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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Release: ULTIMATE COURAGE by Piper J Drake




Title: Ultimate Courage
Author: Piper J. Drake
Series: True Heroes, #2
On Sale: July 26, 2016
Publisher: Forever
Formats: Mass Market & eBook
Price: $6.99 USD (MM) / $5.99 USD (eBook)


LOVE IS AN ACT OF BRAVERY

Retired Navy SEAL Alex Rojas is putting his life back together, one piece at a time. Being a single dad to his young daughter and working at Hope's Crossing Kennels to help rehab a former guard dog, he struggles every day to control his PTSD. But when Elisa Hall shows up, on the run and way too cautious, she unleashes his every protective instinct.

Elisa's past never stays in her rearview mirror for long, and she refuses to put anyone else in danger. But with Alex guarding her so fiercely yet looking at her so tenderly, she's never felt safer . . . or more terrified that the secrets she keeps could put countless people in grave peril. The only way for both to fully escape their demons will take the ultimate act of courage: letting go and learning to trust each other.


THE TRUE HEROES SERIES


Extreme Honor, #1
Ultimate Courage, #2
Absolute Trust, #3



BUY THE BOOK HERE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Piper J. Drake (or "PJ") spent her childhood pretending to study for the SATs by reading every interesting novel she could find at the library. After being introduced to the wonderful world of romance by her best friend, she dove into the genre.

PJ began her writing career as PJ Schnyder, writing sci-fi & paranormal romance and steampunk, for which she won the FF&P PRISM award as well as the NJRW Golden Leaf award and Parsec award.

PJ's romantic suspense novels incorporate her interests in mixed martial arts and the military. The True Heroes series is inspired by her experience rescuing, owning and training a variety of retired working dogs, including Kaiser, a former guard dog, and Mozart, who was trained to detect explosives.





EXCERPT:

“You’ve got to be insane.”
Elisa Hall took a prudent step—or two—back as she observed the standoff brewing in front of her. A tall man stood between her and the emergency room reception desk, glaring at the woman in scrubs behind it. He stood at an angle to Elisa, so he could see the reception desk to his right and the entirety of the waiting area in front of him.
He clenched his fists.
Elisa retreated farther back toward the entrance, releasing her throbbing rist and letting her hands fall to her sides. Harmless. Nothing to see here.
“I’m sorry, sir, but ambulances take precedence over walk-ins,” the nurse repeated. She was braver than Elisa would’ve been in the face of rage on a level with the man’s at the counter.
He was dressed in loose fitness shorts and a close-fitting black tee. His hands were wrapped in some cross between tape and fabric.
“Fighter” might as well have been printed across his very broad, muscular shoulders.
Actually, now that she was looking, his tee said Revolution Mixed Martial Arts Academy.
Well, then. Maybe she should just take more ibuprofen and forget about seeing a doctor for her swollen wrist after all. Getting her injury examined wasn’t worth staying anywhere near this guy.
The nurse glanced quickly at Elisa then returned her attention to the man, her expression softening with sympathy. “As soon as an examination room opens up, we’ll get you in to see the doctor. Please, wait right here and fill out these forms while I help this young lady.”
Wait, what? The man’s face, and his focus, turned toward her. Oh, great.
Usually she envied nurses their ability to sympathize with so many patients and make such a difference in their lives. Now was not one of those times.
Elisa squashed the urge to bolt. Never ended well when she tried it. Better to hold very still, wait until the anger in front of her burned itself out, and pull herself together afterward.
Instead, she fastened her gaze on the floor and tried to keep her body from tensing visibly. Silently, she sang herself an inane nursery rhyme to take her mind
off the weight of the man’s intense glare. Please, please, let him walk away. They were in public, and even though the emergency room waiting area wasn’t packed, it still had a dozen people scattered around the seats.
But the expected explosion, shouting, other things . . .never happened. Instead, the man had quieted. All of the frustrated aggression seemed to have been stuffed away, somewhere.
She swallowed hard. Relief eased her constricted throat, and she breathed slowly for the time being. Leaving remained the best idea she had at the moment.
But he stepped away from the counter and farther to her right, motioning with a wrapped hand for her to step forward. As she forced her feet to take herself closer to the reception desk—and past him—he gave her room.
            Belatedly, she realized his movement also happened to block her escape route toward the doors. He couldn’t have done it on purpose, could he? But Elisa took a step up to the reception counter and away from him anyway.
“Yes, dear?” The nurse’s gentle prompt made Elisa jump.
Damn it. Elisa’s heart beat loud in her ears.
The nurse gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t mind him. He’s been here before. I’ve already asked another nurse to bring ice packs as fast as possible. I don’t
mind if he blows off some hot air in my direction in the meantime. I would be upset, too, considering today’s situation.”
Elisa bit her lip. She could still feel the man standing behind her, his presence looming at her back. He couldn’t possibly appreciate the nurse sharing some of
his private information. And he didn’t seem to need ice packs or any other medical attention. He appeared very able-bodied. “It’s none of my business.”
The nurse placed a clipboard on the counter and wrinkled her nose. “Oh, trust me, the entire waiting room knows what his concern is. Tell me what brought you here.”
This might be the most personable emergency room reception area Elisa had been to in years, not counting the extremely angry man standing behind her. They were either not very busy—not likely if all the examination rooms were full up—or extremely efficient.
Efficiency meant she could get in and out and decide what her next steps would be.
“My wrist.” Elisa held out her left arm, her wrist obviously swollen. “I thought it was just a bad sprain, but it’s been more than a few days and has only gotten worse. I can barely move it now.”
And if she could have avoided it, she definitely wouldn’t have stopped in to get it treated. An emergency room visit, even with the help of her soon-to-be nonexistent insurance, was still an expense she didn’t need. It’d been six months or so since her last significant paycheck, and she could not afford to extend her insurance much longer. Plus, it might be better not to. One less way to track her.
“Is that your dominant arm, dear?” The nurse held up a pen.
Elisa shook her head.
“Oh, good. Leave your ID and insurance card with me so I can make copies. Take a seat over there to fill out this form and bring it back to me.”
Okay, then. Elisa took the items and made her way toward the seating area, thankful the nurse hadn’t asked her to give her name and pertinent information verbally. It was always a risk to share those things out loud.
She’d learned over and over again. There was a chance a slip of information in the unlikeliest of places would find its way to exactly the person she didn’t want
to have it. No matter how careful she’d been over the last several months, it hadn’t been enough yet.
But it would be. This time. She was learning, and she was free. Every day was a new chance.
Nodding to herself, Elisa looked for a seat. It might not be crowded, but just about everyone in the room had decided to sit with at least a chair or two buffer between them and the next person. The buffer seats were all that were left, and most of the other people waiting to be seen were either men, or women sitting with men.
Then she caught sight of a young girl sitting with her legs crossed in the seat next to the big planter in the corner. Slender, but long limbed, the girl had a sweet face and the gangly look of a growing kid. Elisa guessed the girl was maybe eight or nine, could even be ten. Hard to pin down age when the kid had such an innocent look to her. The seat next to her was open, and she was waiting quietly, hugging a big, blue, plush . . . round thing. Whatever it was.
Elisa walked quickly over, and when the girl looked up at her with big, blue eyes, Elisa gave her the friendliest smile she could dig up. “Mind if I sit next
to you?”
The girl looked around, her gaze lingering on the reception area behind Elisa for a moment before saying, “Sure.”
Elisa took a seat.
After a few silent moments, the little girl stirred next to her. “Are you sick?”
Well, paperwork didn’t take much of her attention, and it’d been a while since Elisa had been outside of her own head in a lot of ways. Conversation would be
a welcome change and a good distraction from the constant worry running in the back of her mind. “Not sick so much as hurt. I won’t give you the plague.”
A soft, strained laugh. “Same here.”
Elisa took a harder look at the big, plush toy. It wasn’t for comfort as Elisa’d first assumed. It was supporting the girl’s slender left arm, which was bent at an impossible angle.
“Oh my god.” Why was she sitting here alone?
“Don’t worry.” The girl gave her a quick thumbs-up with her right hand. “The doctors are really good here, and I’m in all the time.”
Such a brave face. She had to be in an insane amount of pain. And here she was encouraging Elisa.
“Is there someone you should talk to about how often you get hurt?” Elisa struggled for the right tone. It was one she’d heard more than once when people had been concerned for her. Some places had safeguards in place for . . .
Blue eyes widened. “Oh, it’s not what you’re thinking. Trust me, people ask my dad. And it’s not like that at all. I study mixed martial arts. I get bruised and
bumped all the time, and usually it’s nothing, but Dad always makes me come in to get checked.”
It was hard not to believe in the earnest tone. But monsters were everywhere.
The girl gave her a rueful smile, still amazing considering how much pain she had to be in. “This time it wasn’t just a bump.”
“Which is why they’re going to see you as soon as they can, Boom.”
Elisa hadn’t heard the man approach. He was just there. He kneeled down in front of the girl then gently tucked an ice pack around her arm while moving it as
little as possible. For her part, the girl hissed in pain but otherwise held up with amazing fortitude.
Elisa would’ve been in tears. The forearm had to be broken. Both bones. It didn’t take a doctor to figure that out. No wonder the man had been mad earlier. She’d want this girl to be seen as soon as possible, too. She dropped her gaze, unable to watch.
“Here.” An ice pack appeared in her view. “Your wrist should be iced, too. Take down the swelling while you wait.”
Speechless, Elisa looked up.
The man’s words were gruff, awkward. His expression was blank. But his eyes—a softness around his eyes—and a . . . quiet in the way he watched her made her swallow and relax a fraction. Her heartbeat stuttered in a fluttery kind of way. A completely different reaction from what she should be experiencing if she were wise. She didn’t know this man and he was probably married. The girl had a mother somewhere. Where? Maybe on her way. This man was just being nice. Maybe.

Learn from your mistakes. You never know who a person really is.

            

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

5/5 Review: Never Let You Go by Monica Murphy



This is the second book in a two part series. The first book tells the story of Katie and Ethan (Will). How she was kidnapped and physically and mentally abused by a terrible man named Arron, Will's father. Years later Will reconnects with Katie under a different name, Ethan. They go through a lot together. They fall for each other. Katie finds out the truth at the end of the first book and it devastated her that she was deceived by the man she had given herself to.

A little time passes before they start talking again. Lisa Swanson interviews Aaron about his side of the story and now she wants to hear what both Katie and Ethan have to say about it. Katie refuses to do the interview without Ethan; but Ethan has zero desire to share his side with the media. Katie and Ethan end up deciding to do the interview together. No one knows they have been in a relationship. They both know what everyone would think if they went public.

Lisa gives Aaron Ethan's address and he writes to him asking for his and Katie's forgiveness for everything. Neither of them wants to forgive that monster. They also don't believe him when he says he's changed. Aaron has little time left before his execution. Katie can't shake the feeling someone is watching her just beyond the woods behind her home. Lisa tries to convince Katie that Ethan is working with his father and is using her. She knows deep inside her heart that it's not true and Aaron has lied to Lisa. Turns out that Aaron does have someone on the outside keeping tabs on her and Ethan.

Katie and Ethan are trying to get past what happened with Ethan's deception because they really truly love each other. They are able to rekindle their relationship.

Aaron ends up breaking out of prison by faking a heart attack when the prison is understaffed. Aaron goes after Lisa first because he thinks they have a connection. He finds out where Katie's lives from her and then proceeds to go after her too. Lisa knocks on the door and Aaron pushes past her to get to Katie. Lisa tries to run and Aaron shoots and kills her before she was able to get away. Aaron takes Katie back to the amusement park where he originally kidnapped her. Ethan was out of town and was able to catch a quick flight home after hearing what's happening.

Aaron makes Katie ride a bunch of the rides while he stands there watching. Katie thinks for sure this is the end and he's going to finish what he started years ago. He then makes her ride the sky glider; the very ride he abducted her from. She tries to reason with him to spare her life by lying to him and telling him she's pregnant with his grandchild. Aaron doesn't care and continues to force her onto the ride. Ethan shows up and pleads for his father to spare her and take him instead. Aaron agrees, but they never make it to the end of the ride. Aaron ends up being shot by the cops that are surrounding the amusement park.

Katie and Ethan can finally breathe and enjoy their lives together. While at the hospital they find out that Katie truly is pregnant. He asks her to marry him and of course she says yes!

I was so happy that I was able to read the conclusion of their story. This book was a great read. It was full of love, action, and a little bit of mystery. The sex scenes were full of passion and very steamy. I was bummed at the end of the first book when they went their separate ways; but I'm glad they found their way back to each other. I absolutely love Monica Murphy! If you plan on reading this book make sure you start with book one. You won't be disappointed!



5/5 Review: MANHANDLED by Cari Quinn & Taryn Elliott



So to start, this is the second book in the Hammered series by these two authors. I've read the first one, and it's not needed to read the second one, but it may answer some questions that will pop in your head while reading this (and trust me, it's a REALLY good read!)

Faith (Keys) Keystone is a member of the band Hammered. She's the only girl, and the other members are like her family. She only wants to play her piano/keyboard, write songs and spend time with her "brothers" in the band. But when her life is threatened, her close friend (and brother of Hunter, who's also in the band - and book 1!) Noah demanded she hire a personal body guard. And he knew just the guy!

Quinn works with Noah at a private security firm, and they've been best friends for years. Noah wants only the best for Keys as she's like a sister to him. But Quinn is not convinced and only agrees to take the job because he owes Noah a favor or three...

Quinn hates Keys house, it is too open, too many windows and on and on. He comes barging into Keys life and changes everything around, and she hates it. It doesn't matter how good looking he is, or how much he makes her turn to goo. She hates him. Or so she tells herself...

I have quickly fallen in love with this series and get anxious for the next one to come out! These two ladies know how to write an intriguing, funny, romantic story! The characters are great, they stand out from each other because they are all different in their own way, and I love that they don't just mesh together. The one thing I didn't like about this book was that they left it hanging... it wasn't a huge cliff hanger, but it made me literally gasp out loud and say "NO!!!!!" so now they have me hooked for book 3! So grab 1 & 2 and have a mini reading marathon! You will be amazed and impressed!



Monday, July 4, 2016

5/5 Review: THE HURRICANE by R.J. Prescott



The Hurricane is fantasticaly heart melting and captivating!

I both adored Emily and empathized with her. She's escaped from some horrific conditions and is now focused on making a new life for herself. I completely understood her terror at standing out and having her past leak into her present. What I did not understand and couldn't comprehend is how she managed to deal with the trauma of her past. It almost seemed like she'd managed to wipe the worst of it from her mind. I adored Cormac too. He might have looked like a brute, but he really cared for Emily. He saw that spark in her and he cultivated it. Yes he did a terrible job at pretending to be her friend when he wanted more, but he let her do things in her own time and never once pushed her for more.

Their chemistry was out of this world amazing!!! Each scene that they shared put a smile on my face. Emily’s sweet personality made me want to be her friend and O’Connell’s love for Emily made me swoon so many times! They both had a difficult childhood that has left them emotional scars. I won’t go into details about what happened to them because I feel that each reader needs to live every single moment of this amazing reading journey. I loved how Emily and O’Connell trusted each other with their life journey and how they healed those emotional scars with the power of their love.

The Hurricane not only had phenomenal main characters, but equally addictive supporting characters. Danny, Kieran, Tommy, Liam, Nikki, Albie, Ryan and Max were great friends to Emily and O’Connell. They all had their place in this amazing journey and it simply would not have been the same without them! I defiantly plan on reading the rest of the series.



4/5 Review: GROWL -by Kate Douglas, AC Arthur, Eve Langlais (Anthology)




Legal Wolf's Mate by Eve Langlais


Gavin is a high powered attorney who just so happens to be a werewolf. When his good friend and fellow were animal Broderick begs him to help a seemingly innocent women who's being accused of murder. When she shows up at Gavins office, he's unprepared for the instant connection he feels with her, something powerful pulls him towards her and he hasn't even said a word to her! Now he'll do anything to protect his new mate, and do anything to convince her to be his.

Megan is a timid young woman who has no idea what happened the night she was framed for murder, and her state appointed lawyer just wants her to take the deal she's being offered. Then she runs into Broderick, who kindly offers his friends help, free of charge thank god, and she feels maybe she'll be able to win her case.

As the days go on, and weirder and weirder things keep happening to Megan, she must put her life in the hands of Gavins. All she has to do is resist the temptation of his sexy body and even sexier alpha maleness. Shouldn't be too hard, she's had enough hard headed men in her life, she should be able to handle being alone with him... right??

So I loved the plot here, it has action, romance, pure sexiness and of course twist and turns! Gavin is so not ready to give up his single life, but I love how Eve doesn't make his character a complete love sick puppy when he sees Megan. He's determined to show her that he can be good for her, and that they'll be great together. He's a bit cock some times, but I think that plays into the whole wolf thing.

Megan character is a little harder to grasp, while the thoughts going through her head portray that of a scared young woman, occasionally her actions make you wonder if she's hiding something from Gavin...

The only thing that I didn't like about this story was one particular plot twist. It felt like the author just woke up one morning and decided to change the entire direction of the story. Even though it was still well written and I enjoyed it, I felt like I read 2 halfs of different books.

Feral Passions by Kate Douglas


Cherry is dragged to Feral passions, an all exclusive resort angled towards women, by her sister and sisters best friend. She only agrees so they don't loose their money on the package they bought after their other friend backed out. She definitely didn't expect to fall in love with the outdoors, the mountains, the freedom and the resorts special attractions, the wolves that live on the preservation that the resort sit on.

Tracker Jakes is the head of Feral Passions resort. He came up with the idea of a ladies only resort that exclusively accepts only 6 women at a time. His hope is that his pack will be able to find mates. The pack is getting lonely as none of them have been able to find mates in years. All the members of his pack help run the resort, some one is bound to find their mate... right?

Brad and Cain are two of the resorts "employees" they both feel an instant connection with Cherry, one they've been waiting for for a very long time. They have 1 week to convince her that they're meant to be.

I love Kates books, and this plot was pretty good, and the story well written. But I had a hard time connecting to Cherry's character. I felt like I was reading a story about a teenager, not an almost 30 year old woman. I understand she's pretty innocent, but still...

Aside from that I enjoyed the story and am interested to see if she's developing a new series from this.

The Alpha's Woman by A. C. Arthur


Kira is an alpha female who refuses to take any crap from anyone. When her own pack turns on her, including her own father, she refuses to stay with them any longer and runs. She'd rather be a lone wolf than stay with them a minute longer.

Blaez is the alpha of his own pack, and when he finds Kira walking alone in the woods so close to the full moon, he decides he has to save her... by kidnapping her... he locks her in their fortress with his small pack, and tells her he refuses to let her go for her own safety. A lone female wolf can be claimed by any wolf during the full moon phase. While she knows the risk she took, she demands he let her go and not worry about her, but something inside him tells him not to let her go.

This was by far my favorite story of the three! It was creative, and a different take on the werewolf lore. I loved the members of his pack, and would very much enjoy reading about each of them finding their mates. I will definitely be looking her up and adding her to my to be read list!

 

Friday, July 1, 2016

5/5 Review: Big Easy Temptation by Shayla Black & Lexi Blake



Dax Spencer is a household name, American royalty. Him and his 5 friends are known as "the perfect gentleman" even though most of them are anything but! However, the moment Dax laid eyes on Holland he knew she was the one, his forever. Now we just have to convince her.

Holland Kirk is a NCIS officer, she takes her career very seriously, and while she longs to be with Dax, she does not want the world to see her as the playboy's girlfriend, only after his money. No, she wants to rise to her own success. She grew up with her aunt and uncle, who was a New Orleans police officer. She knew where she wanted to go, and Dax did not fit in the equation.

But Dax was not giving up, using his dad's case as an excuse to work with her, he talks her into helping him prove his innocence, but there are dangerous paths to finding out the truth. Will a relationship between them survive, will they?

What can I say about these 2 ladies that hasn't already been said!? They're geniuses! This series is amazing! It grips you from beginning to end. Each book could be read individually, but I don't recommend it. They are written to be a true continous series. Each book however is based on a different couple.

This story is amazing, and I couldn't put it down, the overall story of the series is a mystery that I can't wait to see solved! I try to figure out the clues myself, but never see the truth coming! This series is sexy, gripping, mysterious and down right addicting! Definitely a must read!


5/5 Review: HEARTSTRONG COTTAGE by Emily March



I was excited to receive another book by Emily March. If you are fan of the series, you know Eternity Springs is full of interesting characters, beginning with the actual town. Relationships are built, people are nice to each other and the ladies of the town seem to have an uncanny instinct in choosing which two people should come together next. In this case our main characters are the exit detective now a PI Daniel Garrett who has suffered a major loss in his life and the small town Pub owner with a big secret Shannon O'Toole.

From the beginning, Heartsong touches your heart strings. This is the 10th book in the Eternity Springs series and introduces us to a small town where people face life changing events and miracles are waiting around every corner. This book has everything I love in a romance novel. A wonderful small town, women of various ages who are supportive and friends of one another, a romance which is hard to achieve because of the character's histories and real issues and finally solutions which lead to a happy ending.

This is a touching and emotional story of loss and redemption, made strong by March's vivid prose and her ability to plumb the depth of human emotion. Readers will hurt for Daniel, root for Shannon, and delight in the specialness of a small community that seems touched by angels. I loved the spirit of community, the solid friendships between Shannon and her friends and the symbolism of Eternity Springs. We all might need an Eternity Springs in our lives. Ms. March has penned a stunning addition to this series. Can't wait to begin book 11 in the series. Heartsong is definitely a must read.


5/5 Review: Falling in Deeper by Shayla Black




NOTE: (This is a Dom/sub series, this book in particular is pretty mild, but the others may not be. Please be prepared before you read this series.)

Stone Sutter is a convicted felon who is out on 'leave' helping out the feds. His job, convince Lily Taylor to testify against Timothy Canton, an evil man who hides his secrets deep, and has put on a show for the state of California, he's about to throw his hat into the governors race. When Stone took one look at Lily, aka Sweet Pea/Misty Smith and fell in love and had to get closer to her.

Lily is working at Dominion, a D/s club. She has so many dark secrets that she keeps a wall around herself. She's meek and mild, and scared of almost everything, with good reason. Canton ruined her life 7 years ago and she's been on the run ever since. Constantly looking over her shoulder and making sure not to get too close to anyone. Until Axel that is. He became her best friend and protector. He taught her so much, and trained her to submit, while caring to her needs. She loved him, but never fell "in love" with him. But he met the love of his life, and has left to go to England for a while, and ended their Dom/sub "relationship". Stone felt he was the perfect man to fill Lily's needS. She needed a new protector, and he knew he had to have her.

I just LOVE Shayla Black! I think everything she writes is amazing! I have to admit though, that I didn't know she had continued the "wicked ties" series, and this is the 11th book! Man do I have some catching up to do! You definitely do not have to read the others before picking up this one, but I guarantee you'll want to pick them up after! Falling In Deeper is simply amazing and a great addition to any collections!




4/5 Review: Heart Like Mine by Maggie Mcginnis



I can completely see why others adore these books. We get a cozy, quirky small town; an effort to infuse most scenes with humor and levity for those of us weary of self-serious romances; and heroes who are strong alphas without being creepily controlling and borderline sociopathic (a line that's tougher than expected for many romance authors to tread!) So I figured this series would be a candidate for 'favorite series ever', and I was right, I am going to love the Echo Lake Novel.

Simply Irresistible has humor, heat, and heart. There's instant attraction between Delaney and Joshua. Delaney is a woman you can relate to. Everyone sees Delaney as a wonderfully strong woman who is very successful. People she works with highly respect her. What they do not see is her past how it haunts her and the heartache it brings. She isn’t a people person and doesn’t do well interacting with them..Josh loves children they make his job worth doing and he makes it his life to help others the best that he can. They are working on a very small budget as it is now the men upstairs wants to cut it even more. He is put to the challenge meeting a budget he can’t met as he works on away to get what they need trying to make the men upstairs happy. They will have to figure out a way to make this happen without killing each other.

Maggie Mcginnis writes great emotion and has a real talent for injecting just the right amount of humor at just the right time. Delaney and Joshua are irresistible. Both are slightly damaged and more than a little vulnerable - imperfect enough to be perfect for each other. Secondary characters with their own stories are an added bonus to the story. I highly recommend this book to all contemporary romance lovers. If you've enjoyed Maggie's books in the past, you're going to love this one, and if you're new to Maggie's, there's no better place to start reading her work!



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Release: BLUE MOON by Lisa Kessler


Chapter One
Logan
Paul jogged onstage with my Gibson. I swapped the electric guitar for the acoustic and slid the strap over my shoulder. Amazing that I could be sitting on a cold stool in the hot lights of a open-air college amphitheater with five thousand screaming fans and still feel so damned alone.
I sucked in a slow breath, my fingers instinctively reaching for that first chord. My Gibson was my focus. With her in my arms, everything else faded away.
“I love you, Logan!”
I peered into the blinding spotlight and leaned into the mic. “Love you, too.”
The crowd went ballistic. Tonight was my twenty-third birthday, and I was spending it with my alt-rock band, Logan and the Howlers. We were finally starting to see some success. Our songs climbed up iTunes charts as fast as we could release them, and our concert venues were getting bigger without the backing of a big record label. We were busy.
Even on my birthday.
Luke, my twin brother, was waiting somewhere in the wings. After the show, we were going to grab a couple of beers to celebrate, and I’d paste on a smile for my brother. For me, it was just another empty year. As my Pack brothers each found their mates, the one woman he would ever love, the ache for mine grew, but unlike the rest of the Pack, there was no hope of me being with her.
I blew my chance years ago.
Pushing the memories away, I leaned on the stool while the rest of the Howlers vanished offstage for a water break. This was my song. The crowd erupted as I strummed the first chord. “Madness in the Moonlight” was still one of our top selling singles, and a favorite at live performances. My pain on display.
She haunts my dreams.
Shadows of the past.
Ripping my heart down the seams.
No one to blame but me.
I’m a lone wolf now, but I still stare up at the moon,
Call her name, and wonder if she’s looking, too…
I sat back, letting the crowd finish the chorus, wailing the anger and rage.
Madness. Madness. Madness.
Wishing won’t change a thing.
Tell that to my fucking heart.
Welcome the pain, feel something.
Got to let her go.
Another verse, another chorus, but as I hit the key change, a familiar scent, clean and spicy like cinnamon ignited my senses. Oh shit. From where?
I was the only member of the Howlers who actually howled. Once a month, the wolf in my soul came forward and I shifted my form, surrendering to the animalistic part of my spirit. And right now the dormant wolf was clawing toward my consciousness, no longer content to rest in the background. Even as a man, my senses were heightened—especially my senses of smell and hearing, but my vision didn’t suck, either.
I’d performed this song hundreds of times. My fingers found the chords instinctively, but I almost missed my vocals, stumbling over the next verse while I scanned the crowd. Finally I turned toward the wings.
In the shadows offstage, my brother Luke waited for me…with a ghost from my past.
Anna.
Fuck.
I forced myself to face the crowd. This was no time to lose my shit. What the hell was she doing here? I powered through the ending of the song and stood to accept the cheers.
Grabbing the hand mic, I tried not to check the wings again. “Thank you. There’s no place I’d rather be for my birthday!”
A deafening roar erupted from the crowd. “Happy Birthday, Logan” signs waved back and forth as my bandmates came out to join me, taking the decibel level even higher. Stryker jogged out, still shirtless, his untamed long hair bouncing with each stride. The guy was a monster on the drums. He raised his drumsticks while Levi, tall and slender, pumped his fist from behind the keyboard.
Levi had a degree in music, and a knack for fleshing out harmonies. Plus he was our de facto social media manager, saving the rest of us from being near a computer. We loved him for that.
And finally Zane hustled out with his bass guitar on his shoulder, waving to fans. He was the “Old Man” of the Howlers. It didn’t help that he liked to keep his hair slicked back in a 50s pompadour.
Zane stopped next to me. “You okay, man?”
There was no way any regular guy would’ve heard it through the roar of the audience, but I caught every word. I glanced at the wings, relieved to see them empty. Maybe I’d imagined her.
Wishful thinking. I’d recognize her scent anywhere.
“I’m good.”
I swapped my Gibson for the electric guitar and hit a chord. The Howlers had my back, filling the concert hall with a wall of sound, but I couldn’t lose myself in it this time. Any movement offstage had me jumpy and tense. This concert couldn’t be over soon enough.
“Night, Logan.” Zane grabbed his guitar case. “Good show, and happy birthday.”
“Thanks, man.” I dried the sweat from the back of my neck and tossed the towel in my bag.
Stryker was still dismantling his drum set. We could afford roadies to do it now, but he got territorial when it came to his drums.
“Later Stryker.”
He looked up, flipping his mop of hair out of his face. “Later. Have a birthday beer for me.”
“Will do.”
My bandmates had grown accustomed to me being on my own. It was tough to keep secrets from people you care about, so I kept my distance.
I hit the exit, and her scent assaulted me. Luke sat on the bumper of my pickup with Anna standing beside him. Their conversation halted as I came closer. As impossible as it seemed, she was sexier than I remembered, her curves more pronounced in her tight black dress.
Something inside me came unglued. The wolf howled, filling the empty space in my chest where my heart should have been.
Luke hopped off the bumper. He kept his dark hair shorter than I did, and working outside on the horse ranch made his skin a little more tan than mine. But he wasn’t wearing his faded ranch clothes now. He looked sharp in his black denim and white T-shirt, trying to impress a ghost from my past.
My eyes narrowed on my brother. “I didn’t know we were bringing dates.”
He frowned, draping his arm around her shoulder. “Oh, come on. Vivi’s like family. Did you know she’s staying up in Lake Tahoe right now?”
No, I didn’t know. She haunted every dream, every quiet moment. Her face fueled my muse.
And if he didn’t stop touching her, I’d go out of my fucking mind.
“Hey Logan.”
Her voice was deep, rich and smooth like melted chocolate. She had dark eyes that used to see all the way into my soul. Could she see how empty I was inside now?
I swallowed the lump in my throat and did my best to sound flippant. “I didn’t know you were a fan of the Howlers, Anna.”
“You don’t get to call me that anymore.” Her brown eyes flashed. She shook her head and took a step back. “It’s Vivi or Vivianna.”
Not to me.
Her heart was pounding. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hurt her.
Too fucking bad.
She brushed her hair over her shoulder. “And I’m not a fan. I was here for work.”
I needed to touch her. Clenching my fists, I fought the desire. I’d never be strong enough to walk away again. She needed to leave me. Now.
“Were you selling merch?”
Her brow furrowed, her jaw dropping a little. “Seriously?” She shook her head. “Thanks for reminding me what an asshole you are.”
“Good to see you, too. I’m going to get a beer.” I pinned my brother with a stare. “I’ll meet you at Lou’s.”
Without waiting for an answer, I put my guitar in the cab. I should’ve gotten in and driven away, but I turned back one last time.
Anna grabbed Luke’s hand. My brother turned toward her, and bitterness burned my stomach. Maybe they were on a damn date. The light from the streetlamp glistened on her long black hair, teasing me. Every angle of her face tempted me. I hadn’t spoken to her in just over five years, but my hunger for her hadn’t faded. Far from it.
“Happy Birthday, Logan.” My name sounded cold on her lips, like a dagger in my chest.
What could I say? I broke her heart, but I’d do it all over again if it meant her dreams would come true. Our futures were always headed in opposite directions. I made the right choice.
It took every ounce of my will to get in my truck. I slammed the door and drove away. Longest damned drive to Lou’s in my life.
The dive bar was dimly lit, with a pool table in the far corner. The juke box blared “Hotel California” while I nursed my second whiskey, neat. I sat on a stool in the shadows at the end of the counter. The last thing I was in the mood for was some drunk chick to recognize me. A few years ago, I tried to drown my sorrows in fast women and band groupies, but nothing filled the void Anna left behind.
No amount of no-strings-attached sex was ever going to hold a candle to making love to her. Ever.
My brother finally walked through the door. I held my breath, but it didn’t open again. Anna wasn’t with him. The only trace of her was her scent on his fucking shirt.
“Hey, Logan.” We clasped forearms, the traditional Pack greeting. “Happy Birthday.”
“Yeah. You, too.”
He glanced at my glass. “Moved on from birthday beer, huh?” He took the stool next to me. “What the hell happened back there with Vivi? I thought you’d be happy to see her.”
I growled, downing the last of my whiskey. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
He ordered a beer then turned my way. “She’s been staying up at Lake Tahoe with a college friend. I ran into her a couple weeks ago. She’s never seen you in concert…” He shrugged. “I thought it would be fun.”
Maybe it was her scent on his shirt, or the way she held his hand as I drove away, but I caught his wrist before I realized what I was doing. My grip tightened like a vise. “You can have any woman in the world. Not. Her.”
My final words were more animal than man. Luke’s eyes widened, and I let go of him, dragging a shaky hand back through my hair. My wolf was dangerously close to the surface, and the full moon was still two weeks away.
“First, we’re just friends, and second, I hate to break it to you, but you don’t get to call the shots here.” Luke leaned in close. “You dumped her and never even told her why. She waited for you in her prom dress. You humiliated her.”
“I was there. I remember.”
He groaned. “She hates you.”
“She should.” My voice cracked as I signaled for another drink. Anything to kill the ache inside.
“Okay, then why threaten me about seeing her?”
I met his eyes, staring at my mirror image. “Because she’s my mate.”
His jaw slackened for a second as my words sank in. I wasn’t sure how I expected him to react, but shoving me back into the bar wasn’t it.
“You selfish prick.” He shook his head and lowered his voice. “How could you not tell me?”
“What was I going to say?” I took a swallow of my drink. “Anna is my mate, but we’re too young? It’s complicated?”
“It could have been that simple.” He shook his head. “But you didn’t trust me to understand.” He slammed his hand on the bar. “Our whole Pack blew off the stories of one mate for life. You knew it was true all this time, and you never said anything.”
“You don’t understand.”
“So help me. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because it was none of your damned business.” I pushed the glass away. It wasn’t helping anyway. “It was between me and Anna.”
“And five years later, she’s still clueless. You never told her, either.”
I dug inside the pocket of my jeans and pulled out a few bills. Slapping them on the bar, I glared at my brother. “I’m not doing this here.”
He caught my arm. “Logan.”
I sighed and met his eyes. “Yeah.”
“If she’s your mate, then she’s the only one for you.” A crease formed on his brow as he lowered his voice. “You’re choosing to be alone…forever?”
My gut twisted. “I loved her. I still do. So I’m walking away.” I yanked free from his grasp. “Just do me a favor and stay out of it. And stay away from her. The sooner she gets out of town, the better.”
He glanced at his boots, shaking his head. “Good luck with that.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s got a chance for a staff job at Rolling Stone. Her dream job.” The bartender set Luke’s beer on the bar. He took a swig and tried not to smile. “That’s why she came west to stay with her friend. She’s here to be the first to get an interview with reclusive indie rocker, Logan Reynolds, from Logan and the Howlers.”
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