About Aiden Sharp and writing an autistic romance hero.

“Granted, I have a strong suspicion that the representation of Aspergers Syndrom wasn’t at all accurate (and I feel like that is a term not used anymore). But I also don’t feel like it represented people with Aspergers in any sort of derogatory way. So I chose to accept that this is a fictional book with a fictional representative.”

I guess now is a good time to bring this up. Again. I just released the ninth book in my Lake Cliff series and there’s a lot of reflection in it about Aiden’s childhood and his life, in general, as an autistic man. Which is, in itself, an important but subtle point in the book. When I first wrote Aiden Sharp, he described himself as a man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Now, he describes himself as an autistic man because our understanding and the use of these terms has changed. Please don’t take this as me saying I am an expert or am using the most current and accurate terms. I’m merely saying that like our understanding of autism, Aiden’s is evolving as well. Just as mine, as the parent of a young autistic man, changes daily. More than books and medical journals, Alex is the source of most of what I know about autism. For better or for worse.

I do bristle at the criticism that Aiden isn’t “accurate” or that he’s not “autistic enough”. Do the dukes in regency romances act like “real” dukes? Are the cops in other romantic thrillers portrayed with more than a nod to accuracy? Of course not. Why the weird standards for a character with a spectrum disorder? If you’ve met one autistic person…you’ve met one autistic person. Whose standards are you judging this fictional character in a romance novel by? What kind of book are you looking for, if this character isn’t disabled enough?

I’m not arguing that the representation of disabled people shouldn’t be taken seriously. Not even a little. Please don’t write a disabled character if you haven’t done the research and you’re not writing them with a deep love and respect. Be VERY careful about the story you’re going to tell and make sure it’s your place to tell it. It was very important to me to portray Aiden as an autistic hero without exploiting his disability for book sales. I wrote him because I have an autistic son and while he’ll never learn to drive, go to college, fall in love or have a family of his own, I wanted to read stories about people like him doing those things. At the time, I couldn’t find books with heroes like Alex, so I wrote one myself and I gave Aiden many of Alex’s “ticks” and “isms” and made him say the sorts of things I’d think Alex would say, if he could. He’s a very dry and funny guy, my Alex.

But, the most important key to writing Aiden—the thing I put the most nuance into—was his agency. It’s not a haphazard thing at all, when writing his mental and emotional capabilities. He has to be aware and capable of complete consent. That’s the bottom line. And when I see criticism that Aiden isn’t “autistic enough” I cringe because I fear what the reader wanted, there. I didn’t want him to be childlike or overly naive because I hate that stereotype and it makes for a really icky situation when you pair that person with a neurotypical adult. Instead, I focused on how his sensory and communication issues affected him as a forensic psychologist and made falling in love a little trickier but also heartwarming. Because I wasn’t ready to turn Hide And Keep into a Swiss Army knife of a romance novel, I didn’t explore Aiden as deeply as I could have and I kept the other non romance elements of the book simple. But, I’ve used the series to grow—as a person and a writer—with Aiden, and he becomes more and more of a living, breathing autistic man with each book. Like me, he’s far from perfect and not intended to be a textbook representation. He’s a character in a romance novel, and a fine one at that.

If you haven’t read my Lake Cliff series and met Dr. Aiden Sharp yet, find him here: https://amzn.to/3fVsN4a

About Aiden Sharp and writing an autistic romance hero.

Welcome back to Lake Cliff, gentle reader. You’ve been warned.

Tension.

We’re all feeling it. Sometimes, it feels like we’re on the verge of snapping. All at once, in one universal Crack! of frustration, dread and rage. This tension, it’s getting to all of us and it got to me. I broke and retreated from the world and went to my happy place but the tension followed me. Instead of bending my brain away from the tension, I reveled in it and purged it. But, in my own dark but “healthy” way.  I wanted to give you a ticket out of reality–to someplace better–but I still wanted to make you gasp and sit on the edge of your seat because sometimes, the best way to relieve stress and purge your frustrations is to laugh, cry and lose yourself someplace dark and a little twisted.

As this is book #9, I knew I had to give you something fresh and smart, not just dark and tense. I can’t drag you back to Lake Cliff and turn my boys’ lives upside down unless I’ve got something really exciting to share. I’ve got my beta and ARC readers sworn to secrecy because this one’s a thriller and not at all what you’re expecting but so far, they’re shook.

“I still shiver thinking about it. Incredible thrill!”

“I actually felt a threatening breath on the back of my neck and a sense of impeding doom in the pit of my stomach. It was thrilling, from the first pages up until the surprising finale!”

“Always pushing boundaries, this time you can feel the T-Rex testing the fence, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat waiting for it to escape.”

“What an exciting ride and what a fun twist.”

Ready to take a look? How about two whole, very tense chapters?

 

Chapter 1

 

“Fuck, I really wanted it to be you,” Paul muttered as he squinted at the pistol. His pinkie was looped around the trigger so he could sniff the end of the muzzle. It wasn’t a Walther PPK and it smelled like it had been fired recently. He set the weapon back down then stood and scanned the office. The killer came in fast and hit the victim at his desk.

“I just talked to the housekeeper, Helen, and she was the last one to talk to Jeffrey Goodwin. She said Mr. Goodwin didn’t have any holes in his forehead or his chest when she left at around 10:00 p.m. last night. The cook came in at 4:00 this morning and found him,” Agent Burley said and Paul nodded along but he was barely listening. He saw Lavender with his own eyes and he was in Lake Cliff at midnight, chatting with Reginald from his kitchen.

“The Bureau appreciates you giving up your career in comedy to serve your country,” Paul said distantly. He turned and estimated the killer’s position and location and it looked like a quick, clean hit. “He came in through that door, surprising Goodwin…” Paul looked at the wound on Goodwin’s forehead and frowned. Based on the angle and bullet trajectory, Goodwin had to be standing or the killer was almost a foot shorter than Lavender, unless he was sitting by the door.

“I never had a career in comedy,” Burley noted.

“Clearly. Stick to your day job; you might have a career with the FBI if you knock it off with the shitty jokes. This was staged,” Paul added as he waved at the desk.

“How can you tell?”

“Look at the gunshot wound in the forehead.” Paul went around the desk and crouched next to Goodwin’s chair. According to his position and posture, Goodwin raised his arms defensively and was thrown back, suggesting he was looking up at a taller killer. “He looks like he was startled by someone at the door, right?” Paul asked as he waved at the door and Burley nodded. Paul stood and curled and pointed his fingers, as if he was holding a gun. “Now, look at the way the bullet entered the forehead. It’s almost straight, right?” He asked as he aimed his invisible gun at Goodwin’s forehead. “According to the position and the angle of the wound, he was looking lower and straight, at one of those chairs, not up. And he should have fallen forward, face-down onto the desk. Or, slumped and off to the side,” Paul explained. “Unless…” Paul stepped around the desk and lined up his invisible pistol with the wound. He had to raise his arm awkwardly and aimed from over his shoulder, by his ear.

“The victim was shot then posed to look like the killer came in through the door and surprised him,” Burley realized. Paul hummed flatly then tossed the invisible Smith & Wesson by the wastebasket. 

“I think the killer was sitting in one of those chairs or he was short and standing behind them, or close to the door.” The killer was too short to be Lavender and the narrow window of time made it highly unlikely. Lavender could have made it to New York from Lake Cliff in less than four hours but Paul suspected that the coroner would put time of death closer to midnight. “He doesn’t play with the crime scene and the gun’s wrong.”

“Who?” Burley asked.

“The Murder Fairy. I wanted this to be him but it looks like something worse.”

“The Murder Fairy?” Burley laughed. “Is that like the Tooth Fairy?”

“Yup,” Paul said with a grim smile. “Just like the Tooth Fairy. Nobody’s sure the Murder Fairy’s real but we’ve got someone working at night, taking credit for his work and trying to convince us he exists.”

Chapter 2

 

Sweet sand verbena. Lavender closed his eyes and breathed deep, wondering if he was truly smelling it or if he was remembering its scent. Could you smell something if it wasn’t truly there? But, I’m not here, he reminded himself. He opened his eyes and the desert was as brutally wild and endless as he remembered as well. The night sky was clear and glittered with more stars than he could ever recall seeing. Lavender appreciated the harsh beauty and admired the view before he drew his gun and climbed the steps. The high desert of southwestern Arizona wasn’t flat and bare like White Sands or the Salt Flats of Utah. It was more rugged and rocky with low mountains and the wind was still damp from an early evening monsoon. It wasn’t hard to understand why Martin Caldwell chose this spot in the middle of nowhere to hide.

The arid wind ruffled his hair but Lavender felt a chill, despite its warmth, as he considered the modern adobe mansion. He shrugged and rubbed his ear against his shoulder then clenched his fist, attempting to ease his nerves but they itched and twisted tighter. Everything was right and the night was perfectly calm yet his senses recoiled and his stomach clenched.

“You know why this feels wrong. Aside from the obvious,” Lady Lucy murmured softly, from over his shoulder. Lavender snorted then scratched his temple with the end of his gun.

“I do but why do I keep coming back?” He asked, then turned. “And why haven’t you returned my calls?” He raised his brows at her and she was serene and smirking as her long ash blonde locks swayed with the breeze.

“I’m returning your call now.” She raised her brows back at him and he narrowed his eyes at her.

“The goats keeping you busy in the vale?”

“It’s not my goats or my business disturbing your beauty sleep,” she replied and Lavender humphed dismissively.

“Why do I keep coming back here?” He asked as he scanned the door. The house was meant to look like an old mission but it had a modern security system that was already disabled.

“Something about this haunts you.”

“Of course, it haunts me. Everything about this haunts me but I didn’t know what else to do. This isn’t what you were referring to in London, is it? Your premonition?” He asked her. Lucy’s brow furrowed as she considered and Lavender held his breath, hopefully. She shook her head and his shoulders drooped.

“I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you more.” She reached and brushed the hair away from his brow then cupped his cheek. Her soft green eyes sparkled as they searched his. “This does feel like it’s woven from a similar thread or part of the same cloth, if that helps,” she offered then she winced. “It doesn’t, does it?”

“No.” He shook his head and turned back to the house. “I did what I had to do. I had to keep this away from Lake Cliff away from them.”

“Did you really think you could make a deal with the Devil and win? This monster was always going to come back and bite you in the arse,” she said. Lavender cringed sheepishly and swayed toward her.

“There’s only room for one monster in Lake Cliff and I’m afraid he’s become rather comfortable. I have it under control.”

“What if you’re wrong? What if this is about to devour the things you hold very dear?” She argued. Or is that another warning? He wondered.

“What would you have me do? It was an impossible situation,” Lavender said and she hummed sympathetically.

“I don’t envy you but I can’t help wondering if this was avoidable…”

“Now, look,” Lavender said as he held up his other hand defensively. “I’ve been good since our first meeting, in London, thank you. And I’ve been very helpful,” he added. She grinned knowingly at him.

“You were here for very bad reasons,” she said and he sighed and hung his head.

“He was a very bad man and he met with a very bad end,” Lavender replied then stretched his neck to stifle a shiver. Lucy’s eyes tightened and the smile fell from her face.

“But not at your hands and you’re afraid of what’s behind this door.”

“I know what’s behind this door. It’s terrible and it terrifies me but I don’t understand why I’m here again. I see terrible things all the time,” he pointed out.

“You know it’s coming and you can’t stop it,” Lucy whispered then nodded at the door. Lavender’s nose wrinkled as he stared at the rustic wooden panels and iron bolts.

“What if I didn’t open it?” He asked but she was gone. “Wonderful.” Lavender sighed and shifted his shoulders again but they didn’t loosen and his stomach was sour. Is it? Probably. His stomach always turned when he thought of Martin Caldwell. Lavender’s cheeks puffed out as he grabbed the handle and eased the door open. He leaned over the threshold and his heartbeat slowed and became heavy and his blood ran cold as he stepped into Lane and Aiden’s house. “No!” Lavender gasped and covered his mouth. His stomach heaved at the blood dripping off the counter and the front of the cabinets. There was a pattering sound and he spun then bit back a sob. A tattooed arm reached from the hall and a bloody hand hung limply over the top step. “No!” Lavender cried as he sat up and his chest heaved as he searched the room around his bed.

“What is it?” Sage asked groggily as he pulled Lavender down and into his arms. Sage shushed soothingly and sifted his fingers through Lavender’s hair. “What’s wrong? It’s not like you to have bad dreams.”

“It’s not like me to dream,” Lavender murmured. His mind and his conscience were rarely troubled. “Everything’s going to be fine,” he promised. He wound his arms around Sage and rubbed his cheek against his hair. Sage yawned in agreement as he patted Lavender’s back and nuzzled into his neck.

“I know. We can survive anything as long as we have each other,” he babbled. Lavender chuckled softly and cherished the absolute peace and stillness of the night and Sage’s naked body as it wrapped protectively around him. He locked out the vision from his nightmare and vowed he’d do whatever it took to make sure Lake Cliff—and everyone in it—remained perfectly peaceful and safe.

 

Welcome back to Lake Cliff, reader.

You’re in for a wild ride.

 

Available 6/4 for $2.99 on Amazon and KU.

Pre-order NOW!: https://amzn.to/3cfOMkh

SOTFCover

 

 

Welcome back to Lake Cliff, gentle reader. You’ve been warned.

Want to meet a Beautiful Animal?

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I’ve never done anything like that before, have I? I have to make it very clear: this book is different from my previous books and it’s not going where you’re expecting. But, it’s still me so it’s going to be beautiful and feel like real love. Promise. It might feel like the realest, deepest love story I’ve ever written, by the time you reach the epilogue.

I’ve been vague and weird since I began writing Beautiful Animal because I didn’t want to have to explain or defend it. But I did want to warn or prepare my readers that this wasn’t going to be remotely like a Lake Cliff or an Alfie and that there are some heavy moments in store for us. It’s so lovely and worth it, though. Carys Channing is, to me, a dream of a romance hero and possibly the best I’ve ever written. Darby Randolph is also a dream in that he’s so much like many of us in his head and his heart that he easily becomes our passport to follow Channing on an adventure we can all learn and grow from. Here’s an excerpt from Beautiful Animal that gives us a revealing peek at our heroes:

 

Expectation

 

She did it slowly. She took her time, tracing the edges and the dip in a bright shade of coral that glowed against the warm brown of her skin. It was a bright shade of coral and Carys marveled that there could be thousands and thousands of names for something he’d never give a damn about. He’d never felt even the slightest temptation to kiss one, but lipstick on a woman never failed to arouse him. It was just the lipstick, turning Carys on as he pretended to browse perfumes so he could watch the young woman at the MAC counter. She knew he was watching and her pout grew fuller as her eyes held his and she became even more deliberate as she traced her lips, taunting him.

It was the flash of color, so vulgar and distracting in the dusty dim of his father’s waiting room. Carys was small then and she didn’t see him with his knees pulled to his chest, sitting in the corner, by the water cooler. He peeked over his book as she came in, smelling of jasmine and cigarettes, a siren in bright red with her purse tucked under her arm. Carys was entranced as she took out a mirror and meticulously lined her lips in ruby red lipstick then inspected her neatly styled hair. He felt a tickle as she rubbed her lips together and wondered why. Why did they do it? Why did it tickle?

The door opened and Carys ducked behind his book as his father greeted his patient then invited her into his office. A low murmur and a soft laugh and Carys stayed still until the door shut and the lock clicked. He turned and slid out of the chair and tiptoed to the door and into the hall. He quietly eased open the door to the storage room and slipped inside. He pushed aside the box next to the vent and crouched so he could see into the office.

“That’s it!” His father whispered encouragingly as he made a mess of her hair and held her face against the front of his trousers. Carys couldn’t see everything but he knew what they were doing. He knew why she was gagging and he knew what his father was doing when he bent her over the tufted arm of the leather sofa and Carys knew what her keening moans and the rough grunts meant. He also knew that his father was done when he gave her ass a gentle pat and stepped back so Carys quietly slid the box in front of the vent and returned to the waiting room. He was hiding behind his book again when his father opened the office door and murmured dryly about her next visit before sending her on her way. Carys wondered why she didn’t care that her lipstick was smeared all over her face or her hair was a mess as her driver helped her into the car and drove her home to her husband. Why did they do it? Why did it tickle?

“I’ll take it,” Carys told the girl at the MAC counter. Her name was Aja, according to the tag on her white blouse. She set one hand on her hip and her neck pulled to the side, inviting him to study her name tag closer but his eyes followed the little black tube of lipstick in her other hand.

“This?” She asked coyly and raised it so she could chew on the cap. Carys’s grin was wicked and laced with lust as he enjoyed the phallic shape of the tube with her lush coral lips. He didn’t care about her tongue or her teeth as she nibbled suggestively. “Is there anything else…you want?” Her voice dropped so it was low and husky and her pupils were wide as she leaned over the counter. Carys clicked his teeth as he pulled his wallet from inside his coat.

“Just the lipstick, please,” he said and her face fell and her shoulders drooped. “Not because you aren’t stunning!” He reassured her quickly and set his elbow on the counter as he held up his card. “I’m very gay,” he whispered and her eyes widened as her jaw hung.

“Oh…! Ok!” She nodded quickly and was flustered as she spun and rang him up. “Do you want me to help you match your foundation or…?”

“I don’t wear makeup. I just like lipstick,” he explained simply then thanked her and went to find Darby.

There was an extra kick of arousal as Carys wandered out of the department store and through the crowded mall. Carys could fuck just about anyone and enjoy it because he generally got off on what happened inside of a man, instead of his body or his face. Arousal for Carys lay in the bliss and relief he found in his partner’s eyes, in the knowledge that he was in the presence of something deeper and far more sensual than just physical sex. It was the quenching and the rebalancing that did it for him. For the times Carys didn’t care about his clients and couldn’t touch that higher plane, he turned to lipstick.

Oh, but he wanted Darby Randolph. Carys wouldn’t need the lipstick with Darby in the limo but he was a creature of habit and he was already at the mall. He was relaxed as he strolled but warmth swirled in his groin and Carys hummed softly to himself as he recalled his surprise when Darby opened the door. It was rare for Carys to be starstruck or nervous, and certainly not with a client, but he audibly gasped when Fawn called and told him Randolph had made an appointment for the evening. Art and photography were one of Carys’s passions and he had a few of Randolph’s photographs in his homes and followed his work for magazines like Time and Shout

Carys thought he’d be older, eccentric, unkempt…have a paunch. He wasn’t expecting Darby to be tall and broad shouldered or have big brown eyes and that wild, dirty blond hair. It fell around his jaw and Carys became warmer as he remembered Darby’s tattooed hands sweeping through his hair as he became panicked or when he laughed. His arms were covered with tattoos and Carys was still distracted by a glimpse of ink under Darby’s shirt as he bent over.

He did his homework and studied Darby as he would any new client, despite already being a fan, and Carys wanted him before he even opened the door. It was rare for him to be starstruck or nervous but it was even rarer for him to feel immediate physical attraction so Carys was momentarily stunned and legitimately swooned over Darby’s doe-like eyes, tattoos and bashful smirk. Carys’s delight and anticipation turned to concern when he saw the state of Darby’s life and he was sincerely disappointed when he realized there’d been a misunderstanding. He wanted to taste and touch and fuck Darby in every possible way but Carys was even more determined to save him. There was a starving, lonely soul trapped in there and Carys wanted to help him find his way back. Carys found Darby where he told him to wait, by the merry-go-round. He was taking pictures of an elderly couple sitting in a small coach, pulled by a team of pastel-colored horses.

“What’s their secret?” Carys asked quietly as he stepped behind Darby. He froze as he watched the couple through his camera. The older man teased his wife with an ice cream cone and Darby smiled as she laughed.

“They’re still on their first date,” Darby murmured and went back to shooting.

“Isn’t that beautiful? Fifty, sixty, maybe as much as seventy years of happiness,” Carys noted. Darby mumbled something in agreement as he drifted to his right and Carys was fascinated as he followed him around the merry-go-round.

“Now, it’s a different story, with the kids in line, waiting to get on the ride,” Darby explained when he finally lowered the camera and stepped back. He nodded at where they started, on the other side, then waved at the crowd. “It was just them before and we could tell they’d gone back in time. They didn’t change or move but we did and our perspective changed so now there’s a line of kids, waiting to get on the ride of a lifetime,” he said, dazzling Carys. Who broke you, you brilliant, brilliant boy? Carys wondered and vowed he’d make Darby whole. Darby shrugged and turned away from the merry-go-round and raised his brows at Carys. “So, what’s the plan? Are we shopping for a client?” He guessed, shaking Carys from his thoughts and he sighed as he checked his watch.

“I have what I need and Newt should be along soon,” he said then waved at the exit. He pushed his hands into his pockets and idly toyed with the lipstick as he fell in step next to Darby. “You should put in a fresh roll and be ready to go. You’ll be shooting inside a limo and you’ll have to work fast,” he warned as they stepped out into the crisp coolness of an early fall evening. The sky was full of oranges, purples and pinks and Darby took a few fast shots before his hands swiftly wound and flicked at buttons, levers and caps. “Here we are,” Carys said as a black limousine came around the corner and cruised along the sidewalk. “Ready?” He asked and Darby nodded and his neck stretched curiously as the car parked and a driver jumped out to get the door for them. Carys stifled a weary sigh then dove through the door and fell into the seat next to Newt and waited as Darby stuck his head in to make sure it was safe. Darby gave Newt a quick nod, acknowledging the smaller, much older man’s pinched indifference before he slid onto the seat across from them. The door shut and Carys cleared his throat as he unbuttoned his coat and got comfortable as the car pulled away from the curb.

AnimalFull

Available for PRE-SALE on Amazon and KU NOW!: https://amzn.to/2xiLJsD

Want to meet a Beautiful Animal?

You’re Invited To K. Sterling’s Hottest Adventure Yet!

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There. I said it.

I’ve had a few readers complain that the last few books were lighter on the sex than they were expecting so I decided to give those old horndogs something extra naughty this time. I love anonymous sex. There. I said it. It’s a little like being Cinderella, if you’re really good at fooling yourself. Think of it like a dance with a stranger who thinks you’re a princess. It’s just enough magic for one night and you only need the darkness of a hotel room or the backseat of a car to make it happen. You can take the metaphor even further if you’ve got poppers or a party drug to play your fairy godmother. Or a few extra footmen, if you’re really serious about being a princess.

Which brings us to Ellis Harper and his shot in the dark. I wanted to have fun with anonymous sex and see how messy I could make it so I asked myself when would be the worst time to open a hookup app and get brave. A room full of men you can’t have seemed like the best-case scenario, for our purposes. So, I took Ellis to a wedding and figured out how to raise the Disaster Factor without making him a cheater or a jerk.

I regret to inform you, dear Reader, that Ellis’s best friend Alli has gotten them into a spot of trouble. She’s pregnant and the father is a cheater and a jerk so she may have given everyone the impression that Ellis is the father in order to save herself from a weekend of lectures and dire predictions. What could possibly go wrong?

 

**WARNING! Adult language and content ahead! Be an ADULT who enjoys adults doing very adult things. WARNING!**

 

If Ellis had to guess, he was just one of a handful of men in the hotel’s bar impatiently biding their time until they could find a safe place to check their phones. He glanced at the men’s room and snorted harder as three men pushed through the crowd, in their haste to “relieve” themselves. “You’re overthinking it, guys,” he said then swiveled his stool so his back was to the wall, so no one could see over this shoulder, and pulled out his phone. He found his texts and opened the last one from Alli.

Ellis

This reception just got a lot more interesting. Someone here is cruising on Grindr…

Alli

See what you can find out. I’m on my way.

Ellis

I’m in the bar. I’ll take a look and meet you by the fruit trays in ten minutes.

“Can I get you anything, sir?” The bartender asked and Ellis shook his head then stopped when he thought of Alli.

“Just a bottle of water, please,” he said then turned his attention back to his phone. He looked like he was still texting, if anyone was watching him. He opened Grindr and found a collage full of mostly picture-less profiles but his eyes caught on wide, hard pecs, nicely defined abs and Adonis belt, and a tempting trail of dark hair that pulled Ellis’s attention to a pair of straining grey boxer briefs. “Holy shit,” Ellis breathed.

“Here’s that water,” the bartender said and Ellis opened the bottle and took his eyes off his phone just long enough to make sure he didn’t miss his mouth. He took several loud gulps then gasped loudly.

“I’m going to need another, please,” Ellis called then swore as he looked at his phone. “How dare he look like the man of my dreams and be at this wedding?” He hissed angrily. There was no age but Ellis could tell by the posture, body hair and general…solidness, that Discreetly Yours definitely wasn’t younger. He had a thing for older men and Ellis’s instincts told him he was looking at someone in his ideal range of mid-forties to mid-sixties. The face was obscured by a grinning purple devil emoji, so Ellis had absolutely nothing else to go on. “It’s my favorite emoji too,” Ellis pouted. The bartender returned with another bottle of water for Alli and Ellis thanked him and left a tip before heading for the rendezvous point.

“There you are!” She said and he offered her a glum nod.

“Here I am,” he agreed then pushed the bottle at her. “Drink this and eat something, you’ve been on your feet all day,” he said and she took a quick drink then pointed the bottle at him.

“What’s wrong? You recognized him and it’s someone bad?” She guessed and Ellis shook his head.

“No. He’s perfect but I’m afraid I’ll recognize him and he’ll be someone bad,” he said and she hissed.

“How perfect? Let me see,” she ordered and gestured impatiently. They often browsed Grindr when they were bored and he usually asked for her opinion and approval, when he did use it to get laid.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, if making a smart decision is the goal, here,” Ellis mused but Alli pulled a face then shoved her hand into his pocket.

“Quit stalling! Aside from our happy little scandal, this reception has been way too dull,” she said then cheered as she pulled out his phone.

“Speak for yourself. It’s been a circus for me. I’m going to be a father, Jamie hit on me, Colin’s a mess, and I’ve just discovered that someone in your family is bi or gay and the man of my dreams,” he complained and Alli’s jaw dropped.

“Leave Colin to me. Get out about Jamie, though!” She whispered loudly and Ellis rolled his eyes.

“Why are all the men in your family so hot? All of them,” he said and her brows jumped.

“Even Large Gerry?” She said and Ellis nodded. There were three Geralds among the Landrys and their spouses. Short Gerry, old Gerry and Large Gerry.

“Even Large Gerry. He’s large and in charge. I like when big men carry themselves like they’re in charge,” Ellis said and she made a thoughtful sound as she considered.

“I could definitely see that. He’s got that Landry swagger,” she murmured as she swiped at the phone then grabbed Ellis’s sleeve. “This definitely isn’t Large Gerry. Oh! I think he noticed you!” She whispered giddily and swiped again.

“Stop!” Ellis hissed as he snatched the phone from her but it was too late. “What did you doooo?!” He bit his knuckle to keep from screaming and throwing his phone. She tapped Discreetly Yours back with the purple devil emoji —indicating that Ellis just wanted to fuck— and was typing a message.

“I see you kept the name,” Alli said then laughed maniacally as she pointed. Ellis’s eyes dropped to his phone and the color drained from his face. He hadn’t opened, let alone used Grindr, in…months. He fell into a regular thing with a guy from his yoga class for a few months but that ended last fall and Ellis couldn’t remember how long it was since his last hook-up, before Yoga Matt. It could have been over a year-and-a-half ago, but about three months earlier, Alli had dared Ellis to change his profile name on Grindr from the much more fitting “Mr. Perfectly Adequate” to “The Cumback Kid.” It was after Margaret’s birthday party. They were drunk and snuck off to smoke a joint and Alli decided Ellis needed something more confident that implied he would be unforgettable and that he was also a fan of raunchy but safe sex.

“This baby is going to be the Doom of Man,” Ellis muttered.

“I sure hope so. Type something! He’s waiting!” She said with several hard pokes.

“Fuck!” Ellis spat and pushed his brain to do something. Anything, really.

The Cumback Kid

So… Come here often?

“Clever. Acknowledge the elephant in the room and see if he gives us any clues,” Alli said and Ellis shook his head.

“I am giving zero consideration to his identity. The only out gay men at this wedding are married and maybe Jamie. I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble. Especially myself,” he informed her then wrinkled his nose as he looked around. “Hurry up and make a plate so we can move.” They piled a plate with fruit, little pastries and cheese then relocated to an abandoned table on the other side of the room, farthest from the dance floor. “Hopefully, he’ll find someone more interesting and move on,” he said as he got Alli’s chair then pulled his close to hers and sat. She leaned against him as he checked his phone and he groaned as a response posted.

Eeek!” Alli squealed and Ellis gave her a disgusted look then read the message. 

Discreetly Yours

Cute. Are you stuck at this reception too?

“Uh oh…” Ellis shook his head. He wasn’t giving himself away like that.

The Cumback Kid

What reception?

“Smart. Figure out who he is first,” Alli said. Ellis shook his head even harder.

“Trust me. Neither of us wants to know if one of your uncles or cousins is lurking on Grindr. What do you do with that kind of knowledge?” He explained and she winced. “Exactly,” Ellis said and they both lowered their heads when another reply popped up.

Discreetly Yours 

I get it. I am so mad at myself for not turning off the notifications.

“Awww… It’s cute when guys are clumsy with technology,” Alli said and Ellis hummed in agreement.

“It shows they’ve got too much going on to waste a lot of time on their phones.”

The Cumback Kid 

If it helps, I think only a few of us noticed but the other guys are still too scared to check.

“That’s nice. Some people are so quick to make fun of others for their little fumbles. It’s such a turn-off,” Alli murmured and Ellis nodded.

“I can’t get into guys who have to be right and like to laugh when other people make mistakes.”

Discreetly Yours 

Cute and brave. Your picture’s really hot.

Alli whistled loudly as Ellis turned off the app and set his phone on the table. They were quiet for several moments before Ellis shook his head.

“Now look at what we’ve done,” he complained.

“Normally, we’d be celebrating and warming up the clippers,” Alli noted and her nose wrinkled. “Just for the sake of ‘What if…’ are you appropriately shaved and ready, in case the opportunity should present itself?” She asked and gestured airily. Ellis sat back and crossed his ankles and his arms over his chest then snorted.

“I’m wearing a tux and I knew I’d drink until my face fell off tonight. I haven’t had anything with dairy or meat in the last forty-eight hours and I ate a fistful of fiber supplements every morning this week. I had big plans but I imagined I’d be falling in love with one of the waitstaff for the weekend,” he explained then sneered at his phone. “I would never get this far with a man like that if I wasn’t surrounded by men I can’t have sex with.”

“Nonsense but it does seem like fate is having a bit of a laugh tonight,” Alli said as she tapped her chin then jumped. “I think you should go for it. I’m going to look for Addi. My feet hurt and she’s got cute flats in her bag.”

“Go. You’ve already caused me enough trouble tonight,” Ellis said as he shooed her off then offered his cheek.

“Try to get into some trouble. I’ll check on you in a bit,” she said and kissed him loudly.

 

Boy, does he, Reader. Ellis isn’t able to help himself and one text leads to another and this happens:

 

Discreetly Yours 

I’m getting a room and I’ll send the number once I’m ready. I’ll keep the lights off and if you’re feeling really brave, you can join me. I don’t want to know who you are and I’ll trust you to respect my privacy. I just want to fuck you, thoroughly and completely. I’ll have condoms.

“If you’re feeling brave?” Alli said then looked at him. “That’s got to be a sign. You have to do this.” She gave Ellis’s shoulders a shake and he nodded but there wasn’t a lot happening inside his skull. There was a lot happening in his pants. His body definitely wanted him to do it. And his heart was telling him that he needed to get fucked, thoroughly and completely. He’d been under an intense amount of stress at work and Ellis skipped dinner with his parents because they were being especially persistent about his plans for the future. Now, he was facing the daunting prospect of fatherhood and a long weekend with Alli’s family.

“I have to do this,” Ellis agreed. Alli’s hand clapped over her mouth to smother a shriek and Ellis grimaced as he looked at the door. “I did promise to take care of you tonight,” he recalled then grunted when she gave his arm a hard shove.

“I have cake and two plates of food in the fridge. I can call housekeeping if there’s anything I don’t have and I’m a grown woman. I can take care of myself for a night. Go, be brave and do crazy, filthy things,” she said then rose on her toes and kissed his cheek.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this!” He whispered as he typed then bit back a scream as he hit Send.

The Cumback Kid 

Give me an hour.

“I have to take a shower; my boxers are already soaked.”

 

Which brings us to this:

 

“Wow. All the usual anxiety of an anonymous hookup plus the possibility of personal and social catastrophe. What could possibly go wrong?” Ellis asked himself as the elevator doors shut then pushed the button. It was a short ride and the doors opened a moment later. He glanced at the hall guide then checked to make sure it was clear then cautiously made his way to room 142. His eyes jumped from room number to room number and he slowed as he approached a junior suite at the end of the hall. The door was cracked and the room was dark. Ellis swallowed loudly then pushed out a hard breath as he reached for the handle. He blocked his face with his other hand as he eased it open. He leaned so he could peek around the door but he could only make out the bed and a chair as he waited for his eyes to adjust.

“I’m over here,” a voice whispered and Ellis followed it to a tall, dark figure leaning against the dresser. Is that Jamie? Ellis wondered. He couldn’t tell by the whisper and Discreet’s head was down. All Ellis could see was that he was shirtless and appeared to be drinking a cocktail. He also appeared to be alone so Ellis slid into the room and shut the door. It was too dark for Discreet to make out more than his shadow so Ellis lowered his hand and edged a little closer to the bed. He was still turned on but Ellis didn’t know who was supposed to make the first move if the top got the room. Was he supposed to just get on the bed? A lot of “straight” guys liked to get straight to it. Married men also liked to hit and run. Not that Ellis knew that much about the few men he met on Grindr or what Discreet was into, his profile was light on details. Probably for a reason, Ellis reminded himself then jumped when the ice cubes in Discreet’s glass clinked as he drank.

“Right! I’ll just get naked and get on the bed?” Ellis said quietly and his hands trembled as he fumbled with his belt buckle.

“Wait. Come here,” Discreet whispered but it was deep and there was an alluring command to his tone that sent a shiver down Ellis’s spine. His feet carried him across the room and Ellis’s heartbeat became a maddening throb at the smell of scotch and his cologne. “Let’s see if this is going to work, first,” Discreet murmured before his hand curved around Ellis’s jaw and he was pulled close. 

“Ok,” he said softly then braced his hands on Discreet’s chest as their lips touched. His breath tasted like scotch and his lips were firm and warm and Ellis moaned as he leaned into Discreet. Fingers pushed through Ellis’s hair and heat burst under his skin as their tongues swirled. They became bolder and hungrier and Ellis went limp as Discreet’s hand locked around his ass. Discreet angled his head, taking the kiss deeper as their hard-ons were crushed then bucked against Ellis. It was frantic and euphoric as they became wild with lust. Most importantly, Ellis had no clue who Discreet was. “It’s working!” Ellis gasped breathlessly. He swallowed a moan as Discreet sucked on his chin then dragged his teeth along Ellis’s jaw and found his ear. 

“It’s definitely working,” he panted. Ellis nodded and attacked the buttons on his shirt then moved his hands out of the way when Discreet ripped it open. Buttons pattered onto the floor and Discreet hissed but it didn’t sound very sincere. There was a drowsy rumble as his lips dragged over Ellis’s skin. “Sorry. I need to touch you,” he murmured then groaned as his hands slid beneath Ellis’s shirt and around his chest.

“Fuck it. I have lots of shirts,” he said as he shook his arm free and flung it at the door.

“You feel perfect. Tell me what you want,” Discreet purred in the dark before his tongue washed up Ellis’s neck, destroying what was left of his inhibitions.

“This!” Ellis said as he gripped the hard-on straining against the front of Discreet’s trousers. His self-respect was gone as well, Ellis noted, as he lowered to his knees. He rubbed his face against the bulge and Discreet swore as his hands swept through Ellis’s hair.

“Jesus, Kid, you’re killing me.” It was a strangled whisper and Ellis felt an intoxicating swell of desire and power as he gave Discreet’s trousers and boxer briefs a swift tug. 

Ellis would have dropped his pants and hugged his knees and allowed Discreet to take whatever he wanted. It would still be hot but knowing Discreet gave Ellis the reins when he was clearly used to being in command was exhilarating. Discreet’s power and pride were as obvious to Ellis as the beat of his own heart and the desire coursing through his veins. But Discreet was ready to play with fire and was waiting for Ellis to light the match. Ellis prayed he wouldn’t get burned then jumped into the flames. His hands spread as they pushed up Discreet’s thighs then wrapped around this thick length. He pushed his nose and lips into Discreet’s sack and Ellis was rewarded with a gasp as the fingers in his hair twisted. Discreet’s balls were smooth and heavy and Ellis made a delighted sound as he lapped and sucked. Ellis’s vision was limited to outlines and shapes in the dark so he shut his eyes and wallowed in the clean, crisp taste of Discreet’s warm, aroused flesh and his tortured whispers. The air filled with Discreet’s strangled pleas and curses as Ellis’s tongue lashed at his shaft greedily. He teased the slit and Ellis moaned as pre-cum burst on his tongue. Ellis swallowed the head and his lips burned as they stretched around Discreet’s shaft. “Holy fucking…!” Discreet whimpered as his hand slapped onto the dresser behind him and Ellis could hear his fingertips clawing at the wood. He tasted like heaven but Ellis wanted Discreet to let go. Burn with me.

“I came to get thoroughly and completely fucked,” Ellis whispered silkily as his lips teased the end of Discreet’s cock.

“Goddamn it!” Discreet growled as Ellis was pulled to his feet then thrown onto the bed. Discreet’s hands and lips were everywhere as they writhed and kicked out of their clothes until they were slick, naked and tangled. “You taste so fucking perfect!” Discreet said as he slid lower and bright bursts of color filled Ellis’s vision as he blinked at the ceiling. Discreet was ruthless as he sucked, licked and stroked. He bathed Ellis’s cock in lush, scorching heat then stole his breath as Discreet’s tongue swept beneath his sack and washed over his hole. “Fuck!” Discreet hissed then held Ellis open and angled his face so he could gorge himself. He sucked and his tongue thrust and probed as his fingers pushed into the tight ring of Ellis’s ass. Discreet fingered him slow and deep, stretching and twisting as Ellis arched and moaned deliriously.

“Please!” Ellis urged. He clutched the duvet and his feet kicked and his toes curled as he fought off the driving pleasure building in his groin. Ellis whimpered in relief and pushed out a shaking breath as Discreet climbed up his body. Then, he laughed in surprise when Discreet crashed into his lips and kissed him. He was tender but possessive as his hand curved around Ellis’s jaw and he groaned.

“I’m going to dream about drowning in your lips and your ass,” Discreet complained and Ellis swore in frustration as he grabbed his face and kissed him hard.

“Do not make me fall in love with you. This is already a mistake.” There was a ragged chuckle as Discreet’s arm stretched for the nightstand.

“I don’t think I have a choice,” he teased but a tremor passed between them, as if they felt the same sense of foreboding. His lips hovered over Ellis’s, as if he was pausing and having second thoughts.

“Don’t think,” Ellis suggested. His fingers trailed down wide, flat, hair-dusted pecs then over the hard ridges of Discreet’s abs and around his side. Ellis moaned as his hand spread around the tight globe of Discreet’s ass and he bucked impatiently beneath him. “You’ll never know you fucked me and I’ll never know it was you.”

“What if we can’t forget?” Discreet huffed against Ellis’s lips. He kissed Ellis before he rose and rested on his elbow. There was a weak glint of foil in the dark and the sound of a wrapper ripping. Discreet quickly stretched a condom over his length and Ellis might have fallen in love when he heard the clicking of a cap before slick fingers traced his passage.

“So thoughtful,” Ellis observed and there was a soft snort.

“We’re going to need it,” he warned then forced the air from Ellis’s lungs as he filled him with hard, steady heat.

 

Who’s Discreet and what happens when a weekend fling with a mysterious stranger turns into a habit Ellis can’t quit?

 

Get Ellis Harper’s Shot In The Dark NOW for $3.99 on Amazon or FREE with KU!:

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Also! If you’re not a member of The Sterlings’ League of Extraordinary Perverts over on Facebook, hurry up and join us for lots of sneak peeks and fun extras! We’re having a special giveaway at the end of the month for our group members and we’d love to include you! We’re a closed group, for your privacy, so you’ll have to answer two simple questions so we know you’re not going to be a creep to other members, but that’s all it takes! Look at what we’re giving to one lucky Pervert!:

 

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Join The Sterlings’ League of Extraordinary Perverts HERE:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1635600189856650/

 

AND:

Join us for Scott’s Sexy Instant Serial! We’re sharing The Perfect Cover on audiobook in a FREE series on Soundcloud. Check it out and subscribe so you never miss an episode and stay for fun commentary and nonsense with me and Scott!

Scott’s Sexy Instant Serial on Soundcloud:

 

You’re Invited To K. Sterling’s Hottest Adventure Yet!

Have you tried Scott’s Sexy Instant Serial?

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Scott’s Sexy Instant Serial: https://bit.ly/38sfVin

 

Did you know we have a FREE audiobook series on Soundcloud?
Well, we do! We’re 7 chapters into The Perfect Cover and you can catch up and follow us so you don’t miss another episode! Listen to Scott’s Sexy Instant Serial NOW and follow us for recaps, commentary and a new episode each week!

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The Perfect Cover and the perfect cover

PerfectCover

I was in a brave, optimistic place this summer. I survived a gall bladder attack and a subsequent surgery and realized I could work in the pool while drinking White Claws and Trulys. There was also an open call from Avon for unagented manuscripts so I decided to shoot my shot, since this was Sarah’s summer. “What are my strengths, self?” I asked and my response was “Antiheroes and underdogs?” I knew I wanted an agent of some sort and to pair him with someone who wouldn’t be impressed, or interested, really. I decided a very tired suburban father would be fun but the more I learned about Grant, the more I realized that his story would be a tough one and that he was the real hero of the book. How does a man end up a single father? There aren’t a lot of good reasons, are there? I decided this was a good time to introduce a character who was beautiful and heroic in a very different way. Grant is a lot like me, and I suspect a lot of my readers, in that he suffers from depression and anxiety. He isn’t depressed or anxious because his husband died or because his neighbors are spies. He’s always struggled with depression and has terrible anxiety, like the hundreds of millions of people around the world who struggle with mental illness in their daily lives. As a result, I told on myself a whole lot, in writing Grant. I even gave him a big goofy dog for a best friend, named Edgar. But, I promise, this isn’t a sad book. Grant’s story is a sad one but our dashing agent sees the hero in him and makes it his mission to make the shy but secretly kinky widower laugh again. There’s also the matter of the Chinese spies living next door and Grant’s daughter, Audrey, and his sister-in-law have matchmaking schemes aplenty. I lost my best friend just as I was finishing The Perfect Cover. My Milo passed away and it was hard to edit a book about a depressed man with a big goofy dog, being a severely depressed woman without her dog. Then, Avon passed on The Perfect Cover and while I was disappointed, I was glad that I could finally share what I think is a sexy, fun and very honest book with my readers. What I wasn’t excited about was the title and the cover. For months, it was called “Hopkins Creek” because I hoped Avon would want it and someone more savvy might help with a decent title and I didn’t even think about covers. God, I hate titles and covers. But once they passed, I had a book to self-publish and sell so I stopped crying and put on my thinking cap. I’ve been on the fence about illustrated covers on romance books but since “Hopkins Creek” wasn’t like my Lake Cliff books I wanted something that would signal that to readers so a different cover made sense. I found some cute illustrated guys and an extremely adorable dog among the stock pictures and my spirits lifted as I tinkered on Photoshop. I used The Perfect Cover as a place holder because I thought I was being cheeky and meta but Melissa loved the title and pointed out that it worked, so I left it! What do you think of the final result? And how about a whole chapter excerpt from The Perfect Cover?

“Don’t ignore the alarm when it goes off. You’ll forget to take your pills,” Audrey scolded absently as she typed on her phone and Grant snorted.

“I think I can remember to take my pills,” he replied and she hummed in agreement.

“I like pretending you weren’t puffy and covered in hives when you picked me up last month too,” she said dryly. “Just take your meds when the alarm goes off or you’ll forget.”

“I will,” Grant promised. It wasn’t just his allergy meds, he got behind with his Effexor and caught up with his depression and anxiety. He spent the last half of the month on the couch watching old family movies and eating ice cream in the dark. “I’m glad it’s just three days this time. A month is way too long,” he complained.

“I’ve got bad news, dad. College is significantly longer than a month and then I’m never coming back,” she said then flashed him a sweet smile. “I’m kidding. I’ll miss you and come home so I can do my laundry at least once a month,” she promised. Grant glared at the windshield. He hated that she was sixteen.

“Why can’t you wait and go to college when you’re eighteen?” He asked and she sighed as they turned into the high school parking lot. Grant parked next to the bus and Audrey unbuckled her belt then hugged his arm.

“It’s just a two-hour hour drive and I’ll call you all the time,” she said gently. He shushed her as he gave her a squeeze and kissed her hair.

“Don’t think I’m not proud of you or excited, just because I’m falling apart. I’ll figure out some way to survive on my own,” he teased.

“I know,” she said as she sat back then waved at her best friend, Ashley, before her eyes flicked back to Grant and narrowed. “You better do something cool this weekend,” she threatened. Grant started to smirk before she pointed. “With someone other than Edgar,” she stipulated and his face fell.

“Why can’t I hang out with Edgar? That’s cool,” he argued and she shook her head.

“Hang out with Walter or Aunt Marcy or… I don’t know, meet a guy,” she suggested nonchalantly and Grant’s face twisted. “Come on!” Audrey begged. “Think about how much better I’d feel!” She protested. “I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for leaving you alone and someone else can remind you to take your pills every morning.”

“Shouldn’t you be going?” He asked flatly and she pulled a face as she leaned in to kiss him.

“I love you and I want you to do something this weekend. You don’t have to do anything radical like go on Tinder, if you’re not ready. But you have to do something nice for yourself or talk to someone other than Edgar. And not on the phone, please,” she added as she gave him a loaded look and he held up his hands.

“I will do my best but I can’t promise my idea of cool will be as exciting as you’re hoping,” he warned but she waved if off.

“Don’t spend the next three days at home, alone. And running by the post office and grabbing coffee doesn’t count. You see the same people and have the exact same conversations every day. Go get a haircut or a pedicure or buy yourself something nice. Whatever. Just don’t stay home,” she ordered.

“Fine. Get out or I’ll throw you out,” he said then kissed her loudly on the forehead. “I love you. Check in when you get there and send me a text goodnight.”

“I will and I love you too,” Audrey said then pushed open her door and hopped out of the passenger seat. Grant waited as she grabbed her backpack and duffle bag from the back then loaded her things into the bus.

“Stay safe, Jelly Bean,” he murmured softly as Audrey and Ashley got on the bus and took their seats at the front so they could help supervise the younger campers. He made a weak attempt to shake the guilt during the short drive from the high school to the town center. It was a lot easier to trick Audrey into thinking he was happy when she was younger, but she noticed and worried more as she got older. Grant parked in front of The Six Beans Coffee Co. and waved at Vanessa as he passed the window then frowned as he reached for the post office door. He didn’t even look, he just waved because he knew she’d be there.

“Morning, Grant! Got your mail right here. Looks like a beautiful weekend,” Rhoda predicted as she handed Grant his mail. He nodded as he took it and she pointed as he tucked it under his arm. “You’ve got the new Pottery Barn catalog there! They’ve got those cute lamps I was telling you about again.”

“Great!” Grant said loudly. He pretended he knew what she was talking about and that the déjà vu wasn’t severe. Marcy put his address and email on Pottery Barn’s mailing list to get a coupon, he suspected. But Rhoda loved Pottery Barn so he went along with it every time a new catalog came in. “I’ll keep an eye out for them when I’m flipping through it.”

“Oh! How’s Edgar?” She asked solemnly and Grant shook his head.

“It wasn’t that serious. The big baby got his foot pinched in Marcy’s fence because he was trying to catch Lola so they could be friends. He needed a few stitches and a few days in a cone to reflect. He’s not too thrilled about it so I let him stay home to preserve his dignity,” he explained and she laughed.

“Poor guy, that cat’s just a hateful thing.”

“I keep telling Edgar but he’s determined to be her friend,” Grant sighed then tapped his mail against his brow. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rhoda.”

“You have a lovely day, dear. Tell Edgar I missed him and let Audrey know I enjoyed her little article in the paper,” she said as she hurried around the post office counter and got the door for him.

“I’ll tell them,” Grant replied absently as he studied the Audi parked next to him, in front of the coffee shop. Hopkins Creek was full of luxury vehicles but most were SUVs and crossovers. Something about the sharp little sports car made the hairs on the back of Grant’s neck stand.

It took Grant all of two seconds to find the Audi’s owner after he stepped into The Six Beans. He was thanking Vanessa for his coffee then smiled at Grant before he went off to add sugar to his cup. Grant quickly noted the perfect hair, flawless smile, square jaw, expensive suit and the other man’s tall, lean and probably sculpted body and moved along. Like the other mortals in the coffee shop, Grant pretended to be unaware of the walking cologne ad obliviously perusing the display of travel mugs and smiled at Vanessa as he stepped up to the counter.

“How’s it going? Just my usual,” he said. He pulled out his wallet and Vanessa hissed urgently as she waved for him to come closer. Grant frowned as he leaned over the counter.

“He’s definitely single but I can’t tell which one of us should make a move!” She whispered then cocked her chin at the other man.

“A move? Who…?” Grant asked quietly and cluelessly. Vanessa cleared her throat loudly and pointed at the man as she rubbed her nose.

“Him!” She coughed and Grant flinched before he chuckled and shook his head.

“I can’t tell either but I doubt he’d give me his number,” he said dismissively as he slid his card into the reader and punched in his PIN.

“I’d love to give you my number,” a smooth, warm voice murmured from over his shoulder and Grant wanted to shove his face right in his wallet. Grant’s fingers were numb and trembled as he found a $5 for Vanessa.

“Yikes!” She whispered and her eyes were wide but sparkled with delight as they met Grant’s. She giggled as she hurried off to make his coffee and Grant swallowed the giant knot in his throat as he stuffed the bill in the tip jar. He was sweating but he managed a humanlike smile as he turned and Grant was stunned as bright, seeking blue eyes trapped his.

“Sorry to eavesdrop but she whispers loud,” he said then winked at Grant.

“She does,” Grant agreed as his head bobbled. “But the coffee’s really good so we overlook her lack of subtlety.” He laughed weakly then pressed the back of his hand to his head to check if the flop sweat had begun yet.

“Do you come here often?” The impossibly gorgeous man asked as he swayed a little closer and Grant almost looked around to see who he was flirting with. But he knew that aside from Vanessa, Edgar and the Davis sisters, it was just the two of them.

“Just about every day,” Grant said then glanced at Vanessa and silently begged her to hurry. “The post office doesn’t deliver here so I stop in and say hi to Vanessa after I see Rhoda for my mail. I like to take my dog, Edgar, to the park afterwards,” he explained. Why? Grant asked himself and his nose scrunched as he wondered if he could find anything blander to tell the most beautiful man he’d ever met. “Unless the weather’s really bad. Then we just go home,” he added. There you go.

“I’m devastated to see you didn’t bring Edgar with you today. I love dogs,” the most beautiful man replied as he reached into his coat and pulled out his phone.

“Dogs are great,” Grant replied woodenly and his eyes widened in panic.

“Here’s your coffee, Grant!” Vanessa chirped and Grant gasped in relief as he turned and grabbed the cup like it was a life vest and the coffee shop was going under.

“Thank you! I’ve got to go!” He said and her head pushed forward in shock.

“Grant!” She protested.

“Not before I get your number, I hope,” the other man said and Grant shook his head quickly as he backed away from the counter.

“I left my phone in the car,” he mumbled as he gestured over his shoulder then turned and escaped. He pushed open the door and almost ran to his car as he pulled his keys from his pocket. Grant fumbled with the mail and his coffee as he opened the door and ducked into the driver’s seat but he made an otherwise clean getaway. “I left my phone in the car?” He yelled at the windshield in disgust then sneered. “And what was that even about? Asking me for my number…” he complained then waved at the windshield. “That guy would never be interested in me.”

There was a very brief time in Grant’s life when he considered himself “hot”, it was right after college, when he and Chris got their first place together. They still had abs and jawlines and groomed obsessively because they didn’t have Audrey yet. But not even then. The guy in the coffee shop probably dated men with diplomatic immunity and private jets. He wasn’t sure what the dashing younger man was doing in Hopkins Creek but Grant severely doubted he was hunting for a broken forty-two-year-old soccer dad.

“God, he was beautiful, though. And he smelled incredible,” Grant sighed as he turned into his driveway. Edgar was standing on the couch and watching through the window. His whip-like tail swatted excitedly as he waited and Grant’s mood lifted as he got out of the car. He was still disappointed in himself for acting like a total ass but at least he got to spend the rest of the morning teasing Edgar about his silly collar.

The Perfect Cover will be available on December 17th but you can PRE-ORDER it NOW on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2YDQ2bG

 

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The Perfect Cover and the perfect cover

How about a whole lot of chemistry for Christmas?

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One of my favorite tropes in romance is the character who doesn’t “get” sex or enjoy it but finds themselves attracted to someone on a deeply chemical/animal level and doesn’t know what to do with themselves. There’s probably a concise term for that but I only went to two years of actual college then got a degree from the Army in something that’s only useful if you work for the government. Next week, I’ll write about Choices. But back to one of my favorite tropes: Welcome to Sex, nerd! I’m kidding and it’s not just nerds, even though hot nerds is another one of my favorite tropes. There are lots of perfectly reasonable reasons why a character might not care for sex, including asexuality and abuse, but the nerd awakening is fun for all readers. Which is what we’ve got with Meredith Crane. He was perfectly happy with his asexuality and being a dapper nerd until he met Decker. Our sweet, shy librarian doesn’t know what to do with himself. Literally. “What is my body doing and WHY?” is how I signal to you, the reader, that it’s about to go down like a house on fire. Especially when you add a strapping sheriff with a heart as big as his hands and a very healthy beard. There are mysteries to solve and a holiday festival to prepare for but our heroes can’t keep their hands off each other. Thank goodness. Here’s an excerpt from Merry & Wright:

“You’re right on time, dear! I’ve just sat down for some tea and cookies and could use the company,” Mary called from the sitting room as Meredith hung his trench coat. The fire was roaring and Meredith groaned ecstatically as he rubbed his hands together and headed straight for it. He grew up in New Hampshire but this winter was turning particularly cold and damp and his body was not tolerating it as well. “How was your first week as librarian?” She asked as she pointed her needle at the armchair opposite hers, in front of the fire. She was knitting something in a charming oatmeal and red striped pattern but she set it aside and poured a cup of tea for Meredith.

“Everything’s been lovely,” he replied then gave Mary a grateful nod as he took the cup and saucer from her.

“I added some chocolate chip cookies because they’re your favorite,” she informed him and slid the plate of cookies closer to him. He stirred in four cubes of sugar then thanked her as he took a cookie and sat back. “Marvin’s in the kitchen, listening to one of his podcasts while he does the silver,” she added and Meredith hummed as he took a drink of his tea. He often found one of them in the sitting room when he returned from the library in the evenings and they’d insist that Meredith join them. Tea, if it was Mary, or a cup of soup, if he happened upon Marvin. Meredith wasn’t sure if it was their normal habit or if they adopted it to make sure he had something warm to return to, but he enjoyed his evening chats with them. They were a gentle, nurturing couple and Meredith was becoming very fond of the charming and impeccably tidy inn. He felt guilty, paying only $350 a month, especially when they went so far out of their way to make sure he was comfortable and warm.

“Everything has been lovely, particularly this inn and my hosts,” he said and Mary gasped in delight.

“I’m so pleased to hear that, Meredith! We never know if Eliza’s little antics will scare people off but it’s so nice when we have guests. It’s usually just us and Edith and she turns in early and often misses breakfast,” she said and Meredith smiled at the mild judgment in her tone. Mary and Marvin were delightful busybodies and from what Meredith gathered, Edith was the center of her own universe. Meredith had yet to meet her because of their very different schedules but he’d met Edith’s husband, Fred. They were a peculiar couple, Meredith quickly learned. They divorced some years ago, after a very tumultuous marriage, then fell in love again after Edith moved out of their home and into the inn. Apparently, their love flourished during courtship and distance kept the heart fonder, so she remained at the inn and Fred called on her every day.

“I’m learning to include multiple options for my outfits each morning,” he said then checked to see if his cookie had reached optimum softness. The chips weren’t as melted as he liked so he dunked it back into his tea. Planning backup ties and socks was a minor inconvenience, compared to the many benefits of staying at the inn, he decided. “Eliza is a nuisance but I’ll find a way to make peace with her,” he vowed then gave Mary a firm nod.

“I’m sure you will,” Mary chuckled as she leaned forward and gave his hand a pat. Her eyes became calculating as she sat back and returned to her knitting. “I hope that means you’re thinking of staying.” She did her best to be coy but Meredith humphed.

“It’s only been a week but I am considering it,” he admitted carefully. He didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up but the old library was quiet and cozy and Meredith found the town’s history fascinating, the more he learned. His little research project with Decker had much more meat on its bones than Meredith predicted. He thought it might make a good display for the library or possibly make it into one of the city papers but Meredith was mostly doing it to distract Decker and the other townspeople Emmet Haynes had hurt. “It would be nice if I could find something new about the Wilkeses and the Mortons,” he said to Mary and she made a thoughtful sound as she gazed across the room.

“You never know, in an old place like this. People are always finding things hidden under floorboards and behind bookshelves. They found a secret door in what’s now the Visitor’s Center! It went all the way down to a cave in the cove. It’s left over from when they smuggled things in to avoid taxes and hid food and weapons from the British,” she explained excitedly.

“Did they really?” Meredith asked as he reached for another cookie and Mary nodded slowly.

“It was just a few years ago and they found some old ledgers and manifests. Emmet has them all on display at the Visitor’s Center and you can take a tour of the tunnel,” she said and her face fell when she remembered that Emmet was gone. Meredith sat forward so he could put down his tea and the cookie then took one of Mary’s hands. He had no idea what he could say to make it better or how he found the nerve to do it but his thumbs rubbed the back of her hand soothingly and he hushed softly.

“You make up for his evil by being generous and kind every day,” he started and his lips curved as he came up with the perfect salve for Mary’s wounds. “We have a lot of work to do but I think these mysteries and the holiday festival will help Covington close that sad chapter and give us all something we can celebrate,” he explained then cleared his throat conspiratorially. “I’ve never been all that into Christmas but Decker says he’s on a mission to make this year’s festival perfect for Covington. I think we should help him,” he said and Mary’s eyes glazed over as she began to plan. She nodded then grabbed his hand and squeezed.

“That’s exactly what we’ll do! I’ll talk to the ladies at church about wreaths and baked goods,” she decided and Meredith sat back and raised his cup in approval.

“I have no idea how I’ll help so you let me know if you think of anything,” he replied but she was rattling on names of people Meredith didn’t know and assigning pies, cakes and loaves to each of them.

Meredith loved pies, cakes and loaves but his mind wandered and his responses devolved into hums as Mary moved on to wreaths. Unfortunately, wreaths couldn’t hold his attention when it could be occupied with Decker. Meredith understood sex and physical attraction about as much as he understood wreaths and until Decker, he cared about sex as much as he cared about wreaths. Meredith had never felt real sexual attraction before. For him, arousal was something closer to esteem and intellectual stimulation. His past partners were professors and scholars who fascinated Meredith with their knowledge and experience. For him, it was never physical and Meredith merely catered to their sexual preferences. He had none of his own beyond preferring men. And they were all much older men and because of their age, sex was occasional and brief. Most of his partners suffered from erectile disfunction, so sex usually involved some intimate touching but rarely required penetration of any sort.

That suited Meredith because his brain didn’t function the way most men’s did. He was never fixated with sex. The breaching of his personal space, the intimate touching, bodily fluids and odors made him uncomfortable. He was self-aware enough to know that many of his peculiarities were the result of having a distant father who demanded order and academic excellence while eschewing praise and affection. So it was baffling, to find himself drawn to someone as commanding and physical as Decker. He was large and powerful but instead of being loud and intimidating, he was gentle, affectionate and charming. Meredith enjoyed the challenge of solving the inn’s mysteries but it was Decker’s visits to the library and their chats during breakfast and lunch that were the true highlight of his week. Which suddenly became a bit of a problem for Meredith. His brow furrowed as he dipped his cookie in his tea. He’d never had a crush on anyone before. Especially with someone as inappropriate as the (most likely straight) town sheriff. Meredith didn’t know what he was supposed to do with himself or what the remedy was for such an unfortunate complication. Covington was growing on Meredith and he liked the routine he’d fallen into with Mary and Marvin and he didn’t want to ruin his friendship with Decker.

“Actually, it might be a good time for me to learn about wreaths,” Meredith said then did his best to find some way to care about wreaths more than Decker.

 

I LOVE Meredith. I think you will too. And Decker is stupid hot. Merry & Wright will be available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited on 11/26.

PRE-ORDER it NOW!: https://amzn.to/2CBZou4

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How about a whole lot of chemistry for Christmas?

It’s almost time to get Merry & Wright!

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Is it too soon to wish you a happy holidays? I don’t think so. I’ll go even further and give you something to smile about. Merry & Wright is available for pre-order right NOW and will be available in just a few weeks. Here’s an early and barely edited peek at like the first chapter and a half, because it’s cold out there, my loves!

Our story opens with our hero’s arrival…

“Finally,” Meredith sighed as the cab driver hefted the last suitcase out of the trunk and onto the sidewalk. He’d never heard of Covington before he agreed to fill in as the town’s librarian but it required almost six hours of travel on a train and three taxis to reach the small coastal town.

“That’s your library down there,” the driver said and pointed at the town square as Meredith squinted through his glasses and the snow. It wouldn’t be too long of a walk. “I always liked that it looked like a castle,” he added and Meredith nodded as he pulled his wallet out of his pocket and paid the driver. Meredith glanced back at the library and nodded in approval. It was fieldstone and wrapped in ivy and had turrets on each corner. He regarded the inn and his brows rose despite the tightening of his facial muscles as his lips and nose tingled from the bitter cold. It was a stately colonial house and lamps glowed invitingly in every window and the white picket fence and front garden were draped in fairy lights. The entire town was wrapped in garland, red bows and tiny white lights. 

“It’s just for a few months,” Meredith told himself as the cab pulled away from the curb. He frowned up at the sky and a snowflake landed on his nose.

“You’d better come inside! We’re expecting a good bit of snow tonight!” A short, plump elderly woman urged as she waved wildly at Meredith from the front steps of the Malbourne Inn. She was wearing a red dress and a white apron and bounced excitedly as Meredith pulled the largest of his suitcases behind him.

“I’ll get the rest of those!” An older man insisted as he hurried past Meredith on the flagstone path through the front garden.

“Come in and have something warm to drink!” The woman said then pulled Meredith into the house. “Just leave your bag there and he’ll take care of it. I’m Mary Clark and that was my husband, Marvin. You must be our Mr. Crane,” she babbled as she hooked her arm around Meredith’s and led him to the fireplace in the sitting room.

“Yes,” he said as he warmed his hands. His neck stretched as he admired the lovingly polished antiques, the soft floral wallpaper and the wide staircase in the center of the house. The inn was bright and clean and smelled like cookies.

“Here! A few sips of this and you’ll feel nice and toasty,” she said as she pushed a mug into Meredith’s hands then gave them a squeeze. “Goodness, they’re like icicles! Where are your mittens?” She scolded up at him. Meredith shook his head then sniffed cautiously. “It’s mulled cider with a good dose of whiskey!” She whispered and Meredith’s brow rose as he took a sip.

“That’s lovely,” he murmured as sweet, spicy warmth spread down his chest and limbs. “Thank you,” he added and Mary laughed as she reached for his cheek and gave it a gentle pat.

“I thought we’d need something a little stronger than tea tonight. Winter’s finally decided to show up. We’ve barely had any snow this year!” She complained and Meredith nodded along. People were generally happy to do most of the talking if Meredith nodded along and allowed them to worry about the dips and lulls in the conversation. He didn’t the mind long, quiet pauses that made people uncomfortable. They gave Meredith a break and allowed him to enjoy his own company for a few blessed moments but he was happy to listen to others ramble. “We’re going to put up the tree soon and we’ve got the holiday festival next month. You’ll love that! Won’t he Marvin?” Mary called as she leaned toward the foyer.

“What’s that?” Marvin asked as he wrestled the last of Meredith’s suitcases through the door.

“The holiday festival!” Mary said and Marvin gasped.

“Oh, yes! Our holiday festival is always lots of fun. And we’re finally getting some snow!” He laughed breathlessly as he dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. His thin white hair fluttered with the breeze as he shut the door then dragged Meredith’s suitcase toward the stairs.

“I’ll get those,” Meredith said but Marvin and Mary both waved him off.

“Let him! It’s the most exercise he’s had in days,” Mary said but Meredith still felt bad, letting Marvin handle everything. “And we’re both so happy to have a new librarian after…everything.” Her voice broke and her eyes watered.

“I did hear about that,” Meredith said and she nodded solemnly and her lower lip wobbled.

“Emmet Haynes was beloved by everyone and it was a terrible blow for us all,” she whispered and Meredith’s brows fell but she flailed her hand as she took a fortifying breath then smiled. “Let’s not dwell on that! The Covington Holiday Festival is the highlight of our year! Wait until you see all the lights and decorations,” she told Meredith and his eyes widened as he sipped.

“There’s more?” He asked in disbelief but Mary snorted dismissively.

“We’re just easing into it, now that we’ve got Thanksgiving out of the way,” she said then turned and gestured for Meredith to follow her. “Let’s get you checked in and then we’ll get you settled into your room, dear. You can bring your cider. You still look a bit chilled.” She hurried back into the foyer and Meredith followed with his mug. She stopped at the desk at the foot of the stairs and opened a ledger then turned it so he could sign. “Here’s your key. You’ll be in the Blue Room. We’ve never had anything go missing for more than a day but we give tours from time to time so you’ll want to lock your door when you leave,” Mary said as she came around the desk and Meredith followed her up the stairs. “You said you weren’t sure how long you would be staying in Covington,” she prodded and Meredith nodded.

“I’m not,” he confirmed and she laughed as they reached the top of the stairs then waved at the hall on the right and stopped at the first door.

“You’re not much of a talker, are you, Mr. Crane?” She asked as she opened the door and let him pass.

“No,” he said as he leaned into the room then stepped over the threshold. “Please, call me Meredith.” He liked the blue and white color scheme, it reminded him of English china.

“Breakfast begins at 6:00 a.m. It’s just you and Edith staying with us but people often pop in for a cup of coffee or a hot meal. We can usually count on Decker, our sheriff. He lives across the street and just a few houses over.” They stepped aside as Marvin delivered Meredith’s luggage and he gave Meredith a playful nudge with his elbow.

“Make sure you warn him about our other guests!” He told Mary and she nodded.

“I was just getting to that,” she said as she crossed the room and opened a door. “This is your bathroom and there are extra towels in the linen closet in the hall. If you find anything’s missing, don’t panic. It’s just Eliza and things usually turn up in the greenhouse or wherever she sees fit,” Mary explained and Meredith’s head pulled back.

“Eliza?” He asked but she just laughed and gestured dismissively.

“Her mother drowned her in the housekeeper’s bathroom before she hung herself from the banister in the hall. Eliza’s always up to mischief. The Malbourne Inn is a popular attraction and we give tours during the day,” she stated casually, as if it wasn’t appallingly morbid and ridiculous.

“I’m sorry?” Meredith replied weakly and Mary laughed.

“Don’t let it trouble you! Eliza and Jane are harmless and like to play the occasional prank but you’ll want to avoid the attic. Billy has been known to act out and we did lose a priest during an exorcism when I was an infant,” she said breezily as she turned down the quilt.

“Right,” Meredith murmured as he frowned at the door. It was too late in the evening to look for other accommodations.

“Don’t worry, though! You’ll be fine, as long as you avoid the attic. Jane and Eliza are harmless,” she insisted then clasped her hands together as she beamed at him. “We’re delighted to have you. Let me or Marvin know if we can do anything to make your stay more comfortable,” she said and Meredith nodded.

“Thank you,” he replied then let Mary give his cheek another tender pat as she left.

“Sleep well and don’t hesitate to call if you need anything!” She said then took herself off and quietly shut the door behind her. Meredith stared for a moment then snorted.

“Ghosts,” he muttered as he shook his head. “Obviously a gimmick to attract and entertain tourists,” he decided then set the matter aside and focused on unpacking.

The following morning, Decker arrives at the inn and…

“Good morning, Decker!” Marvin called as Decker kicked the snow off his boots at the door.

“Morning, Marvin,” he said then tapped his brow as Fred waved at him from the sofa in the sitting room. “Edith taking her time this morning?” He asked and the older man chuckled as he winked at Decker over his newspaper.

“She says it’s far too cold for her venture downstairs for breakfast. She’s having her tea and muffin in bed so I thought I’d keep Marvin company.”

“What are you up to this morning?” Marvin asked as he helped Decker out of his coat and hung it on the hook.

“Breakfast and I thought I’d welcome the new librarian,” Decker said and the three of them flinched and winced and the mood in the foyer dropped. Marvin coughed softly as he wiped at the corner of his eye and Decker gripped his shoulder reassuringly. “How are you all holding up?” The last few weeks were terrible for Covington’s residents, especially Haynes’ closest friends. Like Decker, they blamed themselves for not seeing it and felt deeply betrayed by Emmet.

“There’s no making sense of it, is there?” Marvin mused quietly and Decker shook his head.

“No. All we can do is help each other carry on and heal,” he said and Marvin nodded then offered Decker a brave smile.

“But Mr. Crane seems like a very sensible and capable young man!” He said and Decker’s brows rose.

“Does he?”

“Indeed! He should be down shortly, I imagine,” Marvin stated as he guided Decker through the more formal sitting room and toward the sunroom.

“Great. I’ll see what Mary’s up to,” Decker said as he left them. He found Mary arranging the pastries on the sideboard and her face lit up when Decker leaned into the room.

“Oh, hello, Decker!” She hurried around the tables and her arms stretched as he bent to give her a hug.

“How are you doing?” He asked as he kissed her cheek and she sighed heavily.

“Some days are dreadful but I find it helps to focus on the happier news. Marvin’s going to put up more lights later and we’ve got Mr. Crane staying with us now!” She informed him and he grinned as he reached for a plate.

“I heard. I came by to introduce myself and see what we can do to welcome him,” he said then began filling his plate while Mary poured a cup of coffee for him.

“That’s so good of you. It’s always nice to have a friendly face, when you’re new in town.”

“Marvin says he seems like a capable young man,” Decker said and she gasped.

“Oh, he is! I think he’ll fit in nicely!”

“Excellent!” Decker replied then he sat by the window so he could watch the doors.

“I have a good feeling about him,” she whispered as she set his mug on the table and patted Decker on the shoulder. “Goodness! I almost forgot about the banana muffins. You keep an eye out for Mr. Crane while I run to the kitchen,” she said and Decker chuckled as he waved her off.

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t get lost, if he shows up,” he promised as she rushed to the kitchen. Decker waited until she was gone then frowned at his coffee as he stirred in the sugar. The people of Covington cherished their library and revered Emmet. Under different circumstances, a new librarian would have very big shoes to fill but Decker was praying that the new librarian would just be a decent human being. He needed someone dependable and capable to help the people of Covington make a fresh start and put Emmet and the hangings behind them. “Just be normal and not a serial killer,” he begged under his breath as he stirred distractedly then jumped to his feet as a slight but starkly beautiful man with thick framed glasses and bright blue eyes cautiously peeked into the sunroom. 

“Just go right on in!” Marvin called from the foyer and the other’s man’s eyes widened when he found Decker.

“Mary ran to the kitchen for a moment,” Decker said as he stepped around the table and offered his hand. “I’m Sheriff Decker Wright, you must be Mr. Crane.” The other man nodded as he took Decker’s hand. He was tall and lean and the sharp angles of his cheeks, jaw and chin were striking as his long, elegant neck stretched as he scanned the sunroom. His brown tweed suit was severely tailored and he paired it with a Fair Isle sweater vest and a tie. It was so perfectly appropriate for a librarian but the ensemble made Decker’s uniform feel a bit too tight and the room a little too warm. Decker guessed he was in his mid thirties but it was hard to tell, Crane’s complexion was pale and smooth and the shave was immaculate.

“Please, call me Meredith,” he said quietly and Decker stifled a shiver but leaned into the warm, low murmur. Decker’s pulse became heavier, as if Meredith was sharing something far more intimate.

“There you are!” Mary said as she reappeared with a basket of muffins then beamed at Decker. “I see you’ve met our Mr. Crane.”

“Just Meredith is fine,” he insisted then frowned at their hands. Decker was still holding onto Meredith’s.

“Sorry!” Decker laughed and finally released his hand. “I wanted to introduce myself and welcome you to Covington,” he explained and Meredith’s lips curved just slightly as he bowed his head.

“Thank you, Sheriff,” he said then cleared his throat softly. “Might I trouble you for a cup of coffee, Mary?”

“Of course! Have a seat and I’ll get that for you. I’ll make you a plate as well!” She said and Decker waved at the seat across from his.

“Would you like to join me?” He asked and Meredith opened his mouth to stop Mary but nodded as he sat.

“I usually just have coffee,” he said quietly then offered Decker another weak smile as he folded his hands in his lap. His eyes followed Mary as she stacked his plate with pancakes, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. “That’s far too much…” He whispered as he held up a hand and Decker cleared his throat. Meredith’s gaze darted back to him and Decker shook his head.

“There’s no point in arguing, you’re her Mr. Crane now. She’s going to smother you,” he warned under his breath. Meredith’s eyes widened as he looked at Mary.

“Her Mr. Crane?” He whispered and he looked startled as she lowered a heaping plate in front of him then returned with his coffee. “Thank you, Mary. This looks perfect,” he said and she laughed as she gave his cheek an affectionate pat.

“He’s not very much of a talker, our Mr. Crane. Is he?” She asked and missed the tightening of Meredith’s lips and the way his eyes narrowed as he draped his napkin over his lap. Mr. Crane was a people pleaser but he bristled when he was criticized for being quiet. Probably because it required a lot of effort on his part to talk to people, judging by the way his fist clenched in his lap the slight flare of his nostrils.

“I think that would be a good quality in a librarian,” Decker offered and a grin tugged at Meredith’s lips and there was a hint of pink in his cheeks as Mary laughed.

“Of course, but you know how Emmet loved to talk and talk…” Her voice died away and she took a shaking breath as she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve. Decker shushed soothingly as he reached for her hand.

“We’ll get through this and it’ll get easier,” he told her and she nodded then offered them a watery smile.

“We’ve got each other and we’ve got Mr. Crane to get settled,” she stated then sighed as she went back to the sideboard and covered the dishes. Decker watched as Meredith added sugar to his coffee and became mesmerized by his hands as he stirred. They were slender and elegant, like Meredith, and his touch was light and precise. He stirred silently and didn’t strike or tap the ceramic before setting the spoon on the saucer. He took a cautious sip and there was a soft hum of approval. Then, Meredith picked up his fork and prodded the potatoes and eggs. Decker’s brow rose as Meredith continued to prod and frown at his plate.

“Is something wrong?” He asked and Meredith shook his head but he looked unsure until his nose wrinkled.

“I laid all my clothes on the bed this morning and everything was there. I’m sure of it,” he mumbled and Decker found himself leaning forward again, so he could follow what he was saying.

“But…?” He said and Meredith’s teeth dug into his lip.

“Both of my socks were there and I stepped into the bathroom for just a moment and when I turned back to the bed, one was missing. I know it was there. I saw it, but then it wasn’t. I looked everywhere but it’s gone. My door was locked but I’d swear someone must have taken it,” he said. He looked so concerned and earnest, Decker had to bite down on his lips to keep from laughing.

“Oh! This is yours, then!” Mary said as she pulled an argyle sock from her apron. “It turned up in the pantry while I was making the muffins,” she stated. She held the sock out to Meredith but he stared at it as if she’d found a severed finger.

“How did my sock…?”

“Eliza,” Decker and Mary said. Meredith’s eyes swung to Mary and then Decker.

“Eliza?” He asked warily. Decker snorted as he used his fork to cut into his pancakes and Mary nodded.

“I told you about Jane and Eliza last night! Remember, dear? Eliza likes to take little things and put them in the oddest places or switch things around but she’s harmless,” she insisted and Meredith was frozen and still staring at the sock in her hand. “I’ll just leave this here. I’m going to get a fresh pot of coffee,” she said then left them.

“Jane looks pretty terrifying but she won’t hurt you. She might ruffle your hair and clothes but she usually just screams then disappears,” Decker said then took a large bite of his pancakes. Meredith pulled his gaze from the sock and blinked at Decker.

“You can’t be serious,” he said and Decker laughed.

“I know it sounds crazy…”

“Impossible,” Meredith corrected and Decker hissed.

“I promise, Covington isn’t full of lunatics.” He flashed Meredith a sheepish smile before he sipped his coffee and prayed they wouldn’t scare him off. Meredith’s lips attempted to make words before he shook his head and turned his attention to his plate. He picked up his fork and knife and Decker’s eyes kept drifting to his hands. They were so fine and smooth and his touch was so light. He drizzled syrup onto his pancakes and cut them then licked his finger and Decker swallowed a groan. If the ghosts don’t run him off, the creepy sheriff might… 

 

Pre-Order Merry & Wright on Amazon NOW for $2.99 and it will magically appear on your device the minute it’s available!: https://amzn.to/2CBZou4

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It’s almost time to get Merry & Wright!

We’re going on a spooky adventure!

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I lost my dog, gang. It broke my heart right in half so I went to my happiest place and Aiden and Mr. Lavender helped me heal. In the dark, I found the light. I also found the love, because it is Lake Cliff and this has become home. I know many of my readers love these characters and feel at home here too, so it makes me so happy to welcome you back. We’ve been waiting for you!

Here’s the whole first chapter:

Authorities struggle to explain 27 hanging corpses in the Rhode Island woods.

“Whoa,” Aiden said as his eyes scanned the news article from 1986. He flipped to the police report from earlier in the year. “Eleven more since the 80’s?” He checked the math again and his brows jumped. “How am I just hearing about this?”

“Hey! I’m leaving. Are you coming with me?” Lane asked as he leaned into the study and Aiden’s lips pulled tight as his eyes darted between Lane and the email on his desk. “Bring it with you. You’re not interested in football or the Chicago Bears,” Lane pointed out and Aiden nodded quickly as he sent the email and the attached files to his phone. He grabbed his hoodie as he slid out of his chair and followed Lane.

“Is that conference with the governor next week?” Aiden asked distractedly then made sure he didn’t miss the step while Lane locked the front door behind them. His thumb slid across his screen and his head fell as he squinted at a close up of a noose. “I’ve seen this somewhere…”

“Next week. We’re still getting everything ready and I’ve got to meet with the D.A. on Thursday about the Barker trial,” Lane said as they got into the car.

“That’s too bad,” Aiden murmured. He pulled his eyes from his phone long enough to buckle his belt then rested his ankle on his knee. His attention caught on a black and white photo. A woman in a sundress hung from a massive oak tree.

“Tell me about it. It’s bad enough that I’ve got to deal with Matt Bowden, but I’ve got to babysit the governor next week,” Lane said as he reversed out of the driveway. Aiden hummed along but he was reading the newspaper article. “Oh! While I’m thinking about it, don’t mention Matt’s brother, if you see him. He’s still not talking about that,” Lane warned.

“I won’t,” Aiden replied then sighed impatiently as Lane pulled into Sage and Lavender’s driveway. He shut the file and unbuckled his belt then got out.

“Did you remember to add coffee to the grocery list?” Lane asked as they walked up the porch steps.

“No. I don’t drink coffee,” Aiden replied and hugged his arms as the wind picked up then leaned to look into the window. He saw Sage and nodded.

“I do,” Lane said and he sounded a bit testy. Aiden raised a brow back at him.

“You should probably put it on the list, then,” he said and Lane’s eyes widened.

“That’s why I… Never mind,” he sighed as the door opened.

“Hey! The game’s just getting started!” Sage said as he waved them in.

“I put apple juice on the list. I tried some of Robin’s and I like it now,” Aiden told Lane.

“Aiden!” Robin cried as he ran to him then wrapped around his knees.

“Hello,” Aiden said and ruffled Robin’s curls. They were soft and Aiden liked the way Robin hugged his legs then moved on to Lane.

“Are you a foot taller than yesterday?” Lane asked as he swept Robin into his arms. Robin giggled as Lane raised him over his head. Robin stretched his arms out in front of him and made a plane sound as Lane steered him into the living room.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Sage asked as they followed but Aiden waved him off.

“I’ll get it. Go watch the game,” he said then pulled his phone out and wandered into the kitchen. Aiden went back to the black and white picture of the woman in the sundress.

“What’s that?” Lavender asked as he peeked over Aiden’s shoulder.

“Where did you…? I think it’s a case,” Aiden said then stepped out of the way as Robin darted between them. Aiden chuckled as Rose trotted after him then opened the fridge and grabbed a Sprite. 

“Show me how to do the trick!” Robin cheered as he hopped up and down and Lavender winced as he looked toward the living room.

“I suppose I could with the cutting board…” He murmured as his neck stretched and Aiden’s eyes flicked toward the living room. He didn’t know what Lavender and Robin were up to but it would probably get one of them in trouble. Aiden shrugged as he stepped back and rested his shoulder against the fridge and crossed his ankles. “If we’re very quiet,” Lavender whispered as he pulled a knife from the block then waved for Robin to come to him. He lowered onto his knee then held out two fingers and balanced the blade on its side. “The center of this knife is right here,” he said quietly as his fingers bounced. The knife remained steady and Robin’s eyes followed it as Lavender flipped it into the air and caught it by the handle. “Next, you want to…”

“Do not teach him to throw knives!” Sage cried as he hurried into the kitchen. Aiden ducked and shook his head as he stepped away from the fridge so Sage could open it.

“That’s obviously a very inappropriate thing to teach a child,” Aiden agreed then held up his hand when Lavender glared at him.

“You’ve seen the state of schools these days. It might not be a bad idea for him to learn how to throw a knife,” Lavender argued. Sage opened his mouth then shut it. He was frozen for a moment then shook his head.

“You can teach him how to react and defend himself but he’s too young for knife throwing. And not in the kitchen,” Sage added then shook his head as he pulled out two bottles of beer and a tray of raw vegetables and dips. Aiden decided that wasn’t as exciting as knife throwing lessons and slid his phone back out of his hoodie pocket and went back to the case.

“I’m going to read with Rose,” Robin grumbled and Lavender sighed as Rose followed her boy up the stairs.

“I’ll join you in a little bit,” Lavender called after them then nodded at Aiden’s phone. “What’s this case?”

“Hangings,” Aiden replied then went to the door so he could lean into the living room. “I’d like to go to Rhode Island,” he announced and Lane frowned but he waited until the players on the television fell into a pile before he looked away.

“Sure… I can look at the calendar and see when I can take some leave,” he said but Aiden shook his head.

“I need to go tomorrow. Thirty-eight people have been hanged and the F.B.I. has asked me to look into it,” he explained.

“Oh.” Lane’s head pulled back.

“Christ!” Sage gasped and his face twisted. “I guess you’d better go,” he said. Lane groaned as he scrubbed the back of his neck.

“You should but I can’t get away for the next two weeks,” he worried.

“I don’t have anything going on and I enjoy a good hanging just as much as the next guy,” Lavender offered. Sage and Lane each held up a finger. Lane decided to let Sage handle it.

“No. Nobody enjoys hangings, Jeremy,” he said then gave him a hard look. Lavender’s eyes rolled as he nodded.

“Yes, yes… It’s just an expression,” he said dismissively and Aiden frowned.

“Is it?” He asked. Lane shook his head.

“No. It’s not. No one says that.”

“Don’t they?” Lavender asked then shrugged. “Regardless, I’d love to go to Rhode Island with Aiden and help him investigate,” he said and Aiden thought that was an excellent idea.

“I could use your help! You know a lot about hangings and psychopaths!” He agreed as he pointed at Lavender. Sage swore under his breath and glared at the television as he hugged his beer bottle. Lavender shushed Aiden then offered Sage a gentle smile.

“Let’s not forget Aiden’s tendency to attract psychopaths. We wouldn’t want to risk this following him back to Lake Cliff. I’ll give him a hand with the investigation and make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble,” he promised soothingly. Sage shrugged and relaxed but Lane’s eye twitched before he took a long sip of his beer.

“I guess I’ll just stay here. Again,” he added and Aiden flinched then hissed apologetically.

“Are you upset because you had to sit things out with Stedman and you missed everything in London?” He asked. Lavender cleared his throat and shook his head faintly as he rubbed his nose with his knuckle.

“Shhhhh…” Lavender whispered softly then flashed Lane a brilliant smile. “It looks pretty dry and it’s probably not worth your time. I’ll be nothing more than a glorified errand boy; just fetching chicken nuggets and apple slices,” he said dismissively and Aiden frowned.

“Actually, it looks like it might be…” Aiden grunted when Lavender’s elbow jabbed his ribs. Aiden’s eyes flicked to the ceiling and he asked himself why Lavender wouldn’t want to be contradicted. He looked at Lane and Aiden hummed when he finally caught up. “It’s probably not worth your time and I just need him to fetch my nuggets and apple slices,” he said then smiled like Lavender. Lane cringed as he leaned back.

“Too much,” Lavender said under his breath and Aiden’s face blanked.

“Shouldn’t be a big deal,” Aiden added.

“Whatever. We’ll talk about it after the game. Go in the kitchen and plan your little adventure,” Lane grumbled as he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled at the television too. Sage was still hugging his beer and he didn’t look pleased but he cocked his head at the kitchen before he turned his attention back to the game.

“Very smooth,” Lavender said and Aiden smiled.

“Really?” He asked as he turned.

“No,” Lavender replied as he pushed Aiden into the kitchen.

LostFull

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LGPromo

We’re going on a spooky adventure!

And Now For Something Completely Different: Vampires

You scoff. I hear your dubious snort from all the way over here. Stop it.

A reader asked if I’d ever considered writing paranormal during an Ask Me Anything. Someone else said “Oh! What about vampires?” I said I probably wouldn’t because what’s left to add to the genre? Is there any way to bring something new? I didn’t think so but the thought became a tickle in my brain. Then, it became an itch that spread like a rash and refused to be ignored. I asked myself: “Sarah, IF you were going to write a vampire, what would that vampire look like? How does one become a vampire?” My first instinct was to catch up on modern vampire tropes. I was a morbid, depressed, lonely girl in high school. I’d just moved to Upstate New York and I kept my nose buried in a copy of Interview With A Vampire and it had passages highlighted in various colors, for academic reasons. I just don’t understand why I wasn’t more popular… I think those kids are considered emo and introverts now but in my day we were just called freaks. But, back to my itchy brain! I was obsessed with Anne Rice’s vampires until around Memnoch. I also read Dracula too many times but I didn’t pick up another vampire book until I skimmed Twilight to see if it was ok for my then ten-year-old. I’d missed just about everything else. I was aware of True Blood and The Vampire Diaries but they sat on my “To Watch” list and life happened. “Do I need to, though?” I asked myself, as I pondered who my vampires would be. I decided I didn’t want to get caught up on what was currently happening in vampires these days. I didn’t want to subconsciously pull from other people’s work and went in with as close to a clean slate as I could get. I pondered the beginning and my research started with the Bible. There, I found a curse.

Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 7.14.34 AM

 

I am also aware that Cain is pretty popular and there are many books and TV shows with Cain-based characters but I took another step back from his story and the curse. Cain was a farmer and God took the soil from him. God told Cain he couldn’t touch the soil or rest in it. Imagine that? Taking the very earth from a man born to turn his hands in the soil and bear fruit. Cain was the first farmer and father of farmers and God cursed him with the ground and I made that the essence of my vampires. What does that even mean, Sarah? Well, take a look:

 

“How was the farmer’s market?” Darcy asked giddily as she dropped onto the sofa next to Sebastian and he rolled his eyes but he didn’t look up from the report on his knee.

“Delightful,” he murmured and she hummed knowingly as her arm stretched along the back of the sofa and she curled her feet under her.

“Jasper seems quite happy. He’s singing and dancing and working up quite a sweat in the kitchen,” she whispered and Sebastian looked toward the kitchen and swallowed hard as his heart began to slam against his chest and his groin tightened.

“Is he?” It came out a little hoarse and strained so Sebastian coughed into his fist then squeezed his hand tighter as it trembled.

“Don’t tell me you can’t smell him from over here,” she purred in his ear and Sebastian swore as he tossed the report on the table.

“I’m so glad you’re amused.”

“Oh, but I am! Do you know how long it’s been since you were smitten?” she cooed and Sebastian hissed for her to keep it down.

“I am not and nothing is going to happen!” he vowed in a loud whisper as his hand cut through the air and her lip pushed out.

“Why not! He looks so yummy and you could use a little distraction,” she pouted and Sebastian shook his head.

“That’s what I have Tiffany and Miguel for,” he said firmly and she made a loud spluttering sound as she waved it off.

“That’s just sex. You need more than that. You’re lonely, Seb,” she accused and he gave her a flat look.

“How can I be lonely when you’ve got your nose pushed right into every single corner and crevice of my life?” he asked sweetly and she clapped her hands as she silently applauded.

“I try my best, my love, but I can’t give you everything you need,” she said as her fingers dragged up the back of his neck then sifted through his hair. He sighed as he shut his eyes and enjoyed the tingling of his scalp as her nails scraped. “It’s been too long since you’ve let someone in and opened up,” she scolded and Sebastian chuckled.

“And you think it’s time I opened up? To a twenty-eight-year-old vegan?” he confirmed and she made a thoughtful sound as she chewed on her lip.

“Obviously there are challenges…”

“He’s a child. And a vegan,” Sebastian repeated and she hushed him.

“And you want him,” she added heavily and he let out a long, weary sigh as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Of course, I want him. He’s beautiful, incredibly fit and probably quite flexible,” he said then gasped when she swatted his chest hard.

“That’s not it and you know it! I see how weak you get around him,” she said as she poked at his chest and Sebastian pushed her hand away.

“None of that matters because I don’t get involved with my employees,” he stated firmly and she gave him an arch look.

“You do whatever you please, whenever it pleases you,” she said just as firmly and he held up his hands.

“This time it pleases me to keep my hands to myself and my pants zipped. We are nothing but animals without our control,” he replied and she blinked at him for several moments before her head snapped back and she cackled.

“You’re going to fail miserably,” she predicted then raised a finger, halting him when he tried to argue. “You won’t be able to help yourself because he’s exactly what you need and it’s time, Sebastian. You’ve punished yourself enough and it’s time you started living again.”

“My problem is that I can’t stop living,” he muttered back and she wagged her finger at him just before Jasper’s head popped around the wall.

“There you are!” he said brightly before he stepped into the living room and pulled a tray from behind his back. “I have a surprise. I made cookies!”

“Oh! I need to call Beijing!” Darcy yelled as she clamored from the sofa and Sebastian cursed as she slipped from his grasp and fled.

“I should go with her,” he began but Jasper clicked his teeth as he pushed the tray at Sebastian. He pulled his head back and leaned away but Jasper’s eyes grew wider and more hopeful as he waited. “I wouldn’t want to spoil my dinner,” Sebastian attempted.

“Nonsense! One or two won’t hurt and it’ll be a few hours,” Jasper said as he watched Sebastian’s face excitedly. “Don’t they smell amazing?” he asked and Sebastian took a quick sniff then bit back a whimper as goosebumps rushed down his arms and the hairs on the back of his neck stood. All he could smell was Jasper. He’d worked up a light sweat in the kitchen and Sebastian trembled as his mouth watered and need burst within him.

“Amazing,” he breathed as his eyes clung to Jasper’s. They were the softest, clearest blue and seeking, so full of honest curiosity as they spilled into Sebastian’s.

“Here,” Jasper said as he took a cookie and guided it to Sebastian’s lips. He was utterly helpless as his jaw fell and he obediently took a large bite. The cookie turned to ash on Sebastian’s tongue but he moaned rapturously as he chewed and was rewarded by a bright flash of joy and pride in Jasper’s eyes as he watched him. Sebastian swallowed loudly and made his eyes appropriately wide as he took the cookie from Jasper.

“Delightful!” he said as he waved the cookie at him. “In fact, I have to take one to Darcy. May I?” he asked as he swiped another cookie from the tray then slid off the sofa and around Jasper.

“Sure! Want me to send some tea?” Jasper asked as he started to follow and Sebastian shook his head quickly as he backed away from him.

“No! These are absolute perfection!” he insisted then crammed the rest of his cookie in his mouth before he bolted into the hall. Sebastian made sure Jasper wasn’t behind him before he flew up the staircase and down the hallway to the master suite. The bathroom door slammed behind him and he collapsed against it as a plume of red dust burst from his lips and nose as he coughed. He staggered forward and tossed the cookie in the toilet as molten pain twisted his stomach and his chest began to heave.

“Sebastian?” Darcy called softly as she tapped at the door and he groaned as he leaned over the toilet and a boiling froth of red mud spilled from his lips. “Ew,” she noted as she crossed her arms over her chest and rested her shoulder against the bathroom door. “I was wondering how you’d handle that,” she murmured as he coughed up the last chunks of lava.

“Without any help from you, apparently,” he panted as he held onto the wall and waited for the room to become steady around him.

“Well… He’d be even more suspicious if we both acted like he was feeding us poison,” she said and Sebastian gave her a disgruntled look as he went to the sink. “How are you going to survive this three times a day plus snacks and tea?” she asked and Sebastian shook his head as he turned on the water and reached for his toothbrush.

“He’ll be a bit overzealous in the beginning and want to make a good impression but I’m sure we’ll settle into a routine quickly and learn to ignore each other. I just have to time it so I can be away for most of my meals,” he said and she looked dubious as she flushed then closed the lid so she could sit.

“He’s quite excited about dinner. He’s got big plans for you and some lentils,” she warned him and Sebastian whimpered as he looked toward the kitchen.

“I can tell him I’ve already got plans,” he said and she grimaced hard, making Sebastian’s stomach clench again.

“He asked and I said you’d be staying in,” she admitted sheepishly and he swore as he reached for her throat. “I’m sorry! I thought he was testing the waters to see if you were single or if we were a thing and I totally misread that. I told him you usually go for a run in the evening but the rest of your night was wide open,” she said and Sebastian muttered several more curses as he jammed his toothbrush in his mouth. The toothpaste and water evaporated almost immediately as he scrubbed then swished but it carried the taste of the dust with it and he felt stronger as he stood and dried his face with a towel.

“Do not meddle, Darcy,” he ordered then gave her a hard look. “This is just a temporary arrangement. He’s going to find another restaurant or rich client and move on soon,” Sebastian predicted. “In fact, you and I are going to do whatever we can to help him find a new arrangement as quickly as possible,” he added and made sure she was tracking before he leaned forward and checked his eyes in the mirror. The fine wrinkles at the corners were more pronounced and there were a few wisps of grey at his temples. “I’m going to change and go for a run. I need to eat,” he said and she nodded as she stood and her hands glided up his back and over his shoulders.

“You’re fading a bit. Try running by the canyon. I think I picked up his scent by the trail that goes past the overlook,” she murmured soothingly as she kneaded and he pushed out a cleansing breath.

“I’ll see if I can find him. I need something more than a few mangled cats and puppies,” he complained as he turned and let her cradle his head against her chest.

“Have you thought about hunting for something larger? It’s peak tourist season. I’m sure someone’s up to no good,” she suggested and he shook his head as he pulled away.

“I can’t afford to slip right now, not with someone like Jasper this close,” he said and her lips pulled tight.

“I don’t know how long you’re going to be able to last like this,” she worried as she brushed the hair away from his face and he shrugged.

“I’m going to be gone during lunch and I’ll see what I can learn over dinner. I want you to talk to your contacts and see if we know of anyone stupid enough to open a vegan restaurant in a town that caters to rich old people who worship red meat and wine,” he grumbled and she held up her thumbs and gave him her biggest smile.

“I’m on it, boss!” she promised and he rolled his eyes as he shooed her off.

“Hurry and find something before this vegan murders me.”

 

Now, some have asked why Isla Bright? I didn’t want longtime K. Sterling readers to go into Crave expecting a K. Sterling book and feel misled. Sebastian is pansexual and has sex with females. The next book in the series will follow Sebastian and Jasper’s relationship but it also splits focus with Darcy’s storyline and she’s all over the place. We’ll have f/f, f/m, f/m/m/m… sexual relationships in the series and I didn’t foresee those future books appealing to K. Sterling’s general audience. I also didn’t want anyone to love it or hate it just because it’s a K. Sterling book. Mostly, different genre, different name. Just like I write (terrible) m/f romance as Abigail Graves and m/m romance as K. Sterling, I write queer vampire romances as Isla Bright. I’ve begun the next book in the Curse of Cain series and I’m hoping to get back to it soon. I’ve just got a few Lake Cliff itches to scratch before I can jump into Seb, Jasper and Darcy’s world again but I can’t wait to go back!

Get Crave on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited: https://amzn.to/2oBbcJw

Crave

And Now For Something Completely Different: Vampires