DFRAT: Guest Author Yolanda Sfetsos + a Giveaway

My name is Yolanda Sfetsos and I'm a writer from Australia. I've been digitally published since 2007, and it's been a great experience for me. Not only is it fun and awesome to see my books available as eBooks, but it's a fantastic way of getting my stories out in the wild and available to a lot of readers worldwide.

Back when I started, there was a lot of talk about digital publishing being a fad that would die out because most people could only read eBooks on their computers or laptops, but that prediction was wrong. With the introduction of the Kindle, iPad, Nook, smart phones, and other reading devices, eBooks have changed the world of publishing.

I'm as proud today of being published digitally, as I was when I first started. And the excitement never fades.

Asides from being a writer, I'm also a reader. As much as I love my paperbacks, I now also own a Kindle and absolutely adore it. I love reading from my Kindle Keyboard and have a TBR pile as huge as the actual bookshelves in my bedroom. I love how compact it is, and how the books don't actually take up any physical space. Trust me, being a bibliophile, this means a lot. :)

The digital publishing revolution has had a huge impact on me as both a writer, and a reader.

Giveaway: One lucky winner will get a digital copy of A Patch of Darkness.  Leave a comment on this post along with your email address by 7:00pm on July 5th to enter.
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EXCERPT FROM A PATCH OF DARKNESS:

“Are you daydreaming again?”

I blinked a few times, trying to clear the jumble of thoughts from my mind so I could focus on the man sitting across from me.

How romantic! We were supposed to be enjoying a nice dinner together and I was trying to mentally sort through my to-do list.

Jonathan Wells tries hard to accommodate my unconventional life. Yet, most of the time he’s the one going out of his way, or being stood up because “something important came up” at the last minute. It was hard to balance everything sometimes.

Most of the time I find myself torn between feeling sorry for him and feeling like I don’t deserve him. I’m very interested in him, though. I want us to become more than just a string of dates never tying together. Jonathan makes me laugh. He makes my heart beat faster. He’s an amazing, kind-hearted man with stunning, boyish looks I find myself gazing at all the time.

“I’m sorry. I was just thinking about…” I closed my mouth. That sounded so pathetic. Why was I thinking about anything when he was sitting across from me in a beautiful Italian restaurant? The weight of his leg against mine suddenly distracted me from everything else.

“You usually are,” he said with a sheepish grin.

“I promise, no more daydreaming. Well, unless it’s about you. Oh, and never when you’re just across the table from me.”

Jonathan’s grin widened and the corners of his eyes wrinkled in an adorable way that made my stomach drop.

“It sounds to me like we just made a deal, Ms. Fox.”

I flashed him a quick smile and nodded. “Thanks for bringing me here tonight. I really need a break from everything.”

“Well, maybe it’s time you and I got away from it all by taking off for the weekend.”

“I’d love to, Jonathan, really I would, but you know I can’t just up and leave. I’ve got a ton of unresolved cases.” And even more I haven’t even looked at."

“There’s a haunted lighthouse in it for you, if you agree,” he said, waggling his dark eyebrows. Jonathan sure knew how to tempt me.

I bit down on my bottom lip. “As tempting as that sounds, I can’t leave right now. Maybe in a few months…” I sighed. “I mean, it’s not just me. What about the bookstore? You can’t close up for the weekend, can you?”

Jonathan’s disappointment was obvious. He averted his dark eyes to wind a clump of spaghetti around his fork. “The bookstore could have a month off and no one would notice. Oh, hold on—it did! And as I said, no one noticed.” He shoveled the Bolognese-smothered forkful into his mouth.

I smiled sympathetically. His bookstore, Prologue, was a cramped two-story corner store in the heart of the city. It was hard to compete with the large book chains only blocks away. Still, Jonathan gave his bookstore all he had and specialized in genre-specific novels and occult reference books other places didn’t stock.

That’s actually where we met, while I was on a job in Prologue. Of course, I waited until the job was done before giving in to a date with him. It’s not wise to cross professional and personal wires. I find it’s better to separate the two when possible.

Jonathan had called me because a poltergeist was tearing his books and store apart. I was contracted to find him, her, or even them—sometimes they like to team up, it’s very adolescent but not out of the question.

Chaotic ghostly behavior is unacceptable in society. It’s my job to locate and deliver them to stand trial. Break the rules and they’re forcibly isolated from society, and that’s if they have a lenient judge. Most times, something this severe could land the spook a one-way ticket to the ghostly patch forever, never able to return again after banishment.

I’ve been responsible for a few of those cases.

A shiver raced down my spine.

I’m sure there are a bunch of pissed-off ghosts on that patch complaining, or even plotting against me. Or maybe I’m just a little paranoid and self-involved.
Either way, I track down spooks—ghosts, spirits, poltergeist, orbs—whatever ghostly disturbance is affecting someone’s life in a negative way.

I establish communication and bring them in.

Ghosts have rights, but with those rights come obligations and the responsibility to adhere to certain rules in every community. Break them and you suffer the consequences, just as any human would.

Sierra Fox, Book 1: A Patch of Darkness is now available from Samhain Publishing.
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PhotobucketWife. Mother. Writer. Bibliophile. Dreamer. Animal lover. Intrigued by the supernatural. Horror freak. Zombie enthusiast. Movie & music fan. Slave to her muse.
Yolanda lives in Sydney, Australia with her awesome husband, lovely daughter, and cheeky cat.

Saturday Song

Here's a favorite of mine from 2001 - Wasting My Time by Default.  Enjoy!

DFRAT Review: The Virgin's Revenge by Dee Tenorio

If you can't beat 'em...seduce 'em

Amanda Jackman’s love life is the stuff dreams are made of...which is fitting, because it’s all in her head. Thanks to six oversized, overbearing brothers who treat her like the family jewel, she’s lived in a padded little box.

Determined to get a life before she needs a padded little cell, she sets out to throw off the yoke and live on her own terms. Except she seriously underestimates the lengths to which her brothers will go to keep her safe and sound.

Cole Engstrom’s life might just be at an end. Cornered by all six of the massive Jackmans—men he normally considers his friends—he learns he’s their choice to marry their sister...or else. Make that first choice, but not the last.

Rather than watch Amanda’s brothers club their way through potential mates, Cole figures it’s best to just play along for a while and buy her some time to find a man of her own. It’s a good plan. Until Amanda figures it out—and decides he’s the one to relieve her of her “sheltered little virgin” status. One seduction at a time...

Cole Engstrom is shocked when his friend Locke Jackman takes him to lunch and tells him that he will marry Locke’s sister, Amanda. Cole, who planned on never getting married is a bit befuddled with his friend and how he can possibly do this to his sister. She’s a great girl and has been one of Cole’s best friends for the past 12 years so he has her best interests at heart as well. But dammit – he doesn’t want to get married! Cole tries to tell Locke this in the best possible way but Locke isn’t taking no for an answer. Cole decides that he’ll tell Amanda the next time he sees her and they’ll deal with it somehow. But Cole never gets up the nerve to do it and the longer he waits the harder it gets.

Amanda is a bit confused with the fact that she has finally moved out from her brothers’ never absent thumb and she’s not happy. Sure, she’s got a house and privacy but she’s not as content as she thought she’d be. When Cole asks her out on a date she immediately knows that something is up. Cole is a great friend but Amanda knows that Cole views her as a sister and wouldn’t ever “date” her. Amanda wants to date Cole…and do a whole lot more to him…but him asking her out raises vibrant red flags. Amanda ends up overhearing Cole and Locke talking about the situation and is pissed beyond belief. She decides that she’s going to seduce Cole, as she’s wanted to do for years, and then dump him. That will show her brothers and Cole that she’s not to be trifled with. But in the end, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

This is a story with several twist and something that definitely needs the reader to pay attention. That’s not difficult thought because Tenorio’s writing is so easy to read that you want to delve farther and farther into the twists.

Let’s start with the main characters. Amanda is one girl in the sea of brothers. Her oldest brother had to take over being a parent when he was just 20 and deal with his 6 siblings. Being the only girl Amanda helped out a lot in the home but she was guarded like Fort Knox. She couldn’t go out with friends or do anything really without one or many of her brothers showing up. How frustrating. I would have wanted out of the house as well but even after moving out Amanda is constantly under watch. This is a woman who wants more out of life but doesn’t have a clue how to get it. She’s so smart but has no self-confidence. Is this fallout from her brothers? It’s really hard to tell in this story. I really liked that she started coming out of her shell with Cole’s help but she still, even by the end of the book, seemed so immature to me. Her thinking was skewed so much that she could talk herself out of anything – including believing that Cole’s feelings toward her weren’t real – only fabricated to make her brother happy.

Cole is a great guy. Granted he’s needed to be hit over the head for years to see that his feelings for Amanda are more than just friendship. He truly has no plans to marry but he loves hanging out with Amanda. When Cole finally talks her brother into taking a step back and giving him no interference with the dating plan Cole takes advantage of it. I really wish during the story that he would have found the balls to come clean with Amanda but he’s a man. Enough said. lol He really was a wonderful hero and I liked him so much.

There were a couple of secondary characters that I really liked. Cassie and Burke – a couple from book 1 in this series – were just great (I’ll have to go back and read their book). Cassie and her brother Hayne were also hilarious and I loved their sibling banter – it made me laugh out loud several times.

Ms. Tenorio’s writing is as good in this novel as it has been in the other novel’s I’ve read by her. The book has a good romance that was a bit frustrating for me. It all worked in the end though and ended up being a solid read.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5


DFRAT: Guest Author Nathan M. Farrugia + a Giveaway

My story begins with not wanting a publisher.

The idea for my debut novel, The Chimera Vector, sort of inspired by the Dark Angel TV series and Half-Life video game, was born when mobile phones were bricks and Macs seemed to share the same product design as Fisher Price. With programmed covert operatives, helicopter battles and immortal psychopaths, The Chimera Vector is both a techno-thriller with science fiction undertones and an ambitious venture into the new frontier of digital publishing.

When bookstores starting shutting down and Amazon, Apple, Google and others moved swiftly into ebooks, I saw a way for people around the world to read my book -- and hopefully pay for it too. Being the idealistic, naive author that I am, I wanted The Chimera Vector to be DRM free, simultameously global and below $10, something that was unheard of at the time.

I stalked my editor on Twitter, who soon turned out to be Pan Macmillan's new digital publisher, Momentum. I didn't even know a digital publisher was a thing but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Books are moving into the digital space and taking their place alongside music, film and television. And with that comes the overhyped dangers of piracy, the benefits of convenience and global accessibility, which is great news for me because Barnes & Noble is the sort of place my readers wouldn't be caught dead in.

Digital publishing gave me everything I wanted that traditional publishing couldn't: global reach, low prices, no evil DRM and a nice chunk of royalties. Plus I only had to wait a few months to see my novel in print, not a year or two. The only downside to digital publishing is the traditional media's perception of it. I haven't had a single traditional book review for The Chimera Vector, but I have managed to score a review by Apple iBookstore thanks to the wonderful digital marketing team at Momentum who worked closely with Apple and Google to promote my book and shoot it into the bestselling charts. This is something I couldn't have done if I self-published.

Digital publishing offered me the best of both worlds: the flexibility and agility of self-publishing along with the marketing, publicity and professional editing of a traditional publishing.

Will I stick to digital only publishing? You bet.

That and writing books with lots of 'splosions...

Giveaway: 3 lucky winners will get a copy of The Chimera Vector.  Leave a comment on this post along with your email address no later than 7:00pm on Wednesday, July 4th to enter.

Blurb:

The Fifth Column: the world’s most powerful and secretive organization. They run our militaries. They run our governments. They run our terrorist cells.

Recruited as a child, Sophia is a deniable operative for the Fifth Column. Like all operatives, Sophia’s DNA has been altered to augment her senses and her mind is splintered into programmed subsets.

On a routine mission in Iran something goes catastrophically wrong. Bugs are beginning to appear in Sophia’s programming and the mission spins out of control.

High-speed chases, gun fights, helicopter battles, immortal psychopaths, super soldiers and mutant abilities are all in the mix in this edge-of-your-seat action-packed techno-thriller.


Excerpt:
Chapter One


Sophia did not exist.

Officially.

Unofficially, she squeezed the trigger. The .50 BMG round the size of a cigarillo punched through the Minister of Defense’s head, popping it like a grape. The empty shell jumped from her rifle’s ejection port and rolled across the rooftop. She ignored it and thumbed a new round directly into the ejection port and slid the cocking handle to the rear. The working parts were smooth and well oiled.

Through her Nightforce scope, she shifted her aim from the decapitated body to a nearby parked motorcycle. She aimed for the explosives concealed on the bike and fired. The gases propelled the round through the free-floating barrel, out the muzzle brake and across downtown Tehran with a sound like a thunderclap. The explosives detonated, tearing open the Minister’s car and shredding everything around it. A cloud of dust billowed outwards.

Sophia crawled back from the edge of the rooftop, taking her Steyr HS .50 sniper rifle with her. The explosives would mask the assassination. On the other side of the world, the Fifth Column were busy inventing a previously unknown terrorist group to claim responsibility for what Sophia hoped would be regarded as a suicide bombing. The Steyr HS .50 was an added precaution. Iran had purchased 800 of the sniper rifles a few years ago, so any trace of the Steyr HS would cast suspicion on Iran. One of several necessary steps to vilify that country and butter up the western world for the next Middle Eastern power grab.

The rifle’s bipod detached in seconds, but field stripping the weapon took a bit longer. She rolled up the rifle components in her sleeping bag and stuffed it into her backpack.

Damien, one of the operatives under her command, was waiting for her with unblinking hazel eyes at the bottom of the stairs, backpack slung over his shoulders. He scratched his unshaven neck and slipped on a pair of imitation Ray-Bans. He nodded and moved for the elevator.

Neither of them said a word as they took the elevator to the hotel’s second floor and exited the lobby slowly and calmly. They looked like American tourists fresh out of college. They jumped on the second-hand Honda 125 motorcycles they’d purchased yesterday and disappeared.

***

The team of three operatives slipped across the Iranian desert in a Land Cruiser, the Honda motorcycles stowed in the back. Headlights off, interior lights off. Nothing but the coal-black night. Sophia sat in the front passenger seat while Damien drove and Jay sat in the back.

Jay broke the silence with a tuneless song. Something about living in a pineapple under the sea.

‘SpongeBob SquarePants!’ Damien said.

‘Who died in an oil spill because of BP?’

‘SpongeBob SquarePants!’ Damien said.

‘Stop,’ Sophia said.

Damien drew the Land Cruiser to a halt.

‘No,’ Sophia said. ‘Stop singing.’

‘Oh.’ Damien picked up speed again.

Over her shoulder, Sophia noticed Jay had something bright purple on his head. ‘Jay, are you wearing a glamor turban over your helmet?’

Jay was suddenly still. ‘No.’

‘Take it off .’

A Citroën sedan peeled from the night, heading straight for them. Its driver seemed oblivious to their presence.

‘Shit,’ Damien said, gripping the steering wheel.

Sophia leaned forward, peering through the darkness. ‘What’s someone doing out here at this time?’

‘You mean other than assassinating the Minister of Defense?’ Damien said.

‘Mickey-D’s run,’ Jay said, unwrapping his turban. ‘Someone’s hankering for a halal Happy Meal.’

Damien stifled a laugh.

‘Quiet,’ Sophia said. ‘They’re looking for us.’

If anyone spotted them over the Iranian border, the operation would be compromised. She knew what had to be done. She drew her pistol.

‘Damien, you’re playing sergeant,’ she said.

Damien nodded once. Jay rolled his eyes.

She’d chosen Damien because he wasn’t as likely as Jay to push anyone’s buttons. It was just for appearances. A woman commanding a security team was going to attract more attention than she wanted. She didn’t want any.

Jay opened his window, hauled his belt-fed Minimi machine gun onto his lap and pulled the cocking handle back. His way of saying he was ready.

The sedan’s windows were up, but Sophia could hear exotic stringed instruments and the undulating pitch of a female vocalist. Through the Citroën’s fogged windshield, she recognized faces from the street where she’d assassinated the Minister of Defense. They were Takavaran, Iranian Special Forces, the Minister’s personal guards tasked with protecting him. And if they hadn’t seen Sophia’s team at the time of the assassination, they certainly had now.

Jay rested the Minimi’s barrel on his windowsill. ‘What’s the call, Soph?’

‘It’s Sophia,’ she said. ‘Take them.’

The sedan’s back wheels kicked dust into the air, accelerating fast.

Damien pumped the brakes and pulled hard on the steering wheel. Sophia braced herself as he swung the Cruiser to one side, lining Jay’s Minimi up perfectly with the Citroën.

Jay opened fire. The sound was deafening inside the Cruiser. Empty cases from his Minimi bounced past Sophia, hitting the glove box. Through her driver’s window, she saw the sedan slow to a crawl. She hit the decocking block on her Walther P99 pistol—or ‘007’ as Jay insisted on calling it—then held the pressel switch on her throat mike. ‘Damien. Check the vehicle.’

Before the sedan came to a complete stop, Sophia was running towards it, her P99 trained on the shattered back window. Damien was on her right, his Colt Canada C8 rifle leveled as they rushed forward. The rusty hood looked like it was covered in crushed rubies. It was sticky and wet.

‘They’re toast,’ Damien said from the driver’s side, his breath fogging in the cold.

He indicated with his C8 barrel to what was left of the two heads. In the back seat, three more heads, like split watermelons.

‘Lucky we saw them first.’ Sophia spoke into her mike. ‘Jay, plant one of our IEDs. Now.’

She opened the back door on her side of the sedan. A young man fell out, face down. His body glistened red. She looked through at the other door as Damien opened it. A young woman tipped sideways. Damien caught her mid-fall. Her head lolled. Strands of tangled wet hair stuck to his arms.

Trembling in the center of the back seat was another woman, her head still intact, her round face and white T-shirt dotted crimson. Sophia nodded to Damien. He leaned in to grab her. The woman resisted, clawing at him. He pulled her out and dropped her onto the dirt. She kneeled before him, screaming under his Colt’s barrel.

Damien looked up at Sophia, his finger closing over his trigger. ‘Drop her?’

Before she could respond, he nodded to her nine o’clock.

Another vehicle. Wider, higher. Humvee. It pulled up fifty feet short, hip-hop music rattling hillbilly armor. A shortage of armor kits had forced the soldiers to improvise with scrap metal.

‘What are they doing over the border?’ Damien whispered.

‘Must’ve been nearby, heard the crash.’ Sophia said softly into her throat mike, ‘Leave the IED.’ She nodded at Damien. ‘The floor’s yours.’

Five US Marines climbed out and approached her team, dusted boots crunching on grit. They were dressed in desert camouflage, helmets fitted with night-vision monocles. Their M16A2 rifles gleamed in the moonlight.

‘Lemme guess,’ the staff sergeant said. ‘They don’t know a stop sign when they see it?’

His marines laughed like a cued audience.

They didn’t know the occupants of the Citroën were Iranian military, Sophia thought.

‘No kidding,’ Damien said, stepping in front of the Citroën so they couldn’t get a closer look. He spoke with a mild northeast England accent, as he’d been briefed.

American private security weren’t warmly regarded here, even by the US military. British security, on the other hand, made a point of not shooting every civilian vehicle off the road. They kept a low profile, stayed out of danger and consequently had better relations with the US military. Hence the cover story Sophia’s fireteam was running with: they were British private security and Damien was commanding the assignment.

‘What you guys doing out here, man?’ the staff asked.

‘Escort,’ Damien said.

The staff looked down at the surviving woman. His upper lip trembled into a grin. ‘We’ll go ’head take this girl in. Figure you wanna travel light.’

Damien shrugged. ‘Yeah, suit yourself.’

The staff’s lower lip jutted outward slightly. Tobacco was lodged in a wad between his lower teeth and lip. He angled his head away from Sophia. She caught him winking at Damien.

One of the marines seized the woman by her slender wrists and led her to the back of the Humvee. He was Hispanic and might’ve passed for Jay’s younger brother.

The staff shot Sophia a lingering glance, taking in her dark hair, desert cams and gray eyes. She knew what he was thinking. The scar on her right eyebrow was probably making him hard.

He scraped the stubble on his chin with a calloused hand. ‘Hey man,’ he said to Damien. ‘Ya night-vision ain’t on.’

Damien didn’t need it, but he turned it on. ‘Yeah, thanks.’

‘Fuck me how you motherfuckers see without it.’

The staff drummed his fingers on his rifle in time with the beat from the Hummer’s CD player. Sophia noticed his M16 was shorter than it should’ve been. It wasn’t an M16 at all, but an M4 carbine. Strange, she thought. Only marine officers carried M4s. Something about these marines didn’t seem right.

‘Let’s move.’ The staff started walking back to the Hummer.

In unison, his marines—also carrying M4s—shouted a guttural ‘Uh-rah!’

One of them pushed the woman into the back compartment of the Hummer. Sophia caught a glimpse of her face. She wasn’t Iranian Special Forces. She was just a girl, no more than ten years old. She hadn’t been on the street during the assassination at all. How had Sophia mistaken a ten-year-old girl for a woman on the street in Tehran?

She looked back at the Citroën, at the torn, ripped faces in the front seat. They hadn’t been on the street either. They weren’t the Takavar guard unit. No wonder they’d been so easy to kill.

She turned to Damien. His fingers were white over his C8. His thick eyebrows pressed together, his teeth clenched. Something was wrong, and it wasn’t the marines’ taste in music.

Sophia heard a faint click. The discharge of a suppressed weapon.

The staff stumbled and fell face-first onto the dirt road. Hard. Sophia heard the air rasp from his throat. He scrambled to his feet, snatched his rifle. Spun around, eyes wide. Saliva, thick with tobacco, oozed down the staff’s chin and neck.

Two marines—the younger version of Jay, and an African American with a square jaw and a permanent scowl—rushed in to help him.

‘Mother . . .’ Sweat poured from the staff’s face.

Square Jaw moved in closer. ‘Staff?’

The staff shoved him aside. ‘Take cover!’ He ripped off his modular tactical vest, then the buttons from his uniform. ‘Some raghead motherfucker just fuckin shot me!’

His eyes rolled up and he dropped to his knees, then his hands. His elbows buckled. His face hit the dirt.

The two soldiers rushed to him again. Square Jaw checked his carotid pulse, then saw the blood-soaked patch over his stomach. The other three marines—faces confused—dropped to their knees, rifles ready, snapping their night vision on to search the desert around them.

All was flat and featureless. There was nowhere for the enemy to hide. The marines wouldn’t stay confused for much longer.

Sophia dropped to her stomach, not bothering with night vision. She bent her right leg, giving her lungs room to breathe. Wind howled past, filling her nostrils with gasoline and the coppery tang of blood. With her peripheral vision, she could see Damien lying prone and holstering his suppressor-equipped pistol. He put both hands back onto his C8. She’d realized what he’d done. She just couldn’t believe he’d done it.

‘Bring it, ya dirty son of a whore!’ Square Jaw yelled. ‘I’ll put a bullet right between ya fuckin eyes!’

Sophia figured it would only be a few minutes before they figured out there were no insurgents. There was only one way out of this now.

She raised her compact P99 pistol and squeezed off two rounds. Square Jaw’s rifle dropped. His mouth opened like a purse. Blood gushed down his neck.
The other marines took aim—not at her but at the invisible insurgent they thought had opened fire.

A marine’s head exploded.

The three remaining soldiers turned to Sophia’s team, rifles aimed. They knew they’d been had. They returned fire. Rounds cracked past Sophia. One broke the sound barrier inches from her head with the snap of a bullwhip.

From the Cruiser, Jay pinned the marines with heavy supporting fire. They dropped flat on their stomachs and shifted their arc of fire. Their rounds smacked into Sophia’s vehicle. Above the gunfire, the female singer informed everyone of the heat coming from the beat.

Jay’s Minimi continued its barrage. Sophia shifted on her elbows and found herself in line with one of the marines. Before she could squeeze off more shots, he folded into himself like a plastic toy. Damien had beaten her to it.
She rose into a crouch. All the marines were down. She got to her feet.

Damien was on his feet beside her, uninjured. With his trademark thoroughness, he swept his C8 over the dead marines a few times. There would be no survivors.

Sophia turned to check on Jay. It didn’t look good. The Cruiser was peppered with bullet impacts. None had penetrated the vehicle’s armor, but it was the bullets penetrating Jay that worried her. His Minimi was visible, but he was nowhere to be seen.

She marched towards the Cruiser, fingers trembling. ‘Jay? Call out!’ she yelled. 

‘Call out!’

Jay’s Minimi almost fell out as he kicked open the door. ‘Yeah, I’m good,’ he said.

She watched his boots hit the ground. ‘Injuries?’

‘I said I’m good.’ He brushed dirt from the Minimi’s feed tray. ‘But this needs a clean.’

Sophia returned to Damien, who was busy checking the pulse of every marine.

Jay stormed past and inspected the staff sergeant’s body. He rolled him onto his back and pried his clenched hands from the vest buttons.

‘I guess that’s the last time we let Damien run the show,’ Jay said.

Damien either hadn’t heard him or chose not to respond. Considering his enhanced hearing, it was probably the latter.

Sophia spotted movement at the edge of her vision. It wasn’t the girl. She was sitting in the back of the Hummer, still and breathless. Someone was in the front seat. They’d missed a marine.

He reached for a weapon. Sophia broke into a sprint, closing the gap. The marine was on the driver’s side. He wasn’t reaching for a weapon, he was reaching for a radio.

No time to draw.

He noticed her approach and drew his pistol. His arm leveled across the Hummer’s window. He would’ve had her too, if she’d been a step behind. She smashed his forearm down on the window frame. Bone shattered through the inside of his elbow. She cracked the stock of her pistol into the side of his neck. It struck his carotid sinus and sent a sudden surge of blood to his brain. In an instant, his body’s self-defense kicked in, slowing his heart rate and dilating blood vessels to drop his blood pressure. She watched him slump forward, unconscious, forehead hitting the steering wheel. The horn blared.
She reached in, cut the volume on the CD player. The girl sat in the back of the Hummer, trembling. Sophia opened the rear door and the girl scrambled away, lips quivering.

Sophia’s nostrils burned with the smell of sweat and urine. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. She wasn’t here to save the girl. She thought she’d killed a unit of Iranian Special Forces, but she’d killed a family and orphaned a terrified little girl. What the hell was going on?

‘Soph!’ Jay yelled over the horn.

A marine was standing ten feet behind her. She couldn’t believe she’d missed another one. His M4 carbine shifted in blood-coated hands. Rounds from the firefight had cratered the boron carbide plates of his vest, but hadn’t penetrated his flesh. He’d survived by playing dead. Damien hadn’t made it that far to check his pulse.

Before the marine could shoot her, he hunched over abruptly, eyelids twitching. Saliva dripped from his chin. He collapsed.

Jay was standing behind him, teeth clenched, breathing heavily. He looked like he was in pain. Sophia checked him over. No blood. His hands were empty. The marine’s flesh smelled burnt, as though he’d been roasted with a taser. But Jay was more effective than any taser. He’d touched the back of the marine’s neck and discharged a high-voltage electric shock. His enhanced ability came in handy once in a while.

She checked her own hands. She was still holding her P99. Their situation wasn’t looking too hot. Their presence in Iran had been compromised only hours after she’d slotted the Minister of Defense, and—

‘We just slotted a whole bunch of marines,’ Jay said. ‘That can’t be good.’

‘I thought they stopped issuing M4s to marines. The sand jams them too easily,’ Sophia said. ‘These look new.’

Damien kneeled to inspect the toasted marine. ‘They like to keep their weapons well oiled, I guess.’

‘Or they were deployed at short notice.’ Sophia nodded at the pistol near her feet. ‘With Heckler & Koch pistols.’

Jay chewed his lip. ‘Right, you have a point. So who the fuck are they? Private security? Special Forces?’

Sophia shook her head. ‘Whoever they are, I think we’ll need both IEDs after all.’

‘Too late for that,’ Damien said. ‘We have incoming.’

Sophia tracked his gaze to the west. Saw three vehicles crossing the Iraq–Iran border. They would’ve seen the firefight from there.

‘Orders?’ Jay said.

When she didn’t answer, he grabbed her shoulder. ‘Hey!’

His touch jolted her, but she stared through him. Her attention was riveted to the three vehicles. There was no time to escape.

‘Great,’ Damien said. ‘These guys probably saw us slaughter the marines through their night-vision.’

‘So either they shoot us or take us into custody,’ Jay said. ‘I’d like to think the latter.’

The screech of brakes. A spotlight splashed over them. The girl screamed from the back seat of the Hummer.

Two dozen marines poured from the newly arrived Hummers, barely silhouettes in the night. Whether they were real marines or dress-up marines, their spotlight made Sophia squint. Someone yelled at her, Damien and Jay to drop their weapons.

Sophia was the first to raise her hands. She showed her finger was nowhere near the trigger of her pistol, hit the decocking block and the magazine-release catch. The magazine fell out, landing by her feet. The marines kept their rifles trained on her as she placed the pistol on the ground and stepped back, her hands up.
In her peripheral vision, she saw Jay—who’d left his Minimi in the Cruiser and his pistol in his thigh holster—raise his hands in the air. Damien was out of her field of vision, but she heard him place his rifle and magazine on the dirt.

The marines rushed forward, rifles fixed on the trio. M4s.

‘Shit,’ Sophia whispered.

Two marines threw her against the side of the Hummer. There was no hesitation, no questions. They’d seen what had happened. She couldn’t talk her way out of this.

The girl screamed again.

‘Shut her up,’ someone yelled.

A marine pulled the girl out of the vehicle and put a bullet through the back of her head.

Copyright © Nathan M Farrugia 2012

Boxer Falls - A Gaytime Drama

Tracy's Place is sponsoring today's episode of



What exactly is Boxer Falls?

Boxer Falls is a weekly homoerotic soap opera being posted at the M/M Romance Group at Goodreads. Penned by a group of fan favorites and new voices, a roster of unparalleled talent brings this "gaytime drama" to life with high camp, low blows, and intense sexiness.

Our writers produce episodes as interconnected short stories about the ongoing adventures of the residents of a tightknit Berkshires resort town with a queer reputation as it gains a reputation as a homo hot spot for the discerning traveler. You should expect sex, scandal, secrets, and happy endings that come at a high price.


The story behind name:

 What goes up always comes down.

Peek behind the fly of Boxer Falls, and see what mischief lurks in the quiet streets and secluded spots of a small New England town with a queer reputation. Around here, the family closets hold more than skeletons and the fights are strictly gloves-off. With folks this gorgeous, the feuds are bound to get ugly.

When the wealthy Cotten family decides to turn their country estate into a luxurious resort, the residents of Boxer Falls face an influx of affluent tourists who rub their sleepy little town in the worst ways. Lust, greed, betrayal, and ambition might just yank the town to its knees. 

Be sure to head on over and read today's episode written by Damon Suede!

DFRAT: My Journey through Digital Publishing by Leslie Dicken + a Giveaway

I sold my first book to Samhain Publishing in 2006. Only six years ago. However, when thinking back over the life of digital books, it sure seems far longer. Although digital publishing has been around since the 1990's, the mid-2000's saw a bit more interest. And at that time, I was looking for something new and different. The big six publishers were tough to get into and agents seemed even tougher (although I did get one later that same year). Samhain seemed like a sound company and so I took a shot. Besides, they would eventually put my book into print. (At that time, it was only 3 months later. Now it's 9-12 months later.)

And so THE PRICE OF DISCOVERY was released late 2006, followed shortly by my erotic short story TABOO. They didn't sell much. All I heard from family and friends and others I knew was - "when will this be in print so I can read it?" LOL! So much for being adventurous! Of course, eventually THE PRICE OF DISCOVERY did go into print. And by the time I sold BEAUTY TEMPTS THE BEAST to Samhain in 2009, ebooks were finally starting to take off. The next year saw A TARNISHED HEART and now THE IRON HEART in 2012.

And what a difference six years makes. Now when I tell people about my book I hear instead: "can I get that on Kindle or Nook?" I always have to laugh and explain that ALL of my books are available electronically...and I actually prefer they purchase them that way since a digital-first publisher typically pays much higher royalties that way! I can't wait to see what the future brings in the digital and print world...for both myself and readers!

Giveaway: One lucky winner will win the choice of one of Leslie's books from her backlist.  Leave a comment on this post along with your email address no later than 7:00pm on July 3rd to enter.
You can see a list of Leslie's books here.

Click here to learn more about Leslie.

And the Winner Is:

The winner of Misplaced Princess by Mari Carr and Lexxie Couper is:

The Brunette Librarian

Congratulations!!

DFRAT: Guest Author Cathryn Cade + a Giveaway

Hi, I’m Cathryn Cade. I‘m thrilled to be part of The Book Binge’s Summer Ebook Expo.

I don’t think there has ever been such an exciting time to be a reader, or a writer, especially of romance. Publishing has been blown wide open by the digital revolution, and you and I are all coming up winners.

I write red hot romance, including space opera and contemporary paranormal. My books range in length from 30,000 to 85,000 words. My very first book, still my best-seller, would not have been accepted or published by a traditional publisher. They would have considered it too short. So how did I get published?

In 2007, I attended a Romance Writers of America meeting in Portland, Oregon. I’d heard of digital books, but although I’m a voracious reader, I’d never read an ebook. I’d certainly never thought of sending one of my stories to a digital-first publisher. But a lovely woman at the meeting told of having her manuscript accepted by an epub. She was already published traditionally, but she was very excited because she would receive royalties for this new ebook each month, not have to worry about print books being returned and taken out of her paycheck, and her books would sell for a very low price, accessible to readers on a budget. 

Her name was Delle Jacobs, a gracious lady and a prolific writer. I went right home from that meeting, wrested our computer away from my two teenage sons, and looked up the publishers she had mentioned. One of them, Samhain Publishing, wanted stories about shape-shifters. Hmm … I had an idea for a shape-shifter story—a very hot one. Spring break was coming. I outlined the story, and spent the entire week of break at our computer, writing the (very rough) rough draft of Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bryght.

Angela James was then the executive editor for Samhain. She accepted the story, worked with me to make it better, and in 2008 I was delighted to join the ranks of published ebook authors. Of course, when I mentioned my publisher in those days, very few people, even romance readers, knew of Samhain. Then, when I told them my books were only available on a computer, most got that squinty look around their eyes, and shook their heads. No, they weren’t interested in reading on their computer, and especially not a book that obviously wasn’t good enough to be published in print. 

When I raised my hand at that 2007 RWA chapter meeting and said that I was going to be published, I got some kudos, but I also received a whole lot of pitying smiles for the newbie who just wasn’t good enough to get that print contract.

Wow! Has publishing changed, or what?! Those pitying smiles are gone, baby, gone. Because there are a whole lot of happy romance readers with Nooks, Kindles and other ereaders loaded with great romances, and a lot of happy writers keeping them supplied. Romance is by far the largest part of the market.

Now we romance readers know that ebooks are every bit as good as print books, and that reading digitally is not only a great way to stay in our book budget, but it’s a fabulous way to find those cross-genre, out-of-the-box reads of any length or heat level.

Digital first publishers have sprouted from the hard drives of computers all over the globe. Some have grown dynamically in size and stature—Samhain is one of them. 

My books are now available in ebook form, and in print. Hmm, guess I am good enough. And, when people shake their heads direly and pronounce that reading is dead, and publishing will soon follow, I just smile and tell them I am so very glad they are wrong.

That’s worth celebrating! So I’m giving away FREE copies of all my available ebooks. Please leave a comment here, and tell me what you love about reading digitally! 5 winners will be chosen to receive the book of your choice. 

You have your choice of red hot space opera—with sexy shape-shifters—in The Orion Series. Or the first book in my new red hot tropical paranormal series, Hawaiian Heroes; Walking in Fire. Book 2, Rolling in the Deep debuts July 31st.
Hope you have a great summer, and have lots of time to read – ebooks and print!

Best,
Cathryn

Giveaway: 5 lucky winners! 1 copy of Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bryght, 1 copy Her Commander, 1 copy of Prince of Dragons, 1 copy of Deep Indigo, 1 copy of Walking in Fire.  Leave a comment on this post along with your email address by 7:00pm on July 2nd to enter.  Be sure to include which book you would like to win.

Review: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase

A blue-eyed innocent on the outside and a shark on the inside, dressmaker Sophy Noirot could sell sand to Bedouins. Selling Maison Noirot's beautiful designs to aristocratic ladies is a little harder, especially since a recent family scandal has made an enemy of one of society's fashion leaders. Turning scandal to the shop's advantage requires every iota of Sophy's skills, leaving her little patience for a big, reckless rake like the Earl of Longmore. The gorgeous lummox can't keep more than one idea in his head at a time, and his idea is taking off all of Sophy's clothes.

But when Longmore's sister, Noirot's wealthiest, favorite customer, runs away, Sophy can't let him bumble after her on his own. In hot pursuit with the one man who tempts her beyond reason, she finds desire has never slipped on so smoothly . . .

Maison Noirot, the shop that the Noirot sisters own, is in trouble. You see their best customer, and a girl they’ve come to think of a dear friend, Clara, has gotten herself into a pickle. She was feeling a little free because she is officially on the marriage market and ended up on the terrace at a ball with a man and was caught in a state of dishabille. Oops. Unfortunately for Clara she now has to marry the man and she doesn’t even really like him. Yes, she fell for his fast talk and romantic gobbeldy-gook at the time but she soon realized that she’s going to be stuck with this guy forever! Yuk. Now you really wouldn’t think that Clara’s problem would effect Maison Noirot but it will – in a big way. You see once Clara is married to Lord Adderly, who is only marrying Clara for her dowry, she won’t be able to shop at Maison Noirot any longer because Adderly is a very poor man and therefore won't be spending a bundle on Clara's dresses. Not only do Sophy, Marcelline and Leonie want to save their shop but they shudder to think of Clara marrying the oily Adderly. Clara is hoping for an extended engagement but when her mother tells her that the wedding must take place before the Season’s end – in 3 weeks – Clara gets the hell out of dodge.

Enter Lord Longmore, Clara’s brother. Longmore has a couple of goals. One is to bring Clara back for many reasons and the other is to get Sophy in bed. Sophy would love to be with Longmore but she thinks it would be bad for business and since business is mainly what she thinks about that’s how she makes her decision. Unfortunately for Sophy she really didn’t expect to like Longmore as much as she does and she soon falls under his spell. Sophy and Longmore get Clara back and devise a plan to not only get Clara out of her engagement but to do it in a way that it wouldn’t ruin her reputation even further.

This is Sophy’s book and it’s a good one. There are so many things I like about this series. One of the major ones is that dressmakers are falling in love with Lords and I always love it when the aristocratic men fall hard for a woman not of their station. Everyone else in the ton has issue with it but I love it. I know that it didn’t happen all that often in reality but hey – this is fiction, right? lol

Sophy is a master of disguise and can be quite invisible when she wants. She uses these skills to gather information for the articles that she writes for The Spectacle – a newspaper that all the ton read. When Clara hits the road Sophy uses her many skills to get Clara out of her predicament but that puts Longmore and Sophy in close contact. They really have a deep attraction for each other but they also start to develop deeper feelings. They play off each other wonderfully and it ended up being a very different sort of romance. They’re both quite funny in their own dry way and I loved watching them banter back and forth.

The real niggle I had with the story was kind of a background thing and I just wasn’t catching the significance of it. At the beginning of the book Longmore is depicted as, well, sort of a brainless idiot. Maybe that’s too harsh but his lack of intelligence was mentioned over and over throughout the story. Here’s the thing – I believe that Longmore may not have been an academic and overly “book smart” as I like to say, but he wasn’t unintelligent. So he wasn't an A student and really didn't like school - doesn't make him stupid. I thought him to have a keen mind with a whole lot of common sense and in my book common sense goes a darned long way in life. Because of this he “got” Sophy a lot better than I think he would have otherwise as he wasn’t over-analyzing every plan she came up with. If the mentions of his smarts would have been dropped from the book altogether it would have been fine with me and wouldn’t have changed the story one way or the other, imho.

I really like this series so far. I can’t wait to read Leonie’s story as we really haven’t gotten to know her all that well over the course of the past two books and I’m extremely curious about her. Overall I thought it was a really good book. It had Chase’s great writing that gave us family, love, friendship, humor and a whole lot more.

Rating 4.25 out of 5

DFRAT: Why Go Digital by Lynda Bailey + a Giveaway

Allow me to say upfront, that I’m not an Indie-Nazi. The decision to go with a traditional publisher or indie-pub your stories is a personal and totally subjective choice. (Gee, who knew writing could be subjective? )

Now while I’m not an Indie-Nazi, I am an unabashed “Tree Hugger.” Even before making the determination to go indie, I only queried digital publishers because of my deeply held belief that we need to conserve our planet’s precious resources and cutting down trees to make books didn’t jive with my principle. (Okay, jumping off that soapbox.) 

So I knew from the get-go that I wanted my stories published digitally, but why go indie? Answer: reality. The reality of any writer is that no matter how much an editor loves you, your story, your voice, it’s not their call whether or not the publishing house takes on your book. It’s up to the marketing department. The marketing department. In other words, a bunch of number-crunchers get to decide if your book is commercial enough. Granted, for traditional houses, this procedure helps to ensure they spend boo-koo bucks on a turkey of a print novel, but it was that cold, hard truth which finally motivated me to walk the indie-pub road. 

Other authors’ reasons for going indie are probably as varied as the authors themselves. Some crave the control. Others like retaining their rights – and their royalties. Make no mistake, though, going indie in NOT an easy out. Everything, and I mean everything, becomes your responsibility. If your book isn’t well-edited, people (ie, the readers) will let you know. If you don’t take the time and energy to promote your book, you won’t sell anything. BUT if you’re willing to put a little extra effort into your work, it will pay off. Maybe not right away, but eventually. Like the saying goes: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

Good thing I’ve got my track shoes on. 


Giveaway: One lucky winner will get a copy of Lynda's book Fulfilled.  Leave a comment on this post along with your email address no later than 7:00pm on July 1st to enter to win.

Blurb

Piper Vaughn has known Mark Lundgren since she was a kid and always figured they’d end up together. That is until she meets Domingo Cardoza.

Now two incredibly virile men are vying for her affections. How can she possibly choose between them? Can’t they just all get along…together?











Here's Chapter One from Lynda's latest release: The Boy Next Door

Boy Next Door

Lynda Bailey

Chapter One

Julia Keller wanted to scream. A bone-chilling, dead-raising shriek guaranteed to peel the paint off the walls. But the sight of the shadowy man in her kitchen seized up her lungs in terror.
Instinct demanded she run. But wedged in the narrow doorway, with a heavy box straining her arms, she couldn’t run. Fall, yes. Down twenty steps to the cement basement floor. Run? Not a chance.
The last thing Julia wanted to do, but the one thing she did do, was burst into tears.
The brawny man lunged.
She flung her ex-husband’s vintage LP record collection at the intruder. Too bad she only managed to send the classic records down the wooden stairs. She drove a high-pitched screech past her lips, so loud and long, her ears rang. She pivoted to follow the box. An immense hand closed around her arm. Even through the thick sleeve of her sweatshirt, fingers bit into her skin. Screaming harder, she clawed at the vise-like grip.
“Mrs. J.”
A somewhat familiar voice broke through her harried yells.
“Mrs. J! Careful or you’re gonna fall! It’s me. Thane.”
Julia stilled and the hold eased. She definitely knew that voice. Turning slowly, Thane Fitzgerald’s face, with those memorable green eyes, came into teary focus.
Her shoulders slumped. Then she snapped upright and yanked from his grasp. “What the hell are you doing?” She slapped his arm. “You scared the living bee-jesus out of me!”
“Sorry, Mrs. J. I saw the back door open and wanted to make sure everything was all right.” Thane’s crooked, apologetic smile knocked a hole in her ire, albeit a small one. “When’d you get back home?”
Julia pulled in a breath to slow her runaway pulse and swiped a hand across her wet cheek. “I drove up from Decatur yesterday.”
“Really?” A crinkle creased his forehead. “Everything all right with your mom?”
She sucked in another shaky breath and shook her head. “Mom passed away the first part of May.”
“Gosh, I’m sorry for your loss.” He placed a hand on her shoulder. The warmth of his touch seep through the bulky material. “I know how close you were with your mom.”
The gentleness in his voice pumped more tears to Julia’s eyes. She missed her mom with a severity that tore through her chest. “Thank you. Mom’s sixty-eight years were very full. I don’t think she had any regrets. Still…” Her voice cracked.
His hand squeezed. “I know how tough it is to lose a parent. No matter how full their life.”
Fighting the irrational need to turn into the younger man’s solid chest, Julia cleared her throat. Thane did indeed know. He’d lost his father at the tender age of seven. She was an adult mourning the death of a parent. She couldn’t imagine what it would have been like for a small boy. Remorse wracked her that she reminded Thane of his loss.
Chagrined, she shifted from his comforting hand and diverted her attention to the crumpled box at the bottom of the stairs. Ed’s gonna be pissed. Over forty years of vinyl records had likely been destroyed.
Just one more thing for him to rail about. She tossed her head. Like I care. She started down the stairs, Thane’s footsteps behind her. “How are your mom and Bill?”
“Good. Enjoying retirement. They’re spending the summer with Bill’s brother in Niagara Falls.”
“That’s nice. When are they coming home?”
“End of August for about a month. Then they’re off to Arizona. They’re gone so much, I moved back in next door.”
“So you had a reason for being in the neighborhood other than scaring ten years off my life?”
His deep chuckle chased a shiver across her neck “Yeah. I came to mow your lawn.”
Julia stopped and twisted around. Thane stood on the step above her and she felt a crick in her neck at having to look up. She felt even more dwarfed by his height and maybe a teeny bit feminine. Shadows hugged his face, but his eyes were two pinpoints of light. “You still mow? I thought you had employees for that.”
“I do, but there are a few jobs for special people I still like to do myself.”
She ignored the zing in her chest and continued down the steps. She knelt by the broken box and scattered LPs. “What’s so special about me?” God, could she sound any more pathetic, like she was desperate for a compliment? Embarrassment heated her neck.
He squatted beside her, a charming grin on his face. “You were the first person to ever hire me to mow your yards, remember?”
Yes, she did. Though only fifteen, he’d been enthusiastic, yet serious about his “job.” Any lingering mortification dissipated and she returned his smile.
Thane’s hair, bleached by the sun, brushed his shoulders and framed his tanned face. With his high cheekbones, straight nose and chiseled chin, he really had no choice but to grow up into a dreamboat. Which he did. A different, hotter, heat warmed her cheeks. Dressed in tight blue jeans and a green t-shirt which sported the logo of his landscaping business, the gangly fifteen-year-old boy from next door had grown into a very virile man.
The scent of cut grass wrapped around her, emphasizing how close she was to him. She eased back and sifted through the albums until she found Rubber Soul, the 1965 Beatles album. Thane picked up an autographed copy of the White Album. He gingerly bent the cardboard holder. It cracked and snapped.
He whistled low. “Sorry, Mrs. J.”
Julia took the album. “Don’t be. It was an accident. Ed has no personal connection to these records. He bought them as an investment a few years back.” She tossed both albums onto the pile then pushed to her feet. She brushed her hands together before folding them across her chest. “And just so you know, my last name isn’t Joyce any more. It’s Keller. I went back to my maiden name after the divorce.”
Like a mountain lion uncurling from sleep, Thane stood. His sea green eyes, sharp and attentive, darkened to the color of a rainforest. “Oh?”
Julia’s heart stuttered at the intensity of his stare. An awareness seeped beneath her skin. An awareness of what, she wasn’t sure. But it was definitely there. She wanted to look away, but couldn’t. “Um, yes.”
“I didn’t know you and Mr. J. were divorced.” His gaze meandered to her mouth.
She licked her lips, unable to stop from ogling his full lips. Full lips that looked perfect for kissing. Where the hell did that come from? “Didn’t your mom tell you?” Her tinny laugh made her ears hurt. “Maybe she didn’t figure you’d be interested in what the old neighbors were doing.”
“Maybe.” He rested his hands low on his hips. “You’re not old.”
Julia choked on another laugh. While only forty-one, after the last two years of singlehandedly taking care of her mother, she felt like a hundred and one. “Anyway, I’m back from Decatur.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
Was that a purr in his voice? Yeah right. Get a grip, Julia. No way is he interested in you.
She swept a hand down the filthy front of her sweatshirt then stuffed her hands in the pockets of her holey jeans. Compared to Thane, she resembled a train wreck. Hell, a train wreck would be an improvement. “Anyway, Ed wanted to sell the house, but I wouldn’t agree. This place is home. No matter what he says.” She bent to pick up the box.
“Here, let me.” Thane deflected her attempt to lift the mangled mess of cardboard and vinyl. “Where should I put this?”
“On the workbench will be fine.”
Julia stared at his bulging biceps. A flash of strong arms holding her tight clouded her vision. He dropped the heap on the scarred wood table with a thud. The noise jolted her back to the present. Good thing, too, because he turned and almost caught her gawking.
Thane leaned against the bench, his hands on the edge behind him. His tight t-shirt stretched even tighter across his broad chest, accentuating the sculpted muscles beneath the jersey fabric. Silence swallowed the dank basement air.
“So. You’re back in town.”
Julia’s skin prickled at his low, promising tone. Promising what? She cleared the dustbowl from her throat and gave herself a mental slap. Holy shit. This is Thane, for crying out loud. “Yep.”
“This is a big house for just one person. Two story, with four bedrooms.”
“Very true, but Oak Park is within driving distance to Evanston. Ryan has another year at Northwestern and he’s talking about getting his master’s degree there as well. I suspect he’ll make his way home from time to time. Especially when his fridge is empty.”
“It’s still big.”
“Yeah.” She couldn’t suppress an impish grin. “Ed keeps reminding me of that fact. He wants to sell to knock off a few years from his alimony payments.” Her grin withered. “His new girlfriend is a flight attendant based out of Minneapolis and has some very expensive tastes, from what I understand.”
Thane’s eyebrows drew together. “That’s pretty lousy of Mr. J.”
To say the least. Julia turned her attention to the cluttered basement. “I need to clear out what he wants and send it to him.” She nodded toward the box behind Thane. “Minus a record collection or two.”
Her cell phone jiggled. Ed’s ringtone. Irritation peppered her skin as she wormed the phone out of her back jeans pocket. She pressed the button to send him straight to voice mail. She sooooo didn’t need him right now.
Thane raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
She returned the phone to her pocket. “Ed has the uncanny ability of knowing when I’m talking about him.” She cast another glance at the dust-covered boxes as glumness pressed on her shoulders. “Until I get his junk to him, he’s gonna keep calling me. It’ll take me the summer to get everything out.”
“Shouldn’t Ryan be home from school soon to help?”
“He’s buried this summer doing an internship.” Pain pinched her chest. “Plus he’s still upset about the divorce, even after two years. Helping to move his father’s things isn’t on his list of things to do.”
“Well.” Thane pushed from the workbench. “I could help, starting tomorrow if you’d like.”
Julia scrunched her nose. “Don’t you have a business to run? Can you just take off anytime you want?”
He grinned. “Anytime I want. It’s the advantage of being the boss.”
“But it’s the start of summer. I’m sure you’re too busy.”
“I’m not even needed. I’ve got two full-time foremen and one part-time. They handle the crews.” His lazy shrug probably shouldn’t have struck her as sexy. “I’m just the guy who signs the checks.”
“I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than help me out.”
“Not really. But if it’ll make you feel better, you can pay me.”
Disappointment dropped her stomach to her shoes. After countering all her excuses, she’d started to think he actually wanted to spend time with her, but of course he didn’t. Idiot. She squared her shoulders with a nod. “That’s fair. How much?”
“Dinner.”
“Okay. I could spring for some take-out pizza.”
“Nah, uh. No pizza. I’m thinking Maxine’s Steak House.”
Julia bit the inside of her mouth. Whoa. It was one thing to have Thane help her around the house then feed him pizza, but a wholly different thing to be seen together in public. She could just imagine what would be said about her going out with such a young guy. She refused to become fodder for the Oak Park gossip mill again. She’d never forgotten the stain of having to get married twenty-one years ago because she’d been stupid enough to get pregnant. Nor had she forgotten the pain her stupidity had caused her beloved parents. Though they were dead, she wouldn’t allow anyone to further sully their reputation. She shifted her weight. But how to tell Thane? “Maxine’s a four-star restaurant, right?”
“Five.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Thane, if I gave you the impression that I took Ed to the alimony cleaners. I didn’t. There’s no way I can afford Maxine’s.”
“Guess that means I’m buying.”
“I can’t let you do that. Besides I’m supposed to be paying you.”
“Well, if you owe me, then you should let me take you out to a nice dinner. Is it a date?”
“A…date?”
The word stuck to Julia’s tongue. Thane seemed to have shifted closer, yet she was positive he hadn’t moved. His eyes were clouded to the color of stormy ocean waters and his male scent infused her senses. A tickle of warning skated down her spine.
She should say no. Nothing good could come out of this.
Yet his expression was so earnest, so hopeful. So dangerous.
Her nipples tightened as her womb quivered. How long since felt like this? Had she ever felt like this?
Definitely should tell him no. “Okay.”
What the hell did I just say?
Thane’s face erupted with joy. “Great! I’ll pick you up at six.”
Julia balked. “What, tonight? I can’t go tonight.”
His eyebrows instantly veed together. “Why not?”
“Because I—I have too much to do.” She waved her hand about. “Unpacking. Grocery shopping. Plus I’m exhausted from the drive yesterday.”
Thane’s stance eased. “Make a list of what you want from the store, and I’ll do the shopping while you pick out something nice to wear. After which, you can take a nap.”
Her jaw dropped. “I’m not asking you to do my grocery shopping.”
He walked to her. “You’re not asking. I’m offering.”
Julia spread her arms. “I look like something the cat dragged in.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pivoted her toward the basement steps. “No, you don’t.”
“But—”
“You’re not going to win this argument with me, Julia.”
Her heart stammered to a stop. That was the first time Thane had ever said her given name.
Ju-lee-a.
The three syllables rolled off his tongue as his mellow baritone caressed her nerve endings like warm honey. Her panties dampened. Her panties dampened, for Christ’s sake!
What the hell is wrong with me? I can’t possibly be turned on, can I? Thane is just a boy.
He gave her a gentle shove. “Now, go. I’ll be up in a minute once I’ve salvaged some of Mr. J’s vinyl.”
Julia hesitated, knowing she should be miffed, if not downright pissed, that Thane was taking charge, but she couldn’t marshal any anger. Not since she was a child had anyone put her care and comfort first. Without another word, she climbed the steps.

~ ~ ~

Once Julia was out of sight, Thane relaxed against the bench.
God! The effect that woman continued to have on him, even after all this time, was mindboggling. And arousing. Thankfully, he’d managed to keep his body under rigid control in her presence. At least he hoped he had.
Julia Joyce was now Julia Keller. He rubbed the tight muscles of his neck.
Thane had always liked the sexy brunette with the nutmeg eyes. He snorted to himself. Liked? What a pathetic choice of words. Since the age of twelve, he’d lusted after her. Had wet dreams about her. Had masturbated to her image. Had sometimes walked around with a permanent woody for her. He was way past just liking her.
Throughout puberty and into his teen years, Thane had assumed his lustful feelings were because Julia was hot. Really hot. Lava hot.
In college, all the girls he dated—Thane couldn’t bring himself to call them women—were compared to Julia. That’s when he realized his feelings for his former neighbor ran deeper.
Much deeper.
Just how deep, he wasn’t prepared to admit, even to himself. She’d been older and married. Now at twenty-eight, he was older, and she wasn’t married any more. His cock pulsed against his fly.
And she was back in Oak Park.
His balls tightened as a smile curved his mouth. After years of fantasizing about Julia, he might finally have the chance to be with her.
A chance he didn’t intend to squander.
It was obvious she was uncertain. The wariness in her eyes reminded him of a cornered rabbit. He needed to proceed with care or he could blow this opportunity.
Thane turned his attention to the box of records, plotting how he would seduce one Julia Keller into his bed.


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