Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Dorian
Carlos Dash
Publication date: April 3rd 2017
Genres: New Adult, Romance
It was supposed to be a meaningless one-night stand. As a billionaire, I have plenty of those.
But she was different.
How was I supposed to know that I would fall in love with her?
And how was I supposed to know whose daughter she was?
Note: This is a New Adult Romance novel written entirely from the point of view of the male protagonist.
EXCERPT:
Every once in a while, you’ll see two people who are meant to fall in love. Everything flows perfectly for them.
Imaginary birds are flying around their heads and singing love songs to them. Other couples are walking by and becoming jealous at how in love the two people are. It’s all constantly wonderful and gooey.
Then there are people who aren’t supposed to end up together but do so anyway. They fight fate and destiny, if those two things actually exist. They fall in love with each other even though that isn’t part of life’s plan.
I’m not sure which category Emily and I belong to.
Sometimes I think it’s the former. Sometimes I think it’s the latter. It all depends on what mood I’m in.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the fact that we have love on our side.
As for whether that love was preordained or something that we brought about through sheer force of will, I’ll let you decide that for yourself.
My name is Dorian Alexander, and this is a story about a girl who would change my life forever.


Author Bio:
I'm a guy who likes to cut right to the chase, so here we go: I'm a male author of New Adult Romance whose stories are told entirely from the POV of the male protagonist. If you enjoy happy endings and steamy tales about people falling in love quickly, my books are for you.
Here are some links to help you keep track of what I'm up to:
https://twitter.com/CarlosDash1
https://carlosdashbooks.wordpress.com
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34534778-dorian?from_search=true
If you like my work and want to be the first to know when my next book comes out, you can subscribe to my mailing list here: http://eepurl.com/b4wOKD

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Title: Black Hat Hacker
Series: Chicago Syndicate #6
Author: Soraya Naomi
Genre: New Adult Mafia Romance
Release Date: March 28, 2017



Blurb

You don’t know me.
But that’s only because I don’t want you to.

I have the most lucrative job in the country as a hacker in the notorious underworld. I’ve built entire systems and destroyed evidence for career advancement while stealing and exploiting data for personal gain.
I’m the black hat hacker for the Chicago Syndicate and hold all the dirty secrets of the most powerful men in the U.S. in the palm of my hands, just a keystroke away from mass ruination.

However, no one knows my dirty secret, a decision from my past that’s just aching to blow up in my face and shatter my future. Especially when a certain wavy haired brunette begins to demand my attention with her odd ways and her carefree attitude.

She’s a woman who makes me go against everything I’ve ever believed.
A woman whom I’m forbidden from having my usual one-night stand with, even if she was available.
A woman whom I have to keep from getting herself killed, whether she likes it or not.

You don’t know me, but neither does she…yet.

A standalone novel from the Chicago Syndicate world.

From Soraya Naomi, International Bestselling Author of For Fallon and For Luca. Novel Grounds Semi Annual Literary Awards 2014 winner of Best Breakout Novel For Fallon (Chicago Syndicate, #1).



Purchase Links

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU

Free in Kindle Unlimited






Author Bio

I read many genres but favor intense, seductive, and provocative novels where the male character loves fiercely, without remorse or boundaries. I also adore forbidden love tales and have an odd fascination with kidnapping romances. No, I don't secretly want to be kidnapped, though!

I have a passionate obsession with the written word and indulge in chocolate pastries much too often.

My debut novel For Fallon (Chicago Syndicate, #1) was released on July 26, 2014. I’m honored that For Fallon won “Best Breakout Novel 2014” in the Novel Grounds Semi Annual Literary Awards.

Sign up to Soraya’s newsletter to keep up to date with release dates: http://eepurl.com/b0MS85



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He’s the boss. But she’s ready to take charge.

In this provocative and sexy* office romance, a cheeky new hire tempts a hotshot sports agent to mix business with pleasure.

Jenny: Job interviews are a bitch under the best of circumstances, but when your potential boss is the world’s biggest prick, that’s when you should simply walk away. It’s just that I need this job so badly—and I’m mesmerized by Ethan Mason’s piercing gaze. Men like him aren’t supposed to exist in real life. But under the tailored suits and GQ looks, Ethan simmers with barely restrained ambition. And no matter how hard I work to fight the attraction, I’m going to get burned.

Ethan: You don’t become a top agent without learning how to close deal. I always get what—or who—I want, by staying cool and in command. Then Jenny Jackson walks into my office with her lush curves and “screw you” attitude and blows away my intentions of keeping things professional. All I can think about is exploring the perfect body hidden beneath those conservative clothes or shutting her saucy mouth with one hot kiss. Jenny’s worth breaking the rules over—if I can convince her to break the rules for me.


*By sexy, we mean sexy. Like, 18+ sexy.


















































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Sloane Howell lives in the Midwest United States and writes dirty stories. When not reading or writing he enjoys hanging out with his family, watching sports, playing with the dogs, traveling, and engaging his readers on social media. You can almost always catch him on Twitter posting something goofy.

Visit his web page www.sloanehowell.com to sign up for his mailing list to get updates on new releases, promos, and giveaways. Thanks for reading.

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THECASTLE_PREORDERBLITZBANNER THE CASTLE by Skye Warren releases on April 4th! Preorder the final book in the trilogy NOW! “Positively sinful, and outrageously sexy! Emotions run high and readers will be left gasping.” – New York Times bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones
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preorder now! ✯ Amazon: http://amzn.to/2mfmG03 ✯ iBooks: http://apple.co/2klcCRA ✯ Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2l9pcXN ✯ Kobo: http://bit.ly/2kuTST4 ADD TO GOODREADS: http://bit.ly/2kxNk66
Blurb: I’m safe in the ivory tower Gabriel Miller made for me. That’s what he says. Enemies lurk outside, waiting to strike. An army of enemies held back by these walls. Except some animal instinct warns me the danger is much closer. It’s already here. Is Gabriel Miller my protector or my enemy? Is this house a castle or a cage? There’s nowhere for me to go, no one left for me to trust. No escape from a past determined to capture its prize.
Start the series today!
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THE PAWN IS FREE! ❧ Amazon: http://amzn.to/2fF2vn6 ❧ iBooks: http://apple.co/2ef7pt5 ❧ Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2dlJzNZ ❧ Kobo: http://bit.ly/2edcF1s
ADD TO GOODREADS: http://bit.ly/2fnYPLB
Blurb:
"Sinfully sexy and darkly beautiful, The Pawn will play games with your heart and leave you craving more!" - Laura Kaye, New York Times bestselling author The price of survival... Gabriel Miller swept into my life like a storm. He tore down my father with cold retribution, leaving him penniless in a hospital bed. I quit my private all-girl's college to take care of the only family I have left. There's one way to save our house, one thing I have left of value. My virginity. A forbidden auction... Gabriel appears at every turn. He seems to take pleasure in watching me fall. Other times he's the only kindness in a brutal underworld. Except he's playing a deeper game than I know. Every move brings us together, every secret rips us apart. And when the final piece is played, only one of us can be left standing. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * THE PAWN is a full-length contemporary novel from New York Times bestselling author Skye Warren about revenge and seduction in the game of love. It's the first book in the brand new ENDGAME series.
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The power of pleasure…
Gabriel Miller took everything from me. My family. My innocence. My home. The only thing I have left is the determination to get back what’s mine. He thinks he’s beaten me. He thinks he’s won. What he doesn’t realize is that every pawn has the chance to become a queen. And the game has only just begun. THE KNIGHT is book two in the Endgame series from New York Times bestselling author Skye Warren about revenge and seduction in the game of love. theknight-teaser2
About the Author:
Skye Warren is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance such as the Chicago Underground series. Her books have been featured in Jezebel, Buzzfeed, USA Today Happily Ever After, Glamour, and Elle Magazine. She makes her home in Texas with her loving family, two sweet dogs, and one evil cat.
Contact Skye:

Of Glitter and Gold: A Canary Club Anthology
Sherry D. Ficklin
Published by: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication date: March 27th 2017
Genres: Historical, Young Adult
Set during the flamboyant anything-goes era of 1920’s America, these three tales are filled with intriguing characters and rich imagery from the time period—with flappers, jazz music, gangsters, and lavish wealth. Escape to a different decade today with the compelling stories of the Canary Club Anthology.
Novelette 1- Gilded Cage
Masie, the flaxen-haired daughter of notorious bootlegger Dutch Schultz, returns home from boarding school to find her family in crisis. Her mother is dangerously unstable, her father’s empire is on the brink of ruin, and the boy she once loved has become a ruthless killer for hire. To keep her family’s dangerous secrets, Masie is forced into a lie that will change the course of her future—and leave her trapped in a gilded cage of her own making.
Novelette 2- All That Glitters
A dame with brains, moxie, and killer curves, June West isn’t your average flapper. She’s managed to endear herself to the son of one of the most powerful gangsters in New York, earning herself a spot in the limelight that she’s always longed for. With the infamous playboy at her side, June has become accustomed to living the high life. Lavish parties, expensive clothes, sparkling jewels—nothing is beyond her reach. But when her carefully woven web of lies finally catches up with her, she must make an impossible choice… come clean about her past and risk losing everything, or find a way to bury her demons—once and for all.
Novelette 3 – Nothing Gold
Dickey has been down on his luck since the day he was born. Flat broke and sick of being looked down on, he meets young socialite Lillian at a wild party. The connection is like a strike of lightning. From a wealthy New York family, this debutante is everything he’s been told he can never have—and the only thing he wants. Determined to win her, he knows the only way to get her parents approval is with cold hard cash. So when a shot at the biggest score of his life comes around, he just can’t refuse…
NOTHING GOLD EXCERPT:
It’s easier than I imagined to sneak into the party. The music is so loud and the crowd so enormous that no one sees me wind my way through the shrubs on the outskirts. The massive estate is far enough away from the city that I had to hitch a ride to get here, and I’ll have to time my exit just right to make the train back to Manhattan.
Brushing off my secondhand suit coat, I enter the party via the back patio. A wide pool is filled with people, most still in their fancy evening wear. My eyes slide past them, searching for the one person at this shindig that I know. I scan past butlers with white gloves holding silver trays covered in champagne glasses, past gleeful dames in short skirts with blood-red lips, and past gents in their glad rags I can tell with one glance cost more dough than I make in a year working at the mill.
When I finally see him, his pinstripe suit, matching fedora, and red pocket square, he’s standing atop the massive staircase on the ledge overlooking the party. Deacon Brewer, the reason I’m here tonight. His hands are stuffed in the pockets of his trousers as he chats up a fella I don’t recognize, along with the dame hanging off his arm. Plastering on an easy grin, I wind my way through the people, helping myself to a glass of bubbly as I head for the stairs. The stone steps are covered in gold confetti, the whole place practically dripping with it. Long, red velvet drapes hang from arched windows, and leafless branches painted gold and draped with crystal beads sit in tall vases in every corner. Nothing has been left un-gilded.
I shake my head at the audacity. Might as well have a neon sign—someone, please rob the joint.
Deacon sees me coming and dismisses himself from his conversation, welcoming me with an open hand.
“Dickey Lewis, glad you could make it, boy,” he offers warmly.
As if I had a choice.
“Of course, Mr. Brewer,” I respond with more warmth than I feel. Truth is that I’m in deep to Deacon after a few bad bets at his club last month, and he opted to make me work it off rather than take it outta my hide. I suppose that makes him clever, but I can’t help the gnawing feeling that this is a debt I may never fully repay. “What’s the score?” I ask, lowering my voice.
Draping an arm across my shoulders, he walks me through the glass doors and into the house. Still crammed with people drinking, dancing, and generally wrecking the joint, he pulls a cigar from his vest pocket with his free hand.
“Upstairs in the den is a lovely Monet, behind which is a very large safe. Cash, some baubles, and a bankbook are inside. I don’t care about the rest; you take what you need. But the bankbook needs to find its way into my hands tomorrow morning by eight am.”
I take a deep breath, rolling my tongue over my teeth before answering, “How am I supposed to get into the safe?”
He barks a deep laugh, slapping me on the back. “Guess you’ll have to get a little creative. Just get in, get out, and don’t let nobody see ya, got it?”
All I can do is nod and watch him swagger away. Sure, I’ve boosted loot before, but always simple jobs, smash and grabs. Nothing like this. What have I gotten myself into this time?
Still, whatever else is in there is mine for the taking, I tell myself. Could be a big pay day, judging by the looks of the place.
I wander casually through the house, trying to look as if I belong while also counting the number of cops and guards watching the area. It’s not as many as I expected. I grab a dark-haired dame by the waist, offering her a charming smile and asking for a dance. We Charleston together for two songs, finally stopping to imbibe more champagne. When I ‘accidently’ stumble into her, she spills the contents of her glass on my jacket, fumbling a wide-eyed apology.
Waving her off with a smile, I hand her my glass, “You take this, and I’ll go find a place to wash up.”
“You could always take a dip in the pool, honey,” she says, batting her eyelashes.
Beside her, a gentleman points up a secondary set of stairs near the front door. “Washroom is up there, I think.”
I mutter a thanks and a promise to return, then make my way up the stairs, continuing to stumble around as if drunk, occasionally opening a door to find a couple necking or a room full of folks smoking the Indian hop in long pipes.
Finally, the thumping of the music fading below me, I make my way to the library. Beyond that, I find the only locked door on the entire floor. Digging into my pocket, I pull out my lock kit, a simple flattened iron jimmy and a hooked pick. Sliding both in the lock, I slide them back and forth, listening for the mechanism inside to release. It doesn’t take long and the door springs open, allowing me to step inside and close it quickly behind me. It’s dark except for the glow of a single lamp atop a massive oak desk, behind which is a tall arched window overlooking the front of the estate. From this spot, I can see the cars lined up along the circular drive, partygoers coming and going in wild abandon. Pulling the pocket watch from my vest, I wipe my fingers across the cracked glass face, checking the time. Only thirty minutes until the train. If I miss it, it’ll be two hours before the next one. Not the end of the world, unless someone notices the lift before I’m gone. That’s a long time to stick around with a pocket fulla stolen goods.
I glance around me, the blood chilling in my veins. Every wall except the one with the window is covered in framed paintings. And I have no idea which one is a Monet.
Scrambling, I begin lifting each, checking the wall behind for any sign of the safe. Finally, on the opposite wall from where I started, I find it. Carefully lifting the heavy canvas free, I set it on the floor and turn my attention to the wall safe. It’s not large, about the size of a bread box with a spinning combination dial in the center. Unsure what else to do, I pull the pocket knife free from my trousers and flick it open, trying to wedge it between the door and the frame. As soon as I do, I know it’s going to be futile. The thing is heavy steel; no way my knife is gonna bust it open. Putting it away, I begin spinning the dial at random, praying I’ll get lucky.
I’m so flustered I don’t hear the door open or the footsteps from behind me until it’s too late.
“It’s my birthday,” a voice offers, making me spin, hands balled into fists to fight my way free from the room.
The dame is tall, her garnet-red hair rolled into bouncy curls and pinned in a messy heap at the back of her neck. Her dress is green, almost the same color as her eyes, and it hugs her slender frame as if it were a second skin. Even the long strings of pearls twined around her neck seems completely natural, not just a decoration but an extension of her. I take a breath, blinking, momentarily stunned. She drapes one hand on her hip, her entire body listing to the side as she points to the safe.
“The combination,” she repeats. “It’s my birthday.”
Finally recovering my voice, I stammer. “I was, uh, just…”
The corners of her mouth turn upward. “Breaking into my father’s safe?”
I don’t know what to say. I feel her in the room, the way one might feel the air change right before a storm, a heaviness that settles in, leaving my soul with a sense of foreboding. My instincts battle inside me. Do I grab her and tie her to a chair, or do I flee? The weight of her gaze makes it impossible to think clearly.
“Relax,” she says, raising a glass I hadn’t noticed her holding to her lips and taking a slow drink. “I’m not calling the guards if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Oh? You’re just gonna let me crack this safe and walk away with whatever’s inside?”
She shrugs. “It’s not my money. What do I care?”
I lick my lips, sizing her up. A spoiled little rich girl who wants to stick it to Daddy. I’ve seen a few of those in my day. I can work with this—if I can get my head back on straight. It’s not like me to get so flustered by a dame, not even a high-quality one like this.
“Besides…” She sets the glass on the desk and saunters toward me. “It’s not like we don’t have enough.”
I catch a hint of her perfume in the air when she brushes by me, lavender and something else I can’t quite place. Taking the dial in her hand, she spins the knob until the door finally clicks, then she steps back, giving me a go-ahead gesture.
I hesitate, flicking glances at the bare skin where her neck meets her shoulder, at the creamy whiteness of her skin, before settling my eyes on her face. “What’s your name, doll?”
She looks down, sheepishly at first, but then raises just her eyes to look at me with an expression of bold defiance. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
I swallow, considering her offer. She’s already gotten a good look at me, enough to rat me out to the cops. The look on her face is one of challenge, I realize. She’s daring me to trust her.
“Dickey,” I say, pulling the flat cap off my head and holding it over my heart as I bow to her. “Dickey Lewis, at your service, Miss?”
“Lillian Rose Duke,” she answers. “But my friends call me Lilly.”
Replacing my hat, I grab the safe handle and twist, pulling open the heavy door. Grabbing a large wooden box first, I hold it out to her. Moving back, I grab two stacks of fresh bills and stuff them in the pockets of my suitcoat. Finding the bankbook last, I tuck it into the back of my pants before pulling my shirt and jacket over it.
I spin to Lilly, watching as she upends the box, spilling jewelry onto the desk in a pile. She picks through it, finally just scooping it all into her hand and sauntering over to me. Getting so close I feel the warmth of her, she grabs the lapel of my jacket, sliding the gold and stones into the inside pocket.
“Give these to your girl, Dickey Lewis.”
She releases my lapel, but doesn’t step away. Instead, she leans forward. Thinking she’s going to kiss me, I straighten in anticipation, but she just trails her fingers along my collar until she’s cupping the back of my neck.
“I ain’t got no girl,” I admit, my heart pounding behind my ribs.
“Well, isn’t that a shame?” she says, her lips a hair’s breadth from mine.
Unable to resist, I close the final distance between us, clutching her by the waist as I urge her lips to mine. I’ve never tasted gold before, but I imagine this is what it would be like—champagne, honey, and nerves of steel. When she finally pulls away, I’m gasping. Tugging tugs the white linen handkerchief from my pocket, she wipes my face, then hers, of her smeared lipstick before returning the hankie to its place.
“I hope to see you around, Dickey Lewis.”
With that, she spins on her heel and heads for the door, listening for a moment before pulling it open and stepping out. The room is instantly colder, the air thinner. I can finally breathe, can think.
As I slink from the party and disappear into the shadows, making my way down the street to the train station, I can’t force the sight of her from my mind, or the taste of her from my lips.
Even if it takes every penny in my pocket and every breath in my body, I will see Lillian Rose Duke again.


Author Bio:
Sherry D. Ficklin is a full time writer from Colorado where she lives with her husband, four kids, two dogs, and a fluctuating number of chickens and house guests. A former military brat, she loves to travel and meet new people. She can often be found browsing her local bookstore with a large white hot chocolate in one hand and a towering stack of books in the other. That is, unless she’s on deadline at which time she, like the Loch Ness monster, is only seen in blurry photographs.

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Coming April 9th


Pre-order exclusively via iBooks HERE

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When he left for a twelve-month deployment, she knew it would feel like forever before they saw each other again. She didn’t realize how right she was.

When Lance Corporal Brecken Connolly gets taken as a POW, Camryn hopes for the best but steels herself for the worst. In the end, steel was what she needed to survive when he didn’t. She moves on the only way she knows how—gilding herself in more steel.

Years go by.

She builds a new life.

She leaves the old one behind.

Until one day, she sees the face of a ghost on the news. Brecken seems to have risen from the dead, but she knows she can’t perform the same miracle for herself. While Brecken was held in a torture camp for the past five years, she’s been trapped in her own kind of prison. One she can’t be freed from.  

The man she mourned comes back to join the living, but the girl he wanted to spend his life with isn’t the same woman he comes back for. Brecken isn’t the same person either. The past five years have changed them both. While he’s determined to put the pieces back together, she’s resolved to let hers rot where they shattered.

Broken or not, Brecken wants her back. He’ll do anything to achieve that. Even if it means going against the warden of Camryn’s personal prison—her husband.


















PROLOGUE


Whenever he had to leave, it was torture. You’d think I’d get used to it, but I didn’t—each time got harder. This one might have felt especially brutal because of how long he’d be gone. A year. We’d done weeks, we’d done months, but we’d never done the full year.
Being with someone in the military, I knew I’d have to get used to it. The separation. The worry. The loneliness. The feeling that I was trying to catch my breath for however long he was gone.
It was a way of life. And he was my life. So I’d just have to figure it out.
“I’m never going to look at dog tags the same way again.” Brecken’s mouth turned up as his eyes roamed over me splayed across the backseat as he tucked in his T-shirt. He twisted his wrist, his gaze moving to his watch. A crease folded into his forehead. “But I’m going to need those back before I climb onto that bus. Something about military regulations. Not wandering around enemy territory without them. Those marines are sticklers for the rules.”
He was trying to make me feel better—trying to get me to smile—but little could lift my spirits other than finding out he didn’t have to leave for the Middle East for twelve long months.
“You don’t need them. Not really.”
“Why’s that?”
“Because you only need them if you’re planning on dying, and so help me god, I’m not taking these off my neck if you have plans for some kind of a hero’s death.” My hand curled almost defensively around the metal tags hanging against my bare skin as I focused on the way the cool metal warmed in my hand. The way it seemed to come to life in my hold.
“I’m not planning on dying over there. I’m not going to die,” he corrected the moment my eyebrow started to lift. “But I do have plans of scoring some gnarly war wound so I have a story to tell our grandkids one day and can hang one of those Purple Hearts off my chest.”
I flattened my face as best as I could, even though it was kind of impossible with the way he was grinning at me as he wrestled his jeans back into place. “Not funny.”
“Come on. It’ll make me look tough.”
“You already look tough. Too tough,” I added as I scanned him for the millionth time since he’d arrived back in Medford for a week-long vacation before shipping out. Whenever I looked at him, I didn’t just see the good-looking guy others did—I saw every good memory from my past. I saw every good memory that would be formed in the future. Brecken had been a part of my life since I was eight, and he was as much a part of me as I was.
“Nah, I need one of those big, angry-looking scars running across my chest. Or one of those bullet hole scars on my thigh. Something real tough like that.”
“And why do you need your dog tags for that?” My fingers tightened around the thin metal ovals, refusing to let them go as if I hoped in doing so, he couldn’t go either.
“Blood transfusion. Medics are going to need to know my blood type when they’re trying to patch up my unconscious body.”
“Unconscious body?”
He nodded all solemn-like. “I can’t be one of those guys who earns his Purple Heart by getting a scratch on some barbed wire. I need to lose a quart or two of blood, maybe even code on the operating table. Something worthy of that medal.”
The thought of Brecken marching through a hostile country with a rifle in his hands, with god only knew what aimed his way, made me feel weak with worry. The thought of him fighting for his life in some marine medical tent about took whatever was left of my sanity.
I must not have been doing a good job hiding my emotions, because his face broke when he saw my eyes, his arms opening toward me. “It’s going to be okay, Camryn. I’m going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. The year will fly by, and before we know it, we’ll be getting married and buying a little house as close to the beach as we can afford. Okay?”
His arms wound around me, swallowing my body, and I let him tuck me close to him. I’d never known the feeling of being safe until Brecken Connolly’s arms had shown me the meaning.
My hand planted in the middle of his chest, feeling his heartbeat vibrate against my palm. “Why can’t we just get married now? Why can’t I join the marines and go with you, wherever that is, so we can be together?”
His laugh was muffled from his mouth being pressed against my temple. “Well, you can’t join the marines and my unit because the military’s under this impression that us marines of the male species become distracted and one-track minded when the women we love are marching beside us. They’re convinced the only things on our minds are protecting you, flirting with you, or screwing you.”
Quietly, I counted off on my fingers, “Protecting, flirting, screwing . . .” Then I nodded. “Damn, they sure have you pegged.”
Brecken’s fingers brushed up and down the bend of my waist. “And we can’t get married right now because you’ve got two more months of high school to finish before you earn that nifty diploma thing.” He kept going, undeterred by my grumble. “And I need to save some money to give you a proper ring and wedding. I’m not doing the courthouse thing with cheap silver bands. Not for you. You deserve the best.”
My head tucked beneath his chin as I let him hold me in the backseat of his aunt’s old Corsica. The only good thing I could say about the car—which was a coin toss if it would start any given day—was that it had a decent-sized backseat that Brecken and I had made more than ample use of. Growing up in a strict household with my dad as Brecken grew up in the packed household a few houses down, privacy had been in short supply for both of us. Thankfully, his aunt was willing to lend Brecken her car whenever she could, like today, when I’d just made love to the only boy I’d ever loved for the last time for the next year.
My fingers curled into his chest as I willed time to freeze. “I have the best.”
Brecken grunted like he doubted that, his head lifting to check out the windshield. We were parked way back in the bus depot lot. His bus would be leaving for the long drive back to Camp Pendleton in a few short minutes.
“Besides, you already got me a ring.” I raised my left hand in front of him, rolling my fingers so he could see the adjustable birthstone ring on my finger.
He shook his head. “I won that for you at an arcade when we were ten.”
“It cost you twelve hundred tickets too. You saved up all summer to get that many tickets.”
His fingers touched the ring, twisting it around with a small smile on his face. “And it probably has the street value of a nickel. Not exactly the kind of wedding ring I want my wife to have.”
I found myself staring at the ring with him. The gold paint had started chipping off the thin band years ago, but the small pink birthstone still sparkled when the light hit it just right. “Well, it’s priceless to me. I don’t care what the street value is. Or how many tickets it cost.”
“Even so, I’m getting you a nice ring. With all of the hazard pay I’ll earn this year, you’d better start working that left ring finger out so it can bear the weight of the diamond I’ll be dropping on it.”
I was glad he couldn’t see my face, because he hated knowing how worried I was about him. He said hazard pay like a sales rep mentioned a bonus, but I heard it for what it really was—the government giving you a little more money for the likelihood of losing your life increasing.
“One more year. That’s it. Then we’ll be able to be together like we’ve always planned. Away from here.” Brecken’s arms loosened around me. We didn’t have much longer. “Away from these people.”
An uneven exhale came from him, the muscles in his arms twitching. I knew who he was talking about without him going into detail. Neither of our lives had been charmed or particularly easy, but mine had been worse. Being raised by a single dad who was so strict he made a monk’s life seem carefree, I’d had an unusual upbringing. Brecken only knew what I let him know about it, which was barely half of the reality.
“I don’t like leaving you alone with him,” he said, his voice a note lower. “If things get hard again, just leave. Move in with my insane family or a hotel or anywhere. Don’t let him hurt you. Words or fists. He does it again”—Brecken’s hands curled into balls as his back stiffened—“I’ll kill him. I swear I will.”
“He won’t,” I said instantly, in my most convincing voice. “He’s working on all that. Not drinking as much.” I made sure to hold his stare to sell as much conviction as I was capable.
My dad wasn’t just a strict man. He was a sad one, a lonely one. After my mom left, he’d turned into someone else, almost like she’d taken everything that had been good about him and stuffed it in that small suitcase too. Since I was the only one around and bore a striking resemblance to my mom, I’d taken the brunt of my dad’s grief. In the form of cutting words and, occasionally, outstretched palms.
Brecken had been walking down the sidewalk one day when he saw my dad strike me across the cheek for attempting to leave the house in a skirt he described as “fitting for a whore.” Brecken had only been thirteen, but he’d taken my dad down, managing to land a few punches before I could pull him off.
My dad stopped hitting me after that. At least where anyone passing by could see.
Not that I needed to tell Brecken that now. Though I guessed it would get him to stay a while longer . . . if only to be charged with murder and thrown into prison for the next twenty to thirty years.
Suddenly, that year didn’t seem so bad.
“He won’t,” I reiterated, when Brecken continued to give me that penetrating stare, like he was capable of finding a lie if I was hiding one.
Both of his brows lifted. “He better not.”
“If anything happens, I’ll crash at your family’s place, I swear.”
Sitting up, he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “With fourteen people sharing twelve hundred square feet of space, good luck finding a quiet spot to do your homework.” He pulled every bill out of his wallet. Even the last crumbled dollar. “Take this, hide it from your dad, and use it if you need to. That’s enough to get you a week or so at a hotel that isn’t a dump, and as soon as I get my next paycheck, I’ll send more.”
My head was shaking as I tried to stuff the money back into his wallet. He’d already closed it and was sliding it back into his pocket though. “I’ll be fine.”
Brecken’s gaze dropped to the money in my hand. “Yeah, I know.”
“Brecken.”
“Camryn,” he mimicked.
“I’m not taking the last dollar in your wallet.”
“Why not?” he asked, making a face. “I’d give you the shirt off my back, the air in my lungs, the last drop of blood in my veins. The last dollar’s a cakewalk compared to, you know, dying of suffocation or bleeding out.” He winked as he folded my fingers around the wad of money in my hand, then he leaned down to pull on his boots. He was moving quickly, glancing in the direction of the buses like he was making sure his wasn’t pulling away from the curb yet.
“Do you want to walk with me to the bus?” His focus stayed on cinching up his last boot as he waited for my answer.
He already knew it though. Good-byes weren’t my forte. Especially not the kind where I had to wave good-bye to the man I loved as he prepared to head into the middle of a war zone for the next year. Good-bye came with a whole different context when you said it to a marine.
“I know, Blue Bird. I know.” He sighed, his eyes narrowing at the weathered floorboards before he reached for the dog tags still hanging around my neck.
I didn’t make any move to lift my head or slide my hair aside to make it easier for him. As long as those tags were on my neck instead of his, he was safe. He was alive.
“I’m not going to die over there,” he whispered, pulling the tags over his head. They clinked together as they fell against his chest. “I’m coming back to you.”
My throat was burning from trying to keep myself from crying. “You can’t promise that.”
He reached for the blanket that had fallen on the floor and gently tucked it around my still-naked body. It was strange how I’d forgotten I was naked until he’d taken his tags off of me. Now though, I felt bare. Exposed. Vulnerable. My dress was somewhere around, even though I didn’t see it. We’d barely managed to make it to the parking lot before falling into the backseat together.
“Yes I can,” he said, his thumb tracing my collarbone before tucking the other corner around my shoulder. “Have I ever broken a promise to you?” He angled himself so he was in front of me, so I was forced to look him in the eyes.
“This is different. You can’t know for sure.”
“I’m going to enjoy watching you eat those words when I’m standing in front of that pretty face in twelve months, Blue Bird.”
I pulled the blanket tighter around me. “You know I don’t like it when you call me that when I’m mad at you.”
“You’re mad? At me?” He blinked. “Why?”
“You know why.” My eyes automatically moved toward the line of buses.
“To set the record straight, it’s the marine corps sending me to Iraq. Not me by personal choice.”
“No, but you made the personal choice to join the marine corps.”
“Yeah, because I didn’t want to spend the next twenty years pumping gas at the Qwik Mart.” His hand curled around the back of the front seat. “We’ve talked about this, Camryn. I’m not cut out for college, and I sure as shit am not going to spend my life working a minimum-wage part-time job and stuck in Medford. The marines is a chance at a real life. A career where I can be promoted and provide for a family and get a chance to kick a little ass every once in a while.” He leaned forward to kiss my forehead. Then my lips. “This is the ticket to that life we’ve been talking about for years. But it comes with a price.” His mouth covered mine again, this time a bit longer. “I’ll be okay. I’ll make it back.”
My eyes closed so I could focus on the taste of him left behind on my mouth. “You’re always the first to charge into anything. You don’t hang back. You don’t like the shadows. You like being the one who cast those shadows.”
When my eyes finally opened, I found his dark blue ones inches away from mine. His light hair, buzzed short so he was all ready for deployment, the few freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose, the way his jaw tightened when he stared at me, those were the things I’d remember when I’d lay awake at night, wondering where he was. If he was safe. If he was thinking about me. As long as I held on to a part of him, he could never really leave me.
“I’m coming home to you,” he said like a solemn vow. “It might be in more than one piece, but I’m coming home to you.”
I tucked his tags inside his shirt. They’d become cold again. “A thousand pieces, I don’t care. Just come home.”
His smile was almost as forced as mine as he leaned in, pulling me into his arms one last time. He held me for a minute, one hand secured around my neck, the other around my back, rocking me against him. Then he kissed me one last time. “Gotta go, Blue Bird. The Middle East isn’t going to settle itself down.”
As he threw open the back door to go around to the trunk to grab his bag, I leaned across the seat. He was leaving. For what felt like forever. “Yeah, don’t think you’re single-handedly responsible for tackling that agenda either.”
Throwing the bag over his shoulder, he crouched beside me. This smile wasn’t contrived. It was real. Perfect. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Soon?”
His hand formed around my cheek as his thumb traced the seam of my lips. “Sounds better than see you in a year, right?” Tucking his thumb into his mouth, tasting my lips on it, he gave me a wicked smirk before shoving to a stand and starting toward the buses. “I’m coming back for you, Camryn Blue Gardner, so you’d better be waiting for me, or I’ll just have to come find you and remind you why you fell crazy in love with me.”
Tucking the blanket around myself, I slid out of the car, leaning over the open door. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be waiting.”
He’d started to jog backward. “Waiting as in a few days until some other guy makes his play?”
My eyes rolled as I gave him a look. Brecken and I’d been together since I was fifteen and he was seventeen. Even before that, we’d been inseparable, no one able to come between us.
I cupped my hand around my mouth. “Waiting as in forever.”
“I won’t keep you waiting that long. Just long enough.” He was shouting now, the rumbling buses muffling his voice.
“Long enough for what?” I yelled back.
Even with this much distance between us, I didn’t miss it. The look in his eyes. The tip of his smile. “For you to agree to marry me the moment I get back.”
The breeze played with my hair, sending it away from him, like forces out of our control were already pulling us apart. “I will!”
He paused just below the bus steps, his eyes consuming me from a hundred yards away. “It’s, I do, Blue Bird. I do.” He grinned and handed his bag off to the person stuffing them into one of the outside compartments. Then his hands cupped around his mouth, and he dropped his head back. “I do, too!”
His voice echoed across the parking lot, earning the attention of more than just me.
That was it. He climbed the stairs, turned the corner, and disappeared inside the bus. I wouldn’t see him for a year. I might not see him ever . . .
My jaw tensed as I put a stop to that train of thought. Wedding vows and rings were the last things on my mind as his bus lurched away from the curb.
“Just come back to me,” I whispered to no one. “Just come back.”

















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Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.





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