When her boss asks for her help on a high profile intellectual property case, the last person attorney Mila Kingston expects to walk into her office is the gorgeous stranger she had an unforgettable one night stand with on her birthday. Navy SEAL Griffin Black has been upfront since the beginning that he’s not looking for love or commitment, which is just fine with Mila, who’s focused on her career and certainly doesn’t have time for a charming playboy. However she can’t pass up the opportunity to represent Griffin and his brother in a landmark trade secret case involving a plant from the Amazon with the potential to cure cancer and the greedy woman who will stop at nothing to possess the rights to the research.
Although Mila’s determined to keep him at arm’s length, the more time she spends with Griffin, the harder it is to resist his easy going charm and his promises of forbidden pleasures. Before long, Mila is entangled with Griffin in a battle for the rights to medical research that could change the world of medicine, as well as her heart.
**CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK #1, FEARLESS**
Round two of the Black Brothers Trilogy belongs to middle son, Griffin Black, a navy SEAL with a penchant for domination, protection, and adventure. Like his older brother, Beckett, Griffin will do anything to protect his family and for the time being that means taking a leave of absence from the Navy. The Black family is knee-deep in a lawsuit related to the elder Black’s research into a cure for cancer and Griffin is at the center of the mess. Knowing he needs someone he can absolutely trust, Griffin turns to an old friend who is now a lawyer for help.
Mila Kingston is very good at her job and her specialty, intellectual property takes a considerable amount her time. Much to her mother’s great displeasure, Mila is focused on her career and not at all interested in a long-term relationship. A one-night stand is a very good idea though. The panty-dropping gorgeous SEAL she met at the bar on her birthday was exactly what Mila needed and the things she did with him will be seared in her memory for years. And come crashing to the forefront of her thoughts first thing Monday morning when she finds him sitting in her boss’s office. Well, hell. So much for a no-strings-attached-never-thought-I-would-see-you-again fling.
Once the awkwardness is out of the way and Griffin has his say (and other things!) about Mila sneaking out, the work to help the Black family begins. The situation is a sticky, awful mess but it is a phenomenal opportunity for Mila for do what she does best and continue to see Griffin. Griffin is very clear about his situation, he wants to help his family and be with Mila for as long as his career will allow him to. In the time he is granted, Griffin intends to be with Mila in every way imaginable and some he hasn’t even considered until the moment he met her. For Mila, Griffin is an absolute revelation and once she agrees to be with him, there is no going back. Griffin’s sense of adventure, his honor and, his extremely kinky mind is everything Mila could hope for in man. You know, if she were looking for a long-term commitment. 🙂
As the days and weeks go by, Mila buries herself in work with her every thought and effort going toward Girffin’s case. Though she is young, Mila is incredibly intelligent and crafty when it comes to the law. She knows her stuff and as she learns more of Griffin’s story and exactly how he is involved, she becomes all the more determined to sway the judge to their side. Meeting the rest of Griffin’s family (and soon to be family) just seals the deal for Mila and she knows, when all is said and done, leaving Griffin is going to be the hardest thing she has ever done.
From the very beginning, Griffin knows his job will call him back into service and he will be forced to leave Mila. Like Mila, Griffin expected a simple one-night stand but Mila is everything and when he has to walk away, it damn near kills him. To make matters far, far worse, Griffin leaves after the most beautifully erotic night either has ever experienced and before the court case can be settled. With nothing more than a goodbye letter, Mila picks up the pieces of her broken heart and moves forward as best she can. Little did either of them know, the sh*t has only just begun to hit the fan.
The Bottom Line: Yep, round two of the Black Brothers Trilogy pulled me right in and kept me hooked from start to finish. Griffin is a less severe version of his older brother, Beckett but he is no less sexy for it. He is strong, intelligent, capable, sexy, and fiercely loyal. Though he never saw his life taking the course it is, Mila is non-negotiable and will he do anything to be with her. His romantic side is balanced by his kinky side and Mila (and me!) that makes him a thoroughly likeable character. Mila is an instantly likeable character though she does make some dumb choices in the name of self-preservation. Her relationship with Griffin grows so quickly but it is clear, even in the direst moments that the relationship is meant to be! There is more than a suitable amount of action in this read, some truly excellent naughty bits (the island scene!!!!), a continuation of the plot established in book one, Fearless, the return of old characters, and a clear indication of where the third book in the trilogy, Shameless is going. All in all, a really good read 🙂
Fiercely independent and newly single mom Emmaline Hart has spent the last thirteen years putting everyone’s needs before her own. Secretly afraid that her ex-husband’s assertions that she’s too uptight are right, Emma nonetheless keeps her life, and her emotions, firmly under control, fearful of getting hurt again. However, when she meets the dangerously attractive Beckett Black on a job assignment, the way his casual touch sends her pulse racing forces her to acknowledge her growing need to move beyond her fear. When Beckett offers her a job writing the memoir of his father, a renowned cancer researcher, Emma jumps at the career opportunity and the chance to get to know Beckett better.
Emma spends her days with the renowned doctor, who has spent his career studying a plant in the Amazon that has the potential to cure cancer, and her nights with Beckett, who slowly pushes past her fears and breaks down her barriers, introducing her to a passionate and forbidden love that surpasses her wildest fantasies. As the doctor’s story of secrets and cover-ups unravels, so does Emmaline’s view on everything she thought she knew about herself and the power of surrender.
Emmaline Hart’s self-confidence took a hard hit during her long marriage. Her once supportive and charming husband became a worthless piece of sh*% who blamed all his failures on Emmaline and held her success in contempt. Clearly, that marriage failed. The only real advantage to come out of her lousy marriage is her daughter, Nikki. Since the divorce, Nikki and Emmaline have more than made their way with Nikki killing it in school and Emmaline continuously advancing her professional writing career. With her life on track, Emmaline has only one desire, to regain her self-confidence and become fearless.
Beckett Black is fearless, confident, successful, gorgeous, and totally interested in Emmaline Hart. From the moment he first saw her in his medical practice office, Beckett was intrigued. Everything about Emmaline calls to Beckett’s dominate nature and meeting her is imperative. Beckett isn’t one to go into a situation unprepared so after a little research and a serendipitous moment in the office, Beckett not only gets his chance to meet Emmaline but he offers her a chance of a lifetime, to help his father write his memoir. In addition to helping his father, Beckett also makes it clear he is interested in pursuing a relationship with Emmaline. No time like the present to be fearless, right?
From the beginning, Beckett asserts himself and Emmaline finds herself on uncertain but absolutely erotic ground. After a little research of her won, Emmaline finds she is not just involved with an assertive man but a Dominant and if she is willing, Beckett will help her explore a whole new world of sex and sensuality she never knew existed. Though Emmaline was sure her life was complete, Beckett’s presence fulfills her in a whole new way and in no time flat she is hopelessly in love with her Dominant man. For Beckett’s part, Emmaline is precious and being a part of his life quickly becomes as critical as breathing. Though only thing that could possibly tear Beckett from Emmaline’s life is betrayal and when that moment comes, even his legendary control slips.
Not only does the betrayal come but it comes in a huge and very public way and Emmaline Hart is caught right in the middle of the storm. Not only is her relationship with Beckett blown all to hell but her work with Beckett’s dad is also compromised. If Emmaline has any chance of making things right, she is has to pull off something huge in order to get Beckett’s attention and convince him of her innocence. Emmaline certainly gets Beckett’s attention but it is what happens later that is the real game changer.
The Bottom Line: Fearless had me hooked from the very beginning! Bush doesn’t make the reader wait for the good bits, those happen pretty quickly and the story just gets better from there. Though Emmaline’s self-confidence is a bit on the low side, she quickly comes out of her shell under Beckett’s care. Beckett may be a Dom but he is a pretty mild Dom and that is exactly what Emmaline needs in her life. The book becomes even more interesting as Beckett’s father tells Emmaline the story of his life and his research which of course, inherently means learning Beckett’s story. Beckett’s story is as much a surprise as the ultimate betrayal but it certainly makes for good reading. There is just one scene in the book (at the club at the end) that set me somewhat on edge but in the end, Bush pulled everything together and created a pretty perfect HEA. Guess what, dear reader? There are two more Black brothers . . .I am on to book two, Matchless!!
Six years ago, Chad’s hunt for a dangerous treasure turned deadly when his family home was set on fire, his parents killed. Faking his and his sister Amy’s death to protect her from further retaliation, he set her up in a new life with a friend’s help, letting her believe he’d died. But now the men who hired Chad to find the treasure have found him, imprisoning and torturing him to learn where it’s hidden. A dark-haired beauty named Gia helps him escape, promising him access to his worst enemy. And as he tries to unravel the deep secrets of the past, he starts falling for her…only to discover she’s not what she seems. Unable to trust anyone, Chad focuses on only two things: protecting his sister Amy and getting revenge. Is love even possible in the midst of heartache?
It’s nearly eight in the evening when I take the elevator to our secure, key-coded floor and enter the suite, where I immediately hear, “Chad! Is that you?”
Angry, I grab the chair in front of the door and shove it aside.
“Oh, thank God,” Gia gushes, flinging her arms around my neck. “You’re in one piece.”
Stunned by her greeting, by the way her sweet curves meld against me, I fight the heat rushes through me, untangling her grip and pressing her hands against the wall. “Tell me what you know about my sister,” I demand.
“Nothing, Chad. I told you that. Is she—was she—”
“You know I didn’t find her.”
“I wanted you to find her. I was terrified for you.”
Anger expands in me, seeping into my veins, and on some level, I know it’s not about Gia at all, or maybe I just fear it will be about her. I don’t want to trust her and be wrong. “You barely know me.”
“I know you’re in pain. I know what being alone feels like, and I know that’s what you feel right now.”
It’s a word that pierces my heart with guilt. It’s what I know my sister has felt for six long years. I was all she had, the only one she could count on, even if she didn’t know I was there—and I failed her. The pain is a seed that grows and expands inside me in an instant, and suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, the idea of being betrayed by Gia is not as biting as the idea of failing her as well. My hands come down on her face, and I stare at her. “I have money and resources to hide you, and I promise you, no one will find you. But I won’t be there with you. I’m poison to anyone near me. You can’t forget that. I can’t forget that.”
I don’t give her time to reply. My mouth closes down on hers, my tongue pressing past her lips, stroking and stroking again, in what is instantly an aggressive, searching kiss. She moans, and I swear the sound of her moan shatters a piece of my soul that is already bleeding for my sister. In this moment, it feels like all I have left is this woman.
Escaping Reality (book 1) is available to “Read Free” on NetGalley right now – https://s2.netgalley.com/catalog/book/62595
For More information on The Secret Life of Amy Bensen series page including: buy links, and excerpts for the previous two and also upcoming releases. Visit Lisa’s website here: http://bit.ly/AmyBensen
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones is the author of the highly acclaimed INSIDE OUT SERIES, and is now in development by Suzanne Todd (Alice in Wonderland, Austin Powers, Must Love Dogs) for cable TV. In addition, her Tall, Dark and Deadly series and The Secret Life of Amy Bensen series, both spent several months on a combination of the NY Times and USA Today lists. Since beginning her publishing career in 2007, Lisa has published more than 40 books translated around the world. Booklist says that Jones suspense truly sizzles with an energy similar to FBI tales with a paranormal twist by Julie Garwood or Suzanne Brockmann. Prior to publishing, Lisa owned multi-state staffing agency that was recognized many times by The Austin Business Journal and also praised by Dallas Women Magazine. In 1998 LRJ was listed as the #7 growing women owned business in Entrepreneur Magazine. Lisa loves to hear from her readers.
Morgan had resigned herself to death. She had been ready to follow her true love into the afterlife, if only a certain Dragon hadn’t “rescued” her. She wasn’t grateful – after all, she was a full-fledged Lady Knight and perfectly capable of making her own decisions, without the help of arrogant Dragon Lords, no matter how good-looking everyone seemed to think they were…
After dragging Lady Morgan from a Troll’s lair and dropping her off in another realm, Vallen thought he’d never see her again. But then an old member of his Knight Order betrays her oaths and begins amassing an army of thugs and highwaymen – in the same realm he’d left Morgan.
Racing back with only his brother for a squire, Vallen finds Lady Morgan, accompanied by a teenage Werewolf, ready to take on this Dragon all by herself. But it will take all of them to defeat her, and little do they know that in this battle, the secrets of their broken hearts will rise up from the past and walk again…
Vallen awoke to the sounds of Young singing, off tune, again. “What are you doing?” Vallen grumbled, resisting the urge to pull the blanket back up over his head.
“Singing while I pee, my favorite morning ritual.” Young turned around, having just finished watering the local flora.
“Of course it is. Why ever would I have a brother who conducts himself with a measure of grace?” Vallen forced himself to sit up and take note of their surroundings. As he suspected, they had spent the night uninterrupted. Vallen tugged on his boots and fought his way to his feet to stagger to the stream.
“Are you ready to get going?” Young bounced around behind him, pulling a light coat on over his tunic.
“Are you always this chipper in the morning?”
“No.” Young thought about it. “Actually, today I think I’m sort of quiet.” Vallen mentally sent a heartfelt apology to Sir Leon for having to train Young.
“If your squire brothers smother you in your sleep I will know it was justified and not insist on seeing vengeance served.” Vallen rolled his bedroll back up and gave his younger brother a cutting glare. “It makes me thankful I was out defending the realm in your early years and Grandmother was left to deal with you.”
“I was an adorable Whelpling. She thought I was a refreshing joy after the years of boredom she had with you.” His mocking tone did little to soothe Vallen’s morning mood.
“It’s going to be very hard to be a bard if you’re missing your vocal chords.” Immediately Young shut up.
It took about an hour, but the boys fed themselves and the horses, packed up, and headed out. By the time the sun was dancing in the midmorning sky, Young was already whining for a break. Despite his best pouts, that had obviously worked so well on his riding instructor, they pushed on. Vallen told him repeatedly that they could rest when they arrived at the portal, but Young knew better.
“So what if we see the crazy girl again? I mean, if she’s still alive.”
Vallen shot his brother a warning look. “She isn’t our concern. Avery is our target. Our mission is to go in, put down Avery, disband her men, and then go home. It shouldn’t take all that long.”
“Yeah, but let’s say the crazy girl… what was her name?” Young asked, snapping his fingers.
“Yes, that’s it. Her. What if she’s there and is all, ‘Oh, Dragon, eat me,’ or something like that. What then?”
“The eloquence of your words astounds me.” Vallen resisted rolling his eyes. “We keep her from killing herself if she is there. She is an innocent and thus should be protected.”
“I don’t know about that. She is evidently some all-powerful warrior or something.”
Vallen snorted. “You think everyone is an enchanted warrior. You think I am.”
“Fine, I’m a bad example. Why are you so sure she was?”
Isabelle Saint-Michael currently lives abroad in Seoul, South Korea with a transition in process to the UK. Writing is now her full-time gig, but she spent a number of years working in the online media industry. (That’s when she upgraded her personality software from socialite to geek.) Her hobbies include reading, shopping, travel, and medieval shenanigans with her closest friends. She has earned such coveted nicknames as The Fighting Smurf, The Iz and Wiffle Ball Monkey Slayer.
From the author: “The Elven Life is a blog connecting a series of books and characters that I have created. So many times we buy books but then must wait a year at least to get another fix. In a world of immediate gratification I wanted to build an interactive way of storytelling for my readers. Each book, along with the blog, is a free-standing story, but they will occasionally have connecting themes, characters, and messages for our fans to catch. Check us out and keep watching! Books will be available through Amazon, Kindle, and a retailer near you.”
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“If you change your mind, here’s this.” Finn Lanigan kissed a young Blythe Heywood one last time under a star-scattered Idaho sky. It was the last kiss that ever weakened her knees, the last sky she noticed for over a dozen years. Then she left, returning to her fiance, the wedding she’d committed to, and the secure life she’d yearned for since she was a little girl. Thirteen years later, her husband leaves Blythe for his young associate. Devastated, she’s unable to imagine the next chapter of her life as she packs her family’s belongings to move across town. Unexpectedly, she finds the forgotten slip of paper bearing Finn’s phone number in the back of a drawer. Hadn’t she tossed it years before as a newlywed, when she vowed to be the perfect wife and mother? Apparently not. Here it remained. Her road not taken. Facing three weeks without her young daughters, Blythe sets out to find the man she left behind so long ago. With only the name of the small town where he once lived, Peregrine, Idaho, and the memory of their last kiss under a starry sky, she heads across the Pacific Northwest in search of him. What she finds in the foothills of Blue Mountain challenges everything she thought she knew and is the very last thing she expected. Within days, her life changes forever. But it is her destiny and destinies cannot be denied. The first book of the Blue Mountain Collection, laced with Thompson’s lovable but complex characters, “Blue Midnight” is a mature love story about second chances, family, and the complexities of trust and vulnerability after betrayal.
Blythe Heywood is a broken woman. After more than fifteen years of marriage, her husband has left her for a younger woman and she hasn’t yet figured out how to once again live her life. Though her daughter’s bring her a great deal of joy, her new divorced reality sees to it the girls aren’t always with her. In those moments (and sometimes in the shower) Blythe breaks down and desperately tries to understand how she got to this new reality in the first place.
Finn Lanigan once offered Blythe a different life and a different path but she chose instead the path she thought would bring her safety and security, a life very unlike the one her mother provided when she and her younger sister, Bliss were children. When that life turned out to be her very undoing, Blythe, with a more than a bit of encouragement from Bliss decides to spend her three week “vacation” in Peregrine, Idaho looking for the path she didn’t take.
Peregrine, Idaho isn’t just a small town, it’s a microscopic town so finding shouldn’t be that hard to do. Asking questions in a small town makes the native’s restless and it doesn’t take long for Blythe to realize she has opened an old wound. According to the official report, three years ago Finn Lanigan died in a car wreck as he was leaving town with his sister-in-law. The Finn Blythe knew never would have tread on another man’s marriage so the only thing to do is keep asking questions and the place to start is the Lanigan property.
Kevan Lanigan has spent the last three years trying to deal with the fact that his wife was leaving town with his brother. With an angry teenage daughter and no explanations for her, Kevan is barely hanging on as it is. When Blythe walks into his life and begins asking questions about the day his world fell apart, Kevan is not just blown away by her presence but also by the questions she is asking. In just a few short days, Blythe and Kevan not only discover there is more to Finn’s story than (almost) everyone knows and they discover a beautiful attraction to one another.
The Bottom Line: Tess Thompson opens the Blue Mountain series with a touching love story wrapped in a little bit of mystery. Blythe and her girls are three instantly likeable characters, the town of Peregrine is so quirky and odd that it’s hard not to love, and Kevan Lanigan is every woman’s dream come true. Thompson brings together two characters in Blythe and Kevan who need to be healed, helped, and loved. Both have a hard past to overcome but with one another, they are certainly on the path to a HEA. Thompson really takes her time building her characters (especially Blythe) so once the story begins to pick up the pace at about the halfway mark, you are invested in the characters and want to know how their story is going to end. This is a slow burn kind of read with the pace and plot moving slowly and steadily toward the climactic end. The mystery of this read is just enough to balance out the romance and each (the mystery and the romance) informs the other. There is a whole host of secondary characters in this read, including Blythe’s sister Bliss, her two daughters, Kevan’s siblings, and his daughter who are not only interesting and entertaining but also proof that the series is meant to move forward for quite some time. Thompson has given herself ample material to work with and I for one am going to be signing myself up for more of the Blue Mountain series.
Playboy Ciaran Lanigan was the party. Executive Bliss Heywood was the library. When they meet, sparks fly and so begins an uncontrollable attraction that neither is strong enough to escape, regardless that it’s fraught with lies, secrets and family complexities.
But ‘party boy’ Ciaran isn’t everything he appears. Lurking beneath the surface of his charming grin is a man haunted by fears. Are they real or imagined? As he slowly reveals his past, Bliss becomes less and less sure if the man she’s involved with is unstable or truly in danger. Will she learn the truth in time to save him?
Set in the fictional town of Peregrine, Idaho, Blue Moon, the second book in the Blue Mountain Collection features the youngest Lanigan brother, Ciaran. It is both a love story and mystery, with Tess Thompson’s quirky and complex but lovable characters.
Bliss Heywood has known since she was a small child she would be successful in her life. Since her older sister, Blythe taught her to read at age four, Bliss has studied hard, worked hard, and made a pile of money for herself. She has a horde of connections in the business world, has lived in twenty different cities, and turned around a pile of floundering companies. Turns out none of that matters when an uber-nerd with no social skills but a controlling interest in the company wants you fired. Fired! Bliss Heywood has never been fired!
As if to add insult to injury, Bliss packs up her meager belongings from her office, walks out the front door of the building, falls on the ice and knocks herself out. After a long, lonely night in the hospital, Bliss decides it is time to make some serious changes in her life. First change? Collect Sam, the homeless man, his dog Sweetheart, her driver, and go to Peregrine, Idaho for the Thanksgiving with her sister, Blythe and her new man, Kevan. While she’s at it, why not meet a new man have some thoroughly amazing sex and help him figure out who has been trying to kill him for 15+ years. Sounds like a holiday, huh?
Ciaran Lanigan is known the world over for his playboy ways. Along with the rest of his family, he is tremendously wealthy, has stunning good looks, and the charm to go with both. The moment he meets Bliss Heywood, Ciaran knows he is going to sleep with her. The only left to be decided is if Bliss can handle a no-strings-attached, totally short-term affair. Ciaran has lived the better part of his adult life with complete abandon. Though he can’t prove it, he is sure the “accidents” he has been involved in weren’t accidents at all but attempts on his life. The suspicion and fear has led him to live life to the fullest each and every moment and never, ever get attached to one woman.
With no job and nothing to take her back to her lonely and somewhat sterile townhouse, Bliss agrees to an extended affair with Ciaran. Hiding away from the world and locked in each other’s arms for a month is more than either could have ever hoped for. For the first time in his adult life, Ciaran shares his life and his secrets with Bliss and she determines two things: 1) she will help him solve the mystery of the accidents and, 2) she will not, under any circumstances fall in love with him. All is going according to plan right up to moment Ciaran is launched off the side of a mountain as the two are enjoying an afternoon of skiing. Funny how a near-death experience can put everything into perspective.
The Bottom Line: Yep, I totally liked book two better than book one. Bliss Heywood is all kinds of fantastic especially once she loses her job and decides to take on the homeless man, his dog, her driver, and her own life. In the process of helping everyone else, Bliss also makes some positive changes in her own life and with every new change, she becomes little more interesting and entertaining. Ciaran is such a good character because of how honest he is about his life and his intentions. Bliss is the first person who makes Ciaran wish for something more and when his worst fears actually come to fruition and he survives it, he ponies up some more of that honesty and lays it on Bliss. Like the first book, the mystery in this read is light and it is pretty clear who the big bad is early on but I just didn’t’ care. Bliss and Ciaran’s story is sweet and sexy and the mystery only spices up that story. Thompson also does one of those writer things that always makes me happy, she brings back the characters from the previous book(s) and evolves their personal stories as the current plot unfolds. I’m getting in deeper to the Blue Mountain series and feel all kinds of OK with that 🙂
Tess Thompson is a novelist and playwright. She has a BFA in Drama from the University of Southern California. After some success as a playwright she decided to write a novel, a dream she’d held since childhood. She began working on her first novel, RIVERSONG while her second daughter was eight months old, writing during naptimes and weekends. She considers it a small miracle and the good-nature of her second child (read: a good napper) that it was ever finished. RIVERSONG was released in April 2011 by Booktrope, a Seattle publisher and subsequently became a #1 Nook book and Kindle best seller. Since then she’s released five additional novels: RIVERBEND, RIVERSTAR, CARAMEL AND MAGNOLIAS, TEA AND PRIMROSES AND BLUE MIDNIGHT. Like her characters in the RIVER VALLEY COLLECTION, Tess is from a small town in Southern Oregon. She currently lives in Snoqualmie, Washington with her two small daughters where she is inspired daily by the view of the Cascade Mountains from her home office window. A voracious reader, Tess’s favorite thing to do is to curl up on a rainy afternoon and read a novel. She also enjoys movies, theatre, wine and food. She is fed emotionally by her friends and family and cherishes relationships above all else. She’s currently in the editing process for her first historical romance called DUET FOR THREE HANDS, which will be released in late February and followed shortly thereafter with the second in the BLUE MOUNTAIN COLLECTION, Blue Moon.
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When Leah Norwood finds the body of Isabel Meeks in the dumpster behind her store, she can’t believe the police consider her a suspect. Sure, she didn’t liked Isabel, but then again, neither did anyone else. Isabel had a condescending attitude and a bad reputation. As manager of the antique store, Patina, she had made a lot of enemies. There is Patina’s assistant manager, the handsome and charming Trent. Isabel was blackmailing him. There is Patina’s owner, the aloof and influential Anthony Thorpe. Isabel was smuggling drugs through his store. And there is the entire drug dealing Cantono family. Isabel had lost a box containing heroin from one of their shipments. That is just to name a few and didn’t even include the stranger who was seen arguing with Isabel just hours before her death. The police have too many suspects and too many soft alibis. Leah needs to prove to the sexy new chief of police that she had nothing to do with Isabel’s death. Leah loves a good mystery. Can she find the killer before the police charge her with murder?
We were standing by the dumpster and trying not to look at Isabel. I don’t think Keith had ever seen a dead body either because the look on his face made me think he wanted to follow in my footsteps – scream, run into the nearest building, and lose his lunch. But the kid was made of sterner stuff. My estimation of him rose as he held his ground and questioned me.
“What were you doing out here?” he asked. Okay, so my estimation of him fell a little. I glanced at the trash bags sitting at our feet and tried to keep my voice even as I answered.
“I was taking out the trash.” I don’t think I succeeded as he looked at the trash and then flushed. Now I felt bad, like I had kicked a puppy.
“So did you …”
“Cisneros.” A deep, smoky voice cut through the night. Both of us jumped and then turned toward the voice. Keith’s car was parked nearby, and his front lights were illuminating the vicinity around the dumpster. With the lights from the nearby stores, it was a well-lit area. From the shadows, a figure emerged. If I had any nerves left, I might have been a little anxious. The man walking toward us moved like a stalking panther. Smooth, long strides that ate up the space.
He was breathtaking. Not gorgeous or handsome but there was a power about him that drew the eye. He wasn’t exceptionally tall, standing about five eleven, but his shoulders were broad and his hips narrow. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on his lean, hard body. Dark hair cut short in a military style, covered his head. His face was attractive in a timeless way. Chiseled and clean-shaven but with just a hint of a five o’clock shadow. He had a small indentation on the right side of his mouth that was trying very hard to be a dimple. It was as if he was willing it not to appear with the strength of his personality alone. He had intense green eyes that swept over me briefly before settling on Keith. He was dressed casually in blue jeans, a dark t-shirt, and a navy sportcoat. He had to be freezing, but it certainly didn’t show.
He looked familiar, but I knew we had never met. I would have remembered him. He wasn’t the type of man you would ever forget. I searched my brain for a name to go with the face but came up empty. He stopped between us and turned to Keith. “What have we got?”
The kid stood straighter. I guess the man was his supervisor. Although he didn’t look much older than I did, his physical presence alone commanded authority. Keith answered quickly while consulting his notes. “Victim identified as Isabel Meeks. Gunshot wound to the chest, close range.”
The man looked at Isabel still sitting where I found her. He leaned closer. “Looks like a Glock 9mm.”
I was impressed. He was able to identify the type of gun by looking at the body. I owned a Glock and also knew what type of bullet hole it made, but I would have never been able to tell by looking at Isabel. Keith nodded and then looked back at his notes. “She was found about seven fifty p.m. by Ms. Norwood.”
Keith pointed to me, and the man turned his eyes to mine. His gaze swept down my body and back up. He then dismissed me without a second glance before turning back to the rookie. “Has the ME been called?”
Now, I know that I am not the most attractive person in the world. I am what most people would call average. Average height, average weight, average looks, but being dismissed so completely really pissed me off. I was cold, wet, tired, and quite frankly, still a little queasy. And it had been a really bad day. The two men were in deep conversation about the medical examiner when I interrupted.
“Can I leave now?”
Both of them turned toward me. Keith seemed a little surprised that I was still there. I guess he had forgotten about me. The other man just seemed irritated that I had interrupted him.
“You found the body?” he asked and then continued when I nodded, “We’ll need to ask you some questions.”
Keith had been asking me questions. My nerves were shot and my temper short. I am not usually such a bitch, but I had enough of standing out in the freezing rain. I probably shouldn’t have mouthed off to a police officer, but I figured my day couldn’t get any worse. I summoned up my inner diva, gave him my most haughty look, and asked in a snooty tone. “And you are?”
He stared at me a minute, his eyes hard and unyielding. He raised his eyebrows just a notch, pulled out a badge, and held it toward me. “Chief of Police Alexander Griggs.”
Well, damn, my day just got worse.
B. L. Blair writes simple and sweet romance and mystery/romance stories. Like most authors, she has been writing most of her life and has dozens of books started. She just needs the time to finish them. She is the author of the Holton Romance Series and the Leah Norwood Mysteries. She enjoys reading books, writing books, and traveling wherever and as often as time and money allows. She is currently working on her latest book set in Texas, where she lives with her family.
An aria for lost souls
Fresh out of college, Christine Davis is thrilled to begin a summer internship at the prestigious Santa Fe Opera House. But on her first day, she discovers that her dream job has a dark side. Beneath the theater, ghostly music echoes through a sprawling maze of passageways. At first, Christy thinks she’s hearing things. But when a tall masked man steps out of the shadows—and into her arms—she knows he’s not a phantom of her imagination. What she can’t deny is that he is the master of her desire. But when her predecessor—a missing intern—is found dead, Christy wonders if she’s playing with fire…
Anything could happen. Anything.
The sky soared impossibly blue, studded with cotton clouds worthy of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. Driving with the convertible’s top down, Christy soaked up the Southwestern sunshine as she planned to do with absolutely everything.
The wind blew her hair, the short ends whipping around her face, stinging her skin with the perfect thrill of being alive and the mistress of her own destiny. No more classes, no more books, she thought to herself with a grin. No more East Coast gloom and city pressure. Free to be her own person, she zoomed down the highway and into her brand-new life.
The Santa Fe Opera House came into view, the elegant, arching lines of it an extension of the red rock cliff it perched on. Like a raptor of copper and steel, it gazed over the vast basin, a temple to pure sound, a place for the worship of ancestral theater.
Following the signs, she found the backstage area and parked. Grabbing purse, cell phone, and tablet, she swung her legs out of the car. They looked damn decent, thanks to the time she’d put in at the gym. The new stiletto heels she’d squandered some of her graduation money on helped normously. She strode toward the building and around to the back apron, ready for her first day on the job.
The vaulting ceilings of the open-air theater, designed to look like swathes of fabric but made of steel, cast a deep shadow that made her shiver from the abrupt chill. Pushing her sunglasses onto her head, which also served to hold back her wind-ruffled hair, she opened the back door and peered into the gloom of below stage.
No one seemed to be about, though the door had been unlocked. Her heels clicked on the poured concrete floor, echoing in the perfect acoustics of even this dark working space. Here and there, shrouded stage pieces loomed with dusty magnificence. Where a cover had been shrugged off, a shoulder of gold filigree gleamed. In the deeper shadows, a mirrored sapphire elephant raised its trunk, forever frozen.
“Can I help you?”
Choking back a startled shriek, she whirled on the man who seemed to have crept up behind her. She threw an accusing look at his soft sneaker treads and he gave her a rueful smile.
“Sorry about that. Charles Donovan—Charlie—general manager of the opera. And you’re Christine Davis?”
“Everyone calls me Christy.” She shook the hand he offered. “Sorry—I wasn’t sure which way to go to find your office.”
“Some days even I don’t know.” He flashed her a comfortable grin and tucked his thumbs in the loops of his faded Levi’s. “For all that this theater isn’t as old as the European opera houses, somehow it ended up with labyrinths below stage. This way.”
She followed as he wound back in the other direction. “At least there aren’t catacombs or ancient sewers to get lost in.”
He chuckled, arriving at the door to a tiny office, bright with fluorescent light, and gestured her inside. “No. But to hear the New Agers talk, there’s plenty of Native American burial sites, hidden tunnels, subterranean dwellings, and so forth.”
Charlie shrugged and wedged himself behind the tiny metal desk, piled high with paperwork. Sticky notes covered every surface, including the glowing screen of an apparently ancient laptop perched precariously on one corner.
“You’ll find there’s every kind here, Ms. Davis. Hang around long enough and you’ll find someone who believes in it. Sacred spirals, peyote, reincarnation. You name it. And then there’s the talent.”
“Theater people tend to be superstitious, my dad always says. The smart manager learns to work with that.”
“You have no idea. Ah well, we’re here to keep ’em happy, if only for the season.”
“Mr. Donovan, I—” She’d rehearsed this speech and it came out in a rush. “I want you to know that I’m here to work hard. My dad might have arranged for me to take this apprenticeship at the last minute, but that was just the right opportunity. I want this and I’ll do what it takes.”
“Don’t worry about that. Apprentices are slave labor. You’ll put in your sweat and blood.” He extracted a file folder with surprising efficiency from one teetering pile. “You already have the show schedule. Here’s a preliminary list of prop and set items for each opera. And …” Charlie spun his chair around to the sagging industrial bookcase behind him and yanked out an enormous three-ring binder, dropping it on the desk in front of her with a bang and a poof of dust, “… our inventory.”
She stared at the binder in dismay. “On paper?”
Charlie grinned and poked a finger at the laptop, which was making an ominous grinding noise. “I’ve been meaning to get to it. And Tara—well, she was only a few days into it before …” He trailed off, scratching his scalp. “Most of the staff starts arriving next week—
you ought to have a chunk of it done by then. I have Tara’s notes. They might help.”
With a sigh, Christy propped the tome on her lap and flipped through the yellowing pages.
“The letters and numbers indicate location?”
“Yeah, in theory. That’s where you come in. The L number is the level. The other codes indicate the exact storage room. Here, let me grab you a map.” Charlie spun back around to frown at the shelves.
“Am I interrupting?”
“Roman!” Christy grinned at her old friend. “I was wondering when I’d get to see you.”
Handsome as ever, Roman leaned in the doorway. He looked to be doing well, from the expensive cut of his chestnut brown hair to the sleek shoes peeking out from under his impeccably tailored suit. He returned Christy’s smile with familiar charm. “I had to stop by, see my sweet girl. But I see that I’m interrupting.”
“Not at all, Mr. Sanclaro!” Charlie popped up from his chair, dusting his hands off on his jeans and leaning over to offer one in welcome. “You know you and your family can stop in anytime. How’s your father?”
“Busy as ever,” Roman replied easily, then turned to Christy. “How about a hug—or are you too grown up for that now?”
“Don’t be silly.” She returned the light embrace, accepting his polite kiss on her cheek—
something her ten-year-old self would have sighed over and embroidered into fantasies for weeks. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“I knew the Davises and Sanclaros have long jointly owned the property,” Charlie commented, “but I didn’t realize the families are close.”
Roman rolled his brown eyes. “When Christy and I were growing up, our fathers used to joke about our betrothal—that it would at last resolve the logistics of the Davises owning the actual opera house and mineral rights, while the Sanclaros own all the surrounding property.”
“It wasn’t funny,” Christy put in. That was putting it mildly. Any time Domingo Sanclaro and his son visited them in New York City, she’d been torn between a frenzy of anticipation at seeing her lifelong crush and dread at the older men’s teasing. They were two of a kind, Carlton Davis and the elder Sanclaro, living for the business deal. It never occurred to them that needling an adolescent girl who imagined herself in love with the dashing college boy
family friend was so cruel. Roman had always been so patient, however, treating her like a little sister. His sweet girl.
With a rush of warmth, Christy realized she had a hand on Roman’s arm. She let go and grabbed ahold of the unnaturally blue plastic binder.
“Have you seen much of Santa Fe yet?”
“No—I’ve barely just arrived. I’m surprised you even knew I was here.”
He winked. “Your dad told my dad—I’m to look after you.”
“I’m not twelve anymore,” she replied with a bit of irritation. Which immediately melted when Roman’s grin shaded to sexy and he swept her with an appraising look.
“No. You’ve definitely grown up. Let me at least take you to dinner tonight. We have more five-star restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S, you know.”
“I didn’t know.” Roman Sanclaro was flirting with her. Her adolescent self would never forgive her if she didn’t go. “Yes—I’d love to.”
“Excellent. At least we can appease the fathers. Shall I pick you up around eight, then?”
“Perfect. I’m at the El Rey on Cerillos until I find a place.”
Roman raised an eyebrow at Charlie. “Nothing but the best for our new staff?”
Charlie shook his head. “Not much of a budget for apprentices.”
“Surely your dad can spring for better than that place? I’m surprised he’d let you stay there.”
She maintained the easy smile on her face. She’d kept the car because that was practical, but the rest she was determined to do on her own. Daddy’s girl. One only needed to hear that so many times in a lifetime. “It’s nice. Clean. I like it. Eight o’clock, then?”
“I’m looking forward to it. And I’ll get out of the way now.” But he hesitated.
“Did you need something else, Mr. Sanclaro?” Charlie had his thumbs tucked in his belt loops, all courtesy for the son of the opera’s patron.
Roman glanced at her. Back at Charlie. “My father is wondering if there is further word about … our little problem?”
“No. The police have no leads. Tara’s family is pushing to have the lower levels searched again, but Detective Sanchez thinks she took off. Official stance is no evidence of foul play, there’s nothing more they can do.”
Roman cleared his throat and Charlie raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure Ms. Davis is
perfectly well aware of what became of her predecessor.”
“I don’t want you to worry.” Roman turned to her, his brown eyes warm. “All the fuss will die down. Tara was a bit flighty. Probably thought she fell in love and took off for Acapulco, eh, Charlie?”
Charlie nodded in slow agreement, a line between his bushy gray brows. He seemed about to say something but stopped himself. It hadn’t occurred to Christy to be concerned. Her father had made it sound as if Tara, the previous apprentice, had simply run off, much as Roman described.
“Is there reason to be concerned?”
“Would Carlton Davis send his daughter here if there was?” Roman waved his hands as if encompassing the greater world, then sobered, giving her a very serious look. “Besides, I’ll protect you. From the theater ghost.”
Christy laughed and Charlie shook his head. Every theater had some kind of ghost or legend. It was as necessary as lighting and curtains.
“They say,” Roman’s voice dropped an octave and he flicked his eyes dramatically at the floor, “that he lurks below, scarred, deformed even. At night, after the audiences have left and the stage crew is cleaning, they can hear him sobbing, calling out the name of his love, who had drowned in the underground lake. “Christine,” he keened the name. “Christeeen.”
The hair stood up on the back of her neck, a shiver passing over her.
“Was that her name?” she whispered.
Roman grinned at her. “Gotcha.”
“Oh!” Christy clutched the notebook to her chest, hating that she’d been so gullible. She tried to smile.
“New girl initiation—don’t be mad.”
“I’m not,” she assured him. Silly. He’d always been able to sucker her into his jokes. Apparently she hadn’t grown up that much.
“I’ll see you tonight.” With a jaunty wink and a wave, Roman left. “Sorry about that.” She Turned to Charlie, hoping she hadn’t seemed unprofessional. “I really had no idea he’d stop by.”
He shrugged. “We’re pretty low key around here. And I’m not going to argue about anything that keeps the Sanclaros happy.”
Christy took the map and the inventory book and gave herself the tour. Right after Roman left, the phone had rung and Charlie had rolled his eyes, shrugged his helplessness, and waved her on her way. Her dad always said managing a theater was 95 percent soothing ruffled feathers and it seemed that was what Charlie did.
The enormous freight elevator looked like standard institutional issue. She stabbed at the cracked down arrow and waited. The gears cranked more ominously than Charlie’s laptop, accompanied by the screech of a tormented belt. When the doors shuddered open—the floor of the elevator a good hand’s length above the one she stood on—revealing the garage-like interior, which smelled as if feral cats had pissed inside, she decided to save using it for transporting heavy stuff. And only when there would be a lot of people around to hear her if she got trapped in it.
Instead, she found the central spiral staircase and descended into the dimly lit lower levels, deciding to start at the bottom and work her way back up. The hollow clanking of her heels echoed through the silent rooms. In another week the space would teem with people and noise. Bursting with energy and excitement.
She couldn’t wait.
Until then, silence and peace reigned, which was why she took advantage of the time. Tomorrow she’d be back in jeans and tennies—and geez, maybe a sweater—ready to dig into the deep and dusty layers. Today was for orienting, despite the ultimately unnecessary interview outfit, which now felt way too skimpy in the chilly bowels of the opera house.
She flicked on another set of lights, the fluorescents taking a moment to catch, then flickering on with an insectile buzz. Beyond it, she caught another sound, a whisper of movement. A draft of colder air brushed past her, making the small hairs on her arms stand up and her scalp prickle.
Mice or rats, most likely. Or pack rats, in this area. The woman who ran the hotel had warned her about the pack rats.
Still, for a moment, she thought she’d heard music.
An echo, perhaps. The expectation of the space, the perfect acoustics. She fancied that the building absorbed all the music and played it back to itself when everyone was gone, the timbers saturated with it.
Soon, real music would crash through—out of tune, cadence, and context. The same phrases repeated in cacophonous opposition to someone else’s practice run. Chaos and tumult.
There it was again. A whisper of song. A honeyed tenor.
Curious, compelled, she followed it down the corridor, passing the various storage rooms, holding their eclectic treasures in darkness. The hallway ended abruptly in a dead end, a good thirty feet past the last lightbulb. Christy consulted her map in the dim light. If this was the right level, the hall should keep going to another set of storage rooms.
She retraced her steps, frowning at the map, then at the end of the hall again. The featureless wall hadn’t changed. Had the door been covered over or sealed? She set the map and inventory notebook down and walked back to the end of the hall, ran her hands over it. Not drywall, but solid plaster, cool and damp to the touch. If it had been closed off, it didn’t seem to be recent.
Her fingertips caught on a small flaw in the smooth surface and she bent to see it better in the shadowy green light. A circle cut into the plaster, with what appeared to be a set of links dangling from it, like a collar and chain. It was crossed by a whip, the braided design painstakingly worked in.
She gasped, then swallowed it, glad no one had heard her.
She glanced around, uncannily convinced that someone watched, listened. Unable to help herself, she traced the emblem with her nail, wondering what it meant and why it was here. And why something about it thrilled her, sent her blood percolating with intrigue and a desire to know more. Along with a strange familiarity.
A breath of cold air swept across the back of her neck again, and she stood abruptly, spinning on her heels and putting her back to the wall.
No one was there.
And yet … that tenor voice, golden and sweet, sang somewhere far in the distance, too distant for her to make out the melody, but the notes strummed across her stimulated nerves, soothing and arousing. She wanted to find it, to hear it better.
The song ended in a soft laugh. And then a whisper.
Also available as e-serial – http://www.jeffekennedy.com/master-of-the-opera-act-1/
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook. Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and has been nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose, has been nominated for best fantasy romance of the year. A fifth series, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, released starting with Going Under, followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.