Archive for the ‘Extracts’ Category

Exclusive early excerpt from Fighting to Be Free by Kirsty Moseley

fighting to be free carouselWe’re just one day away from the release of Kirsty Moseley‘s Fighting to be Free and we have a early excerpt to help you get through these last few hours!

THERE ARE SIGNIFICANT moments in life that shape the way you see yourself. Some sort of shift in the balance, a throwing off the equilibrium. Moments that, in hindsight, you can look back on and pinpoint as exactly when things changed either for better or for worse. This was that moment for me. Everything hung in the balance; everything was uncertain, undecided, and unwritten.

This was my second shot, my chance to come out of the darkness and into the light. With every cell in my body I was planning on fighting to be free of this life, even if it killed me.

The trouble was, it was out of my hands. Maybe I would try my hardest but wouldn’t be accepted; maybe I would never be good enough. Society had its ideals, and a guy like me didn’t fit in with those at all.

Every now and again something comes along that ignites your desire to be the person you strive to be, the better person. When I stripped everything else away, peeled off the dirty, raw, and damaged layers, all that was left was hope. Hope for a better life, for a brighter future. Just hope for a chance.

Suddenly, with that fire in your belly, a what if becomes a possibility. What if you threw ideals out the window? What if you dismissed everything you ever knew? What if the bad guy could be the hero of the story for a change?

I guess what it all boils down to is this: My name is Jamie Cole, and I’m a murderer.

 

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Marrying Winterborne – EXCLUSIVE FIRST CHAPTER

isbn9780349407630We’re publishing the second in Lisa Kleypas’s Ravenels series, MARRYING WINTERBORNE, on May 31st and to tide you over until then we have an exclusive sneak peek at the first chapter:

“Mr. Winterborne, a woman is here to see you.” Rhys looked up from the stack of letters on his desk with a scowl.

His personal secretary, Mrs. Fernsby, stood at the threshold of his private office, her eyes sharp behind round spectacles. She was a tidy hen of a woman, middle-aged and just a bit plump.

“You know I don’t receive visitors at this hour.” It was his morning ritual to spend the first half hour of the day reading mail in uninterrupted silence.

“Yes, sir, but the visitor is a lady, and she—”

“I don’t care if she’s the bloody Queen,” he snapped. “Send her away.”

Mrs. Fernsby’s lips pinched into a disapproving hyphen. She left promptly, the heels of her shoes hitting the floor like the staccato of gunfire.

Rhys returned his attention to the letter in front of him. Losing his temper was a luxury he rarely permitted himself, but for the past week he’d been invaded by a sullen gloom that weighted every thought and heartbeat, and made him want to lash out at anyone within reach.

All because of a woman he had known better than to want.

Lady Helen Ravenel . . . a woman who was cultured, innocent, shy, aristocratic. Everything he was not.

Their engagement had lasted a mere two weeks before Rhys had managed to ruin it. The last time he had seen Helen, he’d been impatient and aggressive, finally kissing her the way he’d wanted to for so long. She had gone stiff in his arms, rejecting him. Her disdain couldn’t have been more obvious. The scene had ended in tears on her part, anger on his.

The next day, Kathleen, Lady Trenear, who had been married to Helen’s late brother, had come to inform him that Helen was so distressed, she was bedridden with a migraine.

“She never wants to see you again,” Kathleen had informed him bluntly.

Rhys couldn’t blame Helen for ending the betrothal. Obviously they were a mismatch. It was against the designs of God that he should take the daughter of a titled English family to wife. Despite his great fortune, Rhys didn’t have the deportment or education of a gentleman. Nor did he have the appearance of one, with his swarthy complexion and black hair, and workingman’s brawn.

By the age of thirty, he had built Winterborne’s, his father’s small shop on High Street, into the world’s largest department store. He owned factories, warehouses, farmland, stables, laundries, and residential buildings. He was on the boards of shipping and railway companies. But no matter what he achieved, he would never overcome the limitations of having been born a Welsh grocer’s son.

His thoughts were interrupted by another knock at the door. Incredulously he glanced up as Mrs. Fernsby walked back into his office.

“What do you want?” he demanded.

The secretary straightened her spectacles as she replied resolutely. “Unless you wish to have the lady removed by force, she insists on staying until you speak with her.”

Rhys’s annoyance faded into puzzlement. No woman of his acquaintance, respectable or otherwise, would dare to approach him so boldly. “Her name?”

“She won’t say.”

He shook his head in disbelief. How had the visitor made it past the outer offices? He paid a small army of people to prevent him from having to deal with this kind of interruption. An absurd idea occurred to him, and although he dismissed it immediately, his pulse quickened.

“What does she look like?” he brought himself to ask.

“She’s dressed in mourning, with a veil over her face. Slender of build, and softspoken.” After a brief hesitation, she added on a dry note, “The accent is pure

‘drawing room.”

As realization dawned, Rhys felt his chest close around a deep stab of yearning. “Yr Dduw,” he muttered. It didn’t seem possible that Helen would have come to him. But somehow he knew she had, he knew it down to his marrow. Without another word, he stood and moved past Mrs. Fernsby with ground-eating strides.

“Mr. Winterborne,” the secretary exclaimed, following him. “You’re in your shirtsleeves. Your coat.”

Rhys scarcely heard her as he left his corner suite office and entered a foyer with leather-upholstered chairs.

He halted abruptly at the sight of the visitor, his breath catching sharp and quick.

Even though the mourning veil concealed Helen’s face, he recognized her perfect posture, and the willowy slenderness of her form.

He forced himself to close the distance between them. Unable to say a word, he stood in front of her, nearly choking with resentment, and yet breathing in her sweet scent with helpless greed. He was instantly aroused by her presence, his flesh filling with heat, his heartbeat swift and violent.

From one of the rooms attached to the foyer, the tappity-tap of typewriting machines stuttered into silence.

It was madness for Helen to have come here unescorted. Her reputation would be destroyed. She had to be removed from the foyer and sent home before anyone realized whom she was.

But first Rhys had to find out what she wanted. Although she was sheltered and innocent, she wasn’t a fool. She wouldn’t have taken such an enormous risk without good reason.

He glanced at Mrs. Fernsby. “My guest will be leaving soon. In the meantime, make certain we’re not disturbed.”

“Yes, sir.”

His gaze returned to Helen.

“Come,” he said gruffly, and led the way to his office. She accompanied him wordlessly, her skirts rustling as they brushed the sides of the hallway. Her garments were outdated and slightly shabby, the look of gentility fallen on hard times. Was that why she was here? Was the Ravenel family’s need for money so desperate that she had changed her mind about lowering herself to become his wife?

By God, Rhys thought with grim anticipation, he would love for her to beg him to take her back. He wouldn’t, of course, but he’d give her a taste of the torment he had endured for the past week. Anyone who had ever dared to cross him would have assured her that there would be no forgiveness or mercy afterward.

They entered his office, a spacious and quiet place with wide double-glazed windows and thick, soft carpeting. In the center of the room, a walnut pedestal desk had been piled with stacks of correspondence and files.

After closing the door, Rhys went to his desk, picked up an hourglass and upended it in a deliberate gesture. The sand would drain to the lower chamber in precisely fifteen minutes. He felt the need to make the point that they were in his world now, where time mattered, and he was in control.

He turned to Helen with a mocking lift of his brows. “I was told last week that you—”

But his voice died away as Helen pushed back her veil and stared at him with the patient, tender gravity that had devastated him from the first. Her eyes were the silver-blue of clouds drifting through moonlight. The fine, straight locks of her hair, the palest shade of blonde, had been pulled back neatly into a chignon, but a glinting wisp had slid free of the jet combs and dangled in front of her left ear.

Damn her, damn her for being so beautiful.

“Forgive me,” Helen said, her gaze fastened to his. “This was the first opportunity I could find to come to you.”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“There are things I need to discuss with you.” She cast a timid glance at a nearby chair. “Please, if you wouldn’t mind . . .”

“Aye, be seated.” But Rhys made no move to help her. Since Helen would never regard him as a gentle- man, he’d be damned if he would act like one. He half-sat, half-leaned against his desk, folding his arms across his chest. “You don’t have much time,” he said stonily, giving a short nod toward the hourglass. “You’d better make use of it.”

Helen sat in the chair, arranged her skirts, and removed her gloves with deft tugs at the fingertips.

Rhys’s mouth went dry at the sight of her delicate fingers emerging from the black gloves. She had played the piano for him at Eversby Priory, her family’s estate. He had been fascinated by the agility of her hands, darting and swooping over the keys like small white birds. For some reason she was still wearing the betrothal ring he’d given her, the flawless rose-cut diamond catching briefly on the glove.

After pushing back her veil so that it fell down her back in a dark mist of fabric, Helen dared to meet his gaze for a charged moment. Soft color infused her cheeks. “Mr. Winterborne, I didn’t ask my sister-in-law to visit you last week. I wasn’t feeling well at the time, but had I known what Kathleen intended—”

“She said you were ill.”

“My head ached, that was all—” “It seems I was the cause.”

“Kathleen made far too much of it—”

“According to her, you said you never wanted to see me again.”

Her blush deepened to brilliant rose. “I wish she hadn’t repeated that,” she exclaimed, looking vexed and ashamed. “I didn’t mean it. My head was splitting, and I was trying to make sense of what had happened the day before. When you visited, and—” She tore her gaze from his and looked down at her lap, the light from the window sliding over her hair. The clasp of her hands was tight and slightly rounded, as if she held something fragile between her palms. “I need to talk to you about that,” she said quietly. “I want very much to . . . reach an understanding with you.”

Something inside him died. Rhys had been approached for money by too many people, not to recognize what was coming. Helen was no different from anyone else, trying to gain some advantage for herself. Although he couldn’t blame her for that, he couldn’t bear hearing whatever rationale she had come up with for how much he owed her, and why. He would rather pay her off immediately and be done with it.

God knew why he’d nourished some faint, foolish hope that she might have wanted anything from him other than money. This was how the world had always worked, and always would. Men sought beautiful women, and women traded their beauty for wealth. He had debased Helen by putting his inferior paws on her, and now she would demand restitution.

He walked around to the other side of his desk, pulled out a drawer, and withdrew a checkbook for a private account. Taking up a pen, he wrote an order for ten thousand pounds. After making a note on the left margin of the book for his own reference, he walked back around to Helen and gave it to her.

“There’s no need for anyone to know where it came from,” he said in a businesslike tone. “If you don’t have a banking account, I’ll see to it that one is opened for you.” No bank would allow a woman to establish an account for herself. “I promise it will be handled discreetly.”

Helen stared at him with bewilderment, and then glanced at the check. “Why would you—” She drew in a swift breath as she saw the amount. Her horrified gaze flew back to his. “Why?” she asked, her breath coming in agitated bursts.

Puzzled by her reaction, Rhys frowned. “You said you wanted to reach an understanding. That’s what it means.”

“No, I meant . . . I meant that I wanted for us to understand each other.” She fumbled to tear the check into tiny pieces. “I don’t need money. And even if I did, I would never ask you for it.” Bits of paper flew through the air like snowflakes.

Stunned, he watched her make short work of the small fortune he’d just given her. A mixture of frustration and embarrassment filled him as he realized that he’d misread her. What the hell did she want from him? Why was she there?

Helen took a long breath, and another, slowly reinflating her composure. She stood and approached him. “There’s been something of a . . . windfall . . . at my family’s estate. We now have means to provide dowries for me and my sisters.”

Rhys stared at her, his face a hard mask, while his brain struggled to take in what she was saying. She had come too close. The light fragrance of her, vanilla and orchids, stole into his lungs with every breath. His body coursed with heat. He wanted her on her back, across his desk—

With an effort, he shoved the lurid image from his mind. Here in the businesslike surroundings of his office, dressed in civilized clothing and polished oxford shoes, he had never felt like more of a brute. Desperate to establish even a small measure of distance between them, he retreated and encountered the edge of the desk. He was forced to resume a half-sitting position while Helen continued to advance, until her skirts brushed gently against his knees.

She could have been a figure in a Welsh fairy tale, a nymph who had formed from the mist off a lake. There was something otherworldly about the delicacy of her porcelain skin, and the arresting contrast between her dark lashes and brows and her silver-blond hair. And those eyes, cool translucence contained in dark rims.

She’d said something about a windfall. What did that mean? An unexpected inheritance? A gift? Perhaps a lucrative investment—although that was unlikely, in light of the Ravenel family’s notorious fiscal irresponsibility. Whatever manner of windfall it was, Helen seemed to believe that her family’s financial troubles were over. If that were true, then any man in London would be hers for the choosing.

She had put her future at risk, coming to him. Her reputation was at stake. He could have ravished her right there in his office, and no one would have lifted a finger to help her. The only thing keeping her safe was the fact that Rhys had no wish to destroy something as lovely and fragile as this woman.

For her sake, he had to remove her from Winterborne’s as quickly and discreetly as possible. With an effort, he looked over her head and focused on a distant point on the wood-paneled wall.

“I’ll escort you from the building through a private exit,” he muttered. “You’ll return home with no one the wiser.”

“I will not release you from our engagement,” Helen said gently.

His gaze shot back to hers, while another of those deep stabs sank into his chest. Helen didn’t even blink, only waited patiently for his response.

“My lady, we both know that I’m the last man you want to marry. From the beginning, I’ve seen your dis gust of me.”

“Disgust?”

Insulted by her feigned surprise, he continued savagely. “You shrink away from my touch. You won’t speak to me at dinner. Most of the time you can’t even bring yourself to look at me. And when I kissed you last week, you pulled away and burst into tears.”

He would have expected Helen to be ashamed at being called out in a lie. Instead, she stared at him earnestly, her lips parted in dismay. “Please,” she eventually said, “you must forgive me. I’m far too shy. I must work harder to overcome it. When I behave that way, it has nothing at all to do with disgust. The truth is, I’m nervous with you. Because . . .” A deep flush worked up from the high neck of her dress to the edge of her hairline. “Because you’re very attractive,” she continued awkwardly, “and worldly, and I don’t wish for you to think me foolish. As for the other day, that . . . that was my first kiss. I didn’t know what to do, and I felt . . . quite overwhelmed.”

Somewhere in the chaos of his mind, Rhys thought it was a good thing he was leaning against the desk. Otherwise, his legs would have buckled. Could it be that what he had read as disdain was actually shyness? That what he’d thought was contempt had been innocence? He felt a splintering sensation, as if his heart were cracking open. How easily Helen had undone him. A few words, and he was ready to fall to his knees before her.

Her first kiss, and he had taken it without asking. There had never been a need for him to play the part of skilled seducer. Women had always been easily available to him, and they had seemed pleased with whatever he cared to do in bed. There had even been ladies now and then: the wife of a diplomat, and a countess whose husband had been away on a trip to the continent. They had praised him for his vigor, his stamina, and his big cock, and they hadn’t asked for anything more.

In body and nature, he was as tough as the slate dug from the flanks of Elidir Fawr, the mountain in Llanberis, where he’d been born. He knew nothing of fine manner or good breeding. There were permanent callouses on his hands from years of building crates and loading merchandise onto delivery wagons. He was easily twice Helen’s weight, and as muscular as a bull, and if he rutted on her the way he had with other women, he would rip her apart without even trying.

Holy hell. What had he been thinking in the first place? He should never have let himself even consider the idea of marrying her. But he had been too blinded by his own ambition—and by Helen’s sweetness and fine-spun beauty—to fully consider the consequences for her.

Bitter with the awareness of his own limitations, he said in a low voice, “It’s water under the bridge, it is. Soon you’ll have your first season, and you’ll meet the man you were meant for. The devil knows it’s not me.” He began to stand, but Helen moved even closer, standing between his spread feet. The hesitant pressure of her hand on his chest sent desire roaring through him. Rhys sank back to the desk weakly, all his strength focused on maintaining his crumbling self-control. He was a terrifying hairsbreadth away from taking her down to the floor with him. Devouring her.

“Will you . . . will you kiss me again?” she asked.

He shut his eyes, panting, furious with her. What a joke Fate had played on him, throwing this fragile creature into his path to punish him for climbing higher than he’d been meant to. To remind him of what he could never become.

“I can’t be a gentleman,” he said hoarsely. “Not even for you.”

“You don’t have to be a gentleman. Only gentle.”

No one had ever asked him for such a thing. To his despair, he realized it wasn’t in him. His hands gripped the edges of the desk until the wood threatened to crack.

“Cariad . . . there’s nothing gentle about how I want you.” He was startled by the endearment that had slipped out, one he had never used with anyone.

He felt Helen touch his jaw, her fingertips delicate spots of cool fire on his skin.

All his muscles locked, his body turning to steel. “Just try,” he heard her whisper. “For me.”

And her soft mouth pressed against his.

An extract from Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

9780349407616Readers have long waited for the return of New York Times bestseller Lisa Kleypas to historical romance, and boy was it worth the wait. Cold-Hearted Rake is one of Lisa’s most breathtaking novels to date, a seductive romp set in rural Devon with scoundrels and rakes aplenty.

To celebrate Regency Week, we’ve got a sneak preview from Chapter One of Cold-Hearted Rake, which is available in print and ebook from 27th October.   

Hampshire, England

August 1875

“The devil knows why my life should be ruined,” Devon Ravenel said grimly, “all because a cousin I never
liked fell from a horse.”
“Theo didn’t fall, precisely,” his younger brother, Weston, replied. “He was thrown.”
“Obviously the horse found him as insufferable as I did.” Devon paced around the receiving room in restless, abbreviated strides. “If Theo hadn’t already broken his damned neck, I’d like to go and break it for him.” West sent him a glance of exasperated amusement.
“How can you complain when you’ve just inherited an earldom that confers an estate in Hampshire, lands in Norfolk, a house in London—”
“All entailed. Forgive my lack of enthusiasm for land and properties that I’ll never own and can’t sell.”
“You may be able to break the entailment, depending on how it was settled. If so, you could sell everything and be done with it.”
“God willing.” Devon glanced at a bloom of mold in the corner with disgust. “No one could reasonably expect me to live here. The place is a shambles.”
This was the first time either of them had ever set foot in Eversby Priory, the ancestral family domain built over the remains of a monastic residence and church. Although Devon had become ennobled shortly after his cousin’s death three months ago, he had waited as long as possible before facing the mountain of problems he now confronted. So far he had seen only this room and the entrance hall, the two areas that were supposed to impress visitors the most. The rugs were worn, the furniture threadbare, the plaster wall moldings dingy and cracked. None of this boded well for the condition of the rest of the house.
“It needs refurbishing,” West admitted.
“It needs to be razed to the ground.”
“It’s not so bad—” West broke off with a yelp as his foot began to sink into a depression in the rug. He hopped away and stared at the bowl-shaped indentation.
“What the deuce . . . ?”
Devon bent and lifted the corner of the rug to reveal a rotting hole in the flooring beneath. Shaking his head, he dropped the rug back into place and went to a window fitted with diamond-shaped panes. The lead came that joined the window glass was corroded, the hinges and fittings rusted.
“Why hasn’t that been repaired?” West asked.
“For want of money, obviously.”
“But how could that be? The estate comes with twenty thousand acres. All those tenants, the annual yields—”
“Estate farming is no longer profitable.”
“In Hampshire?”
Devon sent him a dark glance before returning his attention to the view. “Anywhere.”
The Hampshire scenery was green and bucolic, neatly divided by bottle-green hedgerows in bloom. However, somewhere beyond the cheerful huddles of thatched-roof cottages and the fertile tracts of chalk down and ancient woodland, thousands of miles of steel track were being laid out for an onslaught of locomotive engines and railcars.
All across England, new factories and mill towns had begun to appear faster than hazel catkins in the spring. It had been Devon’s bad luck to inherit a title just as a tide of industry was sweeping away aristocratic traditions and entitled modes of living.
“How do you know?” his brother asked.
“Everyone knows, West. Grain prices have collapsed. When did you last read an issue of the Times? Have you paid no attention to the discussions at the club or the taverns?”
“Not when the subject was farming,” came West’s dour reply. He sat heavily, rubbing his temples. “I don’t like this. I thought we had agreed never to be serious about anything.”
“I’m trying. But death and poverty have a way of making everything seem rather less amusing.” Leaning his forehead against the windowpane, Devon said morosely, “I’ve always enjoyed a comfortable life without having to perform a single day of honest labor. Now I have responsibilities.”
He said the word as if it were a profanity.
“I’ll help you think of ways to avoid them.” Rummaging in his coat, West pulled a silver flask from an inside pocket. He uncapped it and took a long swallow. Devon’s brows lifted.
“Isn’t it a bit early for that? You’ll be stewed by noon.”
“Yes, but it won’t happen unless I start now.” West tilted the flask again. The habits of self-indulgence,
Devon reflected with concern, were catching up with his younger brother. West was a tall and handsome man of four-and-twenty, with a wily intelligence that he preferred to use as seldom as possible. In the past year, an excess of strong drink had lent a ruddy cast to West’s cheeks, and softened his neck and
waistline. Although Devon had made a point of never interfering in his brother’s affairs, he wondered if he should mention something about his swilling. No, West would only resent the unwanted advice.
After replacing the flask in his coat, West steepled his hands and regarded Devon over the tips of his fingers.
“You need to acquire capital, and sire an heir. A rich wife would solve both problems.”
Devon blanched. “You know I’ll never marry.” He understood his limitations: He wasn’t meant to be a husband or father. The idea of repeating the travesty of his childhood, with himself in the role of the cruel and indifferent parent, made his skin crawl. “When I die,” he continued, “you’re next in line.”
“Do you actually believe I’ll outlive you?” West asked.
“With all my vices?”
“I have just as many.”
“Yes, but I’m far more enthusiastic about mine.” Devon couldn’t hold back a wry laugh. No one could have foreseen that the two of them, from a far-flung branch of the Ravenels, would be the last in
a lineage that could be traced back to the Norman Conquest. Unfortunately, Ravenels had always been too hot-blooded and impulsive. They yielded to every temptation, indulged in every sin, and scorned every virtue, with the result that they tended to die faster than they could reproduce. Now there were only two left.
Although Devon and West were wellborn, they had never been part of the peerage, a world so rarefied that the highest levels were impermeable even for minor gentry. Devon knew little of the complex rules and rituals that distinguished aristocrats from the common masses. What he did know was that the Eversby estate was no windfall, but a trap. It could no longer generate enough income to sustain itself. It would devour the modest annual income from his trust, crush him, and then it would finish off his
brother.
“Let the Ravenels come to an end,” Devon said. “We’re a bad lot and always have been. Who will care if the earldom goes extinct?”
“The servants and tenants might object to losing their incomes and homes,” West said dryly.
“They can all go hang. I’ll tell you how what’s to be done: First I’ll send Theo’s widow and sisters packing; they’re of no use to me.”
“Devon—” he heard his brother say uneasily.
“Then I’ll find a way to break the entailment, split the estate apart, and sell it piecemeal. If that’s not possible, I’ll strip the house of everything valuable, tear it down, and sell the stone—”
“Devon.” West gestured to the doorway, where a small, slim woman veiled in black stood at the threshold. Theo’s widow. She was the daughter of Lord Carbery, an Irish peer who owned a stud farm in Glengarrif. She had been married to Theo only three days before he had died. Such tragedy coming on the heels of a customarily joyful event must have been a cruel shock. As one of the last few members of a dwindling family, Devon supposed he should have sent her a letter of sympathy when Theo’s accident
had occurred. But somehow the thought had never translated into action, only stayed in his mind like a bit of lint caught on a coat lapel. Perhaps Devon might have forced himself to send condolences if he hadn’t despised his cousin so much. Life had favored Theo in many ways, gifting him with wealth, privilege, and handsomeness. But instead of being grateful for his good fortune, Theo had always been smug and superior. A bully. Since Devon had never been able to overlook an insult or provocation, he had ended up brawling with Theo whenever they were together. It would have been a lie to say he was sorry that he would never see his cousin again. As for Theo’s widow, she had no need of sympathy. She was young and childless, and she had a jointure, which would make it easy for her to marry again. Although she was reputed to be a beauty, it was impossible to judge; a heavy black veil obscured her in a mist of gloom. One thing was certain: After what she had just overheard, she must think Devon despicable.
He didn’t give a damn.

 

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Come to Me Recklessly: read an extract

His heart was turned off, until she turned him on . . . 

This week we published the intensely hot Come to Me Recklessly by New York Times bestseller A.L. Jackson. If you haven’t yet encountered her Closer to You series, what are you waiting for?

Read on for the prologue below . . .

____

There are few things that hurt so much as a broken heart.

It’s physical.

Intense.

Real.

It doesn’t matter which way you slice it, analyze it, or add it up, you’ll always come up with the exact same sum. The worst part is there is no antidote for this affliction.

They say time mends all things.

I say they are liars.

Maybe time subdues, burying the pain beneath all the new memories we make, tucking it under the burdens and joys and new experiences that life layers on over the years.

But that broken heart?

It’s always right there, lying in wait. Ready to crush you when you’re slammed with that errant, unexpected thought.

But nothing could have prepared me for this— what it would feel like to look up and find him standing inches from me.

From the moment we met, he always had the power to bring me to my knees. I should have known his control over me would never diminish or dim.

I should have known it would only intensify.

Maybe I should have run.

But somewhere inside, I knew he’d never let me get far.

____

Want to know what happens next? Of course you do.

Download Come to Me Recklessly today: https://www.piatkusentice.co.uk/ebooks/come-to-me-recklessly/

Yours Tonight by Joya Ryan: read an extract

We’re hugely excited to be publishing Joya Ryan’s sensationally sexy Yours Tonight on the 5th March, so to whet your appetite here’s an early sneak peek . . . 

‘Maybe if we left and I got these pants off you, I’d be more convinced.’

Okay, that had to be one of the better – worst – lines I’d heard tonight. And, like all the other lines, it wasn’t directed at me.

‘I think I’ll have to show you my tattoo after all then,’ the woman responded. The way she spoke was so confident. Like she was in control of herself and her sexuality, and the man coming on to her was eating it up.

The woman also looked happy.

Not scared in the least.

I took a deep breath, ignoring the flash of envy shooting through my veins, and looked around again.

Waiting.

Tattoo woman and her guy didn’t seem to care that they were all but invading my table in order to better climb all over each other. Mine was a small table wedged against the corner of a packed bar . . . a table for two.

And yet, I sat alone.

I had been there for almost an hour, and was now convinced my ‘blind date’ wasn’t coming. Pulling out my phone, I called my best friend Harper; she was the one who had the great idea to set me up in the first place.

‘Hey, Lana,’ she answered.

‘Hey, so Rick never showed up.’

‘What? He didn’t? I’m sorry. He was an idiot.’

‘Then why did you set me up with him?’

‘Because you need to get out more. Date. Be social. It’s summer, you should be enjoying your freedom.’

Ah, yes, freedom. Too bad all I could think about was the fall and starting grad school in my sleepy town of Golden, a safe twenty miles outside of Denver. Harper was on this kick that I needed to ‘live life,’ to which I politely pointed out that going for my masters in statistics was a plenty thrilling endeavor.

Tattoo girl bumped my table with her butt again, only this time it was because she and Mr Smooth Talker were getting even closer.

‘I think I’ve reached my fun quota for tonight,’ I said, wishing I had driven myself into the city, instead of having Harper drop me off tonight. ‘Can you come get me now?’

‘Yeah, I’m at the office. I just need to finish up a few things. I can be there in an hour.’

I laughed a little. ‘And you tell me to have fun? You’re the one still working on a Friday night.’

‘What was that?’ she teased. ‘You don’t need a ride home?’

‘Yes, I do. I’ll wait. Thank you.’

I glanced around. An hour. Not my ideal scene, but, surely, I’d survive.

I hung up and scrolled through my text messages. My heart skipped when I saw my dad had finally texted me back about my suggestion for lunch tomorrow. But that skip didn’t last long, since it was a polite way to say:

Sorry, Pumpkin, can’t tomorrow. Next week?

At least he used a colon and parenthesis after the rejection to soften the blow. Text jargon or not, it was a smile from my father, so I’d take it.

Running a few fingers through my brunette curls, I tried to smooth away a little of the anxiety creeping up. One hour. Two words that were growing a little daunting. I pulled out my phone one more time and texted my dad back.

I know it’s a little late, but can I come over and hang out for an hour until Harper can pick me up? I’m kind of stranded in the city.

And send. My dad only lived a mile away. Twenty minute walk, max. Though his wife wasn’t my biggest fan, it was better than sitting alone in a busy bar. Maybe not better, but the lesser of two evils. My phone dinged and excitement raced. That was quick!

I smiled and read:

Sorry, Pumpkin, busy night tonight.

My smile faded, and I put my phone on the table and sat back in my seat. Looking down at my simple summer dress, I felt the same thing I’d felt a thousand times growing up, while I waited around for my dad to swoop in and save the day:

Invisible.

When the couple bumped me again, apparently I wasn’t the only one they annoyed. A guy standing next to them started yelling. Before I comprehended what was going on, a fist was thrown, and the two men were in a fight. One of them knocked against my table so hard it spilled my water all over me, and I gasped in fear and put my arms over my face like an ‘X.’

My nerves went into overdrive from the shock of what had just happened. Mentally chanting to myself to calm down, I slowly lowered my arms and saw a large man in a white T-shirt throwing himself between the two fighting men and, along with the bouncer, kicking them toward the exit.

They’re gone, I told myself, trying to get a handle on my breathing. The water had hit me straight on, and covered my stomach and lap. I did my best to blot the wetness with my napkin, shaking my head. I shouldn’t have even come tonight. I should have stayed home, like usual.

Two more months and I’d start grad school in Golden and not have to come back to the city for any reason, other than my parttime job working at my dad’s financial service company. A job I was doing so well at that I had been bumped up to thirty hours a week, now that summer was here. If I kept up this pace, logged my hours at his company, and succeeded at grad school, he’d hire me on as an account lead. Finally, he’d give me the chance to build toward the dream he’d hammered into me since I was a kid. Family business. Sure, it was a small, struggling business he’d started back when I was a kid, but when he married Anita, she and her money put my dad in the black. I may be the dirty, poor step-child, but I was still his, and whether Anita liked it or not, I was determined to be a person he’d be proud of.

People were already over the fight and back to enjoying themselves.

At least their eyes weren’t on me anymore, but I was soaked and now getting cold.

‘Excuse me?’ A deep, raspy voice said. I looked up to find a tall, chiseled man with the darkest eyes I’d ever seen, staring down at me. ‘Are you alright?’

‘I, ah . . . ’ I looked down at the front of my damp dress and blotted again. It was no use. The thin fabric was clinging to my thighs, making me very uncomfortable.

‘Here,’ he said, shrugging out of his jacket and placing it on my shoulders. It smelled of spice and leather. I tried to work a breath out, but it was no use. Between the sudden heat of his jacket enveloping me and the sight of his obviously broad chest and hard torso, I found it difficult to make my mouth move.

I didn’t know if it was the rush of the fight I’d witnessed followed by the cold water, but whatever it was, my body was confused and prickling with heat while flushing with goose bumps.

‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ he asked, his onyx gaze roaming over my entire body.

When he began to roll up the sleeves of his white button-up shirt, I watched transfixed. His forearms flexed a little as he moved to the other cuff. The way his long fingers worked the material, exposing tan skin as he went, made me wonder how the simple act of rolling up his sleeves could be sexy.

Trailing my gaze up, I took in every edge of his face. With a five o’clock shadow that matched his black hair, he looked exotic. Powerful. What must it be like to be a man like him? A person with so much confidence it radiated in every tiny movement. What would someone have to do to obtain that kind of essence?

Without knowing the answer to that, I’d likely sign up. Because whatever Kool-Aid this guy drank, I wanted some. Bad.

Harper told me once that prey could recognize predators and, while most run, some go into shock from the predator’s power. I think she had been on her third shot of tequila and was only half listening to the Animal Planet episode that was on, but it made some sense.

True or not. I felt like prey, transfixed by a predator. And I didn’t have the good sense to flee just yet.

Want more? Of course you do. Yours Tonight will be available to download from Thursday 5th March.

Read an extract from Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover is the fabulous final installment in Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series. We’ve got an exclusive extract for you to read.

What’s more, if you share this extract by clicking the button below, you’ll unlock an EXCLUSIVE interview Sarah conducted with the Scoundrels. It’s well worth it, we promise. Go ahead, read, share and enjoy!

Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover by Sarah MacLean – Chapter One

A delightful prequel to Terri Nixon’s Maid of Oaklands Manor

  Today, Terri Nixon shares with us a very special and exclusive, never before seen prequel ,to Maid of Oaklands Manor.

 

March 1912.                                     

‘Getting off at Breckenhall?’ the woman asked me, her voice cutting easily through the rising din of excitable children. The train carriage was packed, with the youngsters climbing all over each other and their luggage, and this woman clearly had no intention of taming their behaviour. Why would she, when she was able to ignore them with such practiced ease?

I nodded. It probably looked rude, but my grainy eyes just wanted to close, and open again to find myself back home in Plymouth. Instead all I could see were bobbing heads, and the rapidly flashing tops of trees through the window. It was starting to make me feel sick.

‘Going into service?’ the woman persisted.

I nodded again, and managed, ‘Oaklands.’

Immediately the woman’s mouth tightened. ‘Hmm. Them up at the manor … well, they’re ones to watch, if you ask me.’

I hadn’t intended to do any such thing, but now she had my reluctant attention. Ma had worked at Oaklands for years, and been very happy doing so; she’d never once suggested the Creswells were anything but a normal, if extraordinarily wealthy, family. Cheshire royalty.

‘What do you mean, ones to watch?’ I could have kicked myself, but it was too late to take the question back now.

The woman sniffed, and shifted her position in her seat so that her back was turned to the only other adult in the carriage. I leaned forward, forgetting my queasiness and tiredness for a moment, and her eyes narrowed. ‘Lord Henry Creswell. Him that died in Africa?’

‘Yes?’

The woman paused with her mouth slightly open, then shook her head. ‘No. It’s not for me to say.’

‘I’m sure you’re going to, nevertheless.’ The words had popped out before I had chance to bite them back, and I saw her plump face darken. She abruptly remembered she had the care of six children, who were currently entertaining themselves by pinching one another to see who could elicit the loudest shout, and she turned to admonish them. They paid as much attention to her as she had so far been doing to them, and I looked away, suppressing a smile.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said after a moment, ‘I’m just a bit tired. It’s been a long journey.’

The woman thawed slightly, and nodded. She abandoned her charges to their own devices once more, and settled back in her own seat.  ‘I understand, pet. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be right as rain. Oh, but watch out for their kitchen maid, Ruth. She’s no better than she ought to be.’

‘Thank you, I’ll remember that.’ It seemed the right thing to say.

‘What’s your job to be? Lady’s maid?’

I shook my head. ‘Nothing so grand, I’m afraid. I’m replacing a girl called Mercy, as scullery maid.’

‘Well, she’s always had her nose in the air when it should be in the grate,’ the woman opined. ‘Scullery maid was never good enough for her.’

‘So, that’s the Creswells, the kitchen maid and the scullery maid,’ I mused. ‘Is there anyone there I might like, do you think?’

The woman eyed me sharply, and didn’t answer. This time I made no apology, although I did feel a glimmer of guilt for the way I’d spoken. My tiredness returned with a crash. All I wanted was to get off the train, and leave this woman and her squabbling brood; she was clearly nothing more than the local gossip, and knew far less than she pretended to.

The train rattled into Breckenhall station and I took my leave with a polite smile –  which wasn’t returned – and a huge sense of relief, as I stepped onto the platform and the noise faded into the background. But as I turned my feet towards the road leading out of town, and towards Oaklands Manor, I saw that sudden tightening of the woman’s face again, and heard her words of warning, and I wondered …

Terri Nixon’s Maid of Oaklands Manor is available from Piatkus now!

 

 

Terri Nixon and Maid of Oaklands Manor

Terri Nixon, author of Maid of Oaklands Manor, introduces us to Jack Carlisle, the man who will steal Lizzy’s heart. Here, in this exclusive extract, we see just what the housekeeper thinks of Jack . .  .

March 1912.

It was no good, there was something about him … Mrs Cavendish tried to keep her attention on Lady Creswell’s instructions, and her pen made the necessary notes, born of long practice and an innate awareness of the household’s needs, but more than half her attention was on the man sitting quietly in the corner of the room. Why did he insist on spending all his free time here? His promise to Lord Henry had been honoured; he’d taken good care of the family after His Lordship had died in ’02, but it was past time to be getting back to his own life, surely?

She was well aware that most of the younger ladies were happy to ignore his rather shady behaviour; those dark blue eyes and strong features made willing fools of them, but not her. A smile, a friendly word from his quiet, northern-accented voice, and silly girls came over all blushes and chattering, but Jack Carlisle’s undeniable charms only made the housekeeper more suspicious; why had he no wife, no family? And where did he go, when he left Oaklands for long stretches at a time, if he’d no home of his own to tend to?

‘So that will be four extra for dinner,’ Lady Creswell was saying, and from the the corner of her eye Mrs Cavendish saw Mr Carlisle’s dark brows draw down in a frown; no love was spared between him and the obnoxious Wingfields, which should have gone some way to soothing her mistrust of the man, but it didn’t. And his reaction proved he was always listening, whether he appeared to be or not. She gave a little shiver.

‘Four,’ she repeated, noting it down. ‘Will that be all then?’

‘Unless you have any business you’d like to discuss?’

Mrs Cavendish put down her notebook. ‘Aye, well, it’s only that we’re still short-handed in the scullery. Is there any word on a replacement yet?’

‘Ah!’ Lady Creswell opened her desk drawer and pulled out a letter. ‘I have withdrawn the advertisement, since I received a rather fortuitous message from Jane Parker, who worked here a good while ago.’

‘I don’t remember the name, Your Ladyship.’

‘She left shortly before you came, I think. She married a miner and moved to the West Country. Anyway, her daughter is looking for a position, and Jane’s work was exemplary, so I have agreed to take the girl without interview. She arrives next week.’

‘What’s her name?’

‘Mary Parker.’

‘Well we’ll have to change that, can’t have two Marys running around,’ Mrs Cavendish said, scribbling down the name. ‘I’ll arrange that with her when she arrives.’

‘Very well, thank you.’ Lady Creswell closed her accounts book and the daily audience was over. ‘Good morning.’

Mrs Cavendish rose. ‘Thank you, Your Ladyship.’ She turned to leave, and Mr Carlisle raised his head from his book.

‘Good morning, Mrs Cavendish,’ he said, and smiled. Mrs Cavendish nodded, but didn’t return the smile; he would bear very close watching. She pulled the door closed behind her, and stood in the great hallway, her eyes roving over the paintings of former lords and ladies of Oaklands Manor … they looked down at her with tranquil familiarity, but Mrs Cavendish had the unsettling idea that a dark change was coming, and that Mr Jack Carlisle was going to be at the heart of it.

Maid of Oaklands Manor by Terri Nixon celebrates its one year anniversary! It is available from Piatkus now!