What We Do For Love
Funny how one’s life can make a U-turn.
My life made two. In a single day.
I started that day as a mere potter—yes, a person who hand-makes vases and dinner plates for a living—wearing borrowed clothes and driving to the most important interview of my life. A few hours later came U-turn number one: the board of directors of CCMLA, the Contemporary Crafts Museum of Los Angeles, offered me a place in their upcoming show!
In an instant, I had become an artist. I pondered this fact wonderingly as I drove home that afternoon. I was to provide them with a brand-new, never-before-seen mural in ceramics, an installation piece. My wall would be located at the entrance to the exhibit, the first thing you saw as you walked in. This was my chance, an incredible opportunity.
I was an artist!
It didn’t bother me that desperation clearly underlay the board’s decision. All the better when I saved the day with a great contribution to their show!
Flushed with success, I revved my ancient Toyota, Bernice, up to twenty-two miles per hour. We practically skipped over the potholes as we barreled our way up the Trail of Terror. This was the name my son Justin had given the rutted, one-lane road that wound its way up the side of Laurel Canyon to our house.
Of course, I was a fill-in, hired at the last minute. I’d gotten this job when Miriam Fletcher, a customer of mine who happened to be on the museum board, moaned to me that an artist had dropped out of a show scheduled to open in six weeks. “We’re in such a pickle! We don’t know what to do!” Though her crepey neck revealed a senior citizen, Miriam otherwise projected youth, running long acrylic nails through her cropped, bleached and spiked hair, her copper earrings swinging.
My cue to pipe up. “I’m sure I could help you!”
Miriam trained her eyes upon me. She had recently ordered customized hand-made pieces from me to give to her granddaughters—a miniature tea set for the youngest and a statuette of a mermaid for her older sister.
“You do such beautiful ceramics work, Nicole!”
“What you’ve seen is my commercial work, which I do through my business Clayworks. I create as an artist under my own name.” That is, I hoped to create as an artist under my own name, if I could ever get the proper start.
And now I had. I could hardly wait to tell my son the news. After sixteen years of single motherhood and hard work, struggling to support myself and Justin, I couldn’t blow this chance. And yet, I’d never done anything like this before.
A twelve-by-nine foot mural. In just six weeks.
You can do this, I told myself. I had to. Letting the museum—and myself—down was unthinkable.
I could practically hear the snap-crackle-pop of my nerves.
I pulled into what we called the car park, an open space situated beside the house at the top of the Trail of Terror, big enough to park a half dozen cars. Justin’s Ford Focus wasn’t there.
When he got home from school, which should be any minute, we would raise a toast, our champagne glasses filled with sparkling apple cider.
The day was unseasonably hot, and I was boiling in Bernice, her air conditioner long dead. Thank heavens my hair had stayed up all day in the deliberately loose knot that I’d coaxed it into this morning, with pretty little bits of hair hanging down around my face. A chignon, according to the YouTube tutorial. One more degree of humidity and my whole head would have coiled itself into a giant Brillo pad right there before the entire board of directors.
And thank goodness I’d been able to borrow my sister’s striking red-and-orange color-blocked linen dress, which had given me just the boost of artist/business woman confidence that I’d needed. Now though, its linen skirt was hopelessly creased and hiking up around my hips. I bounded out of the car and proceeded along the circuitous route that we all used to enter the house, going through the rickety side gate, and past what was technically our front door, which no one ever opened. Instead, I followed the path that ran along the side of the house toward the yard and pool, giving a glance to my irises and roses, which grew under our bedroom windows.
The white, yellow, and purple irises stood tall and elegant, but it was the roses I really loved—the fluttery, home-grown variety that came in every color of the sunrise. I would have to harvest some for tonight’s dinner table.
As I reached the yard, I stepped from the cool shade of the side path into direct, hot sunshine. The sliver of Los Angeles ahead of me that appeared on clear days like this one, the perfume of herbs and blooming plants, the swimming pool that shimmered invitingly—except for my college years, this had been home all my life. Along with my sister Caroline, I’d inherited the small, dilapidated house on its magnificent parcel of land in the Hollywood Hills. At today’s prices, neither of us could have ever afforded to buy it.
Entering the house as always through the French doors off the living room, I waltzed into my bedroom. It was the beginning of a new era. Soon there would be no more making pottery on consignment! No more sets of dinnerware for twelve!
I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. Of course, I would continue to operate Clayworks. Those dinner sets paid the bills after all. Still though, there was now a chance I could taper off the business over time, if I could sell some of my more creative pieces. Imagine me, finally, at age thirty-eight, beginning to show in museums and galleries!
I changed into my regular daywear—a sleeveless cotton blouse, long flowy skirt in the coolest feather-light cotton, and Teva sandals.
My old friend Mike Sawyer would be over to eat with me and Justin, as he did most weeks, once or twice. Maybe I’d give them both my wonderful news at the same time.
No, I couldn’t wait that long to spill the news. I knew I would tell Justin the minute he walked in.
Hearing the muffled noise of a door opening, I sprinted to the kitchen, where my son, home at last, would for sure want to hear all about it.
I stopped short when I saw that Justin was not alone.
In 1933, after Hitler's rise to power, the paramilitary HitlerJugend, or Hitler Youth, became the only permitted youth organization in Germany, then known as The Third Reich.
It’s 1937 now, and a fourteen-year-old German youth, Ernst, is part of a secret mission which will send a group of teen-aged boys to London under the pretense of a bicycle tour to spy for the Nazis. The cyclists’ objective: identify both geographical and human targets for subsequent elimination as Europe approaches a flashpoint that Hitler intends to exploit by waging all-out war. Ernst’s mentor, Officer Müller, considers him the perfect fit for a special assignment—spy on a wealthy British Jewish family considered a threat to the Reich as they shelter Jewish refugees from Nazi oppression.
In a parallel story, a modern-day American teen-aged orphan, Clark, has fallen under the spell of white supremacy ideology after a series of family misfortunes. Having lost his mother as a child to cancer and then his father a couple of years later to war in Iraq, he is in the hands of his unscrupulous guardian who manages to plant him as a child-agent in a Muslim household. Clark’s purpose: prove that the randomly-chosen Muslim family must be terrorists.
Each youth approaches his assignment with a masked heart filled with hate and a deep misunderstanding of who his hosts are, roiling the boys in emotional conflict as events unfold, and forcing each to face what will be the hardest decision of his entire life—help destroy what his handlers fear or find the courage to think for himself and face the consequences.
By Ben Parris
In the 1930’s, the world was sinking into an abyss of bigotry and imperialism, each flawed concept nudging the other to the brink of global conflict. Eventually, virtually every country in a world awash in propaganda would be drawn into the coda of the Great War that could come to be known as World War II.
Jugend’s story is wrapped in a little-known, fascinating true story of Hitler Youth trained to spy on England and Scotland in advance of the war the Nazis intended to start, roaming the countryside on bicycles to identify both geographical and human targets for destruction and assassination. In Jugend, a Jewish family becomes the focus of a shameless mission to plant a boy in a household to work an agenda that is far from clear to him.
In an eerily parallel story, Jugend also explores modern-day white supremacists in the United States who plant their own child-agent in a Muslim household. Here there is no multi-country alliance and state machinery to support a full-scale assault on decency, but the victims are targeted and the danger is real nonetheless.
It’s the story of children caught up in an age-old conflict and used as next-generation guided missiles to perpetuate the agenda of hate. It’s about how far we’ve come and where we need to be. It’s about two individual children out of many who are forced to face moral choices to carry out missions of hate or to break their brainwashing through first-hand observation of those they were expected to revile.
As a writer of historical fiction, I am always impressed when the flavor and details of an age are captured in both mood and accuracy; as an educator, I would like to see this particular insightful work in our public schools. With first-class, cinematic workmanship, Jugend provides a magnificent depiction of a course of events in a narrative that never flags or falters.
This work, however, not only provides a tale of literary worth, but also occupies a higher plane of value by tackling the most complex aspects of the enduring human condition with both clarity and dignity.
Here we find the ugliness and beauty of human nature, and the power and variability of culture to harm or heal. Jugend does not try to address all issues of racism and prejudice, and it shouldn’t.
The story is a straightforward one that goes to the core of human understanding where light, tragedy and redemption can be found.
About the Author
AALIA LANIUS, a California native and convert to Islam in 1999, hails from a multi-cultural background, both German and Mediterranean, giving her first-hand knowledge of the topics addressed in her public speaking and creative works. Her debut novel, Tough Love, a biographical fiction novel, has sold in countries around the world. Visit the author online at www.UnsugarcoatedMedia.com. Stay connected on Instagram: @aalia_unsugarcoated
Title: Mr. Huntleyâs Wife
Author: M.C. Cerny
Genre: Dark Romance/Suspense
Editor: Amy Jackson
Cover Designer: Anna Crosswell from Book Cover Couture
Photographer: Lindee Robinson
Publication Date: March 27th, 2019
Hosted by: Lady Amberâs PR
M.C. Cerny is a USA Today Bestselling author. She fell in love with books after experiencing her first real ugly cry reading, Where The Red Fern Grows. Her debut romantic suspense novel, Flashpoint was written in a series of post-it-note ramblings that would likely make her idol Tom Clancy and her mother blush. She is a post graduate of NYU, and calls rural NJ home with her menagerie of human and feline fur-babies. When M.C. is not writing, youâll find her lurking in Starbucks, running stupid marathons, singing Disney show tunes, and searching out the perfect shade of pink nail polish.
ARC updates: https://booksprout.co/author/3093/m-c-cerny
âIâm going outside to the pool.â Tying the strings of my black bikini in front of the mirror I adjusted my top carefully covering each breast. The small scraps of fabric are indecent, but I didnât pick this bathing suit out so thereâs not much I can do.
âWait.â My hands freeze about to loop and knot the string behind my neck when Adam comes out of the bathroom. Heâs wearing black swim shorts. Not speedos so you canât see his monster cock pressed against spandex indecently and not the long cargo shorts most guys would wear. These were designer and some mix of the two accentuating the fact that his abs were sculpted from marble and his body a force of nature to be reckoned with.
âI want to read my book.â I pouted looking for my kindle and my hat searching through the suite. Adam disorientated me on a good day trying to accomplish one task to the next let alone trapped on an island. I needed the next hour to plot my safety plan because this sure as hell hadnât felt like a vacation from the moment we stepped off the plane.
âJust wait my impatient little wife.â Scowling I rolled my eyes. He always had some ulterior motive.
âTake your top off.â He stood behind me rubbing his body against me taunting me with his thick monster.
âDonât be a brat.â
âIâm not taking it off.â If he thought this was some kinky make up shit for the night before Iâm not into it. My body may be buzzing but Iâm ready to rake my nails down his face and attack him if he pushes me. I already know his consequences are shit anyway.
âI wonât ask again.â Short of stomping my foot and pissing him off, compliance seemed the lesser of two evils. His arms snake around me squeezing tight. Barefoot Iâm rooted to the spot. Thereâs no place he wonât catch me inside the suite. Slowly, watching me in the mirror his hand reached up and fingers clasped around my throat pulling my body and my head flush against him.
âO-okay.â Shaking hands reached up tugging on the knot pulling the string praying it wouldnât catch setting off his mercurial temper. I forced the tangled fabric to unlock from its hold. Once the string released I looked up and Adamâs eyes firmly locked on mine, his chin resting on my shoulder and focused on my face. His impatience was clear in the reflection and the knot in his brow.
I felt my small breasts sink and bob down when the top fell off sliding on to the tiled floor. Pink nipples pebbled at attention hungry and sharp. My stomach hollowed out as my core clenched tight. I was battening down the hatches, the only problem was how turned on that single motion made me. Fucking hopeless, thatâs what I was.
âNot so bad now was it.â Keeping his eyes locked on me, one of Adamâs palms skimmed my stomach lightly and reached up to cup me. Easily, I filled his large hand and his finger grazed over the distended tip of my nipple. I bit my lip to keep the moan hidden and down low where my shame wouldnât surface letting this man repeatedly get under my skin. Skin was superficial, it was my heart craving love and grasping at scraps I had to protect.
âLet me go, please.â Iâd beg him if I had to, but his brow furrowed deeper when he reached for a tube of sunscreen on the table. One hand, nearly a paw rested over my belly and my hands gripped the tableâs gilded edge for support.
âI canât have you getting burned while Iâm in my meeting.â His breath felt like hot puffs of air in the chilled room. Adam squeezed more sunblock than necessary into his palm and placed the cool glop on my belly. My breasts felt like spikes exposed while my chest heaved with forced air from the air conditioning of the room. Adam smeared the stuff over my body coating me in a thick cream the both looked and felt obscene in the mirror.
âYou will always belong to me.â His fingers scraped my skin carving letters in the sticky sunblock.
Adam wasnât exactly subtle.
The Aries Research Lab
A dead engineer was an inconvenient way to start the week.
From the passenger’s seat of his Bentley, Tony used his phone to post a new job opening.
“Get her car out of the parking lot. Torch it so it looks like tragedy struck on her way in.”
“Yes, sir,” said Reah, weaving through traffic as she took him to the Aries office.
Accidents were uncommon in the research lab. The work involved too much time behind a computer for that. But when the occasional ‘whoops’ did happen, it was an annoyance. Covering them up was a pain. Finding a willing and qualified replacement was worse.
“Warehouse,” said Scott when Tony entered the lab to check the damage. “She was modifying the propellant.”
Tony stifled a curse. Of course it was the propellant—the substance too stubborn to realize its own potential.
He and Scott crossed the lab with its white lights reflecting off white tiles, white walls, white tables, and white lab coats. The five other engineers kept working, unease leaking from their pores like sweat. With only seven of Tony’s two hundred employees cleared for the lab, the hole left by their dead colleague was more of a chasm.
Tony was unruffled. Their non-disclosure agreements were thorough enough for a situation like this.
“What’s the damage?”
“She, uh—she was completely burnt, Doctor Ries.”
That much was obvious. Scott’s fluorescent-pale skin and lab coat were smudged, leaving a goggle-shaped clear spot around his eyes. Holes split the toes of his shoes, revealing socks with hamburgers printed on them.
“Was anything else destroyed?”
An empire of technology filled the warehouse. These were his top achievements, past and future. No accident, no matter how messy, could quash the pride he felt every time he entered it.
He flung open the double doors. The stench of burnt metal and hair tickled his gag reflex.
“Minor damage to the surrounding area,” said Scott, dabbing his sweaty brow with a singed sleeve. “No property was ruined.”
It took a moment to blink the warehouse into focus. Dim, cold, and vast, the place could have passed for a storage facility. Walkways snaked between mounds of technology.
An early prototype of the Aries satellites—what the world came to know as the Aries 180 fleet—stole Tony’s attention as he entered. The size of a bald eagle and mounted on a podium, it was the one now-useless technology he refused to incinerate. He caressed it as they passed.
Yet, despite all that filled the floor, the place was a cold vacuum, a void. Like the invisible substance called dark matter, every space in the warehouse represented an irksome gap in knowledge. Empty corners, walkways, every molecule of dead air held promise. As creator of the Aries universe, Tony intended to use any means necessary to fill those gaps.
Tony’s watch vibrated. He looked at it to find a text.
Reah: Need your clearance to get her purse. Locker 4.
He replied, 5 mins, and quickened his step.
The temperature rose as he and Scott drew deeper into the warehouse. A drone whirred overhead, taking photos at intervals. More drones hovered beneath the three-story ceiling, LED lights marking their presence. He would have to review the surveillance images later to see what happened. He might enjoy popcorn with it.
They stopped at the explosion site. The concrete floor rippled, like it had melted and hardened again. Every adjacent surface was dented and singed. Five dry chemical fire extinguishers lay nearby. Most intriguingly, a black, body-shaped imprint traced the floor like a shadow, a dusting of ash in its center.
Tony scattered the ash with his toe. “Looks like this place was pretty lit.”
Scott cast him a sideways glance.
The culprit was the twelve-foot vat towering beside the scene of the accident. Smoke wisped from the top, Tony’s hopes and plans disappearing with it into the black ceiling. The heat wrapped around him like a wool blanket.
“So the propellant isn’t going well,” said Tony, like a challenge.
“It just reacted badly,” said Scott. “I’m confident we’ll get it in time.”
“Hm.” Don’t placate me, Scotty. What churned inside that vat represented tens of millions of dollars.
Sure, every aerospace company had rocket propellant, but no one had this. This was his next opportunity for international success—his next Aries 180 fleet, so to speak. If only the damn stuff would stop failing him. The setback choked his sense of control like a vice around his throat.
His father had told him there was no point in going into business unless you were going to be the best. Rather, the advice had been something like, “You wanna run a business, you gotta do whatever it takes to get on top. Might as well quit and be a shit-scraper if you’re gonna be a pussy about it.”
Tony held that wisdom close. Using methods no one else was brave enough to try, he was on his way to upgrading Aries from a humble Canadian startup to the world’s most cutting-edge aerospace company.
His watch vibrated.
Steve: Korean Space Agency wants you to join the call.
Korea would have to wait. He was already late for an appointment with the bank.
“What are you going to do to fix it?” he said to Scott.
“We’re, uh, looking into it.”
“I hired all of you because you’re the smartest engineers in the world. You’re telling me you don’t know?”
Scott hesitated. Tony hated hesitation.
“There are other engineers who might know more about high-energy liquid tetrapropellant, Doctor Ries.”
“I’ve scoured universities. I’ve head-hunted in the Silicon Valley. They’re too—” Tony waved a hand. “They’re not ready for the scope of the job.”
Scott didn’t need to know how many applicants failed the psychological evaluation. A PhD and a 150 IQ meant squat when the candidate couldn’t pass a basic obedience experiment.
Tony’s watch buzzed again. He ignored it.
If he wanted this propellant, he would have to get his engineers something to work from. Sometimes, they needed a push. Call it inspiration, or pieces of the aerospace puzzle.
This was a gap in the matter that made up his universe. It needed to be filled.
“Give me a week. I’ll get you the data.”
Global Nanosats was making headway in liquid propulsion. They could be of use.
He pulled out his phone to check his calendar. An email notification appeared, reminding him of a development meeting in twenty minutes. He swiped it away.
Stress tickled the base of his brain. He would have to make time to get that data between his other appointments, or cancel a few. This was more important.
He’d known for a while that he was overexerting himself. His universe was expanding faster than he could manage. If he wasn’t careful there would be a stellar collision. He couldn’t keep filling these voids alone.
He needed someone to help him get this information—someone smart, fearless, and malleable. He needed a personal assistant.
Standing, she stretched and picked up her cup. Just as she thought, cold. She crossed the living room to her kitchen. She placed the cup in the microwave and push the quick start button to warm her cocoa. A knock sounded on her front door.
Glancing at the clock and noting it was still early—7:00. The knock sounded again and she went to answer it. Alec’s handsome, cocky smile greeted her when she opened the door.
Damn if all her lady parts didn’t spark to life seeing him. Her wolf nudged her move closer, take a bite. Stepping aside, she motioned him inside. “Come in.”
He stuck his hands in his pockets as he moved farther into the living room. “I came by earlier, but you weren’t home.”
“I went for a run.” She closed the distance between them.
He looked into her eyes and she could see his cat looking back at her. Damn, he smelled good. “Why are you here, Alec?”
His gaze narrowed and he tilted his head slightly. “Come to see you.”
There was something else beside him just stopping by. No matter how much he’d chased her, he never showed up out of the blue. He’d call first. “You saw me earlier.”
Okay, that might have been uncalled for, but she was tired and amped up at the same time. She didn’t have the energy to fend him off.
He opened his mouth then closed it. After several more attempts he finally formed words. “We need talk.”
She raised a brow. “We do?”
Frowning, he stepped closer so the heat from his body washed over her. His scent enveloped her, tearing down her resistance against him. It’s been too long since she’d had sex. She couldn’t do it with anyone as long as her mate was in the Pack.
“You should leave.” She turned to put some space between them.
Alec grabbed her upper arm and pulled her into his body. She whimpered and internally cursed herself for the weakness. He pressed his lips to her neck and her pussy ached and pulsed. Damn him.
“I want you so bad it hurts. I’m tired of waiting, Rhea.” His breath was hot against her flesh.
When his words sank in, her heart danced and her blood heated. Her wolf howled. “What…wait.”
Pausing, he studied her with brows drawn. “Don’t run from me, from us. If I’m not your mate tell me, and I’ll leave.”
Leave? Her heart hammered and her stomached soured at the thought of Alec not being in her life every day. He couldn’t leave the Pack because he was the Marshal, which meant she’d have to be the one to leave. She’d known he was her mate from the moment she met him thirty years ago. However, she was in mourning and still messed up from the head job Royce did on her. Becoming the den mother had helped her heal and focus. Alec had become a friend.
When he finally admitted she was his, she tried to deny it. She ran and pushed him away because he didn’t deserve someone as broken as she was. Someone with a past like hers.
In Other Words
Now in Paperback!
The years bled together. Each waking morning—or afternoon, truth be told, or evening—couched in a familiar bloom of panic. After that, after Vale realized where he was, who he was, came the rest: sickness, fear, assessment of damage, all of it stitched together with the fine red thread of guilt.
Art & Artists had once called him a “relentless avatar of our contemporary, post-nuclear unease.”
He woke to the alarm, studded in fresh bruises. New scabs on his knees and his teeth loose in his mouth. His lack of memory familiar in itself. Sunlight fell in the room in fierce, distinct bands.
He stood shivering in the shower, the water lancing against him while lava, hot and malicious, compressed itself behind his optic nerves. This pulsing thunder in the skull, and moments from the Ace High the night before came to him slowly, like something spied through a fun house mirror. He bent over to pick up a sliver of soap and with his trembling hand batted a rust-dotted razor lying on the rim of the bathtub. The razor slid down the tub, luge-like, and Vale reached down for it, trying not to gag as dark spots burst like stars in his periphery. He stumbled and stepped on the razor. The crack of plastic, and thin threads of blood began to snake toward the drain. It was painless.
“Oh, come on,” he croaked. “Shit’s sake.” He’d smoked nearly two packs of Camels the night before and sounded now like something pulled howling from a crypt. He tried to stand on his other foot to examine the cut and couldn’t manage it. He put his foot back down and stepped on the broken razor again, and now the floor of the tub was awash in an idiot’s Rorschach of red on white. He retched once and shut the water off, resigned to death—or at least collapse—at any second. The towel hanging from the back of the door reeked of mold, and he gagged against it and dropped it to the floor. He left bloody, shambling one-sided footprints to his bedroom.
Apart from the painting hanging above his bed (the sole Mike Vale original still in his possession), the fist-sized hole next to the light switch was the room’s only decoration. There was a dresser pitted with cigarette burns and topped with a constellation of empty beer bottles. An unmade bed ringed with dirty sheets. The alarm clock on the floor. Plastic blinds rattled against the open window.
He dressed slowly and stepped to the kitchen. Flies dive-bombed bottles mounded in the sink, on the counters. The light on the answering machine was blinking. He pressed the Play button, already knowing who it would be—who else called him?—and there was Candice’s voice.
“The only man in the country still using an answering machine,” she said. “Okay. This is me saying hi. Give me a ring when you discover, you know, fire and the wheel.” Her voice then became steeped in a cautious, thoughtful cadence, a measured quality he remembered more clearly from their marriage. “Richard and I should be heading up through there on tour for another Janey book soon. It’d be good to touch base, get dinner. Call me.”
It was September, the last gasp of summer. The apartment was explosive with trapped heat. A swath of sunlight fell across the countertop. Just looking at that glare hurt his eyes, his entire body, made him feel as if rancid dishwater was shooting straight into his guts. A nameless sadness, the sadness, the exact opposite of the Moment and so much more insistent, tore through him like a torrent. Like a rip of lightning, there and gone, and Vale sobbed. Just once. One ragged, graceless gasp. Pathetic. He stood sweating over the answering machine, ashamed of himself.
He was out the door five minutes later, blood wetting his sock, cold coffee and aspirin hammering a bitter waltz somewhere below his heart.
Time had once called him “a shaman of America’s apocalyptic incantations, one who catalogs our fears and thrusts them back at us in a ferocious Day-Glo palette.”
On his way to the bus stop Mike Vale, the shaman, the avatar—looking down in his shirt pocket for a cigarette—ran directly into a telephone pole, hard enough to give himself a nosebleed.
Title: The Sword of Souls (The Last Valkyrie, #2)
Author: Karina Espinosa
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Cover Designer: Orina Kafe
Hosted by: Lady Amberâs PR
Blurb: Raven Romero lost the Sword of Souls to Fen and his sister, giving up the search for the only weapon that could kill Odin.
Instead, she teamed up with human detective William Callahan to find the drug lord responsible for Venomâa narcotic leaving dead humans and supernaturals in its wake. But priorities change when a greater evil threatens Midgard and the only way to defeat it is with the sword.
Being the humansâ champion isnât easy, especially during withdrawal while trying to stay sober. And Raven is struggling with both.
Enemies become friends and new enemies emerge as the hunt begins for The Sword of Souls.
The Last Valkyrie: https://amzn.to/2NUYwW0
Karina Espinosa is the Urban Fantasy author of the Sins of the Fallen series and the Mackenzie Grey novels. Infatuated with travel, pop culture, and the need to write everything down, she spends much of her days in front of a computer working on her next book, shopping online, and listening to music. With nomadic tendencies, she is currently resting her head in South Florida until the itch to move strikes again. You can usually catch her on Facebook, Instagram and live-tweeting during episodes of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Orphan Black. Follow her on social media!
The Last Valkyrie: https://amzn.to/2NUYwW0
The Last Wingman
Now on Kindle Unlimited!
An old-fashioned brass bell jingles when I open the door to June’s store. The narrow space is made even tighter by the floor-to-ceiling cubbies that line the two long walls. In the back of the store, a picture window frames a view of Saratoga Passage like a painting.
Tucked in the corner near the window is a comfy-looking wingback chair, and next to it, an oversized basket filled with balls of yarn. The shop is cozy and feminine, comfortable like a sweet grandmother’s house.
A grandmother who listens to “Sex and Candy” on low volume.
Not what I was expecting.
“Hello?” I call from my spot near the door. There’s no sign of June or anyone else inside. Double-checking the door for a Be back soon note and not seeing one, I step farther into the space. “Hello?”
A soft thump followed by more thumps comes from the desk area. Metallic pings and something heavy hitting the floor precedes a feminine voice yelping “Ouch” and “Fuck!”
June doesn’t seem like the type to drop f-bombs. Maybe she’s hired a ’90s-music-loving teenager with a foul mouth.
“Everything okay?” I follow the noise to the partially open door near the register.
“Fine. Fine! Nothing to see here! I’ll be with you in a second. Thanks for your patience.” What sounds like rapid-fire beanbags hitting a cornhole board contradicts her words.
As I see it, I have two options. I can ignore whatever is going on inside the closet and wait, or I can ignore her lie and step in to help.
I go with the second choice.
Swinging the door open, I’m greeted with a scene of colorful chaos. A box balances on its side on the edge of a high shelf, most of its contents now on the floor around June’s feet. She’s keeping the box aloft with both hands, but doesn’t have the height to shove it back into position.
“Here, let me help you.” I step into the small space behind her and reach above her head to stabilize the cardboard container before she ends up concussed.
“I don’t need your help.” Reluctantly, she releases her grip.
“Okay.” Disappointed and a little hurt by her obvious annoyance at my presence, I give the corner a final shove to guarantee we’re out of danger. “You’re welcome.”
“I said I was fine.” Continuing to face the shelves, she doesn’t turn her head to speak to me. In fact, she sounds downright angry.
“Got it. Well, I’ll get out of your way.” Resigned, I decide to abandon my mission and retreat to the safety of my own business, both literally and figuratively.
What happens next is more her fault than mine. Had she used a step stool and not tipped the box over, there wouldn’t be balls of yarn strewn across the floor, creating a minefield. Easily-tripped-over round objects that cause me to lose my balance and reach for the closest available thing to stop myself from landing on my ass.
Unfortunately, I grab June by the waist, surprising her. She’s not prepared to act as my anchor. Unstable, we both stumble backward.
Lucky for June, I break her fall. Unlucky for me, she lands on top of me.
We’ve never even hugged before this moment. I think we might have shaken hands once when Dan introduced us, but the memory isn’t clear. There wasn’t an electric shock when we first touched or met eyes, no love-at-first-sight zings upon initial contact—unlike now when my body is on high alert that we’re not only touching but lying flush against each other.
“I’m so sorry!” June wiggles, her movement drawing my attention to her clothes. How did I not notice she’s wearing a full skirt made of thin material? My imagination easily erases its existence altogether.
“Don’t apologize. This was completely my fault.” My words come out a grunt as I try to catch my breath.
My hands still grip her waist, making this position more awkward by the second. Unbidden, my fingers flex against her softness. Bad idea. Feeling my dick thicken, I tell myself not to move, not to even breathe. Oxygen is overrated.
Shifting on top of me, she bends her knees and gets her feet under her enough to stand up in a single, ninja-quick movement. Instead of waiting for me to stand or extending a hand to help me, she exits through the door and closes it behind her.
I’m left sprawled out on the floor, balls of yarn and possibly a needle poking me in the back. “No good deed goes unpunished,” I mutter to myself as I scramble to my feet. “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”
Taken by Lies
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