Book Blitz & Excerpt: Hell Railing and Other Pastimes + Giveaway

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Hell Railing and Other Pastimes, by Jayce Carter

Book 1 in the Perfect Taboo series

Word Count: 71,360
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 276

GENRES:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MÉNAGE AND MULTIPLE PARTNERS
PARANORMAL
REVERSE HAREM

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Book Description

People have told me to go to hell—I guess they finally got their wish.

I’ve finally accepted the fact that I might not be entirely human, but still life doesn’t give me a break. Instead, I’m sucked into hell at Lucifer’s demand, and realize death is even more complicated than my life was.

I have to survive hell—where everything wants to kill me—so I can confront the devil himself. My love life is even more complex, though. Troy is terrified of his werewolf side hurting me, Kase and Grant are lying to me and Hunter is keeping his own secrets. I know better than to trust anyone, especially the men who have taken over my life.

Get to Lucifer’s Court, find out the truth about the missing spirits, figure out exactly what I am and try not to die along the way. Oh, and don’t fall in love with the men who will for sure break my heart and possibly get me killed.

Easy enough, right?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, bloodshed and death. There are references to parental abandonment and tattooing a child.

Excerpt

So, hell was pretty much what I’d expected.

Troy sat across from me in a small cave we’d taken shelter in, still avoiding looking at me, turning the spit with something cooking on it over the fire.

I had decided against asking what it was they were roasting, because I doubted any answer to that would make me happy.

If it were some strange hellbeast, I’d be grossed out, and if it were a cute, fluffy critter, I’d be sad.

Some questions were better left unasked, such as “Do I look fat in these?” or “Do you think my sister is hot?” and “What animal did this come from?”

Hunter came into the cave looking far too happy, as though he’d been waiting anxiously for just this moment. Hell, he was almost skipping.

Kase, on his heels, appeared significantly less pleased with the turn of events.

“I love the smell of brimstone in the morning.” Hunter set down an oddly shaped cup in front of me.

I took a closer look at the dish, the white of it standing out against the dimness of the everything else. “Where’d you get this?”

“Don’t worry about it. Drink. You mortals get parched fast out here.”

His answer didn’t ease me at all, so I lifted the cup closer to the fire. The white took a moment to place, and once I did, I couldn’t unsee it. “Is this bone?”

Hunter groaned and sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire. “I told you not to worry about it.”

“You can’t seriously expect me to drink out of a bone cup.”

“I have skulls, if they’re more your style.”

I was ready to yell at him for the stupid joke until I realized he probably wasn’t kidding. Somehow, the idea that Hunter had a collection of fine china made from bones in hell seemed right on par for him.

Especially the way he had no shame over it.

“Drink,” Kase said, nodding toward it. “I doubt you want to die of dehydration while in hell.”

“At least it’d be a short trip if I did,” I muttered before closing my eyes—it’d be easier if I didn’t have to actually see the cup—and drank the water in big gulps. I figured if I finished it off quickly, I’d have to touch the thing for less time overall.

Which was a stupid reaction since I’d touched dead bodies plenty of times.

But I’d never use them as flatware. There were some lines a person didn’t cross.

The water was warm, stale and tinged with an odd taste that made me want to gag a bit as I downed it.

Still, once I finished it, I handed back the empty cup. “Why would Lucifer drop us here? I thought he wanted to see me?”

Hunter shrugged. “He might figure a good test would be worth it. Anyone who can’t survive a few days journey in hell isn’t someone important enough for him to meet in person. Or maybe he intended for us to get dropped in his Court, but something went wrong. Magic doesn’t work quite right on you.”

“Things aren’t supposed to just go wrong for Lucifer.”

“Then you don’t know Lucifer. Remember the whole fall from heaven thing? He’s had things going wrong right from the start.”

And, again, that made me feel no better. I liked the idea that at least Lucifer had his business figured out. The thought that he was as powerless and fumbling as the rest of us gave me a moment of thinking, If he can’t get shit right, what chance do I have?

I sighed and crossed my legs, leaning forward. Great. We were stuck in hell, had no idea why I was where I there and now even the guy who ran it all didn’t seem to have a good grip on specifics.

The only person happy about our circumstances was Hunter, who grinned as though he couldn’t have planned things any better.

Then again, it was his home.

Grant was still outside, setting wards so we could get a good night’s sleep, or at least the best one could expect in a cave in hell.

Not that there seemed to be any night. It reminded me of the pocket realm I’d met the fae in, except it didn’t get lighter or darker. It remained a constant depressing level of dim, which ranked around the super overcast and rainy level.

When Troy finished cooking the food, he tore free a piece and held it out for me. Instead of thinking too much about it—I was really hungry—I popped it into my mouth, surprised to find it rather good.

As long as I don’t consider what it might have been before being spit roasted or how many legs it might have had.

“Do you think he’ll try to kill me?” I asked.

“I doubt it,” Hunter said. “If he wanted to kill you, he could have done it without this much work. Lucifer doesn’t do anything without a reason. He calls it efficient—I call it lazy.”

“Maybe he just wants to be able to watch me die in person,” I muttered around another bite of food.

“We won’t let him hurt you,” Kase said.

I gave him a withering glare in return. I didn’t get over betrayal so easily. We might have been in an entirely different realm, but I wasn’t ready to forgive him for lying to me, for hiring Grant to figure out what I was, for manipulating me. Maybe his words would have reassured me if I didn’t already doubt his loyalty so much.

He looked as though he wanted to discuss the matter, but a glance around the cave reminded him we had an audience. Kase’s ego would never want to air dirty laundry with others in earshot.

The perfect Kase didn’t want to not look so perfect.

“You know, you all don’t have to be here.” I forced the words out even though I really didn’t want to say them. Still, it was only fair to give them an out.

“What?” Grant asked as he came into the cave.

“Well, you can make portals to and from hell, right? You might have gotten sucked in here on accident, but you don’t have to stay.”

“Actually, we do,” he said.

“Don’t give me that. There’s no reason for you all to risk your lives just because I evidently have an appointment with the devil.”

Hunter shook his head, a smirk across his lips. “No, shadow-girl, what he means is that when Lucifer yanked us here, it placed a tracer on us. All of us. None of us can portal back until Lucifer removes it. The magic just won’t work for a portal. I could cross the boundary, but I couldn’t take anyone with me.”

I blew out a breath, ashamed to admit just how relieved I was by that. Sure, I had to give them an out, but the thought of them leaving, of trying to make my way across hell by myself hadn’t been one I relished. They were stuck with me for now, and it was far more reassuring than I wanted to admit.

“How long until we reach Lucifer’s Court?” I asked, trying to change topics.

Hunter plucked a piece of meat from the creature and ate it with noisy bites. “Three days? Maybe five if we need a lot of stops. We ended up right at the boundary line, so it’s a long walk. If it were just me, I’d make it in a day, but you all couldn’t keep up.”

Troy snorted. “Maybe not them, but I’m quicker than you think.”

Hunter offered Troy a wide grin. “Yeah, but you’d keep up—maybe—if you were in your wolf form. Sadly, you’ve got some performance issues about that one, and on two legs you’re as slow as the mortal.”

Troy narrowed his eyes but didn’t respond.

Fine by me. Honestly, I’d love for them all to shut up.

It was bad enough they bothered me at my house, when they stopped by constantly and threw my life into chaos, but out here, I didn’t even have the privacy of a bathroom or the occasional moments of peace.

It was twenty-four-seven testosterone zone.

So I ate another piece of food before a yawn told me I needed rest.

The cave floor was hard and there wasn’t anything to use as a pillow around. I groaned and twisted, my shoulder sore from where it dug into the ground.

Troy had taken a spot far away, as though he wanted to avoid me as best he could—just like he’d done since I’d saved him.

The ungrateful bastard. Next time maybe I’d let that freaky shadow take him over.

After checking the wards, Grant had leaned himself against the doorway of the cave, his legs stretched out and his eyes closed. He’d picked there, at the threshold, like a guardian.

Funny, since Grant, with his twenty-year-old appearance, massive number of tattoos and rebel hair style, appeared the least dangerous.

Hunter had chosen to rest outside, like some dog in the yard. He’d taken a large hunk of the meat and claimed to like sleeping under the stars.

Not that there were any stars…

“Come here.” Kase’s voice was soft in the darkness, and close enough I jumped.

How he could move so quickly, I didn’t understand. He’d managed to shift around so he crouched just above where I lay.

I pressed my palm against the cave floor and pushed myself up. With the fire gone, I struggled to see Kase, so I glared in his direction best I could. “Sorry, but that doesn’t work.”

“What doesn’t work? You need sleep, and you won’t get any tossing and turning like that.”

“You think this is my first time dealing with men? Let me guess, I’ll sleep so much better all curled up beside you. And I’ll sleep better without any pants. In fact, a few orgasms will put me right out.” I made sure my voice sounded as insulting as I meant it to be.

Which was stupid, because no matter how much I disliked him at the moment, a few orgasms would help me sleep.

Just not from him. Not that he’d proven himself capable of delivering them anyway. His only attempt had been pathetic.

He sighed before sitting on the ground, his back to the wall. He removed his jacket and balled it up in his lap. “I’m not offering orgasms, Ava, and since my body doesn’t run warm, there isn’t a reason to curl up beside me, naked or not. However, I am, at the very least, useful as furniture.”

I wanted to argue that I was sleeping just fine, but the ache in my shoulder called me a liar. Still, the thought of touching him made me wonder how stupid one person could be.

His entire reaction to me was bad enough—I wasn’t sure I’d ever live down him spitting out my blood as if it were tainted—but the idea that he’d been lying to me was what really stuck.

He’d hired Grant to spy on me, to go behind my back and figure out what I was. He’d even said the entire thing had been for the coven, not him. How on earth could I just forget that?

Still, his lap was as good as anyone else’s, and I was tired. I slid up, wincing when it aggravated my shoulder.

He set a strong hand on my back, helping me to adjust, until I was on my side, my head pillowed on his lap, his jacket creating more cushion and a useful barrier between me and any erecting that might happen.

Not that that seemed a problem with him.

When he ran his fingers through my hair, I swatted him away. “Knock that off.”

He let out a soft sound, all annoyance. “I’m trying to help.”

“I didn’t ask for help, did I?”

“You haven’t ever asked, and yet here I’ve been, doing it anyway. I am in hell, literally, for you.”

I sighed, having nothing to say back to that. When I closed my eyes, he dragged his fingers through my hair again, and this time I let him. Just because I was mad at him didn’t mean I had to forgo the nice sensation, did it?

It wasn’t like he was getting anything out of it. Might as well enjoy it while it lasted. I doubted many nice things happened in hell.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said, voice low as if we could have a private conversation in such a small space, surrounded by others. “I hired Grant before I knew much about you.”

“But even after you got to know me, you didn’t feel the need to mention it? To call him off?”

“I knew you wouldn’t be happy about me invading your privacy like that, and as I spent more time with you, I found out you hold grudges. It seemed a pointless argument to risk, since if you never found out, you would have never been angry.”

I shifted and accidently elbowed him in the crotch.

He let out a rush of air—it seemed not everywhere on a vampire was impervious to harm—before groaning. “I have learned my lesson, Ava. I do not intend to lie to you again.”

“And so I’m supposed to be okay with it? What was this all? What was it when you tried to feed from me? Just more research for the coven? At least that explains why you couldn’t keep it up.”

“No. It wasn’t ever for the coven.”

“That was what you told Grant.”

“Because I prefer not to expose potential weaknesses.”

“So I’m a weakness now?” I went to rise, because his lap was not worth me getting any more hurt than I already was.

He set a hand on my shoulder and pressed me back down, reminding me just how strong he was. “Stop it, Ava. Stop fighting with me long enough to listen. I have thought about you since I first saw you in that shop, and that obsession hasn’t ended. When I asked around and found out what little I could, it still wasn’t enough. So, yes, when given the chance, I hired Grant to discover more about you—not for the coven and not for Colter, but for myself. You can be angry with me for as long as you’d like for that invasion of privacy, for the lies, but do not mistake it for something it wasn’t. I hired you for the job with Olin because you could do it, I wanted to feed from you because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I want you because I have since I first saw you. Besides, you shouldn’t be so angry with me when Grant found nothing useful out.”

“Maybe that’s why he got kicked out of the guild, because he’s a terrible mage.”

A snort from the doorway said Grant was listening, but I pretended it was a random sound so I didn’t have to think about our audience.

Kase went back to the gentle stroking of his fingers through my hair, and, despite my better judgment, it relaxed me. His voice, smooth and unfailingly calm, was even worse. “He ran every test he could, did everything he knew and he could not identify what you were. No matter how much I researched, who I threatened, I discovered nothing. You are an enigma, Ava.”

“And that’s why you’re still around? Because I’m a very interesting puzzle, and you’re old and bored? Or because I could be potentially useful to you?”

“No. I don’t think I care what you are anymore. Originally, it was a mystery, but I’ve discovered you are trouble no matter what you might be.”

“That doesn’t explain why you’re here now.”

“You’re smart enough to figure that one out. I’m not sure there are many reasons a man goes to hell for a woman.”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. Kase and I, we never talked. We didn’t admit anything. Where Troy liked to come out and say what he felt, and Hunter didn’t feel deeply enough for the need to have a conversation, Kase and I liked to exchange things in non-speak.

He didn’t say he cared, and I didn’t say I liked that he was there.

Even still…I couldn’t quite accept his words. I recalled Colter, remembered the coven house, and knew I had no idea where his loyalties really lay.

He might be a great piece of furniture, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t kill me if he needed to…

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About the Author

Jayce Carter

Jayce Carter lives in Southern California with her husband and two spawns. She originally wanted to take over the world but realized that would require wearing pants. This led her to choosing writing, a completely pants-free occupation. She has a fear of heights yet rock climbs for fun and enjoys making up excuses for not going out and socializing. You can learn more about her at her website.

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Jayce Carter’s Hell Raising and Other Pastimes Giveaway

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Fang + Giveaway

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Fang, by Ellen Mint

Book 2 in the Coven of Desire series

Genres:

ANGELS AND DEMONS
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MÉNAGE AND MULTIPLE PARTNERS
PARANORMAL
WERESHIFTERS

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Book Description

 

How can Cal live when the monster remains in the mirror?

Cal is struggling. After his past unraveled into a torment that claimed nearly his whole family, how could he not be? The only good left in his life is Layla, even if she comes with a pain-in-the-haunches incubus. Dealing with Ink is one more problem he’s ignoring, until the werewolf issues he’s refused to face come for him.

A second pack is hunting him and they’re threatening his mother. Cal has no choice but to travel back to Santa Fe and confront them, or lose the last family he has left. While a road trip with Layla sounds nice, Ink has to come along, and the demon keeps driving a growing wedge between Cal and his tenuous grasp on humanity.

Cal, Ink and Layla come face to face with an enemy Cal once believed to be nothing but a myth, his claws and fangs useless against their firepower. What do they want with the witch, werewolf and demon? And, most of all, how can they be stopped?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, peril, near death, blood and gore. There are references to a cult, abusive and violent parents, and references to patricide.

Publisher’s Note: Everyone who buys a copy of Fang will receive the short story Snow Print free. Set between the events of Claw and Fang in the Coven of Desire series, Cal’s struggling to overcome the loss in his life is interrupted by a snowman army.

Excerpt

A crack shattered the silence, trying to pry my locked jaws apart. Shadows clipped across the single floodlight above the floorboards.

Diesel, gun oil, salted pork and…old leather. Every scent filled my sinuses and I whimpered.

“Cal…”

No! I spun in the tight space, clamping my filthy fingers onto my brother’s mouth. Even in the muddy crawlspace, I could see his eyes blazing above my palm. Eli’s entire body shivered, his shoulders rising to shield himself from every clip of the boot above our heads.

“We have to keep moving,” Mark spat in my ear. I cringed at the loogie sliding down my face while the eldest brother easily spun on his haunches. Even with his messed-up leg duct-taped to a fence post, he crawled quickly under the floor.

The boards above our heads stopped creaking and the light vanished. Had he gone to bed? This was it. Mom had put me in charge of getting Eli. All we had to do was…

Blinding white punctured the world. The ceiling above us shattered, splintering my heart. A massive hand slammed down right in front of my face. I reached my foot back, prepared to kick and break a finger, when the entire house collapsed over Eli.

Another crack. We all flinched as he took it. Three more lines added to the ones crisscrossing his back. Growls rumbled from Mark, pinned by his mother to stand and watch. I tried to twist away, but my head wouldn’t leave. If I didn’t watch, I could be next.

“Ah!”

A single cry escaped from Eli, and both Mark and I screamed, “No.” If he made a sound, it started all over.

The belt hung against the five-year-old’s back, Eli straining to reach over the apple crate he bent over. Crimson wicked up his burlap cassock. The blood would be left to dry for days as a reminder because the scars weren’t enough.

“This is what happens to disobedient boys,” boomed the voice through my ears, up my feet and into my blood. I tried to spit it out, the scent of him merging into a putrid taste boiling down my throat. Leaning over, I tried to retch it away—diesel, gun oil, salted pork, old leather, and blood. A spray of it erupted from my lips, staining the floorboards of the great room. No one turned to me, no one noticed I was vomiting in front of them.

Every eye gazed upon him. The father. Our great leader into the next stage of existence.

“Cal!”

“Eli…?”

His dirty, matted hair began to lift. As it did, crimson paint dribbled down the sides. “I don’t wanna be here, Cal!”

“I…” Damn it. My gaze plummeted to the floor, tears threatening to burst. Slamming my lids closed so no one could tattle on me for crying, I said, “I’ll get you out of here, Eli. When it’s done, I’ll get you.”

“Forget it.” It wasn’t the soft cry of a kid, but the dead acceptance of an adult. Even with my eyes shut tight, I saw Eli rise from the box. He trampled it down with his foot, shattering the crate we’d all been whipped on. Eli stood tall, stretching far above my head.

“Weak,” the voice of my unending nightmares thundered. “All of you.” His face burned hot like the sun and I could only stare at the black gun extending from his hand. He pointed it at the followers standing in a ring around us.

“The time of the Moon is nigh,” the rotten bastard said. “Destiny, child. Blood.” He aimed his gun at Eli. A flash turned my brother’s head into a wolf’s skull.

“Eli!” I screamed, running for him. But my feet couldn’t get any traction. Every step kept me pinned in place, unable to reach my brother slowly tumbling to the cement ground.

“You cannot escape it, Calvin.” The asshole’s hand clamped to my shoulder and he pressed me down to my knees. I tried to fight it, but my bones were matchsticks against his might. They buckled, my nose pressing into the dirt.

A wind howled through the trees, parting the stricken branches to reveal the yellow-blue light forever beaming down upon us. Itching rippled under my skin, one no amount of scratching would solve.

“Give in,” he chanted almost serenely.

I shook my head, feeling fur and not hair brush against my shoulder. “No,” I declared, the words warping as my gums receded. Pain clawed up the roots of my teeth sharpening to fangs.

“You cannot escape, Calvin.”

Squeezing my eyes tight, I willed the wolf back. My teeth flattened. I patted my head, finding only the shaved hair. Lashing my arm back, I burst from his grip and took two steps forward. “I’m never changing again!” I shouted.

A low chuckle caused me to freeze. My body betrayed me, terror beckoning me to turn. Lucien bent down, half of his skull exposed, the skin ripped like paper, the muscles rotted away. The eyeball in his fleshless socket was milky white. “Child.” A squishy, flapping sound followed his words. Red and purple tubes flapped out of a massive wound in his throat. I wanted to scream, but my mouth drowned with hot liquid.

“You cannot escape your blood.”

Fuck!

I shook awake, my whole body slamming forward to try to escape. Instead of hurling myself off the bed, I almost knocked my teeth into a soft shoulder. Layla’s hair provided cushioning to stop me, and I buried my face in it. I opened my mouth in a rictus and gave all the force of shrieking without letting a single sound escape.

My tongue tasted of copper and salt, of Lucien’s blood that I had ripped from his throat. My brain thundered with the scents of his body, his boots, his instruments of terror. Get out of it. He’s not here. He can never be here.

Burrowing my nose farther into her hair, I pulled in the deepest whiff imaginable. Cereal marshmallows. We’d gotten into a pointless food fight last night and I’d flicked them at her as she laughed. Amber. She’d used my soap to wash her hands and face. Me. The long night I held her safe in my arms. The air right before a thunderstorm struck. Layla.

My body tightened around her as it recognized the fullness of her. And she was stirring. Damn it.

“Cal…?” she croaked. Most of the time her voice was lush and lyrical, but in the morning it sounded more like a smoking frog.

I placed my lips to the nape of her neck, kissing over her curly hair to try to find the skin below. The taste of her replaced the lingering memory of blood. “Sorry to wake you,” I said.

The wolf inside me was restless. No, angry. It wanted vengeance even though we’d already gotten it. I winced and started to slide away. If I stayed in bed, no matter how tempting, it could rip through me. Take over my thoughts and push me to its side. I slid my hand up Layla’s stomach and over her hip, having to abandon her to calm down.

I was fairly certain she’d passed out and I slipped to my feet, when her fingers crested over mine. Through the shadows of the old house, I couldn’t see much, but the silhouette of her breasts tumbling together out from under my blanket almost drove me back in with her.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

No. But I’ve never been okay my whole life. “You stay sleeping.” I bent over and kissed her lips. I wished her taste and touch could chase away all the nightmare, but it clung to me like a filthy sack caked in blood. Rising to my feet, I stumbled out of my room. The wolf inside me howled.

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About the Author

Ellen Mint

Ellen Mint adores the adorkable heroes who charm with their shy smiles and heroines that pack a punch. She recently won the Top Ten Handmaid’s Challenge on Wattpad where hers was chosen by Margaret Atwood. Her books, Undercover Siren and Fever are available at Amazon as well as a short story in the Lucky Between The Sheets anthology. Married, she lives in Nebraska with her dog named after Granny Weatherwax. Her hobbies include gaming, painting, and halloween prop making. The basement is full of skeletons because they ran out of room in the closets.

You can find Ellen at her website here and also on Bookbub.

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Ellen Mint’s Claw Giveaway

Enter for your chance to win romance author Ellen Mint’s Prize Package and get a FREE eBook from the author! Notice: This competition ends on 25th May 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: Home Run Cowboy + Giveaway

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Home Run Cowboy by Gemma Snow

Book 1 in the The Sinclair Seven series

Word Count: 80,535
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 203

Genres:

BONDAGE AND BDSM
CONTEMPORARY
COWBOYS AND WESTERN
EROTIC ROMANCE
MÉNAGE AND MULTIPLE PARTNERS

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Book Description

The only thing better than riding a cowboy is submitting to one.

On her own for the first time, Skylar Wedgeworth has no idea what to do about it. She’s torn between behaving like the hard-working mom she’s dedicated her life to being…and embracing her fascination with the erotic world of lust and submission she has long put second.

That’s where The Ranch comes in. And with it, Caleb Cash.

The injury that cut short Caleb’s pitching career just before he joined the majors, then his wife walking out on him have made Caleb question everything about himself, and he hasn’t had a partner since.

Until Skylar.

There’s no denying the heat between them when Skylar checks into the erotic lifestyle club Caleb and his six best friends opened in the Montana mountains, but for things to go further than their physical connection, Skylar has to learn how to put herself first and Caleb must be willing to trust a new partner with his heart…

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of anal sex, outdoor sex, the use of sex toys. There is reference to body modification, sports injury and implied abortion.

Excerpt

Oh, they were high up now.

Ev had brought Skylar to Open Air Skydiving to get her mind off things, just as she had taken her white-water rafting, dancing and drinking, hiking, and movie binging, but it turned out that things had taken Skylar’s mind off skydiving and she was very suddenly hit with the realization that she was about to jump out of a plane.

Sweat ran down the cotton shirt pressed to Skylar’s back by the bulk of her diving gear and the attached diving instructor. She leaned over to hear what her best friend was saying.

“Of course you miss her.” Ev had to shout to be heard over the roar of the small plane’s engine and the whirling wind that beat against metal. This wasn’t a good idea. Why had she thought it was a good idea? “You know that’s okay, right? You’re allowed to miss her.”

It was just the rush of air coming from the open door that had Skylar’s eyes watering behind the plastic goggles they’d been given when they checked into Open Air Skydiving Center just outside of DC earlier that afternoon. Just the air pressure and not the pressure behind her eyes, or anything ridiculous like that.

“I know,” Skylar shouted with more conviction than she felt. How was it she could be more than ten thousand feet above the ground and still feel this sense of malaise? “I was just hoping that sunshine and hot men would make me forget about it for a while.”

That had been the plan. A jaunt around Greece—exploring the coasts and the beaches, visiting some of the world’s most beautiful historic sites, getting tan and drinking local wine until the day she returned to the city—all with the hope that their home wouldn’t feel quite so quiet when she got back.

“You know that Callie is totally going to take on the world, right? Don’t think of it as your little girl going off to college. Think of it as…as the next step toward her Nobel Peace Prize.” Ev raised her voice even more to be heard. She leaned close and put her hand on Skylar’s, and goodness if Skylar didn’t need the kind of comforting touch Ev brought, even if it was slightly inhibited by the two diving instructors strapped to their backs, diving instructors who were now communicating that their jump point was coming up.

Oh…boy.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea…” The words were swallowed by the sound of the instructors moving about the cabin of the plane. Then Skylar was right there, standing over the world, her stomach somewhere at her feet, and the sweat she had been feeling a moment ago cooling into a panic that made her shiver.

“Are you ready?” her instructor asked, but the words were swallowed up on the wind and he didn’t give her a chance to respond before her feet were no longer anchored to the floor of the plane, before none of her body was anchored to the plane, but out in the open air, nearly three miles above the ground, a dizzying display of city and farmland and highway spreading out around them like the rug Callie had had in her room when she’d been a child.

Wait until she told Callie…

Callie would think this was the coolest thing Skylar had ever done.

With that thought in mind, Skylar spread her arms and relaxed her body enough to let the wind buoy her. Her heart pounded faster than the whirling plane propeller above them and her mouth was open in an eternal scream. This was terrifying, this was stupid, this was….

Amazing.

Her instructor pulled the cord and the parachute yanked them back, pressing hard against Skylar’s body and knocking the air from her chest for a moment. In a moment they were floating above the Virginia farmlands, a million tiny barns and homes and buildings coming into focus as they followed the natural course of the air. This was peace, somehow, in a tumult of chaos. In a whirlwind of everything that had happened these past weeks, she somehow felt at peace miles above the solid ground and wished, fleetingly, stupidly, that she never had to touch down again.

When her feet hit the ground, she stumbled but didn’t lose her balance and a rush of adrenaline coursed through her body. She wanted to dance, to swim across a river, to go back to Greece and figure out exactly what she had run away from by coming back from her Mediterranean adventures nearly a week earlier than she had planned and allowing Ev and her partners to toss her into every available adventure within three hours of the city.

As if she could hear her thoughts, Ev touched down a few hundred yards from Skylar, whooping and hollering with the same delight that raced through Skylar’s body right now. Soon they were disentangled from their chutes and Skylar was running over to Ev, wrapping her in a hug and swinging her around. Adrenaline made picking up her friend easier than expected and she could almost see how mothers could lift cars off their children in emergencies.

“That was wild!” She was definitely shouting but Ev didn’t seem to realize. “Let’s go again!” Ev laughed, wrapped her arm around Skylar’s waist and half-pulled her to the facility to drop their diving suits off and grab their bags. When they returned to the parking lot, it was to find Ev’s partners, Lucas and Quinn, waiting for them against a large black SUV.

Quinn Langston and Lucas Vallejo were Ev’s husbands and friends from back when they had trained at Quantico together. It had been nothing more than a momentary blip for Skylar to accustom herself to their relationship. Not only had the three been thick as thieves for a decade and the transition an easy and natural one, but Skylar’s own love for Ev went back even further, and she was never going to begrudge her happiness, no matter what form it took.

Ev had been there since the beginning, since Skylar had been pregnant and alone and desperate for a job, any job. Ev had just moved to DC the summer after graduating from Columbia University, before her training at Quantico, and they’d shared night shifts, and morning shifts and lazy afternoon shifts all summer long, sweating their asses off and working their calves to hell in the City Street Diner, across the street from George Washington University Hospital.

It had formed an impenetrable bond between the two of them, two young women trying to make it in a world not designed for them, and though Ev had gone on to save the world from evil at the FBI and Skylar had created her own successful business from the ground up, they had never lost touch.

Ev had been there the day Callie was born, been the one Skylar had put on her emergency forms, the one Skylar had called when the going had gotten really rough. It shouldn’t have come as a shock that Ev the grown-up, now in her late thirties and balancing two relationships and an incredibly successful career, would be able to see exactly what was bothering Skylar without skipping a beat. Well, almost everything that was bothering her.

“I’ve never seen you look more gorgeous in my life,” Lucas teased as the two neared the SUV. He was pretty gorgeous himself, all honey words and thick dark hair that Ev had disclosed one drunken night he very much liked pulled. Beside him, Quinn’s stoic expression cracked slightly, and he leaned down to kiss Ev before wrapping Skylar in a hug. It felt like having a brother back and some of the adrenaline of their trip through time and space faded slightly.

“Did you enjoy yourself?” he asked. Quinn was the most reserved of the three, and while they’d been waging a war against Skylar’s demons since she had returned from Greece early without an explanation, he’d given her the most space to process things, to be herself. She knew he had secrets of his own and appreciated his methods and gentleness as much as she did Lucas’ flirtatious humor and Ev’s open warmth.

“It was amazing,” she said honestly. For five minutes, she’d been able to stop thinking about Callie, about her empty apartment, about the what if of what she had run away from in Greece.

“Night’s just getting started!” Lucas chimed in, wrapping his arm around Ev’s waist and leaning in very, very close. “We have reservations at Little Cuba in”—he made a show of checking his watch—“ten minutes.” Little Cuba had the kind of festive atmosphere that was just perfect for a night out after jumping from a plane and Skylar had to appreciate the extent to which her friends were going to help her feel good.

It might help if I explained what the problem is.

Because she hadn’t exactly told Ev that it wasn’t so much the sense of being lost at sea with Callie in her first year of school on the other coast that had her in a funk. That had been why she’d left for Greece in the first place. But what she had found there…

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About the Author

Gemma Snow

Gemma Snow loves high heat, high adventures and high expectations for her heroes! Her stories are set in the past and present, from the glittering streets of Paris to cowboy-rich Triple Diamond Ranch in Wolf Creek, Montana.

In her free time, she loves to travel, and spent several months living in a fourteenth-century castle in the Netherlands. When not exploring the world, she likes dreaming up stories, eating spicy food, driving fast cars and talking to strangers. She recently moved to Nashville with a cute redheaded cat and a cute redheaded boy.

You can take a look at Gemma’s website and blog and also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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