai went on. “We’re pretty much done, actually. All we have left to discuss is what’ll be expected of you while I’m out of the country.”

From what I gathered, Kai was overseas every other month, sometimes more if necessary. That part had me nervous because, during those times, I’d be working on my own with very little instruction from him.

“Hahn says you already have a home office set up?” Kai asked.

“Yeah… I do.” My fingers went through my hair when I realized he wasn’t speaking right away, maybe giving me a chance to elaborate. “I um… I do some accounting on the side for my father’s firm. That’s what I majored in,” I added.

“Perfect. With a fax machine?” he asked.

I gave a nod. “Yes, I have that, too.”

He leaned back in his seat and laced his fingers together on the surface of his desk. “Well, when I’m away, I’ll send you odd jobs from time to time and there may be the occasional petty errand I need you to run—like grabbing my dry cleaning, retrieving packages that’ve been delivered to my place, collecting my mail so it doesn’t pile up—things of that nature.”

Those were the easiest of the tasks I’d been charged with. “I can do that,” I answered.

When no words passed between us, Kai smiled and I was pretty sure I was the only one uncomfortable. He was nothing but relaxed now that all my daily tasks had been conveyed.

“Any questions?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Once I got my thoughts together, I shook my head. “Not at the moment, but if anything comes to mind, I’ll…” My sentence trailed off when I remembered how he reacted to me stating in the stairwell that I’d come to him with questions. He didn’t want that, so I amended my statement. “I’ll figure it out.”

A light, easy laugh grabbed my attention, mostly because I had a hard time believing it came from Kai. It had, though. Apparently there was a sense of humor there after all.

“Listen… I didn’t mean to come across as unapproachable this morning, but I think that’s exactly the way I made you feel.”

Not wanting to confirm or deny, I said nothing.

Those piercingly deep, exotic eyes of his flashed my way when he smiled. This time, the harshness and tension wasn’t present behind them. “If you have questions, Angel, ask them. Please. I’m here to help you.”

I nodded, but still had nothing to add.

Kai shifted in his seat, leaning to one side before resting his chin on top of his fist. “This is umm… an adjustment period for me just like I’m sure it is for you. I’ve worked with Carla for years so it’s been a long time since I’ve had to learn to work with someone new.”

I could understand that and it made me feel better that he acknowledged his behavior from earlier.

“I apologize if I made you uncomfortable,” he added.

My heart leapt when his hand shot across his desk. He held it there, waiting for me to take it. “Can we start over?” he asked.

I blinked his way a few times, finding it hard not to stay fixated on that confident smile he stared at me with as if he knew I’d cave. Finally, I accepted his hand and shook it. “Sure.”

“Good. So feel free to pop in whenever you need to,” he added.

Seeing as how I wasn’t sure he really meant any of this, I hoped I still wouldn’t have to come to him about anything. Besides, he was hard to be around. It wasn’t because there was something wrong with him. I mean, yeah, I didn’t quite know how to read his personality, but it was more than that; more than feeling apprehensive in his presence. I was starting to think he wasn’t all bad and that made the good things about him harder to ignore.

He wet his mouth and my eyes were immediately drawn to the motion, observing what I believed to be soft lips.

Whew! Okay… it was definitely time to get my tail out of there.

“Well, thanks for walking me through everything,” I said, quickly standing from my seat.

Kai seemed surprised by my abrupt exit. “Uh… sure. I’ve already emailed you what I need done today, including flight and hotel arrangements that I need you to cancel. I was supposed to fly out to L.A. next week, but Hahn informed me today that it won’t be necessary.”

I nodded, but that was it, so Kai finished his thought, adding, “Your company email address is your first and last name @Arata.”

Without his suit jacket covering him, I had a clear view of his arms flexing with each movement as he folded them over his chest. I inched my way closer to the door. “Perfect. I’ll get on that.”

The next second I was free—free from the lustful hell I had a feeling I’d be in every time I’d be forced to dawn Kai’s office. But nope. Not only was he my boss, but I had my suspicions there might be a girlfriend, too, based on the phone conversation I overheard and I don’t get down like that. However, the sex appeal I thought had dwindled at the discovery that he might have someone in his life had clearly only been playing a cruel game of hide and seek. Now that I’d had a glimpse of a softer side of Kai, it was harder to ignore how drawn I was to him. Just like the first time we met.

That attraction hadn’t gone anywhere. In fact, I had a feeling that the longer I was around him, the worse it would get.

If that was the case, God help me…

*****

To receive chapter two in your email inbox Monday, November 24th, just click here!

XOXO

Raven

Cover Reveal_”Brody” by Victoria H. Smith

Guess what! Fans of Victoria H. Smith’s “Found by You” series are in for a treat this fall. Yep! This October another Chandler man is having his story told and you’re not going to want to miss it! Check out the blurb and awesome cover below! Be on the lookout for this one this coming fall 😀

❤ Blurb ❤

He saved me…

Brody Chandler.

At a time when I was at my lowest, and cared far less about myself than anyone else possibly could.

But I can’t tell him everything and I have a feeling he’s doing the same behind that semi-truck’s wheel.

Who is this big, strong guy taking me away, and could I ever fathom a world in which he’s with me?

VHS-BRODY-3

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