Meeting him was a fluke. Dating him was a mistake. Watching him become a drug addict put me through hell. Running was my only option.
I'm running from my demons and when I find out she's trying to escape her past, I know what I have to do.
One broken cop. One woman fighting for her life. A fragile love.
Sinister secrets that threaten to tear them apart.
They've been to hell. The hard part will be finding their way back together.
Releasing October 31, 2016
I pull up in my driveway looking over at the house. What I see pisses me off.
Here she is in a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, hat and glasses pushing a brand new lawn mower.
I make sure I check my temper before I walk over. Right before I cross the street the little girl on the front porch stops me mid step.
She looks like just like her mother, just a smaller version. She is sitting on a plastic little table, that they probably just bought, coloring.
I make my way over to her right when the lawn mower goes off
“I told you I would cut the grass.” I try to sound casual, but the blood in me is boiling, it must be ninety-five degrees outside and she’s wearing enough clothes for a trek across the frozen tundra.
She looks up “I also said I got it, and I would be doing it myself.” The little girl from the porch makes it to her mother and hides behind her, yanking on her pant leg.
The fearful look that she gives me is just like her mother’s. I crouch down, getting eye-to-eye with her and say “Hey there, beautiful. What’s your name?” She doesn’t reply, and instead she lowers her gaze so she is looking at her feet. “I’m Jackson,” I reach out my hand, but drop it when I know she won’t take it. I gesture behind me, as I say “I live in that house right over there. I used to know your great grandma.” I’m trying to draw her into a conversation with me, but nothing I say engages her.
“It’s ok baby, you can tell him your name. Nan used to make him cookies, so you know what that means, she must have really liked him.” She rubs her daughters shoulder.
“I’m Lilah,” she says in barely a whisper.
“That is the most beautiful name in the whole wide world. You’re lucky to have such a beautiful name.” She smiles at me, right as a car back fires. She yells and puts her hands to her ears.
Two things happen at the same time, her mother grabs her and runs toward the house, and I vow to protect them.
“Wait,” I rush after them and make it right to the door before it’s closed in my face. I stand there inside the house and watch them rushing to the corner and hide.
Two broken girls protecting each other against some monster of the outside world. I walk up to them “It’s ok, it’s just a car, it was nothing but a car.”
“Lilah, baby it’s ok, it’s ok. I’m here. It’s ok baby girl, were safe.” She is trying to comfort the little girl who is sobbing quietly in her mother arms. “No one is here baby.”
She looks over at me, our eyes meeting for one minute before she lowers them again.
“Look it’s ok, it’s just Jackson. There is no one here, baby.” She rocks Lilah back and forth. Her back against the wall while she soothes her baby girl whose sobs are slowly stopping, her eyes closing.
“What can I do?” I’m now sitting in front of her not sure how to even start to dissect this.
“Nothing, you can’t do anything for us,” she kisses Lilah’s head. “No one can.”
I ignore that last part not sure how to talk about this now.
“I’m going to go outside and finish cutting the grass, then I’m going to go pick up some food for us. Does she like pizza?”
“Jackson, I don’t know what relationship you had with my grandmother, but I don’t need your help. We will be fine. Please, it’s ok, you can leave.” She rests her head on the the wall closing her eyes, the defeat of the day leaving her body.
“I’m going to go outside and finish mowing the lawn so Lilah doesn’t have to go outside anymore today. Then I’m going to pick up pizza for myself. You won’t have time to cook, so I’m going to pick one up for you. I want to eat with you guys, but I’m not pushing myself on you either after today. Now I don’t want to fight with you or even discuss this, so just nod that you understand?”
She looks into my eyes, but nods yes.
“I can pay you for the pizza? I have money. I don’t need a hand out,” she says while trying to push herself up to go get fucking money.
If she weren’t so scared of things I would punch the fuck out of something right now. “I don’t want your money, now or ever. I have no doubt you can take care of yourself. Consider this a housewarming present.” I get up going to the door not even giving her a chance to say anything else.
“She’s never had pizza before, so can you just get us plain cheese.”
I don’t say anything afraid of what will come out of my mouth. I nod and walk out the door, closing it quietly so as not to wake Lilah.
I close my eyes exhaling the breath that I didn’t even realize I was holding.
“She’s barely holding on while fighting for her life. She has demons, they both do. Whatever happened to them, it’s in there deep. The both of them are so scared, you can practically see the fear coming off of them.” I look over at Brenda who is on her porch watering her plants. “Tread lightly, Jackson, or better yet walk away if you aren’t going to do anything about it.”
I don’t have a chance to respond she walks into her house closing her front door softly, leaving me fighting my own demons.
About Natasha Madsion
When her nose isn't buried in a book, or her fingers flying across a keyboard writing, she's in the kitchen creating gourmet meals. You can find her, in four inch heels no less, in the car chauffeuring kids, or possibly with her husband scheduling his business trips. It's a good thing her characters do what she says, because even her Labrador doesn't listen to her...
Title: The Scars Keeper
Author: Scarlet Wolfe
Genre: YA Romance
Release Date: November 16
My scars are mine alone. They’re the validation of my pain.
The anxiety, anger and sadness I bleed.
My dark secret. A grim, ugly truth.
Most of all, they’re the one thing in my life I control.
It’s inevitable that one day I’ll have to reveal them to someone. What I wasn’t expecting was to share them now with him … with Hayden.
Girls like Avery are all the same. They’re spoiled, superficial blondes who don’t appreciate mommy and daddy’s wealth.
Plastic shells that are empty on the inside.
Or so I thought … but I was wrong.
Avery’s heart is an abyss of emotions. She feels like no one I’ve ever met, wallowing in her insecurities and anguish yet savoring every exciting moment within her reach. I was blindsided by the immense love she was willing to give once she trusted me, and I was left with no choice but to trust her, too, exposing my own pain and scars.
I hate myself for caving in … for loving her. How do you let go of the one person you let in? How do you say goodbye to the girl who trusted you with her body and soul?
I have to leave Avery, and where I’m going, I can’t take her with me. She’s going to believe I built her up only to tear her down, but what she doesn’t realize is unlike her, I can’t change my destiny. I was born into the Knights Union MC, and it’s where I’ll go to die.
“Stay away from me. I swear I’ll do it!”
He takes slow steps toward me, and the dirt, twigs and pine needles rustle beneath his laced-up boots.
“Don’t come any closer,” I order as he gets within ten feet or so and stops.
“Relief or revenge,” he says.
“What?” My hand trembles, and I feel the pressure of the blade against my skin.
“Death … Will it bring you relief or revenge?”
“Both.” He’s stock-still, staring through me with his black eyes. Paired with his grey shirt and ragged blue jeans, he’s menacing, matching the charcoal clouds threatening to soak us above.
“Do you want to know what you’ll get if you slice your neck open?”
“Peace is what I’ll finally get.”
“No. It’s regret. Good memories will flash in your mind, one after another. The dreams you’d hoped to experience in the future will be next.
“Then, I’ll watch it all pass before your eyes as blood squirts and pours from your carotid artery until it’s bubbling out of your mouth, streaming from the corners and dripping off your jaw. You’ll drown from your crimson life on this cold, wet ground.”
I suck in successive sharp breaths before they burst free inside a resounding cry. I pry open my fingers, dropping the knife to the earth before I fall next and hit that cold, damp ground.
I’m on my side and sobbing, watching Hayden come closer. The rain sporadically falls, and as his dusty black boots stand before my face, clean circles appear on them, the dirt washing away from the pelts of water.
He squats in front of me, and if I wasn’t already terrified of myself, I might be of him. My palm and cheek are pressed to the ground as I tilt my eyes up and stare into his.
Thin lips are parted, and jet-colored hair that reaches just shy of his chin is draped around his face.
He grabs the knife, twists his torso, and launches the shiny blade straight at a tree, sticking it as if he’s done it a thousand times.
Moving upright, he steps one foot over to straddle my body, and I gasp. He shoves an arm between my side and the ground before he scoops me up into his arms. Mine circle his neck snugly.
I’m panting for air between my cries, wrestling with confusion over two stark emotions. Anguish that my internal pain didn’t end, and relief that he saved me.
Scarlet Wolfe began writing in January of 2013 as a way to distract and heal from some of the grief she was dealing with after the death of her teenage son.
She instantly fell in love with bringing characters to life. Releasing contemporary romance throughout 2013, she branched out in 2014, adding erotica and teen. In 2015, her first romantic mystery/suspense, The Cassano Series, came to fruition.
When not writing, Scarlet enjoys her time with family and friends and has an addiction to Pinterest. She loves bacon, coffee, stories about possessive, hot alpha males, and other flavors of ice cream besides vanilla. ;)
She hopes her writing will encourage readers to explore their sexuality.
Coming October 24th 2016
Sinfully attractive playboy Nolan Zimmerman was born into a wealthy family, but maintains grueling hours to keep the reputation of his grandmother’s beloved bar as one of the hottest spots in New York. Sexy and independent Sofia Kendall has made her way to the top as a high powered attorney, and she doesn’t have time for men in general. When Sofia is offered a transfer to Manhattan, she’s eager to reconnect with her family but unprepared for a scandalous love affair.
Upon first meeting several years ago, the circumstances didn’t allow Sofia and Nolan to explore the initial spark of chemistry. And as fate would have it, their chances of starting something doesn’t look too favorable the second time around either. Once they decide they can’t be anything more than friends, is there no going back, or will their unrelenting desire for each other be too strong to resist?
Warning: This book is filled with serious angst and star-crossed lovers. If you’re looking for a sexy tale with steamy love scenes, sit back and enjoy the story.
The easy-going way the dark-haired, tattooed woman caresses the strings on her blue guitar, it would seem she was born to be a musician. With her eyes closed, her powerful voice rises out in a gentle melody reminiscing of love and lifelong commitment—even citing the sacred Marine Corps motto with the lyrics “semper fi.” Tiny enough to fit in my pocket, the New York native knows her way around an instrument and can sing a ballad even better than the metal tunes she was belting out earlier. The moment her whiskey-colored eyes land on me and she grins, my dick stirs in my jeans even though my brain knows she’s off limits.
I’d first heard of Chloe Cirillo a couple years back through mutual friends in the business and witnessed her rise to fame in the local music scene. Now that she’s released her first album under rock legend Rod Vaghel’s label and recently completed a countrywide tour, I knew I was a lucky bastard when she agreed to come play at my bar in Brooklyn Heights. I’ve seen several videos of her performing, but none of them captured the sex appeal she emits in person.
After playing the last note, Chloe rides out the wild roar of applause before returning to the microphone. The shy smile she flashes the crowd is genuine and cute as shit. “Oh my god, you guys have been amazing! We’re going to take a short break to catch our breaths, and then we’ll be back to rock this place some more.”
With her departure from the stage, the atmosphere shifts as the crowd breaks out in idle chatter and Alice in Chains plays from the speakers. A hot blonde at my side nudges me with her elbow, grinning from ear-to-ear with the most genuine smile. The floral print skirt and off-the-shoulder blouse she wears, tits almost visible behind the white fabric, paired with the way her bangs are braided off to the side remind me of my best friend Sharlo’s boho chic style.
“Chloe’s awesome, right?” the blonde asks.
“I’ve never heard anything like her,” I concede.
When Sharlo told me she wouldn’t be coming up tonight, I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed. Thought I don’t have the biggest circle of friends, I can usually count on her to hang with me, making late nights at the bar less daunting. But between Chloe and this blonde, things—namely my dick—are looking up. I should probably be ashamed of myself for lusting after these women, but I’m not. A guy has needs. It doesn’t take much for me to get worked up these days.
“She wrote that song for my best friend’s wedding,” the blonde tells me.
“Impressive. Does she write all her own music?”
“You bet your ass she does. There’s a big voice and a massive heart stuffed inside that little body. When she comes back she’ll play the song she wrote for her boyfriend. It’ll knock your socks off!”
Just like that, the excited burn in my balls fizzles. It’s not like I could actually act on my attraction to Chloe anyway, but sometimes the fantasy is as good as the real thing.
“She has a bright future,” I say in response, glancing through the impressive wall of fans packed in around the small stage.
Since my grandma Leona passed ownership of the bar along to me several years back, I’ve busted my ass to keep its reputation going as one of the best in New York with a never-ending list of hot acts. Rock and roll superstar Charlie Walker has become a regular after I first hired his girlfriend at he time, and we slowly became friends over time. His presence has become a big boost for business as people tend to come more often, hoping to catch one of his random performances. Pretty fucking ironic considering I once despised the guy for hurting Evelyn when they were first dating.
But I love the hell out of this place. It’s like home. So I don’t mind putting in the extra time to ensure it continues to thrive. My childhood memories are confined to these record-clad walls and pounded copper ceilings as my father was too busy with his high-powered career and my mother was intent on enjoying the perks of a being a loaded wife to give two shits about their unplanned offspring. Grams took me under her wing and taught me how to appreciate good music, taking me to concerts on school nights and introducing me to every band to set foot inside the bar. When her memory started to lapse, it destroyed me to know it wouldn’t be long before I’d lose the closest family member I’d ever known.
The old Corp nickname jerks me back to reality. When I spin back around, I’m face-to-face with one of my Recon brothers. Theo Roberts hasn’t changed much in the time since we finished our tour except for the non-military length of his dark hair. It’s no surprise to find a leggy brunette tucked under his arm since gorgeous women always flocked to the guy like flies on shit.
Theo didn’t fall into the same category as guys like me who initially signed up to get the fuck away from their families. He was born for the military, knowing most his life he wanted to enlist and checking off every box of a stereotypical Jarhead—thick with muscle, ballsy and determined, courageous, dirty-minded, and filled with the highest morale.
The Corp was good to me for the most part. I forged many unbreakable bonds with the guys and gained some valuable life experiences. Some of the shit we saw and the things that happened while stationed in Afghanistan, however, turned into endless nightmares that kept me awake at night for years to follow. When I’m struck with a sickening flash of fucked-up memories by looking into Theo’s eyes, I’m reminded why I’ve purposefully kept my distance from the guys in my unit.
“Jesus Christ, Big Rob!” I step forward as he releases the girl and we clap each other on the back in the biggest bro-hug known to man. “Where the hell have you been hiding, brother? Did you go back to the Bronx?”
“We just bought a place in the Upper East Side.” He steps back to wrap an arm around the attractive woman. “Kel, this is Nolan Zimmerman. We did a tour in the Corp together. You won’t meet a crazier fucker than this one. Son of a bitch is lucky to still have his nuts intact.”
Grinning, the woman offers a small wave of her hand. “Hi, I’m Kelly.”
“My wife,” Theo adds, beaming with pride.
My mouth lags open for a second before I have the presence of mind to snap it back shut. Theo was once the biggest player I knew, so it’s a mind-fuck to hear he’s settled down.
“Good on you, man,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest and smirking at the wife. This one is attractive and has a sophisticated aura unlike some of the shallow bimbos he hooked up with the short time we were training in Honolulu. Oorah.
“This place is great.” Theo takes a sweeping glance around the place before his eyes settle on the stage. “When Chloe told me she was playing at Leona’s, I forgot it was your grandma’s bar.”
“Actually it’s mine now,” I say with a shrug, hoping he’ll drop the subject before I have to explain her ailing condition. “So you’re friends with Chloe too, huh?” I tip my head in the direction of the hot blonde still lingering behind Theo and Kelly, giggling with a small group of women. “Do you know her too?”
“That’s my bestie, Jewels,” Kelly tells me with a wave of her finger. “And you can wipe that hopeful look off your face because she’s taken in every sense of the word. Married, kid on the way, the whole nine yards. Don’t worry, you’re not the first guy to ask about her.”
“Aren’t you married?” Theo asks, cocking one eyebrow. “Between that pretty-boy mug of yours and your family’s money, I figured you’d always be the first in the unit to bite the bullet.”
I lift one shoulder and shake my head in response. Thank Christ, I’m far from it. “I’ve dated a few girls. Just haven’t found the right one.”
“‘Bite the bullet’?” Kelly repeats, crossing her arms over her impressive rack and glaring at her husband playfully. “Really?”
Theo pulls her into his thick embrace, chuckling. “Relax, Cavenaugh, you know I’d take a bullet for you any day.”
When she turns into him and he buries his face in her thick hair to whisper something, I look away. I’ve had my share of women over the years, but the closest I’ve had to a meaningful relationship is with Sharlo, and she chose to be with someone else without ever giving me the chance to be something more. The thing is, she’s the only woman who seems to have zero interest in my inheritance since she also came from money and is mostly unimpressed by wealth. And most women who hit on me have the kind of shallow personalities that make me cringe. Sharlo’s the only woman I genuinely enjoy being around. In a city populated by millions, why is it so fucking hard to find another good one?
As if the mere thought of Sharlo conjured her, I spot the top half of her blonde head making its way through the crowd toward the bar. If I weren’t so jealous that she’s starting a family, I’d bust a gut laughing at the way she waddles now that she’s far into the third trimester of her pregnancy.
Nudging Theo’s arm, I say, “I’ll be right back. Stick around and I’ll buy you and your friends a round of drinks while we catch up some more.”
“Alright, brother,” Theo answers, knocking his knuckles against my raised fist.
As I close in on Sharlo, now perched on one of the bar stools, I stop dead in my tracks. Sofia Kendall stands wedged in-between a few guys waiting to put their orders in with one of the waitresses. Navy wool coat draped over her arm, she glances around the bar, her gaze relaxed and curious. With her pale blonde hair swept into a neat knot low on the back of her head, the delicate features of her neck and chin are on clear display. She’s a total knockout.
Not only that, but the woman knows how to dress to impress in a tasteful sapphire dress that showcases her curvy body without being tacky and showing off too much of her tits. In her no-nonsense attitude alone it seems she made the right career choice by becoming an attorney. Her bright blue eyes are as intimidating as the way she carries herself, shoulders taut and chin high, but it seems something about her has changed since I had the pleasure of seeing her last.
Two summers ago, I met Sofia just moments after she arrived at Evelyn and Charlie’s beach house in the Hamptons. We didn’t have the best introduction—not only did I knock her into the bushes, but she insinuated that I was a playboy and gave me a cold shoulder. It was hardly an hour later when Sharlo was struck down by some psychotic driver with a grudge against her father. Sofia was there to witness it happen and somehow took on the burden of the accident, saying it was her fault. I never got all the details even though we spent countless hours together in the ER, waiting for Sharlo to wake from a coma.
Sofia leaned on me both literally and emotionally, but there wasn’t time for any meaningful conversation and it was shit timing to make any kind of move. Her internship forced her to leave before I had the chance to grow a pair and see if there was something between us worth exploring. Of course I would meet someone with potential who lived way the hell down in Texas. Bright, beautiful, no-nonsense, sophisticated, driven, she has the potential to be everything I could want in a woman.
The low burn in my balls from earlier returns when I take another sweeping glance at her figure. How the fuck did I forget that Sharlo told me she’d be coming to visit for the baby shower? But isn’t that in a few weeks? Hell, I don’t know dates without looking at my phone.
Scolding myself to man-up, I finish the distance between myself and the women, stopping to scratch my fingertips inside Sharlo’s thick hair.
“Surprised to see you here,” I say.
“Merely because I’m as unsightly as a blowfish in heat doesn’t mean I’m unable to show my future sister-in-law a good time. But trust me when I say you don’t want to know what I’d do for a shot of whiskey at this point.” My friend turns to me with a sideways smirk before kissing my cheek. With a glow to her cobalt eyes, she taps Sofia on the shoulder. “Love, you remember my mate, Nolan?”
Even though I keep the bar’s lighting dim enough to help everyone relax and unwind, I swear I see a flush fill Sofia’s cheeks when she looks over her shoulder from a few feet away. Not the kind of reaction I’d expect from the hard-nosed law student I met once upon a time.
Fuck. I forgot how irresistible I found her. Her body felt so soft and delicate against mine as she slept in a hospital chair at my side, her silky hair draped over my arm and her jasmine scent driving me wild. It was like having a fucking steak dangled in front of my face. And not just any steak—a filet mignon aged to perfection.
“Yes, of course.” She recovers with a graceful smile. “How are you, Nolan?”
For a split second I consider throwing her the line, “better now that you’re here,” but think better of it. Someone as polished as Sofia Kendall wouldn’t appreciate the lame attempt at humor. She may be the only woman I’ve met who’s completely out of my league for countless reasons.
“I’m doing well,” I answer with a solid smile, jamming my fingers inside my jeans pockets when it’s clear she won’t be offering her hand any time soon. “Welcome back to the city.”
I wave a hand over my head to grab Hope’s attention from behind the bar and point at Sofia, signaling her drink will be on the house. Hope, the bar’s manager Grams hired right before her memory started to fail, wiggles her eyebrows suggestively before dipping her chin with understanding.
I look away, grumbling to myself. It never fucking fails. Whenever there’s a good-looking woman in my presence, I have to endure constant shit from my staff.
“It appears this Chloe has drawn a brilliant crowd,” Sharlo comments, scanning the sea of people. Then her humored expression swings to me as she quirks one brow. “Did you acquire her number?”
One of the biggest problems with having a woman as a best friend? Sharlo doesn’t forget a single fucking thing. When I first caught word of Chloe a while back and looked her up on social media, I had mentioned in so many words I thought she was hot.
Grinding my teeth together, I say, “You know that’s not an option.”
Sofia turns with a martini in hand, beautiful blue eyes wide. “Don’t tell me you’re still single.”
I bristle, not ready to tell her the truth. I’m not even sure I know the fucking truth at this point.
Another dark flush fills Sofia’s face. “I didn’t intend for that to come out as snarky. I simply meant…”
Biting down on my lips, I hold back a chuckle. Even though she irritated me with the single comment, it’s still sexy to see her vulnerable side come out.
“No worries, love,” Sharlo intervenes with a smirk. She leans back on the stool to stroke her swollen belly. “You’re not the first to question how such a handsome bloke has flown under radar for so long without snagging a bird in his undercarriage.” Though I’m subtly warning her with a glance to stop, she continues on. “This bar has become his mistress of sorts. He merely fails to understand that life can exist beyond these four walls.”
Sharlo’s like the little sister I would’ve had if my parents had created yet another inconvenient screw-up, but times like this I wish she’d think before opening her mouth. Resisting the urge to chew her a new one with the familiar “Team Nolan” speech, I stab my thumb over my shoulder.
“I need to head back to the stage before Chloe starts up again,” I tell them. “I was catching up with an old buddy from my Recon unit and said I’d only be a minute.” I offer a friendly smile to Sofia. “It was good to see you again. I hope the city treats you well while you’re here.”
Wow, that was slick. What am I, the fucking ambassador for New York? All I know is the way Sofia looks at me with those sparkling blue eyes does things to my head that I don’t have time for when she’s only in town for a short while. Besides, I have no business thinking about her that way. I need to get the fuck outta here before I say something really asinine that will bite me in the ass later.
“I’m staying in New York,” she blurts. “I mean…permanently.”
When I frown and shake my head, waiting for her to clarify, she simply stares back at me, clearing her throat. I could stand back and watch her squirm all day. Something tells me it doesn’t happen that often, and it’s fucking hilarious.
“Sofia has accepted a transfer with Anisten and Behr to their office in Manhattan,” Sharlo cuts in. “New York just acquired the country’s best up-and-coming corporate lawyer.”
“I was under the impression you had an aversion to this city,” I tease Sofia with a quirked eyebrow, hoping she can’t see the excitement I’m trying like hell to contain. “Last time I saw you, it seemed you couldn’t blow out of here soon enough.”
With a coy smile that lights her eyes, she tells me, “I decided there’s no use fighting it. First Evelyn moves here, then James…seems everyone in my family is destined to live in The Big Apple.”
Sharlo throws me a predictable—nonetheless still incredibly annoying—wink. “She’s staying with us until she finds a rental. Perhaps you could help her find something reasonable in your neighborhood. Tribeca is quite lovely. I imagine you’d fancy taking a break one day this week to provide her with a proper tour.”
Hell yes I’d like to give her a tour. The idea of spending time alone with Sofia has me so adrenalized that I stutter on a reply. “I can—I mean, I could—”
“You don’t have to,” Sofia insists, holding one hand up as her shoulders square. She’s so damn sure of herself that it’s easy to envision her taking charge in the courtroom…and in bed. “The firm hired a realtor to assist me. I’ll do just fine on my own.”
“Shar’s right, I could use a break,” I say. “I’ve spent my entire life in Manhattan. If you want someone to show you around the city, I’m your man.”
All at once, slender fingers wrap around my wrist and I’m met with the familiar, peppery perfume that I swear to god I’ve formed an allergy to. I flinch when thin lips press to my cheek. Why did she have to fucking kiss me in front of Sofia?
“Correction, you’re my man,” Avery says possessively. Her intense green eyes immediately narrow on Sofia. “Who’s this?”
Other books in The Kendall Family Series
Brooklyn Rockstar The Kendall Family #1
Add to Goodreads HERE
Midwest Fighter The Kendall Family #2
Add to Goodreads HERE
Jennifer Ann is the pen name used by Jen Naumann when writing steamy romance novels with complex love stories. Like her characters, she's in love with the city of New York, rock concerts, and Marines. Sometimes you can catch her driving a tractor alongside her husband in southern Minnesota while trying to keep up with the madness of their four active children.
The whole world might be in love with him. But all he’s ever loved is her.
Grant Turner’s name is synonymous with football. The fans and media can’t get enough of the player known as The Invincible Man, a nickname he earned while growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country and the nickname he’s kept by being one of the best players in professional football today. No one can take him down. He’s unstoppable.
But even a suit of armor has its weak point, and Grant’s has always been Ryan Hale.
They were a couple of kids when they fell in love, and just when it looked like the happy ending neither expected was within reach, Ryan disappeared. No explanations. No good-byes.
Grant coped by throwing himself into the game for seven years, and he’s finally moved on. Or so he thinks.
When she walks back into his life, all of those feelings come crashing back, despite the warnings in his head that tell him she’ll leave him again. Grant can withstand the league’s toughest defensive line, but he’s always been weak where she’s concerned.
No man can take Grant Turner down.
But one woman certainly can.
One woman will.
ONE MOMENT YOU’RE soaring. The next one, you’re touching down, scraping rock bottom.
I never planned on coming back here. The day I fled The Clink was both freeing and debilitating for a multitude of reasons I had no interest in revisiting. It had been the only home I’d ever known. It had housed the only people I’d ever loved. Still, I knew when I left seven years ago, I’d never be able to come back. That was the way it would have to be.
So why was I coming back now?
For another multitude of reasons I had no choice but to respect. That was what I kept reminding myself of as I turned onto the block that had been the one beacon of hope in this urban heart of darkness. Juniper Avenue was the official name, but all of us kids had only known it as Aunt May’s.
All of us kids who’d grown up in one of the prison-like subsidized housing complexes stretched across the one-square-mile stretch of land known as The Clink. It was one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country—violence the way of the land, drugs the currency of the kingdom. Murder, domestic violence, drug use, unemployment, ex-cons—The Clink was known for every last one of them.
It was basically a cesspool of humanity. My childhood home.
If it hadn’t been for Aunt May, I never would have escaped The Clink. If it weren’t for her, none of us would have. That was why I’d come back. For her. To say good-bye.
But I’d also come back to see him. To say what had been seven years coming.
Aunt May’s funeral was my chance to make my peace with the dead. And the living.
Just thinking about confronting him made my hands tremble, which made trying to squeeze my old Toyota into the parking spot tricky. As expected, the streets around Aunt May’s house were packed. Everyone from the corner drunk to the mayor knew who Aunt May was and would want to pay their respects to the person she’d been.
The lives she’d saved from these streets couldn’t be counted on a hundred sets of hands. I was just one of those lives. He was one of the others.
Even though he lived thousands of miles away now, I knew he’d be here tonight. I needed him to be here tonight because I’d run out of options, and one day, I’d run out of time too.
Typically these streets were not a place a woman wanted to roam on her own at night, but tonight, I wasn’t worried. Tonight, in honor of this woman, the streets would be at peace. Tonight, the gangs would set aside their turf wars, and the criminals would play nice. It was The Clink’s version of an armistice.
After locking my car, I forced myself to take each step that brought me closer to Aunt May’s house. Each one became harder to take, until the one that would lead me up her front walk felt impossible.
The sight of her house hit me harder than I’d expected. It looked exactly the same, from the lace curtains hanging in the windows, to the beds where her rose bushes had been put to rest for the season. Flowers didn’t grow in The Clink—mainly because people didn’t have any disposable income to spend on them or any patience to tend to them—but they grew here. They had always grown here, and something about realizing that now that Aunt May was gone, that might change, made my eyes burn.
The house was packed with so many bodies, people were starting to trickle out onto the front porch. There was music playing in the background, friends were catching up, lovers were embracing, and it looked more like a summer party than a fall funeral. But that was the way Aunt May would have wanted it. She wouldn’t have wanted people to mourn her death—she would have wanted them to celebrate their own lives.
From the looks of it, she’d gotten her way.
Despite the dread clawing up my throat, a smile started to journey into place as I watched the scene before me. That first step onto hallowed ground became possible, and before I knew it, I was crossing the threshold of the front door.
A few people nodded at me in passing, but it was too dark outside for recognition to settle into the brief exchange. I knew that would change when I stepped into the light of the house.
How right I was.
I could practically feel the whoosh of air crash over me as it felt like every head in the room twisted my way when I stepped inside Aunt May’s house for the first time in seven years. Some of the faces I recognized, some I didn’t, but it felt like every person recognized me. I was met with everything from eyes filled with accusation to brows raised in judgment, but I knew I deserved it.
I hadn’t just been another one of the many children Aunt May set a warm meal in front of or provided a safe haven when there was no other safe place. I’d been one of her favorites.
If you asked her, she’d say she loved all of us the same, but certain ones of us had been labeled her favorites. The truth of it was, it wasn’t because Aunt May held any more affection for us than the others; us “favorites” were the ones whose home lives were the most fucked up. The ones who spent more time with Aunt May than the rest because going back to our shithole apartment in one of The Clink’s Tower Apartment Complexes felt like playing a game of Russian Roulette each day.
So yeah, I’d been deemed one of Aunt May’s favorites because my childhood had come right out of the Fucked Up Guidebook. He’d been one of her supposed favorites too, for the exact same reason. That was a big part of the reason we’d bonded as kids. Our connection had been forged in the fires of a proverbial hell on earth. Our bond built by our shared struggle to survive.
We’d all paid a price for reaching adulthood. For some of us, the cost had been our innocence. For others, it was our soul.
My price for being here today was both. And more.
As my inspection moved from one person to the next, I felt my heart crawl higher into my throat, knowing he was close. Feeling he was close.
That was when I saw him. He was in the middle of the living room, surrounded by a crowd of people and towering even more above the mob than I remembered. It had been seven years since I’d last seen Grant Turner. An entire lifetime had passed in that time. But instead of feeling the anesthetization seven years should have tempered the pain with, the sting felt seven seconds fresh.
Time hadn’t dulled the pain; it had clearly only sharpened it.
I’d barely had a moment to brace myself for the onslaught of feelings that came at me from seeing him again, before his head finally followed the direction most of the others in the room had taken. Right toward me.
His jaw set the moment he saw me, his posture going rigid the moment after that. Clearly, time had not eased any of his pain from my betrayal either.
Then, as quickly as his attention had fallen on me, it fell away. He angled himself so his back was to me, putting up what I hoped wasn’t an impenetrable wall between us. I knew leaving the way I did must have hurt him. I knew it had to have confused and angered and betrayed him . . . but it had been seven years. Grant Turner wasn’t the same boy struggling on the streets of The Clink. His name was known by millions, his life a true Cinderella story. The troubled boy from The Clink became the man whose name was synonymous with professional football.
His life had gone from microscopic to all-encompassing. I’d assumed he’d buried what had happened between us in some unmarked grave and forgotten about it and me years ago. I’d come prepared to remind him of who I was and then bridge the reason why I was back, but I had not come prepared to take on a scorned lover. I’d come equipped to explain myself, not to defend myself, but from the look on his face just now, I’d have to do both.
Following his lead, most of the people in the room got back to doing what they had been before I showed up, seeming as content to ignore me as he was.
My arm curled around my stomach like it was trying to keep me from breaking in half. Too much. Too fast.
What had I been thinking, coming back after all this time? After the way I’d left? After the way I’d hurt Aunt May and Grant with my abrupt disappearance? What I had to tell him would be difficult to tell a closest confidant—how was I supposed to explain it to someone who clearly couldn’t stand me being in the same room as him? How could I expect him to listen to what I had to say once I worked up the courage to voice it?
I looked over my shoulder, eyeing the door I’d just come through with a bit too much longing. I couldn’t leave. I’d come to make peace, and I was going to do just that. No matter how much it cost me.
That was when I felt an arm slide through one of mine, as someone started to lead me into the kitchen. “Welcome to The Pariah Club. Your membership card’s in the mail. Here’s a new member tip—if it feels like everyone in the room is silently judging you, it’s because they are.”
The voice was familiar, and when I matched it with the equally familiar face, I nudged my fellow pariah in the side. “How much are the annual dues?”
Cruz tapped his chin a few times as he steered us through the herd of people that had overflowed into the kitchen. “Just your dignity, self-respect, and faith in humanity.”
I felt a smile surfacing. Cruz’s gift of making people smile had transferred into adulthood. “What a bargain.”
After Cruz had steered us into a somewhat private spot in the kitchen, he crossed his arms and waited with an expectant look on his face. I wasn’t sure what he was waiting for, but that might have been because I was still reeling from being plunged so suddenly into my past.
“So?” he prompted, rolling his hand a few times at me. “Are you going to explain what happened seven years ago, or are you just hoping I’ll be content to pick up right where we left off?”
My forehead creased. “Kinda hoping we can just pick up where we left off.”
Cruz looked like he was considering that for a minute, which gave me the opportunity to catch my breath. Confronting The Clink, Aunt May’s house, and Grant all within the same five-minute span made me feel like the room was spinning. Not to mention the eyes I kept feeling zeroing in on me—everyone’s thoughts were almost as loud as their words.
At least with Cruz, I knew I was safe from the judgment. Safe because he’d been a lightning rod for it, growing up as one of the few openly gay kids in The Clink. Being one of the only out-of-the-closet gay boys living in a neighborhood where testosterone and overt male bravado ruled the streets hadn’t been easy for him. He’d survived it though, his humor and ability to laugh at himself his saving grace.
“Lucky for you, I’m one of those people who’s okay with forgiving and forgetting. Even when a good friend bails without so much as a good-bye or an occasional call to let her worried-sick friends know she’s okay.” Cruz’s brow carved higher into his forehead. “But I know someone who isn’t so into the forgive-and-forget philosophy.”
My gaze followed Cruz’s into the living room, where it was impossible to miss Grant’s imposing frame. His back was still to me, almost like he was acutely aware of where I was and determined to keep his back pointed my way.
My shoulders fell. Once upon a time, we’d been each other’s everything, and now, I felt as though we had nothing left of what had been so grand and beautiful. “He was really angry with me, wasn’t he?”
“Oh, cupcake, angry is for guys who wear polo shirts and walk miniature doggies. Angry is not for the likes of Grant Turner.”
Cruz and I exchanged a look. The realm of average human emotion had never been quite appropriate for Grant Turner. From the time he’d moved to The Clink with his dad all of those years ago, I’d known that. There’d been an intensity about him, a spirit that wound deeper into his core than most.
“So you’re saying he was really angry after I left?”
Cruz smiled tightly, patting my arm a few times. “He was the human equivalent of Chernobyl. How about we leave it at that because that’s as fitting of a metaphor as I’m capable of right now?”
My heart ached as I imagined the pain I’d caused him—for the one-millionth goddamn time. “That was forever ago. He’s moved past it, I’m sure.”
“Sure, sure,” Cruz agreed, waving in Grant’s direction. “Just look how at moved on past it he is.”
My eyes stung from watching how Grant seemed to prefer the company of everyone besides me. It felt like yesterday when the opposite had been true. I wouldn’t cry though, no matter how badly my eyes burned. I’d dried myself out years ago.
“I never meant to hurt him,” I whispered. “I never meant to hurt any of you.”
Cruz wound his arm through mine again. “I know that. Aunt May knew that. Hell, even Grant knew that.” Cruz paused, his face turning toward mine. “But that doesn’t mean you didn’t hurt us.”
My body leaned into his, almost like I needed his support because I was unable to stay upright on my own. It was odd the way our roles had shifted. Back then, it had been Grant and me who Cruz leaned on for support, and now, I was leaning on him.
“I’m sorry.” My words came out louder than I’d intended, drawing the attention of a few people close by.
If Cruz noticed my louder-than-needed apology, he didn’t show it. “Apology accepted.” His arm wound around my back when my head dropped to his shoulder.
“Do you think apologizing to Grant will be that easy?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
“Has anything been easy where Grant Turner and you are concerned?” I didn’t have to give that a moment’s consideration.
“No. Nothing ever has been.”
It never would be either.
Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.
I dropped to one knee and stared at the little boy who looked like he might be sleeping amongst the dust and debris. Brushing off the bits of rock and rubble from his face, I picked him up and hugged him close. Despite all my prayers, I knew deep in my heart he was dead, like all the others in this God forsaken mess that surrounded me.
“Declan. We’ve got to go.” Brannon’s voice seemed distant.
Something red and blue caught my eye. It was a little stuffed horse. Had it been the boy’s? Goddammit, be careful, you’ll drop him. Regaining my balance on the cement fragments, I bent down and picked up the toy and put it on the child’s chest, cuddling both of them closer to my heart.
The little boy had lived in this house, one of three destroyed in one fell swoop, killing innocent women and children. The damn headdress obscured my vision for a moment, or was something else in my eyes? I saw something move towards me. Men with shovels, running and shouting. After a moment, I understood them. They were right. Maybe there were survivors. I could help look, or at least help dig out the remaining bodies.
A warm hand touched my shoulder. I turned, it was Brannon Dodge. “We’ve got to go.”
“I did this.”
“No. No, you didn’t. Dec, we’ve got to go.” The body of the little boy was cooling in my arms despite the heat surrounding us. He would never grow up. Never go to school. Never become a man.
“We’ve got to leave the country,” Brannon insisted.
“I’m not leaving.” There was no way I was going back to the US. I’d help these men bury their loved ones. If they realized I was an American, so be it. I deserved whatever happened. The intelligence provided by one of my men had done this. Death would be welcome.
Brannon called out loudly in their native tongue, “Whose son is this?” A crowd of men swarmed and one sobbed.
“My boy. My boy.” The man trembled as I carefully placed the precious bundle into his arms, making sure the stuffed horse stayed with him. He wailed loudly in his grief, as people huddled around him, trying to offer sympathy. Brannon grabbed at my arm. I was just too tired to pull away.
Step after step he dragged me. I couldn’t help myself, I kept looking backwards at the devastation I’d wrought. Homes that an hour ago had held happiness, joy, and dreams of a future.
“Let me go, Brannon. I need to stay.” I jerked away.
“Not going to happen, major.”
So fucking tired. How many days had we been there? We’d been weeding through leads and chasing our tails for what seemed like forever. The team had been shot at, stabbed, and now this. Laird was barely hanging on and had been sent to Germany.. My thoughts sent the bile rushing into my mouth and I doubled over losing the little bit of food I’d eaten that morning. Brannon stood there, then I made a run for it
“Declan, they’ll figure out you’re an American. You’ll be killed, or worse.”
I turned to tell him to shut up, and met his fist. It all went dark.
You want to know about me? I believe in three things: loyalty to my friends, helping those in need and
the end justifies the means.
Declan (Shadow Alliance Book One) by Caitlyn O’Leary
releases October 26th!
Pre-order your copy at the following retailers:
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2dWDWUO
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2dQqCnY
Some serious shit went down when I was in the Army. I mean brutal. After my last tour, I created the Shadow Alliance. Me and my team know how to get things done, and will take on all those jobs that others won’t. My name is Declan McAllister and when it comes to keeping people safe, I’m your man. Mess with me and I will rain hell-fire on you like you’ve never experienced before.
Few things get my motor running like beauty and brains. Okay, a nice ass doesn’t hurt either. Getting a chance to work with FBI Agent Allison Davies, who is the whole package, normally would be great, except when she followed my butt down to the flood ravaged country of Paraguay to track down a traitor, and ends up putting her career on the line.
Now here we are attempting to keep things professional, but the more I watch Allison pour her heart and soul into this case, the more I want to see what that same passion would be like between the sheets.
Caitlyn O'Leary is an avid reader, and considers herself a fan first and an author second. She reads a wide variety of genres, but finds herself going back to happily-ever-afters. Getting a chance to write, after years in corporate America is a dream come true. She hopes that her stories provide the kind of entertainment and escape that she has found from some of her favorite authors.
Her Series Include:
It's a bit Paranormal, a bit Sci-Fi and 100% Action/Adventure. The characters have special abilities, that make them targets.
This is focused on a group of Navy Seals. What makes them special is their bond to one another, and the women they come to love.
This is the series that started her career, it is a Menage Series that takes place in Fate Harbor Washington. It focuses on a tight knit community who live and love and care for one another.
Stalk Her: Website, Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads.