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CHAPTER REVEAL: Hooking Up by Helena Hunting

CHAPTER 1

Wedding Unbliss

Amie

This is the happiest day of my life. I allow that thought to roll around in my head, trying to figure out why it doesn’t seem to resonate the way it should. This should be the happiest day of my life. So I’m not exactly certain why the uneasy feeling I associate with cold feet is getting worse rather than dissipating. I’ve already done the hard part; walked down the aisle and said “I do.”

My husband excused himself to go to the bathroom several minutes ago and, based on Armstrong’s itinerary for the day, speeches are supposed to begin promptly at eight-thirty. According to my phone, that’s less than two minutes from now, and he’s not here. The emcee for the evening is awaiting Armstrong’s return before he begins. And then the real party can start. The one where we get to celebrate our commitment to each other as partners for life. As in the rest of my breathing days. Dear God, why does that make my stomach twist?

I sip my white wine. Armstrong pointed out that red is not a good idea with my dress, even though it’s my preference. Besides, I don’t want it to stain my teeth. That would make for bad pictures.

I glance around the hall and see my parents, who are probably celebrating the fact that I didn’t walk down the aisle with a convicted felon. And frankly, so am I. My dating history pre-Armstrong wasn’t fabulous.

The sheer number of people in attendance spikes my anxiety. Speaking in front of all of these people makes me want to drink more, which is a bad idea. Tipsy speeches could lead to saying the wrong thing. I check my phone under the table again. It’s after eight-thirty. The longer Armstrong takes to return, the further behind we’ll get. The music playlist, devised by Armstrong with painstaking efficiency, leaves no room for tardiness. If we don’t start on time I’ll have to take out a song, or possibly two, to compensate for his delay and he’s selected the order in such a way as to make that difficult and that will annoy him. I just want today to be perfect. I want it to be reflective of my decision to marry Armstrong. That I, Amalie Whitfield, can make good choices and am not a disgrace to my family.

“Where the hell is he?” I scan the room and take another small sip of my wine. I should switch to water soon so I don’t end up drunk, especially later, when all of this is over and we can celebrate our lifelong commitment to each other without clothes on. I’m hopeful it will last more than five minutes.

Ruby, my maid of honor and best friend for the past decade, puts a hand on my shoulder. “Would you like Bancroft to find Armstrong?”

Bancroft, or Bane for short, is Ruby’s boyfriend who she’s been living with for several months. Recently I find myself getting a little jealous of how affectionate they still are with each other, even after all this time. Cohabitation hasn’t slowed them down on the sex or their PDA. I have hope that Armstrong and I will be more like Bane and Ruby now that we’ll be sharing the same bed every night.

I’m about to tell Ruby to give him another minute when a low buzz suddenly fills the hall. It sounds like a school PA system. I start to panic—they can’t start the speeches without Armstrong at my side. What’s the point of speeches if the groom isn’t present?

I’m halfway out of my seat, ready to tell the deejay, or whoever is behind the mic, he needs to wait, when a very loud moan echoes through the room. The acoustics are phenomenal in here, it’s why we chose this venue.

I glance at Ruby to make sure I’m not hearing things. Her eyes are wide. The kind of wide associated with shock. The same shock I’m feeling.

Another moan reverberates through the sound system, followed by the words, “Oh, fuuuck.”

A collective gasp ripples through the now-silent crowd. While the words themselves are scandalous among these guests, it’s the voice groaning them that makes me sit up straighter, and simultaneously consider hiding under the table.

“Fuck yeah. Ah, suck it. That’s it. Deep throat it like a good little slut. Fuuuuuccckkkkk.”

My mouth drops and I look to Ruby to ensure I have not completely lost my mind. “Is that—” I don’t finish the sentence. I already know the answer to the question, so it’s pointless to ask. Besides, I’m cut off by yet another loud groan. I clap a hand over my mouth because I’m not sure I’m able to close it, my disbelief is as vast as the ocean.

Ruby’s expression mirrors mine, except hers is incredibly animated since she’s an actress. “Oh my God. Is that Armstrong?” Her words are no more than a whisper, but they sound very much like a scream. Oh no, wait, that’s just Armstrong on the verge of an orgasm. But these sounds are nothing like the ones he makes when he’s in the throes of passion with me.

I clutch Ruby’s hand. The next sound that comes from him is a hybrid between a hyena laugh and a wolf baying at the moon. And every guest at our wedding is hearing the same thing I am. Our wedding. Someone other than me is blowing my husband at my own wedding. My mortification knows no end.

I grab the closest bottle of wine and dump the contents into my glass. Some of it sloshes over the edge and onto the crisp white tablecloth. It doesn’t matter. There’s plenty more where it came from. I chug the glass, then grab Ruby’s.

People lean in and whisper to each other, eyes lift to the speakers. A few people, the ones who are probably just here for the social-ladder-climbing potential, question who it is.

“Is the deejay watching porn?” That comment comes from a table full of mostly drunk singles in their early twenties.

Several eyes shift my way as I carelessly down Ruby’s wine and someone asks where the groom has disappeared to.

The grunts and groans grow terrifyingly louder. This is nothing like what I’m used to in bed with Armstrong. The dirty words aren’t something he ever uses with me, mostly it’s just noises and sometimes a “Right there” or “I’m close,” but that’s about it. He’s never talked to me like he is to the woman currently providing oral pleasure. And I’m very adept at oral. Although with Armstrong it’s very polite, neat oral, with no sounds other than the occasional hum. Slurping is uncivilized and a definite no-no.

I reach past Ruby for the bottle of red since I don’t really give a flying fuck about purple teeth right now. As I sink low in my seat I pour another glass of wine, surveying the people in the ballroom from behind the cover of the centerpiece. The centerpieces are huge and excessive and I don’t like them at all, but at least provides a protective barrier between the guests and my disgust, which I’m certain they must share. He sounds like a wild animal rutting. It is entirely unsexy. I have no idea who he’s getting intimate with, but I’m suddenly very glad it’s not me.

And doesn’t that tell me more about our relationship than it should.

It’s only been about thirty seconds—the most humiliating thirty seconds of my life—before Armstrong comes. How do I know this? Because he says, very clearly, “Keep sucking, baby, I’m coming.”

And “baby,” whoever she is, makes these horrific gurgling noises. It sounds like some form of alien communication. It’s way over the top, and apparently Armstrong is loving it, based on the string of vile profanity that spews from his asshole mouth.

“Holy crap. Is this for real? That was really fast,” Ruby mutters.

I guzzle my glass of wine. Then decide the glass is unnecessary and take a long swig from the bottle before Ruby snatches it away. Wine dribbles down my chin and onto my chest, staining the white satin purple. My dress is ruined. I should be freaking out. But I really don’t care.

“Come on,” Ruby tugs on my hand. “We need to get you out of here while people are still distracted.”

My older brother Pierce and the emcee are standing in the middle of the hall, gesturing wildly to the speakers above us. My other brother, Lawson, is on his way toward the podium in an attempt to do something. I don’t think there’s anything he can do to stop this train wreck from there.

Ruby tugs again, but I’m frozen, still trying to figure out what exactly just happened. Well, I know what’s happened. I just can’t believe it.

The sound of a zipper and the rustle of clothes follows. “Thanks for that, now I’ll be able to last later tonight,” Armstrong says.

“What about me?” A female asks. Her voice is nasally and whiny.

“What about you?”

“Well I helped you, aren’t you going to help me?”

“Didn’t you come with a date?”

“Well, yes, but—” God her voice is familiar. I just can’t figure out where I know it from.

“My cousin, right? He loves my sloppy seconds. Speeches are starting. I gotta get back to my ball and chain.”

Gasps of horror ripple through the room, followed by a few giggles. These people really are assholes.

I think I’m going to throw up. I can’t believe he’s going to come out here and pretend nothing just happened. Like some other woman didn’t just have her lips around his cock. His distinctly average cock. Maybe even slightly below average in length, if I’m being one hundred percent honest.

A door opens and closes.

Lawson turns on the mic behind the podium and taps it, sending screeching feedback through the room, making people cringe. Too bad no one did that a minute ago.

Murmuring grows louder and glances flicker to the head table and then away as Brittany Thorton, a seriously skanky debutante, comes strutting through the doors, using a compact to check her lipstick. She’s made it her mission to attempt to get into the pants of half the eligible men in this room. She’s followed, not five seconds later, by a very smug-looking Armstrong.

“I’m going to kill him.” I grab the closest steak knife, but it appears my hasty, and possibly felonious, plan is unnecessary. My brothers leave their respective posts and stalk toward him. Across the room my mother is gripping my father’s arm, whispering furiously in his ear. Great. Just what I need, additional family drama.

“Oh shit,” Ruby gasps.

I follow her gaze to find Bane converging on Armstrong with my brothers. Bancroft is a tank and he used to play professional rugby. I’ve seen him with his shirt off, he’s built like a superhero and he’ll probably crush Armstrong, or at least break something. Possibly multiple somethings.

For a second I consider that Ruby should probably stop Bane from destroying Armstrong’s pretty, regal face, but then I realize I don’t actually care. In fact, the possibility that he might break Armstrong’s perfectly straight nose fills me with glee. Armstrong’s wellbeing is no longer my concern, it’s more about Bane ending up in prison for murder.

“I hope Armstrong has a good plastic surgeon, he’s going to need it once Bane is done with him.” Ruby echoes my internal hopes and her chair tips as she jumps up. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.” She nods to the right.

I notice my mother and father engaged in a heated discussion with Armstrong’s parents. I really don’t need this right now. Not the drama. Not the humiliation. All I wanted was a nice wedding. Instead I end up with a husband who gets a blow job during our reception—and it’s broadcast to everyone attending.

Ruby urges me into action. “Don’t worry about them. Get your stuff and we’ll get you the hell out of here. I’ll have the limo meet you by the entrance near your bridal suite as soon as I can.”

I nod and stumble unsteadily to my feet, thanks to having consumed the better part of a bottle of wine in the last minute and a half. It’s amazing how ninety seconds can change a person’s entire life.

All hell breaks loose as more men jump in to either pummel or extract Armstrong from the pummeling. I grab my clutch and phone from the table, gather up my stupid, too puffy gown, and head for the bridal suite, where I had prepared for what was supposed to be the most amazing day of my life. And now it’s likely the worst, at least I hope the mortification level I’m experiencing can’t exceed this. I feel like the foulest version of Cinderella ever.

I rush down the empty hall and grab the doorknob as I fumble around in my clutch for the key. I’m surprised when it turns. I thought I’d locked it before we left for the ceremony. Regardless, I need to get away from everyone before I either lose it or commit a felony. Maybe both. Murder in the first. Armstrong will be my victim. And maybe that horrible skank, Brittany.

I thrust the door open and slam it closed behind me, locking it from the inside. Tears threaten to spill over and ruin my makeup. Not that it matters since there’s no way I’m going out there again. I can’t believe my forever lasted less than twelve hours. I can’t believe the man I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life loving couldn’t be faithful to me for even one day. What the hell is wrong with me? With him? I’m as devastated as I am angry and embarrassed. Once I annul this farce of a marriage I’ll become a spinster. I should probably go ahead and adopt six or seven cats tonight.

“I need to get out of this dress,” I say to myself. I reach behind me and pull the bow at the base of my spine. Instead of unfurling, it knots and I only succeed in pulling it tighter. Of course my dress has to be difficult. I growl my annoyance and rush over to my dressing table where my makeup and perfume are scattered from earlier today. Half a mimosa sits unconsumed beside the vase of red roses Armstrong had delivered.

The card read: I can’t wait to spend forever loving you.

What a load of bullshit. I drain the contents of the champagne flute, not caring that the drink is warm and flat. Then I throw the glass, because it feels good and the sound of shattering crystal is satisfying. Next I heave the vase of roses, which explodes impressively against the wall, splattering water and shards of glass across the floor.

I yank out a couple of the drawers and find a pair of scissors. They actually look more like gardening shears and seem rather out of place, but I don’t question it. Instead I reach behind me with my back to the mirror and awkwardly try to cut myself free. It’s not easy with the way I have to crane my neck.

“Goddammit! I need to get out of this stupid dress!” I yell at my reflection. I think I might actually be losing it just a touch now. I stop messing around with the laces in the back and shove the scissors down the front. I nearly nick myself with the blade—they’re a lot sharper than I realized—but that doesn’t slow me down. I start hacking my way through the bodice; layers of satin, lace, and intricate beading sliced apart with every vicious snip.

I just want out of this nightmare.


My gosh, poor poor Amie! I absolutely hope Bane will rearrange Armstrong’s face. I can’t wait to see who’ll be the one to give Amie her happy ever after. I have a few guesses (or wishful thinking lol) but I don’t want to jinx it! I’ll be good even if it’ll be a new character tho.

Hooking Up is coming this November 7th and the pre-order links are up and running:

Amazon ➭ http://amzn.to/2py0mlj
CA ➭ http://amzn.to/2qzKFJb
iBooks ➭ http://apple.co/2pG28PL
B&N ➭ http://bit.ly/2pGbhrO
Kobo ➭ http://bit.ly/2qzOvBM
Google Play ➭ http://bit.ly/2pGhgwV

Add it to your Goodreads TBR ➭ http://bit.ly/2sExYNs

Click below to know more about Helena Hunting’s upcoming new standalone.

Continue reading “CHAPTER REVEAL: Hooking Up by Helena Hunting”

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Book Quotes, Book Updates

CHAPTER REVEAL: Exes With Benefits by Nicole Williams

Exes with Benefits

by Nicole Williams

IMG_3526

PROLOGUE

Goodbye.

It was the one relationship guarantee we could all expect. Whether it was death or circumstance, tragedy or choice, it was the only promise we were assured. Goodbye. It had been coming since the day we met, and now it was here. Sooner than I’d hoped. Even sooner than the sensible segment of me had predicted.

Still, it was later than maybe I should have expected out of a relationship with Canaan Ford.

I’d been waiting all night for his truck to rumble up the driveway when it finally did just past two a.m.. Before his footsteps echoed up the stairs, I shouldered the couple of bags I’d packed and waited in the shadows of the hallway. My paintbrushes were sticking out of one of my oversized totes, tickling the underside of my arm. I’d packed everything that seemed important at the time, but now, I wasn’t sure that what I’d stuffed in my bags mattered at all.

It was late, dark, and Canaan would be coming home exhausted, hurting, and some degree of drunk. He wouldn’t see me, and I could just slip away without him knowing.
Maybe I should have left before he made it back, but whenever I tried, my feet froze to the floor before I could make it to the door. I needed to wait for him to get home first—to make sure he was okay before I left him. That might have been a messed up model of morality, but most of Canaan’s and my relationship was messed up, from the beginning to now, the ending.

He struggled with the key in the lock before shoving the door open and clomping straight toward the couch. He’d stopped crawling into bed beside me after a night of fighting and drinking months ago, like he thought it would spare me the pain of seeing him bloodied and plastered. It never had. The black eyes, the swollen lips, the bruised ribs; they were that much worse in the light of morning.

Canaan had barely crashed onto the sofa before his breathing evened out. Still, I waited another minute in the hallway before moving into the living room.

Don’t look, Maggie. Don’t let yourself look at him.

I looked. Of course I looked. I never listened to what was best for me—if I had, my life would have wound up so much differently.

He was already passed out, sprawled across the couch we’d bought at a yard sale the summer before . . .

Before all of this.

One arm and one leg were hanging off the end, his face tipped far enough toward me I could gauge the type of fight he’d been in tonight. A good one by Canaan’s definition—the best kind. The type where his opponent got in as many hits as he did. The type of fight that made him almost question if it would be the first one he’d lose. Canaan loved the challenge, the fight. He thrived off of chaos, seeming to wilt when life was simple. I used to admire that about him, and maybe I still did. It just wasn’t the life for me. I couldn’t live life like it was a battle—not anymore.

He was passed out hard, but I still crept slowly toward the front door, my heart thundering as the boards creaked below me. Even though I was moving toward the door, my eyes stayed on him.

Look away.

I couldn’t. Canaan was the best part of my life. And the worst. The best memories. And the worst. He was the high and the low and I was so damn tired of the sick cycle I thought would kill me one day.

As my hand cupped around the cool doorknob, my eyes burned. This was it. As resolved as I’d felt in the weeks leading up to this, I felt like I was being torn in half by walking away. I knew if I stayed, this relationship would be the end of me. But at the moment, leaving felt like the same.

Lying on that couch, he looked so vulnerable. Almost like he needed someone to protect him. From the world. From his demons. From himself. I’d tried. God, I’d been trying for what felt like forever, but the only thing I had to show for my efforts was scars and pain.
One of his eyes was swollen shut, his bottom lip three times its normal size, and he’d split the same eyebrow open again. It was going to need stiches. Six, I guessed. I’d gotten really good as estimating the number of stiches needed to seal a wound.

A sob rose from my chest, but I managed to swallow it back down. He was the only boy I’d ever loved—the only one I’d ever come close to loving. In some ways, he was perfect for me. But in more ways, especially lately, he was entirely wrong for me.

That was why I needed to leave. We might have been good together, but we weren’t good for each other. I knew that now.

I opened the door slowly, so it wouldn’t make a sound, then I let myself take one last look at the life I was leaving behind before I forced myself to walk away.

Now that I wasn’t looking at him, moving was easier. Each step down from our little apartment above the garage came quicker, so by the time I reached the ground, I was jogging.

Canaan’s truck was parked right beside my old car. Ancient was maybe a better description of how “mature” my car was. It was almost like he’d known I was going to leave tonight, because he’d parked his truck so close I could barely crack my door open half a foot. Getting my bags tossed into the backseat and managing to wiggle in through the door was a tight fit, but I made it work.

The moment I was inside, I jammed the key in the ignition and turned it over. I didn’t pause. I didn’t flinch. The hardest part was behind me, and now I needed to keep moving.
Easing my car around the truck, I noticed the one light burning inside the big house in my rearview mirror. Grandma knew what was happening tonight and was keeping her light on for me as her unique way of expressing that no matter what, she was here for me. She’d keep the light on—even when it felt like there was nothing but darkness around me.

My throat constricted as I kept backing down the long driveway. I’d tried saving him, but it had cost me almost everything. I was taking what I had left and saving myself.

As I rolled past Grandma’s front porch, my gaze shifted from the rearview mirror to that little garage apartment I’d lived the last eleven months in. The door was open, light was streaming from inside, and a dark, towering shadow loomed in the doorway.

My foot instinctively moved toward the brake. Canaan was too far away for me to determine the look on his face, but I could imagine it. It came easy since I’d known him as long as I had. Knowing his face was like second nature.

He stayed unmoving in that doorway for a moment, my car doing the same. It wasn’t until he started moving down the stairs that my foot flew back to the gas. If he got to me before I made it out of this driveway, I wouldn’t leave. I knew it. Walking away from someone I loved was hard enough, but Canaan wasn’t just someone I loved—he was someone I’d shared everything with. He’d walked with me through the hardest part of my life, and I’d walked with him through his. We’d been each other’s beacon, shelter, and compass through all of life’s shit . . .

So how had we gotten here? To this hopeless, dead end of a place?

He was charging down the stairs now, taking them two at a time. How was he able to move that nimbly when he’d just been comatose on the couch?

“Maggie!”

Continue reading “CHAPTER REVEAL: Exes With Benefits by Nicole Williams”

Book Updates

CHAPTER REVEAL: Roommates With Benefits by Nicole Williams

Roommates With Benefits

by Nicole Williams

IMG_2972

Coming June 5th

Pre-order exclusively via iBooks HERE


Meet Hayden and Soren for the first time!

CHAPTER 1

I felt like all of my dreams had, or were about to, come true.

​Waved farewell to Podunk hometown? Check.

​Arrived in posh metropolis with luggage in tow? Check.

​Signed to a top agency? Check.

​About to roll up to my swanky new pad? Check.

​The world wasn’t just at my fingertips—I felt like it was clutched in the palm of my hand. All the obstacles—everything I’d had to overcome to get here—and I’d done it. I’d paid the price. Now I was ready to reap the darn reward.

​“Oh, crap.” My heart soared into my throat when I glanced at the taximeter for the first time since leaving the airport. I’d been totally preoccupied with staring at the bright lights and sights of New York City. “Is that how much it will cost for the entire ride? Hopefully?” My eyes widened when the meter tacked on another fifty cents.

​The driver glanced at me through the rearview. He must have thought I was making a joke until he saw my face. “What? You serious, kid?” His meaty arm draped across the passenger seat. “That’s how much it costs to get to right here.” He speared his finger out the window, two bushy brows lifting. “There’s still another mile before we hit the address you gave me.”

​“Pull over. Please. Pull over.”

Digging inside my purse, I counted out what I owed the driver. Which left me with a whole two dollars and some cents to my name. Ever since I was a little girl declaring my plans to make it in the big city, everyone had been warning me that New York City was expensive. I guessed I hadn’t realized that translated to public transportation as well.
​Once the driver had pulled up to the curb, I handed him what I owed. He waited, blinking at me like I was missing something.

​“Oh, yeah.” I pulled out the last two dollars and handful of cents I had left for the tip. Even dropping the last penny to my name in his palm, it was a puny tip.

​Heaving a sigh, he crawled out his door to pull my suitcase from the trunk. The dark streets looked different now that I’d be walking them alone.

“Do you have a map or anything I might be able to have?” I asked as he rolled my suitcase around to me.

​The driver pointed his finger down the street we were on. “Keep going straight one mile. That will get you there.”

​I felt my palms clam up when I realized I was about to attempt to navigate on foot a city I’d never been to, with all of my personal belongings in tow, without a dollar to my name. The small-town girl I’d been wanted to cry and run to the first phone to call home. The big-city woman I was born to be had me clutching the handle of my luggage and lifting my chin. By the time, I took my first step toward my new life, the taxi was long gone.

Even though it was almost eight at night, the streets were still bustling. Unlike Hastings, Nebraska, where a person could hear the whir of their neighbor’s washing machine by nine every night, New York looked like it was just getting warmed up. Cars whipping up and down the streets, horns blasting, people moving, bikes weaving in and out through it all; this was an entirely different life than the one I’d grown up knowing.

​I loved it.

​I felt like I passed more people on every block than had made up the whole population of Hastings, and the people here were dressed like they were off to a meeting with foreign dignitaries, instead of the 4-H meeting every Saturday morning at The Hastings Grange.

Fashion. God, I loved fashion. Designing it was my endgame, but first, I had to get my foot in the door however I could. Modeling would give me that opportunity.

​By the time I’d rolled myself and my luggage down what felt like a million city blocks, I figured I had another three or four to go. My feet were killing me, since I’d worn heels instead of the comfy flats my mom had suggested when dropping me off at the airport earlier. I’d argued that I didn’t want to arrive in NYC with faux leather loafers, but man, those discount store flats sounded pretty amazing right now.

​Sheer willpower got me through the last few blocks, and I arrived at what I guessed was my destination, afraid to look at my feet for fear of finding them swimming in pools of blood or swollen beyond recognition. Or on fire, based on the feeling coming from them.

​When I stopped in front of the address I’d written down, I had to triple-check that the numbers on my paper matched the ones on the outside of the building. They did, but this sure didn’t look like Big City Living at its Finest, as the classified had listed. It more looked like Big City Living at its Most Primitive.

​Then again, maybe it was one of those apartment buildings that looked like a dump on the outside but was a palace on the inside. You know, to keep the bourgeois away. That had to be it. There was probably a chandelier hanging in the elevator and the hallways were lined with gleaming white marble, but no one would guess that from the outside.

​Doing one final check to make sure I was at the right address, I lugged my suitcase up the stairs. Someone was leaving as I made it to the front door, but either they didn’t see me or didn’t care to hold the door open for the woman in three-inch heels wrestling a monster-sized bag into submission. The door practically slammed in my face, heavy enough it almost sent me sprawling backward. I managed to snag the handle to keep it open long enough to shove inside.

​Okay, so there were a lot of differences between Hastings and New York City.
​I still loved it. A lot.

​It would just take an adjustment period to get used to. Before I knew it, I’d be keeping up with the best of the city girls.

​Once I’d made it past the front door, I paused to catch my breath and take in the interior of the apartment building. So the halls weren’t exactly lined in marble. Or gleaming, whatever surface it was they were covered with. There was an elevator though, but as I took my first steps toward it, I noticed the sign taped to the doors. Out of Order.

​Why not?

​Shuffling toward the bottom of the staircase, I stared up them, thankful there were only six floors to the top. Kicking off my heels, I collected them in one hand and started heaving my suitcase up all six flights, one stair at a time.

The upside to arriving on the sixth floor in a panting, sweating mess? I’d just gotten my cardio in. For the whole week.

​My chest felt like it was about to explode as I rolled down the hall, checking the number on each door as I passed. There wasn’t any marble up here either. Or chandeliers. Or anything that held a semblance of shine, actually.

​There was a smell though—a mix of mildew and garbage and. . . some other scent I didn’t want to assign a name to. A couple of bulbs were burnt out on the ceiling, casting an eerie tone to the environment.

There were noises, too. Music, hammering, talking, screaming . . . other heavy breathing sounds. It was like the walls were made of plastic wrap and painted white’ish to give the illusion of privacy. I could hear every word of the heated conversation coming from the door behind me.

​Number sixty-nine. That was a number nine, right? I checked the piece of paper in my hand just to be sure. Yep. My eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. The door’s paint was chipping, the numbers cockeyed, and from the damage done to it where the locks were, it looked like there’d been multiple attempts to break into it. There was nothing welcoming about this door.

​This couldn’t be the right place. No way. I had to have written something down wrong, or misread the address outside, or something—anything—that would assure me this wasn’t the place where I was about to spend the next six months of my life.

​As I debated knocking on the door or fleeing from it, a door screeched open down the hall.

​“You finally made it.” A young guy emerged through the door, his focus on me. “Have you been waiting there long? When you were late, I decided to swing by Mrs. Lopez’s and give her a hand with a few things.” He was still talking to me as he slid his feet into a worn pair of Converse. His fly was down too, but that didn’t seem to be on his concern radar.

​It looked like he’d decided to give Mrs. Lopez more than just a hand.

​“Oh, god. You don’t speak English, do you?” He exhaled, making his way down the hall. “You’re one of those Eastern European chicks, right?”

​I stepped back as he moved closer.

In another situation, I wouldn’t have been trying to back away from the stranger approaching with a look that could make the most frigid of girls melt. He was easy to look at—a little too easy—walking that ever-so-fine line of cute meets hot. He was cute-hot. Hot-cute. Whatever. He was candy to the eyes, and had we run into each other at the Jolt Café back in Hastings, I wouldn’t have been creeping away from him as I was now.

“Do I know you?” I asked.

He finally realized his proximity was making me uncomfortable, and he stopped right outside of Number Sixty-Nine. “You do speak English. Good. Because I’m not sure I have the brain space to figure out how to say ‘The water bill’s due yesterday’ in Latvian.”

I guessed the look on my face echoed my prior question.

“Soren Decker.” He held out his hand then slid it into his jeans’ pocket when it caught nothing but airtime. “And you are . . . ?”

“Not at the right address. Clearly.”

He leaned into the dilapidated door. “What address are you looking for?”

I had to lift the piece of paper in my hand to remember. Once I read it off, he shrugged.
“You have arrived at your destination.”

That’s what I was afraid of. “I must have the wrong apartment number then.”

The way he was looking at me told me exactly what he was thinking—that I was mental. “What apartment are you looking for?”

Another review of the paper. Just to be sure. “Sixty-nine.”

When his brows bounced, I felt my cheeks heat. I balanced my temporary embarrassment by narrowing my eyes.

“Sixty-nine.” He rapped his knuckle below the crooked numbers on the door. “Home sweet home.”

That was when the obvious started to settle in. “You’re looking for a roommate? You posted the ad I responded to?” I swallowed. “You?”

He glanced down at himself like he was checking for a stain on his shirt. In the process, he noticed his fly was still open. “I really didn’t think this would be so confusing,” he said, pulling his zipper back into place. “Yes, this is the right address. Yes, this is lucky apartment number sixty-nine. And yes, I am the one looking for a roomie, who you replied to last week.”

My heart had lodged into the back of my throat from the feel of it. This was the person I’d be living with? This was who I’d be sharing the same space with for the next half year?

He looked part California surfer, part vintage Hollywood film star. Pretty much the type of guy anyone attracted to males and in possession of a functioning set of eyes would drip some degree of drool over. Light hair, blue eyes that projected trouble, matching his smirky smile, good—great—body; he was pretty much the result of creation’s best efforts.

Most girls probably would have been chanting jackpot in their heads, but I gaped at the perfection that was him, freaking out.

“You said you were looking for a girl,” I said.

“I am.” He motioned at me.

I motioned right back at him. “You’re a guy.”

“Wow. Okay. So much confusion.” He shifted from one foot to the other, tipping back the red ball cap on his head.

“Why would you prefer a girl roommate when you’re a guy?”

Again, the look that implied I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. If he kept it up, I was going to start throwing daggers at him. Provided I had any. Or even one. Which I didn’t, because airline regulations and all.

“For obvious reasons,” he said.

“For obvious reasons like what? A built-in bedmate?”

His expression flattened as he realized what I was getting at. “You think I’m looking for some kind of ‘roommates with benefits’ type of thing?” He rubbed his chin like he was considering it right that moment. “I hadn’t thought about that, but now that you mention it . . .” Whatever he saw when he glanced at me sparked an amused gleam in his eyes. “I’m not looking for that. I swear.”

“Then why insist on a female roommate?”

“Because the female species tends to be neater than the male, ape variety. Plus, you smell better, too.” His hand dropped to the doorknob. Before he opened the door, he tipped his chin at me. “And you’re nicer to look at.” When I didn’t move after he motioned inside the apartment, he leaned into the hall and crossed his arms. “Come on, give it to me. I can tell you’re dying to say whatever it is you’ve been biting your tongue over since I had the nerve to address you.”

The way he said it, I realized I was maybe leaning toward the bitchy end of the spectrum. “It’s just that I thought you were a girl. I didn’t realize the person I’d agreed to room with was a guy.”

“That’s not my fault.” As soon as my mouth opened to argue, he added, “You could have asked. But you didn’t. You assumed.”

My teeth chewed on the inside of my cheek, hating that he was right.

“If you’re uncomfortable moving in because I’m a guy, okay, no problem. I’m not going to force you to move in. Even though I took down the ‘roommate wanted’ ad when you placed dibs. Losing out on a whole week of finding someone.”

My fingers pinched the bridge of my nose as I struggled to form one rational thought. If this guy would shut it for one minute, I could think.

“You know, and what’s this whole thing about gender equality and erasing those lines that used to separate the sexes? You’re pretty much saying you’re okay with moving in with a total stranger, sight unseen, just so long as that stranger doesn’t come equipped with a scrotum.”

“What?” My hand dropped back at my side. “Gross. Just stop talking. Please. Give me a second to try to figure out what is happening right now . . .”

Squeezing his lips together, he tipped his head back against the wall, making a “carry on” motion in my direction.

Okay. Think.

Swanky new pad was more a nasty, biohazardous dump.

Hip New York roommate was more a crass, vile entity of dubious intentions. Who came equipped with a scrotum, as he’d so articulately put it.

I had an appointment in the morning with the agency, potential go-sees right after, and a whole zero dollars and zero cents to my name. A hotel was out. A really shady motel was out. I supposed I could sleep on a park bench, but instead of just one man, I’d have to be worried about the rest of the city sneaking up on me as I slept.

I didn’t have many options.

Actually, I wasn’t sure I had any at all.

Taking another good look at him, he didn’t seem so bad. He wasn’t tattooed from head to toe, didn’t have that predatory look parents taught their daughters to identify from twenty paces back, and he didn’t reek of alcohol or other substances of questionable repute.

He was no Boy Scout, that was for darn sure, but he didn’t have the look of an axe murderer either. Besides, I was a tough chick. If he tried anything, he wouldn’t walk away with that cute-hot face unscathed.

“I’m Hayden.” I rolled my shoulders back and crossed the distance. “Hayden Hayes.”

“Soren Decker. In case you missed it the first time.” He held out his hand as I approached. “By the way, I’m a dude. You know, to clear up any confusion you might have on the subject.”

Continue reading “CHAPTER REVEAL: Roommates With Benefits by Nicole Williams”

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CHAPTER REVEAL: Torture by Nicole Williams

Tortured

Tortured

Nicole William’s latest standalone, Tortured, will hit the shelves on April 9, 2017. That’s a little less than two weeks away! I’ve finished it and it’s one of the most soul-crushing stories ever written. I still can’t get over it, so it may take a few days to post the review. But it’s coming soon in the meantime, here’s a little something to tide you over.

Pre-order exclusively via iBooks now – http://hyperurl.co/buhp0z

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Synopsis: Tortured by Nicole Williams

PROLOGUE

 

Whenever he had to leave, it was torture. You’d think I’d get used to it, but I didn’t—each time got harder. This one might have felt especially brutal because of how long he’d be gone. A year. We’d done weeks, we’d done months, but we’d never done the full year.

Being with someone in the military, I knew I’d have to get used to it. The separation. The worry. The loneliness. The feeling that I was trying to catch my breath for however long he was gone.

It was a way of life. And he was my life. So I’d just have to figure it out.

“I’m never going to look at dog tags the same way again.” Brecken’s mouth turned up as his eyes roamed over me splayed across the backseat as he tucked in his T-shirt. He twisted his wrist, his gaze moving to his watch. A crease folded into his forehead. “But I’m going to need those back before I climb onto that bus. Something about military regulations. Not wandering around enemy territory without them. Those marines are sticklers for the rules.”

He was trying to make me feel better—trying to get me to smile—but little could lift my spirits other than finding out he didn’t have to leave for the Middle East for twelve long months.

“You don’t need them. Not really.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because you only need them if you’re planning on dying, and so help me god, I’m not taking these off my neck if you have plans for some kind of a hero’s death.” My hand curled almost defensively around the metal tags hanging against my bare skin as I focused on the way the cool metal warmed in my hand. The way it seemed to come to life in my hold.

“I’m not planning on dying over there. I’m not going to die,” he corrected the moment my eyebrow started to lift. “But I do have plans of scoring some gnarly war wound so I have a story to tell our grandkids one day and can hang one of those Purple Hearts off my chest.”

I flattened my face as best as I could, even though it was kind of impossible with the way he was grinning at me as he wrestled his jeans back into place. “Not funny.”

“Come on. It’ll make me look tough.”

“You already look tough. Too tough,” I added as I scanned him for the millionth time since he’d arrived back in Medford for a week-long vacation before shipping out. Whenever I looked at him, I didn’t just see the good-looking guy others did—I saw every good memory from my past. I saw every good memory that would be formed in the future. Brecken had been a part of my life since I was eight, and he was as much a part of me as I was.

“Nah, I need one of those big, angry-looking scars running across my chest. Or one of those bullet hole scars on my thigh. Something real tough like that.”

“And why do you need your dog tags for that?” My fingers tightened around the thin metal ovals, refusing to let them go as if I hoped in doing so, he couldn’t go either.

“Blood transfusion. Medics are going to need to know my blood type when they’re trying to patch up my unconscious body.”

“Unconscious body?”

He nodded all solemn-like. “I can’t be one of those guys who earns his Purple Heart by getting a scratch on some barbed wire. I need to lose a quart or two of blood, maybe even code on the operating table. Something worthy of that medal.”

The thought of Brecken marching through a hostile country with a rifle in his hands, with god only knew what aimed his way, made me feel weak with worry. The thought of him fighting for his life in some marine medical tent about took whatever was left of my sanity.

I must not have been doing a good job hiding my emotions, because his face broke when he saw my eyes, his arms opening toward me. “It’s going to be okay, Camryn. I’m going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. The year will fly by, and before we know it, we’ll be getting married and buying a little house as close to the beach as we can afford. Okay?”

His arms wound around me, swallowing my body, and I let him tuck me close to him. I’d never known the feeling of being safe until Brecken Connolly’s arms had shown me the meaning.

My hand planted in the middle of his chest, feeling his heartbeat vibrate against my palm. “Why can’t we just get married now? Why can’t I join the marines and go with you, wherever that is, so we can be together?”

His laugh was muffled from his mouth being pressed against my temple. “Well, you can’t join the marines and my unit because the military’s under this impression that us marines of the male species become distracted and one-track minded when the women we love are marching beside us. They’re convinced the only things on our minds are protecting you, flirting with you, or screwing you.”

Quietly, I counted off on my fingers, “Protecting, flirting, screwing . . .” Then I nodded. “Damn, they sure have you pegged.”

Brecken’s fingers brushed up and down the bend of my waist. “And we can’t get married right now because you’ve got two more months of high school to finish before you earn that nifty diploma thing.” He kept going, undeterred by my grumble. “And I need to save some money to give you a proper ring and wedding. I’m not doing the courthouse thing with cheap silver bands. Not for you. You deserve the best.”

My head tucked beneath his chin as I let him hold me in the backseat of his aunt’s old Corsica. The only good thing I could say about the car—which was a coin toss if it would start any given day—was that it had a decent-sized backseat that Brecken and I had made more than ample use of. Growing up in a strict household with my dad as Brecken grew up in the packed household a few houses down, privacy had been in short supply for both of us. Thankfully, his aunt was willing to lend Brecken her car whenever she could, like today, when I’d just made love to the only boy I’d ever loved for the last time for the next year.

My fingers curled into his chest as I willed time to freeze. “I have the best.”

Brecken grunted like he doubted that, his head lifting to check out the windshield. We were parked way back in the bus depot lot. His bus would be leaving for the long drive back to Camp Pendleton in a few short minutes.

“Besides, you already got me a ring.” I raised my left hand in front of him, rolling my fingers so he could see the adjustable birthstone ring on my finger.

He shook his head. “I won that for you at an arcade when we were ten.”

“It cost you twelve hundred tickets too. You saved up all summer to get that many tickets.”

His fingers touched the ring, twisting it around with a small smile on his face. “And it probably has the street value of a nickel. Not exactly the kind of wedding ring I want my wife to have.”

I found myself staring at the ring with him. The gold paint had started chipping off the thin band years ago, but the small pink birthstone still sparkled when the light hit it just right. “Well, it’s priceless to me. I don’t care what the street value is. Or how many tickets it cost.”

“Even so, I’m getting you a nice ring. With all of the hazard pay I’ll earn this year, you’d better start working that left ring finger out so it can bear the weight of the diamond I’ll be dropping on it.”

I was glad he couldn’t see my face, because he hated knowing how worried I was about him. He said hazard pay like a sales rep mentioned a bonus, but I heard it for what it really was—the government giving you a little more money for the likelihood of losing your life increasing.

“One more year. That’s it. Then we’ll be able to be together like we’ve always planned. Away from here.” Brecken’s arms loosened around me. We didn’t have much longer. “Away from these people.”

An uneven exhale came from him, the muscles in his arms twitching. I knew who he was talking about without him going into detail. Neither of our lives had been charmed or particularly easy, but mine had been worse. Being raised by a single dad who was so strict he made a monk’s life seem carefree, I’d had an unusual upbringing. Brecken only knew what I let him know about it, which was barely half of the reality.

“I don’t like leaving you alone with him,” he said, his voice a note lower. “If things get hard again, just leave. Move in with my insane family or a hotel or anywhere. Don’t let him hurt you. Words or fists. He does it again”—Brecken’s hands curled into balls as his back stiffened—“I’ll kill him. I swear I will.”
Continue reading “CHAPTER REVEAL: Torture by Nicole Williams”