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MARCO is Live!!

…and did I mention, for a limited-time, it’s only 99-pennies or FREE through Kindle Unlimited?

It’s official; my 11th book just went live this morning and I hope you enjoy getting to know Marco and Brynn through their story!!! MARCO is the first standalone in a new series I’m working on called “The Men of Indecent Exposure” and, I’m gonna be honest, I really had fun with this setting! Can’t wait to bring you the next guy’s story!

Marco and Brynn were such a pleasure to write and I can only hope that’s felt as you read. I’ve mentioned before that this is a bit of a longer read from me (400 + pages), and that’s because of the delicacy with which their plight needed to be handled 🙂 Rushing through it was simply not an option. I won’t say much more about it, but if you’re interested to find out what happened beyond chapter one… you can one-click today! When you’re done, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts, so don’t forget to head back to Amazon and leave a review ❤

XOXO,

Raven

Check out my Inspiration Board by clicking here

IE, #1_Marco

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

New Release, “Matt & Brooklyn”, Coming August 6th!

Heyyyy!! I’ve got something new being released August 6th!

Matt & Brooklyn

If you read my contemporary, interracial romance, “Again for the First Time“, you were already introduced to Matt and Brooklyn in that story. However, if you DIDN’T read the first book to see how they met… it doesn’t matter LOL. “Matt and Brooklyn” is a full-length standalone within the series so they definitely don’t have to be read in any particular order.

Blurb

She tells herself he’s just a friend, but in her heart he’s so much more…

Matteo Valente is an up-and-coming filmmaker whose award-winning documentary put him on the map two short years ago. It was that very documentary that also led him to the beautiful, intriguingly elusive Brooklyn James. From the moment he laid eyes on her through the lens of his camera, he couldn’t shake the feeling that their meeting was no mistake. Their connection was instant, but Brook has been hell-bent on keeping him in the dreaded “friend zone” while she chases after her own dream.

When Matt pays a surprise visit to Brook the day she graduates with her master’s degree, she is forced to take a second look. “Come with me” were not the words she expected to hear as Matt prepared to leave town again. The invitation to spend a week in L.A. left her breathless, but there were so many reasons to turn him down; so many scenarios that could ruin their close friendship, but… at the risk of regretting it later… she said yes.

“Matt & Brooklyn” is the second STANDALONE in the “Again for the First Time” family saga.

If you’d like to receive the first two chapters of the book to sample this coming Thursday, June 25th, subscribe to my newsletter before it’s too late! (Go ahead… don’t be scared. I promise not to spam you lol) While you’re at it, feel free to check out my inspiration board on Pinterest and add “Matt & Brooklyn” on Goodreads today! Also, if you didn’t already read “Again for the First Time”, check out the trailer here 😀

XOXO

Raven ❤

Sam and AJ Officially Have a Release Date!!!

Just a quick update for those who’ve been following my Free Falling series, the official release date for the novella, “Today. Tomorrow. Always.”, is March 26th, 2015, and I am sOoOoO excited!!! In a few weeks, I’ll be sharing a snippet, so stay tuned!!! It was a blast revisiting Sam and AJ and I hope you all enjoy hanging with them. There will be plenty of Terrell and Maisha, plus updates on past characters, too 😀

Also, cover art coming soon!!!

That’s all for now!! Have a lovely weekend ❤

XOXO

-Raven

Interested in Reading Chapter One of “Again for the First time”?

Good morning !!!! 😀 If you’re interested in checking out the first chapter (or two… or maybe three, not sure lol) of “Again for the First Time”, I’ll be giving all of my newsletter subscribers a sneak peek in the coming days! If you haven’t subscribed yet, there’s still time! It’s simple; just click here, fill out the short form (name and email address), then you’re done! Feel free to share this. The more the merrier 🙂 Have a great one!! ❤

RavenLogo

ONLY LOVE – Chapter One

With release day fast approaching, my co-author, Victoria H. Smith, and I decided to share the entire first chapter of our upcoming release, ONLY LOVE, available now for pre-order on Amazon.

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Blurb:

~ Aubrey ~

He’s not what I expected. He’s just… so much more than I imagined he’d be. Cops around here aren’t exactly honorable, and yet, I found myself trusting the one in my own backyard, quite literally the floor above me. Still, my instincts have been wrong before. My heart tells me to let him in completely, to love him completely.

But I learned to stop following my heart a long time ago.

~ Adam ~

She’s locked up tight and won’t let go. A single mother, she’s bound by the struggles she hides from the world around her. These trials do nothing but burden her, test her in the worst possible way.

But I have struggles of my own, secrets, and with their depth, they don’t just test me. They consume me and have the capability of breaking me completely, of breaking us completely.

~ Aubrey & Adam ~

Only love will help us. Only love will save us.

Chapter One

 

Aubrey

The heavy wooden door slammed against the frame instead of latching. Like everything else in the building, it was broken and probably would be for several months—maybe even longer. Repositioning the eight grocery bags in my hands, I prepared my mind to climb four flights of stairs, because, you guessed it, the elevator was broken, too.

Over the loud rumble of bass streaming from apartment 4A, and over the blaring television in 4C, I heard my daughter’s shrill cry as soon as I reached our hallway. That sound, her wailing like she was in a horror movie, had been my soundtrack for the past two weeks—she started teething again.

I fumbled with the keys, wanting nothing more than to get inside and pass out across my bed, but of course that wasn’t the way the evening would go. As if mocking me, my keys slipped from my numb fingers, which were awkwardly locked around the handles of my grocery bags. A long, frustrated sigh hissed from between my lips, and I crouched down to scoop them up, but halted when a deep, unfamiliar voice called out from behind me.

“Hang on. Let me get those for you.”

An arm covered in a thin layer of dark hair stretched to the floor and retrieved my fallen keys, gently placing them in my hand again. After accepting, I rested my eyes on the last person in this entire building I’d ever expect to help me—the cop who’d been assigned to live in our building to “babysit” my neighbors and myself. Rumor had it that he was supposed to be here to make us feel safer, but the city wasn’t fooling us. He was here to spy and report back. A snitch, if you will.

Giving him the side-eye, I looked him over. I’d seen him before, but had never allowed myself to really look at him until now, making this the first time I’d acknowledged he was attractive. And he definitely was. Being so close, there were a number of things I was able to take in for the first time—how blue his eyes were, his height, and the size of his arms. They were toned and defined just like the rest of his physique from what I could see through the material of his t-shirt and jeans. He wore a kind expression that caught me off guard, too. The look made his already handsome face even more so, drawing my attention to his lips and the slight cleft in his chin when a smile touched his mouth.

“I can take these,” he offered.

Before I could even protest, my left hand was relieved of the bags it cradled. Then the right was freed, too. He managed them with ease while I stood there, staring instead of unlocking the door. It was Marissa’s cry that pulled me from my thoughts. It seemed like she’d gotten louder in just the few seconds I’d been standing there. The moment I crossed the threshold, her eyes darted toward me—eyes I felt like I’d been staring into for most of my life. Her father’s eyes.

Gabby, my go-to sitter, quickly handed her off to me, and Marissa squeezed her tiny arms around my neck. She was a little feverish again and her tear-soaked cheek pressed against mine as she latched on. As my concern for her grew, I became less aware of the stranger standing behind me in the doorway, holding the bags of food.

“She’s been screaming nonstop for the past hour. I didn’t want to bother you in class, but I didn’t know what to do.” From the look on Gabby’s face, it was safe to say that Marissa had really put her through the wringer. Snacks were littered across the coffee table and almost every single toy I’d ever purchased was scattered about the living room. Clearly, Gabby had pulled out all the stops and nothing was working.

“I gave her the medicine on time and tried to get her to take that teething ring, but I think it might have irritated her gums even more,” Gabby continued to explain.

I placed a hand on her arm, letting her know I knew she’d done all she could. “It’s not your fault, Sweetie.”

Relieved, Gabby’s eyes shifted toward the door and it wasn’t until then that I noticed the man who’d kind of rescued me a moment ago. He hesitated for a fraction of a second when our eyes locked, and then without waiting for an invitation, he entered my apartment and took my groceries to the kitchen counter.

“What’s he doing here?” Gabby mouthed silently.

My only response was to shake my head. Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what he was doing here either; he could’ve dropped my bags at the door and left as far as I was concerned.

I bounced Marissa and rubbed her back, which soothed her a little—at least enough to allow me to now gather my thoughts to speak to Gabby. “You get your homework done?”

She shook her head, and I immediately felt guilty, knowing Marissa’s fussiness was to blame. I reached into my back pocket and took out the ten-dollar bill I had there. When I shoved it in the front pocket of Gabby’s backpack resting on the arm of the couch, she started to object, but didn’t when she saw the stern look on my face. She hated that I paid her, but knew I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’d been there for me more than my own family had, saved me more times than I could count when I didn’t have anyone else to babysit.

“Thanks,” she finally conceded. Situating the straps on her shoulders, she leaned in. “Night, Rissa. Feel better,” she said before kissing my daughter on the forehead over my shoulder.

“See you in the morning,” I called out just as she stepped into the hallway and disappeared.

A tall figure emerged from the dimly lit kitchen and cast a shadow just in front of my television. Reluctantly, and a little bit confused, I looked up at the officer who somehow ended up inside my personal space. I noted again how handsome he was—those eyes, those lips, his large, toned arms; however, his looks didn’t overshadow the fact that he was unwelcomed in this building, and especially in my apartment.

“Thanks for your help, but you didn’t have to bring my things in. I could’ve handled it,” I informed him, not wanting to give him the impression that his kind gesture changed my views of what he represented.

My cold tone seemed to go in one ear and out the other when he spoke. “She teething?” he asked casually, removing his hand from the pocket of his light-denim jeans just long enough to point toward Marissa.

Still working to settle her, I only nodded to confirm.

He took a step closer and my eyes shifted down to his feet, sending out a silent warning for him to keep his distance. When he didn’t come closer, I assumed he got the hint.

“I heard your sitter mention that she wouldn’t take the teething ring. If her gums are sore, she probably won’t,” he added.

I said nothing. Instead, I just stared, wondering where he was going with all this.

“Try wetting one of her washcloths and sticking it in the freezer for a bit. Thirty to forty minutes tops. The cold will relieve some of the throbbing, and it’s softer than those hard rings you get at the store.”

I rubbed Marissa’s back, but still didn’t acknowledge his advice.

“Do you have any small sandwich bags?” he asked. “If not, I think I have some I could grab for you if—”

“I have some,” I said sharply, causing him to purse his lips.

He stared.

I stared.

“So, yeah… just try that. Or don’t. Totally up to you,” he added under his breath, turning his back toward me when my cold disposition sent him scrambling for an exit.

It only took a fraction of a second for me to feel bad. Regardless of what I thought about his occupation and his assignment here in this building, he’d been kind to me tonight. And as much as I wanted him to feel as uncomfortable as the residents in this building feel, as much as I wanted to dislike him, I found it strangely difficult to stick to any of that with him standing here. At the moment, he wasn’t just the officer assigned to live in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Detroit. He became human. Just a guy helping a girl with her groceries and her crying baby.

“Hold up.”

He halted at the sound of my voice and turned to stare with those baby blues, causing me to hesitate when I again noted how beautiful they were.

“Thank you. You know, for the groceries… and for the advice,” I blurted.

A gracious smile tugged at one corner of his mouth, and I found myself liking that particular expression almost as much as I liked his eyes.

“You’re welcome. I hope that trick works out for you. Both of you,” he added when Marissa stopped crying long enough to notice him. The officer gave her a small wave and grinned her way. To my surprise, she smiled back, despite the fact that she still had fresh tears in her eyes.

“And if you need anything, I’m only one floor up. 5C,” he offered, despite the fact that I hadn’t asked.

I nodded. “Thanks again.”

“No problem. Name’s Adam, by the way.”

His hand extended toward me, and I wasn’t sure if I should shake it or not. Marissa, now silent and still clinging to my neck, stared at Adam long and hard just like I did.

Finally, trying to hide my skepticism, I returned the gesture. “Aubrey.”

Adam smirked a bit as I softened up. His hands were cool to the touch, and soft, but not too soft. Despite the strength I was positive those hands held, his grip on mine was surprisingly gentle.

No other words were spoken as he left me to my usual nightly routine of dinner, bathing Marissa, and then bed. While she ate, I took one of her cloths from the basket of unfolded laundry and did the steps Adam had recited, fully believing in my heart it was all for nothing. None of the pain relievers had done a thing, so certainly there was no way something this simple would solve the problem.

I went about my night as usual, and when I was done, I retrieved the cloth from the freezer just before trying to lay Marissa in her crib.

“We’re gonna try something new tonight,” I said to her as I shut off the lights in the apartment on the way to her bedroom, balancing her small body on my hip. She sniffed back a few tears, and I was already dreading the process of trying to get her to bed. What used to take about twenty minutes, now took a couple hours, which meant I was missing out on quite a bit of sleep by the end of the week.

Sitting in the mauve recliner in the corner of Marissa’s bedroom, I handed her the semi-frozen cloth, watching her inspect it in her tiny hands like I knew she would. She never just made things easy. In that way, she was a lot like her father.

I watched with an air of skepticism as she took the cloth to her lips and eventually began to squeeze it between her sore gums on the side where the new tooth was trying to come through. Instantly, I saw a change in her demeanor. She relaxed in my arms and rested her head against my chest. The tears that threatened to spill a moment ago were now dry, and for the first time in days, I had a glimmer of hope that I’d get to bed at a decent hour.

Within fifteen minutes, she had taken her medicine to keep the pain away throughout the night and drifted off in my arms. She didn’t even stir when I put her down in her crib. I stood there in her doorway, amazed at how well Adam’s technique had worked. Now I had yet another reason to thank him.

With the extra time before bed, I took to the computer to check my email. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach as my eyes lingered on the first name I came across—Javier Ruiz. A lifetime of memories, both good and bad, flooded my mind. I stared at the screen and swiped away the single tear that fell, missing him and secretly being grateful for the distance all at the same time. Knowing whatever this message said would rob me of the peaceful night I thought I’d have, I opened and read its contents.

‘Babe… I’ve been trying to call all day. Yesterday, too. Something’s up and I hate that I’m too far away to talk to you face to face. I don’t know what’s gone down in the last couple months, but I see it. Hear it in your voice. Feel it through the phone. Half the time, you don’t pick up when I call, and when you do, all you want to talk about is Rissa. Not how you’ve been handling things on your own. Not about work or school. Not about how much you miss me. None of that. I mean, I know it’s hard with the distance and everything, but this feels like more than that. I’m gonna hit you up tomorrow at around 10 a.m. your time. Please, please pick up. We need to talk.

Kiss my baby and tell her Daddy misses her like crazy.

Love you,

Javi

***

The plate of eggs had just hit the table when Gabby breezed through my door. I left it unlocked every morning just for her.

“Pancakes?” she asked, wearing an infectious smile.

“Nope. The usual. I’m running a bit behind today.” I didn’t explain that the reason my routine was lagging was because I’d slept through my alarm after lying awake half the night. Reading Javi’s letter affected much in the way I predicted it would.

“Speaking of running late,” I said sarcastically, glancing at the clock on the kitchen wall. She should’ve been here ten minutes ago by my calculation.

“Had to make my morning rounds,” Gabby answered. “Gotta make that money,” she said, referencing her side hustle, which consisted of her buying up candy at the liquor store and reselling it for double the price to people in the neighborhood. It was illegal, but I didn’t mess with her too much about it because there were definitely worse things she could be getting into at the age of fifteen.

“I even went to the cop’s place,” she mentioned casually, reaching for the strawberry jelly.

I glanced at her, but hid that I was intrigued, mostly wondering if she knew she’d just walked her illegal business right up to the law’s door—literally.

“And he didn’t slap a pair of cuffs on you and haul you down to the precinct? Shocking,” I said, unable to hide my distaste for law enforcement. Their impact on this neighborhood in particular had left a bad taste in my mouth.

“I don’t think he’s like that,” Gabby replied with a mouthful of toast. Marissa giggled at the sight of it.

“Yeah, right. They’re all like that.”

Gabby shook her head in protest, but continued eating of course. “Nah, he even bought a couple candy bars from me—thanked me and said that was the closest thing he’d had to breakfast all week.”

I pretended to only be moderately interested in her interaction with Adam, but probably wasn’t playing it off very well. “What else did he say?” I asked.

She didn’t make eye contact, but smirked. “Nothing, but I think you should invite him down to eat with us.” She eyed the spread. “I mean, I could definitely eat all this food, but only because it’s here. There’s enough to make him a plate.”

Her suggestion rang in my head as I toyed with the idea.

“Besides, he was really nice last night. Brought your bags in and put the groceries away and everything.”

I burst out laughing. “That man did not put my groceries away. Quit exaggerating.”

She grinned while biting down on a piece of bacon. Her eyes softened, and I tried not to let the expression get to me. “Still, he was nice. Not a whole lot of that going on around here.”

She didn’t know it yet because my face was still blank, but she broke me. She’d made several good points, and I was out of excuses to give for not feeding a man who was about to go to work with nothing in his stomach but pure sugar.

When I set my fork down, Gabby eyed me.

“Watch Rissa for a sec,” I said as I stood from my seat. Without even looking Gabby’s way, I knew she was cheesing.

I wasn’t even sure this was a good idea just yet, but I’d already committed to extending this invitation. So, whether Adam accepted or not, I was going to offer him a semblance of gratitude for his kindness the night before. Hopefully I wouldn’t regret it later.

Adam

Zipping up my bag of gear for today’s shift, the light tap, tap, tap at my door got my sudden attention. The candy bar I had lodged in between my teeth dropped from my mouth and into my palm as I turned my head to the door. Visitors were pretty scarce around my place, so the knock caught me off guard. Although, I was already running late this morning, which also had me a bit off kilter.

The knock hit again and my gaze shifted over to the wall clock hanging up in my apartment’s kitchen. I sucked in a breath upon realizing the time. I still had my morning rounds to do of the complex before heading into work. I normally didn’t do this late thing, but I was up past one last night looking at pictures. I guess I couldn’t help it and knew it would be a bad idea. It was a bad idea because doing so nearly made me have to pick up the phone and call my sponsor. Those two things usually went hand and hand. Those pictures and drinking. I hadn’t been that close in a while. I got it together, though. I got it together.

Letting out a breath, I shoved my candy bar into the pocket on my shirt uniform while I buttoned up the last few buttons. I normally got dressed at the precinct, but on the mornings I decided to do rounds of the apartment, I did so in uniform to make myself look official. I didn’t like intimidating people, but my chief advised it when I made rounds. I appeased him but not all the time. I usually did in the mornings as more people were up and around, but at night I kept it easy by wearing jeans and t-shirts mostly. These people were at home. They didn’t need a constant reminder of the law more than there already was. What, with me living here and all.

I made it to the door and unlocked it without looking, figuring it was one of two people. Option A was a neighbor complaining about another and wanting me to do something about it. I got a handful of those since I moved in a couple weeks ago. Usually folks avoided me like the plague, but if they needed something, they came by. I welcomed that seeing as that was my job. To protect and serve. The other option, B, was one of my moms.

Cringing as I turned the knob, I hoped it was the former. A neighbor complaint could be dealt with quickly. A worried mom (times two) couldn’t be. I heard no end of the dangers of taking this position by living here from my mom and her partner of twenty years since I told them I’d be moving into this neighborhood for my job. This new living arrangement offered not only cheap rent but also respect from my boss. Two things I couldn’t pass up. Tell that to my moms though. They came by before the last moving box hit the apartment floor. It took forever to get them out the last time.

Cracking the door, the visitor fortunately wasn’t them, and I widened it, blinking in surprise at the dark eyes, heart-shaped face, and long curls coiled tightly as they rested on her shoulders. They left tiny droplets of water on the tops of them, dotting her cinnamon-brown skin. She must have just showered; a scent, feminine and sweet, suddenly wafting through the air of the normally musty apartment complex let me know that.

Dampening my mouth, I stood tall, forgetting myself and my manners by not greeting her. “Aubrey. Hi. Good seeing you again.”

I had to admit, she was the last person I thought would make her way up here. I always knew when folks wanted to be left alone. That came with the job and she had definitely been in that category when we spoke last night.

She didn’t say anything. Her damp shoulders suddenly went tight, her body stiff, and when she wouldn’t look at my eyes, her gaze targeting lower to what I wore, I knew she wasn’t seeing anything but the uniform.

I internally cursed at my choice not to dress at the precinct this morning. My voice did cause her to look up though, long lashes flashing up in my direction. She cleared her throat. “Hi, Officer…” Her eyes drifted to my name badge. I internally cursed again. “Holloway. Likewise.”

She said this, but I knew she didn’t feel the same. That it was actually a good thing to see me again. Even if she hadn’t suddenly addressed me formally, her body language spoke of her true feelings. Last night she had her guard up. This morning, though? Something like Fort Knox came to mind.

I stepped forward a bit, but kept a fair distance from her. I wanted her know I was approachable but didn’t want to intimidate her. Pushing my hands into my pockets, I smiled. “Glad to hear it, and I believe I asked you to call me Adam.”

I hoped to break ground a bit by saying that and keep things casual with her. I didn’t know if it worked, but she didn’t step back from me. That was something.

She let out a breath instead, smoothing her hands down the gray sweat pants she wore. “Adam, right. Sorry about that.”

I simply smiled. “You’re forgiven. Can I help you with something this morning?”

A familiar awkwardness in the form of silence cut through the air again. Just like last night. I was about to push again when her mouth moved, forming words.

“Um, yeah. Um.” She went fidgety, running her fingers up and down the strap of her pink tank top restlessly. Realizing she was doing that, she let go, passing off the action when she scratched at the skin just beneath her earlobe, petite fingers continuing to be restless by brushing down to the base of her neck. “I just wanted to thank you for yesterday. Your advice with the baby.”

I looked up from her neck, and it took me a moment to recall what she was referring to. Once I did, I gave her another smile. “It worked then?”

She was still fidgety, opting to rub her neck now. “Mmmhmm. She slept through the whole night. That gave me a break.”

I was happy to hear that, but did wonder why the burden to get the baby through her teething was left on her shoulders and why she had no one to help. I supposed that wasn’t my business.

I nodded at what she’d said, my lips lifting with the knowledge that I had helped. “I’m glad. Hopefully last night is the first of many quiet nights for you.”

I genuinely meant that. I wasn’t just saying that because I should, but I actually wanted that for her. Taking care of a baby wasn’t easy; especially if she was doing it by herself.

I think she understood my sincerity because for the first time since we started talking, her hand dropped from her neck and she didn’t look so anxious. In fact, she was actually looking at me, finally in my eyes and not at everything else about me. She chewed her lip for a moment before her gaze wandered to my shirt pocket, the one with the candy bar poking out of it. Hesitantly, she lifted a finger. “Is that your breakfast?”

I tapped the pocket lightly, chuckling. “I guess so. I just moved in recently. Haven’t really been out shopping yet, and well, I’m a guy, so me and the kitchen probably won’t be acquainted for a little while.”

She shifted on her pink flip-flops in silence. Like she was in debate of something, but even still, I never thought that debate would be what she said next. “Do you want to maybe come downstairs? For breakfast? Gabby told me you were making that chocolate bar your meal,” she said, eyeing my hand on my pocket.

Laughing, I dropped my hand. “I did say that.”

The girl really surprised me by coming to my door. Again, I didn’t get many visitors. Not only that, but she tried to hustle me by selling candy she clearly bought at the store. I gave her a break and contributed to the cause. She had drive and that was good. Hopefully, she channeled it into the good stuff like school, too.

Aubrey shrugged her tiny shoulders once. “So what do you say? About breakfast that is?”

Aubrey’s invitation was the first sign of a welcome I had in the last couple weeks, but I was running late this morning. I raised my wrist, checking my watch. Maybe I had a few minutes; I could make a few minutes for her. She’d been so hesitant of me before. I didn’t want to ruin these new signs of trust she seemed to be giving off.

“You’re busy,” she said.

Before I had a chance to determine how much time I had, she was already lifting her hands, stepping away. “Have a good day, Officer.”

Just like that, the guard went back up. I closed my door without thinking, locking it right after. I caught up to her in two strides and she stopped walking, looking up at me with those dark eyes.

“Yeah, I am busy,” I said. “What’s for breakfast?”

I guess I’d be skipping rounds today.

***

            Aubrey left that same trail of feminine scent behind her. It tagged along with every step she made downstairs. I kept close as well, but not too close, and she often peeked back, a quick look over her tiny shoulder, almost as if she was trying to keep me in check. I couldn’t get too close to her and she was letting me know. That same warning about her followed all the up to her woven, multicolored welcome mat despite the fact that it was she herself who’d invited me down for breakfast. When we got there, she turned her doorknob, but her hand hesitated pushing the door open. I thought to offer her an out, let her know I was running late anyway, but she pushed, granting me access to the same apartment I was in last night. The warm smell of eggs and bacon before I crossed the entry rumbled my insides, awareness that this morning’s chocolate bar just wasn’t doing the trick.

After I entered, I closed the door behind me. Her apartment was the same, though a peek into her kitchen let me know she’d put her groceries away. I wanted to do that for her last night, but I had a feeling the effort would have been interpreted wrong. As more of an intrusion than a favor from a stranger.

Sitting in a chair at a square table, the teenager who sold me the candy this morning, Gabby, turned, waving at me. Two dimples creased a round face, her dark skin. “Officer Holloway,” she said in greeting, grinning while she chewed a piece of bacon.

I had to laugh. “You can call me Adam, Gabby. I’m not on duty here.”

She looked more accepting of that than Aubrey did, not looking at the uniform at all. “Ah, okay,” she said. “You joining us for breakfast?”

She crossed a look over to Aubrey, who only shook her head before going to the other person I noticed sitting at the table. Her little girl. The baby.

“Uh, yeah. Aubrey invited me,” I returned to Gabby, my attention a bit distracted as I watched the mom with her child. Chubby arms reached up to her mom, which Aubrey appeased by letting them lock around her neck as she lifted her into her arms. The baby was a bit lighter than Aubrey, her curly hair looser, and I believed those indicated a mixture of races. She gurgled a laugh when Aubrey picked her up, and I smiled. The littlest things made babies happy, didn’t they? Attention and whatnot, and the smile Aubrey returned confirmed, for me at least, that happiness was always shared in return by the parent.

Always.

“That’s Rissa,” Gabby said, tugging on her chubby leg and breaking my thoughts. “Short for Marissa.”

I waved at her like I did last night, and both mother and child looked my way. More specifically, Rissa watched me while Aubrey watched Rissa, a curiosity in both gazes. Rissa studied me for only a moment before she released the material of her mom’s tank top and stretched her tiny fingers out toward me. I think Aubrey and I were both surprised by that, but I didn’t hesitate before I reached my finger out toward her to take.

“She doesn’t really like strangers,” Aubrey said, but she barely finished the sentence before Rissa latched onto my finger. She giggled, shaking my finger in her small fist.

Gabby laughed, looking up at her. “She seems to like this one.”

“I like her, too,” I said, surprised my uniform didn’t put her off like it did her mom. I was glad.

Aubrey’s lips actually threatened to smile while Rissa played with my finger, curling up a bit in the corner. Ultimately the expression didn’t completely make it when Rissa decided to use my finger for her own person teething ring, popping it into her mouth and chewing. I didn’t mind and laughed, but Aubrey clearly did. Removing her daughter’s newly chosen toy from her mouth, she apologized profusely, her eyes wide like I’d cuff them both at any moment. I raised my hands, hating the look.

“It’s fine. Fine,” I said, taking a seat at the table across from Gabby.

She didn’t accept that and said she’d put the baby in her playpen. I watched the pair again, folding my hands and setting them on the table. The playpen was in front of the couch and Aubrey placed Marissa there. She tickled her belly and that gurgled laugh hit the air again. The sound was magical.

“So have you ever killed anybody?” Gabby asked, eyeing the gun secured in my holster. She picked up her tumbler of orange juice and took a sip casually, like she’d asked me about the weather.

Aubrey shot her head around from her location at the playpen. “Gabby!”

Gabby lifted her hands. I think she was trying to look innocent, but that grin she sported kind of had the adverse effect. Putting her glass to her lips, she asked, “What?” before taking a sip, laughing into the juice.

Aubrey groaned, and I had to keep my smile in. She really was upset. She got to her feet and charged over to us, snatching a baby wipe out of a container on the end table by the couch along the way. Before I knew it, she had my hand in hers. I had no idea what she was doing, but I didn’t stop her as she rubbed it along the surface of my hand, taking extra care along my index finger. I relaxed and just watched her.

“I’m sorry about this,” she breathed out with a huff. “Rissa’s spit,” she paused, dropping my hand and taking the other. She rubbed there as well with the baby wipe, sneering in Gabby’s direction. “Her.”

Her annoyance only got Gabby chuckling into her juice even more. I kind of found the whole thing funny as well. Aubrey clearly freaking about how the morning was going, and now, rubbing down my hand to the point of making the skin raw like I was her own kid, but I didn’t dare laugh. That didn’t stop Rissa, though, as even she was having a laugh. She stood up in her pen, banging her hands on the bar as she watched her panicking mom. The whole thing went to all new heights when Aubrey dropped my hand, slid a plate over to me, and not only served me by putting eggs and bacon on my plate, but also picked up a piece of toast and continued to butter it for me.

Gabby was nearly losing it at this point, her hand over her mouth, and I couldn’t contain mine either. I snorted, and that’s when Aubrey realized what she was doing.

She lowered the butter knife from the bread, her expression nothing short of mortification. “You can probably do this yourself, can’t you?”

I could. But I kinda sorta wanted her to. I liked watching her do so. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed anymore though, so I took the knife from her. “Thanks.”

She nodded in return. Smoothing her hands down her pants, she backed away slowly. “I’m gonna get dressed for work.” She glanced over at Gabby. “Watch Rissa?”

Gabby lifted her glass to her, and Aubrey breezed out of the room. All this was definitely worth missing rounds for. Definitely.

I got started in on my food as Gabby finished hers. She got Marissa out of her pen and returned, placing her on her lap. Rissa watched me eat, wanting my eggs by reaching out toward them. I asked Gabby if it was okay, and she said fine, but just a little. I gave her only a little on the tip of an extra spoon on the table. She gummed it happily.

“But seriously, have you killed someone?” Gabby wiped Rissa’s mouth free of the extra egg with a napkin while she asked.

I shook my head in response, doing so with a laugh. I got that question a lot. I think people thought the life of a cop was way more exciting than it actually was. Especially the kids. Gabby looked let down by my response, and I could only shake my head again. An exasperated “Frickin-A!” came from behind our seats at the table. It seemed Aubrey only had time to get half dressed. When she came out of what I assumed was her bedroom from down the hall, she still wore her sweat pants with a dressy top. She charged down the hallway, ripping a hair tie off her wrist and placing it in between her teeth.

“Can you walk to school today, Gabs?” she asked around the hair tie, bunching her hair up. She pushed her curls into a ball before putting the hair tie around it. “I have to take Rissa to my aunt’s today. She lives on the other side of town and I won’t have time to run you by the school.”

Aubrey reached out for Rissa, and after the change off, Gabby nodded, saying “Sure,” before slipping her book bag off the chair she sat in. She pushed her arms into the straps. “Is everything okay? Why isn’t she going to daycare?”

Aubrey opened her mouth, but then her gaze went to me still at the table. I turned away, giving them privacy. I didn’t want to listen in, but the thing about ears was they were hard to turn off. I didn’t miss when she said her check for the week of daycare bounced, though I made it look like I had, scraping my fork along my plate. Like I was distracted and not listening. Gabby started to say goodbye when I chose to make my presence known again. I rubbed my mouth with my napkin and stood.

“I can take her,” I suggested. Both girls’ eyebrows twitched up at the proposal and I shrugged. “I pass the high school on my way to the precinct. Not a problem at all.”

“You want to take her,” Aubrey said, eyebrows narrowed in my direction. Rissa patted lightly at her face, but the woman’s gaze didn’t let up. “In your squad car?”

Yeah, the thing was an eyesore. But again, something my boss requested I drive once I moved in. I didn’t have to drive it all the time, but I did have to have it in the area. I shrugged again. “I’d take my car, but I’m headed into work right after.”

“I like the idea,” Gabby popped in, exchanging a glance between the pair of us with a clear excitement in her eyes.

Fighting a smile, I pointed at her. “She likes the idea.”

With a quick goodbye, Aubrey let us go, though she did so begrudgingly, I think. Gabby gave Rissa a kiss before she went into the hallway. I was last and left to close the door. I raised my hand to Aubrey and Rissa still in the hall. “Thanks for breakfast this morning. It was great.”

“Though a little crazy?” Aubrey added, her baby still patting her face while her mom stared at me.

I chuckled. “Yeah, a little crazy. But still good.”

I didn’t say what I really wanted to. I wanted to add it was a little perfect, too. Aubrey nodded and I got a cute little grin from Rissa just before Aubrey turned around with her, her back to me. I heard her mutter something as I closed the door. Something that sounded like: “Only one day with Aunt Jen today. We’ll figure out daycare tomorrow.”

Again, I wondered why she had no one to help her.

********************END OF EXCERPT********************

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“ONLY LOVE” Book Trailer

Enjoy the trailer of “Only Love”, my latest release co-authored with Victoria H. Smith.

Available NOW for pre-order on Amazon!!

Only Love_ebooksm

*** “ONLY LOVE” COVER REVEAL***

The cover is finally up! My co-author, Victoria H. Smith, and I have been waiting for this day. Now it’s finally here!! Check out the cover of our new release, Only Love, below!!

EXCERPT BLURB

Head to Amazon if you’d like to PRE-ORDER!!

And now… THE COVER!!!

Only Love Cover

Check out an excerpt from “ONLY LOVE”!! Coming November 18th!!

Good morning, ladies!! Super excited to share with you an excerpt from “ONLY LOVE”, my newest release with the talented Victoria H. Smith, coming NOVEMBER 18th!!!! Can’t wait for you to officially meet Aubrey and Adam, but in the meantime, checkout this snippet!♥

:::::EXCERPT:::::
He flashed his perfect, white teeth and disappeared in the kitchen while I took a seat on the couch. About a minute and a half later, he returned with two Styrofoam bowls with plastic spoons hanging over the sides.
“I know it isn’t fancy, but I’m gonna be honest; I have no idea which box my dishes are in.” He chuckled.
“It’s fine. I don’t mind.” My eyes were stuck on his as I accepted my bowl and he took a seat beside me. Close beside me.
“I hope you like Neopolitan,” he said, but my gaze slipped down to his mouth when he took his first spoonful. I couldn’t even formulate a sensible response. Instead, I tasted from my bowl and kept silent to make sure I didn’t say anything I shouldn’t. I kept my eyes trained ahead until I was done. Had to. When I zeroed in on Gabby’s box by the door, I decided to just head out. Being here with him alone wasn’t a good idea.
“I should get going,” I announced, scooting to the edge of the couch.
I heard Adam stand right after I did. When I turned to look, he’d folded his arms over his chest, looking as conflicted as I felt. I tried not to let him affect me, but turning away didn’t change anything. I slipped into my shoes at the door so I could go.
“Thanks again. For everything. I had a great time,” I said, taking note of the fact that he’d taken another step toward me. My instincts kicked in and I placed a hand on the doorknob, aware of the contrast between what I wanted to do and what I knew to be the right thing.
Instead of responding to my statement with words, Adam took my other hand, entangling his lengthy fingers with mine as I got lost in the sensation of his digits sliding in between mine. The brazen gesture caught me off guard and I sucked in a breath, seeing the certainty in his eyes. No actual words were spoken aloud, but I felt like I heard Adam loud and clear, understood how he felt, even if the feelings he was harboring were yet new and unexplored. Those dark lashes shrouded his eyes as his gaze dimmed and he came even closer.
My body went rigid at the feel of the wall against my back, meaning I couldn’t go anywhere even if I wanted to. But I didn’t—want to go anywhere, that is. Adam came dangerously close—so close his scent filled my space and I had no choice but to breathe him in. He wore no cologne, just gentle hints of whatever soap or body wash he used. It was better than any expensive fragrance he could’ve ever purchased. They would’ve done nothing but ruin his natural aroma. It was simply the smell of him… and I loved it.
He took another step and now we were toe to toe. My fingers slipped off the knob when he gently took possession of that hand too. It didn’t matter, though. At this point leaving him here alone no longer seemed like the next action I wanted to take anyway. As if reading my mind, Adam erased the last few inches of space that were no longer welcome between us. His chest pressed against mine when our lips met and I inhaled a breath so long and deep that I became lightheaded. Or maybe that was just because of him. His lips were soft and warm just like I’d imagined they were. I somehow appreciated the hint of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry that flavored our kiss more now, tasting them on his lips instead of on a spoon. He was right; this was a much more suitable dessert.
My mouth parted in submission, welcoming Adam’s tongue inside when he took our kiss to a deeper level of intimacy. My knees went weak and I felt his heart racing through his shirt. His fingers squeezed mine tighter as he leaned into me, sandwiching me between him and the wall, which was just as firm and unyielding as his body.
My lips felt slighted when Adam tore away from them, grazing over my cheek as he traveled to the side of my neck. My eyes drifted shut after the sensation drowned me in a haze of lust and yearning. His lips were still damp from our kiss, intensifying the feel of them against my skin. I was so entranced I didn’t even realize my hands were freed from Adam’s grasp until I felt his inching up my torso, exploring me on top of my clothes. With him so close, I felt like he was everywhere—all over me.
Maybe he was.
And maybe I loved it.

Check out “Only Love” on Amazon and pre-order your copy today!!

FUN! TEASERS! PRIZES! AND MORE!!! Victoria and Raven’s Smexy Release Bash – TONIGHT!!!!!

Good morning! Today’s the day! If you haven’t already, head on over to the “Victoria and Raven’s Smexy Release Bash” event page on Facebook and RSVP!! In celebration of Victoria H. Smith’s “Found by You” and my latest release “Exposed – Free Falling Book 3″, we’ve got teasers, prizes, and fun galore! With guest authors including LaVerne Thompson (Ursula Sinclair), Lena Hampton, Linden Hughes, Neveah Lee, and Patrice Michelle (Michelle Hardin), you’re sure to have a blast! Join us tonight from 8 – 10 pm EST.  Visit the event page here to confirm that you’ll be in attendance and feel free to share!! All are welcome!  See you tonight!!! Image

 

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