Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Read an Excerpt from O'Hara vs. Wilder by Linda Wisdom



When Sheriff Tess O'Hara's former partner, detective Jake Wilder, roars into her small desert town and commandeers her house in pursuit of counterfeiters, he reignites temptations and passions Tess thought she had left behind. She'd surrendered to his temptation for one night long ago, and now he intends to prove that the passion still burns between them.


It took a few seconds for Jake to register the sig­nificance of the high-pitched wail of a siren and the flashing blue and white lights on the vehicle following him.  Jakee swore under his breath as he pulled over to the side of the road.  Drumming his fingers against the steering wheel, he kept an eye on the rearview mirror and watched the black-and-white Bronco slide to a stop behind him.

Humming under his breath, he watched the truck's door swing open. A pair of khaki-covered legs appeared and made their way toward him.

He looked up and found his angelic smile reflected in mirrored sunglasses under the pulled-down brim of a tan Stetson.  "Is there anything wrong, Officer?  Gee, great sunglasses.  I got a pair just like them.  They're wonderful for intimidating the bad guys, aren't they?"

The officer's face could have been carved from stone.  "Hey, Slick, we've got a big problem.  Now, I know how it is.  The sun's shining, you've got the top down, the Stones are blasting on the stereo.  What else can you do but cruise down the road at a leisurely eighty-five miles an hour?" A leatherbound folder appeared in one gloved hand.  "Thing is, Slick, the speed limit around here is only fifty-five.  So why don't you be a good boy and show me your driver's license, car registration, and proof of insurance."

Jake nodded in agreement as he shifted his hip from one side to the other to pull out his wallet.  "How do you feel about one law officer making a concession for another?” He flipped open the case with his badge and identification, holding it up for the officer's inspection.  "Sort of professional courtesy."

"Hate to tell you this, Slick, but that doesn't look like a license to operate this hot little number," the offi­cer drawled, indicating Jake's bright yellow classic Corvette Stingray.  "I'd really rather see that than your Junior G-Man badge and ID card."

He sighed and pointed to the glove compartment.  "I also have my weapon in there."

"Then take it out slow and easy, and we'll both be happy.  And while you're at it, why don't you turn your music down to a dull roar.  No use in scaring the wildlife."

Jake studied the officer writing up his ticket.  "You from Crater Rock?"


"Nice town." 

"If you like peace and quiet."

"City folk like it there?"

The pen continued scratching across the paper.  "Nope.  Occupation?" the officer asked, as if Jake hadn't already shown his ID.

He pulled out a cigarette and lit up.  "Badass fed."

The officer handed the folder to Jake.  "Sign down there, please.  You have twenty-one days to respond." Jake took the ticket that was handed to him.  "And if you intend to stick around, I suggest you keep the speed down to a tidy double nickel."

Jake carefully folded the ticket and stuck it in his shirt pocket.  "I'll think about it."

The officer tapped the side of the car with a flat palm.  "Have a nice day, Slick."

Jake watched the officer walk back to the wait­ing Bronco and climb in.  He was tempted to peel out but decided against it.  He whistled a tuneless melody under his breath and stared into the rearview mirror.

"I’m flattered, Legs. You remembered your term of affection for me. I gotta give you credit.  You acted the part of the small-town cop to a tee." He reached for the gear­shift, put the car in gear, and drove onto the road at a sedate pace worthy of a society matron.  He glanced again into the rearview mirror as he drove away.  "Did you honestly think that your threats would keep me from coming out here?  Since you've decided to be hostile about this, I guess I'll have to make a few changes in my game plan, and, honey, you are not going to be happy with it at all."

The Bronco remained in place for the next five minutes while its driver watched the bright yellow sports car finally disappear in the shimmering heat waves trailing across the road.

"Damn him." The voice belonging to the person in the uniform and mirrored sunglasses was unmistakably female.


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Read an Excerpt from Forbidden Love by Mary Hagen

$3.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


The love Penn Schwartz and Hannah Dresser have for one another is forbidden under Nazi law.

Because she is a Jew, she has been stripped of her rights as a German citizen. He is a Luftwaffe pilot and to love a Jew can send him to prison. If she so much as kisses him, she can be shot on the spot.

Since they were in their teens, they have loved one another, but their families object to their love, too. The Dressers fear the Schwartzes who are loyal Nazis, will report them to the Gestapo. The Schwartzes fear Penn's association with the Jew will cost him his position in the air force.

Can the love between the two survive and will they survive?


Chapter 1

Penn faced the window with his back to his father who
sat in an overstuffed chair in their parlor. He continued to
harangue him about Hannah. Penn had knots in his shoulders
and his hand were stiff with tension. He tried, unsuccessfully,
to tune out his father’s words but to no avail.
“You must stop seeing Hannah Dresser. For God’s sake,
the woman is a Jew, the scum of the earth, vermin. Your
career in the Fuehrer’s air force is at risk as may be your life
if you continue to see that rodent.”
Penn turned toward his father who sat with his back
straight and his hands gripping the arms of the chair, his eyes
snapping in anger.
They congregated in the room next to the living room of
their large home before dinner. The picture of the deposed
Kaiser no longer graced the wall above the fireplace. His
father had replaced it with one of Hitler who glared down at
them with penetrating eyes.
“She is not a rodent. She is a woman, one of the most
beautiful women in Germany. I love her more than I can
express. Do not speak of her in such insulting terms.” Penn
said, glancing from his father, to his mother who neither
looked at him nor made comments to him but stitched silently
on her needlework with hard jabs of the needle. Like every
good Nazi in Germany, his parents had turned on their Jewish
friends including the Dressers. Disbelief flowed through his
mind at the hostility toward their longtime neighbors and
“You took an oath to honor and obey the Fuehrer, yet
you choose to ignore his orders on this matter of the Jews.
They’re no longer citizens of Germany. You’re bewitched,
submitting to bestial lust, perpetrated by that monster
woman.” His father drummed his fingers on the arm of his
chair, not bothering to contain his disgust. “You realize you
put your mother and me, your sister, your two nieces, and
her husband in danger, not just your own position in the new
The threat was not lost on Penn, but he would not give
up Hannah. “The Dressers have lived next door to us since
Hannah and I were children. Dr. Dresser saved Mother’s life
three years ago. Have you forgotten? You and Mother have
been friends with the Dressers for as long as we’ve been
neighbors. Now you find them unacceptable because they
are Jews.” Incredulous to him, his parents had become such
rabid anti Jews.
Bernhard responded, “The Jew was in touch with the
devil. It was not his medical knowledge that saved Helga,
but outside forces of good we cannot know about.”
Penn threw his hands in the air. “My God, Father, have
you lost your senses? How can you make such a statement?”
“You”—Bernhard shook his finger at Penn—“forget
your place in Greater Germany. The Jews are finally being
held responsible for the loss of the war the terrible economic
struggles we’ve had until the Fuehrer came into power. Now
we are prospering. My business is once again profitable. I am
hiring men. None of this would have been possible without
the Fuehrer.”
“Hitler is a maniac. He’s surrounded himself with
“He is our Fuehrer. Pay him respect. Nations around
the world consider his work a model to follow in improving
economic conditions. They are impressed with our
resourcefulness, our industry, our organization.” Bernhard
banged his glass on the end table next to his chair splashing
wine across the top.
“They are blind. Hitler will lead us into war the minute
nations like England deny him what he wants. Your plant is
manufacturing parts for tanks. Do you think Hitler will do
nothing but look at the finished products?”
“Of course not. He’s keeping us from being overtaken
by the Bolsheviks. I’ll hear no more of this. You must never
see Hannah Dresser again. Jews are hideous figures and they
smell. They are intent on destroying fine young men like
you. They are our misfortune.”
“Hannah is not hideous and she doesn’t smell.” Penn’s
laugh was harsh. “I don’t care if you are my father, I will not
listen to such trash from you.”
His father’s face turned red. His mother held her needle
between her forefinger and thumb, but did not take a stitch.
She looked at Penn with a warning in her eyes. “You must not
speak to your father in such a manner,” she said. “Your father
deserves your respect. That Jew is having such an influence
on you. She wants nothing more than to deflower you.”
Penn laughed. Deflower me?
Standing up, his father faced Penn. Penn towered over
his father, who grabbed his shoulders and shook him, his
face red with of anger. “You are still my son. What I say is
what you shall do. I expect obedience. I’m interested in your
future. If you keep on the road you’re following with this
relationship with Hannah, that revolting Jew, you’ll end up
destroying all of us.”
Surprised, Penn said nothing. He removed his father’s
hands one by one from his shoulders and sat down. His
words held truth. He should curb his tongue. Any one of the
servants in the house overhearing their conversation could
turn him into the authorities for consorting with a Jew and
bring disgrace on the family.
“You took an oath to honor and obey the Fuehrer when
you joined the service.”
“I took an oath to Germany, not Hitler.” Penn emphasized
each word. “I’ll never become a Nazi.”
“He is your Fuehrer. Speak of the great man with
How could he regard a man who denied the rights of a
group of people? Forgetting his decision to watch what he
said, he shot back, “I cannot accept such a person. He is an
indolent man bent on destroying us. We’re losing valuable
citizens because of him.”
“Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. He’s our Savior.”
His mother put her sewing aside and stood by Bernhard’s
side. She held out her hand to Penn. “Take it,” she said when
he ignored her. “We must remember we’re a family, a circle
of love and respect.”
Reluctantly, Penn held his mother’s hand and then
clasped his father’s hand. Melancholy enveloped him. He
had no freedom in his beloved Germany, swept into dust by
“I know the perfect German girl for you,” his mother
said. Penn’s shoulders sagged.
“I’m not interested in a German girl,” he said. “Do you
forget, I’m twenty-six? I make my own living.”
Helga patted Penn’s cheek as though he we still a child.
“You may be a captain in the air force, but you live in our
house. Hannah is not the same as us. You cannot possibly
love someone so different.” Without pausing, she continued,
“You remember Sonja Grosser. She is the beautiful daughter
of a general and can do so much for you. She’s always had
a crush on you.”
To stifle his frustration, Penn straightened the lapels of
his jacket, and ran his hand through his hair. “Sonja is an
empty-headed silly girl and not of my taste.”


Compared to Hannah, Sonja was stupid. Her pale skin
and equally pale eyes were without merit. Beautiful Hannah
with dark blue eyes was like a goddess compared to the
girl. Thinking of Hannah sent his heart racing. He had to
see her, run his hand through her silky brown hair, feel her
lips against his, hold her tight in his arms. She had skin as
smooth as cream. A deep longing rippled through him. He
would continue to see her, in secret if necessary, to protect
himself from his father’s wrath and them from the Nazis.
Someday, he intended to marry Hannah, but first she must
Turning his back on his parents, he walked through
the large great room used for entertaining to the entry hall,
picked up his hat, and reached for the doorknob.
“Where are you going?” his mother called after him.
“Surely you’re staying for dinner.”
“I have other plans. I might stay at the barracks tonight
so don’t wait for me.”
“You’re going to see that damn Jew. Did you not listen
to one word I said?” his father growled.
“I heard every word.”
His father clicked his heels together. “Heil Hitler.”
Penn refused to return the salute. When out in public,
everyone had to Heil Hitler. In his home, he would never
stoop to such a ridiculous gesture. His father may be a loyal
Nazi. He would never become one, but he needed to watch
his words and actions.
~ ~ ~

Backing his coupe out of the long driveway leading
to the house, Penn drove with no thought of a destination,
his love for Hannah and their dilemma on his mind. She
had refused to marry under the cloud of anti-Semitism in
present Germany. What would happen to her and her family?
Uneasy stabs of pain filled him with worry. Perhaps they
should leave Germany if she could convince her father. Only
when she was out of the reach of the Nazis could she marry
him without repercussions from the Hitler gang of ruthless,
brutal, pitiless men.
Penn drove aimlessly for over an hour struggling with
the senseless but controlling minds of the Nazis. Unable to
understand what was happening to Germany, he parked his
coupe several blocks from Hannah’s home. Before exiting,
he sat in the darkness afraid to think of a future for Hannah
and him. The policies of the Hitler party made no sense to
him. The Nazis would destroy his country.
When he started his car, his lips were dry, but he had to
see Hannah. The homes were in an upscale neighborhood
of a tree-lined street on large lots. Each mansion sat far
back from the street. Like his home, the Dressers sat in the
middle of a half an acre of land surrounded by tall evergreen
trees, with scattering of oaks and lindens. He parked his car
two blocks from her home and walked the rest of the way.
Unlikely, his father would see him with the high shrubs
along the fence between the properties. If he did, it would
send him into a tantrum, and he might report the Dressers to
the authorities as troublesome Jews to rid the neighborhood
of them. Instead of going to the front door, he went to the
kitchen door, and knocked. The Dresser’s housekeeper,
Ethel Oster, opened it.
“Captain Schwartz. Come in. The family has finished
eating and is in the parlor.”
Penn knew the layout of the mansion almost as well as
his own home. In his youth, he had been best friends with
Jacob Dresser, Hannah’s older brother. He had loved her
since they were children, and she had tagged their heels
everywhere Jacob and he went.
“Penn.” Dr. Dresser stood, his voice distant. “Hannah
is in her room. Ethel, please fetch her.” He indicted with his
hand Penn take the chair next to him.
Filled with uneasiness, Penn instead sat across the
room from Dr. Dresser. Mrs. Dresser did not look at him
but continued to read her book or acted as though she was.
A cold knot settled in his spine. “Is Hannah indisposed? Is
she sick?”
Mrs. Dresser laid her book on the side table. “How are
your parents? We no longer enjoy visits with them. I do miss
Helga.” She ignored his questions.
“They are well.” He wanted to ask how they were
managing since Dr. Dresser could no longer practice
medicine, but he did not want to bring up an unpleasant
topic. How fortunate Hannah had her work at the Charité
Hospital. She had a reputation as the best nurse on the staff.
Jew or not, they kept her working. Hannah spoke little of the
activities of her family.
“And you?” Dr. Dresser stood, fidgeted with the fire
in the fireplace stabbing hard at the log with the poker, and
returned to his chair without glancing at Penn.
Penn smiled. “I fly most days, something I love doing.
My little fighter is easy to handle, the country below beautiful.
Our Germany.” Penn included the Dressers in our Germany.
“But Hannah? You did not tell me. Is she sick?”
“No. No.” Dr. Dresser rubbed his chin with his fingers
and avoided looking at Penn. He cleared his voice.
“Is it something else?” Fear descended into his stomach,
the emotion hard to contemplate. He was overwhelmed with
the wickedness of a government gone astray and the threat to
innocent people and his Hannah.
“Yes.” The doctor ran his hand over his thick gray hair.
He coughed. “You must no longer see Hannah.”
“Impossible. I love her with all my soul. We are as one.
She loves me. I will not agree.” Threads of steel filtered
through his words. He looked at Mrs. Dresser who had
encouraged their love, but no longer. Tonight, she did not
smile at him.
Straightening himself in his chair, Dr. Dresser’s eyes, so
like Hannah’s, were hard. “You are one of them. Your aim is
to destroy us. I must protect my daughter to the best of my
ability. We cannot trust men like you.”
Shame enveloped him, shame for his beloved Germany,
shame for his part in the Luftwaffe, shame for his family and
the road his country followed. “I’m not a Nazi and I do not
believe in what they are doing to the Jews. You’re a good
German just as I am. I, too, want to protect Hannah.”
His Germany had produced men like Goethe, Beethoven,
Bach, Einstein, and other great thinkers and artists. How was
it possible they had sunk to such depths of intolerance? The
answer was emblazoned on the faces of the people. Hitler
had restored national pride and prosperity to the country. His
father was growing rich, damn the consequences, as were
other industrialists.
“You may feel as you do, but by visiting us, you run the
risk of someone denouncing us to the Gestapo and we’ll be
sent away.” Dr. Dresser clasped his hands under his chin.
“I’ve heard rumors the camps are intolerable and more are
under construction by orders of Goring, your commander.
We must keep a low profile, conform as much as possible
to the wishes of Hitler and his regime. To resist is futile.” A
deep sigh escaped his lips.
Penn agreed with him even though Himmler in the
newspapers had assured the public the prisons were models
of good care and fairness to the prisoners. Such a lie. One
person could not take on a system as powerful as Hitler and
his Nazis. His hands shook. Germany’s future appeared
bleak, but he had to take care not to endanger his own family
as well as the Dressers.
Just outside the parlor, he heard Hannah’s soft footsteps,
music to his ears. He stood as she entered the room. Her eyes
were red as though she had been crying. He stepped toward
her to kiss her. She turned her head away from him catching
his kiss on her cheek.
“You’ve heard what Father had to say?” Her voice
trembled as she stumbled to a chair. Her face wore an
expression of despair mixed with disappointment and fear.
“We are not to see each other.” Penn knelt in front of
her and took her hands in his. “Nothing is going to drive us
apart. I promise my love and protection to you. We’ll find a
When she looked up at him, he searched for a flare of
hope in her wet-rimmed eyes. Cold ice settled over him.
Worry prevailed in him with thoughts of a dark future with
violence and chaos everywhere around them.
How lovely Hannah was dressed in a plain white blouse
and dark gray skirt. Even though she had been crying and her
eyes were red, her blue eyes rimmed with long black lashes,
were stunning. He could not stop himself from running his
finger under her chin and tipping it up to look at him. He
whispered, “I love you, my beauty, with all my being.”
She gave him a weak smile. He resisted the urge to bury
her angel face in his shoulder and hold her against his body.
His blood stirred hot in his veins with his love for her. As
quickly, his blood turned cold with dread at their dilemma
under the Nazis.
He stood and faced Dr. Dresser. “Hannah and I will
continue to see one another. Neither you nor my family nor
the Nazis can tear us apart.”
His life would not be easy or simple but he could not
stay away from Hannah. His broad shoulders sagged under
thoughts of what they would face, face together as man
and wife. They would marry in Switzerland even though
the country remained on friendly terms with the Nazi
Government. All marriages between ethnic Germans and
Jews had been banned. Pure Germans married to Jews had
been ordered to dissolve their marriages and abandon their
children. He vowed to himself, Hannah and he would marry
and never separate, Hitler be damned. No one needed to
“Hannah, my love, get your coat. We’ll take a drive. We
have much to discuss.”
She glanced at her father and her mother. Her father
scowled his disapproval with such severity his message was
evident. Break away from Penn. Her mother returned to her
reading without comment or signal of her thoughts.
Together, they walked through the great room, furnished
with dark mahogany chairs and tables, the floor covered with
an expensive Persian carpet much like his home. They went
to the front hallway and retrieved her dark wool coat from
the closet. Penn glanced up the curved staircase in search
of Jacob who approved of his relationship with his sister,
Hannah. He was nowhere in sight. Stepping out of the carved
oak front door, Penn did not care if his father spotted them
together. He tucked her arm under his, her slim body pressed
against his side. She was his love the only woman he would
ever love.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Read an Excerpt from Jude's Sweet Fire by Jessica McBrayer



When Jude Christensen, the Captain of the Savannah Heat hockey team, sets out on his morning run, he has no way of knowing that this particular run will change his life forever. Rescuing a tattered kitten from a feral dog leads him to meet Dr. Megan James, the captivating veterinarian who treats the cat, and catches his eye. 

Megan wonders about the man who doesn't hesitate to pay for the treatment of a kitten that wasn’t even his own and as fate continues to throw them together, Jude and Megan explore their mutual attraction. 

But when Megan becomes the target of a stalker who doesn’t like the attention she is getting from the handsome Captain who dominates on the ice, things take a sinister turn. The stalker will stop at nothing to keep Jude away from “his” Megan. As the danger increases, Megan refuses to be intimidated, and Jude must find a way to save her life as he earns her heart.



I walked closer to the fluff ball, which now lay motionless on the ground. As I got closer, I could finally see that it was a kitten, and it was in dire shape.

I remembered running past a vet’s office a few blocks back. Scooping the kitten up, I threw the branch at the dog to buy us time and bolted back in the direction I had come, hoping they were open this early. I could feel my heart beat harder fearing the kitten may have succumbed to its injuries. Smelling the copper tang of blood, I ran all-out and felt a glimmer of hope as I heard a mewling sound. When I got to the vet’s office, I found the door locked but the lights on, so I pounded on the glass, hoping someone would hear. A woman in a white coat came from the back and quickly unlocked the door. She sucked in her breath as she looked down at the bloody mass in my hands and reached to take the kitten from me.

“Help me. Please,” was all I could get out. Despite regular, intense physical workouts, I couldn’t breathe. I handed her the kitten and bent over, trying to catch my breath.

“Come with me,” she said. It was then that I looked up into a pair of devastating hazel eyes.

Jude's Sweet Fire is the suspenseful first installment in the Savannah Heat Sports Romance Series and includes a BONUS free novella download offer!

"I absolutely loved this book I laughed I cried and I got mad and I fell in love going to read the Christmas one Love it!" Luann - amazon reviewer

"Jude's Sweet Fire - the title is perfect!! There is sweet and boy is there fire! Humor, danger, sexy chemistry, it's all here!!" - Tricia for Everything Marie

If you like instantly captivating gorgeous men, fate, and love conquering all, then you'll love Jessica McBrayer's addictive series.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Read an Excerpt from Jorden by Taylor Lee



JORDEN, Book 3 in USA Today best-selling author Taylor Lee’s provocative new series, The Justice Brothers. JORDEN, the oldest Justice Brother, is unquestionably the most distinguished. But underneath that sophisticated persona is a sexy, challenging lover.

· An Assistant US Attorney fights the legal battle of his life. This time Jorden’s on the defense and his children are at stake.

· An accomplished psychologist and coach revered by all, Mac discovers she can’t outrun her past. She can only hope her righteous lover will forgive her.

· An evil woman isn’t about to let her children and former husband go without a fight. And this woman fights dirty!

· A family drama that calls for the best and the worst of the two passionate lovers. Unfortunately, Jorden and McKenna discover that Justice—like Love-- isn’t always fair or easy.

WARNING: Romance so HOT it singes the pages. HOT, tough, explicit. Not for the faint at heart. Definitely bring a fan!


Surprisingly, Jorden found himself paying more attention to the new coach than he had in the beginning. He had been so concerned about his young daughter that he hadn’t focused on the tall, redheaded dynamo. In addition to being attractive, she was clearly a forceful leader. She owned her side of the court and was intimately engaged with the players. Jude punched him on the arm to get his attention. “Any chance you  can join Sky and me for dinner? We’re meeting up at the Shipwreck with that redhead you’ve been ogling for the last half hour. How about you tag along?”

Jorden felt his cheeks heat, hoping that his “ogling” hadn’t been as obvious to others as it was to his intuitive brother. He gave himself room. Any man with eyes would have been attracted to the vibrant woman who’d dominated the direction of the game. Seeing the opposing male coach and half of the fathers in the crowd attempting to make their way into the Wildwood group celebrating their upset win, it was clear he wasn’t the only ogler in the crowd.

Turning back to his brother he said with a rueful sigh, “Well, given that Emma doesn’t get back from basketball camp for another ten days, and Chloe has a sleepover with Marcia, it looks like I’m batching it tonight. Guess I am free for a quick bite at the Shipwreck. I might forego Skylar’s favorite double-bacon burger with extra cheese, but that Glenmorangie Scotch she’s partial to sounds damn good. It’s been a long week.”

Jude snorted. “In case you haven’t noticed, you’re always batching it, big brother. And no, those two gorgeous nieces of mine don’t count. Tell me, Jorden, when was the last time the Assistant United States Attorney for the Ninth Judicial District had a date? A real one, not just those one-night-stands you do to make sure your pecker still pecks?”

At Jorden’s snort, Jude assumed an uncharacteristically serious expression and said in an undertone, “Hell, big brother, maybe we can grab some alone time and discuss the elephant that’s not only in the room, but apparently back in our lives.”

When Jorden didn’t answer, Jude persisted. “Have you seen her yet?”

“Yeah, I have.”

“Okay. I’ll let that non-answer stand and simply ask how is she?”

Jorden shrugged. “Francine is Francine.”

“Hmm, destructive as ever?”

Jorden responded dryly, “Like I said, Francine is Francine.”

Driving to the Shipwreck, Jorden relived his conversation with Jude. At his brother’s insistence, Jorden had added a little detail to his cursory responses. Thankfully, Jude was savvy enough not to press. But then, why would he? When it came down to it, Francine was Francine. For anyone who knew her, that was enough said.

Remembering his strained conversation with her the previous night, Jorden admitted that he hadn’t thought about much else in the last twenty-four hours. Chloe’s game had been a welcome three-hour respite. For the first time since his ex-wife had waltzed into the judicial center and appeared unannounced at his office door, the basketball game had given him an opportunity to think of something besides her.

As he entered the Shipwreck, he conceded that given the fact that Francine had grabbed center stage in his mind, the idea of making small talk with a stranger was less than appealing. He was about to make his excuses to Jude and head home to another quiet night on his lakeside deck with a bottle of Maker’s Mark when a luscious laugh caught his attention. Turning toward the melodic sound, he saw his brother lounging at a table with two gorgeous women. One of whom had red hair, and, he now knew, an amazing laugh.

 Jude spotted him across the pub and bounded toward him. “Don’t even think it, bro, much less say it.”

Jorden shot him a sheepish grin. “Say what, Dr. Phil? That your antisocial brother looked like he was going to bail and forego the opportunity to chat it up with his intrusive brother and a woman he’s never met? I don’t have to tell you, dude, that if Skylar wasn’t sitting at that table with a hopeful look on her face, I would have turned tail and ran before I got to the door.”

Jude laughed. “And missed a night of booze, bad food, and me on your ass? C’mon, counselor. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

He turned to the redheaded woman he’d been admiring earlier in the school’s gym and extended his hand. “Good evening, Ms. Durant. In addition to being this outrageous guy’s older and definitely stuffier brother, I’m the father of one of the most beautiful almost-sixteen-year-olds inhabiting the earth and an equally wonderful ten-going-on-forty-year-old daughter.”

Ms. Durant’s voice was as melodic as the tempting laugh he’d heard earlier. The sound of which, he admitted, had been powerful enough to draw him into the pub instead of escaping to his empty house.

 “Good evening, Mr. Justice. And may I say that your description of your brother and daughters are on target.” The confident woman shook his hand firmly and grinned at Jude. “Detective Justice tops the outrageousness Richter scale, and you have a lovely and talented daughter.” She turned to Skylar with a smile. “As for this one-hundred-and-ten-pound pixie that could eat all of us under the table, let me just say that I am green with envy. If I ate half of what Skylar does, you would have to roll me out of this pub strapped to a gurney.”

Jorden joined in the laughter and sank into the chair between the two women across from his brother. Ignoring Jude’s “I told you so” expression, Jorden responded to the woman to his left, deciding that for the moment he’d try to ignore her enticing fragrance.

“We’re in agreement on all counts with one clarification. It’s bad enough when two of my brothers, Jude and Jared, are routinely referred to as outrageous, while Jake and I are known as the uptight ones. So please, hold the ‘Misters’ and any other titles and call me Jorden.”

As he spoke he allowed himself to see that in addition to her thick, red hair streaked with gold and tied in a casual ponytail, the gorgeous woman had stunning dark brown eyes shadowed by dark brows and lush lashes. Her pale, smooth skin was heated by a soft rosy glow that spoke to her healthy lifestyle. She also had one of those full pouty mouths that demanded to be kissed, slowly and well.

Deciding that the sudden tightness in his trousers confirmed that it had been too long since a woman had piqued his interest, Jorden allowed himself to imagine holding Ms. Durant—make that Mac—on his lap, feeding her tidbits of food. That image, coupled with the surreptitious assessments he’d made of her ass as she’d strode up and down the sidelines of the basketball court almost made him forget his clumsy oration that had brought their lively conversation to a halt.

The moment was cut short by Mac’s attempt to change the conversation. “Speaking of your beautiful daughter, Jorden, Chloe told me about the sixteenth birthday bash you’ve planned for her.”

Jorden demurred with a smile. “I can’t claim the credit or the blame. The bash, as it’s rightly being called, is the brainchild of my doting grandfather. The Judge, who loves entertaining, insists that a party to end all parties is the only way to celebrate his adored great granddaughter’s coming of age. If I had my way, we’d be going to the park to play on the swings and have a princess cake like we did when she was eight.”

Mac laughed. “Well, whomever is planning it, Chloe is giddy with anticipation. Of course, the fact that she and her mother are planning a shopping spree to buy what Chloe described as a ‘killer dress to end all dresses’ has something to do with her excitement.”

Jorden stared at her, then dropped his fork and rose to his feet, knocking his chair to the floor with a loud crash.

Mac reared back in her chair, her eyes widening with surprise. Seeing her consternation, Jorden tried to explain, but his desert-dry mouth was incapable of forming and spitting out words.

Mac stared at him in dismay. “I…I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong, betray a confidence? If so, I apologize. I didn’t—”

Jorden held up his hand, stopping her. He knew he was glaring at her, but the rage flooding him made it impossible for him to soften his expression or speak in a normal tone. Instead, his harsh words and equally hard tone made his anger clear. “Don’t apologize. This has nothing to do with you. You did nothing wrong.”

He sucked in an audible breath and made a clumsy attempt to explain. “The problem is, Chloe and Emma have not seen or talked to their mother for over six years.”

Shooting Mac a grim stare, he didn’t mask his cold anger. “Oh, and I have a restraining order in place preventing their mother from being within fifty yards of the girls without supervision and my express permission.” He closed his eyes for a moment fighting to calm the outrage that was threatening to choke him. Reaching for his wallet, he threw a hundred-dollar bill on the table and nodded to his brother.

Assuming the dispassionate tone he relied on when he addressed the court, Jorden said, “Thank you for a nice evening. I enjoyed…” The words stuck in his throat, unable to get by the baseball-sized lump in his throat. He met Jude’s acknowledging frown and emitted a heavy sigh.

Turning back to Mac, who was pale, her expression strained, he said flatly, “Look, I’m glad you’re in Chloe’s life. She needs a positive female role model.”

He turned and strode to the door without a backward glance at the three silent people staring at him.

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