flash fiction

A Special Treat for Newsletter Subscribers

I'm doing something special as a big thank you to my most dedicated readers. If you sign up for my newsletter, you're going to get a serialized short story sent straight to your inbox — all for free. Here's how it works...

• Sign up here for news and freebies from me: http://eepurl.com/Z83_T

• On the first Monday of the month you'll get a chapter of my short story The Lady Always Wins. It's a total rewrite of a Wattpad story I wrote for the XOXOConfessions writing competition last fall, so don't worry you'll be getting brand-new story every month. And even better, it's set in the same world as my new Governess series, so you'll get some character cameos no one else will know about!

• Here's a look at what the story's all about:

Miss Catherine Milford is an unashamed spinster with no intention of living a quiet life of obscurity. Sir Ian Randall is one of London's most notorious rakes-and bored to tears of the ton. Neither of them are looking for love, but a bet, a ball, a balcony, and a deliciously seductive kiss are all it takes to make them question everything.

• And that's it! If you miss a month or sign up for my newsletter a little late, you'll be able to catch up on Wattpad. Here's the thing to remember, Wattpad's going to be a month behind because this is a special offer for my newsletter subscribers to get a taste of some sexy, smart historical romance before anyone else.

Valentine's Rewind

Thanks for stopping by and celebrating the unofficial holiday of romance novelists — Valentine's Day. This year, more than 20 authors have joined together for the Valentine's Rewind blog hop. Today I'm revisiting Chris and Annie, my couple from "The Wedding Week" in One Week in Hawaii. I hope you enjoy!

 

♥♥♥
"A Day All Their Own"

February 13

Annie Kalani stood in her kitchen, coated in flour, and wondered what the hell she’d been thinking. In front of her lay the scraps of her second failed attempt at handmade pasta. The first was half on the floor and half in the brushed stainless steel trashcan that sat to the side of her island.

She pushed a hand through her hair, no doubt leaving streaks of white through her haphazardly pulled back ponytail that was starting to escape its elastic. It had looked so easy when Chris had made her pasta last Valentine’s Day. He’d kneaded the dough with smooth, confident strokes and fed it through the hand-crank machine almost lovingly. Food seemed to come to life in his hands.

The same couldn’t be said for her.

Annie was a competent cook—she’d give herself that much. On nights when Chris worked late at his restaurant and she was too tired to drive down to join him for a meal at one of the tiny back tables, she could whip up something for one with the usual efficiency she employed in the rest of her life.

But apparently she needed more than competence to make what was supposed to be a stunning Valentine’s meal.

Annie braced her hands against the island’s glossed stone countertop. “Okay, you win,” she muttered, admitting defeat. She had a backup plan — steaks grilled on the little barbecue that sat on her balcony — she just hadn’t wanted to use it. But Annie could tell when she’d been beaten.

Her hands were full of broken pasta strands when she hear keys jangling outside her door. Her eyes darted to the clock. How was it ten already?

She dumped the pasta in the trash and brushed her hands off on her apron as best she could as Chris pushed the door open. He hadn’t even crossed the threshold when he stopped, his eyes fixed on her.

She spread her arms wide, more than a little sheepish. “Dinner may be a disaster.”

Without breaking his gaze, he set his keys down in a bowl on the side table and let the messenger bag she knew would be packed with his clothes for the next day fall to the floor. He closed the gap between them in a few steps, and her whole body flushed with warmth. After a year and a half he could still make her blush like a sixteen-year-old girl with a crush.

His hands slid around her waist, and she tilted her chin up to catch his lips. He kissed her like he hadn’t seen her in months, his tongue slipping between her lips. She tasted sweet basil and the sharp tang of vine-ripened tomatoes, the ghosts of the dishes he’d been preparing at the restaurant.

Annie sighed against his chest, the tension in her shoulder relaxing just a little. This was where she wanted to be. Always. This was where she belonged.

“Hi,” he whispered against her lips as he smoothed a lock of her hair back behind her ear.

She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against his. “Hi. How was work?”

“Busy. We’re getting ready for the big day tomorrow.”

They’d long ago reconciled themselves to the fact that theirs was never going to be a conventional Valentine’s Day. Chris was a chef and she was an events planner. Love was good for business, and they’d both be working at least a sixteen-hour day on Valentine’s. He would man the kitchen at the restaurant, and she would be caught up in coordinating a seemingly effortless romantic wedding at one of the island’s resorts a Los Angeles-based couple. If Chris and Annie were lucky, the might stumble into bed at the same time the following night.

That’s why February 13th was their day—a fake Valentine’s that meant so much more because they had it all to themselves.

“So what’s this disaster?” he asked, pulling back to peer over her shoulder.

“Remember that beautiful saffron-infused pasta you made me last year?”

He nodded.

“Apparently I’m not very good at making pasta. It keeps flaking and breaking apart,” she said.

He reached up and brushed a thumb over her tawny beige cheek. “I’ve always liked my women covered in flour.”

She swiped at her cheeks and her forehead. “Damn, I thought it was just in my hair.”

He laughed. “Babe, it’s everywhere.”

She stuck her tongue out at him.

“Are you hungry yet?” he asked.

“I’m not starving yet, but I could get steaks going if you are.”

“And give up on this? Not a chance. We’ll need to let the dough rest, but if you don’t mind a midnight dinner—”

She laced her fingers through his. “I’m not tired.”

“Come on.” He tugged her by the hand toward the island. “Let’s do this together."

Chris reached for the oversized mason jar of flour Annie kept on the counter and began mounding flour in front of them. “How about beating a few eggs?”

She nodded and pulled three eggs out of the refrigerator, cracked them into a bowl, and whipped a fork through them until they were a uniform golden yellow. Then she handed him the bowl and watched as he poured the eggs into a well he’d made in the flour. Keeping one hand clean, he mixed and gradually pulled more and more flour into the eggs until the dough formed.

“Could you take over kneading for a minute?” he asked, throwing a glance over his shoulder. “I’m just going to change my shirt. I smell like a kitchen.”

She raised an eyebrow. “If you think you can trust me not to destroy the pasta.”

He brushed his lips against her cheek as he switched spots with her. “Always.”

She focused on kneading, enjoying the slightly giddy sensation of happiness that had wrapped itself around her. The dough was already silky to the touch, the apartment smelled like cooking and food and home, and Chris was here with her. It was enough.

Annie was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn’t realize he was behind her until his arms circled her waist. Instinctively, she let her head fall back to his shoulder as he dropped a kiss to her collarbone.

“You’re good at that,” he said with a nod to the pasta dough in her hands.

“Now you’re just flattering me because it’s almost Valentine’s Day.”

A laugh rumbled through his chest.

“Besides, do you know how much pressure it is cooking for a chef?"

“Even in your own kitchen?” he asked.

“It’s easier here than at your place,” she admitted. “At least I don’t feel like I’m invading your space.”

His left hand stroked down over the soft cotton of her top and along the side of her stomach, just glancing over the hem. “What if your space was my space?”

Her hands paused. “What do you mean?”

He held up his right hand and uncurled his fingers. Two brass keys hung from a simple silver key ring. Her stomach jumped to her throat in anticipation.

“So I’ve been thinking—”

“You’re asking me to move in with you?” she asked in a rush, spinning in his arms and planting two doughy hands on the front of his shirt. He didn’t seem to care.

“I know we haven’t talked about it much, but I have a patron at the restaurant who’s a real estate agent. He’s been keeping an eye out on the market for me and took me around to see this place before prep today.” He let out a breath and shook his head. “Annie, it’s amazing but if you don’t like it we can have him keep looking. That is, if you want to live together.”

She looked from him to the keys and back again. Her new business, his restaurant, their growing relationship — things had been going so well for the last eighteen months that she hadn’t wanted to disturb their flow. But now Chris was standing before her with keys in his hand. Moving in with him would be a huge leap of faith but, in some ways, hadn’t they already done that? She’d given up the security of her wedding coordinator job at the Kuhio Resort & Spa and he’d walked away the opportunity to man a five-star restaurant at the same hotel. In some ways, they’d committed to one another before they’d even said “I love you.”

“Where is this dream apartment?” she asked.

“Kolohala Street.”

Her brows shot up. Kolohala Street ran through the heart of Waialae Kahala — an affluent neighborhood of older Hawaiian homes and newly built beachfront mansions. It was the sort of place where people put down roots. Where people started families and carved out lives together.

“Really? A rental in Waialae Kahala?” she asked.

Chris cleared his throat. “It might be a rent-to-buy property.”

“Is that right?”

He shot her a sheepish grin. “And I should probably warn you, it’s actually a dream house and not a dream apartment.”

“And when do we have to let your friend know?” she asked, inwardly smiling at how much he was trying to reign in his enthusiasm and failing.

“We have the keys until Monday. I figured since both of us will be off, we could drive over in the morning.”

It was all so simple. So straightforward. She could imagine them driving up, looking at the house, and just knowing. There would be paperwork and budgeting and all of the complications that came along with moving, but in some ways none of that mattered. She was already sure of one thing: Chris.

“Well then,” she said with a smile, “it looks like we’ve got a hot date to see a house.”

“Really?” he asked, practically vibrating with excitement.

She looped an arm around his neck and brought him down to her. “I’d be happy to move in with you, Chris Benson.”

He grinned a little wider. “This dough has to rest for at least an hour. Want to go makeout?”

She brushed her lips to his. “I think we can get a whole lot more creative with an entire hour ahead of us. Besides, it’s Valentine’s Day.”

♥♥♥

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed revisiting Chris and Annie, failed pasta making and all! If you want more stories like this, be sure to sign up for my newsletter. The next stop on the hop is the wonderful Rebekah Weatherspoon. Be sure to comment on each story to be eligible for the massive giveaway at the end. Thanks for joining us for #ValentinesRewind! ♥

The Lady Always Wins, XOXOConnects, and More!

If you've been following me on social media, you know that I'm right in the middle (literally) of writing book two of a three book trilogy about Victorian governesses that's tentatively set to release next year. It's been a busy, busy fall already but I'm poking my head out of the writing cave today to share a few more things that I think are pretty exciting. The Lady"The Lady Always Wins" 

First off, I've got a new short story up on Wattpad! "The Lady Always Wins" is a super fast read jam-packed with a rake, spinster, some kissing, and a big confession. I had a blast writing it, and I hope you'll enjoy reading it too. If you do, please give me a vote and leave a comment! That helps other readers on Wattpad find "The Lady Always Wins" too.

 

#XOXOConfessions

I wrote "The Lady Always Wins" because my publisher, Pocket Star, is hosting a writing competition for readers that's going on right now. All you have to do is write up a quick short story (2000 words or less) and post it to Wattpad using the tag #XOXOConfessions. The grand prize is a publishing contract with Pocket Star, the digital-first imprint of Simon & Schuster! Full details are available here, and definitely check out the stories already posted to vote for your favorite!

49116-XOXOConnects-Social-Media-Asset-1XOXOConnects

#XOXOConfessions  is actually part of the bigger XOXOConnects all-day readerfest that's happening right on your computer Oct. 24 from 12-8! Writers, editors, and bloggers will be hosting Q&As, teaching workshops, and celebrating everything romance. It's all digital so you don't even have to get out of your PJs if you don't want to.

I'll be on the historical roundtable with Sabrina Jeffries, Meredith Duran, and Candace Camp at 5 p.m. EST. It's running on Google Hangouts just like my First Draught show does, so be sure to watch live!

The entire schedule of events has been posted (and includes some huge names in romance).  You definitely don't want to miss this one!

That's the latest from me. It's back to the writing cave for now!

Under the Pear Tree

***UPDATE: YOU CAN NOW DOWNLOAD THIS STORY TO YOUR KINDLE OR IBOOKS APP*** I have a present for you, dear reader. This holiday season I wanted to write a free short story to say thank you to everyone who has read my work and followed this blog throughout the year. Out of that came the idea for the 12 Days of Christmakwanzaka Blog Hop, hosted with my dear friend Alyssa Cole, and this Victorian-set historical. "Under the Pear Tree" is the story of two people taking a leap of faith to see if they can find their happily ever after together. 

Happy holidays, everyone! 

12 Days Revision

 

Under the Pear Tree

December 24, 1883

“We could play charades,” suggested Lady Hawley.

“Mamma, we played charades last night,” said her daughter, Margaret, in an indulgent tone. “It wouldn’t do to bore our guests. Don’t you agree, Eleanor?”

“Hmmm?” Eleanor asked, for she hadn’t been attention at all. Instead she’d been trying her best not to let her eyes fall on Lord Michael Hawley. Normally his rather handsome face would be a pleasant distraction, but not now. Not on this very disappointing Christmas Eve. “I’m sure whatever you pick will be quite enjoyable.”

Of course he was the reason for her disappointment, she thought as the other ladies went back to discussing the night’s agenda. He was the reason for everything. Sitting in spindly chairs at ball after endless ball, she and her London friends liked to dream of the day she became Lady Hawley—something that her family's annual trip to the Hawley family's home had confirmed would never happen. Ever.

Despite wearing her best dresses and putting on her brightest smiles, the baron had been nothing but polite and warm to her, almost brotherly. One afternoon she’d spotted a tiny package under the tree with her name on the tag, and her hopes had soared. Perhaps Michael had thought of her after all. But by evening it was gone again, no doubt mistakenly labeled for her by one of the servants.

Eleanor was coming to accept that difficult truth that all Michael saw when he looked at her was the little girl he'd once fished out of Blackburn Pond after her youngest sister, Charlotte, planted a frog in the bottom of Eleanor's rowboat. She'd capsized in all her humiliated glory as he and Julian lounged on the bank watching and laughing.

Now, Eleanor sat contemplating how she could quietly slip out of the drawing room and retire to her room. Perhaps she could beg off with a headache.

She nearly had her escape route planned when Charlotte called out from across the room, "Let’s have carols, Lady Hawley!"

"Charlotte." Her voice was a low warning that did little to hide her annoyance at her sister’s imperiousness.

Margaret clapped her hands, "That is just the thing!"

“I think that carols would be a lovely way to end the evening. Miss Morris,” Lady Hawley said, “will you accompany us? We all know you excel at the piano."

So does every other gently-born lady in Britain, she wanted to respond. But Eleanor rose anyway. When the Hawley matriarch asked something of you, you snapped to it.

Page Divider

A dull pang throbbed in Michael's chest as he watched Eleanor move to take her seat at the piano. He raised a hand to surreptitiously rub at the spot even though nothing was going to ease the ache. The plain truth was that he wanted this woman. He'd wanted her since visiting the Morris after his Grand Tour with Julian two long years ago. Eleanor had breezed into the drawing room fresh from a walk in the park, and his heart had dropped through the floor. He'd never quite found it again.

No doubt Mrs. Morris would be as overjoyed as Julian would be horrified if her eldest daughter formed an understanding with a baron, but Michael wasn't sure how Eleanor felt. With friends and family she was all warmth, her joy radiating out with such brilliance that it was a wonder every man wasn't in love with her. Around him, however, her smile seemed brittle. She grew stiff, as though his very presence made her uncomfortable.

And yet, he refused to go down without a fight. In the pocket of his dinner jacket, he touched her present wrapped in red and gold paper. It was a frivolous thing, but the idea struck him a month before and he'd been unable to shake it. He'd told himself it didn't matter whether it pleased her or not, but it did. It mattered more than anything in all of England.

From his seat next to Julian’s, he watched Eleanor sit at the piano bench, the long skirts of her bustled dress fanned out behind her. Every instinct screamed at him to drag her up into his arms and finally claim her with a kiss. Enough of this waiting and watching, wondering if she could ever love him. He wanted answers.

Without another thought, Michael was on his feet and striding towards her. "Eleanor, you need someone to turn the pages for you."

He hadn't asked whether she wanted his assistance because he wouldn't entertain the thought that she might banish him back to the corner of his own drawing room.

She didn't look at him, instead turning her head slightly to expose the long, graceful slope of her neck. "Thank you."

The rest of the guests began to gather around the piano. Michael slipped a hand back into his pocket and grazed her present with his fingertips again.

Soon.

Page Divider

Quiet had settled over Blackburn Manor by the time Eleanor opened the door of the room she shared with Charlotte and stole out into the corridor. Her back ached for she'd played late into the night. The merry little party sang every Christmas song and hymn she knew. "Deck the Halls", "O Come All Ye Faithful," even "Away in the Manger" although hardly any of them knew more than the first verse to the new carol. Despite her exhaustion, her whole body pulsed with energy.

She blamed Michael, of course. He'd stood so close to her, it was a wonder she’d been able to play at all. The scent of wool and spice enveloped her every time he reached over to turn the pages of her sheet music. Once he leaned a little too close and the cuff of his jacket brushed the bare skin of her neck. Awareness exploded through her body like fireworks, and her fingers missed a chord. She wanted to feel those sparks again.

Rather than stay in her room running through the evening over and over again in her head while her sister slept, she'd pulled on her dressing gown and slippers and escaped.

Eleanor crept along the corridor with nothing but the low flicker of gaslights to light her way to the library. There at least she could find comfort and distraction among the books. Softly, she twisted the doorknob and let herself in. The dying embers in the fireplace warmed the room, and the pine garlands that hung along the mantle scented the air. She closed her eyes to breath in deep. "Peace."

"Is that what you've come looking for?"

Eleanor's eyes snapped open, and she watched, stunned as Michael unfold himself from a wing-backed chair facing the fire. He wore no jacket or necktie. His shirt was undone at the collar, the sleeves pushed up to reveal forearms corded with muscle from years of riding.

It was all utterly indecent and thoroughly tempting.

Eleanor knew that she should turn around, march back upstairs, and hide under the counterpane. Instead, she swallowed her propriety and closed the door.

Page Divider

Michael had cursed himself when he'd been unable to separate Eleanor from her family at the end of the night. They'd tumbled upstairs in a ball of mirth, leaving him alone in the drawing room, her present still in his pocket.

But now she stood before him with her hair tumbling down her shoulders like a Burne-Jones painting, ethereal and angelic. She'd cinched her pale green dressing gown tight around her waist, but it gapped open a little at the top giving him a glimpse of the embroidered edge of a white nightrail. He wanted to slip his fingers along the edge and feel the smooth skin underneath.

He shook his head to clear the fog of lust clouding his mind. "Were you unable to sleep?" he started again.

"Perhaps I'm too excited for Christmas Day," she said.

He grinned. "At least you're wearing slippers this time. I remember one year you were caught creeping downstairs in bare feet to look at the tree."

Her nose scrunched up. "How was I supposed to know that your father would keep to his early riding schedule even on Christmas?"

"He was like that."

Her face softened, and she looked up at him through thick, black lashes. "I'm sorry to have mentioned him. It must be difficult."

He shook his head. "We miss him, but we have your family with us."

"And we make a cacophony loud enough to distract anyone. I do apologize," she said in a wry tone as she brushed an errant strand of hair away from her face.

They stood there, the air humming with unspoken tension. Her state of dress was just this side of respectable, and he wasn’t much better. It should be so easy to just kiss her and find out whether she welcomed it, but there was something he had to do first.

Screwing up his courage, he stepped forward. "Eleanor, I have something for you."

Page Divider

Eleanor froze as she watched Michael picked something up off of a low table next to his chair. It was a small, flat package wrapped in red and gold striped paper. The same one she’d spotted that afternoon and hoped was from him.

He held the present out, standing close enough that she could see the shadow of his beard coming in. She wanted to feel the rasp of his whiskers against her fingers. She could too if only she reached across the gap between them.

"I’ve been waiting to give this to you, but we’re so rarely alone,” he said, saving her from herself.

Excitement bubbled up in her. "Michael—"

"Take it. Please."

She took the package, undid the gold ribbon bow that held the paper together, and opened the box. Nestled on a bed of white tissue was a thin golden twig with a pin affixed to the back of it. Her heart beat a little faster. He'd given her a broach. A lovely broach.

"Do you remember coming to Blackburn Manor one summer when you were just sixteen?" he asked.

She turned the piece of jewelry over between her fingers. "Of course."

"You used to sit under a pear tree and read," he said in a rush as though he, Lord Michael Hawley, was nervous. "The tree was dying and had to be removed this autumn, but I asked the gardener to keep a little bit of it for me. I had it made up into a broach because it reminded me of you."

She blinked in surprise, hardly knowing what to say. It was such a little thing, and yet for him to remember...

"Michael, it's beautiful," she whispered.

He looked almost bashful now. "I hoped that you might like it."

She let out a low, long breath. Then, before she could stop herself, she went up on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. Her lips brushed his skin, and she started to pull back but his hand caught her around the waist. He gathered her to him, tilted his head just the slightest bit to the left, and finally—after years of hoping he would—he kissed her.

Michael's lips worked over hers as she melted into him. He tasted like nothing she'd imagined. He was cool and fresh, and she opened for him just a little more so he could run his tongue over hers. The sensation left her just a little drunk on something she didn't know the name of. When he finally let go of her she had to lean into him for support.

"Was that okay?" he asked, his thumb coming up to trace the line of her jaw. She nudged her cheek into his fingers until his palm opened.

"That was exactly what I wanted for Christmas."

A low chuckle rumbled in his chest. "I've waited far too long to do that." Joy filling her so fully that she felt as though she might float out of the room. "I think I've loved you from the moment I saw you eating berries with your book beneath that tree."

Her breath caught in her throat. He loved her? All of those nights wondering if he would ever look at her as anything but Julian's sister evaporated. Toying with the fabric at his collar, she confessed, "I've loved you from afar for so long."

He dropped a kiss to her forehead. "I wasn't so very far away."

Her fingers clutched at the fabric. "It didn't feel that way."

That earned her another kiss, this one as breathless as the last.

"I want to court you, Eleanor," he murmured against her lips. "I would marry you tomorrow if I could."

"On Christmas Day?" she asked with a smile.

He laughed. "Happily, but not without dragging the archbishop out of bed for a special license and risking gossip. I want everyone to know how proud I am to have you for my wife when we wed. I don't want there to be any doubts that this is a love match."

She tilted her head to one side, contemplating his proposal as he ran his finger down the length of her neck. "Julian will be horrified."

"Julian will learn to like the idea. He’ll have to,” he said pulling her even closer to him. "Tomorrow I will ask your father's permission, and if he agrees we can be engaged soon."

Eleanor shot him a look. "Don't believe for a second that Mother will stand for being left out of that conversation."

He chuckled. "I learned long ago to fear the wrath of Mrs. Morris' displeasure as much as my own mother's. I will ask both your parents and then you can make up your mind about me."

This. This moment was the happiest she’d ever been. All of the disappointment and waiting, the wondering and doubt fell away. All she knew was what it felt to be in the arms of this man—the man she loved.

She draped her arms around his neck and tilted her head back to smile at him. "Michael, I made up my mind about you a long time ago."

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Thank you so much for reading! This is the first day of the 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop. I'm sharing the day with the talented Falguni Kothari. You can read her story by clicking here.

To see a full schedule of the authors coming up on the 12 Days Blog Hop, just click here or follow #12DaysHop on Twitter.

For more stories like this and to keep up to date with release dates, sign up for my newsletter.

The 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah

12 Days Revision

[UPDATE: Brief summaries of the stories have been added to help recap the first week. The remaining stories will have their blurbs added daily as the hop continues!]

Welcome to the 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop! From December 8th to December 19th, more than a dozen of your favorite authors are publishing free short stories about the winter holidays. You can expect fantastic stories from contemporary, historical, M/M, NA, and YA authors.

Here’s a schedule of authors and links to their work. Check back throughout the blog hop for live links to each of the stories, and tweet along with us using #12DaysHop.

 

December 8

Falguni Kothari

Starstruck – Things heat up when publicist Tania Coelho escapes from an industry Xmas party only to get trapped on a slow elevator ride fwith her client’s “fiance,” Bollywood heartthrob Veer Rana. Veer’s engagement is a sham, but could what he feels for Tania be the real thing?

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Julia Kelly

Under the Pear Tree – Eleanor has given up on the hope that Lord Michael Hawley will ever see her as anything other than his best friend’s little sister. Michael believes that Eleanor sees him as nothing more than her brother’s friend. When they’re bought together for a family Christmas gathering, they find that their friendship may have planted the seeds for the best gift of all.

Story | Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

December 9

Audra North

Shine A Little Light – What could drive a Sunday school teacher to drink before noon on Christmas Eve? When everything Graceanne thought she knew about her life, and her fiance, is shattered, she finds more than a stiff drink waiting for her at the bar—she finds solace, and a new chance at love.

Story Website Facebook | Twitter

Alexis Anne

Under the Bright Morning Light  – a Storm Inside short story – Jake and Eve have been trying for a baby, but are they ready to deal with the outcome if the stick shows a plus sign? Eve isn’t so sure.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Shari Slade

Christmas Mess – a The Opposite of Nothing short story – Callie is bringing Tayber home to spend the holidays with her family for the first time. The fear that her family will drive Tayber away gnaws at her, but he finds a naughty way to remind her that nothing can change how he feels about her.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

December 10

Kate McMurray

Let Your Heart Be Light – Living in New York City is Milo’s dream, but dreams don’t come cheap. Unable to fly home to visit his family, Milo is resigned to spending the holidays alone until a night of karaoke turns into a chance at holiday romance.

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Lashell Collins

A Kinky Kelly Little Christmas a Kelly Family short story – Doms Storm and Payne are checking items off of their Christmas list. What can Payne get for his sub to let her know how special she is to him?

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

 

December 11

Amber Belldene

An Almost True Story – Amelia Scola looks like a bad girl, but even bad girls get into the holiday spirit. When in a rush to get to a hospital where she’s playing the role of Mrs. Claus, she’s pulled over for speeding by Vic Lopez, known as the softie of the police force. Can a bad girl gone good and a cop who isn’t afraid to cry find holiday love?

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Tere Michaels

Fathers of the Bride – A Faith, Love, & Devotion short story – Matt and Evan experience the emotional roller coaster of their daughter Katie’s wedding day. In the midst of a mix of apprehension and joy, the two rely on their love for each other and their family to carry the day.

StoryWebsite Facebook Twitter

Mary Chris Escobar

Kiss, Continued – Jeff and Annie met while participating in a filmed kiss between strangers, but when they discovered he was her advisor they decided to call the relationship off. But sometimes a kiss isn’t just a kiss, and a holiday drink could lead to a second chance at love. 

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

 

December 12

K.M. Jackson

Holiday Longings – In this roaring 20s-set short, Rosemary will do anything to make sure her family stays afloat, even if it means putting herself at the mercy of the only man she;s ever loved. When she steps into Stone Donnelly’s speakeasy, she’s ready to sing for her supper, but she’s not prepared to lose her heart a second time.

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Tamsen Parker

A Thrill of Hope – Sophie doesn’t mind the tall drink of blue-eyed scruffiness who falls asleep on her during their flight to New Orleans; he’s a welcome distraction from her lack of anticipation at visiting her family. When her seatmate offers to take her out for a drink, she leaves the morose Sophie her family expects behind and takes a chance at love.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

December 13

Lindsay Emory

A Room at the Inn – Annie’s flight gets delayed in Reykajavik on Christmas Eve. When all of the hotels are full, she anticipates a night spent on the floor of an Icelandic airport. Instead, she meets rock star Cord DeBose. Being a rock star has its perks—like hotels offering you presidential suites. Cord has a room, Annie doesn’t. What could have turned out to be Annie’s worse Christmas ever quickly becomes one she’ll never forget.

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Rebekah Weatherspoon

Blessed – a FIT short story – Violet is feeling more Scrooge than Tiny Tim when she breaks her ankle right before Christmas, but her boyfriend/Dom Grant is determined to draw out her holiday spirit, even if it means being naughty instead of nice. 

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December 14

Recap Day

 

December 15

Lena Hart

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Jenny Holiday

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December 16

Alyssa Cole

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Rebecca Grace Allen

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December 17

A.L. Parks

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Dina Haynes

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December 18

Alexandra Haughton

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Kathryn J. Benson

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December 19

Amy Jo Cousins

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T.J. Kline

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A New Look

A couple of my short stories are getting a fresh, new look thanks to Audra North who designed the covers. You can download both Accidentally (On Purpose) and Earn It at major ebook retailers (although I'm still waiting on Barnes & Noble and will update once that's up). Most are priced as free right now, and I'm hoping that soon Amazon will match to make both stories free as well. UPDATE: Amazon has price matched Earn It and Accidentally (On Purpose) so they are now free for Kindle! Also I'm now a Goodreads author!

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Nook books now available. Thanks for being so patient, Nook readers!

What do you think of the new look?

Beautiful portrait of young man lips

Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | Smashwords

JK-Earn It-band FINAL

Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | Smashwords

And don't forget that my anthology One Week in Wyoming is coming out September 9th!

OneWeekInWyoming-1600x2400

Available for preorder at iBooks!

First Kiss Undressed

Earn It

FirstUndressing1-300x300Jana was done.

Just fucking done.

She slammed the door of her tiny studio apartment and let her purse slide off her shoulder. It fell with a thud to the cheap, laminate floor. Her boots were covered with mud thanks to a speeding cab hitting the wrong puddle at just the right time, she was soaked from the torrential rain, and she was pretty positive she had a snag in her last pair of tights. Now all she wanted in life was a glass of bourbon the size of Texas and a long soak in a steaming hot bath.

She threw her keys down on the bar at the end of her hallway and shucked her coat off. Snatching up a bottle of Jefferson’s, she marched straight into the kitchen, threw some ice cubes in the glass, and poured.

The sweet burn of the bourbon hit the back of her throat, and her tense shoulders dropped an inch. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but it was a start.

Glass in hand, she wrestled her way out of her boots. It was more than likely that the churned up grease, dirt, and mystery gunk that accumulated on every Manhattan road would fuse with the leather, ruining the shoes. The next logical step would be to grab a kitchen towel and clean them, but it was Friday night and she was in a foul mood.

Reaching around her back, she pulled on the zipper on her dress to free herself. It was halfway down when the harsh sound of the door buzzer cut through the silent apartment, making her jump. She frowned at her intercom. She wasn’t expecting anyone.

The ice cubes in her glass rattled as she padded over in her ruined stockings and hit the “Talk” button. “Who is it?”

“Me.” The crackle of street noise obscured his voice, but she’d have known Wes Murphy’s voice anywhere. After all, she’d been in love with him for nine years.

She leaned hard on the button, willing him away even as she asked, “What are you doing here?”

“You told me to stop by and pick that book up.”

She dipped her head so her forehead bumped the edge of the intercom. She’d totally forgotten they’d emailed from their respective desks earlier that day. She’d teased him about not having plans on a Friday night. He’d asked what could be better than digging into a new book—added bonus that he got to see her. The no doubt careless words had melted her just a little. Now with her back up and her temper flaring, they just pissed her off.

Still, she pressed the “Door” button long enough to make sure he cleared the double door of her building’s lobby.

Knowing she looked a hot mess and caring not even the littlest bit about it, Jana went to hold the front door open. She liked listening with anticipation as his feet fell heavy on the two flights of stairs to her walk-up apartment. The top of his head would bob up first, giving her a glimpse of the thick curls he wore cropped close to his head. Then she’d see that grin as he spotted her. The grin that made something twist inside of her.

It was no different this time, except that she was sopping wet with her arms crossed over her chest.

Wes’ smile faltered just a little at the sight of her, but then came back at full force. “You’re wet.”

“Bad end to the week,” she muttered.

“I’m sorry.”

“So am I.” She stepped back to let him into the apartment.

Once inside, Wes peered around at the carnage. “What happened to your shoes?”

“Boots,” she corrected. “I had a run in with a cab.”

“Who won?”

She shot him a look and turned retrieve his book from the living room.

“Your dress is unzipped.” He said it as though it was half question, half revelation—like he had only just realized that Jana got undressed like every other woman.

“And?” she challenged him, hands on her hips.

Wes approached her slowly, looking for signs of an attack all the way. She thought he might be angling for a hug or some other show of friendly camaraderie for her rotten day, but instead he put a hand on her shoulder and spun her around. She could feel the weight of his fingers on the zipper tab that hung between her shoulders.

He pulled carefully, stretching the moment out. The intimacy of it cut through her. She nearly gasped as the zipper went lower. Lower.

Keep it together.

She might have stood a chance and been able to move away to safety, but then Wes touched her. A finger traced the line of the zipper down her spine until it stopped at the small of her back. When he stepped back, she was shaking.

With a hard swallow, Jana looked over her shoulder. His gaze fixed on the skin he’d just exposed. His tongue flicked out over his lips.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“Just helping.”

And wasn’t that just like Wes. Hold her in a hug just a little too long. Tuck her hair behind her ear. Work her shoulders over with his hands to ease the tension of the day away. He kept doing these things before hiding behind the barrier of their friendship. She was tired of this bullshit.

“Wes, kiss me or get out of this apartment. That’s all I can handle tonight.”

He was on her in a flash, his lips crushing hers with nine years of pent up need. She pushed up into him, pouring every once of anger at the day, desire for him, and annoyance at herself that she hadn’t commanded him to kiss her sooner. When his hands plunged into her hair and pulled a little, she gasped, giving him the chance he needed to rough her lower lip with his teeth.

“Jana,” he groaned as his hands dipped into the gaping back of her dress.

She pressed her body against the hard length of his before shoving his leather jacket off and tugging the hem of his worn in t-shirt over his head. Her hands ran down his arms, chest, stomach, wanting nothing more than to explore the man who knew her best and was still a mystery.

Her dress fell to the floor. All that covered her was a thin silk slip. He ran his fingers under the straps. “I’ve never seen a girl wear one of these,” he said, breaking the hot, frantic pace to reveal something sweeter underneath.

She looked up at him. “Now you’ve seen me.”

“Is that okay with you?”

Rather than answer, she lifted her hands to the thin straps and pushed them off her shoulders. The silk pooled at her feet.

He followed suit, undoing his belt and pushing his jeans off.

Standing there in the middle of her apartment—nearly naked—they simply stared. She’d never imagined their relationship would come to this. Ho could she when he’d never done anything?

I never did anything either.

“I’m glad you finally kissed me,” she breathed.

He reached out and stroked from her elbow to her wrist before lacing their fingers together. “I’m glad you finally told me to.”

“I’ve been telling you for years, you just haven’t been listening.”

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Then I’m glad I finally paid attention.”

He pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her so that all she could do was rest her cheek against his chest. That was just fine with her.

“We’re going to bed.” His voice reverberated low through his chest. “Then tomorrow, if you haven’t kicked me out of your apartment yet, we’ll take it from there.”

“And what if tomorrow works?”

“Then we see about the next day. I’ve waited nine years to get up the courage to kiss you. You think I’m letting go now?”

It was her turn to smile. “As though I’d let you.”

“I’m still going to want that book.”

She cast her head back and laughed. “Earn it.”

With a grin, he boosted her up so her legs wrapped around his waist and walked her across the living room to her bed. When her toes hit the edge of her bed, he murmured against her lips, “I will. Promise.”

 

 

Thanks for reading! This is part of the First Undressing blog tour.  The full schedule is posted on Audra North's website and please check out today's other posters Amber Belldene and A.L. Parks!

If you liked this story, please consider signing up for my newsletter for the latest news on releases, free short fiction, and giveaways!

The First Kiss Blog Hop

FirstKiss-iconI couldn't be happier to be participating in the First Kiss Blog Hop! In March a video of strangers kissing for the first time went viral. It was sweet, sexy, and compelling. It turned out that those strangers were actors, but it inspired a group of more than 20 authors to write first kiss short stories of our own.

Today Mary Chris Escobar, Pieper Vaughn, and I are posting our installments of the First Kiss Blog Hop. I hope you enjoy this short story and check out all of the other authors too!

"Accidentally (On Purpose)"

It was official.

I was going to kill my roommate as soon as I got home.

I stood in the middle of an airy Brooklyn studio adorned with nothing more than a camera, tripod, and complicated rig of lights. My right hand smoothed up and down my left arm — a nervous, child-like gesture I’d never shaken— while I tried to calculate exactly how many seconds it would take me to sprint out of the metal double doors, through the lobby, and down to the comforting anonymity of the street below.

The click of a heavy boot on white-washed floorboards made my head snap up. I spun on my heel to see Jessalyn, filmmaker and my tormenter for the day, approach. Behind her followed the most beautiful man I’d even seen.

He wore his hair cropped as close to his head as the clippers could go which only served to bring out the sharpness of his cheekbones. His deep brown skin glowed like he was lit from within, and his eyes flashed with a spark of amusement behind a pair of thick, navy rimmed glasses. But it was his lips I couldn’t stop looking at. Full. Beautiful. Biteable.

Who are you?

I laced my hands together to keep from broadcasting my nervousness. This man was so far out of my league it was laughable. Whether he was Jessalyn’s assistant, colleague, or partner didn’t matter. He wasn’t for me.

But someone else was.

I swallowed hard as Jessalyn asked, “Are you ready to start, Meredith?”

“Su-sure,” I stammered.

The woman put a hand on my arm and smiled. “I promise you’ll forget the camera is here as soon as we get started.”

I very much doubted that. You see, I was about to kiss a total stranger. On camera. While it was rolling.

The thought made my stomach flip. Growing up I was the type of girl who threw up before going on stage during mandatory school musicals. Thankfully I’d grown into a slightly less tragic version of myself, but I still required a pep talk complete with notes before every phone call. I was the last person who should be doing this. And yet I had agreed to it.

I couldn’t tell if Jessalyn chose to ignore my obvious distress or really didn’t see it. Either way she turned to the god of a man standing next to her, and said, “This is Meredith.”

He stuck out a hand, his smile warm yet shy. As if I wasn’t a melted pool of woman already.

“I’m Jason.” The bass of his voice rumbled through me as we connected — palm to palm. I don’t know whether the voice or the touch made me shiver more.

“Great,” Jessalyn clapped her hands together. “Let’s get started. It’ll just take a minute to get the camera rolling.”

I glanced around me looking for my leading man before meeting Jason’s eyes accidentally (on purpose). He stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. Suddenly it all dawned on me.

Jessalyn wanted me to kiss Jason.

Oh fuck.

The urge to run gripped me, but it didn't stop me from sending up a silent thank you.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

A quick shake of my head and I squeaked out, “Nothing!”

Very convincing, Meredith.

We stared at each other in silence. Jason cracked first, the edges of his lips quirking up. “It’s kind of awkward isn’t it? The whole kissing on camera thing.”

I huffed out a breath. “Beyond awkward.”

He cocked his head to one side. “So why do it?”

He didn’t know me. I could have told him anything, but the truth was a lot easier than concocting some lie on the spot. “My roommate went to college with Jessalyn. It’s hard to say no to Becca, so when she said they needed volunteers for this project I just sort of agreed.” He started to nod, but that wasn’t everything. “And I might have been drunkish at the time.”

That got a full-fledged, from-the-belly laugh from Jason. My heart pounded a little faster. I liked that I’d been able to make him laugh like that.

“My sister got me. She thinks I don’t take enough risks,” he said.

“Older or younger?”

“Older. Of course. She always thinks she’s right.”

The words tumbled out before I could stop myself. “That’s probably because she is.”

"Don’t you ever tell my sister you said that,” he said.

“Your secret is safe with me.”

Now over the worst of my embarrassment, I'd apparently decided to try flirting with the man assigned to lock lips with me in a few moments. That was new for me, yet something about the fact that I knew we'd be kissing soon calmed me. I suddenly felt bolder than I had in a long time.

I could do this. I just had to kiss Jason. My task wasn’t exactly torturous, and no one would blame me if I enjoyed it.

That cool, collected attitude lasted until Jessalyn called out from behind the camera, “I’m rolling! Whenever you guys are ready.”

I froze.

Finally Jason reached out and touched me. He placed a gentle hand on mine to stop its anxious rubbing at my other arm. His fingers entwined with mine. He stepped forward and caught up my free hand, running his thumb over the pale skin of my wrist. My mind stopped racing. All I could focus on was him.

My gaze slid up to find that his dark, rich eyes had softened. “Is this okay?” he asked.

He was concerned about me. He wanted to know if this was really what I wanted.

Yes.

The answer hit me with such force it sent me reeling. I wanted to taste him. To feel his beautiful mouth under mine. To press flush against him while the power of that strong, tall body loomed over me. I wanted this stranger.

Screwing up my courage, I rose on my tip-toes and brushed my lips over his. He didn’t move, only tightened the grip on my hands a fraction. I took that as encouragement, a silent nod that this was okay. With a little less caution, I feathered his lips again before pulling back. His move.

With the utmost care, he traced his hands up my arms until they framed my face. Then Jason kissed me right.

His lips opened over mine, inviting me in. There were no sparks or symphonies — none of that movie stuff — only a deep, delicious burn that coursed through my entire body. I needed to feel more. Without thinking, I brought my hands to his biceps and dragged my body closer. His arms dropped to my waist to pull me in.

A low moan reverberated through his chest as he ran his tongue over my lower lip. I gasped my mouth open just enough for him to slide in and stroke me. He tasted of a hurried mint to mask a cup of coffee. I sighed and poured my hunger for this stranger into every suck of my lips and lick of my tongue. I let myself sink into the fantasy.

Just as quickly as the kiss started, it was over. Jason broke the connection before it crossed from slow and seductive to something more fiery. Regret sliced through me. I began to ease away, but he tightened his fingers at my hip and brushed his lips over mine once more. Only then did he release me, his hand lingering a moment longer than perhaps it should have.

I stepped back, stunned by the heat that rose up in my cheeks, as he fixed me with a smoldering stare.

“That was—“

“Yes,” I cut him off.

“Yeah.”

“That was great guys!” shouted Jessalyn from across the room.

The studio. The camera. The waiver I'd signed. It all came rushing back, forcing me into a reality I wasn't ready for.

“We’re done?” I tried my best to keep my voice neutral.

“That’s it. Easy, right?” asked Jessalyn.

“Easy,” I repeated.

“Okay then,” said Jason.

Jessalyn turned to me. “You have a coat?”

“I do.”

“Let me get that for you.”

Jason said a curt goodbye and strode out of the studio. I watched the metal doors bang behind him, signaling the end of all of those possibilities swirling in my head. Jessalyn pulled my bright yellow coat out of a closet and handed it over. I buttoned it against the lingering spring chill and tried to ignore the leaden feeling spreading through my chest.

In the building’s ancient elevator, I slumped against the wall and let my head fall back.

I should have done something. Asked him for his number. Asked him for a drink. Asked him to take me to bed. Anything. Now he was gone.

But I kissed him first. I opened my eyes as the elevator doors groaned apart. I made the first move. That — Becca would tell me — was progress.

I braced myself for the first brisk bite of air off the East River as I pushed open the building’s front door. With my hands stuffed into my jacket pockets, I put my head down and began to walk.

“Meredith!”

That voice sent butterflies backflipping in my stomach. I glanced over my shoulder to see Jason jogging towards me.

“You walk fast,” he said.

“What are you still doing here?” I blurted out.

He actually looked bashful. The beautiful specimen of a man who I’d just kissed in a weirdly manufactured fantasy moment was shy. Around me. The thought warmed me.

“I wanted to see if you wanted to get a drink sometime,” he said.

I didn’t even have to think about my answer. “Yes.”

He blinked. “Yes?”

Tendrils of anticipation stirred in me again. “I would like to see you again. A drink sounds great.”

He laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I’m really glad to hear that.”

I sucked in a deep breath and said, “How about we get a drink now while we decide where you’re going to take me for a drink later?”

With a grin, he crooked an elbow. “I know just where to go.”

As I placed my hand on his arm I couldn’t help but think that this could be the start of something very good.

First Kisses

25 Romance Authors25 First Kisses simpleWhat is the best part of a new romance? I love the sparkling banter laced with flirtation and tension, but really we all know it's the first kiss. It's hoped for but not guaranteed, and when it finally happens everything slows. The world falls away, desire fires through you, and then -- when lips finally touch -- your mind goes blissfully blank. The first kiss is magical.

Starting today, 25 authors are writing about those first moments as part of an exciting spring blog hop. The stories are short -- around 1,500 words -- but they're big on passion and romance. The entire list of participating authors is at Audra North's website. My story "Accidentally (On Purpose)" goes live this Thursday, April 10th. I'm posting along with Mary Chris Escobar and Pieper Vaughn. I hope you enjoy reading your way through all of the stories and discover some wonderful, new authors in the process!