Justice Wallington knows how to harness his strength and intimidating size—skills he put to good use first in the MMA cage, and now as a bodyguard at the Body Armor agency. But no opponent has ever left him feeling as off balance as his new client, heiress Fallon Wade. Far from a spoiled princess, she’s sweet and intriguingly innocent. It’s a risk-free assignment, until he’s required to fake a relationship with her in order to blend in.
Sheltered from the world after a family tragedy, Fallon longs to experience life—going to bars, dancing, talking to strangers. Not easy with a huge, lethal-looking bodyguard shadowing her every move. Justice seems like her polar opposite, but pretending to be a couple stirs undeniable heat. And when danger strikes again, it’s not just her safety in jeopardy, but a passion that’s real, raw and absolutely against the rules…
And don’t miss the first book in the Body Armor Series!
LORI FOSTER is a New York Times, USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than 55 titles, beloved for her contemporary romance novels revolving around alpha males and the women they fall for. Lori has been a recipient of the prestigious RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award for Series Romantic Fantasy, and for Contemporary Romance. For more about Lori, visit her website at LoriFoster.com, or check out these online locations where she interacts with readers: Facebook.com/LoriFoster, Twitter.com/LoriLFoster, Goodreads and Pinterest.com/lorilfoster.
You can also sign up for her monthly newsletter at LoriFoster.com/Newsletter.
Former MMA fighter Justice Wallington now works for Body Armor as a bodyguard. His latest job is to guard Fallon Ward, a twenty-four year old who has lived a sheltered life due to her parents being over protective after she was hurt in a fire five years ago.
Well, I loved Justice! He was funny and real and didn’t sugar coat anything, yet was respectful. He was tender with Fallon, all the while protecting her.
Fallon was a bit unbelievable. Yes, she had been sheltered by her parents after the fire. But the way it was made out to sound in here was that she had done NOTHING since she recovered. She was thrilled to go to a fair. Had she never been to one as a child? She was excited to be going to a museum. That was a first? I can get never going to a bar or drinking a beer. But the rest I find unbelievable. She had a degree in interior design. How’d she finish that if she was this terribly sheltered?
As always, the relationships between the guys is what made me smile the most. Armie and Cannon, Leese and Denver. It was awesome. Their friendship is awesome! Kind of reminds me of the BDB with how they get along and tease each other and have each other’s backs. 🙂
*thanks to InkSlinger PR for sharing a copy of this with me*
Boldly going where no mountain man has gone before …
I’m determined to make a fortune on this new frontier.
Five years in, my mail-order bride arrives.
How in the hell did I get matched with the daughter of the man that ruined my family’s life?
We’re millions of miles away from Earth and my cabin doesn’t have space for any of her drama.
Problem is, she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
It’s time to explore her launch pad … I know she wants my rocket.
There is no alien-love in this mail-order bride romance, promise! Just bearded hotties and the women they’ve claimed—in space! Nick and Nova’s love story is out-of-this-world! #bigbang #intergalacticorgasm #nicerocket
Mail order brides is one of my favorite tropes for western romances, so I knew I had to read this since it plays on that. Think mail order brides from the Wild West but transport that theme to the near future and the brides are going to another planet to help populate it. Nova is excited to start a new life where no one knows her because of her reality tv family, but when she meets her husband Nick, he gives her the cold shoulder. We have a little bit of angst going on and then Nova decides to find out what the problem is and gets lost on their new planet. Will Nick save her? Will Nick realize what he’s giving up before it’s too late and will he fess up as to why he’s being so yuck with her? Read it and find out 🙂
I liked Nova, a lot. She was brave and strong and had a good head on her shoulders. Nick was kind of a jerk. Sure, he had his reasons, but still. He was jerky. I loved the epilogue!
This was my first book by Frankie Love, but I’ll gladly read more!
I wanted to hate her. For three years, Camilla withheld the fact that my brother had a son, Liam.
Then, Tony died without ever knowing his kid, and I was going to make sure Ms. Rose paid a price for her deceit. I also wanted Liam to be raised as a Burke. Our family’s legacy was one to carry on, so the terms were straightforward.
Live in my home.
Allow me to help raise Liam.
Oh, and agree to be my submissive.
In return, I agreed not to rip Camilla’s child away from her. I also offered them both financial security and a life of luxury. It seemed generous to me. It might’ve been simple, too, had she not reminded me of the lady in red. The one who haunted my dreams at night. Camilla’s hazel eyes were a mirror image, her sweetness more than an acquaintance to my subconscious.
I was a hacker by trade, and the internet was my best friend, sharing with me every secret I wished to unearth. I believed that until an unfathomable truth revealed itself in a different way.
Some secrets are never whispered, only sensed by the heart, and all along, my soul held the truth. It hid even from me the most important secret of them all.
The Terms ends in a cliffhanger. It contains explicit language and graphic sex, including aspects of BDSM. The second novel in the duet, The Terms: Part Two, will release June 1st.
Pulling on my arm, he signals for me to stand. I’m wobbly until I feel his tongue roll over my nipple. My hands find his shoulders, and I use them to brace myself as he sucks the stiff pebble inside his mouth.
“Yes,” I say breathlessly. His fingers thrust inside me, and my legs open to give him room. I’m loving every sensation, from his heated mouth to his thick fingers stretching my walls. “Oh, please don’t stop.” As I pant for air, and dig my nails into his shoulders, his fingers slip from me.
“Stand still.” He moves around me, stirring up a breeze, and it sounds like he’s fastening his pants. Shortly after, he removes the blindfold. My hand shields my eyes as they snap shut from the intrusive light. “Let this serve as a lesson not to lie to me. Open your eyes.” I do, and I’m confronted with his penetrating gaze. He’s fully clothed, holding my blouse in his hand. “You can make our years together easy, or you can make them hard. It’s up to you.”
Grabbing my shirt from him, I hold it over my exposed breasts. “Years…? Do you even hear yourself? You’re a handsome and wealthy man who could have as many women in your bed as you choose, probably at once even, yet you’re trying to play house with me in some twisted way.”
“I’ve already had a plethora of women, and like we’ve discussed repeatedly, I want you and Liam here so he can be raised as a Burke.”
“Now, you’re lying. You didn’t bring us here so you could get close to Liam. You brought us here because of your desire to use me. You said you were pissed I withheld from Tony that he had a son, but I think you’re doing this to feel like you own what was once his, and it’s all because you hated him as much as he hated you.”
Turning beet red with anger, he points his finger in my face. “I have never felt hatred toward my brother, and you’re lying to yourself if you think Tony gave a damn about you. Not once did he breathe your fucking name to me.”
Tears come, but I hold them at bay. I don’t know why his words sting. I learned years ago that Tony didn’t give two shits for me, and Christopher confirmed he didn’t care about Liam, either.
“You’re evil, and although my body may betray me and desire your touch, my heart holds only contempt for you. Get out so I can dress and care for my son.”
“It’s your last night, Camilla. Tomorrow, I’m turning your ass scarlet.”
If you are a Reader/Reviewer or Blogger that is interested in receiving an ARC and participating in the Release Day promotion of The Terms, please sign up!
The Terms: Part Two (The Terms Duet, #2)
I tried to keep my distance. I knew how much trouble Summer could cause me once she was, in her words, “legal.” She wouldn’t accept that being my best friend’s sister meant she was governed by another set of laws.
She was the forbidden fruit.
The “off-limits” trophy prize I couldn’t win.
The “don’t look and sure as hell don’t touch” female in my life.
But Summer pushed until I was backed into a corner. My hands and mouth had nowhere to go but on her. That was my story, and I was stickin’ to it.
I’d known Colton Graham all my life, and he was always a pest … until he wasn’t. That handsome face and masculine body he grew into became hard to look away from, and the more he matured and distanced himself from me, the more I wanted him close.
Since I’d grown up with a brother, I knew how college guys operated. Relationships were off the table, and fine by me; I only wanted two adventurous months with Colton. I knew he wouldn’t be my last, but I was hell-bent on making him my first. What was the harm in that? I could do casual … or so I thought.
Summer Trouble is a Ruby Romp Novella, meaning it contains insta-lust, along with an abundance of dirty talk and graphic sex. It can typically be enjoyed in one reading, so get ready for a fast-paced “get your panties wet” ride.
Ruby Rowe began writing in January of 2013 under the pen name Scarlet Wolfe,
releasing contemporary and young adult. She soon tried her hand at writing erotica
romance and fell in love with the genre.
The pen name Ruby Rowe came about in 2017 when she decided it best to keep her
racier books separate from her young adult romances. She’d like to branch out and
release straight erotica, however, she’s a romantic at heart, and believes it will be
difficult not to include romance in every story.
When not writing, Ruby reads naughty books about possessive, hot alpha males. She has
an addiction to Pinterest, pinning all the sensual photos she can find. She loves bacon,
coffee, and other flavors of ice cream besides vanilla. 😉 She hopes her writing will allow
her readers a reprieve from the real world, giving them an opportunity to live out their
Looking for love, Moriel Reis finds it—in all the wrong places.
A professional teacher by day, Moriel learns that students can sometimes be the best teachers. Two of his students, Scott and Itsuma, share similar interests. Emotions flare as Itsuma challenges “Mr. Reis’s” authority.
After Moriel harshly disciplines him in front of the entire class, Itsuma wants a piece of his wounded pride back. Scott Cooper watches his homeroom teacher with dreamy eyes, but also feels loyalty for his smoldering friend and classmate, Itsuma Karter.
The heated conflict begins a fiery battle between the two. As this passion translation becomes a lustful tale, a surprising ‘hot for teacher’ story becomes a love affair, and a passionate adventure.
This venture out of the ordinary for the two students, allows them entrance into a world of erotic confessions, taking them on a journey into the velvet art of seduction that begins when the fighting ends. But as their skin privilege persuasions beckon for something more, in lies the question… do two wrongs make a right?
Slave to a 100 lbs. GSD (German Shepard) and a computer she calls “Dave”, you’ll often see her riding a 19 hand Shire nicknamed “Gunny” to the local coffee shop near the Santa Monica mountains. Stephanie reads for the love of words, and writes fiction about Dark Hearts and Heroes revolving around social taboos. When ever asked, she’ll reply her whole life can be seen through a comic—sometimes twisted, sometimes funny, but always beautiful and its title is adventure. Come play!
As the son of an Irish mobster, Connor O’Neil spent his boyhood hiding from the horrors of his own home. His one reprieve was a girl he knew only as Evelyn, but even she was taken away. As a man, Connor is determined to stay away from his father’s business. With Sean, participation is not a request, but a demand. The truth is, Connor might be more like the evil he’s trying to hide away from than he would like to admit.
And he’s already spent years trying to cover the scars left over from the pain.
A chance encounter puts the lost girl from his past back on his path, and he no longer has a choice but to face the darkness he’s been ignoring for years.
Evelyn. Sasha. Slave.
She doesn’t really know who she is anymore.
Or maybe she does, and she doesn’t want to tell.
She isn’t the same as she once was—now a thing to be kept and maintained, shuffled from owner to owner until it was her time to go. She only became Connor’s because he took her when he knew she wasn’t his to take.
Except she isn’t Connor’s at all …
And he can’t keep her hidden forever.
~Inflict is a Standalone Romance with graphic depictions of violence, sexual scenes, dark elements and a HEA. It is not recommended for those under the age of 18.
EXCERPT: INFLICT by Bethany-Kris
“You must think I’m stupid,” she whispered.
No, he certainly did not.
She was well spoken. She had a mind of her own and a questioning stare that told him there was a hell of a lot hidden beneath her exterior. He was not going to underestimate her in anything.
“I don’t,” Connor said.
“Then answer my question. You’re a man, so what do you want from me? They always want something; from the very start, each one has wanted something. I’ve filled a void, been used to enjoy, and even to be taught. I’ve been treated like a plaything to some, and like a sweetheart to others. What is your move?”
Connor damn near choked on his next question trying to get it out, “And how many has there been?”
She didn’t even think about it. “Seven, over the years.”
“The first one was not; he had a wife who liked me, and had three boys of her own, but no girls. He was just there to keep me, until I was passed on again. I was eleven when the wife left—I was passed on the next day.”
That spark of fire was back in her eyes. “What do you think?”
“I think you’ve misunderstood my intentions,” Connor murmured.
Evelyn tipped her head to the side, and her gaze dropped to his groin again. “Did I also misunderstand being in your bed, what you were doing in the shower, or the sounds you made at the end?”
She had spied on him.
“I have to call that friend,” Connor said, refusing to indulge her further. “You should find something to wear that covers you.”
“I don’t think you mind.”
“I don’t, but I won’t be held accountable for reacting in an unpleasant way to an arsehole move from my guest.”
Evelyn’s lips curved into a sly, sensual smile.
It was shocking.
Beautiful, but shocking.
Men may have used her for what they wanted, but he fully believed there was a part of Evelyn that was more dangerous than she let on.
“That’s a new one.”
Connor’s jaw clenched. “What is?”
“Jealousy. I’ve never had one that was jealous before.”
Perfect. Just feckin’ grand.
“I’m not … one—an owner, whatever—of those,” Connor said, more irritated than before. “You will do well to figure that out and fast, Evelyn. You will do well to stop trying to figure out what game you need to play to please me; you’re not here for that.”
“Then why am I here?”
Honesty was the best policy …
“I don’t know yet.”
He finished getting dressed, and the whole time, Evelyn never left him in private. As he passed her by to make that phone call and get something to eat for breakfast, her soft voice stopped him again.
“But why don’t you touch me?” she asked. “Even those who were not terrible, still wanted that from me.”
Connor looked down at her, and found she was watching him, curious and unashamed. “I told you why, love. It’s not for me to take, and if you want that, then you can ask for it.”
“I don’t understand, and I’m not sure what to do or how to act for you, if you want nothing from me. I’m not sure who to be here.”
“That’s a sad idea, isn’t it? That you have to be something at all, and not just a person, a woman.”
Her gaze dropped. “I don’t know anything different.”
Bethany-Kris is a Canadian author, lover of much, and mother to three young sons, one cat, and two dogs. A small town in Eastern Canada where she was born and raised is where she has always called home. With her boys under her feet, snuggling cat, barking dogs, and a hubby calling over his shoulder, she is nearly always writing something … when she can find the time.
To keep up-to-date with new releases from Bethany-Kris, sign up to her New Release Newsletter here:http://eepurl.com/bf9lzD
Do you have a love for romance stories? Included in this anthology are stories that will have you intrigued; make you swoon; all the while warming your heart.
Fifteen SBR Media authors present to you: A Love for Romance.
♡A preview of Trading Yesterday by USA Today Bestselling Author Kahlen Aymes
♡ The Break (Breaking Free, Part 1) by USA Today Bestselling Author Debra Presley
♡ Always Too Late by Micalea Smeltzer
♡ Until the Stars Forget to Shine by Amber Garza
♡ The Only Chance by Magan Vernon
♡ Awakened: A Leila Marx World Novella by Amber Garr
♡ Do You Mind? by Freya Barker
♡ Cock-Blocked by W. Ferraro
♡ What Happens on Spring Break by R.C. Stephens
♡ Always There by Elizabeth Hayes
♡ Falling for Lindy by Ashlee Taylor
♡ Burning the Midnight Oil by Elison Grace
♡ Babysitting for the Biker by Sammi Starlight
♡ Chasing Love by Misha Elliott ♡ Spellbound by Ashlee Sinn
*** NOTE *** After you pre-order A Love for Romance fill out this form to receive SEVEN books free! That’s 22 books for $0.99! *The seven free books are available for pre-orders only. Offer ends April 23, 2017. I pre-ordered → http://bit.ly/2mm0y5y
Nikki Jennings is dancing her way into the big time. She has gone from a shy, small town girl to a New York City Ballet star. She had everything to offer the world and she was taking it by storm.
Chase Harding is a cocky jock that has always gotten exactly what he’s wanted. Most recently, the rookie spot on his dream hockey team. He has everything he could ever want until he meets Nikki. She won’t give him the time of day. He won’t take no for an answer.
Will Chase be able to score the v-card of his latest prospect or is he going to shoot and miss for the first time in his life?
I saw her and my world stopped dead in an instant. Everything around me faded to black as I got lost in her from afar.
She was sitting alone in the corner of the coffee shop, biting her lower lip as she read from the yellowing pages of a book with a broken spine and a tattered cover. Her face was soft and full of anticipation as the pages flipped by, and I craved to know what part she was on as she read from my favorite book.
I was hooked.
I was mesmerized.
She was mine. Already.She just doesn’t know it yet.
And I didn’t even know her name.
A minor detail.
“Chase?” Hannah nudged my elbow from the opposite side of the table we occupied like we had every weekend for the last few weeks.
“Huh?” My eyes snapped to my sister as she stole me away from daydreaming about the gorgeous brunette I craved to know.
“Are you going to be able to go home for Thanksgiving?” she asked, frustration lacing her tone.
I shook my head. “Not with the schedule we have.” Our family was incredibly close and I knew it was going to break my mom’s and sister’s hearts that I wasn’t going to be able to make it home for the holidays this year, but that was part of the sacrifice I was going to have to make for my career.
My eyes continued to wander to the petite brunette. Her hair was long and it swept over her right shoulder. She was in black yoga pants and an oversized tank top cinched at her waste by a ridiculously adorable bright green fanny pack. I wondered if she had just gotten done at the gym or if she was just being comfortable on this lazy Sunday morning in the city.
My sister continued to steal my attention. “How has practice been?” Hannah was trying to keep the conversation moving and I was being a complete jerk, but I couldn’t pull away from the sheer beauty only paces away, which felt like a million miles.
I propped my head up with my hand so I could see my cute girl out of the corner of my eye while still kind of looking at Hannah. “We’ve only had a few practices but I am enjoying it and learning a lot.”
“That’s really exciting. I can’t believe my baby brother is a famous hockey star now.” She giggled a little as excitement perked the corners of her lips.
“I’m far from famous yet, sis. We’ll see what happens once the season actually starts.” I took the last sip of my black coffee, using the opportunity to catch my girl as she laughed to herself while she read. Her enjoyment was radiating sunshine as she devoured the novel.
“Whatever, you’re famous in my head. I brag about you all the time.” Hannah dramatically rolled her eyes at me before moving the conversation right along. “I had rounds with one of your teammates’ wives last night.”
I knew a lot about most of my teammates’ home lives, and none that I knew of had a wife that worked at Flushing. “Really? Who?” I asked, trying to sound more interested than I really was.
“This really sweet nurse named Karla. I obviously was bragging about you while we were in the breakroom grabbing coffee.”
I laughed. “That’s Brayden Cox’s girlfriend. They have a kid together, and they’re practically married.” I felt like a teenage girl gossiping about guys in Teen Bop, but if I could do it with anyone, it was Hannah.
Hannah shrugged. “So, yeah, his wifey. Wait, Cox? Isn’t that your all-time hero or something?”
My face got hot. “Yeah…yeah he really is. I used to wear his number in high school.”
“Well, isn’t that just the cutest thing ever.” Hannah’s pager started blaring and she shot up while checking the codes that were coming through. “Duty calls,” she huffed, throwing her purse over her shoulder.
I jumped up and pulled her in for a quick hug. “See you later, Hannah banana. Go save some lives.”
She squeezed my shoulder before turning to leave. “Bye Chase. Call me later so we can schedule another coffee date.”
My sister was great at making sure we spent time together when we could. I appreciated her wanting to hang out with me, but I was thankful in that moment to be able to focus on the adorable stranger—that was going to be rectified soon enough, soon she’d be so much more than a stranger.
Without overthinking it, I walked right over to the fading brown loveseat my girl was cuddled up on. “One of us in this very room is in fact the murderer,” I half-whispered, taking a seat in the armchair across from her. I damned the coffee table between us—just one more obstacle I was going to have to overcome to get to her.
Her round smoky eyes smoldered as they connected with mine. Without missing a beat, she retorted with, “Oh, yes. I’ve no doubt in my own mind that we have been invited here by a madman—probably a dangerous homicidal lunatic.”
The way she giggled as the words left her lips was intoxicating. It was like cupid’s arrow had struck my heart. “I’m Chase.” I reached out my hand and she took it, and the simple touch sent fire through my body.
“Nicolette, but everyone calls me Nikki. Nice to meet you, Chase.” Her smile ripped across her face and crashed into my heart. “You’re a Christie fan, I take it?”
I leaned back in the chair, trying to look relaxed even though I craved to scoop her up into my arms and never let her go ever again. “You are holding my favorite book.” I reached into the duffle bag I had packed, ready for practice later on that afternoon, and pulled out my very own copy, which was being held together with scotch tape.
Her eyes softened a bit. “Isn’t it nice when a book recommends a person?”
Susan’s Review: 4 stars
If you want insta-love with a happy ending doused in super sweetness, then this is it!
This was adorable! Chase and Nikki meet in a book store and they fall in love doing firsts in New York City. They were romantic and I loved it! I hadn’t read a book by Kristen Hope Mazzola before, but I’ll be going find her other stuff soon because her writing was easy and flowed well.
*Thanks to L. Wood PR for sharing a copy of this with me*
About the Author:
I am just an average twenty-something following my dreams. I have a full time “day job” and by night I am an author. I guess you could say that writing is like my super power (I always wanted one of those). I am the lover of wine, sushi, football and the ocean; that is when I am not wrapped up in the literary world.
Please feel free to contact me to chat about my writing, books you think I’d like or just to shoot the, well you know.
A portion of all my royalties are donated to The Marcie Mazzola Foundation.
Meet Shaw and swoon! Crenshaw Jacobson met the woman of his dreams…and he was determined to spend every night possible with her. But Waverlee Armstrong was leery of commitment, having been abandoned by her family at an early age. She knew that she loved Shaw, but can she learn to trust him and spend just one more night?
Written as part of Fiona Davenport’s Sex, Vows & Babies Kindle World.
Standalone *** Instalove *** It’s a Fun Little Novella!!
Experience the world’s most enchanting and timeless love story—retold with a dark and realistic twist.
A BEAST LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF HIS PAST
Reclusive and severely scarred Prince Adam Delacroix has remained hidden inside a secluded, decrepit castle ever since he witnessed his family’s brutal massacre. Cloaked in shadow, with only the lamentations of past ghosts for company, he has abandoned all hope, allowing the world to believe he died on that tragic eve twenty-five years ago.
A BEAUTY IN PURSUIT OF A BETTER FUTURE
Caught in a fierce snowstorm, beautiful and strong-willed Isabelle Rose seeks shelter at a castle—unaware that its beastly and disfigured master is much more than he appears to be. When he imprisons her gravely ill and blind father, she bravely offers herself in his place.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Stripped of his emotional defenses, Adam’s humanity reawakens as he encounters a kindred soul in Isabelle. Together they will wade through darkness and discover beauty and passion in the most unlikely of places. But when a monster from Isabelle’s former life threatens their new love, Demrov’s forgotten prince must emerge from his shadows and face the world once more…
Perfect for fans of Beauty and the Beast and The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty of the Beast brings a familiar and well-loved fairy tale to life with a rich setting in the kingdom of Demrov and a captivating, Gothic voice.
Beauty of the Beast is the first standalone installment in a series of classic fairy tales reimagined with a dark and realistic twist.
Disclaimer: This is an edgy retelling of the classic fairy tale. Due to strong sexual content, profanity, and dark subject matter, including an instance of sexual assault committed by the villain, Beauty of the Beast is not intended for readers under the age of 18.
🎬 Book Trailer 🎬
~ Isabelle bravely takes her papa’s place ~
Quite a while later, as Isabelle relaxed and soaked in the hearth’s warmth, she found herself nodding off to sleep.
Her mind detached from the stress of the past few days and receded to another time and place. She recalled her journeys with Papa when she’d been little more than a girl. All the villages they’d passed through; all the faces they’d seen. She thought of reading fairy tales beneath a bejeweled sky, of leaning against a mountain of crates as Papa pointed out the constellations and their eternal stories—
Rattling seized her attention and ruptured her thoughts. She peered at Papa, who was carefully examining his teacup. Not with his sightless eyes, of course—but with wandering fingertips. The same impressive coat of arms engraved the fine proclaim; Papa ran his weathered fingers over its surface, clearly in awe of the raised gold decorations and studded gems. The thing must have cost a small fortune. Indeed, she’d never beheld such finery. Even the wares Papa had once sold paled in comparison. The faded brim of his top hat hung low and covered his glassy eyes.
Then her mouth went dry as he slipped the teacup inside his coat.
Has he gone mad—or simply grown that desperate? It was completely unlike Papa to steal. How could he—and after being shown hospitality?
Her outcry startled him.He half leapt from the chair—and Isabelle watched in horror as the teacup tumbled out from the coat. It rattled and rolled onto the stone ground, shattering into a million pieces.
A gloved hand broke through the darkness, quicker than a lightning strike. The hooded figure emerged from the shadows and seized Papa by his cravat. His other hand clasped a branch of flickering candles. The illumination flashed across the dark folds of his cloak, soaking him in a pool of light.
“Stealing from me, are you? Breaking my family’s keepsakes?” A sharp jerk forced Papa to his feet. The rough movement sent the top hat tumbling from his head and onto the stone floor. Papa’s waxen features melted into an expression of horror and confusion.
Her heart pounding, Isabelle lunged forward and frantically cried out, “Let him alone! It was an accident. Don’t you see that you’re frightening him?”
“Good.” The simple declaration threw Isabelle into stunned silence. Papa called out for her as the man strode from the sitting room, his solid legs eating up the ground in swift, decisive strides. Mon Dieu, he was physically dragging Papa through the castle.
This isn’t happening. It cannot be…
“Stop it! Stop it now—you monster!” Isabelle picked up her skirts and frantically chased after them. Parts of the castle were dark and unkempt, causing her to trip several times over wayward pieces of furniture. Her heart violently pounded in her ears. The man moved impressively fast; between his agile stride and sweeping cloak, he almost appeared to float through the corridors. Plopping onto the stone floor, his dog gave up trying to keep pace. Dust motes rose and fell in midair like ashes, obscuring her vision. She followed the branch’s illumination, watching as the candlelight threw prisms along the walls and floor.
“Please, monsieur. Have mercy, I beg you! He didn’t know any better. He’s not in his right mind. He would never—”
“No one steals from me.” His low voice echoed in the darkness, steady as a war drum.
Isabelle felt herself descending. She ducked as she crossed a low archway, where she was met with a steep flight of stairs. A mouth into Hell. The ceiling lurked unusually low and was strung with cobwebs. Isabelle hiked up her skirts, which were now a filthy mess, and raced down the decayed steps. The hooded figure kept a swift pace while she desperately pursued Papa’s frightened cries.
Plagued by the darkness, Isabelle tripped and crashed down the stone steps. Pain cascaded through her body, knocking the breath from her lungs. Her skinned knees and elbows throbbed, her heart pounded, her head burned. She spared a moment to catch her breath as she struggled to her feet and resumed her vain quest. Papa’s muffled pleas and the sound of slamming bars ripped at her very soul.
The dank dungeon was nearly black. She slowed her pace, moving toward a beam of light at the far end. Rats the size of kittens scurried across the stone floor and filled the darkness with their terrible squeaking. Her heart thudding, Isabelle rushed through the maze of cells, following Papa’s voice and that flickering light. Chains and crude-looking objects littered the ground—torture devices from a past age, she realized with a shudder.
She found them.
Papa was grasping the rusted bars; disoriented and frightened, he was murmuring incoherent pleas. Tears fell from his sightless eyes, though Isabelle knew he fought to restrain them. The branch of candles sat in front of the cell, its wavering light illuminating his terrified expression.
“Forgive me. I have wronged you when you showed my daughter and me hospitality and mercy. Please, monsieur!”
The man towered before him, silent and still. His long arms remaining crossed, he stood with his lean torso straighter than a broadsword. His hood was drawn back, though Isabelle couldn’t see his face from her angle.
“Papa, I’m here,” she said beneath the weight of a strained breath.
Not sparing a moment, she dashed over to the cell—and the man slowly rotated into sight.
Except he resembled more of a beast than any man she’d ever seen.
Isabelle clamped both hands over her mouth and forced her eyes away. The sight burned—and the inferno in his gaze only kindled that fire.
Half of his face looked monstrously twisted; charred mounds of puckered flesh distorted the features beyond any recognition, draining him of all traces of humanity. Those heaps of burned, leather-like skin gleamed and glistened in the candlelight. His hairline receded on the left side of his face and slanted high above a shriveled ear.
Under the severe scarring, his age was more or less indistinguishable—though Isabelle guessed he wasn’t a day under thirty-five.
But his eyes were breathtaking. Two brilliant sapphires. There was also a great sadness and anger in those eyes, as if he’d suffered more than his share of original sin. Alas, as she gazed into his eyes, all she saw was blue ice—an endless, arctic landscape of cold desolation.
The man turned away, appearing greatly affected by her stare, and hastily rearranged the hood. His scarred hands trembled as he smoothed down the cloak’s thick folds.
“Release him,” she demanded. “He didn’t mean any harm. I—”
“No one meddles with my family’s possessions. He can rot down here as my prisoner. He ought to count himself fortunate that I haven’t taken his hand.”
“Your prisoner? This… this is a mistake! You must believe me. He’d never—”
A deep, husky chuckle cut through her plea. “Even so.”
“Please. Just let him out.”
“It’s too late for that.” Those words seemed to speak volumes. He exhaled a long breath, and Isabelle watched as it unfurled against the darkness in a cloud.
“Why… why are you so angry? Why must you be so hateful? So cruel?”
“If I let him go,” he said at length, “what can you offer in return?” Isabelle couldn’t find her tongue. She wandered directly in front of the cell, almost in a lucid trance, and clasped the cold bars. Papa was huddled in the corner now, coughing and shivering. Guilt, unlike anything she’d known before, pulsated through her.
I’m to blame for this. And if Papa stays here, he’ll die well within a fortnight, likely much sooner…
“Get out of my sight.” The man’s voice jarred Isabelle from her inward stupor. She turned to him and stepped forward, raising her chin at a defiant angle.
I am not so easily broken or frightened.
I am a survivor.
She scanned her empty, dank surroundings: the cold stone walls, sweeping cobwebs, and blazing branch of candles. Despair encased her. Stark emptiness. She dared to step closer while a faint trace of pity bloomed inside her heart.
They stood centimeters apart. Heat radiated from the man’s body, surrounding her, immersing her. Isabelle vainly searched for softness him, but only a dark, embittered spirit reached her. She stared up at his towering frame and gestured for him to bow forward. He hesitated, then did as she commanded. Her hands shook, damn her, as she peeled back his hood and met that piercing gaze again.
Half of his face was handsome—devastatingly so. In her twenty-two years of life, she’d never beheld such haunting beauty.
Jet‑black waves, rich and flowing, framed the chiseled lines of his startling features. Stubble peppered the strong curve of his jawline and shadowed a smooth, sculpted cheekbone. The right side of his face was striking, beautiful—a stark contrast to its wrecked counterpart. And within those patrician angles and intense eyes, she encountered his humanity.
His was a face of inconsistencies. Complex. Damaged. Predatory. And more than a bit intriguing.
“I will stay with you,” she heard herself whisper. “In my father’s place.”
“Isabelle—no! I forbid it!”
The man folded long, strong arms across his broad chest. His gaze crawled down her face and settled on the rise of her breasts—planting directly on her silver cross.
“I demand he’s seen by the finest of physicians.”
“Isabelle! Listen to me! I’m an old man. I’m dying. I—”
The man’s dark, strangely erotic voice cut through the cellar, and his eyes whipped back to her own with a startling force. “As my mistress.”
“You must stay here as my mistress. For as long as I demand. Perhaps forever.”
The word rang with a note of finality.
“Please, Isabelle! I beg you. Don’t do this!”
How could I endure it?
“Do as I say and your father shall safely return home.” He waved his cloaked arms with a magician’s delicate grace. “Your father—whatever family you may have—shall want for nothing. A house, clothing, anything they require. You only need to say the word. Your father will be under my protection—under the care of nurses and physicians—until his last breath.”
Isabelle briefly recalled what—and who—was waiting for her back in Ruillé. This fate wouldn’t be much worse. This desolate castle could serve as the perfect hideout. Papa would live in France, free from Raphael’s clutches and in the hands of the world’s greatest physicians…
“How… how can I trust you?” And does he even have the wealth to uphold such a promise?
She had faith Papa would send help once his health recovered. Or she’d find a way out, means of escape. In the interim, she would survive this grim castle and whatever horrors it concealed.
Papa would not. The castle would crush him beneath its dark heel in a matter of days.
Isabelle glanced at Papa again, then stared into the man’s brilliant eyes. There, lurking within those expressive depths, she found the softness she’d pursued minutes before.
She sucked in her breath and nodded her agreement.
“It is done.” The man swept backward. “He’s to remain down here till first light. Then our agreement shall be carried out. In the meantime, I will bring blankets and food—”
“But it’s so cold! He—”
“Stole from me while he was a guest in my castle.”
He would not compromise. That much was certain.
“I demand to stay with him.”
“As you please.” He unlocked the cell. “Beyond the dungeon lies a labyrinth. Try to escape, and you’ll be lost forever.”
He tapped the wall with his booted heel. It swiveled, spun, and rotated, sweeping her captor to the other side…
~ Adam gives Isabelle his library ~
“Close your eyes, ma belle.”
Strong hands cupped either side of her face. She felt as Adam’s thumbs tentatively brushed back and forth, stroking her cheeks in reverent caresses. Isabelle shut her eyes and slipped beneath his spell… leaned closer in the darkness until they stood heartbeat to heartbeat. The warmth of his breaths teased her hairline, bringing with them a minty scent. His thumbs descended to just below her chin. She lowered her face… felt a featherlight kiss land on her brow. It happened so subtly and gently—Isabelle wasn’t sure whether she’d imagined it.
She was allowing herself to feel too much. A stab of guilt penetrated her chest as her thoughts crept inward. Yet instincts told her to trust in her gut—to allow her heart to speak over her tumultuous thoughts. So she shoved away her guilt and allowed herself to simply feel.
Pounding footfalls echoed in the room, attesting to its sheer size. Isabelle waited in anticipation under the veil of darkness, her small hands knotted in Stranger’s wiry coat. The steady beat of Adam’s boots floated away from her. A loud whipping noise and a burst of light illuminated the room as he tugged a heavy damask curtain aside.
“Open your eyes, Isabelle.”
She did as he commanded. Shafts of sunlight tore inside, dancing across the marble floor in blaring prisms—though the darkness still obstructed the room’s contents. Isabelle’s imagination soared as she fantasized about what lay in those clotted shadows. Pale light fringed Adam’s formidable shape, contrasting his silhouette against the dim atmosphere.
He paused in front of the opened window and folded both arms behind his ramrod-straight back. Isabelle gazed at the line of his body, unable to tear her eyes away. Indeed, light from the window set him aglow, shrouding him in a cloak of gold. He wore black trousers and a white silk shirt, which fluttered lightly when he moved. Over the past several days, he’d made a habit of abandoning the cloak and hood. Isabelle had become accustomed to the mismatched sides of his face; where she once felt horror and revulsion, she now tingled with curiosity and budding admiration. Alas, the only true revulsion that remained was the memory of that night…
Adam was an undeniably prideful man, and she knew he’d only scorn her pity. Even his stance exuded a sense of importance and authority. Strange, how he was so often shy and almost childlike; then, as if by a flip of a coin, he’d turn regal, confident. It was as though he was battling two separate halves… as if an intricate part of himself kept fighting to emerge.
Not unlike the two contrasting sides of his face, Isabelle mused.
For a suspended moment, he stood in front of the conservatory window, his scarred hands planted on his lean hips as he surveyed the distant gardens. Then he crossed the room, his footfalls amplified by the medallion flooring, and thrust open another curtain.
Whoosh. Light flooded the space and chased away the shadows, and the room’s contents were ushered into view.
Isabelle nearly lost her breath at the sight.
It was a beautiful library—the most stunning sight she’d ever beheld. Ornate, intricately carved shelves towered against the painted walls and reached for a gilded ceiling. A baroque chandelier hung in the heart of the room; its crystals sparkled like diamonds as they drank in morning’s light. Isabelle fought to temper her racing heart as she gaped at the sweeping shelves. An intimate reading nook lined a curved window; lush pillows decorated the chaise, and a brass candelabra towered beside it.
In all her life, she’d never seen so many books. There were far too many to count. Too many books to read in one lifetime. Isabelle couldn’t help but think of the little storekeeper from Ruillé’s bookshop; she imagined his astonishment, how his bushy white brows would rise at the sight of Adam’s vast library. He’d run his wrinkled fingertips over the bindings and spines, reverently caressing each one. Her heart twisted with nostalgia at the thought of her former home. Once Raphael had entered her life, however, Ruillé had transformed into a prison.
This castle should have been just that. A jail cell. Yet she’d never felt more free than in that moment.
The library was larger than her whole cottage; several book-filled rooms connected to it, each one built with floor-to-ceiling shelves. Three sliding ladders were nestled against the circular walls, soaring to the very top of the domed ceiling.
She spun on her heels, twirling in place—watching as the immense collection flurried by in a fantastic mosaic of colorful spines and intricate woodwork.
Her eyes planted on Adam, who stood in front of the large row of glowing, arched windows. His arms were still folded behind his body, his sleek back straighter than an arrow. She couldn’t find her voice, couldn’t move forward, although she ached to reach out and embrace his solid body.
How would it feel to be enveloped inside that commanding strength?
A devastating smile spread across his misshapen features and cut her thought short. He ran a shaky hand through his hair, which was highlighted by the sun’s rays, and then hesitantly strode toward her. His boots rapped against the floor, and the sound swelled through the library. Stranger barked as he approached, the loud noise echoing in the room and jarring Isabelle from her trance.
“Do… do you like it?”
Finally he stood before her, silent and still. Isabelle inhaled a long breath, then laid her palm on the left side of his face. Her fingertips danced over the raised ridges and welts, the reddish scars and shriveled ear. His eyes shuttered closed, and she felt a shudder rake through his tense body.
“Yes. I love it.” And I’m starting to fall in love with you, too…
🌹Meet the Author🌹
Rachel L. Demeter lives in the beautiful hills of Anaheim, California with Teddy, her goofy lowland sheepdog, and her high school sweetheart of fourteen years. She enjoys writing poignant romances that challenge the reader’s emotions and explore the redeeming power of love.
Imagining dynamic worlds and characters has been Rachel’s passion for longer than she can remember. Before learning how to read or write, she would dictate stories while her mother would record them for her. She holds a special affinity for the tortured hero and unconventional romances. Whether crafting the protagonist or antagonist, she ensures every character is given a soul.
Rachel endeavors to defy conventions by blending elements of romance, suspense, and horror. Some themes her stories never stray too far from: forbidden romance, soul mates, the power of love to redeem, mend all wounds, and triumph over darkness.
Her dream is to move readers and leave an emotional impact through her words.
Don’t be a stranger! Rachel loves to connect and interact with her readers: