Book Blitz & excerpt: Soft Gold + Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Megan Slayer will be awarding a Prize Pack Featuring a Necklace made by the Author to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Soft Gold
by Megan Slayer
Genre: Contemporary LGBTQ Erotic Romance

Three hearts can equal one great love…

Hera, the goddess of mothering and childbirth, wants more than to be Zeus’s throwaway partner. She wants a lover and a hot romance she can call her own, but she’s not sure she deserves to be happy. When she meets Crane in Vegas, all bets are off.

Crane Gray is a man of contradiction. On the stage, he’s a superstar, but at home, he’s alone. He wants love and Hera is the woman of his dreams. But Crane has unfinished business with John.

John has loved Crane for so long and only wants him to be happy. When he sees Crane with Hera, he knows what’s been missing between them and craves making Hera their third.

Can these three make a go of their relationship despite the glare of the spotlight or will a mistake from Hera’s past threaten their future?

Be Warned: menage sex (MMF), anal sex

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Read an Excerpt

“I’m Crane Gray and it’s nice to meet you—someone who doesn’t know me. I’ve got a concert here at the hotel tonight. I should be prepping for it, but I just don’t care and I want out of my life for a while. You fascinate me and I’m enjoying myself here in the bar. I’d like you to stay. Please?”

She debated what to do. Stay with Crane, the celebrity, or find someone a little more boring.

“Will you at least tell me your name?” he asked. “Have a drink with me?”

She liked him, despite his ability to drive her crazy. He was physically what she wanted in a man—blond hair, blue eyes, tall, handsome, and younger than her. Then again, most men were younger than her. She’d like to spend time with him because, honestly, this would be the only encounter. He could be that pure gold she’d been looking for.

“Honey?” He gave her space. “It’s just a drink.”

She could handle this. She’d ruined many a man, forced Echo to repeat the same words, turned individuals into monsters, and destroyed mortals. Having a drink with Crane was nothing. “Sure.”

©2021 Megan Slayer, All Rights Reserved

About the Author:

Megan Slayer, aka Wendi Zwaduk, is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and white hot themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been nominated at the LRC for Best Author, Best Contemporary, Best Ménage, Best BDSM and Best Anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com.

When she’s not writing, Megan spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice. She’s an active member of the Friends of the Keystone-LaGrange Public library.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Starting Over in Cedarwood + Giveaway

Starting Over in Cedarwood Banner

Starting Over in Cedarwood, by Megan Slayer

Book 15 in the Cedarwood Pride series

Word Count: 50,247
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 195

GENRES:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQ

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Book Description

Starting over might just bring them the love they deserve.

Shaun Fallows came to Cedarwood to start over. He wants to be done with dating, but the moment he sees Kevin, the sparks are off the charts. He can’t get the sexy man off his mind. So much for not wanting to get involved. Kevin is the man of his dreams. Can he convince Kevin to give him a try or will the romance end before it gets the chance to begin?

Besides, there’s the small issue of Kevin’s cat…

Kevin Keiser did the dating thing and ended up burned. One of the few bright spots in his life is his cat, Leo. The animal might be a bit prickly, but he’s been a good meter for who Kevin should date and who he should avoid. He wants a boyfriend who isn’t put off by his pet. Shaun sure seems to fit the bill. Is he just another man or the love Kevin’s been waiting for?

Reader advisory: This book contains mention of emotionally abusive exes, homophobia, and financial crime.

Excerpt

“What a great day to visit the ballfield,” Shaun Fallows said. He breathed in the fresh air and scent of freshly cut grass. “The weather’s perfect, there’s a slight breeze and just the right amount of clouds and sun.”

Warrick rolled his eyes. “You’re too invested in this already. We’re just here for the newspaper. If old Mr. Nicholas weren’t so busy playing house, he’d be here, too.”

Shaun shrugged to hide his excitement. He’d been to ballfields before and had even covered a couple of games for his high school paper as well as his hometown paper, but those had been small fields and tiny teams. This was the Cedarwood Wildcats. This was the bigger time. Besides, he didn’t give a shit if Mr. Nicholas, the head of the paper, was home with his husband. More power to them.

“Sucks. Mr. N should be here and directing this, not us.” Warrick pointed to the luxury boxes. “We’re up there.”

Shaun whipped his card out and showed the attendant, then strode through the gate to the executive level. The ballfield wasn’t that big, but he didn’t care. He’d arrived. “We’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves.” He drank in the view. The manicured field stretched out before him and the seats were filled with fans. Flags waved out beyond centerfield and the scent of bread lingered in the air. “We must be near the bakery.”

“The bun warmer,” Warrick grumbled. “If Mr. N wanted to treat us, then he could’ve given us a bonus, not made it newspaper day at the ballfield.”

“You’ll complain about anything, won’t you?” Shaun wandered up to the glass windows facing the field. “This is fantastic.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and listened to the noise from the crowd as well as the pregame announcements. Once he heard the jingle for the newspaper, his heart swelled.

Ever since he’d nabbed the advertising head position with the paper, his life had seemed to turn around. He had a stable job, a decent apartment and his man trouble wasn’t so bad—granted, he didn’t have a man, but so what? He’d worry about dating later.

“Everyone.” Remy Nicholas, the infamous Mr. N, clapped his hands. “Everyone.”

Shaun turned his attention to his boss. Unlike Warrick, Shaun liked Remy. He appreciated Remy’s unconventional approach to the paper, printing and having the main version online. Remy had instituted audio versions and pdf versions sent to the schools. He’d even created a video channel for special content.

Remy clapped his hands again. “I know this wasn’t the newspaper appreciation day you were all looking forward to, but I wanted to do something different. This year, we’ve managed to improve circulation and add jobs. Hits on the website are up and the feedback we’re getting is off the charts. Thank you to those who helped with the school supply collection. That went so well. The kids of Cedarwood will appreciate your hard work. For those who are assisting this Tuesday with the food drive, know your help will make the difference. People are paying attention to the social media posts and the little live events, so keep it up.”

Shaun applauded. He hadn’t been able to donate time to the school supply drive, but he’d signed up to help with the food one.

“Now, the reason for having the newspaper appreciation day here at the field was to give back. I want you to have a nice day at the ballpark, but also to get us into the community. Enjoy yourselves. The bar is open and food is ready. Thank you for being the best staff and for continued great times with the newspaper,” Remy said. “Thank you.”

“God, he gets long-winded,” Warrick said. He applauded, but sighed. “I hate baseball.”

“I don’t care.” Shaun wasn’t a fan of negative people. He’d had enough of that in his relationship with Jonah. No matter what he’d done, Jonah hadn’t been happy. Never the right clothes, the right shoes…his hair wasn’t cut properly or was too long…and the arguments. He didn’t miss the arguments.

Two men in black shirts and trousers wheeled a cart into the room. One man took his position behind the hot dog stand and the other wheeled the empty cart out. The man pushing the cart caught Shaun’s attention. He had a thing for tall, dark and handsome men. The way the guy’s brown hair flopped over his brow and his eyes glittered sent a shiver along Shaun’s spine. The man turned and, when he smiled, the dimple in his cheek became more prominent and Shaun noticed the beauty mark along his jawline. Warmth enveloped Shaun. He hadn’t had a reaction like this in so long.

“Who is that?” Shaun murmured. “The guy with the cart.”

“That?” Warrick chuckled. “That’s Kevin Keiser. He runs the food service center here at the ballfield. Quiet guy. I think he’s single and I’m fairly sure he’s gay.” He elbowed Shaun. “Are you gay? I never asked.”

“It wasn’t your business, but yes, I am.” Shaun swept his gaze over Kevin again. Kevin looked trim in his food service outfit, but strong, too.

Cara, one of the girls from the accounting department of the paper, sidled up to Shaun. “Are you eyeballing Kevin?”

“Maybe.” He bowed his head to stop gawking. “Is that bad?”

“Other than you look like you want to eat him, you’re staring so hard?” She laughed. “No, it’s not bad. He’s a nice guy.”

“I hear he’s quiet.” Shaun managed to get through the food line, but didn’t see Kevin again. Instead of sitting with Warrick, he ended up at the table with Cara. “Do you know Kevin?”

“Went to school with him.” She nodded and settled next to Shaun. “He doesn’t talk much. Never did. I think it’s because he got teased so mercilessly in school. Everyone but him knew he was gay and teased him, then it got worse once he came out. It was bad, but he seemed to keep his head up, especially once he admitted he was gay.”

“I see.” Shaun watched the baseball game, but stole glances over at the service stations in case Kevin came back. Shaun nudged Cara. “Do you think he’d give me the time of day if I asked him for his number?”

“You?” She coughed, then sipped her water. “Honey, you’re sexy. If he doesn’t, it’s because he’s scared.” Once she cleared her throat and finished her water, she nodded. “I mean, he’s shy, so he might not say ‘yes, I want your number’, but he’d be crazy if he turned you down. You’re handsome.”

“Handsome doesn’t mean much sometimes.” Shaun finished his hot dog and toyed with his fries. He managed to smear ketchup on his fingers. “Do you have a napkin?”

“Nope. I forgot to grab one.” Cara groaned. “And I need one. Please?”

“Sure.” He left the table and headed toward the service station. “Hi, I could use some napkins.”

The teenager offered up a stack. “Sorry. They stick together and don’t clean up much unless you have five.”

“Thanks.” He accepted the bundle, then glanced over his shoulder. Kevin still hadn’t come back. Maybe he’d been an apparition. Shaun settled at the table with Cara and divided the napkins. “Good?”

“Very. Thank you.” She blotted her mouth, then groaned again. “Not today.”

“What?” Shaun balled his paper, then glanced about the room. “What’s wrong?”

“Warrick’s being a pain in the ass.” She massaged her forehead. “He’s complaining about the food.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Shaun said. “Standard ballfield food, but it’s not bad.” That said, his coworker wasn’t a happy man and could find something wrong with a perfect twenty-four-carat gold ring.

“Excuse me. Do you have soggy buns, too?”

Shaun froze, then looked at Cara, who’d gone pale. She hadn’t been the one to ask the question and the speaker didn’t sound like Warrick. Shaun turned his attention to the one who had spoken. Kevin. Shaun’s breath lodged in his throat. The man was even more handsome up close. Shaun noted the sprinkling of hairs on Kevin’s cheeks and the lines crinkling at the corners of his eyes. Were those flecks of silver at his temples, too?

Kevin cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. The other table is complaining about the buns being subpar. Are your dining choices up to your standards?”

“Uh…” Shaun had to sound intelligent, not silly, but he couldn’t manage to form a normal sentence.

“They’re great,” Cara said. “Thank you.”

“Are you sure? We’re here to provide a fine dining experience,” Kevin said. “At decent prices.”

“You sound like you’re a walking advertisement,” Shaun managed. He balled his hand on his thigh under the table and drew in a deep breath to center himself. He’d never had problems talking to guys before now. “I don’t think our buns are soggy.” He smiled and met Kevin’s gaze. “But I would like to ask you a question.” Christ. Confidence, don’t fail me now.

“Do you need more ketchup? Some of the bottles are low.” Kevin shook his head, then reached across the table to retrieve the bottle. “I let Buzz handle it and he only filled about half of them.”

“No.” Shaun touched Kevin’s forearm, stopping him. The move also sent tingles along Shaun’s nerve endings. His synapses stood at full alert. “I… Would you like to grab a beer sometime?”

“Oh.” Kevin froze and confusion clouded his eyes. “You want to go out with me?”

“I do.” Shaun mustered his confidence. “I know it’s a strange time to ask you that, but I wasn’t sure if I’d get to see you again. It’s just beers or coffee, but I’d like to go out sometime with you.” Christ. He’d managed to stumble over everything he’d just said.

“Uh, sure.” Kevin stood at his full height and clasped his hands together. “But you’re sure you’re happy with the food?”

“Very.” Shaun scrawled his number on a piece of paper. “Call me when you’re free. I’d like to buy you that beer or coffee.”

Kevin tipped his head and a slight smile curled on his lips. A crooked smile. “I will.”

When Kevin walked away, Shaun considered what he’d done. “I asked him out.”

“You did.” Cara elbowed him. “Good for you.”

“I asked him out,” Shaun repeated. He hadn’t wrapped his mind around what he’d done. Holy shit.

“It’s the crooked smile, isn’t it? He is adorable.” She collected the trash on the table. “He got that smile when he was a kid. Auto accident, I think. It messed up his jaw and he’s got a scar. I think he had surgery to have the damage made less visible.” She stood. “I’m going to toss this then sit along the window. Care to join me?”

“Sure.” He picked up his beer and followed her over to the window. The game was already in full swing. “Who’s winning?”

“We are, by two.” She settled on one of the chairs. “If I wasn’t neck-deep in kids and getting mine through junior high, I’d toss my hat into the dating game, but I have no time.”

“Give it a shot.” He sat beside her. “So you went to school with Kevin? Has he been single long?”

“A year, I think.”

“That’s a shame. He’s cute.” No, he was fucking hot—not that he’d tell Cara as much. Most of the cute guys he knew were already married or in long-term relationships.

“The shame is that he’s too picky.” Cara laughed. “Not that I can complain. I’m forty-one and not remarried or even dating.”

“You don’t look your age.” So Kevin was roughly forty-one, too? Only a year or so younger than him. Good. “What do you mean, he’s picky? Being selective is good.”

“He doesn’t date anyone who isn’t approved by his cat,” she said. “You hate cats, so you’d better just have one beer with him and cut your losses, now that I think about it.”

“I don’t hate cats.” He hadn’t found one that liked him, but that was beside the point. “Are he and the cat that close?”

“Very.”

Shaun shrugged. Cara was probably exaggerating. She tended to when she discussed something dramatic. The car accident was always the worst she’d ever seen or her kid scoring a goal was always the best goal ever in the history of eighth grade hockey. “I’ll give him a chance.”

“Who?” Warrick found them and sat beside Shaun. “Dave? Don’t date Dave. He’s full of himself. Plus, you’ll smell like you’ve bathed in his cologne.”

Shaun shrugged again. Their co-worker, Dave, did tend to wear his aftershave a bit on the thick side. Everyone who hugged him tended to smell like him.

“Shut up,” Dave said. “I heard our Shaun gave Kevin Keiser his digits.”

“Keiser? He’s so quiet,” Warrick said. “He’s gay? Oh wait. I knew that. He had a guy…Kyle someone or another. I guess they had a falling out.”

“Over the cat,” Cara said.

Shaun gritted his teeth to keep from speaking. Kevin’s personal life wasn’t their business. “You need to leave him alone.”

“Why? He had a fight with a guy over a cat. The critter hated Kyle, I think,” Warrick said. He shrugged, then downed some of his beer. “If I can’t find a woman to get along with Patrice, then it’s a nonstarter.”

“Your dog?” Dave snorted. “It’s just a dog.”

“Might be to you, but she’s a good dog,” Warrick said. “She’s more loyal than you’ve ever been.”

Shaun snorted. “You two.” He ignored the rest of the conversation in favor of the baseball game. “Kevin seemed nice and I went out on a limb. It might not work, but I won’t know unless we go out, so there.”

“You should give him a shot,” Cara said. “You’d be good for him. You’re quiet and smart like him. Maybe you’d bring each other out of your shell.”

“Maybe.” His thoughts turned to Kevin. He hadn’t felt sparks like that in ages and he liked the rush. He missed the delight of being with someone and being wanted. Hell, he liked being part of a relationship.

Besides, he was tired of the one-night stands and pretty boys who only wanted him to pump up their ego or be their sugar daddy. He was only forty-two, but sometimes he felt ancient. He worked hard for his money and the paper. Could Kevin be the one he’d been looking for?

He hoped so.

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About the Author

Megan Slayer

Megan Slayer, aka Wendi Zwaduk, is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and BDSM themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best author, best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com.

When she’s not writing, Megan spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

Find out more about Megan on her website, and sign up for the newsletter here. You can also check out her Blog, Amazon Author Page, Bookbub and Instagram.

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Megan Slayer’s Starting Over in Cedarwood Giveaway

MEGAN SLAYER IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND YOUR FREE MEGAN SLAYER ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 10th August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: Red Rock Romance + Giveaway

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Red Rock Romance, by Jane Colt

Word Count: 78,512
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 292

GENRES:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
CRIME
CRIME AND MYSTERY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MULTICULTURAL
MYSTERY
PARANORMAL

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Book Description

A brilliant Native American archaeology student and her Brit ‘bad boy’ professor find the key to love, hot sex and…what? A lost civilization?

Cocheta ‘Cat’ White Eagle is a Native American archaeology grad student on a mission to prove the existence of her ancestral Lost Tribe. A vision tells her it’s somewhere high in the treacherous mountains of Sedona. The only problem is she’s afraid of heights! Trying to conquer her fear through pole dancing—of course—she attracts the attention of a bad boy Brit. He’s exciting, brilliant and sexy but totally off-limits. He’s her new professor, a hound, and if he recognizes her as the girl behind the mask of ‘The Contessa’, her career will be over before it begins.

Colin Tucker is a drop-dead-gorgeous Londoner who is rocketing to the top of his field. Alas, the sandy-haired, blue-eyed wunderkind has a weakness for sexy women—including the French Ambassador’s daughter, no less. Banished to the Colonies, he finds himself torn between the exotic stripper and his brilliant student. After being put to a sexy test, he gives his heart to Cat, his student. He pledges to help her in her search, they join forces and live hap—

But wait! Smugglers, deception and danger… Oh my! Colin breaks up with Cat to keep her safe, gets arrested for stealing artifacts and helps the thieves trying to thwart her quest.

Is that really how to win the girl?

Reader advisory: This book contains explosions, death threats, outdoor sex and minor instances of racism from a secondary character.

Nick and Rebecca are madly in love, kinky as hell and ready to push the boundaries a little. As her Dom and her Daddy, fulfilling all her desires is both Nick’s responsibility and his privilege, but while Rebecca loves the idea of Nick sharing her with another Dom, she’s not sure if she’s ready to turn her fantasy into reality.

Nick is eager to facilitate the threesome of her dreams, but it’s no hardship to wait until she’s ready…and, in the meantime, maybe give her a hint of just what two Doms can do for her.

With a small taste of the very sexy possibilities, it doesn’t take long for Rebecca to get on board, especially since she’s developed a small, harmless crush on Nick’s preferred co-Top, his good friend and fellow Dom, Cade.

Nick and Cade have teamed up before, so he knows they can deliver on the promises Nick has made. Together, they’ll be sure to give Rebecca a scene—and a night—none of them will ever forget…

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of erotic humiliation and multiple partner sex.

Excerpt

The tremor in her arm was the first sign Cat was reaching her limit. Her labored breathing was the second. She’d pushed so hard during this climb that every bit of clothing she wore—her long-sleeved gray jersey, her sports bra underneath, her long black climbing tights—was soaked. Sweat ran down from her sopping bandana into her eyes. The salt stung. She clenched her jaw.

I can do this.

The fear she’d fought so hard to ignore disagreed. ‘No, you can’t,’ cackled the demon within.

She fought back.

Hang in there. Stay here for a minute and rest. We’ll be okay. Relax. Just don’t look down.

She took a deep breath and gripped the red-hued rock tighter. Her gloves weren’t thick enough to protect her from its knife-like edge. It bit back. “Ow!” The burn spread through her arms. She kept shifting her right foot to find a more secure foothold.

Better. Worse. Better. Worse. Damn!

The struggle only added to the strain on her upper body. Now both her arms were shaking. Stop! she commanded. They ignored her. She took a series of deep, hard breaths, hoping to get oxygen to her muscles. Her throat burned from the effort.

Put the weight on your left foot to get a better grip.

The black rubber sole slipped off the rock and shot into mid-air. She grunted and instinctively tightened her grip even more, which only increased the pain.

Defying the agony, she pulled herself up a few more inches. Her heart thundered against her chest. Straining, she gasped for air. Safety was within sight. If she could just grab the next handhold, she could regain her balance and give herself a chance. She gritted her teeth and stretched—but it was just out of reach.

She put all her weight on one leg and explored the rough surface with her free foot. Miraculously, she found a foothold that would let her lift herself.

I can do this!

She shifted her weight onto that side.

Stretch! Push! Pull! Fight! Just two more inches.

But the pressure on her leg was too much. The pain in her calf was instant and searing.

Fuck! A cramp!

The muscle tightened with a mind of its own, oblivious to the fact that it was bringing about its own destruction. With her legs now useless, she shifted back to her arms. Drained, they shook. Even her hands had nothing left.

No! No!

She gulped as dread washed over her. But she still struggled.

It will be okay, she lied.

Her heart pounded as her fate became undeniable. Her throat tightened and her face flushed. She didn’t know which felt worse—the pain in her hands from gripping so hard? The searing burn in her muscles? The terror at being so high? Shame at having overreached and being the author of her demise? Swallowing hard, she knew that, given what was about to happen, the question was academic.

Her trembling arms told her that she had only seconds before her body betrayed her. She closed her eyes tight, clenched her jaw, kept fighting and prayed for a miracle. But her final bit of energy evaporated.

Even as the cold, merciless hand of Death pried her fingers from the rock and pulled her to her tragic destiny, she refused to surrender.

No! No!

But gravity pulled her backward like a rag doll.

No! No! Please, God! No!” she screamed into the void.

She plummeted.

Three feet.

The sturdy black safety harness snapped sharply around her. She grunted in reply, and her friend slowly lowered her to the gym floor.

Lauren greeted her with a big smile and a warm hug. “Twenty feet. That’s a new personal best, Cat. Congratulations. Of course”—she laughed—“it doesn’t change that you just died again. What is that…five times today? But it’s still an accomplishment. High five!”

Cat’s arms were so spent that she couldn’t raise either one in response. As her friend helped her out of the harness, she hung her head and wiped her face. “I know you’re trying to be encouraging, but being so weak and terrified only twenty feet off the ground is humiliating. I’m such a failure!” She began to cry.

Her friend covered her in an oversized pink towel to sop up the perspiration. “They’ve got the AC blasting, sweetie. You’re drenched from going all out. You don’t want to catch cold.” She put her arm around her as they walked to the locker room.

As she and her friend dressed in the pristine locker room after showering, Lauren pointed to the sopping mountain of heavy, colorless, sweat-soaked fabric in front of Cat’s locker. “That’s at least one problem you could solve in one stroke. You’d be cooler and more comfortable climbing in shorts and a sports bra. All that wet cloth makes you overheat and drains your energy.”

Cat winced. She was a failure as a climber. Now she couldn’t even dress right.

“I’m sorry, Cat.” Lauren hugged her. “You know I’m your biggest fan. I’m just trying to help. Let me treat you to coffee. I’ll even spring for a chocolate croissant. The good news is that since you’re now nearly a ghost, calories don’t count.”

Cat mustered a weak laugh.

“Seriously, it takes real guts to face your fears like this. You should be proud. You’re a fighter!”

“Sure, a fighter without a punch,” she replied dejectedly.

Lauren wrapped Cat in another big hug, and Cat laid her head on the comforting shoulder, took a deep breath and relaxed into her warmth.

“You’re the best, Lauren. I’d have given up weeks ago if it weren’t for you.”

As they left the gym, Cat squinted at the bright sunshine and winced at the heat then she tossed her bag into the trunk of her old canary-yellow Toyota. It was a glorious day in Sedona. The spectacular blue sky perfectly framed the red rocks glistening in the distance. Normally, Cat took comfort in the natural beauty around her—especially the rugged red mountains that reminded her of her heritage and her mission. Today, defeated by the climbing wall yet again, she barely acknowledged her surroundings. Her friend pointed to the mountains. “You have my word,” she said resolutely. “You’re going to own those rocks.” Cat shrugged. She was too tired to argue.

They walked the few blocks to the café arm in arm. Lauren wore cute pink shorts and a tight white sleeveless top. Cat had on long, loose-fitting black track pants and an oversized, long-sleeved, gray, Red Rock University T-shirt. Pressed down by the weight of her exhaustion, the best she could manage was a slow trudge.

As she reached for her coffee on the white stone counter, her arm still shook. She had to use both hands to pick up the red paper cup. She carefully placed it on the sturdy wood table so it wouldn’t spill. As she started to sit down, however, her leg began to cramp again. She lost her balance and jostled the table. The cup rocked, but Lauren grabbed the drink before it could tip over and stain the red-and-white checkerboard tablecloth. Despondent, Cat plopped into a chair and stretched out her leg to stop the cramp. Once the pain had passed, she picked up a sugar packet—but tore it so badly that it exploded over a pair of cute guys walking by. As she brushed the white powder off her gray T-shirt, she noticed that they looked her way then chuckled. She flushed hotly, put her head on the table, covered it with her arms and sighed.

“They thought it was cute,” Lauren said quietly. “Sit up. They’re hanging around. They want to come over and chat.”

Cat sat back up, shook her head and mumbled something incomprehensible.

Lauren caught the guys’ eyes and shrugged apologetically. They picked up their drinks and headed out. “Okay, the coast is clear.”

Cat shook her head in disgust. “See? I can’t even manage a cup of coffee and cute guys. I’m pitiful—a pathetic sack of fears destined for failure. I’m an aspiring archaeologist who’s afraid of heights. Even after presenting at a bunch of conferences, I’m still terrified of public speaking. I hate it when anyone even looks at me. Those guys were gawking at adorable you. They noticed me only because what I did was stupid. I have ‘career fiasco’ and ‘relationship nightmare’ written all over me. I’m hopeless.” She slumped again.

Lauren took her hand and gave her a warm smile. “Are you kidding? Bumping into the table and not being able to open the sugar are signs that you went all out on your climbs. You don’t do things halfway. I admire that about you.” She put her finger under Cat’s chin, raised it and looked directly in her eyes. “Now, tell yourself you’re a fighter…and mean it! That’s an order!”

She sighed. “Fine. I’m a fighter,” she murmured sullenly.

“Cat!” Lauren replied.

“Okay, okay. Despite my unbroken string of miserable failures and despite the obvious futility of continuing to try, I stupidly haven’t given up,” she said.

Lauren laughed. “If that’s the best you can do, I’ll take it. And also tell yourself that you’re a beautiful, sexy woman. I’ve seen you naked at the gym. Those guys were checking you out because you’re hot—even when you insist on dressing like a nun.”

Cat managed a weak smile then the tears started again.

Lauren reached into her white backpack and handed her a tissue. She stroked Cat’s arm gently. “I know it doesn’t feel like it, sweetie, but you actually had a good day. Once you get past the fear of heights, you won’t waste so much of your energy gripping so tightly. And weight work will give you the strength you need.”

Cat wiped her eyes and made a face, recalling how embarrassing her recent sessions at the gym had been. “I struggle so much, even with small dumbbells, that I get that pitiful look from everyone around me. They ask me if I’m okay, like I’m coming back from major surgery or something. I’ve even tried to go when no one else is there, but then the trainers come over. I can see it in their eyes. They’re worried I’m going to hurt myself then sue them. I’m so self-conscious that it’s humiliating.”

Her friend paused, a frown furrowing her forehead, and looked down at the table. She sat quietly for a few seconds, pursed her lips and moved the saltshaker from a red square to a white one as deliberately as if she were playing chess. She glanced back up at Cat. “Maybe…you…” She took a sip of coffee. “It’s just…”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Lauren looked down and took the pepper shaker this time. Staring in its direction but not really looking at it, she rhythmically tapped it on the table as she pursed her lips.

Cat sighed. “Come on. I can take it. You’re going to tell me I’m stupid to think I can do this. I need to face facts and give up.” She closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands as though someone was going to punch her.

Lauren gently took Cat’s hands and put them back on the table. “Look at me, Cat. I am not going to criticize you. You do that too much already. How do you forget so quickly that you graduated summa, won a great graduate fellowship and are on a fast track to your Ph.D.? Didn’t the school just send you to that conference in Greece where everyone raved over your presentation? You’re awesome! You’re the only one who doesn’t know that. I wasn’t going to criticize you. Actually”—she looked out of the window—“I might…have an idea,” she said hesitantly.

Is there hope?

Looking back at Cat, Lauren sat quietly. She leaned in, lowered her voice and spoke. “I have a thought…about a Plan B…to solve your problems. It’s unusual, but…” She left the sentence incomplete.

Cat leaned forward excitedly. “A Plan B? Really? Tell me.”

Lauren looked into her coffee and stirred. She took a deep breath and sipped. Then her face tightened and turned red. Quickly looking down at the crusty croissant in front of her, she said abruptly, “Boy, this coffee is hot.” Flustered, she tore off a piece of her pastry. “And this looks great.”

Cat was startled. She didn’t believe that hot coffee could make her friend’s face turn scarlet. What is she not saying?

Lauren looked away and pulled her long blonde hair behind her. “Um. Not weights.” She looked down and tapped her fingers on the table. Her face tensed, and—to Cat’s surprise—she bit her lip and held her breath for a few seconds. When she exhaled, she almost imperceptibly shook her head.

After a few seconds, she looked up and glanced out of the window. “I mean, let’s figure out why you’re so afraid first. If we can reduce your panic, you’ll be more relaxed and will climb better,” she said, looking back at Cat. “Then we’ll worry about body strength. So, where does the fear come from? And if you’re so terrified, why are you so committed to learning to climb?”

Everything—Lauren’s cadence, expression, posture—screamed that she’d deliberately changed the topic.

Cat frowned. If there were another way to tackle her fears, she didn’t understand why her friend wouldn’t tell her. But it was obvious that pressing for an explanation was the wrong thing to do. She’d respect Lauren’s wishes. At the same time, she wasn’t ready to confide everything to Lauren yet about her embarrassing fears and weird obsessions—at least not in a public coffee shop where she could be overheard. “I promise I’ll explain—but let’s save it for a day when I haven’t fallen to my death so many times.”

“Fair enough.” Lauren smiled. “But enough with the sad stuff.” She leaned in with a naughty smirk and lowered her voice. “Tell me all about the conference. Any cute guys?”

“I told you I’m not interested in anything that could distract me from my work—and certainly not a relationship until after I have my degree.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Did you follow my suggestion”—she nudged Cat conspiratorially—“and engage in some wanton revelry? God knows you deserve it after how hard you’ve been working.”

“Wanton revelry?” Cat looked puzzled.

“Sorry. Too much Shakespeare. When you got to the conference and unpacked, you must have found my strapless red dress I snuck into your bag. Did it work? Did you get laid? Surely there were any number of hot young studs happy to service you.”

Cat laughed. “Hot young studs? Have you ever seen what archaeologists look like?”

“Sure. Indiana Jones. The hat. The whip. The bedroom eyes. Bedroom hands. Bedroom you-know-what.” She playfully raised her eyebrows a couple of times.

“Sorry,” she chuckled. “That’s the movies. Real life archaeologists are nerd city.”

“Wait a minute. Didn’t you text me that there was some drop-dead gorgeous guy all the women were drooling over? The one who’d made some sort of amazing discovery?”

“Oh, him. The Brit who found an ancient Grecian vase that’s going to rewrite the history of the period. Because my flight got delayed, I got to the conference after his lecture, and he was nowhere to be seen. I don’t believe he was as good looking as everyone said. Nobody’s that handsome! Even so, I wouldn’t be interested. He’s not my type.”

“Not your type? Handsome and brilliant? He’s every woman’s type!”

“No, I mean he’s a hound.” She waved her hand in the air dismissively and grimaced. “He pursues women with the same vengeance he uses to look for artifacts. We’re just prizes for him. The rumor mill said he was bed-hopping the entire conference. Colin Tucker is the last man I’d ever be interested in!”

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About the Author

Jane Colt

Jane Colt began writing romances to deal with the stress of a ‘day job’ that’s mainly about examining the various ways people treat one another badly. An incurable romantic, her stories give her hope that we really can live happily ever after—even if only in our imaginations. She writes erotic romances because, having been raised in a morally rigid home, she wants to encourage in her readers a healthier, ‘sex positive’ outlook. She especially wants her heroines to be as sexy and passionate as they desire. You can count on the fact that her couples end up in love and having great sex! … OK, maybe they have the sex first!

Her stories aim to be light-hearted, fun, upbeat—and sexy! No dark, brooding, broken, tortured guys who need fixing. Just great, handsome, smart, sexy, ‘real men’ whose only weakness is being unable to resist the women she pairs them with. Think Lifetime or Hallmark movies plus hot sex!

She’s lived on both coasts of the U.S., recently leaving the beaches of Los Angeles to return home to the glorious autumn foliage of western Massachusetts. Married, she and her spouse are happy to be the devoted servants of two adorable cats. She loves traveling. Favorite cities: San Francisco, Boston, Venice, London, London, London!

By the way, anyone who knows her would be shocked to learn she writes erotic romances. “Jane Colt” is a pen name. So, shhhhhh.

Find out more about Jane at her website.

Giveaway

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JANE COLT IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET GET A FREE EBOOK FROM THE AUTHOR! Notice: This competition ends on 10th August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.