Book Blitz & Excerpt: Under Control + Giveaway

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Under Control, By Zoe Normandie

General Release Date: 17th Aug 2021

Word Count: 70,063
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 287

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
BONDAGE AND BDSM
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MEN IN UNIFORM

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Book Description

Danica has no choice but to trust her ex-Navy-SEAL bodyguard, so she can’t let her defenses down or fall in love—no matter what.

All I’ve ever done is run. I’ve had no choice. It’s just run or die. My family is ruthless.

But then everything changed. He showed up. Protecting me, challenging me, teaching me… I don’t know what to think about this former Navy SEAL. I’ve never had a bodyguard before.

I’ve never been with a man before, either.

He represents a lot of firsts for me.

The only problem is that the harder I fall, the faster he pulls away. There’s something in his past he won’t tell me. Something dark.

He says he’ll never fall in love again.

But, for me, it’s too late. I’ve never felt these intense feelings before, and I’m terrified. What I feel for him seems dangerous. I may have no choice but to run again—if it’s not too late—because I’ve realized that my heart is firmly under his control.

Reader advisory: This book contains violence, abduction, attempt at a forced marriage and references to murder.

Excerpt

“Moose, hold up. I haven’t cleared the area,” Delta called out to the man jumping out of the passenger side of the armored black SUV.

Former Navy SEAL and decorated war hero Carrick Byrne tilted his head back, giving Delta the usual ‘don’t even start’ expression.

“Relax, big rig. This is just a little ‘find and retrieve’ contract,” Carrick said in a skeptical voice tinted with the slightest Irish accent as he leaned back into the idling SUV. “I don’t think we need to worry about one little girl.”

Delta narrowed his brown eyes, and a lock of his slicked-back dark-blond fell onto his unimpressed face. “She’s been on the run for years. Don’t underestimate her.”

Carrick looked around with obvious sarcasm at the fact that they were literally about to walk through a park on their way to finish the job. Glancing back, Carrick raised his eyebrow to his friend, recognizing the face of someone who wanted to punch him.

“Come on. How much trouble could one chick cause?”

“Your client seems to think she can cause a lot of trouble,” Delta reminded him. “And our intelligence suggests the same. She’s slippery, Carrick—and I don’t think your client is very forgiving.”

“Don’t overdramatize this,” Carrick warned. “This is a nothing contract.”

The two strong, opinionated men exchanged looks before Delta backed off, seemingly knowing that at the end of the day, Carrick was the CEO of Sea-to-Sky Security.

“Have it your way,” Delta said, leaning back. “You’re the boss.”

Moving away from the SUV, Carrick slung his old black hockey skates over his shoulder, heading toward the rink. He flipped up the collar of his black work coat, even further concealing his identity. He had a target to follow. Years of urban reconnaissance and black ops had given him more than enough tactical training to handle the job.

Popping a black baseball hat on and smoothing back his black hair that was peppered with gray, the dark Irish-American moved stealthily.

Delta took off behind him with gusto, but Carrick didn’t care. He just needed to get the job done and over with, then move on to the next one. It should be in and out—quick and easy. Those were the types of cases Carrick needed to build his client base and his reputation as the premiere private security firm in LA.

And, damn it, he was going to do the best job he could—because after losing everything that mattered to him, this new business venture was all he had left.

Carrick focused on the scene before him. The crowd had thinned. It was growing quiet. As he came up to the skating rink, a young couple passed him on the other side of the pathway leading out of the park. They seemed happy—in love. His only instinct was to scowl, and he pulled down the brim of his hat farther as he stooped to put on his skates.

The target was on the ice. It was time to get closer.

Then retrieve.

Out on the rink, it was nearing closing time, and everyone was clearing out. He was the only one heading in. Good. He needed the space. It was much easier to keep eyes on the target.

At least, that was what he told himself. He wouldn’t admit it, but at that moment—Valentine’s Day night—he wanted nothing else than to have a reason to be alone—alone and away from everything to do with his life, away from the memories. Is this my second Valentine’s Day alone? He shuddered, pushing the thought aside. That wasn’t something he was prepared to feel.

He didn’t have to. The girl was in sight.

Hockey skates on, Carrick moved hard down the bumpy outdoor ice—as hard as the restrictive leather strap of his shoulder holster would allow. Wearing a pistol was like wearing boxers. He did it every day, no matter what. It had come to feel like a second skin.

Keeping his eyes on the ice, not on her, his blood pumped to his engorged muscles and a sated grin crossed his lips. There were very few things in life that served to alleviate his stress—hockey being one. The other was a similar cardio-exhausting exercise that elevated his endorphins, pumped his blood and left him satisfied and spent.

Pushing forward, he observed her—the lone woman skating in the opposite direction, once again nearing his position. Her long brown hair had escaped her pink toque, and her warm breath visibly illustrated her panting chest, even from afar. Carrick had to admit that her form was more than pleasing to look at. Athletic and swift—he didn’t doubt she could give him a run for his money in a race, but he kept his gaze down. He made sure to give her enough space so that he wouldn’t scare her away.

Danica Petrova.

As she was skating past him, he stole one glance of her face, locking eyes. He had to see her face in person. All he’d seen was a picture.

He wasn’t disappointed.

Her red cheeks flashed at him and her eyes sparkled. So youthful and full of life. What he’d seen in a blink of an eye held the promise of an eternity of pleasure as he took in her beautiful face.

But then, in an instant, just as her body floated by him, her skate hit a groove in the ice, an unmistakable sound—and common. Turning immediately, he thrust forward and reached out, catching the young woman as she fell. He quickly heaved her back onto her skates, rescuing her from a hard fall. As he held her, she fluttered her dark lashes at him, enchanting and stunning him.

“You okay?” he asked, looking her over, hoping she hadn’t been hurt.

“I’m okay.” A sweet, feminine voice escaped her full lips.

Holding her close, he realized that her eyes hadn’t been sparkling. They were wet.

Has she been crying?

“I just caught an edge,” she explained, like she’d been caught doing something wrong. “Thank you.”

As she made to push away from his arms, he realized that he had been still holding her all this time. I never let her go.

She frowned as she probably realized the same thing. He released his grip on her thick sweater, letting her float back a foot into her own space. Silence filled the rink. Their gazes did not break, and she continued to blink at him, likely assessing him, given the look in her eyes.

There was something distrustful about the way she was evaluating him. Her body language screamed that she was scared and threatened that she was about to run. Before thinking, he threw out his hand, just knowing she was just about to pop smoke and disappear—and knowing he couldn’t allow that. His client had warned him that she was a runner—and that she could slip out of any situation.

His client had also warned him of the importance of not letting her go.

“Carrick,” he introduced himself, keeping her there.

She took his hand, though hers remained limp, and she retracted it right way. Clearly, she didn’t know what to make of him—but her manners shone through.

“Dani.”

Cute. She seemed very sweet, and not at all like the client had described. That was the first thing that brought on his suspicion that something might be wrong and not as he’d been led to believe.

“Nice to meet you,” he replied with a little more meaning than he’d expected.

She responded slow and shy, her voice cracking, “I really do appreciate you saving me from the fall.”

“Forget it.” He shrugged as instinct urged him to back off a little.

But the caveman inside him couldn’t take his eyes off her. Lithe and pert, she almost glowed under the soft lights. There was something different about this target. She continued averting her gaze, looking down at the hard ice and shaking her pretty heart-shaped face.

Something was brewing in his mind that he was unwilling to accept, and his strategy shifted. This was not how he’d planned the operation to go, but he had to adjust on the fly—right?

Carrick checked his watch and turned in the direction she was going. “Heading this way? Last five minutes.”

He motioned, nearly regretting it as he did. Really, he knew better. They didn’t have time for leisurely skating.

“I was.” Her words poured out nervously, responding to his invitation. “But…”

“You aren’t anymore?”

“I mean, I am.” She toyed with her gray sweater buttons as she looked away, seemingly just as conflicted as him. She was a smart little coyote, and he wondered if she was ready to bolt.

She is definitely ready to bolt.

“Well, let’s go then.” He took the lead, pushing off the ice and gliding away from her.

If there was one thing Carrick was good at, it was controlling a situation. After a pause, there was the distinct sound of skates on the ice behind him, and she caught up to glide alongside him. He’d been sure she would follow—had just known it.

A sense of intrigue tugged at his senses as a cold burst of wind blew her long brunette locks across her shoulder.

So he decided to lay it on thick.

“Looks like you’ve got tough luck tonight,” he said.

“It certainly wouldn’t have been the worst thing to happen to me on Valentine’s Day.” The rebellious words seemed to slip from her mouth, and she glanced up with an embarrassed expression.

“That sounds like a good story,” he replied.

Her wide gaze betrayed discomfort. The effect? He was able to observe her eye color more closely. They were a lighter brown, but mixed. With green? Like camouflage. He’d never seen a color like that before.

He continued looking around. “We must be two sad cases—out here alone on Valentine’s night.”

She brought her gloved hands together, rubbing them and offering him a shy smile. “Or, we must both just love skating.”

He couldn’t help but smirk, his chest flexing, “Guilty. I’m a hockey guy.”

What the hell am I doing? He wiped the smile off his face, feeling like an idiot. However, it seemed her guard was lowering—and in return her shy tiny smile grew a bit.

“I can’t believe you…caught me.”

“Come on. I couldn’t let you take a nosedive.” He shrugged, pumping harder down the ice.

She kept up, showcasing just how good she was on blades.

She cocked her head and offered the slightest grin, tepid and testing. “You have quick reflexes.”

He shrugged again. “Yeah, when I need to.”

Built from years of Special Forces tactical training.

She shook her head again in apparent disbelief, then looked away. It was almost like she didn’t believe someone would save her.

The bumpy ice on the rink was overdue for maintenance, which tended to be the case at the end of the skating day. There weren’t many rinks in California—and fewer outdoor ones. Her skate caught an edge again, which she was too distracted to see. As she yelped and almost fell, he lunged instinctively, grabbing her against his body one more time.

“Christ.” He exhaled.

Holding her in his arms again, he gazed down on her young, golden face. She bit her lip as she glanced up at him. He was aware of his great height and wide frame, which could be intimidating for some, especially when he was on skates.

“Want to keep going?” he asked, offering his arm. “Or should we head off?”

Danica grinned up to him, making him wait far too long before she answered, her glittery, innocent gaze flickering left and right. Never before had he wanted someone to take his arm so badly. As much as he hated to admit it, he had her exactly where he wanted her. He was forcing her to make a choice. It was going to play into the job nicely.

“One more round.” She grinned her little smile, but her cooperation was tentative at best.

She slipped her hand in the crook of his elbow, only to then avert her gaze from his. The flush in her cheeks grew, and he guessed it was more than just the cool night wind coming in off the Pacific Ocean.

Comfortable silence found them briefly as they pushed along the ice side by side. She never let go of his arm, and for the first time, it felt like they were skating together. Something stirred inside him that hadn’t been there before.

“How long have you been skating?” he asked, propelling the conversation forward.

“Oh, for as long as I can remember,” Danica began, revealing more and more. “I grew up on skates and dreamed of becoming a figure skater.”

Again, the admission was followed by caution that flashed across her eyes. She didn’t want to share much, but she was. She recoiled slightly, as if realizing her mistake, and tried to create space between them until he decided he wouldn’t let her. He didn’t want her to withdraw.

Changing the tempo, he pushed her out a little from him, allowing her hand to slide down his forearm and slip to his just as he twirled her around on the ice. It was so smooth, so natural—like they’d been skating together for years. He didn’t miss the wide smile that crossed her lips.

“It never hurts to dream,” Carrick said as he pulled her back into him, running his gaze over her form for the hundredth time, his curiosity at maximum.

What does Danica want? What does she do? Questions sprang to the front of his mind. Why did my client lie to me?

“I have no shortage of dreams.” Her sweet smile betrayed a longing, and it was clear she noticed the way he was looking at her.

“What do you do for work?” He pressed on as he ushered them farther down the ice.

“I’m a nurse.”

“At the hospital?” His gaze caught the city worker beginning the process of closing the rink.

“No, at a family clinic,” she replied.

“What else?” he probed. “Tell me more.”

She let out a low laugh, as if in disbelief he would even say that. “I think it’s time to go.”

Then she let her hand slip out of his arm, gliding one perfect white skate in front of the other on her way to leave the rink. As he followed, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her, watching her closely as she moved. It was like he’d never met a woman before, never seen one. If he were a wiser man, he’d notice that his chest didn’t feel as tight as usual for the first time in too long.

If he were a wiser man, he’d notice that he’d grown very distracted.

“What about you?” She cut into his thoughts as she held on to the wall of the rink, stepping one foot through the gate. “Are you…?”

If it weren’t for the sound of a man shouting as he sprinted toward them, Carrick would have caught what she said after that. The shouting was unmistakable, and for a second he felt like he could kill Delta for the interruption.

Danica snapped her eyes open like a doe caught in the headlights, clearly frightened by the six-foot-five man running up to the gate. Delta grabbed onto the side of the rink with his meaty SEAL-build as he spoke to Carrick in low tones.

“Moose, there’s a situation. We have to go.”

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About the Author

Zoe Normandie

I’m a mom with three sweet young daughters. I have three jobs – mom, author, and analyst. Years ago, I grew up in a military family, went to a military university, worked alongside the military as an intel analyst, and my husband is (surprise!) a veteran. I’ve tried to write for anyone who wants to feel what it’s like to be with someone from that world – with all the good and the bad.

My heroes are grounded in reality, and are inspired by guys I know in the special forces. Guys who’ve been in combat, tasted war, and fought for what they believed in. They are really heroes, but raw and rough and broken in their own ways.

My heroines similarly come from the best parts of the women I know, and the challenges we all face. The relationships that they fall into have familiar characteristics for many, myself included. These heroines represent all of us, with our good and our bad laid bare.

In my stories, I illustrate, romanticize, and celebrate the harsh realities of duty, service, and sacrifice.

You can find Zoe on Facebook and Twitter.

Giveaway

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Zoe Normandie Under Control Giveaway

ZOE NORMANDIE IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET A FIRST FOR ROMANCE GIFT CARD! Notice: This competition ends on 31st August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

 

Book Blitz & Excerpt: Sun, Sea and Small-Town Secrets + Giveaway

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Sun, Sea and Small-Town Secrets, by S.J. Coles

Word Count: 48,634
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 193

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
CRIME
CRIME AND MYSTERY
EROTIC ROMANCE
FAKE RELATIONSHIPS
GAY
GLBTQI
MEN IN UNIFORM

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Book Description

Small towns are full of secrets, some harder to keep than most.

Sebastian Conway is a professional psychologist and accomplished criminal profiler, but when one of his patients is sentenced to life in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, he simply cannot let it go. His borderline obsessive behaviour has embarrassed his boss and lover, Gerrard Wilson, and the relationship has come to a bitter end.

Seb has now grudgingly taken Gerrard’s advice and come to the small coastal town of Ruéier in the South of France to get some distance and clear his head—but he cannot sit by and do nothing.

He has started writing a book he believes will address the failings in the case, but when he gets swept up in a local investigation into suspected drug trafficking, which is led by the enigmatic and strangely enticing Antoine Damboise, the book—and Seb’s intentions to avoid active criminal cases—take a back seat.

He knows it’s a bad idea to get involved, but he can’t seem to help himself. And when it seems Damboise is tempted to make their relationship more than professional, Seb finds it easier than ever to ignore his better judgment. But when a local drug dealer is murdered and Seb is implicated, everything gets a whole lot more complicated.

Can the two men set aside their personal feelings long enough to figure out what’s really going on before Seb ends up in prison? Or worse…

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of murder and drug use.

Excerpt

I turned over with a sigh. I’d thought that second bottle of red would help me sleep this time, but all I’d achieved was insomnia with a headache.

The moonlight creeping in round the edge of the blind illuminated the bold, minimalist prints on the walls and the simple, spartan furniture that was so at odds with the balmy, luscious countryside outside.

Gerrard had always liked his surroundings…controlled. Even the washing powder was the same brand he’d used in the flat at home, so the sheets smelled like him.

I pushed them back with a frustrated grumble then wandered into the living area. I stared at the open laptop on the desk, the piles of journals and drifts of paper surrounding it. I shook my head, returned to the bedroom, dressed then left the villa.

The cool night air felt good against my flushed skin. I strode along the seafront boulevard where the cafe and boulangerie shopfronts were bleached shades of grey in the moonlight. I took deep breaths, inhaling the smells of salt and dried seaweed.

I checked my phone. It was getting on for two-thirty. I rubbed my face, admitting I wasn’t feeling much better than when I’d left the villa—no better than when I’d stepped off the plane a week before, either. I sat on a bench and gazed out over the deserted beach. During the day, the sand was so light and the sea so blue that it was almost tropical. Even at night it was beautiful, all shifting shadows and pale sand under a sky so vast and crowded with stars that it was like it belonged to another world.

I’d never visited France before. Hell, I’d never ventured outside the UK, apart from that one—and best forgotten—trip to Majorca with Gerrard for our anniversary. But I had to admit that Ruéier was picture-postcard perfect—small, unspoiled, off the beaten track, so not overrun by tourists and the inevitable high-street chains that followed them. It was everything Gerrard had said it was—the perfect place to get some distance and write my book.

So why can’t I sleep?

I stood, thinking to walk the long way home and avoid analysing the question too deeply but stopped when the sound of voices rippled the easy quiet of the night. Stepping out from the shadow of a tree, I saw one of the boats in the harbour had its cabin light on. It illuminated the wide deck and a tall wheelhouse. Several figures were aboard and another on the pier, loading large bags into the hold.

I wasn’t sure what made me look closer. There had to be plenty of reasons for loading a boat at night. But something about the way they moved and the low urgency of their muttered French raised the hairs on the back of my arms.

When the figure on the pier handed over the last heavy-looking holdall, his jacket lifted and I glimpsed a gun tucked in his waistband.

I stepped back into the shadows just as the hooded face turned my way. I held my breath. The voices went quiet but then the roar of the boat’s engine tore through the silence.

I swore silently to myself. I’d come to Ruéier to get away from suspicious figures with guns. I held my breath for several more heartbeats before daring another look. The boat was heading for the harbour mouth and the figure from the pier was coming up the stairs less than five meters away. I ducked behind the tree and held still. I could hear his footsteps now, coming right for me.

He walked right past, heading south, down the boulevard toward the ferry port. His shoulders were hunched, his hands in his pockets and his head moved left to right as he scanned the shadows on either side.

I didn’t breathe again until he’d turned a corner and disappeared.

Buy Links

Choose Your Store

First For Romance

About the Author

S. J. Coles

S. J. Coles is a Romance writer originally from Shropshire, UK. She has been writing stories for as long as she has been able to read them. Her biggest passion is exploring narratives through character relationships.

She finds writing LGBT/paranormal romance provides many unique and fulfilling opportunities to explore many (often neglected or under-represented) aspects of human experience, expectation, emotion and sexuality.

Among her biggest influences are LGBT Romance authors K J Charles and Josh Lanyon and Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice.

Find S. J. Coles at her website and follow her on Instagram.

Giveaway

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S. J. Coles Sun, Sea and Small-Town Secrets Giveaway

ENTER HERE AND GET A FREE S. J. COLES ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 20th July 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: Against a Rising Tide + Giveaway

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Against a Rising Tide, by Samantha Cayto

General Release Date: 29th June 2021

Word Count: 54,881
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 194

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
MEN IN UNIFORM

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Book Description

Love always finds a way.

Scott, a Navy SEAL, returns to his childhood beach house to deal with the emotional trauma of his latest mission. When a sniper killed his closest friend, Scott was left dealing with survivor’s guilt and the disturbing feeling that his friend meant more to him. He has always identified as strictly straight, attraction to men being something he has ruthlessly suppressed.

When he finds Kitt, a friend of his sister’s, hiding out from his abusive boyfriend, Scott is once again drawn to someone of his own gender. Although annoyed at the intrusion, Scott also instantly develops an interest in his unwanted houseguest. Keeping his distance is proving to be impossible and his growing desire for Kitt cannot be ignored.

Forced to leave home, Kitt entered into a relationship with a man who turned abusive. Having finally found the courage to escape, the last thing he wants or needs is another alpha male invading his space. But having nowhere else to go, he ends up staying with a man who disturbs him in more ways than one. As scary as the SEAL is, Scott is exactly the type of man Kitt dreams about.

The beach house is small, and the two men cannot avoid one another or the attraction between them. With each passing day, their bond grows stronger. Hesitation slowly gives way to passion. They need to trust their feelings and let go of the things that frighten them, to find safety and solace in each other.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, attempted murder, stalking, PTSD and references to death in a war zone, abusive parents and relationship abuse.

Excerpt

By the time Scott reached the beach house, visions of falling face-down in his bed swam before his eyes. He really should have checked into one of the airport hotels for the night instead of renting a car and heading north. But the driving need for solitude had overridden his better judgment. Even arriving in Boston at o-dark-thirty hadn’t thinned the crowds of people enough to satisfy his jangled nerves. He needed quiet and the mental space that came from being utterly alone to get his head screwed back on right. Otherwise, his time in the SEAL Teams would come to an end. The mere thought of having to leave his Naval career was intolerable to him.

He took a moment as he exited his rental SUV to simply stand and stare out over the ocean. The sun was just rising above the rippling blue-green water, washing the horizon in tones of red and orange. Seagulls screeched in their staccato fashion, as if they were in a constant state of agitation. He welcomed the familiar sound of their mindless scolding. The crash of waves against the rocky shore told him the tide was coming in. He took in a deep breath of salty air tinged with a hint of clam flats and smiled. All the joy of his childhood filled the aching hole that had formed in the middle of his chest. Coming here had been the right call. This was where he needed to be.

His exhaustion momentarily abated, Scott grabbed his duffel bag from the back of the SUV and walked up the stone path to the front door. There was no need to lock his vehicle, not in the low-crime town of Sewall, Massachusetts. It was barely more than a spit of rocky land and had never developed the cachet of its neighbors like Rockport as a fashionable seaside town. It attracted no one other than the dedicated perennial vacationer and was the perfect place to hide away for a while without fear of disturbance. His sister wouldn’t haul her brood up from the suburbs of Boston until August. He could be sure of having the place all to himself…to be alone.

Safe.

No, where had that thought come from? He was a SEAL, for God’s sake. There was nowhere on Earth that he didn’t feel as if he could protect himself. And he understood better than most that death was always lurking around, regardless. One only had to be ready to face it. Defeat it. If necessary, accept it when options had truly run out, but only after fighting to the very last breath. He took in another deep lungful of brisk ocean air with that last thought, irritated at his dark, almost defeatist attitude.

I need sleep. That’s all.

Scott almost sprinted to the seafoam green door, fumbled with the keys to open it and stepped inside the cool, quiet house of his childhood…that was not empty.

He froze inside the doorway and stared at the vision that greeted him. His mind did all kinds of acrobatics as he tried to make sense of what he saw. With the open floorplan of the first floor, he had a clear view of a naked woman standing in the kitchen. She was reaching up to a shelf filled with bowls, her toned arm stretched high. A curtain of long, dark hair swung below her shoulder blades, catching his attention. He followed the movement past the tapered ends, down a slender back of creamy skin accentuated by some kind of colorful tramp-stamp.

The tattoo skimmed a high, tight ass that held his gaze like a magnet. His overtired brain popped and snapped with a sudden spark of need. As exhausted as he was, his body came alive, desire shooting through him to pool in his groin. Even as an involuntary grunt passed his lips, the more rational part of his mind took over. It was trying to put on the brakes because something was off. The woman’s hips were too straight, and her shoulders were a bit broad. As the pieces clicked into place, the beach house inhabitant whirled around with a sharp inhalation. Now, the cock and balls of the man came literally swinging into view.

Scott’s own cock was caught between hardening and deflating again. He could feel it waging a war inside his worn jeans for a few seconds before it gave up in a semi-hard state that he ignored. Nothing to see here, folks. It was the other man’s reaction that caught and held his focus. Across the large expanse, there was visible fear in the dark eyes staring back at him. And the guy did nothing to hide his genitals. Instead, one hand had flown to the base of his throat in a clear defensive gesture. He whipped the other up to hold against his left cheek. But the quickness of the move hadn’t stopped Scott from seeing a livid bruise that marred the pretty skin there.

“Who?” The young man blinked at him for a few seconds, breathing quickly, before he visibly relaxed. “Oh, you’re Karen’s brother, aren’t you?” Although he dropped the one hand from his throat, he didn’t let go of his cheek entirely. Instead, he carded his fingers through his hair, letting the strands hide that half of his face. “She said you were overseas.”

“I was.” Scott stepped fully into the house and shut the door behind him before setting his duffel on the floor. He was careful to keep his movements slow. He’d dealt with petrified villagers plenty of times and knew he had to prove that he wasn’t a danger to them. Build trust. While he was at a loss as to why exactly, he could sense this man needed the same kind of consideration.

“I just got back and have two weeks’ leave.” Not that it had been his idea.

“Take the time, Carpenter. There’s no shame in needing it after what you’ve been through.”

“Yes, sir.”

He’d known an order when he’d been given one, but he still felt some guilt about lying around on a beach while others were out there fighting on his behalf. He pushed those thoughts aside to deal with the more pressing matter. Before he could ask the who, what and why, the naked man was talking again.

“I guess Karen didn’t know that. She said I could stay here until she comes up with her kids.” He dropped his gaze, while still tugging at his hair in nervous fashion.

Scott approached the kitchen area, again keeping his movements slow and non-threatening. “I was going to call her later.” He stopped and hooked his thumbs in his front pockets. “I’m sorry. You have me at a disadvantage. Do I know you?”

The young man flashed his gaze at him before skittering it away. Now that he was closer, Scott could see that his eyes weren’t entirely brown. There was a hint of green there as well. Hazel, he supposed, although he’d never given much thought to eye color before. He forced himself to focus on them, however, because the alternative was to stare farther south. There was a temptation to sneak peeks at parts of the man’s body. He’d always studiously avoided that urge before. He saw more naked men than he did women, that was for sure, and in a military environment where privacy was non-existent, one had to be respectful. Inside a quaint New England house, with the muted dawn shining through the window, making everything soft and almost romantic, the nudity was harder to ignore.

“I’m Kitt Tyler.”

Scott’s attention was tugged back to Kitt’s face—although really, to his lips. He couldn’t help noticing how plump and pink they were. ‘Generous’ was the word that came to mind, like those of old-time movie starlets—the type of mouth that combat men dreamed of kissing as they lay in their makeshift beds. It was what got them up again, fighting for their country. That observation startled him even more. What the hell is my problem? Exhaustion, that was all. What he needed was a solid eight horizontal hours uninterrupted, and that wasn’t going to happen until he wrapped up this unexpected meet-and-greet.

“You’re a friend of Karen’s?” Kind of a dumb question.

Kitt gnawed briefly at his lower lip, once again drawing Scott’s unwilling attention to that spot. “Yeah, I am, but also her hairdresser. I mean, that’s how we first met, and we’ve become friends, too. You know?”

No, Scott didn’t…at all. The last thing he and his sister ever talked about was hair styling, although she always looked great. He knew that she prided herself on being elegant and fashionable for her job as a publisher for some glossy, high-end magazine. She had him on her subscription list, which was sweet, except it all went straight into his trash. What did he care about trendy places to eat in Boston and the best store for thousand-thread-count sheets?

“Anyway,” the guy continued, still playing with his hair and darting his gaze around. “She has like a million pictures of you at home, so I recognized you straight off.”

Not exactly true. For a moment, when he’d turned and caught sight of Scott, Kitt had obviously been afraid. Of what? Scott wondered. Or rather…whom?

Scott ran a hand over his head. The need for sleep was overtaking his initial and visceral reaction to this unexpected guest. “I’m sure she’s bored you to tears with stories about me, too.” His sister was proud of his service, although he feared that she’d put him on a pedestal he didn’t deserve, certainly not after this last deployment.

A ghost of a smile graced Kitt’s lips. That was the moment when it hit Scott that this young man was utterly gorgeous—at a he-could-be-a-model level. Although, he was probably too short for that profession. He was about five-seven, just the right height to tuck into Scott’s shoulder. The new observations sent his brain into another unwanted spasm of discord.

“She has a bit, but I think it’s great how close you two are.” Releasing his hold on his hair, Kitt fluttered his hands and shifted his feet. “Anyway, I’ll pack up and get out of your way. It, um, might take a while for me to get a Lyft driver to come here this early, though. I hope that’s okay.”

“You don’t have a car?” Another stupid question. The driveway had been empty when he’d pulled up.

“No. Um, no.” Kitt stared at the floor again.

Scott could see the distress in the guy’s posture and read it in his expression. He knew when someone was afraid, nervous or angry, even when they tried to hide it from him. He could tell when they were lying about something. Kitt Tyler wasn’t merely a friend of his sister who needed a free summer vacation. There was more to it than that, and given the guy’s skittishness and that bruise on his cheek, Scott could make an educated guess what that more was.

For the moment, however, he was incapable of any further rational thought. He needed that eight hours, then he’d deal with the situation.

“Look,” he said, repressing a yawn. “I’ve been awake for over forty-eight hours straight. I’m going upstairs to get some sleep. No need for you to leave yet. We’ll talk later.”

Kitt’s relief was easy to see. Still, he said, “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.” Scott turned to retrieve his duffel bag from by the door.

“Oh, I should get dressed now so that I don’t disturb you.”

Too late on that score. “I can sleep through anything, but thanks.”

He made himself not watch as Kitt flitted up the stairs. He didn’t rush when he followed, either, so that he wouldn’t see any more of that undeniably tantalizing flesh. His plan worked. By the time he’d reached the second floor, his sister’s guest had disappeared into the far back room. The sounds of a drawer opening and closing drifted down the narrow hallway. Scott bit back a groan when he realized that Kitt had taken his usual room. That thought had barely formed before the guy popped back out, wearing crotch-hugging cut-off jeans and a tight white crop top. The clothing wasn’t much better than the nudity had been at hiding the guy’s fit physique. Oh, and bonus, now that Scott wasn’t studiously averting his gaze, he could see a belly button ring winking from the flat stomach.

“I took one of the kid’s rooms, if that’s okay?” Kitt looked impossibly young himself. What was the minimum age to be a hairdresser, eighteen? The guy must be straight out of school.

Scott didn’t bother to correct him. Visions of Kitt lying in Scott’s bed were already creeping into his brain. Instead, he waved the issue away and turned into what had been his parents’ old room. Karen and her husband used it now, but she obviously wasn’t coming up any time soon. He may as well bed down in it. He kicked the door shut with more force than he’d intended, but the lure of the big brass bed was irresistible. Stumbling toward it, he did as he’d dreamed of for hours—fell face-down onto the quilt his grandmother had made. He had just enough brainpower left to kick off his sneakers before giving in to the pull of sleep.

His last thought, however, was of the pretty boy at the end of the hall, silhouetted by the glint of the rising sun.

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About the Author

Samantha Cayto

Samantha Cayto is a Boston-area native who practices as a business lawyer by day while writing erotic romance at night—the steamier the better. She likes to push the envelope when it comes to writing about passion and is delighted other women agree that guy-on-guy sex is the hottest ever.

She lives a typical suburban life with her husband, three kids and four dogs. Her children don’t understand why they can’t read what she writes, but her husband is always willing to lend her a hand—and anything else—when she needs to choreograph a scene.

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