Friday, December 31, 2021

Read an Excerpt from Titus: The Trouble Sisters Saga Finale Novella by Taylor Lee



He’s a formidable county sheriff. She’s a defense attorney. When she represents the despicable US senator accusing the sheriff of a vicious crime, she learns just how formidable the sheriff really is.

Sheriff Titus Theseus Trouble is the leading law enforcement official in the busy border county. Commanding and proudly arrogant, Titus admits that he’s been intrigued and frankly annoyed by the brash, prominent defense attorney from the first time he met her. His interest, make that , his obsession with her, was surprising. The sophisticated, stunningly beautiful, smart-as-hell woman was eons away from the casual women he routinely bedded and as off-putting.

Rita Davidson is proud of her reputation as a ball-busting attorney. She’s worked hard to earn it. Only clients able to pay her outrageous fees are part of her elite clientele. While she can’t ignore her untoward reaction to the tall, commanding, gray-eyed sheriff, he annoys the hell out of her. She’s infuriated with his overtly chauvinistic taunts—even though she knows he’s just trying to provoke her.

When her outrageous client insists that she charge the sheriff and his deputy sheriff daughter with police brutality—a charge Rita knows is false—the smoldering emotions between them flare. As angry as he is with her despicable client, Titus is more furious with the brazen attorney. Determined to take her down, he’s surprised that winning the case isn’t his primary goal. Rather, he’s determined to win her.

Titus is the finale novella in the steamy Trouble Sisters Saga. If you like smart characters, tough-talking, arrogant men and women and scorching passion, then you'll love Taylor Lee’s sizzling thrill ride.

Buy Titus today and prepare to be wowed.

Chapter 1


“Damn, woman, it’s good to see you!” Zane reached for the beautiful woman sitting at a corner high-top table at the B n’ T and dragged her into a one-armed hug. “If you aren’t a sight for sore eyes, I don’t know what is.” He glanced at her chic pantsuit topped by a clearly “un-faux” fur vest and rolled his eyes in pretend surprise. Glancing at Dante, the barkeep who was grinning at them from behind the bar, he hollered, “Tell me, Dante, when was the last time one of your patrons came in this benighted hangout wearing what has to be several thousand dollars of high-priced duds on her svelte body?”

“Hmm, sans the svelte body, Mr. District Attorney, that would be every time you stroll in here dressed like some fucking GQ model.” Dante grinned. “If ever there was a clotheshorse, buddy, it’s you. But if you’re saying that Attorney Davidson looks like a million bucks regardless of her attire, I’m in total agreement.”

Rita gave a full-throated laugh and shook her head. Accepting Zane’s hug, she winked at Dante. “I can see I need to come back to this crazy bar more often. Nothing like being greeted by two of the sexiest scoundrels I know. Particularly when one of them makes the single best ‘sure to knock you flat on your ass’ martini in any part of the country. I would come back to Sierra Vista for that noxious libation alone.”

Zane nodded to Dante. “I’m with Attorney Davidson. Rustle up a couple of those infamous, appropriately enough named porn star martinis of yours so that I can snuggle in next to this beautiful woman and get even more buzzed than I already am just looking at her.”

“Good grief, are you really that glad to see me or just trying to make a girl feel good?”

“Hell, Rita, you have to know that you are several levels of heaven above ordinary angels in my mind and always will be. Heck, you reside darn close to the stratosphere the Trouble sisters occupy.” He grinned at her. “Although, I confess that middle Trouble sister has wormed her way into my heart, mind, and most definitely my body in a way I never dreamed a woman could.”

“How is she, Zane? And please tell me she is doing as well as I’ve heard. Is it true that she is going to keynote the Arizona Bar Association annual meeting in May?”

“Yeah, she is. I’m telling you Tatiana has to be the strongest woman I know. And given the competition you and her sisters provide, that is saying something. But she has come through that hideous experience she suffered and is truly thriving, professionally and personally.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Tatiana Trouble is without a doubt one of the most impressive women I know. The fact that she has the inimitable Cochise County DA and all-around hotshot at her side also makes her one of the luckiest women I know.”

“Aw shucks, what can I say except that we are both lucky. You know as well as anyone what a profligate rogue I was. That Tatiana was able to see past the reprobate I was and introduce me to a concept that had been exceedingly elusive to me—the love of a good woman—is a gift I will treasure forever.”

“My goodness. Like every other woman in the county, heck, the state, I never thought I’d see the day that Zane Wilder fell for a woman—and a good one, make that one of the best ones, at that.”

Clicking her glass against his, Rita took a healthy sip of the powerful drink Dante had put in front of her then reared back at the burn of the pungent alcohol. She grinned at Dante, who was watching her from behind the bar. “Phew, don’t tell me my time away from the B n’ T has made me a wuss. Or are you just trying to set me up, Dante? Remind me that I need to come here more often if I’m going to be able to keep up with your usual debauched crowd.”

Zane raised his glass to her and chortled. “Let’s just say that by the time you’ve polished off a couple of those babies, Rita, you’ll be able to drink the best of us under the table.”

“I hope you’re right. Before we proceed to get drunk together, tell me that the news I hear regarding that disgraced ADA of yours is true.”

“You must be referring to the fact that Chloe Richards has not only been disbarred but is fighting what I consider to be a losing battle: that of trading her slutty clothes for the decidedly unflattering orange jumpsuit with the DOJ insignia on the back.”

Rita nodded in agreement. “My attorney colleague who has the unhappy task of representing her confirmed that brazen bitch is looking at a minimum of three to five in the Florence state prison.”

“Your colleague is correct. Trust me, after what she tried to do to Tatiana and how she made a mockery of the judicial system, not to mention disgracing the bar, they can’t keep her locked up long enough to suit me.” Running his hands distractedly through his shock of tousled hair, Zane shook his head and, as if determined to change the subject, met Rita’s gaze. “Look, neither you nor I want to discuss that disgusting former colleague of ours. Tell me what brings you to our hallowed burg. Here’s hoping that whatever it is will keep you here for a long while. We miss you.”

“Thanks, Zane. I’m surprised to say how much I miss all of you. When you hauled me down here to represent Tatiana, I assumed I’d be bored out of my mind. I’m not exactly a small-town kind of a gal. But the time we spent clearing your woman of that hideous crime was anything but dull. In answer to your question, I have a new client here in Sierra Vista. Actually, a long-time client I’ve represented on a number of issues, only this time it’s his son who’s in trouble.”

“Holy hell, don’t tell me you are here to defend that degenerate asshole, Justin Powell, son of the Senator Martin Powell?”

A deep voice endorsed Zane’s surprised assertion. “I agree, Zane. I thought Attorney Davidson was choosier about whom she represents with her vaunted skills. Imagine my surprise to learn that the inimitable attorney has thrown in with one of the most despicable reprobates I know. And I’m not talking about the senator’s weasel son we arrested yesterday for his third DUI.”

Rita whirled to confront the source of the insulting comment. She wasn’t surprised at the jolt of electricity that shot through her surprised body. Glaring up at the tall man looming over her, his lips twisted in an ironic smile, she forgave her wayward body’s untoward reaction. She was confident that Sheriff Titus Trouble had the same unsettling effect on every woman he approached. After all, it wasn’t every day that a Hugh Jackman look-alike replete with de rigueur beard shadow, chiseled jaw, and dancing eyes sauntered into a bar. Although, given that it was the B n’ T, Rita could have expected the imposing man, who was a regular at the town hangout. It took her a moment to contain her unruly emotions and manage an appropriate response to the sheriff’s putdown of her client or, more specifically, her client’s father.

“I take it you aren’t impressed with our senior United States senator and second largest landholder in southern Arizona?” She shrugged. “Why would I be surprised, Sheriff, that you disapprove of my defending my long-term client or his admittedly debauched son?”

“It’s not up to me to disapprove, Attorney Davidson. You can represent any reprobates you wish, as well as their degenerate progeny. I’ll only say that you must be hard up for clients if you have to slurp from Martin Powell’s trough.”

Shocked at his demeaning comment, Rita forced herself to respond in as normal a tone of voice as she could muster. “I’ll try to ignore your intimation that I belong in the company of swine, Sheriff Trouble, in that not very long ago I represented your daughter.”

Titus nodded in agreement. “Yes, you did, most impressively. A fact for which I will always be grateful. Which makes your current representation even more deplorable.”

“Whoa, you two.” Zane held up his hands. Glancing at his clearly angry companions who were facing off against each other, he said with a good-natured chuckle, “And good evening to you, Sheriff Trouble. Even considering your inflammatory greeting of our mutual friend, let me say I’m delighted you could join us.” Motioning to Dante, Zane called out, “How about you bring Attorney Davidson and me a refill and a double for our apparently peeved county sheriff.” He grinned at Titus. “I’m well aware, sir, that you’re not a fan of our senior US senator or his debauched son.” When Titus merely nodded, Zane added, “But I presume that you don’t hold our lovely attorney in that low regard.”

Titus shrugged. “That’s a given, Zane. Even highly competent attorneys can be taken in by wealthy individuals who are willing to pay through the nose to keep themselves and their offspring free of the long arm of the law.” Taking a hearty pull of the martini Dante placed in from of him, Titus shot Rita a narrow-eyed gaze. “After all, said attorneys are the ones who have to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror. As long as they can live with what they see, more power to them.”

Rita smacked her glass on the table and glared at Titus. “Damn, Sheriff Trouble. I’d forgotten what a supercilious, arrogant man you are. But even as self-righteous as you are, implying that the fact Senator Powell can pay my admittedly high fees is the only reason he is my client is a bridge too far. You didn’t seem to mind Zane paying through his nose to have me represent your daughter.”

“No, Ms. Davidson, I not only didn’t mind, I was grateful that Zane had the wherewithal to hire you. However, you were representing my daughter, perhaps the worthiest woman alive, not some scurvy political prick’s equally scurvy son.”

Forcing herself to step back, Rita did the best she could to speak in a reasonable tone of voice. She wasn’t surprised by the effort it took. Holding the sheriff’s steely gaze, she said, “The one thing I despise more than anything are law enforcement officials who think that because they wear a uniform and a badge, they are superior to defense attorneys who have the temerity to call them into question. You know those presumptuous attorneys. The ones who actually believe in our heralded system of justice. The system that posits that everyone, even rich, privileged assholes, are entitled to a defense when charged with a crime.” Not able to squelch her rising fury at the implacable man narrowly regarding her, Rita added, “One would hope even county sheriffs would be capable of understanding the basics of our justice system no matter how isolated they are.”

Wishing that she hadn’t given in to her fury and added that last poisoned dart, Rita grabbed her glass and took a larger swallow than she intended. Choking on the fiery liquid, she was horrified when Titus moved next to her and smacked her on the back. She didn’t have to look up at him to know he was amused. His drawling response to her impassioned attack said it all.

Interesting. As a lowly county sheriff, one thing I dislike is being lectured by a highfalutin attorney who looks down her nose at anyone ridiculous enough to believe that your income doesn’t determine your worth or your ability to grasp the intricacies of our judicial system.” At her sputtering cough that she couldn’t contain, Titus grasped her upper arm in his big hand and smacked her again between her shoulder blades. Picking up his glass and draining it, Titus added with a mirthless grin, “You know, one of those haughty, grossly overpaid legal beagles who wouldn’t acknowledge a client is too disreputable to defend even if the proof rose up and bit her on the ass.” Looking her up and down, Titus met her angry gaze and said with a shrug, “Particularly when said legal beagle has as delectable an ass as yours, Attorney Davidson.”

Rita leapt to her feet and demanded, “What did you say to me?”

Titus shrugged and winked at her over his retreating shoulder. “You heard me.” Nodding to Zane and without looking back, he saluted Dante as he dropped a bill on the bar, then strode through the door into the dark night.

Struggling to control her fury and rubbing at her arm where Titus had held her in place, Rita glared at her clearly amused companion. “I’m glad that you think the supposedly upright sheriff’s behavior is funny, Zane.”

“Ah, Rita, you have to know that Titus is intrigued by you. Even if he’s put off by your, shall we say, flippant attitude.”

“So in addition to being a conservative, arrogant asshole, the contemptible lawman is also a chauvinist pig who doesn’t like strong women?”

“Nah, Rita. Like the rest of us arrogant assholes, he’s intrigued and, yeah, put off by ballsy women. But, sweetheart, you won’t meet a fairer guy than Titus Trouble. Although, I should warn you. You don’t want to get on his bad side. In addition to being a straight shooter, Titus is a vicious antagonist. One you definitely don’t want to mess with.”

Thursday, December 30, 2021


$3.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


Counterfeit Husband

- Get a haircut
- Cancel appointments
- Hire husband?

It was the only way Chloe Sumner could protect herself from a lecherous business rival on a luxury cruise. But what "husband" could Chloe trust to spend every day -- and every night -- in skimpy cruise wear and one cramped stateroom?

1-800-HUSBAND was good, but not even Chloe could believe the husband they gave her would know her better than she knew herself...would ignite her with one searing glance...would be Dalton James her ex-husband!

A Joyride Books romance classic by Linda Wisdom!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Hand Prints on the Wall by Mary Hagen

$2.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


After her husband is killed in Afghanistan, Ella Pierce quits her job as an engineer and returns to school to earn her Ph.D. in archaeology. Her first assignment after graduation is at a Fremont Indian dig in San Rafael Swell, Utah under the direction of her former major professor, Dr. Zach Moore. Excited about the prospect of spending three moths in his company and with the hopes of finding a Fremont site for the following year, she takes solitary hikes in the slot canyons of the Swell. On one spur of the moment rip, she discovers something horrifying--the body of the man who delivers supplies to her site. When a rock slide traps her in the cave with the dead man, her world is turned upside down. Her dreams for the future are lost. No one knows where she is. She faces dangers she never could have imagined and is not certain she will live if she cannot get out on her own.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Read an Excerpt from Marcel - Redemption Through Fire by Jessica McBrayer



A bad boy hockey player who can’t drink away his painful childhood.
The woman who will never forget his biggest mistake.
The fight to face their demons and win a chance at true love.

Marcel “Frenchie” Hugo, NHL player for the Savannah Heat, has spent the past year regretting a single night—the night that he betrayed the love of his life.

Julie Reynolds watches her friends with happy lives, but she can’t tell them what is tearing her apart. Her happiness was destroyed with a single phone call.

When Marcel makes a bold move to close the distance between them, he ends up in the hospital, his career in shambles. Marcel and Julie both have demons to face down before their story can find a happy ending. Can they overcome past mistakes for a second chance at a happily ever after? 

"Definitely one click, do not pass on reading this! Well worth taking a half-day to hide out in a coffee shop and read." CATAylor


Chapter 1. Julie 


“Julie, baby, Cherie! Open up! I’m so sorry, Cherie.”

“Marcel, go away. You’re going to wake my parents up,” I pleaded from the other side of my apartment door.

God, why did he keep tearing us up? He had to let it go. I’d been lying to myself that I had moved on. It was easier that way until he did something like this. It’d been a year. I swiped at the tears running down my face.

Cherie, I love you. I have since I first saw you with my jersey on at that first game. Do you remember? I will never forget it. Please forgive me. I’m so sorry,” he whispered the last part in his beautiful French accent.

I almost opened the door.

“Julie don’t open that door. I’ve called the police. I don’t know who this crazy man is, but he needs to leave. Now! Damned harlot! How did you lure Satan’s spawn here?” my dad yelled up from below.

“No, Daddy. Just let me deal with it.”

“Fucking cops! Call the cops. Great! Thanks, old man!” Marcel yelled at my dad.

Wonderful, Daddy would never forgive him. The cops were on the way for sure. I heard the sirens in the distance.

“Julie, baby. She was just some nameless face. I was too drunk. I didn’t mean it. I don’t even remember it,” Marcel said, and I could swear I heard crying.

“Marcel, you have to leave. The police will be here. I don’t want you to get in trouble. Think about your career. Please.”

“Fuck hockey! I need you more.”

“Please, don’t do this. I can’t take it,” I sobbed.

I placed my hand on the door, wanting to touch him but knowing I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do anymore late-night phone calls and I sure as hell couldn’t handle him coming here. Oh, good God, he drove here. What if he had hurt someone?

The sirens were now in front of my parents Victorian. I lived on the second floor in a separate apartment. I could see the lights flashing through my windows. At least they turned the sirens off.

I heard footsteps coming up my stairs. Marcel, why? He could lose his contract over this.

“Sir, you’re going to have to come with us. You’re disturbing these people,” I heard an officer directing Marcel. “Ma’am? Are you okay?”

“Yes, Officer. I don’t want to press any charges. I’m sorry you were called,” I said as I opened the door, I looked up into deep dark blue eyes, framed by messy black hair and short stubble — his six-foot-three frame towered above my five-four self. My long hair was a mess from pulling my hands through it, and I’m sure my eyes were framed by red puffy lids.

As soon as Marcel saw me, he lunged to hug me. The policeman misinterpreted his move and restrained him.

“Buddy, just stay the hell away from this woman. Y’all smell like a moonshine still. Y’need to calm down.”

“I was just trying to fucking hug her… wrap her in my arms… tell her how much I love her,” Marcel choked out.

“I can’t take this, Marcel. The phone calls every time you’re drunk, and now this drunken visit to my house. My parents live below. Do you know how upset they are? Please. Just go. It’s over. It has been for a long while.”

“Then, why are you crying?” he asked in his whiskey-smooth voice.

“Because damnit. I love you, too. But I can’t forgive you. You need some help. Get some help, please. I am not more important than hockey. You’ve worked your whole life to be where you are.”

“Julie, Cherie. I would give it all up for you.”

“Come on big guy. The lady wants you to leave. Did you drive here?” the officer asked.


“Is that a problem?” Marcel asked as he swayed dangerously close to the stairs.

The officer grabbed him to keep him safe, and Marcel swung at him. He didn’t hit the cop, but the momentum pushed him over the top stair, and he fell to the bottom. I screamed and ran after him in my pajamas. The officer was right behind me, calling an ambulance on his radio.

Marcel laid still on the grass, not moving. When I reached him, I could see blood running from his head down his temple, and his arm was at a wrong angle, but he was breathing.

“Julie, who is this man?” my father demanded.

“Marcel Hugo,” I whispered.

“The hockey player? Shit,” the officer said. “He has a lot of charges waiting for him when he wakes up.”


Saturday, December 25, 2021

A Family For Christmas by Mona Ingram Review



Laid off and in a new city, Maddie is eager to get her life back on track before Christmas. With a new gift wrapping business in the lobby of the Drummond Building, the last thing on her mind is falling for Chase, the heir to the Drummond fortune. But it isn't Chase who captures her heart. Annie, only ten years old and recently orphaned, needs more than gifts for Christmas, and Maddie might just have enough love left in her heart to help.

Mona Ingram is the author of over forty sweet, clean romances full of hope, inspiration, and happily ever afters. For a complete list of Mona's books, visit her website:


I loved, loved, loved this holiday romance. It was absolutely perfect. It had the emotional ups and downs that every good romance should have and the characters were so wonderful. A Family for Christmas would make an absolutely wonderful movie. If you love holiday romance, you must read this one!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas at the Gingerbread Cafe by Rebecca Raisin Excerpt



The icing on her Christmas cake!

Christmas at the Gingerbread Café is a lovely, cheery festive read, a good old-fashioned feel-good romance’ – Books with Bunny

The icing on her Christmas cake!

Christmas is the season the Gingerbread Café in Ashford, Connecticut was made for…but owner Lily couldn’t be feeling less merry if she tried. She’s spent another year dreaming of being whisked away on a sleigh-ride for two, but she’s facing festive season alone – again. And, just to give her another reason to feel anything other than candy-cane perky, a new shop across the road has opened… Not only is it selling baked goods, but the owner, with his seriously charming smile, has every girl in town swooning.

But Lily isn’t about to let her business crumble — the Gingerbread Café is the heart of the community, and she’s going to fight for it! This could be the Christmas that maybe, just maybe, all her dreams – even the someone-to-decorate-the-Christmas-tree-with ones – really do come true!

Finalist for the RWA Ella Award 2014

Don't miss any books in The Gingerbread Café series:

Book 1 – Christmas at the Gingerbread Café

Book 2 – Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Café

Book 3 – Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café

The Bookshop on the Corner

Secrets at Maple Syrup Farm

Check out Rebecca Raisin’s newest series: The Little Paris Collection
Book 1 – The Little Bookshop on the Seine
Book 2 – The Little Antique Shop Under the Eiffel Tower
Book 3 – The Little Perfume Shop Off the Champs-Elysées

With a sly grin on my face, I jog back out to the front, yelling, “That fool won’t know what hit him,” only to run straight into the damn fool.
“Who are you talking about?” Damon asks, rubbing his chin where my head has just connected.
“Ouch! Who creeps up like that? If you want me to feel the earth move, that isn’t the way to go about it,” I say, sure I’m going to be sporting a big lump on my head any minute now.
“Which fool are you talking about?”
I make a show of wincing, while I try and think of an answer. CeeCee’s no help, standing there as a half-dressed Santa, her lips quivering as she tries to hold in laughter. I know she’s going to lose it, and then the whole sorry story will come tumbling out of her mouth.
“Excuse me, mister, who said you could come in here and spy on us?”
His forehead creases, and that same sexy smile creeps back on his face. “Who said I was spying?”
“That smile might work on other girls, but it sure doesn’t work on me. I said you’re spying. Now get on out of here. Shoo.” I wave my hand towards the door.
“Shoo? Not until you tell me who the fool is.”
“You’re as dumb as a bucket of rocks if you think I’m telling you anything.”
“I see.” He scratches his chin, which has a red mark from our collision. “I think you’re cooking up another plan to steal my customers.”
“Of all the…I think you’re forgetting who was here first. You’re stealing my customers—let’s be clear on that.” I try hard not to poke my tongue out at him. He brings out the worst in me, this newcomer. He’s wearing those same tight jeans, and under his open jacket he’s wearing another of those checker shirts, but has yet another button undone. I can see right down to his belly button and I happen to notice he’s got quite the six-pack going on. The girls round here are going to swoon over him.
He edges backwards, his brown eyes sparkling with mirth. “Well, my family has lived here since before there was electricity, don’t you know? And wouldn’t the town folk love to know you’re not giving me the same warm welcome that they are?”
CeeCee bustles over. “Oh, yeah? And who’s your family, then? Ain’t no one mentioned your people to me.”
“My people, as you say, are the Guthries, born and bred right here in Ashford for as long as anyone can remember.”

Read an Excerpt from Ruby: Book 2 Ladies of the Night Series by Taylor Lee



Praise for Ruby …
Book 2 in Taylor Lee’s NEW Sexy Suspense Collection: Ladies of the Night.

“USA Today best-selling author Taylor Lee soars with Ruby, the second book in Lee’s provocative new series, Ladies of the Night. The Ladies are covert agents in a secretive, off the grid security organization. Highly trained fighters, they’re as gorgeous as they are dangerous to the evil men they’re hired to bring to justice. The only thing these formidable women are NOT is “ladies.”

Chloe Harper, Code Name: Ruby is a diminutive, red-headed vixen. But don’t let her size fool you. The fierce firebrand is as accomplished with a knife and Glock 19 as she is bringing men to their feet with her womanly wiles. Noah Walker, the stunning black former Army Ranger, is no slouch when it comes to attracting women, but even he is no match for Ruby. Both agents are more than equipped to take on what appears to be a rogue operation in the command structure of the national agency that hired them. The twist and turns of this surprising mission will have your head spinning. The only thing more riveting is the passion that flares between the two indomitable agents.

Love Kaylea Cross's heart pounding romantic military thrillers? Sylvia Day’s and Maya Banks red hot sexy heroes, feisty heroines and high adrenaline action? Fern Michael’s compelling characters? Grab Ruby and prepare to be addicted.

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”  Malcolm X

Chapter 1


 Glancing across the expanse of the ornate ballroom at the upscale Continental Club, Agent Chloe Harper’s heart skipped a beat.  To be more accurate, it damn near came to a dead stop.  Ditto on her breath.  Chloe, aka Ruby, comforted herself with the knowledge that sans breath and a beating heart, she had only seconds left in this lifetime--if that.  Managing a dry snort, she reassured herself that if her last conscious sight was a glimpse of Noah Walker, at least her life would end on a positive note.

When her heart started pumping again and she was able to draw in a ragged breath, confirming that she would have to live through this challenging night, Chloe chided herself that if anyone could cause a woman’s heart to skip a beat, it was Noah Walker.  

It didn’t help that the tall, warm-skinned man was a colleague and, she admitted, a man she’d lusted after ever since she met him, it was also likely that he was on the top ten list of “hottest men alive” of every woman in attendance at the posh affair.  How could he not be?  It was as though the gods had thrown Idris Elba and Columbus Short into a male beauty blender and turned it on high.  The result was, without a doubt, one of the sexiest black men Chloe had ever seen. She guessed that few people among the crowd of makers and shakers, and maker and shaker wannabes knew that the smiling man was neither who he seemed to be, nor how he introduced himself.

No, the problem was that Chloe did know who Noah Walker was, in all of his many charming iterations.  Worse, he knew all of hers.  While that could be a problem, given that they were undercover agents with two of the most secretive off the grid agencies working in the shadows, Chloe didn’t fear Noah unmasking her—any more than she would unmask him. No, the problem was that the last time she’d seen him, Chloe was stark naked and having as close to an unraveled panic attack as she’d ever endured.

 Chloe felt her cheeks flame as she searched for a hiding place. To get to the ladies room she would have to walk by the crowd of people who were intent on getting as close to her colleague as possible. No matter how she chose to steal by, she was certain he would spot her.  She had to admit, that even in this crowd or perhaps especially in this crowd, she would be hard to miss.  Bright red hair and a sinfully tight emerald green dress were sure to draw the eye of even the most besotted fans trying to get the attention of the superstar holding court in the center of the throng. 

Slinking behind a pillar, Chloe allowed herself to remember the last time she had seen Noah Walker.  Along with their partner Grayson Webb, she and Noah had been part of a group present when a despicable man had literally choked a young woman to death in an autoerotic asphyxiation sex scene gone bad.  That the monster hadn’t so much as looked back when Noah had cut the bonds holding the teenaged victim and confirmed that she was indeed dead had added to Chloe’s  angst.  It wasn’t as though she hadn’t seen hideous sights; Chloe had survived eight years in the jungles of Somalia and more Middle Eastern countries than she cared to remember.  A Staff Sergeant in the Army, Chloe Harper had served as an adjunct to several squads of Army Rangers who worked some of the most dangerous and most secretive undercover missions the Army assigned to the elite units.  Given her conspicuous physical characteristics, Sgt. Harper’s inevitable role was as bait to attract whichever high level target the Army wanted eliminated.

Chloe had been so successful that when she decided Army life was no longer for her, she’d had her choice from among the best of the security agencies that sought retired military hotshots. To everyone’s surprise, the esteemed Sgt. Harper turned down offers from the top tier companies and instead joined the incipient outfit known by its provocative name, Ladies of the Night.  The first hire in the renegade company, Chloe joined its founder, Riley Davis, in what many in the industry said was a time bomb, certain to explode.  Lt. Col. Davis, according to most of the men who’d worked with her, was as volatile and uncontrollable as she was beautiful.  Within a year after resigning from the Army, Col. Davis had been blackballed by virtually every prestigious security agency.  According to the companies she’d worked for, the unanimous conclusion was that the volatile Lt. Col. was unmanageable and therefore to be avoided at all costs.

Chloe disagreed.  She’d worked two active duty missions with Col. Davis and when she'd learned that the explosive Army hotshot was opening her own firm, Chloe had never looked back. Against the advice of everyone she knew, she approached Col. Davis and begged her to hire her.  It just so happened that begging wasn’t necessary.  Riley Davis confessed to her, after their five hour introductory meeting, that Chloe’s military accolades, appearance, and sheer verve made her a natural for the woman-owned, woman-only company that its founder was certain would leave the rest of the agencies in the dust. As Chloe signed the contract pledging her livelihood to the upstart company, her new boss christened her.  Col. Davis had determined that all of her agents would receive code names.  Setting the standard with her own code name, Diamond, the irascible leader gave the redheaded agent-to-be her code name. Chloe became Ruby.

.           It was as Ruby that she’d met Noah Walker.  Determined to contain her rioting emotions, Ruby forced herself to remember that fateful night.  It was the first time that she’d ever given in to the horrors that she routinely experienced in her chosen profession.  She was serving as a barmaid and stripper in the Caligula Club, the high-end BDSM club owned by their target. Ruby was present when the young girl had literally been strangled in front of her and the other two agents, as well as a group of leering men.  When the hideous club owner made no secret of the fact that the girl’s death had aroused him, Ruby had given in to her shock. Certain that she couldn’t breathe, she’d begun shaking uncontrollably.  Whisked out of the Club by her co-agents, Noah Walker and Grayson Webb, Ruby was so shaken that she barely remembered leaving the Club.

What she would never forget was Noah holding her in his lap as Grayson sped through the midnight streets of the Phoenix suburb.  Pulling up in front of Ruby’s condominium, Grayson made quick work of her elaborate security system.  Inside her prized sanctuary, Noah continued to hold her while Grayson grabbed the nearest bottle of Scotch and poured each of them a tumbler full.  While the Scotch served to at least to help her get breathing under control, it also made her aware of the man who was holding her on his lap. It didn’t hurt that he was also stroking her back as he held her against his strong body, crooning comforting words in her ear. Even now she could remember his masculine scent combined with the fragrance of one of her favorite colognes. 

What she had tried to forget the next morning, and for the many days that followed, was how he had put her to bed.  Carrying her into her bedroom, he’d laid her on her four poster bed and began rummaging in her dresser drawers. With a satisfied grunt, that could have been a suppressed chuckle, he returned with one of her many Marvel Superhero nightshirts, this one Batman.  Stripping off the miniscule scraps of material that comprised her outrageous Caligula Club "uniform," he’d slipped the colorful nightshirt over her head and pulled it down to cover her naked body.  When she woke up the next morning after a fitful sleep, she was horrified at the memory of a gorgeous hunk of a guy undressing her and seeing what he had put on her.  Why, oh why, couldn’t she have had silky sleep slips in her drawer instead of a bunch of juvenile cartoon characters?  Even now she groaned at the memory.

With a soft snort, Ruby realized it was the same feeling she had about what she was wearing now. Knowing that there wasn’t a chance in hell that she and Noah wouldn’t run into each other sometime during the event, she tried unsuccessfully to stretch the tight fabric of her dress an inch or two lower to at least cover her upper thighs.  Her dismay at the dress she had chosen was confirmed when she saw the look on Stuart Mason’s face when he spotted her.  Unfortunately, it was a look that she had seen more than a few times in the past.  Which was problematic since Stuart Mason was her fiancé. 

Stuart’s frown deepened as he approached her. His caustic tone underscored his distaste.  Without bothering to say hello, he grasped her arm and said, “Jesus, Chloe, why did you choose to wear that dress?  I told you specifically that this was a formal affair and that some very important people would be here tonight.”

His distaste was so apparent you’d have thought that she’d chosen to wear one of her many stripper outfits, that she wore routinely in her covert line of work, to a gathering of habit-clad nuns. For a guilty fleeting moment Chloe wondered why she had chosen this particular dress and if perchance she’d done it on purpose to annoy Stuart.  Deciding not to dwell on that self-aware insight, Chloe chose instead to placate him… and at the same time poke at him.  After all, Stuart could do with a little poking. His pompousness demanded it.

“And good evening to you as well, Mr. Mason.  I’m pleased to see you.  And may I say you look wonderful.  I like your tuxedo.  It makes you look impressive. I mean, even more impressive.”

Stuart had the decency to blush at her obvious taunt.  Still gripping her arm, he made an obvious attempt to explain his rudeness.

“I’m… I’m sorry, Chloe.  It’s just that I practically had to sell my left nut to get invited to this shindig.  Only partners at Grafton Summers were guaranteed tickets.  If I wasn’t on the Marshal case, there’s no way I could have wrangled a ticket.” He added with another annoyed glance at her dress, “I thought I’d explained how important this evening is.”

Chloe tossed her head and simpered. “You did.  What you didn’t do, because you knew it was unwise, was to tell me what I should or should not wear.” She added crisply, “Which is a good thing, Stuart, since getting tickets to this important event had more to do with my boss pulling a few strings than the particular case you’re working.”

Stuart’s flush deepened, this time with what looked like anger. His harsh tone confirmed that she had offended him. 

“That’s not the issue, Chloe.  The issue is why you chose, as you so often do, to wear an inappropriate dress.”

Ruby fought the anger constricting her chest.   Not for the first time she wondered what the hell she was doing agreeing to marry Stuart.  Forcing herself to take a deep breath, she began silently listing the factors that had made her accept his proposal.  He worked at a decent law firm and made an acceptable salary.  He wasn’t handsome by any means but he was slender and in reasonably good shape.  He was short--not sideshow short--but at five feet eight inches he was often the shortest man in the group. Chloe didn’t care. In fact, given her own size and the countless nicknames she’d borne all her life, she sympathized with Stuart and continuously told him that she preferred men she didn’t have to look up at.

Stuart didn’t share her passion for sports but then she couldn’t think of anything that Stuart was particularly passionate about except his reliance on manners and status. While that could be annoying, it also underscored what Chloe liked best about him.  He was predictable, almost to a fault.  His job was safe, not especially exciting, but dependable. Her life with him promised to be uneventful in the best sense of the word.  Enough money to live well, support a couple of kids, to buy a house in the suburbs.  You know: the kind of life that normal people had. Normal was something that Chloe (and now Ruby) had longed for her entire life.  Something she had never come close to having.

A deep voice interrupted her reverie.  Without turning, she knew who it was.  The fact that her legs were shaking, and that she had to lean against the pillar to keep from falling confirmed that the handsome man advancing on her was none other than her secret heart throb, Noah Walker. Before she could respond he reached for her hand.

“Chloe, I didn’t expect to see you here. It’s been much too long.”

He glanced at her dress, clearly appraising her audacious attire. Seeing his dark eyes light with mischief, Chloe decided that Stuart was right; the top of the dress was too low and the bottom was too high. Before she could choke out a response, Noah winked at her.

“Great dress, Chloe.”

When she muttered a barely audible “Thanks,” Noah pulled her up next to him and murmured conspiratorially, “It almost beats the Batman nightshirt.” 

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