New: Cats & Dogs Part 2 by Jess Molly Brown

   Title: Cats & Dogs – Part 2
By: Jess Molly Brown
Publication Date: November 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
#catsanddogs2reveal

This is the second of two novellas containing animal antics and a second chance romance. Partial proceeds will be donated by the author to children’s cancer charities.

Nathan Brooks and Julia Hart have known each other forever. As kids, no one could keep up with them and no one could replace them in each other’s lives. They bickered, they bantered, they loved and they fell apart. Five years later, they’ve reunited and the relationship is serious. The kind of serious that involves weddings and babies.

Nathan is adamant that the wedding will come before the baby.

Fate may not be so accommodating.

Julia may be on the same page as her fiancé, but there are many roadblocks standing in the way of this devoted pair. Work, family, addiction, and even the weather present unforeseen challenges. And don’t even get started on the antics of the crazy animals Nathan accommodates in his veterinary clinic.

No matter what the circumstance, life at Brooks House is never dull. It comes with a hefty helping of barks, meows, cackles, squeals and moos. And a few strange photographs.

Can Brooks and Hart tie the knot before cutting their baby’s umbilical cord?

 

Greg handed Nathan his cane. “The girls are having a hen party at your place. You’re stuck with us until tomorrow.”

“Where are we going?” Nathan patted Mrs. Keillor on the shoulder as he headed for the front door.

“Sex shop.”

Nathan turned around, open-mouthed, to tell his best friend that was not going to happen, but found himself aloft. Before he could utter one yip of protest, his friends crammed him in the back of Kitt’s SUV. Outside the front door, Mrs. Keillor, Jules and her mom waved, laughing their guts out. He shut his mouth with a snap.

“Bye, Jules!” his friends hollered out the car windows.

“We’ll bring him back in pristine condition,” Greg added.

Jules beamed. “You’d better!”

“Yeah, he’ll still be a virgin!” Kitt yelled as they rolled up the windows. It was freaking cold out and Nathan had no coat.

Nathan reached forward and flicked him on the ear.

“Hey, I’m driving!”

“I’m not a virgin, moron. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s my kid expanding Jules’s waistline.”

Greg cuddled into Nathan’s side and made a kissy face. “We never knew you had it in you!” Then he and Scott pounced.

Don’t be fooled by the seeming tranquility, Jess is scheming. There are a lot of characters in her head and all of them want out.

A best-selling author, she edits for professional authors and is always tutoring somebody. She got her start ten years ago, in Twilight fan fiction, and is proud of it.

Four great kids, one husband *coughbiggestkidofallcough* and two dogs ensure that the house is always messy. The garden’s overflowing with blooms, but weedy. The grass always needs cutting, provided it’s not buried beneath snow. She lives in Canada, eh? The dogs are walked, the kids get fed, the hubbs hasn’t killed anybody yet, the books Jess reads she reviews, and somehow, the people in her head manage to make it into stories. Occasionally, she embarrasses her kids by doing Zumba in front of their friends. It’s just how she rolls.

Come join her quest for world domination at https://www.jessmollybrownauthor.com

 

Cover Reveal: Cats & Dogs Part 2 by Jess Molly Brown

   Title: Cats & Dogs – Part 2
By: Jess Molly Brown
Publication Date: November 14, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
#catsanddogs2reveal

This is the second of two novellas containing animal antics and a second chance romance. Partial proceeds will be donated by the author to children’s cancer charities.

Nathan Brooks and Julia Hart have known each other forever. As kids, no one could keep up with them and no one could replace them in each other’s lives. They bickered, they bantered, they loved and they fell apart. Five years later, they’ve reunited and the relationship is serious. The kind of serious that involves weddings and babies.

Nathan is adamant that the wedding will come before the baby.

Fate may not be so accommodating.

Julia may be on the same page as her fiancé, but there are many roadblocks standing in the way of this devoted pair. Work, family, addiction, and even the weather present unforeseen challenges. And don’t even get started on the antics of the crazy animals Nathan accommodates in his veterinary clinic.

No matter what the circumstance, life at Brooks House is never dull. It comes with a hefty helping of barks, meows, cackles, squeals and moos. And a few strange photographs.

Can Brooks and Hart tie the knot before cutting their baby’s umbilical cord?

Don’t be fooled by the seeming tranquility, Jess is scheming. There are a lot of characters in her head and all of them want out.

A best-selling author, she edits for professional authors and is always tutoring somebody. She got her start ten years ago, in Twilight fan fiction, and is proud of it.

Four great kids, one husband *coughbiggestkidofallcough* and two dogs ensure that the house is always messy. The garden’s overflowing with blooms, but weedy. The grass always needs cutting, provided it’s not buried beneath snow. She lives in Canada, eh? The dogs are walked, the kids get fed, the hubbs hasn’t killed anybody yet, the books Jess reads she reviews, and somehow, the people in her head manage to make it into stories. Occasionally, she embarrasses her kids by doing Zumba in front of their friends. It’s just how she rolls.

Come join her quest for world domination at https://www.jessmollybrownauthor.com

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Cover Reveal: Second Chances by TM Franklin

 

Presents
 
Cover Reveal: Second Chances
by T.M. Franklin
 
Genre: Second Chance / Holiday Romance / Adult Contemporary Romance
 
 
Available for Pre Order on all PLATFORMS!
 

 

Sometimes second chances aren’t quite what you expect.
 
Every Christmas Eve, Carter Reed sits in a bar and regrets the decision he made ten years earlier that tore the love of his life from him. Mackenzie Monroe was his everything, but he left her behind to follow his dreams.
 
Now those dreams all revolve around her. The one that got away.
 
Or so he thinks.
 
A not-so-chance encounter with a mysterious stranger sends Carter on a mystical journey to fix the mistakes of the past. But he quickly finds out making things right isn’t as simple as making a different choice. And if he doesn’t find the key to Kenzie’s heart, he could lose her all over again.
 
Second Chances is a story about a man who gets a peek at what his life could be, if only he’d walked a different path. In the tradition of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, it’s a heartwarming romance sprinkled with a touch of magic that’s sure to become a holiday favorite.
 

 

 
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New: Cats & Dogs by Jess Molly Brown

   Title: Cats & Dogs – Part 1
By: Jess Molly Brown
Publication Date: October 7, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
#catsanddogsrelease
Partial proceeds go to 
Children’s Cancer Charities

Young veterinarian Nathan Brooks spent every childhood summer with his neighbor’s granddaughter Julia Hart. As a small boy, he’d been impressed by her attack on him with a plastic bat after his border collie attempted to eat her kitten. He knew he’d marry her someday. Childish spats evolved into something sweeter until suddenly, cats and dogs didn’t seem so incompatible.

But Nathan’s mother succumbed to cancer and his father and brother took solace in addiction. For Nathan, golden days grew few, and far between. Cast out of his home, Nathan had to make his own way in the world. For the first year, he managed to keep everything together. The year after that, his life fell apart and he left behind the only girl who ever mattered.

Three years after Nathan left her, Julia Hart is living in her grandmother’s house next door. Nathan has returned home to open his own practice.

They have a lot of unfinished business.

Evidently, neither has been able to move on. But what can he offer her? They haven’t spoken since the day he walked out with no explanation, and Julia’s not about to let bygones be bygones. Not after she’s spent three years shoring up the walls around her broken heart. Besides, he’s not exactly convinced he’s the best bet.

But fate has a way of knocking down walls when it gets good and ready. Even if Julia and Nathan are not.

This is the first of two novellas containing animal antics and a second chance romance. Partial proceeds will be donated by the author to children’s cancer charities.

**NOW AVAILABLE**

Partial proceeds go to Children’s Cancer Charities
AMAZON – UK – https://goo.gl/dh2D7z

AMAZON CA – https://goo.gl/UCzgyo

“Julia, you asked me to talk, so please talk to me.”
She sat up tall on the low stool. “Brooks, you want the truth?”
“Please.”
“I am monumentally pissed at you and I don’t know if I can ever get over it.” She tossed back her hair. “You called me your Hart and then you left me. You didn’t fight for us and it totally wrecked me.”
“I’m sorry.”
“It’s a little late.”
“Look, I’m not making excuses. I am truly sorry for everything. I wasn’t mature enough to deal with it when everything got shot to shit.”
“That sounds like an excuse to me, Brooks.”
“I’m stating facts. I shouldn’t have treated you that way. First I was a kid clinging to my dying mother’s skirts, and then after she passed, I was overwhelmed.”
“And I was what, just a precocious little girl with a mouth too big for my own good? And yours?” She stuck out her palm. “And don’t tell me my mouth was just the right size for you, smartass!”
Nathan smiled at her with a touch of the old fire. “You were an insanely intelligent, spunky, maddening, gorgeous, lovable young woman. And I suspect you still suffer from word vomit.”
“Well . . .” Jules shrugged a shoulder as Greg knocked and stuck his head in the room.
“Jules, your next victim’s waiting.”

“Okay, thanks.” She stood and searched her file drawers for various handouts, which she gave to Nathan. “I want you to go home and read these while you elevate your feet for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow, I want you to start doing these exercises. Don’t be a slacker. I want you back here in three days.”

Don’t be fooled by the seeming tranquility, Jess is scheming. There are a lot of characters in her head and all of them want out.
A best-selling author, she edits for professional authors and is always tutoring somebody. She got her start ten years ago, in Twilight fan fiction, and is proud of it.
Four great kids, one husband *coughbiggestkidofallcough* and two dogs ensure that the house is always messy. The garden’s overflowing with blooms, but weedy. The grass always needs cutting, provided it’s not buried beneath snow. She lives in Canada, eh? The dogs are walked, the kids get fed, the hubbs hasn’t killed anybody yet, the books Jess reads she reviews, and somehow, the people in her head manage to make it into stories. Occasionally, she embarrasses her kids by doing Zumba in front of their friends. It’s just how she rolls.
Come join her quest for world domination at https://www.jessmollybrownauthor.com

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Cover Reveal: Cats & Dogs Part 1 by Jess Molly Brown

   Title: Cats & Dogs – Part 1
By: Jess Molly Brown
Publication Date: October 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
#cats&dogsrelease

Young veterinarian Nathan Brooks spent every childhood summer with his neighbor’s granddaughter Julia Hart. As a small boy, he’d been impressed by her attack on him with a plastic bat after his border collie attempted to eat her kitten. He knew he’d marry her someday. Childish spats evolved into something sweeter until suddenly, cats and dogs didn’t seem so incompatible.

But Nathan’s mother succumbed to cancer and his father and brother took solace in addiction. For Nathan, golden days grew few, and far between. Cast out of his home, Nathan had to make his own way in the world. For the first year, he managed to keep everything together. The year after that, his life fell apart and he left behind the only girl who ever mattered.

Three years after Nathan left her, Julia Hart is living in her grandmother’s house next door. Nathan has returned home to open his own practice.

They have a lot of unfinished business.

Evidently, neither has been able to move on. But what can he offer her? They haven’t spoken since the day he walked out with no explanation, and Julia’s not about to let bygones be bygones. Not after she’s spent three years shoring up the walls around her broken heart. Besides, he’s not exactly convinced he’s the best bet.

But fate has a way of knocking down walls when it gets good and ready. Even if Julia and Nathan are not.

This is the first of two novellas containing animal antics and a second chance romance. Partial proceeds will be donated by the author to children’s cancer charities.

Don’t be fooled by the seeming tranquility, Jess is scheming. There are a lot of characters in her head and all of them want out.

A best-selling author, she edits for professional authors and is always tutoring somebody. She got her start ten years ago, in Twilight fan fiction, and is proud of it.

Four great kids, one husband *coughbiggestkidofallcough* and two dogs ensure that the house is always messy. The garden’s overflowing with blooms, but weedy. The grass always needs cutting, provided it’s not buried beneath snow. She lives in Canada, eh? The dogs are walked, the kids get fed, the hubbs hasn’t killed anybody yet, the books Jess reads she reviews, and somehow, the people in her head manage to make it into stories. Occasionally, she embarrasses her kids by doing Zumba in front of their friends. It’s just how she rolls.

Come join her quest for world domination at https://www.jessmollybrownauthor.com

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Review + Giveaway: My Image of You by Melanie Moreland

  Title: My Image of You
By: Melanie Moreland
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Publisher: Random House LLC/Loveswept
Genre: Contemporary Romance
#myimageofyourelease

A globe-trotting bad boy chases the one that got away in this addictive novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Contract.

My name is Adam Kincaid, and I’m the best at what I do. After losing my parents, I decided to follow in their footsteps, and now I’m the most daring freelance photographer in the world.

Maybe some think I’m a loner, but I don’t care. All that matters is the shot: braving danger and devastation in search of a single image with the power to tell someone’s story. But as good as I am, accidents happen—and thank god for that, because it’s what leads me to her. . .

Alexandra Robbins. My nurse. My savior.

With her fiery red hair and crystal-clear blue eyes, the camera loves her . . . and I have to have her. We soon find that we’re perfect together. We just fit, physically and emotionally. And yet something isn’t right. Something from her past is haunting her, and no matter what I do to help her break free, I lose her.

Today is the day I try to win her back. Not only do I need an explanation, I need her in my bed once again. I don’t just want a damn picture—I want her. Because what we have is a love that never fades away. . .

MY REVIEW:

This is an exciting adventure and I loved it. Adam has a naughty sense of humour and a reckless streak. Alexandra is quiet with a kind heart. He and Alexandra aren’t much alike; opposites attract. But she brings out all his best qualities.

An event from Alexandra’s past is haunting her, thanks to certain people who won’t let it go. It wakes up Adam’s protective streak, which is swoon-worthy.

There are tons of sub-currents running through this novel. I think it’s my favourite Melanie Moreland novel to date. Five stars.

“There are so many things I want to do with you,” I assured her, and licked my lips as I stared at her, my voice husky. “To you.”

“Tell me,” she insisted, her fingers curled into fists at her sides.

I stepped behind her, wrapping my arm around her waist and pulling her to my chest. I smoothed my fingers up her arm, trailing them along her skin. Small goose bumps broke out, pebbling the surface as I dropped my head down into her neck, kissing and swirling my tongue. “I’m going to explore you—everywhere. I’ll touch and discover every part of you. I want to know what makes you gasp, what drives you to distraction. I’ll find out what I can do to make you groan and beg me to take you. I’ll know your body better than you do.” I drew her skin between my teeth, biting and sucking. “I want to kiss you . . . taste you everywhere.” I slipped my hands under her shirt, teasing the softness of her stomach and side, stroking upward until my hand cupped her breast lightly. “I bet you taste different all over. Sweet some places”—I dropped my hand down, running it along the edge of her waistband—“musky and tangy others.”

New York Times/USA Today bestselling author Melanie Moreland, lives a happy and content life in a quiet area of Ontario with her beloved husband of twenty-seven-plus years and their rescue cat Amber. Nothing means more to her than her friends and family, and she cherishes every moment spent with them.

While seriously addicted to coffee, and highly challenged with all things computer-related and technical, she relishes baking, cooking, and trying new recipes for people to sample. She loves to throw dinner parties, and also enjoys travelling, here and abroad, but finds coming home is always the best part of any trip.

Melanie delights in a good romance story with some bumps along the way, but is a true believer in happily ever after. When her head isn’t buried in a book, it is bent over a keyboard, furiously typing away as her characters dictate their creative storylines to her, often with a large glass of wine keeping her company.

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Review: Mercy by Debra Anastasia

 

 

Title: Mercy
Author: Debra Anastasia
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: August 21, 2017
Blurb
He taught me to kill. Murder is in my blood now. It runs through my veins and though I hide the monster I see in the mirror with ink, it doesn’t keep him from coming out.
My street name is Mercy, but I never show any. Except for her. I watch Becca, though she doesn’t know. She saved me a long time ago; the day my father killed my mother. Her bravery turned her into a target.
My father holds a grudge and knife with the same proficiency, and Becca is the focus of his hatred. And I’m the only monster who can save her.
Purchase Links
$2.99 for a limited time
AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
Trailer
My Review

Every time I read one of Debra’s books and think it’s the one I love best, she produces something new I love even more.

A young man called Mercy inhabits the shadows. He’s separated himself from humanity and never lets anyone in. There’s just one problem: he’s in love with a girl who doesn’t even know he exists.

Anyone who loves Beckett from Poughkeepsie is going to love Mercy. I think I love him more than Beckett. I think I love him more than the Phantom of the Opera. Mercy works against the bad guys. He deserves the best and has little chance of getting it, but there’s this aura of hope around him that just won’t quit. Perhaps it’s a very light dose of the hopeful romantic. Whatever it is, I want more of it. Five stars.

 

Author Bio
Debra Anastasia likes to write from her heart, her soul or her butt. The genres she dabbles in are examples of that. There are two paranormal romances in the Seraphim Series and now four contemporary romances
in the Poughkeepsie Brotherhood Series and a stand alone in the same genre, Mercy. Fire Down Below and Fire in the Hole, Booty Camp Dating Service and Beast complete her comedy repertoire. The Revenger, a dark paranormal romance, is finally in the light, and the last, a novella called Late Night with Andres, is special because 100% of the proceeds go to breast cancer research. 
Debra lives in Maryland with her two kids, husband of twenty years and two dogs. The king of the house is clearly the tuxedo cat that is the size of a small donkey. Find about her latest adventures on DebraAnastasia.com
Author Links

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Review: Turn the Page by Sydney Logan

Synopsis:

Sex. Drugs. Rock and roll.

Life in the fast lane is nothing new to Corbin James.

After completing his second stint in rehab, Corbin heads home to Riverview, determined to leave the music world behind and focus on his family, his songwriting, and his sobriety.

Crippled with debt but determined to make it on her own, Jolie Daniels pours her heart and soul into the town’s bookstore. When Corbin finds his debut album in Jolie’s discount bin, sparks fly between the pretty bookstore owner and the rock star musician.

Corbin knows he’s nowhere near good enough for a sweet girl like Jolie . . .

But he wants to be.

When a record label approaches Corbin with the chance to make a musical comeback, he doesn’t think twice before saying no. He’s ready to settle down, and he wants to do it with Jolie. However, when her beloved bookstore is threatened with foreclosure, Corbin finds himself signing a contract that will take him away from home and back on tour for three months.

Can Corbin resist the temptations of the tour? Or will the loneliness of the road resurrect all the demons he’s worked so hard to bury?

Buy on Amazon

My Review:

As usual, this Sydney Logan story delivers a satisfying, warm hug.

I like the characters. Jolie has lots of spunk and Corbin is steady, a bit insecure and hoping to be accepted back into the family fold. He works hard to manage his addiction. I never felt he was going to fall back into unhealthy habits. His dedication is too great.

As well, I enjoyed the settings. This small town seemed like a lovely place to make a home. Four stars.

Author Bio:

Sydney Logan writes heartfelt romances that feature strong women and the men who love them. In addition to her novels, she has penned several short stories and is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul. She is a Netflix junkie, music lover, and a Vol for Life. Sydney and her husband make their home in beautiful East Tennessee.

To learn more about Sydney and her books, visit her online at www.sydneylogan.com.

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Review: Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen

Summary:

 

Most people called it a cult. But for twenty years, Josh & Caleb called it home.

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world.

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves.

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires.

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels?

Warning: Contains a hot male/male romance, copious instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain, and love against the kitchen counterThis book was previously released under the title: In Front of God & Everyone. For more about its previous publication, you can read this blog post.

Review:

Joshua and Caleb have a lot of preconceived notions and insecurities to battle, considering where they’ve grown up. They’re very different men. While Josh is more of a homebody and gentle spirit, Caleb is willing to sink his teeth into the real world. But even he is afraid to communicate what he wants from Josh.

After all, when the one person you want could very well reject you, isn’t it better to hide your feelings? Communication doesn’t always work to your advantage.

The supporting cast in this story is super. I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series. Sarina Bowen never disappoints. 4.5 stars

Buy Links:

➜ Amazon: http://geni.us/GPamazon

➜ iBooks: soon

➜ B&N: http://geni.us/GPnook

➜ Kobo: http://geni.us/GPkobo

➜ Google: http://geni.us/GPgoogle

 

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Chapter Reveal: Tortured by Nicole Williams

 

 

 

Coming April 9th
Pre-order exclusively via iBooks HERE

 

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When he left for a twelve-month deployment, she knew it would feel like forever before they saw each other again. She didn’t realize how right she was.

When Lance Corporal Brecken Connolly gets taken as a POW, Camryn hopes for the best but steels herself for the worst. In the end, steel was what she needed to survive when he didn’t. She moves on the only way she knows how—gilding herself in more steel.

Years go by.

She builds a new life.

She leaves the old one behind.

Until one day, she sees the face of a ghost on the news. Brecken seems to have risen from the dead, but she knows she can’t perform the same miracle for herself. While Brecken was held in a torture camp for the past five years, she’s been trapped in her own kind of prison. One she can’t be freed from.  

The man she mourned comes back to join the living, but the girl he wanted to spend his life with isn’t the same woman he comes back for. Brecken isn’t the same person either. The past five years have changed them both. While he’s determined to put the pieces back together, she’s resolved to let hers rot where they shattered.

 

Broken or not, Brecken wants her back. He’ll do anything to achieve that. Even if it means going against the warden of Camryn’s personal prison—her husband.
PROLOGUE


Whenever he had to leave, it was torture. You’d think I’d get used to it, but I didn’t—each time got harder. This one might have felt especially brutal because of how long he’d be gone. A year. We’d done weeks, we’d done months, but we’d never done the full year.
Being with someone in the military, I knew I’d have to get used to it. The separation. The worry. The loneliness. The feeling that I was trying to catch my breath for however long he was gone.
It was a way of life. And he was my life. So I’d just have to figure it out.
“I’m never going to look at dog tags the same way again.” Brecken’s mouth turned up as his eyes roamed over me splayed across the backseat as he tucked in his T-shirt. He twisted his wrist, his gaze moving to his watch. A crease folded into his forehead. “But I’m going to need those back before I climb onto that bus. Something about military regulations. Not wandering around enemy territory without them. Those marines are sticklers for the rules.”
He was trying to make me feel better—trying to get me to smile—but little could lift my spirits other than finding out he didn’t have to leave for the Middle East for twelve long months.
“You don’t need them. Not really.”
“Why’s that?”
“Because you only need them if you’re planning on dying, and so help me god, I’m not taking these off my neck if you have plans for some kind of a hero’s death.” My hand curled almost defensively around the metal tags hanging against my bare skin as I focused on the way the cool metal warmed in my hand. The way it seemed to come to life in my hold.
“I’m not planning on dying over there. I’m not going to die,” he corrected the moment my eyebrow started to lift. “But I do have plans of scoring some gnarly war wound so I have a story to tell our grandkids one day and can hang one of those Purple Hearts off my chest.”
I flattened my face as best as I could, even though it was kind of impossible with the way he was grinning at me as he wrestled his jeans back into place. “Not funny.”
“Come on. It’ll make me look tough.”
“You already look tough. Too tough,” I added as I scanned him for the millionth time since he’d arrived back in Medford for a week-long vacation before shipping out. Whenever I looked at him, I didn’t just see the good-looking guy others did—I saw every good memory from my past. I saw every good memory that would be formed in the future. Brecken had been a part of my life since I was eight, and he was as much a part of me as I was.
“Nah, I need one of those big, angry-looking scars running across my chest. Or one of those bullet hole scars on my thigh. Something real tough like that.”
“And why do you need your dog tags for that?” My fingers tightened around the thin metal ovals, refusing to let them go as if I hoped in doing so, he couldn’t go either.
“Blood transfusion. Medics are going to need to know my blood type when they’re trying to patch up my unconscious body.”
“Unconscious body?”
He nodded all solemn-like. “I can’t be one of those guys who earns his Purple Heart by getting a scratch on some barbed wire. I need to lose a quart or two of blood, maybe even code on the operating table. Something worthy of that medal.”
The thought of Brecken marching through a hostile country with a rifle in his hands, with god only knew what aimed his way, made me feel weak with worry. The thought of him fighting for his life in some marine medical tent about took whatever was left of my sanity.
I must not have been doing a good job hiding my emotions, because his face broke when he saw my eyes, his arms opening toward me. “It’s going to be okay, Camryn. I’m going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. The year will fly by, and before we know it, we’ll be getting married and buying a little house as close to the beach as we can afford. Okay?”
His arms wound around me, swallowing my body, and I let him tuck me close to him. I’d never known the feeling of being safe until Brecken Connolly’s arms had shown me the meaning.
My hand planted in the middle of his chest, feeling his heartbeat vibrate against my palm. “Why can’t we just get married now? Why can’t I join the marines and go with you, wherever that is, so we can be together?”
His laugh was muffled from his mouth being pressed against my temple. “Well, you can’t join the marines and my unit because the military’s under this impression that us marines of the male species become distracted and one-track minded when the women we love are marching beside us. They’re convinced the only things on our minds are protecting you, flirting with you, or screwing you.”
Quietly, I counted off on my fingers, “Protecting, flirting, screwing . . .” Then I nodded. “Damn, they sure have you pegged.”
Brecken’s fingers brushed up and down the bend of my waist. “And we can’t get married right now because you’ve got two more months of high school to finish before you earn that nifty diploma thing.” He kept going, undeterred by my grumble. “And I need to save some money to give you a proper ring and wedding. I’m not doing the courthouse thing with cheap silver bands. Not for you. You deserve the best.”
My head tucked beneath his chin as I let him hold me in the backseat of his aunt’s old Corsica. The only good thing I could say about the car—which was a coin toss if it would start any given day—was that it had a decent-sized backseat that Brecken and I had made more than ample use of. Growing up in a strict household with my dad as Brecken grew up in the packed household a few houses down, privacy had been in short supply for both of us. Thankfully, his aunt was willing to lend Brecken her car whenever she could, like today, when I’d just made love to the only boy I’d ever loved for the last time for the next year.
My fingers curled into his chest as I willed time to freeze. “I have the best.”
Brecken grunted like he doubted that, his head lifting to check out the windshield. We were parked way back in the bus depot lot. His bus would be leaving for the long drive back to Camp Pendleton in a few short minutes.
“Besides, you already got me a ring.” I raised my left hand in front of him, rolling my fingers so he could see the adjustable birthstone ring on my finger.
He shook his head. “I won that for you at an arcade when we were ten.”
“It cost you twelve hundred tickets too. You saved up all summer to get that many tickets.”
His fingers touched the ring, twisting it around with a small smile on his face. “And it probably has the street value of a nickel. Not exactly the kind of wedding ring I want my wife to have.”
I found myself staring at the ring with him. The gold paint had started chipping off the thin band years ago, but the small pink birthstone still sparkled when the light hit it just right. “Well, it’s priceless to me. I don’t care what the street value is. Or how many tickets it cost.”
“Even so, I’m getting you a nice ring. With all of the hazard pay I’ll earn this year, you’d better start working that left ring finger out so it can bear the weight of the diamond I’ll be dropping on it.”
I was glad he couldn’t see my face, because he hated knowing how worried I was about him. He said hazard pay like a sales rep mentioned a bonus, but I heard it for what it really was—the government giving you a little more money for the likelihood of losing your life increasing.
“One more year. That’s it. Then we’ll be able to be together like we’ve always planned. Away from here.” Brecken’s arms loosened around me. We didn’t have much longer. “Away from these people.”
An uneven exhale came from him, the muscles in his arms twitching. I knew who he was talking about without him going into detail. Neither of our lives had been charmed or particularly easy, but mine had been worse. Being raised by a single dad who was so strict he made a monk’s life seem carefree, I’d had an unusual upbringing. Brecken only knew what I let him know about it, which was barely half of the reality.
“I don’t like leaving you alone with him,” he said, his voice a note lower. “If things get hard again, just leave. Move in with my insane family or a hotel or anywhere. Don’t let him hurt you. Words or fists. He does it again”—Brecken’s hands curled into balls as his back stiffened—“I’ll kill him. I swear I will.”
“He won’t,” I said instantly, in my most convincing voice. “He’s working on all that. Not drinking as much.” I made sure to hold his stare to sell as much conviction as I was capable.
My dad wasn’t just a strict man. He was a sad one, a lonely one. After my mom left, he’d turned into someone else, almost like she’d taken everything that had been good about him and stuffed it in that small suitcase too. Since I was the only one around and bore a striking resemblance to my mom, I’d taken the brunt of my dad’s grief. In the form of cutting words and, occasionally, outstretched palms.
Brecken had been walking down the sidewalk one day when he saw my dad strike me across the cheek for attempting to leave the house in a skirt he described as “fitting for a whore.” Brecken had only been thirteen, but he’d taken my dad down, managing to land a few punches before I could pull him off.
My dad stopped hitting me after that. At least where anyone passing by could see.
Not that I needed to tell Brecken that now. Though I guessed it would get him to stay a while longer . . . if only to be charged with murder and thrown into prison for the next twenty to thirty years.
Suddenly, that year didn’t seem so bad.
“He won’t,” I reiterated, when Brecken continued to give me that penetrating stare, like he was capable of finding a lie if I was hiding one.
Both of his brows lifted. “He better not.”
“If anything happens, I’ll crash at your family’s place, I swear.”
Sitting up, he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “With fourteen people sharing twelve hundred square feet of space, good luck finding a quiet spot to do your homework.” He pulled every bill out of his wallet. Even the last crumbled dollar. “Take this, hide it from your dad, and use it if you need to. That’s enough to get you a week or so at a hotel that isn’t a dump, and as soon as I get my next paycheck, I’ll send more.”
My head was shaking as I tried to stuff the money back into his wallet. He’d already closed it and was sliding it back into his pocket though. “I’ll be fine.”
Brecken’s gaze dropped to the money in my hand. “Yeah, I know.”
“Brecken.”
“Camryn,” he mimicked.
“I’m not taking the last dollar in your wallet.”
“Why not?” he asked, making a face. “I’d give you the shirt off my back, the air in my lungs, the last drop of blood in my veins. The last dollar’s a cakewalk compared to, you know, dying of suffocation or bleeding out.” He winked as he folded my fingers around the wad of money in my hand, then he leaned down to pull on his boots. He was moving quickly, glancing in the direction of the buses like he was making sure his wasn’t pulling away from the curb yet.
“Do you want to walk with me to the bus?” His focus stayed on cinching up his last boot as he waited for my answer.
He already knew it though. Good-byes weren’t my forte. Especially not the kind where I had to wave good-bye to the man I loved as he prepared to head into the middle of a war zone for the next year. Good-bye came with a whole different context when you said it to a marine.
“I know, Blue Bird. I know.” He sighed, his eyes narrowing at the weathered floorboards before he reached for the dog tags still hanging around my neck.
I didn’t make any move to lift my head or slide my hair aside to make it easier for him. As long as those tags were on my neck instead of his, he was safe. He was alive.
“I’m not going to die over there,” he whispered, pulling the tags over his head. They clinked together as they fell against his chest. “I’m coming back to you.”
My throat was burning from trying to keep myself from crying. “You can’t promise that.”
He reached for the blanket that had fallen on the floor and gently tucked it around my still-naked body. It was strange how I’d forgotten I was naked until he’d taken his tags off of me. Now though, I felt bare. Exposed. Vulnerable. My dress was somewhere around, even though I didn’t see it. We’d barely managed to make it to the parking lot before falling into the backseat together.
“Yes I can,” he said, his thumb tracing my collarbone before tucking the other corner around my shoulder. “Have I ever broken a promise to you?” He angled himself so he was in front of me, so I was forced to look him in the eyes.
“This is different. You can’t know for sure.”
“I’m going to enjoy watching you eat those words when I’m standing in front of that pretty face in twelve months, Blue Bird.”
I pulled the blanket tighter around me. “You know I don’t like it when you call me that when I’m mad at you.”
“You’re mad? At me?” He blinked. “Why?”
“You know why.” My eyes automatically moved toward the line of buses.
“To set the record straight, it’s the marine corps sending me to Iraq. Not me by personal choice.”
“No, but you made the personal choice to join the marine corps.”
“Yeah, because I didn’t want to spend the next twenty years pumping gas at the Qwik Mart.” His hand curled around the back of the front seat. “We’ve talked about this, Camryn. I’m not cut out for college, and I sure as shit am not going to spend my life working a minimum-wage part-time job and stuck in Medford. The marines is a chance at a real life. A career where I can be promoted and provide for a family and get a chance to kick a little ass every once in a while.” He leaned forward to kiss my forehead. Then my lips. “This is the ticket to that life we’ve been talking about for years. But it comes with a price.” His mouth covered mine again, this time a bit longer. “I’ll be okay. I’ll make it back.”
My eyes closed so I could focus on the taste of him left behind on my mouth. “You’re always the first to charge into anything. You don’t hang back. You don’t like the shadows. You like being the one who cast those shadows.”
When my eyes finally opened, I found his dark blue ones inches away from mine. His light hair, buzzed short so he was all ready for deployment, the few freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose, the way his jaw tightened when he stared at me, those were the things I’d remember when I’d lay awake at night, wondering where he was. If he was safe. If he was thinking about me. As long as I held on to a part of him, he could never really leave me.
“I’m coming home to you,” he said like a solemn vow. “It might be in more than one piece, but I’m coming home to you.”
I tucked his tags inside his shirt. They’d become cold again. “A thousand pieces, I don’t care. Just come home.”
His smile was almost as forced as mine as he leaned in, pulling me into his arms one last time. He held me for a minute, one hand secured around my neck, the other around my back, rocking me against him. Then he kissed me one last time. “Gotta go, Blue Bird. The Middle East isn’t going to settle itself down.”
As he threw open the back door to go around to the trunk to grab his bag, I leaned across the seat. He was leaving. For what felt like forever. “Yeah, don’t think you’re single-handedly responsible for tackling that agenda either.”
Throwing the bag over his shoulder, he crouched beside me. This smile wasn’t contrived. It was real. Perfect. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Soon?”
His hand formed around my cheek as his thumb traced the seam of my lips. “Sounds better than see you in a year, right?” Tucking his thumb into his mouth, tasting my lips on it, he gave me a wicked smirk before shoving to a stand and starting toward the buses. “I’m coming back for you, Camryn Blue Gardner, so you’d better be waiting for me, or I’ll just have to come find you and remind you why you fell crazy in love with me.”
Tucking the blanket around myself, I slid out of the car, leaning over the open door. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be waiting.”
He’d started to jog backward. “Waiting as in a few days until some other guy makes his play?”
My eyes rolled as I gave him a look. Brecken and I’d been together since I was fifteen and he was seventeen. Even before that, we’d been inseparable, no one able to come between us.
I cupped my hand around my mouth. “Waiting as in forever.”
“I won’t keep you waiting that long. Just long enough.” He was shouting now, the rumbling buses muffling his voice.
“Long enough for what?” I yelled back.
Even with this much distance between us, I didn’t miss it. The look in his eyes. The tip of his smile. “For you to agree to marry me the moment I get back.”
The breeze played with my hair, sending it away from him, like forces out of our control were already pulling us apart. “I will!”
He paused just below the bus steps, his eyes consuming me from a hundred yards away. “It’s, I do, Blue Bird. I do.” He grinned and handed his bag off to the person stuffing them into one of the outside compartments. Then his hands cupped around his mouth, and he dropped his head back. “I do, too!”
His voice echoed across the parking lot, earning the attention of more than just me.
That was it. He climbed the stairs, turned the corner, and disappeared inside the bus. I wouldn’t see him for a year. I might not see him ever . . .
My jaw tensed as I put a stop to that train of thought. Wedding vows and rings were the last things on my mind as his bus lurched away from the curb.
“Just come back to me,” I whispered to no one. “Just come back.”

 

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Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

 

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