Excerpt Reveal: The Rules of Dating by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland

Title: The Rules of Dating
Authors: Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: September 19, 2022
Excited about Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland’s upcoming release, The Rules of Dating? 
Check out this SNEAK PEEK!
Crash!

Shit. Billie and I looked at each other. A devilish smirk spread across her face…and then she turned and bolted.
I looked around. The coast seemed clear, so I ran as fast as I could while pushing a heaping cart full of crap. For the last hour and a half, Billie had been picking things out and holding them up to show me. If I agreed, she chucked them over her shoulder for me to catch with the cart. I’d been zigging and zagging, trying to scoop up all the merchandise she threw as I followed her around—both of us laughing like school kids the entire time. That is, until I missed that last toss and a glass bowl shattered on the floor.
IKEA was a giant maze, and both of us kept running, turning left and then right, until we finally arrived in the warehouse portion of the store, which was right before the checkout line. Billie leaned over with her hands on her knees, huffing and puffing.
“I think we’re in the clear,” she said.
“Pretty sure I would’ve rather paid for the twelve-dollar bowl than make a run for it. This cart is so full, it almost tipped like ten times.”
She laughed. “Did we get everything we need?”
“I’m not sure. But we definitely bought a lot of shit we don’t need. Like I think we could have done without the motorized ice cream cone spinners. The tenant can lick their own ice cream.”
Billie grinned. “Those are for me and Saylor. They light up, too!”
I snorted. “Come on, let’s check out before I’m completely broke.”
While we loaded everything onto the conveyor belt, I lifted my chin toward the in-store restaurant located just after the cashier stations. “You still up for meatballs?”
“Uh…hello? It’s the only reason I came.”
I clutched my hand over my heart. “Oww, that hurts. And here I thought you came for the company.”
After we were all checked out, I wheeled the cart over to a table for two in the corner of the restaurant. “Why don’t you stay here with the stuff, and I’ll go get us some meatballs.”
“Okay. But can you get me a drink, too, please? I’m so thirsty.”
When I came back, I set two big plates of meatballs on the table.
“Did you forget the drinks?” Billie asked.
I grinned and lifted a finger. “Actually, I didn’t. I brought them.” My gym bag from earlier had been lying on the bottom shelf underneath the cart since we walked in. Taking it out, I unzipped and started to unpack. “Wine, madame?” I held a bottle of merlot over one arm, showing the label like a maître d’.
Billie cracked up. “You brought wine with you? I thought it was strange when you took your duffle bag into the store. But I figured maybe your wallet was in it and stuff.”
I shrugged. “What choice did I have? You won’t go out with me, so I have to make the best out of our undate at IKEA.” I unloaded two plastic wine glasses, white cloth napkins, and a candleholder with a red candle.
Billie picked up the candle and examined it before raising a brow. “A winter village scene?”
I shrugged. “They’re Christmas candles. I only had an hour to get out of the house with a four-year-old. Don’t judge.”
The looks we got from the people around us as we ate meatballs by candlelight were pretty comical. I was also pretty sure it was against the rules to have an open flame in IKEA, let alone an open bottle of wine, but evidently the people behind the counter hadn’t read the employee rule book to be certain. Either way, the smile on Billie’s face made it all worthwhile. After we were done eating, I blew out the candle and started to pack up.
“You know…” Billie shook her head. “I think you just snuck a date into our undate.”
I shoved the cork back into the top of the wine bottle and zippered it into my duffle. “I did not.”
She squinted at me. “I’m pretty sure you did. What’s the difference between what we just did and a date? We shared a candlelight meal with wine and cloth napkins.”
I leaned down and whispered in her ear. “The difference is, you don’t get to come at the end.”
When I pulled back, Billie’s jaw was hanging open. I freaking loved that she looked so affected. She swallowed. “Is that the way all your dates end?”
I shook my head back and forth slowly. “No, but it’s damn straight the way ours would.”

Copyright © 2022 Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland

BLURB
It all started when I hosted a little party for a bunch of new friends.

Though “friends” might not be the right word since the invitees were all the women I’d found out my boyfriend was talking to behind my back. When the guest of honor walked in—aka my now ex—things took a turn…
Unfortunately, a stranger witnessed the whole blowout. I was in a mood that night and ended up giving this gorgeous guy an attitude, too. As if my night could get any worse, before he stormed off, he informed me he was actually my landlord.
Colby Lennon, along with three of his friends, owned the building where my tattoo shop was located. He and I were total opposites. He wore a tie, oozed confidence that came with years of women falling at his feet, and wasn’t afraid to say what he wanted, which lately—was me.
I hated that I found myself attracted to him. Especially since I was supposed to be on a self-imposed dating hiatus. Yet the two of us couldn’t seem to stay away from each other. We started hanging out, as friends. I even went as far as making rules for what he’d dubbed our “undates.”
But eventually, our explosive attraction became too much to bear, and we broke our resolve. I let my guard down and started to really fall for Colby.
Nothing could have prepared me for the ride he took me on. And I certainly wasn’t prepared for where I’d wind up when the ride was over.
All good things must come to an end, right?
Except our ending was one I didn’t see coming.
PENELOPE WARD


Penelope Ward is a New York Times, USA Today and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of contemporary romance. 

She grew up in Boston with five older brothers and spent most of her twenties as a television news anchor. Penelope resides in Rhode Island with her husband, son, and beautiful daughter with autism. 
With over two million books sold, she is a 21-time New York Times bestseller and the author of over thirty novels. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and can be found in bookstores around the world.
VI KEELAND
Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles are currently translated in twenty-seven languages and have appeared on bestseller lists in the US, Germany, Brazil, Bulgaria and Hungary. Three of her short stories have been turned into films by Passionflix, and two of her books are currently optioned for movies. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.
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Excerpt Reveal: The Boss Project by Vi Keeland

Title: The Boss Project
Author: Vi Keeland
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 11, 2022
Excited about Vi Keeland’s upcoming release, 
The Boss Project? 
Check out this SNEAK PEEK and meet Merrick and Evie!
Merrick
“Mr. Crawford?” My assistant, Andrea, poked her head into my office while I was eating lunch with Will. “Sorry to interrupt, but HR asked me to find out if you might have time to talk with one of the candidates for the in-house therapist position?”

I shook my head. “I don’t need to talk to the applicants. I already gave my input to Joan. HR is holding second-round interviews and will let me know what they think when they’re done.”

“Apparently one of the candidates asked if she could have a minute with you after her appointment with HR. But her meeting is starting now, and I know you don’t like anything on your schedule during trading hours.”

“Which candidate?”

“Evie Vaughn.”

I leaned back in my chair with a chuckle. “Sure. Why not?”

She nodded. “I’ll let her know.”

Will lifted his chin after Andrea shut the door. “What was that little grin about?”

“One of the candidates for the stress therapist job is interesting, to say the least.”

“In what way?”

“Her first-interview appointment wasn’t until five one day last week, so when the market closed, I ran downstairs to Paloma to pick up a suit I’d bought and had tailored. After I left the store, I thought I’d forgotten my cell phone in the fitting room, so I went back to check. When I opened the door, I walked in on a woman.”

“I hate those places that have one fitting room for both men and women.”

“Actually, this place has separate ones. The woman was just in the men’s room. But that’s not the best part. When I walked in, she was half undressed…and smelling her armpit.”

Will’s brows shot up. “Come again?”

“You heard me right. Anyway, a few minutes later, my five o’clock appointment walks in, and it’s her. The woman from the fitting room.”

“The pit sniffer? Get the hell out of here. What did you do?”

“Nothing. I played it off like I didn’t recognize her, though she definitely recognized me. I could see her squirming.”

“Shit like this only happens to you, my friend. So what went down? How did the interview go?”

“She was the least-qualified candidate. I don’t even know how her resumé made it into the group that got called for interviews.”

“Yet she’s back here today for a second interview?”

“She is, indeed.”

Will shook his head. “What am I missing?”

“When I got home that night, I started thinking about how the board is shoving this position down my throat. They mandated that I hire someone, not that the person be competent.”

Will smiled. “Genius.”

I shook my head. “I need my people to be focused and ruthless while they’re here—not getting in touch with their emotions.”

“I hear you.”

As we finished lunch, Andrea returned and knocked. Evie Vaughn stood right behind her. Her wavy blond hair was up today, and she wore a simple black skirt and jacket with a red blouse underneath, giving her the sexy-librarian look every male fantasizes about at least once in his life. I tried to ignore the stir seeing her caused in me and forced my gaze down.

Andrea peeked her head in the door. “Do you need more time?”

I looked at Will. “We need to discuss anything else?”

He shook his head. “Not that I can think of. I’ll get the Endicott buy order placed as soon as it hits forty a share.”

“Good.” I turned my attention to Andrea. “Please show Ms. Vaughn in.”

Will left, tossing me a smirk over his shoulder as he passed Evie.

When the door shut, she took a few steps forward, then hesitated. “Thank you for seeing me.”

I nodded and gestured to the guest chairs on the other side of my desk. “Have a seat.”

“Your assistant mentioned you don’t usually take appointments while the market is open.”

“I don’t.” Leaning back, I tented my fingers. “What can I do for you, Ms. Vaughn?”

“It’s Evie, please. And…well, I was hoping you could clear something up for me.”

“What would that be?”

“Why am I here? For a second interview, I mean. You made it pretty clear during the first one that you didn’t think I had the right experience for the position, and I didn’t exactly make a winning first impression in that fitting room. So…why am I here again?”

I folded my arms across my chest and deliberated how to answer. The politically correct and professional response would’ve been to say I’d reconsidered based on how she’d handled herself during the interview. But I’d never been accused of being politically correct or professional.

“Are you sure you want the real answer? Sometimes it’s better not to know and just accept the outcome.”

She folded her arms across her chest, mimicking my posture. “Maybe, but I’d like to know anyway.”

I liked her spunk. It was a challenge to keep myself from smiling. “You were invited back because you are the least qualified of all of the people we interviewed.”

Her face fell, and I felt a tinge of guilt, even though she’d said she wanted the truth.

“Why would you do that?”

“Because hiring an in-house stress coach wasn’t my idea. My board of directors is forcing my hand.”

“Is it a problem because it wasn’t your idea?”

“I employ a hundred-and-twenty-five people whose jobs are to give me ideas.” I shook my head. “No, I don’t have an authority issue, Ms. Vaughn.”

She pursed her lips. “Doctor—it’s Doctor Vaughn. I prefer to be called Evie, but if you insist on using formal etiquette, you might as well use my proper title. I hold a PhD in clinical psychology.”

I couldn’t hold back the smile that time. I nodded. “Fine. No, I don’t have authority issues, Doctor Vaughn.”

“So you’re against the position, in general, and you wanted to hire the worst person to prove a point?”

I nodded once. “You could say that.”

“Are you against therapy?”

“I believe some people can benefit from therapy.”

“Some people? But not your employees? Do you believe your employees don’t have any stress in the workplace?”

“This is Wall Street, Ms.—Doctor Vaughn. If it weren’t a stressful job, my average trader wouldn’t earn seven figures. I just prefer my people to be focused while they’re here in the office.”

“Did you ever consider that you might be looking at things backward? Taking an hour out of the day to speak to someone isn’t what’s interrupting a stressed-out person’s focus. They’re already not focused because of their stress level. Therapy could help center someone so they can concentrate better.”

“Noted that there’s more than one way to look at things.” I studied her for a moment. “Is there anything else you wanted to ask? Or have we reached the point in the discussion where you tell me you hope we never see each other again?”

She smiled shyly. “I’m sorry about that. It wasn’t an appropriate thing to say.”

I shrugged. “It’s fine. Believe it or not, I’ve been accused of being inappropriate a time or two myself.”
She laughed as she stood. “Gee, I never would have guessed that from the man who sniffed me during my interview.” Evie held out her hand. “Thank you for your time. And your honesty.”

★★★ 


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RELEASING
JULY 11th!
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AUTHOR BIO

Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles are currently translated in twenty-seven languages and have appeared on bestseller lists in the US, Germany, Brazil, Bulgaria and Hungary. Three of her short stories have been turned into films by Passionflix, and two of her books are currently optioned for movies. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.

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Sneak Peek: Hidden Waters by Catherine Cowles

The peace they both crave they’ll find in each other.

Hidden Waters, an all-new emotional, roommates and friends to lovers, small-town romance from bestselling author Catherine Cowles is coming June 21st, and we have your first look!

Prologue

Addie

PAST

“Cecily!” My father’s voice bellowed through our ranch house. I swore the force of his words shook the beam above our heads.

Mom pulled her hands from the dough she was kneading and wiped them on her apron. “Scamper, Little Mouse.”

The familiar code made my stomach cramp and palms dampen. How many times had she drilled it into my head? “Scamper, Little Mouse. Find a nook to hide, just like a tiny mouse would.”

I bit my lip, shaking my head. “I want to stay with you.”

“Cecily! Where are you?”

“I’m in the kitchen, Allen. Just making your favorite biscuits for dinner.” She pushed me towards the back door, her hands warm and soothing but forceful. “Go, Little Mouse.”

I opened my mouth to try another argument, but her sharp look had me snapping it shut. The door closed quietly behind me. Mom knew better than to advertise that someone had made an escape.

I stepped to the side of the door and pressed my back to the siding of the house. I held my breath as I waited. Dad’s footsteps pounded against the floor. I watched the back step tremble with the force of them as though we were having our own little earthquake. One that only reached our house.

“John said you left today. Without me.”

I knew the words came through gritted teeth. I could picture my dad—the set of his jaw, the clench of his fists. The red that crept up the back of his neck.

“We were out of baking soda, and I knew you wanted biscuits with dinner. You were out all day. So, I took Addie into town with me.” Mom’s voice was soft, but it didn’t waver.

“Adaline should be home like her mother. She needs to learn how to tend this house so she’ll make a good wife one day. But I can’t imagine that’s possible with you teaching her.”

I pressed my hands harder into the wood of the house, splintered pieces embedding in my palms. I fought the urge to run inside. To tell him to shut up. It would only make things worse.

“I wanted to make sure you had what you wanted for dinner.” Mom’s voice sounded defeated, almost as if she’d given up.

“Then you should’ve planned ahead. Checked our pantry before I took you to the store on Sunday.”

“I’m sorry, Allen.”

There was silence for a moment, and I could picture Dad staring at her. Sometimes, he prowled around her like a jungle cat, looking for any signs of weakness.

“Tell me the truth. Were you going to meet a man?”

Mom let out a small gasp. “No. I would never. You know that.”

“Lies. I see the way you flirt with the ranch hands.”

I went up on my tiptoes, craning my head to get a glimpse inside. My stomach knotted as I took them in. Dad had grabbed Mom by the collar of her dress, pushing her against the refrigerator.

“I don’t. I would never disrespect you that way.”

“Bullshit.” He hauled back, slapping her so hard she crumpled to the floor.

A small sound escaped my lips, a panicked, keening noise. Dad’s head snapped around as he looked for the source of the sound. I took off running. My legs pumped hard as I cut across the back field towards the woods.

Our ranch butted up to national forest land. Those trees were my refuge and solace, the only safe place I’d ever known. I pushed my muscles harder, even once I’d reached the shelter of the woods.

My lungs burned as I dodged tall pines and fallen logs. Tears streamed down my face as the guilt grabbed hold. How could I have left her? I’d learned the hard way that it would be worse for us both if I stepped in. Still, I should’ve stayed close.

My run slowed to a walk as I wrapped my arms around my waist. I followed an invisible path I knew by heart and sent up a silent prayer for my mom’s protection. But I wasn’t sure that God heard me. If He did, He’d remained silent in response so far. I prayed harder, pleading and begging—for safety and for freedom.

My muscles burned as the path moved into the foothills of the mountains. The sound of rushing water teased my ears—it only made my tears come harder. This was the place that my mom had shown me, the one we’d bring a picnic to in summer or hike out to in our snow boots in winter.

I stepped out of the trees and took in the waterfall. The crashing of the water onto the rocks below reminded me that there were forces more powerful than me in the world. More mighty even than my father and his fists. I only wished I could channel them to take him on.

“Addie?”

My head jerked in the direction of the voice, my heart hammering against my ribs. I let out a shaky breath as I took in my cousin. “Evie.”

She strode towards me quickly, her horse, Storm, grazing by the edge of the pool of water. She framed my face with her hands and then pulled me into a hug. “What happened?”

“I-I’m okay. Dad hurt Mom.” My voice cracked on my words, and the tears continued to fall.

Everly hugged me tighter. “I’d like to kick his sorry ass.”

“Evie.”

She was so much braver than I was. So much fiercer. Never afraid to stand up to anyone, even her jerk of a brother or her dad when he was in one of his moods.

“Maybe we could poison him. There’s some rat poison at my house. We can grind it up and put it in his sweet tea.”

My hands fisted in her sweatshirt. “You can’t.”

Everly pulled back. “Why not? He shouldn’t be able to do what he’s doing to you and Aunt Cecily.” She bit her bottom lip. “Mom says we can’t interfere.”

No one wanted to interfere. I knew the neighbors saw Mom’s bruises, but they never said a word.

Everly’s fingers dug into my shoulders. “We could run away. We can gather our things, and I’ll bring Storm to pick you up. We could live off the land. We know how.”

Sure, our mothers had taught us what plants were safe to eat, how to build traps and shelter, but how long would we really last? I swallowed against the burn in my throat. “I’m going to talk to Mom. I’ll ask her to run away. We could steal one of the cars. Maybe we could take you and your mom, too.”

A look of longing passed over Everly’s face. “She’ll never leave. Dad doesn’t hit her or us. He’s just…”

Her words trailed off, but I knew what she meant. At times, it seemed as if Uncle Howard’s brain didn’t work right—he was always sure that the whole world was out to get him.

Everly’s fingers tightened on my shoulders. “But if you get a chance to be free, take it.” She gave me a wobbly smile. “You and I could go to college together.”

“Yeah.” College was a million years away. What I wanted more than anything in the meantime was to go to school. To have a real teacher and a classroom.

A crack of thunder sounded, and I looked at the sky. Dark storm clouds had rolled in, and a drop of rain splashed on my forehead. “You should go. You don’t want to get caught out in this on horseback.”

Everly looked back at Storm, who pawed at the dirt. “What about you? Want to come with me to my house? Storm can carry us both.”

I shook my head. “It’ll just make him madder. I’ll wait here for a little bit and then go back.”

Her jaw clenched. “You sure?”

“I’ll be fine.” I just hoped the same would be true for my mom.

“Okay. Let’s meet here for lunch tomorrow. Twelve-thirty?”

“I’ll be here.”

She pulled me into a tight hug. “Love you, Addie.”

“Love you, too.”

Everly released me and mounted Storm, giving me a wave as the skies opened. She kicked Storm into a canter as she rode away, headed down a path that would take her around and up the mountains to her house.

Rain peppered my skin. I hadn’t planned on this little adventure, and I was only wearing a t-shirt and jeans. I hurried for cover, but the trees could only give me so much.

The wind howled, sending the rain sideways and a chill rocketing through me. I’d just stay for a little while longer, enough time for Dad’s temper to cool. Only I didn’t think forever was long enough for that.

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My family tried to break me. But, somehow, I made it out alive, even though the wounds from that survival are forever carved into my bones. Now, my only wish is for…normal. To know what it’s like to have friends, a job, a home.

The last thing I want is for my new roommate to see the scars I’m so desperate to keep hidden, especially not the ruggedly handsome man who steals my breath and sends my heart into overdrive.

But something tells me that Beckett has demons, too. I see it in the shadows haunting his gorgeous eyes and the way he looks at me with gentle understanding.

As our unlikely friendship becomes so much more, forces from my life slink out of the shadows. And we could both lose everything we’ve fought so hard for—down to our very last breaths…

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About Catherine Cowles
Writer of words. Drinker of Diet Cokes. Lover of all things cute and furry, especially her dog. Catherine has had her nose in a book since the time she could read and finally decided to write down some of her own stories. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring her home state of Oregon, listening to true crime podcasts, or searching for her next book boyfriend.

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Excerpt Reveal: Say It’s Forever by A.L. Jackson

Say It’s Forever

A Close Proximity, Single Parent Romance from A.L. Jackson

Coming March 28th

“You matter, Salem. You matter. Look at you, darlin’.”

There was the charm all mixed up with the disorder that was at the heart of this man. 

My chest squeezed and the blood thundered through my veins. 

“Beauty. The meaning of it.” The words fell on a harsh exhale from his lips, and the air that was barely skating up my throat died right there when he slowly toed off the dress shoes he wore. 

Obsidian eyes flashed like a rush of the darkest night, rough as they devoured me from across the space.

Without looking away, he leaned down and peeled the socks from his feet.

I gulped, then I was nearly passing out when he ticked through the buttons on his shirt and peeled that off, too. 

The man was nothing but wide, wide shoulders. Muscle everywhere, bulky on his arms and chest, his abdomen packed, tapering down and narrow at the waist. 

Most all of his skin was covered in ink that seemed to scream the same as the walls, though it remained indistinct in the minimal light cast down from the rafters. 

But I could make out enough to get the intonation.

The pure intimidation. 

Menace and peril and life. 

The mountain of a man stood there for a moment, then he took a step forward. 

Energy rushed across the floor.

He approached like a phantom. Like a painting that had come to life. 

It covered me whole and caressed me in shadows. 

I was right. This man was definitely, definitely dangerous.

There was no question about it then.

And still, I remained there, held in his gaze, feeling the safest I’d ever felt. 

I thought he was coming for me, only he slipped by on his bare feet. 

Desire rippled through on his wake. 

God, that was sexy, too. 

Jud Lawson was an anomaly.

Conflict and peace.

Harmony and dissention. 

A blinding light in the longest night. 

Stealer of heart and sanity and good sense.

Because remaining there on the ground like an offering? 

Posing for him? 

There was no question I’d lost my mind.

His aura rippled through the room as he moved over to the wall that I faced. He pulled an easel closer, and the canvas he set on it looked like it’d been painted over a thousand times. He knelt to open a few jars of paint. 

He picked up a brush and studied me.

I trembled beneath his watch.

“Beauty,” he rumbled. “Second I saw you out in the rain. Thought I had to be imagining things. Hallucinating.” 

“I was terrified,” I admitted, our voices dancing through the condensed air. 

Louder than they should be. 

The thrumming of our hearts was palpable.

Frantic beats that echoed against the other. 

A smirk ticked at the corner of his sexy mouth, then it slipped when he glanced at me then to the canvas. He began to paint. Quick, sweeping strokes, as if the images fell from him without thought. “I felt your fear, Salem. I felt your desperation. Wonder if I felt it then, that we were bound to be more than strangers. Wonder if I knew you were supposed to be on the back of my bike that night. Wonder if I knew you were going to become something that mattered in my life.” 

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“If you want a book that will wreck you in the best way possible than grab this UNPUTDOWNABLE, HEARTBREAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL story that will leave you with ALL THE FEELS!” 

— Melissa, Book Addict Fanatic

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The Alternate Cover is Here!

Not only do we have the AMAZING release boxes up, but the alternate cover is now available to pre-order as well. I am IN LOVE with both covers and can’t choose a favorite!

If you can’t choose either – I also have hardbacks that feature both!

 

Want a Say It’s Forever Release Box? It includes a signed paperback, premium merchandise, and goodies! This box is even better than the last and I CAN’T WAIT for you all to see what’s inside!!!

Quantities are limited and boxes sell out fast, so reserve yours now!

SAY IT’S FOREVER PAPERBACK & RELEASE BOX PRE-ORDER


GIVEAWAY

Signed Give Me a Reason & Absolution Gift Set

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A.L. Jackson is the New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance. She writes emotional, sexy, heart-filled stories about boys who usually like to be a little bit bad.

Her bestselling series include THE REGRET SERIES, CLOSER TO YOU, BLEEDING STARS, FIGHT FOR ME, CONFESSIONS OF THE HEART, FALLING STARS, and REDEMPTION HILLS novels. Watch out for her upcoming stand-alone, SAY IT’S FOREVER, releasing March 28th!

If she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the pool with her family, sipping cocktails with her friends, or of course with her nose buried in a book.

Be sure not to miss new releases and sales from A.L. Jackson – Sign up to receive her newsletter http://smarturl.it/NewsFromALJackson or text “aljackson” to 33222 to receive short but sweet updates on all the important news.

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Coming Soon: Tattered Stars by Catherine Cowles

“An unforgettable start to a new series. Atmospheric, suspenseful and crackling with tension and electric chemistry, Tattered Stars is a must read romance for 2022!” —Samantha Young, New York Times bestselling author

Tattered Stars, a beautiful and moving romantic suspense and first book in the Tattered & Torn series from bestselling author Catherine Cowles is coming February 1st and we have the first look!

Prologue
Everly

PAST

Be brave. For sixty seconds. Twenty breaths. I could do anything for twenty ins and outs. The springs on my mattress squeaked as I swung my legs over the side of my bed. I froze. And listened.

There were lots of things I hated about growing up here. But there were things I loved, too. Things I was grateful for. Like how attuned I was to every whisper. I’d know in an instant if a sound didn’t belong.

I waited. Heard the screen door rattle in the wind. The call of an owl. Even the hum of our refrigerator in the kitchen. I didn’t hear my brother or dad. Mom had been gone for days, helping a baby come into the world. But I wished for her now. She was the only one who had a chance of stopping the craziness. But she wasn’t here, and I wasn’t sure what tomorrow would bring.

I pushed to my feet, praying my mattress would stay quiet and not give me away. The springs didn’t betray me again. I moved to my closet, careful to avoid any floorboards that creaked. Pulling a pair of worn jeans from a shelf, I slipped them on. I tugged the nightgown over my head and reached for a t-shirt.

The breeze picked up through my open window. It had been unbearably hot today but just a few hours into the night and a chill had settled. I grabbed a flannel just in case. Slipping on socks, I picked up my boots. I knew better than to put hard soles on this floor.

My dad had taught me how to move without a sound to avoid any kind of predator. And tonight, I was thankful for each and every lesson—even the ones where I’d had to roll in mud to disguise myself.

I reached for the doorknob, but my hand stilled on the metal. I could just go back to bed. Forget my attempt at being brave and wait for Mom to come home. To bring my dad down from his paranoid state where everyone was the enemy and we were at risk from it all—the government, neighbors, even my teachers.

I’d watched as our lives got smaller and smaller, with fewer and fewer people to trust. I didn’t remember a lot of the normal. But I remembered some. The second grade and Miss Christie before Dad had pulled Ian and me out of school. Visiting Mom’s family in Portland before he’d decided they were heathens. The town fair before he became convinced that it was evil.

I closed my eyes and turned the knob. Stepping out into the hall, I listened again. Nothing out of place. I created a dance to avoid every problematic board in my path, sometimes tiptoeing, other times stretching my legs to the point I worried I’d tip over.

Finally, I reached the front door. Our old dog, Bruiser, raised his head, but I held a single finger to my lips, begging for silence. Feeding him table scraps must’ve paid off because he lay back down and let out a soft snore.

I eased open the door and stepped through to the first true rebellion I’d ever embarked on. One that might make me like my older sister—an outcast. I closed the door behind me with a soft snick, but it was deafening to my ears, echoing off the mountain itself. I let the screen door fall closed, too, only a small rattle in my wake.

I hopped over the porch steps entirely, knowing each and every one would give me away. I landed with an oomph but held in my cry of pain. Slipping on my boots, I glanced at the shed in the distance. The motion lights on its exterior meant I didn’t dare try for it. So, I started for the barn instead.

One of the doors was open a hair to let some of the night air in, and I pulled it a bit more, just wide enough so Storm and I had a path. As I moved down the aisle, our few horses nickered or lifted their heads to see who was about. I paused at the tack room, picked up a bridle, and then continued until I reached Storm’s stall.

She must have scented me coming because her head was already over the stall door. I gave her nose a rub and then urged her back. “Gotta let me in.” She did as I asked, and I left the door open, knowing she wasn’t going anywhere…not without me.

I eased the bridle over her head, and she accepted the bit without complaint. “What do you say we go for a ride?” She seemed to nod her head in agreement. It would’ve been so much simpler if we were just taking off for one of our afternoon adventures, exploring the mountains.

I led her out of the stall and towards the exit. We made our way out, and I hoisted myself onto the fence so I could climb onto her back. She stayed steady as I threw a leg over and adjusted my grip on the reins. “Nice and easy.”

I guided her down the path that stayed far away from the house. One that led to the mountain switchbacks. I glanced up at the sky, thanking the heavens for a nearly full moon. I just prayed my sense of direction was as good as I thought.

I’d never ridden all the way to town before. It was at least fifteen miles, and several paths ebbed and flowed. But I knew where I was headed. I’d memorized these mountains every day of my life. They were both a refuge and a prison. Solace and tormentor.

Tonight, they were on my side. Each trail’s crossroads seemed to give me the next logical step until switchbacks turned to wide, worn paths, the dirt packed by hikers and riders. Soon, I reached the road into town. I stayed just off it, my heart hammering against my ribs as the forests turned to neighborhoods.

I adjusted my grip on the reins, seeking out a peek at the lake on the outskirts of town. The moon made the water almost glitter. “Just a few more minutes,” I whispered to myself. I could be brave for a little longer.

I moved Storm onto the blacktop, her hooves echoing against the buildings along Aspen Street. Every store was dark with limited streetlights so residents and visitors alike could see the stars. Normally, I loved seeing them, too, but tonight I fought a shiver. Wolf Gap felt like a ghost town.

I slowed Storm as we approached the street I knew held my next battle for bravery. I wondered if I was already past the point of no return or if I could guide Storm back up the mountain and go home. I turned her onto Spruce.

The light from a building poured out into the night. It wasn’t harsh, more like a soft beacon, guiding me home. Only if I walked inside, I had a feeling I’d never see home again. WANT MORE? Click here for the full sneak peek. >>>https://bit.ly/3KXHwMq

Synopsis

Be brave. Just for sixty seconds. Twenty breaths.

One night changed them both forever.

Their lives shattered, beyond repair, with jagged edges and pieces askew.

Now, Everly has a chance to make things right. To bring healing to the place where everything fell apart. But it means facing the family her father almost destroyed, and the boy with the dark eyes—now grown—who still haunts her dreams.

Just one breath away from having your life ripped out from under you.

The last thing Hayes wants is another reminder of all the ways he failed sixteen years ago. When Everly drives back into Wolf Gap, his only mission is to get her to leave. For his family’s sake, and for his own, those demons need to stay buried for good.

But everything about this woman is a surprise, from her spine of steel to the sanctuary she hopes to create with the land her mother left behind. And Hayes is powerless to stay away.

As a careful friendship sparks into something more, someone watches. And they’ll do anything to tear it all apart…

Reserve your copy today!
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About Catherine Cowles
Writer of words. Drinker of Diet Cokes. Lover of all things cute and furry, especially her dog. Catherine has had her nose in a book since the time she could read and finally decided to write down some of her own stories. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring her home state of Oregon, listening to true crime podcasts, or searching for her next book boyfriend.

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Blog Tour: Canary by Tijan

Canary, an all-new not-to-be-missed, enemies-to-lovers standalone mafia romance from New York Times bestselling author Tijan is available now!

We were on the front lines in that world, the mafia world.
There was nothing soft or glamorous about it.
Who you were before no longer mattered. Names didn’t exist.

I joined anyway. I had no other choice because they took my sister.
Join. Find her. Try and make it out alive.

Then he won me in a poker game.
I hated him instantly, thinking he was like my other bosses before him.
He wasn’t. He was worse.

He wasn’t just cold. He was dead inside.
It didn’t matter that he was gorgeous.
He was the most lethal thing I’d ever met.

He was also the only person who could keep me alive, if he didn’t kill me himself.

A/N This is a 102k mafia/cartel standalone.
This is the most violent book Tijan has ever written.
Trigger warning: references to sexual violence

“Canaries sing to save lives. I sing and people die.”

Be captivated today!
FREE in Kindle Unlimited
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Excerpt

“I…” I didn’t even know. I couldn’t explain what I didn’t know. “Ask me about Jake in a different way.”
“There is no other way.”
“You know there is! Ask it in a different way.” I shoved up to my feet. This was the fight here.
I was sick of the killing.
I could not handle one more body, especially not someone I knew.
My chest heaved. “Ask it in a different way.”
I liked Jake. I was hurt by what he said, but he wasn’t on my list anymore.
I frowned. “What happened with Cavers?”
“None of your business!” he erupted, his hands flying in the air, but he was moving farther away from me. His back hit the wall, and he let me see him, how haunted he was, how stricken. He let it all out for me to see and read, though I wasn’t sure he knew it. “I don’t run my decisions through some pussy I like plowing.”
Okay, now I was mad.
“Take that back,” I said quietly.
He swore, low and long. Then he moved, flipping a chair into the wall. It impaled there, and the wall held it. It looked like an abstract piece of art.
“Take it back!” I clipped out, folding my arms over my chest.
He looked away.
I didn’t know what was going on here, but fuck him if he didn’t take back calling me pussy he liked to plow.
I screamed, “Take it back!”
“No!” He was across the room and in my face in the next second. I braced myself, but he didn’t touch me.
He stopped just short of it, his breath in my cheek, his eyes taking me in, scanning my face.
He was panicking.
I saw it now, lurking there.
Good! That filled me with satisfaction.
My chest started pounding.
No, that was my heart.
It was thumping in my chest, getting stronger, faster—a steady and powerful beat now. I could feel it all the way to my toes—in my fingers, my neck. His eyes lingered on my lips.
He couldn’t look away.
Stark hunger flashed in his eyes, and he raised a hand, holding it in the air.
It curved gently, as if he wanted to touch my neck, or the side of my face.
But he didn’t move. He just held it there, a few inches from my skin.
His eyes lifted to mine. “You bitch.”
My heart still pounded, trying to reach him. “You’re a murdering asshole,” I whispered back, seething.
“What?”he sneered. “You want to fuck now? Forget you put a fucking gun to your head?”
“Don’t kill Jake.”
He pressed into me, his eyes wild, on the edge of control. “Why?” His breath was hot on me. He bent down, his eyes glittering now.
Then he found his control. He rested one hand against the wall, next to my head. The other found my hip and slid up, moving under my shirt, raising it.
God. I almost moaned.
Wetness flooded me, and I started to throb.
I wanted him.
So fucking bad.
He bent and his lips grazed over mine, my cheeks, my chin. Tingles raced through me.
Jesus.
I wanted him deep inside of me. I shifted, pressing against him, and both of us groaned from the contact.
I began moving, a slow grind, and he was quiet, grinding back.
This was different from the other times.
The terms had flipped. Roles were changing. Everything was being upended between us.

About Tijan
Tijan is a New York Times Bestselling author that writes suspenseful and unpredictable novels. Her characters are strong, intense, and gut-wrenchingly real with a little bit of sass on the side. Tijan began writing later in life and once she started, she was hooked. She’s written multi-bestsellers including the Carter Reed Series, the Fallen Crest Series, and the Broken and Screwed Series among others. She is currently writing a new series from north Minnesota where she lives with an English Cocker she adores.

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New Release: The Taste of an Enemy by Holly Renee

Rich. Vicious. Vengeful. Forbidden. The Boys of Clermont Bay had always been untouchable.

The Taste of an Enemy, the first angst-filled new adult romance in The Taste of an Enemy Duet from Holly Renee is available now!

Rich. Vicious. Vengeful. Forbidden. The Boys of Clermont Bay had always been untouchable.
And Carson Hale was the worst of them all.
He was pretentious and a player, and he had hated me for so long I forgot that we were ever anything more than enemies.
Brutally beautiful and savagely heartless, his only plan was to ruin everything I loved.
But dares were made, and even though I had no business saying yes, I found myself in trouble and forced to work with my rival to get us out of it.
He had always been cruel, but something changed.
The lure of him was too much. The way I craved his touch was unbearable.
Just as I fell for him, he proved himself to be exactly who he had been all along.

Grab your copy today!
FREE in Kindle Unlimited
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Read my Review Here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4154342322?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Pre-order the stunning conclusion, Deceit of a Devil!
Releasing September 23rd
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Excerpt

I walked into Wings and Things and spotted Eli as soon as I made it through the door. He smiled before standing and coming to meet me. I couldn’t tell if anyone else was already at the table, and I tried to remind myself that I shouldn’t care. Tonight was about having fun and getting to know Eli.
Carson didn’t matter for either of those things. I would just drown him out and pretend he wasn’t there. That was what I was used to doing. That was what the two of us had been doing for years.
Even though I was already a little but irritated that Eli hadn’t offered to pick me up. My dad was irritated by that fact too.
“You look beautiful.” Eli grinned before pulling me into a hug.
“Thank you.” I breathed in the scent of his warm cologne, the smell familiar and calming. “You look nice as well.”
I looked up at him as he let me go. He was much taller than me, although shorter than Carson, and he had a smile that made me feel comfortable.
He grabbed my hand in his and led the way back to the table. I fixed my hair while I was still blocked from view, and I planted the best smile I could manage on my face as he pulled out the chair for me that was directly across from Carson.
“Thank you.” I settled into my seat and tried to avoid making eye contact with Carson.
“Allie, this is Kimberly. Kimberly, Allie. I think you all might know each other.”
I looked across the table at Kimberly, and of course I knew her. We had gone to school together since grade school, and I had hated her almost as long. She was popular, conceited, and a perfect fit for Carson.
“Of course.” I nodded and pulled out my menu. “How are you, Kim?”
“I’m perfect.” She giggled and looked over at Carson. His hand disappeared under the table, and even though I couldn’t see it, I knew that his hand probably rested on her thigh.
I wanted to rip it off.
“Awesome,” I mumbled and tried to focus on the menu.
Carson laughed under his breath, but I ignored him.
“What are you getting?” I looked to my right where Eli sat. “Do you want to share some wings?”
“Oh.” He looked up from his menu. “I was thinking about getting the burger.”
“A burger at a wing place.” Carson scoffed and tossed his menu down on the table. “I’ll share an order with you, Allie. Kim’s getting a salad.”
He didn’t give me time to answer. As soon as the waitress came to our table, Carson opened his mouth. “My girl Allie and I are going to share a large order of wings, extra ranch for both of us. No carrots. She hates those.”
I looked at him like he had lost his mind because I was pretty sure that he had.
“What can I get you to drink?” The waitress was now looking at me.
“Um, just a Coke, please.”
Everyone else ordered their food, and I fidgeted with my hands under the table.
“So, Allie, how is school going for you?” I looked up at Eli. I had almost forgotten he was there.
“It’s all right. I’m so ready for fall break, though.”
“Me too.” He nodded. “Are you going anywhere? My family is taking a trip to Europe.”
“No.” I almost choked on the word. Sometimes I forgot just how far apart my family was from those who went to Prep. They were made of money, old money to be exact, and guys like Eli had never had to think about working or how he’d pay for college. “We typically stay home and do a Thanksgiving meal at our house. It’s real low-key.”
And my dad would still be working every day except for Thanksgiving, and my small house would be busting with people. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. We were always together on holidays, and I loved it.
It may not have been Europe, but it was ours.
“That’s cool.” He nodded and turned his chair to where he faced me better. “We’ve been going to Europe for years now. My parents love it, and they take us about every other year. Have you ever been?”
“To Europe?” I shook my head, and suddenly I felt ridiculous. “No. The farthest I’ve been is Disney World.” I didn’t mention that had been almost ten years ago.
I could hear Carson and Kimberly talking across from us, and I hoped he was too enthralled with her and her perfect face to even consider listening to our conversation.
Eli laughed like I had just told a joke, but I hadn’t. “That’s too bad. I bet you would really like Europe.”
“What makes you think that, Eli?” Carson was leaned back in his chair with his arm resting on the back of Kimberly’s.
Eli laughed nervously and looked between me and Carson. “It’s Europe.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“But you don’t know anything about Allie specifically that would make her love Europe, correct?”
Eli opened his mouth, but Carson continued.
“Like you have no clue that she’s been dreaming of going to Paris forever, and she has this little Eiffel Tower key chain that she’s had on her set of keys since she’s had them. Or that she thinks she’s part Irish because she has a little bit of green in her eyes.”
“I didn’t realize you knew so much about her.” Eli was no longer aloof. He was sizing Carson up, and I wasn’t here for a pissing contest.
“Well, now you do.” Carson stared back at him with the same unrelenting gaze, and I felt like I was going insane.
Carson hadn’t given a shit about me since that night he needed me and I wasn’t there. If he wasn’t ignoring me altogether, he was making me wish he was, and now all of the sudden, he wanted to share wings and spew facts about me like he was my best friend.
“Stop,” I hissed. “You’re being an ass. Aren’t you supposed to be on your own date?” I looked over at Kimberly, and she looked uncomfortable. I couldn’t blame her. I felt uncomfortable too.
The waitress arrived back at our table with food in hand, and we were spared from whatever Carson was going to say next. He looked down at the food, and his bright eyes looked so hollow. He scrunched his brow, something he always did when he was upset, and his jaw stiffened. I didn’t know if he was angry with me or with himself.
But I didn’t want to find out. I quickly grabbed a wing from our plate and took a huge bite. Sauce dripped down my chin, but I didn’t stop. The food was a distraction. If we were eating, then we weren’t talking, and I couldn’t stand to hear anything more from Carson right now.
Not after everything he just said. Not with the way he had brought up memories of me like it wouldn’t mess with my head.
“This is good.” I wiped at my mouth with the back of my hand. “Do you want a bite?” I looked over to Eli, and he shook his head as he looked at my half-bitten wing.
“Nah. I’m good.”
“Suit yourself.” I shrugged as I looked down at his measly-looking burger.
“I’ll take one.” Carson reached forward, his fingers wrapping around my wrist, and he stood in his seat enough to bring my hand to his lips. I stared at him, shocked by what he was doing, but there wasn’t an ounce of shame in his gaze.
He didn’t look away from me for a second as he bit down into the wing I was still holding, and I couldn’t stop myself from holding my breath as his lips met my fingers. Carson Hale wasn’t just taking a bite of my chicken. He was causing a scene, and part of me wondered how he had gotten so damn good at it.
He ran his tongue over the edge of my thumb, licking up the sauce that had dripped there, and I felt like he had just used his tongue on parts of my body that no one else ever had. I pressed my thighs together as I watched his mouth, and I couldn’t bring myself to care that Eli was watching me as Carson finally let go of my hand and settled back into his seat.
“You’re right, Allie. That’s absolutely delicious.” He licked his lip before picking up a wing of his own, then began eating like that display hadn’t just happened.
I picked up my napkin, quickly dropping my gaze to my lap as I wiped my hands, but I couldn’t get the feel of him off. And I didn’t know if I wanted to.

About Holly

I’m Holly Renee, a small-town east Tennessee girl who is obsessed with all things romance. I love bringing flawed, sassy, and real characters to life in a way that makes you feel like you’ve been best friends with them for years. No two Holly Renee books are the same, but if you love real, relatable, fun female characters and swoon-worthy heroes, I’m your girl.
When I’m not writing or reading, you can find me momming so hard, being disgustingly in love with my husband, or chilling in the middle of a lake with my sunglasses and a float. #lakelife
I have a 2-year-old adorable little man who is as wild and sweet as they come and a baby girl on the way.

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Excerpt Reveal: Uncovered by Andi Burns

 

 

UNCOVERED (Bainbridge University #1) by Andi Burns

Release Date: July 28th

 

 

Add to Goodreads:

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PREORDER TODAY!

https://tinyurl.com/593te8

 

 

 

 

Excerpt:

Phoebe

I walk into Drip after the last of my classes has ended for the day. The cool AC feels good, and I’m glad to see friendly faces rather than just an endless sea of people I don’t know.

“So, how was your first day?” Ian asks, placing an iced caramel macchiato in front of me.

“Thanks,” I say, accepting the drink and taking a sip. “My classes were good, so far. The art program here is pretty great, so

I’m excited about my painting class and my clay class. And my bio lecture was pretty standard. It was all typical first-day stuff, but everyone was really nice.”

“Good. Anyone gives you trouble, you just send them to me,” Ian nods. Bless his heart, I think he’s serious. He’s tall, but he’s lean. Built like a runner, but I’d bet my bank account, such as it is, that the only running Ian does is on a treadmill. He’s got fair skin, freckles, and strawberry blonde hair. His glasses are those thick black trendy ones I could never pull off, but he’s got that whole hot-professor look down.

He turns his attention to Mel. “How about you, Mel? Did you kick some accounting ass today?”

“Damn straight I did,” she says, stepping behind the counter and slipping on her apron. “How about you? How’s the TA life so far?”

“Exhausting,” he smiles. “Especially when you add this place in. But I love it. I’m only doing two classes for Hanna–Dr. Bergman–this semester, so things will level off, I’m sure. I just feel totally overwhelmed, but in a good way, you know?”

I totally get it. “I know exactly what you mean. The last week of my life has been a little daunting–a lot of change and new experiences, but it’s all good stuff.”

“Excellent,” he nods. “ And you know where you’re headed tomorrow?”

I smile over my eye-roll. “Yes, I know where all of my classes are. And I scoped out a study bay in the library today. Look at me, exploring uncharted waters.”

Mel clears her throat. “Don’t worry about her, Ian. She got a personal tour of campus from Ty Marshall.”

Ian nearly drops the pitcher of tea he’s holding. “Say what now?”

“It was no big deal– my tour guide was double-booked or something, so Ty took over.” I shrug as if it’s no big deal, because it isn’t one. Ok, he was sex on a damn stick, but he was just doing his job. Well, his friend’s job.

“Honey.” Ian levels me with an older-brother look, and my heart pinches. “You need to be careful with that one.”

“It won’t be an issue, I promise. It was just a tour. He had to do it. And I’m 100% positive he was not impressed by me.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Ian shakes his head. “Let’s get a few things straight. Those broody boys on the hill? The fearsome foursome who live in The Chapel? They don’t have to do anything. And they certainly don’t have to work. Each one of them is richer than sin even without their trust funds. So trust me, he was not doing his job. He was doing someone else’s. And I want to know why.”

“I told you– it was a favor. He wouldn’t say what the favor was for though.” “See? Suspicious.”

Mel’s refilling the napkin dispenser. “Calm down, Ian. My guess is he jumped at the opportunity to cover Gabe’s shift because our girl here is gorgeous. Plus, she’s new in town and knows nothing of his reputation.”

“His reputation?” I ask. Sure, he was surly, but maybe there’s more to the story.

“They’re all assholes,” Ian shakes his head. “Ok, not assholes, exactly. But they’re rich and entitled, and they don’t seem to give much of a damn about anyone but each other. They’re a tight crew. Sure, they’ll socialize. Hell, Whit deejays half the parties on Greek row. And Booker plays hockey. And, yes, I will take this moment to pay homage how fucking hot his hockey butt is. So, yea, they’re visible and everybody knows them. Part of that is because Booker’s great-great-great grandaddy founded this school. Part of that is they’re all nice to look at. But here’s the thing: they’re totally insular. It’s the four of them against the rest of the world. I don’t think any of them have ever had a long-term relationship. Not to say you can’t have some fun, but…just be careful.”

 

 

 

 

Blurb:

My family destroyed hers, but I can’t let her go…

Ty

Amends…they’re not mine to make, but I’ve been haunted by the memory of a shattered girl in that courtroom two years ago.

So, I tell myself I’m doing what’s right. I’ll stay in the shadows, out of her way. She won’t know I’m there–she doesn’t even know who I am. I’m just setting it up and walking away with as clear a conscience as my guilt will allow me.

But then she needs a tutor. And I’m the only one working. How can I say no?

But one coincidental meeting turns into two, and then three. And before I can stop myself, I’m falling hard for a woman I have no business wanting. The problem is, she’s falling hard for me, too.

I need to tell her who I am–I have to. But I know that the moment I do, I’ll break her. And she’ll break me, too.

Uncovered is a full-length novel with a tortured hero, a broken heroine, and an HEA. It is the first STANDALONE in the Bainbridge University Series.

 

 

 

About the Author:

Andi Burns writes contemporary romance infused with humor, sass, and steam. She loves a happily-ever-after as much as her characters do, and she always reads the last page of a book first, just to make sure it all turns out okay.

Andi lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, folding laundry, or daydreaming about her next hero and heroine.

 

Connect w/Andi:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andiburnsauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorandiburns

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19841983.Andi_Burns

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XY9jEy

Excerpt Reveal: The Spark by Vi Keeland

Title: The Spark
Author: Vi Keeland
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 12, 2021
Excited about Vi Keeland’s upcoming release, The Spark? Check out this SNEAK PEEK of CHAPTER 1!
CHAPTER 1
Autumn
I’m definitely getting too old for this.
I tossed a pile of mail on the couch and plopped down beside it. It was barely six o’clock, and I wouldn’t have minded climbing into bed and calling it a day. I needed a vacation from my four-day mini vacation. Thank goodness I’d scheduled myself a weekend to recover. My girls’ trip/early bachelorette party in Vegas for my friend Anna—the one where we were all going to relax by the pool and get spa treatments—had turned into all-night clubbing and almost missing my flight home earlier today because I’d overslept. It had definitely been a while since I drank more than two glasses of wine in the span of a week, and I was feeling my ripe old age of twenty-eight before the sun had even set this Friday night. Thank God I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
I briefly considered going the hair-of-the-dog route and sucking back a vodka cran while zoning out on Netflix, but then my phone rang, crashing me back to reality.
Ugh…
Dad flashed on the screen. I should’ve just gotten it over with and spoken to him, but I didn’t have the energy. Nonetheless, allowing myself to avoid the stress speaking to my father would inevitably cause reminded me of the other thing I needed to do that I’d been avoiding all afternoon. Laundry. One of my least-favorite tasks—mostly because it required me to sit downstairs in my building’s dingy basement laundry room. Up until a few months ago, I would start my laundry and come back forty-five minutes later to make the switch to the dryer. But that practice had come to a halt after one of my loads went missing—an entire load of wet bras and underwear. Who the hell stole wet clothes? At least nab dry ones. Nevertheless, it was an expensive lesson, and now I didn’t leave the basement until my clothes were washed and dried.
Sighing, I begrudgingly went to the bedroom, where my suitcase still sat on the bed, and unzipped it. I’d packed a linen skirt on top that I hadn’t wound up wearing, and I figured I’d hang it in the bathroom and hope the wrinkles worked themselves out over the course of a couple of steamy showers. I hated ironing almost as much as I hated doing laundry downstairs.
But when I flipped open the top of the suitcase, my linen skirt wasn’t on top. At first I thought my bag must’ve been selected for search, and things hadn’t been put back in order… Though the wingtip shoe I lifted was most definitely not mine.
Shit.
I rummaged through the suitcase in a panic.
Slacks, running clothes, a men’s dress shirt… A sickening feeling washed over me, and I scrambled to look at the luggage tag. I’d never filled out the identification card inside, but the leather had my initials embossed on the outside.
And this one…had no initials.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
I’d grabbed the wrong bag off the luggage carousel. I started to sweat. All of my makeup was in that bag! Not to mention a week’s worth of my best outfits and shoes. I needed to get it back. Rushing to the kitchen, I grabbed my cell from the charger on the counter and Googled the number for the airline. After wading through a half-dozen prompts, I reached a recording.
“Thank you for calling American Airlines. Due to unprecedented call volume, your estimated wait time is approximately forty-one minutes.”
Forty-one minutes! I blew out a rush of air. Great. Just great.
In the meantime, while I waited on hold on speakerphone, listening to staticky music, it hit me that whoever’s luggage I had might very well have mine. I hadn’t even checked the luggage tag to see if, unlike mine, the identification information was filled in.
I zipped back down the hall to my bedroom.
Bingo!
Donovan Deckerkind of a cool name. And he lived here in the city! Thankfully, Donovan even had his phone number listed. It couldn’t be that easy, could it? I doubted it, but considering I still had forty minutes before I could speak to someone at the airline, I wasn’t losing much for trying. So I swiped to end my call. I started to punch in the numbers on the tag, and then decided to hit *67 first to make my number private. With my luck, the guy wouldn’t have my luggage, but he’d be a total creeper.
I was caught off guard when a man’s deep voice answered on the first ring. I hadn’t yet figured out what I was going to say.
“Uhhh. Hi. My name is Autumn, and I think I might have your luggage.”
“That was quick. I just hung up with you guys two minutes ago.”
He must’ve thought I was calling from the airline. “Oh, no. I don’t work for American. I traveled home this morning and must’ve grabbed the wrong bag at JFK.”
“What are your initials?”
“My initials?”
“Yeah, you know, the first letter of your first name and the first letter of your last name.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know what initials are. I just don’t understand why you would ask—Oh! Does that mean you have my luggage? I have my initials embossed on the luggage tag.”
“That depends on what your initials are, Autumn. The first letter matches.”
“My initials are AW.”
“Well, then it seems you are indeed the thief who clipped my luggage.”
Sure, I hadn’t checked my luggage tag, but it offended me that he was calling me a thief. “Wouldn’t we both be thieves? Since you’re in possession of my luggage?”
“I only took yours because it was the last one left rotating around the carousel. You see, unlike you, I checked the luggage tag the first time it passed, and when I saw it wasn’t mine, I left it for the rightful owner to claim. But the line at baggage customer service was twenty deep, and I had a meeting I was already late for. So I took the one I have hostage until the airline could sort it out.”
My shoulders slumped. “Oh. Sorry.”
“It’s fine. Are you here in the City?”
“I am. Could we possibly meet to swap bags?”
“Sure. When and where? I’m out now, but I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
The tag had an address on the Upper East Side, but I lived on the West Side, farther downtown. “Could we meet at the Starbucks on 80th and Lex?” That was closer to him, but at least I’d only have to drag the suitcase onto one subway.
“I can’t think of any excuse not to. What time?”
That was sort of a weird way to phrase a yes, and the way he emphasized the word excuse seemed odd. But hey, I was getting my bag back. So what if he turned out to be a little strange? At least I’d hidden my phone number, and we were meeting in a public place.
“How about eight?”
“I’ll see you then.”
It sounded like he was about to hang up. “Wait…” I said. “How will I know it’s you?”
“I’ll be the one holding your luggage, Autumn W.”
I chuckled. “Oh, yeah. Sorry…long week in Vegas.”
I bent and lifted the shoe from the top of the bag. Ferragamo. Expensive. And big, too. A quick peek revealed it was a size thirteen. The inner teenager in me couldn’t help but think big feet, big…. Plus, the guy had a deep, sexy voice. I would definitely be exploring more of the dude’s luggage after we hung up.
“I’ll meet you at eight,” he said.
“See you then.” I was just about to swipe my phone off when something hit me. Oh God! “Hello? Wait…are you still there?”
It took a heartbeat or two, but the sexy voice came back on the line. “What’s up?”
“Ummm… Did you…open my bag?”
“I unzipped it at the airport to make sure it wasn’t mine when I noticed the luggage tag initials.”
“Did you…see anything?”
“There was a pink thong on top, so that pretty much sealed the deal that it didn’t belong to me. But I didn’t rummage through, if that’s what you’re asking.”
I forgot I’d shoved that thong in at the last minute. It had been at the back of a drawer when I’d checked the hotel room one last time on my way out. But I’d take him seeing my underwear over the other stuff inside my bag. I blew out a sigh of relief. “Okay, that’s great. Thank you. I’ll see you at eight at Starbucks.”
“Whoa. Hang on a second—not so fast. You sounded pretty nervous that I might’ve gone through your bag. Are you hiding something sinister in there? I’m not going to be walking around with a suitcase full of drugs or something, am I?”
I cracked a smile. “No, definitely not. I just…I’d prefer if you didn’t go through it.”
“Did you rummage through mine?”
I glanced at the shoe in my hand. Taking out one measly piece of footwear wouldn’t be considered rummaging, right? Nah. “No, I didn’t.”
“Are you planning on it?” he asked.
I had no idea what the man looked like, yet I could tell by his voice that he was smiling now.
“Nope,” I lied.
“Alright. Then we have a deal. I won’t go through your bag, and you won’t go through mine.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Do I have your word on that, Autumn W? I might have some things I’d prefer you didn’t see in there.”
“Like what?”
He chuckled. “See you at eight.”
After we hung up, I tossed the shoe back into the suitcase and bent to close it. But as I reached for the zipper, my curiosity got the best of me. Was he just screwing with me, or did he really have something in here he didn’t want me to see? Of course, I knew what I had in mine, which made me extra curious.
I shook my head and started to pull the zipper closed. About halfway, I laughed out loud. Who was I kidding? Now that I didn’t have laundry to do, I had almost a full two hours to kill before I met Mr. Bigfoot. This suitcase would taunt me all that time. I’d most certainly give in eventually, so why not put myself out of that misery and just take a little look-see inside now? Then I’d be able to relax. He’d never know I hadn’t lived up to my end of the bargain. Not to mention, for all I knew, he was elbow deep in my suitcase right now. In that case, it would only be fair that I got to go through his, right?
I nibbled my lip for a few seconds as a wave of guilt washed over me. But I quickly forced that out of my mind. Of course I’m right.
Feeling justified now, I unzipped the suitcase and took a minute to mentally note how everything was packed: a white dress shirt was folded on top, and two shoes were set on either side, heels facing up. I carefully unpacked those and placed them on the bed next to the suitcase in the same order. The next layer had more folded clothes: two expensive dress shirts, a pair of sweats, boxer briefs, and a few T-shirts, one of which had something emblazoned on the front—familiar lettering that began HA—so I unfolded it to see what it said. Harvard Law.
Ugh. One of those. No wonder he could afford Ferragamo shoes.
Underneath the pile of clothes was a white laundry bag—the kind a hotel gives you to put your dry cleaning in, but most people used it to separate their dirty clothes. With no desire to sort through smelly socks, I started to fold the clothes back into the suitcase, feeling a twinge of disappointment. But when I smoothed out the layers of the pile, I felt something lumpy and hard underneath in the plastic laundry bag. So I took the clothes back out and looked inside, hoping to find…I’m not sure what. Though what I found was definitely not what I expected.
The bag was filled with at least twenty or thirty of those little shampoo bottles hotels give out. Actually, a closer inspection revealed some were conditioner and a few were moisturizer. Buried on the very bottom were also three little sewing kits and half-a-dozen toothbrushes wrapped in plastic—the kind you could get at the front desk of a hotel when you forgot yours.
What the heck had Mr. Bigfoot done? Rob a housekeeping cart? This kind of stuff, though a lesser quantity, is what you’d usually find in my suitcase since I was broke all the time. But it wasn’t the type of thing you’d expect in the suitcase of a man who had gone to Harvard and wore seven-hundred-dollar dress shoes.
Now I was even more curious to meet Donovan Decker.
***
I arrived at Starbucks almost twenty minutes early, so I went online to treat myself to a flat white with honey almond milk. Even ordering it had me salivating, thinking about the sweet, creamy drink. Expensive coffee was my indulgence, but it didn’t happen too often with the five-dollar price tag and my skimpy budget.
I stood at the end of the counter, waiting for my drink and mindlessly scrolling on my phone, when a man walking through the front door caught my attention.
Oh, wow.
Now that was one good-looking man. Describing him as merely tall, dark, and handsome didn’t cut it, not by a mile. Jet-black hair framed a magnificent face with a chiseled, masculine bone structure, full lips, and a Romanesque nose. I wasn’t the only one to notice, either. I watched as the Adonis took a step back outside to hold the door open for a woman exiting the store, and the poor lady caught one glimpse of him and literally tripped over her own feet.
Seemingly oblivious that he’d caused the incident, he extended a hand to help her up, flashed a killer smile, and strolled inside. His bright blue eyes scanned the room, stopping right on my ogling ones. Embarrassed at being caught, I quickly diverted my attention back to my phone. A few seconds later, I was still pretending to be enraptured by my screen when footsteps came to a halt in front of me. I glanced up and blinked a few times. The guy from the door flashed a crooked smile.
“Were you able to control yourself?”
My forehead wrinkled. “Excuse me?”
His eyes danced with mirth, and his voice lowered. “I bet you couldn’t.”
I stared at him for an awkward moment before finally shaking my head. “What on Earth are you talking about?”
The man’s brows furrowed. “We made a deal, remember? I wouldn’t go through yours, if you didn’t touch mine?”
I’d watched the man walk in, stood right in front of him staring for at least a solid minute, and it took until now for me to notice he had something in his hand.
“Oh my God. You have my suitcase!”
He laughed but still looked perplexed. “What did you think I was talking about?”
“I…I don’t know. I was thoroughly confused.”
“I thought you saw me walk in.”
I did. But I hadn’t made it past your face. “No, I hadn’t noticed. Sorry. I guess I was just zoning out.”
The barista behind the counter yelled my name. I was glad for an excuse to put some distance between this guy and me. I needed a moment to gather my wits. Though when I returned, I still felt a little off-kilter.
“Thank you for meeting me to swap suitcases,” I said. “I’m really sorry I took the wrong one.”
“No problem.”
I rolled his case forward and released the handle. But the Adonis didn’t do the same. In fact, he pulled my bag closer to his side.
“Before we switch…” He tilted his head and studied my face. “I’m curious to know if you kept your word.”
I mimicked his pose and tilted my head. “What if I say I didn’t?”
“Well, then you’d have to pay a penalty for violating the terms of our deal.”
I raised a brow, intrigued. “A penalty?”
He nodded. “That’s right. There’s a penalty.”
I laughed as I lifted my coffee for a sip. “I just got back from a girls’ weekend in Vegas. Pretty sure this overpriced drink just used up the last five dollars in my bank account.”
“I wasn’t referring to a monetary penalty.”
“What kind of a penalty, then?”
He stroked the stubble on his chin for a moment. “You’d have to have coffee with me.”
Did this guy really think that would be a hardship? I debated how to answer. If I told the truth, it would be embarrassing. I mean, I went through the man’s personal belongings. But the flipside was I’d get to check him out some more over coffee. Then again, I’d be agreeing to spend time with a complete stranger. Though…whenever I met a guy online, I usually met him at a coffeehouse, and I probably knew more about this guy after going through his suitcase than I would from an online chat. Not to mention, none of my online dates had looked like Donovan Decker lately. In fact, none had made it further than coffee in a while.
Adonis had been watching my face as I debated my answer. His smirk made me think he already knew I’d checked out his bag. So, what the hell?
I stood tall and met his stare. “Was the lady from housekeeping harmed in the robbery?”
His eyes narrowed for a heartbeat, but then a giant smile spread across his face. He held his hand out toward the seating area. “After you, Autumn W.”
★★★ 
 
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RELEASING
JULY 12th!
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AUTHOR BIO
Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles have appeared in over a hundred Bestseller lists and are currently translated in twenty-five languages. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.
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Excerpt Reveal: Not Pretending Anymore by Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland

Title: Not Pretending Anymore
Authors: Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: April 12, 2021
Excited about Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland’s upcoming release, Not Pretending Anymore?
Check out this SNEAK PEEK of CHAPTER 1!
CHAPTER ONE
Molly
“So, what do you do for a living?”
The woman drummed her fingers on her thigh. “I’m a musician.”
I glanced down at the renter’s application in my hand. Lyric Chords was the name listed at the top.
I bit my tongue and tried to keep an open mind. This was the twelfth woman I’d interviewed as a prospective roommate. Just because she had a few safety pins in her eyebrow and what looked like a dog collar around her neck didn’t mean I should rule her out.
“Oh. That’s nice. Are you a singer?”
Lyric shook her head. “Drummer. Do you know the dimensions of the bedroom I’ll be sleeping in? I have two sets of drums I need to fit.”
“Umm… I think it’s fourteen by fourteen. But you don’t practice at home, right? I wrote in my ad that I’m looking for a quiet roommate because I work nights.”
“I do. But no worries. I’ll practice in my room.”
My bedroom and my potential roommate’s bedroom shared a wall, so that was the end of interview number twelve. I sighed and forced a smile. “Thank you for coming. I have a few other people left to meet with before I decide. I’ll let you know.”
“Great.” The woman stood. “Also, I know your ad said two months’ rent up front, but I’m running a little short right now. Would one be okay?”
I smiled. “Sure, no problem.” Since you’re not going to be living here.
After Drummergirl, I interviewed two more candidates. One wanted her boyfriend to move into the room with her, even though my ad had specified I was only looking for a single. And the other arrived twenty minutes late, reeked of alcohol, and slurred her words…at three thirty in the afternoon.
Why in the hell was it so difficult to find a roommate in a city of almost three-million people? I needed my last interview of the day to be a miracle, or I was going to have to shell out money for another ad and start the entire process all over. And I definitely didn’t have the time or the funds for that. Rent was due in two weeks. If I got stuck paying the full amount on this place myself again, I’d be eating cat food for a month.
When my last appointment knocked right on time, I took a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling, and asked the big guy in the sky for a little assistance.
Opening the door, I blinked a few times.
Uhhh. I think you answered the wrong prayer, God.
A man stood in my hallway—and not just any man, an absolutely gorgeous one with a perfect, straight nose, cheekbones to die for, a masculine, square jaw, full lips, tanned skin, and the sexiest chocolate brown, almond-shaped eyes I’d ever seen in my life.
“Uh. Can I help you?”
He flashed a killer smile, one that I immediately suspected had made countless women remove their panties.
“Hi. I have a four-thirty appointment with Molly Corrigan.”
“You do?” I had the last application in my hand and looked down at the name on the top. “I don’t think so. My appointment is with a D. Tate?”
He extended a hand. “That’s me. Declan Tate.”
“But…you’re…not a woman.”
He smiled again. “You’re correct. Very observant. I am most definitely not a woman. But my last roommate told me I should’ve been because I use moisturizer at night and cried at the end of Marley and Me. And if I’m being honest, I also got a little watery at the end of Toy Story, so maybe I’m a bit of a wuss. Either way, I think you should consider those my positive feminine qualities.”
I was thoroughly confused. “Umm… I’m sorry. You must’ve missed that my ad said female only.”
“Actually, I didn’t. But if you’ll give me just five minutes, I think I can convince you I would be a better roommate than a woman.”
I chuckled. “Let me get this straight… You hid your first name—what did you say it was again?”
“Declan.”
“Right. Declan. Anyway, you applied to an ad for a female roommate, intentionally deceiving the person who is going to decide if you get the room by leaving your first name off. And your strategy is to convince me I don’t really know what I want in less than five minutes? Do I have that right?”
He flashed that boyish charm again. “You sure do.”
I debated how to handle the situation. On one hand, he was going to waste my time, and I had done enough of that today. But on the other, my curiosity was definitely piqued. Something about his grin told me this could be amusing. Screw it. I had nothing better to do anyway.
I opened the door wider and stepped aside, holding my hand out for him to enter. “I’m setting the timer on my phone, and I’m getting a glass of wine before you start. I like a drink while I’m being entertained.”
Declan smirked and strolled into my apartment.
I motioned to the couch. “Have a seat. I’ll just be a minute.”
When I got to the kitchen, he called after me, “Hey, Mollz?”
I turned back. “Yes?”
“How about you make that two glasses of wine?”
I chuckled. “Sure. Why not, Decs.”
I poured a couple of glasses of pinot grigio and returned to the living room.
“Here you go. Hope you like white.”
“You see? We’re perfect together already. I prefer white over red.”
I brought my wine to my lips. “Yes, perfect. A match made in heaven. I think we might even be soul mates.”
Declan showed me his pearly whites once again. He really did have a great smile, nice teeth, too. Too bad he also had a penis. I knocked back half the contents of my glass and placed it on the coffee table. Picking up my cell, I swiped to the timer app and set it for five minutes.
I showed him the screen. “You ready?”
“I’m always ready.”
I pressed start, placed the phone face up on the coffee table between us, and folded my hands. “Go.”
“Okay. Well…what’s your favorite color?”
“My favorite color?”
Declan pointed to the timer. “Time’s a ticking, Molly. I’m going to need you to not repeat questions.”
I laughed. “Fine. My favorite color is pink.”
Declan reached into one of his pant pockets and pulled out a set of keys. The keychain had a bunch of pink beads with white letters between each one. The letters spelled out his name. “Mine too.”
I arched a brow. “Did you make that yourself?”
“No. My niece, Arianna, made it for me.”
“So how do I know that isn’t just Arianna’s favorite color?”
“Good point. Let’s move on. Your ad said you work nights.”
“That’s right. I’m a nurse. I work the night shift on the maternity ward.”
“So you sleep during the day, then?”
“I get off at seven, and I try to get to sleep as soon as I get home.”
He held his hand to his chest. “I work days. I leave for the gym by six and usually don’t get home until after seven at night. So the apartment will be quiet when you need it to be.”
I nodded. “Okay. I’ll give you that that would make you a good roommate. But most people work days, so it’s not really something that makes you too special.”
“Do you cook?” he said.
“Does macaroni and cheese count?”
“I grew up in a multigenerational Italian home. My nonna taught me how to make sauce from scratch.”
“So you’re going to cook for me?”
“If that’s what it takes to get this apartment, yes.”
“As tempting as that might be, there’s an Italian restaurant around the corner that makes great food. Funny enough, it’s called Nonna’s Place, and an actual nonna makes most of my meals. Not a knockoff.”
Declan took an exaggerated breath and blew it out. He glanced at the cell on the table. “Three minutes and thirty-eight seconds. I can see you’re not going to make this easy. How about you tell me why you can’t have a male roommate so I can address that head-on. Is it because of the toilet-seat thing? Because I have four older sisters, so I’m appropriately trained. When I was eight, I made the mistake of leaving it up once, and my sister sat down where I’d accidentally left a little pee. She dunked my head in the toilet bowl before she flushed. That was the last time I left the seat up.” He held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor. It won’t be an issue.”
I smiled. “It’s not because of the toilet thing.”
“Alright. So why don’t you want a male roommate, then?”
I’d actually never given much thought to why my roommate had to be female. It just seemed natural to have another woman sharing the apartment. “Well…I don’t really have a specific reason. I would just be more comfortable living with another woman. For example, I sleep in a T-shirt and underwear. When I get up to start the coffee, I don’t get dressed. It would be weird to do that in front of a man.”
“Why?”
“Why would it be weird to walk around with my ass cheeks on display in front of a man and not a woman?”
“Yes.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. It just would. I guess because the women I’ve lived with aren’t attracted to other women, so it doesn’t feel sexual in any way.”
“Ah. Now we’re getting to the crux of your issue. So you’re afraid of some sexual tension going on between you and me? Is it because I’m so handsome?”
“What? No! And aren’t you full of yourself, assuming I think you’re handsome, and I’m worried I won’t be able to control myself.”
“Just keeping it real, Mollz. You’re only giving me five minutes, so I’m trying to get to the heart of the reason.”
“I guess I just don’t want to feel like I have to cover up to come out of my bedroom. When I dry my hair, I wear a towel or a bra and underwear—that type of thing.”
“Would you feel you had to cover up if I told you I was gay?”
That question gave me pause. Would I? I wasn’t sure. “Are you?”
“Fuck, no. I was just trying to pinpoint your issue. Is it the fact that I’m a man, or the fact that I might admire your ass if it were on display? Sounds like it’s the latter. So let me put your mind at ease: I won’t.”
I felt oddly offended. “What’s wrong with my ass?”
He chuckled. “I wouldn’t know. I haven’t looked. You know why?”
“Why?”
“Because I’m in love with someone else.”
As insane as it was, I felt a pang of jealousy. “Oh. Well, why aren’t you moving in with her?”
“Because she doesn’t return the feelings…yet. So basically, if your concern about having a guy for a roommate is that he’s going to be checking you out, you have nothing to worry about with me. I’m a one-woman man. If you want, I can give you the numbers of some of my exes for references. I’m no cheater.”
Hmmm… “I don’t know…”
Declan looked down at the clock. Thirty-one seconds were left. “We’re running out of time, so we need to speed things up. How about if I just give you the facts you need to know?”
“That would be good.”
“I’m twenty-eight years old. I make six figures. My credit score is eight hundred and ten, and I have references from previous landlords. I’m neat and clean up after myself. I’m not home a lot, but when I am, I’m pretty quiet. I’m also damn good with a hammer.” He glanced around my apartment and pointed at a hole I’d accidentally made in the wall when I flung the closet door open too hard. “I can spackle that and put on a door stopper so it won’t happen again.” He pointed to the kitchen. “And those cabinets are pretty tall. I’m six foot one. No more having to stand on a chair to reach something on the top shelf. And—”
The timer on the stopwatch buzzed.
“Can I just say one last thing?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“I’ll share my Hulu and Netflix passwords. I have the premium Hulu account.”
I laughed. “Well, those are some pretty enticing qualities for a roommate.”
He smiled. “So I’m in?”
I sighed. “I’m sorry. While I appreciate your tenacity, unfortunately, you’re not. Though I interviewed fourteen other people today, and I have to say, you do seem like you’ll make some other lucky person a fantastic roomie.”
Declan frowned, but nodded. “I figured it was worth a shot. This is a great building, and I work right around the corner. It’s hard to find an apartment where it’s only a six-month commitment.”
“My lease is up then, and I haven’t decided if I’m going to extend or not.”
“See? That’s another reason I’d be perfect. I’m only in town for six more months.”
“I’m sorry. This is definitely a case of it’s me and not you.”
He picked up his wine and guzzled it down before standing and extending his hand. “I appreciate you giving me your time. And thanks for the pinot.”
We shook. “It was nice to meet you, Declan.”
After I walked him out, I shut the door and leaned back against it. What a shame; he really seemed like a nice guy and the best candidate I’d met by a mile. I was just about to go wallow in another glass of alcohol when there was a knock at my door. Checking the peephole before opening, I found Declan standing there.
“I forgot something important,” he said.
“Oh? What’s that?”
He took out his wallet and produced a photo of a nun. “This is my sister Catherine, and it’s not a costume from Halloween. She’s a legit nun. How bad can a person be if his sister is a nun?”
I laughed. “Is this the sister who dunked your head in the toilet?”
He grinned. “It is, actually.”
“Well, I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation between your sister deciding to dedicate her life to the church and you being a good person. Though, even if I take your word for it, it still doesn’t change my answer.”
Declan’s shoulders drooped. “Had to try. She tells me her being a nun won’t get me into heaven. Thought maybe it was good for something.”
“Goodbye, Declan.”
“Later, Mollz.”
***
“So…how’s the roommate search going?” Emma poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the small table in our break room.
I sighed. “Why is it so hard to find a normal person these days? I’ve interviewed more than a dozen people, and not one suitable candidate.”
“Did you post an ad on the employee bulletin board, like I suggested?”
I shook my head. “I don’t want another nurse or tech. It makes it weird at work if things don’t work out.”
“Maybe Dr. Dandy will apply.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “I heard he’s sleeping on Dr. Cohen’s couch until he finds a place.”
That information certainly perked me up. “Really? Will and whatshername broke up?”
“Yup. Lisa in X-ray told me Dr. Cohen told her he’s staying with him. Apparently he and the wannabe actress are finito.”
“Wow.”
Emma smiled. “Yup. And fair warning, my friend… I’m allowing a ten-day grace period for him to grieve the end of a year-long relationship. But after that, I’m going to be up your butt making sure you let the man know you’re interested. He’s not going to be on the market for long, and you missed your opportunity last time he was single. You can’t keep pining for the guy.”
Of course she was right. And while I felt elated that Will was back on the market, the thought of coming clean to him about my feelings made me want to throw up. Will Daniels—or as Emma called him, Dr. Dandy, because of his last name and uncanny resemblance to a male model named David Gandy—and I had been good friends for four years now. We’d started on the very same day at the hospital and had gone through orientation together. I’d had a boyfriend back then, and he’d been seeing a girl from med school at the time, so even though I’d always thought he was insanely handsome, things didn’t bloom until two years ago. And most of the time since then, he’d been seeing one woman or another. Emma was right that the man never seemed to stay single for long.
“He’s going to be at happy hour this Friday night,” I said. “A few of the crew from CCU are meeting up over at McBride’s. I’m curious to hear what he says about the breakup.”
“Does he know you’re looking for a roommate?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, he needs a place to sleep, and you need a roomie.” Emma shrugged. “Timing is everything. Maybe it’s fate and he’ll move in and take care of two of your needs.”
“I think your imagination might be getting ahead of itself. Why don’t we start by seeing if things are really over with him and whatshername? They’ve split up a few times, but he always winds up going back.”
“Okay. But I have a good feeling about you two.”
“Could you possibly have a good feeling about me finding a roommate instead? I just had to pay for another damn ad.”
Emma shook her head. “I can’t believe you didn’t find one decent candidate.”
Remembering my last interview, I said, “Actually there was one who would’ve been perfect—great credit score, neat, cooks, leaves early in the morning, and works long days.”
“So why didn’t you take her?”
“Because she was a he.”
★★★
 
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PENELOPE WARD
Penelope Ward is a New York Times, USA Today and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of contemporary romance. 
She grew up in Boston with five older brothers and spent most of her twenties as a television news anchor. Penelope resides in Rhode Island with her husband, son, and beautiful daughter with autism.
With over two million books sold, she is a 21-time New York Times bestseller and the author of over twenty novels. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and can be found in bookstores around the world.
VI KEELAND
Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles have appeared in over a hundred Bestseller lists and are currently translated in twenty-five languages. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.