Posts Tagged ‘new adult’

Welcome to Piatkus, Lia Riley!

This Summer, Autumn and Winter we are publishing the fantastic debut New Adult series, Off the Map, written by Lia Riley! Starting off on the sandy beaches of Santa Cruz, California, this series follows Natalia on her study abroad year in Australia and what happens when she meets the activist, surfer and fellow run-away Bran.  Read on for more on the first in the series, Upside Down . . .

 

 

If you never get lost, you’ll never be found . . .

Twenty-one-year-old Natalia Stolfi is saying goodbye to painful memories—and turning her life upside down with a trip to the land down under. For the next six months, she’ll pretend to be a carefree exchange student. Everything is going to plan until she meets a surly surfer with hypnotic green eyes, and the troubling ability to see straight through her act.

Bran Lockhart is having the worst year on record. After the girl of his dreams turned into a nightmare, he slunk back to Melbourne to piece his life together. Yet no amount of disappointment could blind him to the pretty California girl who gets past all his defenses. He’s never wanted anyone the way he wants Talia. A single semester abroad won’t cover something this serious. But when Bran gets a stark reminder of why he stopped believing in love, he and Talia must decide if what they have is once in a lifetime . . . or if they were meant to live a world apart.

Upside Down gave me all the feels. Romantic and poignant, the journey of love and acceptance lingers long after the book is closed’

– Jennifer L. Armentrout/J. Lynn, # 1 New York Times bestselling author

 

Upside Down is published August 5th 2014, followed by Sideswiped on October 7th and Inside Out on December 5th! Paperbacks follow in 2015!

Stay tuned for more exciting details, messages from Lia and the opportunity to get involved in Nat and Bran’s world down-under . . .

BONUS CONTENT!! – Tate and Jared

Be still our beating little hearts!! Penelope Douglas has provided us with bonus content with a dual (yes DUAL!) POV! Jared and Tate, the stars of Bully and Until You, are back in this special Valentine’s Day scene. Read it as a companion to their two full-length books or, if you’re a first time Penelope Douglas reader, a teaser to get you hooked! It’s full of Penelope’s brilliant characterization and scintillating sexual energy!

 

Tate

“So where’s Jared?” K.C. asked as she propped her elbows up on the counter and peered down at me.

I rolled my eyes and turned back to the rows of bowling shoes I was putting away. “Well, obviously since I’m working, K.C., he’s not here. We celebrated Valentine’s last night.” I stuffed the shoes into their cubbies, keeping my back to her.

“Mrow! You’re touchy. What’s up?”

Standing up, I dusted off my black pants and turned around to face her. K.C. worked next door at the movie theater, and I’d been working at the bowling alley since November. She made it a point to come in on days when I worked, either on breaks or after her shift. I kind of wondered if she came over in the hopes of seeing someone other than me.

“Nothing.” I shrugged my shoulders and tightened my ponytail. “Jared took Jax out of town with him on family business.” I paused to make air quotes around “family business”. “And I offered to work for Lacey, since she wanted the night off with her boyfriend.” I quickly glanced at K.C. before looking away again, too afraid she’d see my aggravation. “It’s fine.”

“Fine?” She repeated in a flat voice as if confirming she heard me right. Her big brown eyes stared at me disbelieving.

“Yes. Fine.” I dismissed her and walked down the aisle behind the counter. I was trying to keep calm. Ever since last fall, I realized I had a –shall we say—anger problem. I took deep breaths, I started yoga, and I tried not jumping to conclusions. Right now, I focused on the thunder of bowling balls charging down their path and the clatter of pins crashing together.

I liked bowling alleys. It was a constant thunderstorm.

I heard K.C. slap her hand down on the counter. “Tatum Brandt. Your boyfriend goes out of town with his whore of a brother—on Valentine’s Day, no less—and you aren’t even slightly aggravated?”

“’Whore?’ That’s pretty harsh.” I smiled and almost laughed, forgetting my anger for a moment.

She was wrong. Jax wasn’t a whore. Not in the way Jared had been, at least.

But he was getting lots of attention.

Now that Jared was off the market, the girls at school welcomed the new Trent with open arms and open…everything. They looked at him like he was a toy—something to play with–and I could tell it pissed Jax off big time.

Jax didn’t like women that were controlling. In the few months he’d lived with Jared and Katherine, I’d only seen him go for the shy ones. The quiet ones.

The good girls.

Kenzie, the pretty and studious vice president, never knew what hit her.

“No,” I continued. “I’m not aggravated with Jared. I trust him. I’m just disappointed. If he says he had to go out of town, then he had to go out of town.”

“Well, he lied to you.” She said matter-of-factly.

I straightened my back, exhaling through my nose. “K.C. Knock it off.”

I looked over at her as she smoothed her long, dark brown hair and adjusted her bowtie—part of her theater uniform.

“I’m telling you…” She nodded. “He lied. He didn’t go out of town on family business.”

“And how do you know?”

She broke out in a huge smile. “Because he’s walking this way.” She almost laughed it out in her excitement, and my eyes went wide as I darted my gaze behind her.

Jared and Jax walked side by side down the red and gold carpet between the lanes and the concessions stands, straight for me.

What the hell?

My whole face tingled, seeing the corner of his mouth turned up in that I-really-want-to-smile-but-I’m-too-cool way that turns me the hell on.

His eyes glowed. My knees went weak.

His dark gray t-shirt draped loosely at the waist but tighter in the chest and arms, and my eyes burned when I realized I wasn’t blinking.

And when he winked at me? Holy shit.

I snap my mouth shut before I start drooling.

Who is this girl? Every damn day I want him more! I’m supposed to be getting tired of him. Bored. Isn’t that how relationships work? We start arguing over our little quirks?

But no. I’m like a stupid, little puppy still panting away over my boyfriend after five months. I ogle him. I fantasize about him. And the little bastard knows it, too. He tries crooking his finger in the lunchroom to get me to come.

I don’t obey, but man, I want to.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.” He hops up on the counter, swings his legs over and jumps down.

“Happy—” His mouth crashes down on mine, cutting me off. His lips are smooth and refreshingly cold from the February chill outside, and I eat up his cinnamon taste. Backing me up, his hands stay on my hips as he guides us through the swinging door to the back room. I barely register Jax’s voice.

“Hi.”

And then K.C. mumbled something about unsupervised children not being allowed in the bowling alley.

Then they were gone. Jared’s breath is in my ear, kissing a trail across my cheek.

“I thought you went out of town.” I closed my eyes, running my hands up his arms.

“On Valentine’s Day?” He puts his nose to mine. “How many times do I have to tell you? Where I go, you go.”

He leans in again, devouring my mouth and taking my ass in both of his hands. As he yanks me into him, our hips come together, and I groan.

Son of a bitch. Everything is warm, and my muscles tingle with a sweet weakness. I have no idea how I’ll get through medical school with Jared around.

I grab the back of his neck and push into him, pressing my lips into his and my body molding to his every curve.

He lifts me up and on the counter, deepening the kiss.

I pull back. “Wait, wait. Don’t get too hot. I’m still working.”

He doesn’t even pause as he starts kissing my neck. “K.C.’s taking your shift,” he whispers. “Well, actually your co-workers are and K.C. will help out. You have two hours before curfew, so you’re coming with me.”

I thread my fingers through his hair. “Where are you taking me? The lake?” Our usual private spot for… privacy.

His head pops up, and he narrows his eyes at me. “No, I’m done with that.” He fists my red necktie—part of my uniform–and wraps it around his hand, slowly bringing us nose to nose. “We’ve been sneaking around for months as if your dad doesn’t know we’re going to find some way to have sex. I’ve had enough.”

Chills spread up my neck and down my arms. I clear my throat. “Jared, I’m sure he knows we’re finding the time. It doesn’t mean he’s going to support it.”

He kisses my nose and between my eyes. “Well, I’m sick of it. My car, your car, my garage last week.

Rushing around between the end of school and him getting home from work. It’s ridiculous, and we’re not doing it anymore.”

Okay, now he was scaring me. “So what does that mean?” I pulled back.

He smiled. I mean smiled smiled. To where I actually saw teeth.“It means I’ve got a present for the both of us. Come on.”

He grabbed my hand, and I hopped off the counter.

***

We drove for a while. Jax had brought his car, opting to stay at the bowling alley, so Jared and I headed to the other side of town. Houses started getting bigger, city lights started getting dimmer, and Jared remained silent, only nodded his head ever so slightly to Alice in Chains’ Would?

He pulled up the Boss to a huge black gate and punched in a six digit code while my heart started pounding in my ears.

What was all this?

I didn’t ask, but—damn—I was intrigued. We were heading into the Seven Hills community, which I’d heard of but never been and Jared had the gate code?

The drive dipped, and we rode down a well-lit avenue lined in trees and tall hedges protecting the privacy of the houses behind them. Jared slowed and turned into a black brick driveway.

Holy crap!

My eyes couldn’t take in everything fast enough. The house—and I use that term loosely—sat bright and huge in front of us. It looked almost French in its architecture, but not over the top in its grandeur. The brickwork was light colored—beige, mauve, off white—while the trim was painted in deep red. Lights were everywhere. On the sides of door, over windows and in a few rooms of the house.

“Jared, whose house is this?” I asked as he pulled onto another driveway off to the side of the house.

“Madoc’s.” He put the car in neutral, set the e-brake and killed the engine “Wait here.”

Climbing out of the car, Jared rounded the front and came over to open my door.

“How did I not know Madoc was this rich?” I mumbled more to myself as he helped me out of the car.

“I think Madoc likes to forget that fact.” He laughed under his breath. He led as we walked hand in hand further along the side of the house. Brick stairs led up the side toward the rear, and I followed behind, completely confused as he pulled keys out of his pocket. I had no idea what was going on, but I had no idea what to ask next.

“This part of the house is closed off from the rest,” Jared said back to me. “There’s another door into this room, but no one comes to this side of the…um…”

“Mansion?” I offered.

“Yeah.” He unlocked the door at top.

We walked in slowly but immediately I felt different. The smell of new things, furniture polish, the leather in a car, and the faint smell of cologne filled my lungs, and I felt warm all over.

Jared turned on the dim overhead lighting and switched on a lamp, all creating a soft glow in the very masculine bedroom. The walls looked freshly painted a very light tan color, the hardwood floors were accented with a spotless beige rug, and the king-sized bed was adorned with pillows big enough for me to lay my body on. A rustic, stone fireplace sat along one wall, and I couldn’t remember ever feeling so safe and comfortable in a room before.

I realized that while I’d been absorbing every nook and cranny, Jared had stopped moving.

“It’s beautiful.” I locked eyes with him. “Almost like a cave.”

He leaned against the dresser, watching me. I shifted my eyes to his left and noticed a picture of us at

Homecoming last fall sitting pretty in a black frame.

Wait a minute.

Heading to the chest of drawers, I yanked on one of the handles and spotted some of Jared’s clothes.

Opening another drawer, I saw some t-shirts.

I had to force back my smile before I turned to face him. His eyes were waiting, But I could see the smile inside.

“So…” I started, “you have clothes here. And some T-shirts for me. We have keys and a gate code. This is our room, isn’t it?” I guessed.

He inhaled deeply and pushed off the dresser. “Madoc’s parents are always gone, and we’re going to be here a lot this summer with all of his parties. There’s not much I can do about your curfew, but at least now we have our own space. With a lot of privacy and comfort.”

“And a bed,” I added.

“It’s not about that.” He blinked. “Well, it kind of is.”

I met him halfway and wrapped my arms around his waist.

“I’m just done with quickies and sneaking around, Tate. It feels like we’re doing something dirty.”

“Oh, we are,” I waggled my eyebrows and whispered before snatching his bottom lip between my teeth.

He sucked in a breath, and we nibbled at each other in short, soft kisses. Lifting me up, I wrapped my legs around this waist and moved my hands over his shoulders and onto his back.

“Ugh,” he grunted, pinching up his face, and that’s when I noticed the slight ridges and crinkly sound coming from underneath his shirt. It felt like a plastic bag.

“What is that?”

He laughed out his nose. It looked like his teeth were clenching together. “Your other present,” he forced out.

Lifting up his shirt, I pulled it over his head and lost my breath when I saw his shoulder wrapped up in a plastic, black bag secured with medical tape.

“Jared!” What the hell was this?

“It’s okay. It’s just a tattoo. Help me take off the wrapping.”

I followed him into the bathroom, and that’s when I saw it.

The rest of the tattoo.

“That’s why I had to come up with a story of being unavailable tonight.,” he explained as I helped him take off the tape and bag, throwing the trash into the sink. “I needed to buy time. Aura was taking longer with the tattoo than I anticipated, and she couldn’t finish until tonight. It took 5 sittings. I was going to surprise you at home, but then you picked up a shift, and I had to get K.C. and your work friends to help get you out of there early.”

Jesus. My mouth went dry, and I could only stand there.

His back was to the bathroom mirror, and I faced him, studying the image in his reflection. It was unmistakable.

It was our tree. Down to the last branch.

The trunk travelled up the right of his back, and then the branches and leaves started spreading out about halfway up. Some of the leaves went over his shoulder and down the back of his arm. It was all in black, and my stomach felt like it sat in my feet.

I could barely speak. “Jared. You’re beautiful.”

***

JARED

 

Beautiful?I laughed to myself. It wasn’t really the look I was going for, but I guess a tree tattoo wasn’t that badass.

Tate always saw what she wanted to see in me, and I loved it. I still didn’t see the man I wanted when I looked in the mirror, but every day I felt better and better about who I was.

The tree was for her, and it was for me. I wanted my scars covered, and I wanted to take the tree with us to New York in the fall. Aura saw a picture and took no time drawing it up and getting started. It had cost a lot of time away from Tate and some stealth maneuvering, so that she never saw my back, but it worked. Aura saved the last part for today. The part that I wouldn’t be able to hide from Tate that traveled down my arm and over my shoulder. The skin still burned to the touch, but there was no way I was telling her not to touch me tonight.

“Enough talking.” I reached out and grabbed her hip, pulling her to me. “We haven’t showered together since your birthday, and we only have an hour left.”

“Why? Do you have somewhere to be?” She leaned into my ear and whispered. “Because my dad texted two hours ago that he had to hop a plane to Colorado on business until Tuesday.”

My nerves fired, and my eyes widened. “Hell, yes!” I took no time scooping her up and planting a fat kiss right on her mouth.

She pulled back and pointed her finger at me. “You’re not allowed inside the house, though.”

“I don’t want inside the house. I want inside you. Right now and at 2am or whenever the hell I feel like it tonight.”

The idea of waking up next to her in the morning, or—hell—even in the middle of the night, and having what I want right there made me feel all kinds of selfish, but I didn’t care.

I loosened her necktie, and pulled it over her head while she unbuttoned her white dress shirt. In no time at all, she’d shed her bra, too, and I pulled her naked chest against mine, feeling the very familiar fire pool in my dick. I had three levels of horny-ness. 1. Eh, I can if I want to. 2. Wow, I wish Tate was around. 3.

Now.

And with Tate naked, it was always a 3.

I unbuttoned her black pants and slipped my hands inside the back, cupping her ass and bringing her to me like glue. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I ignored the slight discomfort on my back.

Who the hell cared?

“Are your shots up to date?” I asked in between kisses.

“Yeah,” she gasped out as I took her breast in my hand and nibbled her neck. “Jared. So much time now.

What will we do?” she teased, rubbing me through my pants.

Shit.

I squeezed my eyes shut and hot air poured in and out of my nose.Backing us up, I opened the shower door and turned the knob. Two shower heads sprayed water from both sides, filling the small area with thick steam. I pulled away from her but kept my eyes trained on her panting face. Her cheeks were flushed, and her lips glistened. She’d taken out her ponytail, and I could see her nipple peeking out of her hair. God, she was beautiful.

All fire and passion. All mine.

Yanking off my belt, I tossed it and tore out of the rest of my clothes. She did the same with her pants and backed into the shower, not losing my eyes for minute. I probably looked like the lion stalking its prey, but that wasn’t it. She was the predator luring me in.

Closing the door behind me, I watched her watch me as she leaned against the shower wall, waiting for me. Even though Tate was the one in control, she always let me feel like I was hunting her. I loved that.Pressing the length of my body against hers, every muscle tingled with chills. I was warm and high.

Lifting her leg, I held it at my hip and put my fingers between her legs, rubbing long, slow strokes as I looked down at her. Tate preferred my cock to my fingers inside of her, but she loved to be rubbed.Slow.

Always slow.

So slow that I could see the exact moment when her body started to lose control, and it was addictive. Her breathing dipped, and she almost lost eye contact when her lids fluttered.

The water poured around our legs, and the steam made our bodies stick together. The air was thick and hot. I used the tip of my tongue to lick her bottom lip. “Fuck my hand, Tate,” I whispered against her mouth.

She moaned, and her eyes closed as she grasped my shoulders and started rocking herself against my hand. Soft and slow at first. Then the friction started getting harder. She pushed against my palm rougher and faster, more demanding. I felt her wet against my fingers.

She grabbed onto my hand, and I hooked her at the neck, tasting her lips and feeling her orgasm spring up from her throat and echo into mine. She shook and rocked against my hand, slowing down more and more. I swear I could hear her heart pounding.

“Goddamn, Tate,” I gasped out as she shuddered against my body. Pulling up her other knee, I guided her legs around my waist, and pushing her into the wall, I slammed inside of her.

“Ahh,” she cried out again. “Jared,” she whimpered.

I grasped her thighs hard, probably leaving bruises, but she felt so good.

We’d stopped using condoms two months ago. I got tested, she got on birth control, and we never looked back. After that first time without one, there was no way in hell I wanted to go back to using them. Feeling her, not having that barrier between us, was as close to heaven as I’d ever get.

“I like it when you moan my name.” I took her bottom lip between my teeth and drew it out while I slid in and out of her. “You’ve been turning my world upside down for eight years. I can’t get enough of you.”

“Never enough.” She brought her mouth to mine, covering my lips. Her tongue tasted mine and darted out to flick my lip.

Never enough.

***

I blinked awake in the nearly pitch black room to my phone beeping. Looking at the clock on the bedside of table, I saw that it was just after one in the morning. Tate and I had only been asleep for about an hour.

Grabbing my phone, I opened a text from Jax.

Home, it said.

I smiled to myself, surprised by how much him being safe comforted me and by how quickly he’d come to think of my house as his home.

I had started asking him to check in with me, just to let me know where he was. Since Tate and I had gotten together, Jax and Madoc had grown closer, and who knew what trouble they’d get into together.

I shot a text back. “Madoc?”

“Should be home. He left the bowling alley an hour ago.”

Awesome. At least Tate and I had been asleep by that time, so he wouldn’t have heard anything.

“‘Night.” I texted and put my phone down.

Rolling over and sitting up, I saw that Tate was turned onto her stomach and hugging a pillow underneath her body. She was faced away from me, but I could see the soft moonlight coming through the windows landing across her face and naked back. The sheet sat at her waist. Peering over, I smiled at her relaxed features and swollen lips.

Even though I knew I should just let her sleep, I leaned down on my elbow and ran my other hand up and down her back. I couldn’t not touch her. Like hard candy that I could suck on nonstop or an ice cream cone that I wanted to lick, Tate was food. After only a few months together, there was no part of her body that I didn’t have memorized. I knew that she liked sex in the mornings, that running my fingers through her hair immediately melted her, and that her sweat was the only perfume I wanted her to wear.

Getting up on my hands and one knee, I leaned over her, straightening my other leg over her sleeping ones and began…not leaving her alone. Coming down on her back, I touched the tip of my tongue to her skin and left a moist trail up her spine.

She squirmed. “Baby…” she mumbled, her words muffled by the pillow.

“I want you,” I breathed out, and sliding the sheet down off of her, I opened my mouth and took her ass between my lips and teeth.

“Jared!” she yelped and whipped her head up. “What…?”

But she trailed off when I continued nibbling and kissing, and her head fell back down to the pillow.

“You awake now?” I taunted. I’m sure she heard the smile in my voice.

She sucked in air through her teeth, tensing up her body, looking like she was in pleasure or in pain.

I got my answer when she suddenly squirmed off the bed, and I had to rear back to avoid her kicks as she landed on the floor.

“It’s ticklish,” she squealed. “And it freaks me out.”

My stomach swam with flutters, and I laughed. “I didn’t actually bite you. At least not hard.”

Her eyes darted down to the extreme hardness between my legs, and I raised my eyebrows at her. She looked so cute, legs drawn up to her chest and leaning back on her hands, looking at me like she was ready to run.

“Are you going to take care of this or what?” I gestured to my cock, purposely trying to act like a dick.

What can I say? Tate and I had a weird kind of foreplay.

She pushed herself off of the floor and grabbed the white bed sheet, wrapping it around her body.

“My ass is a “no” area,” she stately firmly, looking at me with her big blue eyes and a lot of fear.

“A “no” area?”

“Yes. Your hands are fine. But not your mouth or…” she stuttered, gesturing up and down my body, “anything else. Got it?”

I smirked, teasing her with mischievous eyes. “What else could I possibly do to you there?”

Her eyes dropped, and she moved her lips left to right, thinking. I chuckled, climbing off the end of the bed and slipping on some black pajama pants I’d left on the floor.

“No part of you is off limits to me, Tatum,” I warned with a grin, and I immediately saw her eyes flare at the mention of her full name that she hated. “Come over here. Now.”

She didn’t. She launched herself across the bed, and bolted for the bathroom. I moved like a bullet, darting after her so she wouldn’t have a chance to lock me out.

“Nooooo,” she screamed and laughed at the same time as I caught her against the sink counter.

This was how Tate and I played. I knew she wouldn’t come when I ordered. She never did. She gave chase, and I always followed.

And she knew I had no intention of trying to put my dick anywhere new on her tonight. I’d never done that before, and that made me happy. Since I hadn’t been able to give Tate my virginity, at least I could say she was my first with that. Someday.

But damn, I loved her excitement and how she kept me on my toes. She breathed hard, looking at me with fire and a challenge in her eyes while she gripped the sheet tightly around her body.

I stepped forward, backing her into the sink counter.

“Absolutely not.” She shook her head, looking at me like I was crazy. “No anal for me.”

I exhaled a laugh. “I’m not asking for anal, moron,” I joked. “I never did. That’s your overactive imagination at work. But I do want something.”

We were chest to chest, and the low counter had to be biting into her thighs, but I didn’t move. Looking down at her flushed face and stormy eyes, I got hard simply breathing in her scent.

Leaning down, I held her head under her ear and devoured her hot neck, feeling her go limp next to me. I took that opportunity to pull the sheet from her body and throw it to the floor.

She had enough time to yell, “Jared!” before I hauled her up and set her down on the counter, securing her arms behind her back.

Maneuvering myself between her legs, I smiled down at her like the cocky asshole I couldn’t help being.

“Jared, seriously? Let me go.” She struggled against my hands, squirming against my already hard dick, and I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to steady myself.

She wasn’t really trying to get away either, because I knew I wasn’t holding her that tightly.

“We were in this position once before. Remember?” I asked, our lips almost touching as she looked up at me. “I always wondered what would’ve happened if you hadn’t pushed me away.”

She rolled her eyes. “It had already gone far enough. I should’ve pushed you off immediately.”

I rubbed my nose against hers and let go over hands, placing mine one the counter at her sides. “I’m glad you didn’t. Nothing tasted better than you, and I finally knew what I wanted and needed. It’s what love tastes like.”

Grabbing hold of her, one hand at her neck and one hand on her waist, I brought my mouth down on hers and pulled her against me.

Her knees arched up, and her feet rubbed the backs of my thighs, while her hands slowly roamed. My chest, my back, sliding under the back of my pajama pants…

She pulled back and gasped, “I love you.” And then her mouth was back again. Tate’s chest rubbed against mine, and her hard nipples grazing my skin were like streams of fire trailing to my groin.

Standing up straight and pulling away from her lips, I gently pushed her back on the counter so that her head and shoulders rested against the mirror, and then I dived into her chest, sucking the soft skin of her breasts. Her hands threaded through my hair, her knees reared up, and her back arched as she moaned.

“Now, Jared. Right here.”

Wrapping my hands around her thighs, I pulled her to the edge of the counter and then pushed my pants down over my ass.

Positioning myself at her entrance with one hand and leaning on the mirror behind her head with the other, I looked at her watching me with arched eyebrows. She was rolling her hips against my cock like she couldn’t help herself.

The corner of my mouth turned up. “Love you, too.” And I slipped inside of her, feeling chills erupt over my body as she arched her back again and let out a low moan.

I started slow at first. She was in an awkward position, and I hoped she wasn’t uncomfortable. The set up was great for me, though. I was buried to the hilt, and I bared my teeth as I breathed, fucking loving how good this felt. The counter was the perfect height, and through the mirror I could see her hands gripping my biceps.

With one hand still flat on the mirror and the other at her waist, I upped the pace, faster and faster. She was so damn wet, and I moved in and out of her, feeling like I was losing more breath than I was taking in.

“Tate, can I—”

“Faster.” She knew what I was going to ask. “Go faster.” She squeezed her eyes shut, and I let loose, pounding into her and eating up every whimper and gasp of hers like the food it was.

Pumping inside of her, my hips slamming against hers, I groaned at the sweet rush of blood between my legs. Nothing had ever felt as good as this, and I wanted to fuck her until she could barely walk.

Her insides tightened around me, contracting and releasing, and she bit down on her lip.

“Let it out, babe,” I grunted, my head hanging next to my propped up arm and a drop of sweat running down my temple. “You’re so tight. And so damn wet for me. Let me hear you come.”

She cried out, digging her nails into my arms, and I clenched my teeth and sucked in oxygen as we both exploded around each other. Her whole body went rigid, and her breathing turned shallow. Fast and shallow.

My pace slowed as everything inside of me spilled inside of her, and she took everything I had.

Damn.

We stayed there for a minute, breathing and trying to unclench every muscle, and when I finally opened my eyes, she was looking up at me.

Reaching up, she threading my sweaty hair through her fingers and held it. “No part of me is off limits to you,” she whispered, her voice raspy. “But some things have to happen in due time. Got it?”

A tired smile spread over my face. “Got it.”

***

TATE

 

I rested my head on Jared’s chest as we lay in bed after the bathroom sex. I was exhausted but not tired for some reason. We’d had sex in the shower, the bed, the bed, the bathroom counter, and I was sure I was going to be in for it again by morning. But still, I wasn’t tired.

“You should talk to Jax,” I told Jared. “He should ask K.C. out.”

“What for?”

I lifted my head and looked up at his still flushed face and damp hair. “He watches her. You see it, don’t you?”

I knew Jared had ordered Jax to leave K.C. alone, and I knew why. K.C. and I weren’t as solid as we used to be, and Jared wanted her at a distance. At least for now.

He shook his head, his chest rising and falling harder under my chin. “K.C. is weak. That’s all Jax is attracted to.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Jax will take her out. He’ll get into her pants eventually. One time. Maybe five times. And then he’ll be gone.” His bitter laugh made the room seem a little colder. “He needs someone genuine. Someone who knows how to love. Someone that’s steel. That’s not K.C. She’d crack under the weight of a feather. I’m not setting up that train wreck.”

“And Madoc?”

He twisted his head to look at me with his eyes pinched up in confusion.

“Madoc? What about him?”

Oh, that’s it.

I threw off the sheet, swung my leg over his body, straddled him, and slammed my fists down on the pillows on both sides of his head. “Madoc covers up everything with a joke or some crazy display. He has nothing that he cares about except you, Jax, and me. What is he going to do at college next year without you?”

He hooded his eyes as if I were being ridiculous. “Tate, Madoc’s fine. I promise. And so is Jax.”

“I hope you’re right,” I stated flatly. “For your sake.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that they don’t stand strong without you. Do you have any idea how much Madoc looks to you for direction? How much Jax relies on you? They’re your responsibility whether you like it or not, and you better take care of them, because they won’t ask you for help.” I lowered my face to his, nose to nose and whispered. “Got it?

I sounded like a threat, and it was supposed to. But he smiled. “Yes, ma’am.”

It pissed me off that Jared didn’t take the lead Madoc and his brother obviously gave him. He watched out for them somewhat but mostly brushed them off, saying that they could take care of themselves. They needed him more than he realized.

And K.C. had issues. I knew what they were, which is why I cut her slack for her behavior. But I also knew that someone like Jax would be good for her. I had my doubts about whether she’d be good for him, but I figured one date wouldn’t hurt.

And Madoc wasn’t okay. He was visibly uncomfortable with anything heartfelt, and he seemed entirely too content with his endless stream of one night stands. I could count on one hand the number of genuine moments I’d had with Madoc. I loved him. But I still felt like I didn’t know him.

“I need a bottle of water. Do you think Madoc would mind if I raided his fridge?” I climbed off Jared and started getting dressed in one of Jared’s T-shirts and his pajama pants.

“I’ll go.” He started to get up.

“No, it’s fine.” I put my hand out to stop him. “I’d like to get a look at this place anyway. Be right back.”

“Just be warned. Madoc might be roaming. I don’t think he sleeps a lot. At night, anyway.”

Um, okay.

I slipped out the door and padded down the thickly carpeted hallway, stopping dead in my tracks when I looked up and saw just how long the hallway actually was.

Toffee colored walls were lit up with evenly spaced brown wall sconces, and paintings with gilded frames adorned the spaces between where pieces of furniture sat.

Yeah, furniture in the hallway. That’s how wide it was.

On bare feet, I treaded softly. I had no idea if anyone other than Madoc was home, and I didn’t want to have to explain myself.

I stopped when I came to a break in the hallway. There was the option to either keep going to what looked like more bedrooms or take a right down a flight of stairs to a tiled foyer.

I was about to head down the stairs when I heard music and stopped.

Crap. I curled my toes.

I didn’t want to run into Madoc. Not dressed like this.

But as I twisted my ear to the sound, I knew it was someone playing the piano, and it was coming from downstairs. It could be a recording, I guessed. It was beautiful, and I didn’t know instruments or composers, but it was slow and very soft, almost like a whisper.

Like it was buried somewhere.

Heading down, one slow step at a time, I made another right into another hallway and found myself in the kitchen.

The music was louder now, and I swear I could feel its vibrations under my toes.

Ignoring the refrigerator, I walked around the spacious kitchen with a center island big enough for five of me and saw the door leading to the basement. I knew it was the basement because that’s where the music was coming from.

Cracking the door open, the tinkling notes flooded through, and my heart instantly started pounding with the soft play of the keys that had suddenly picked up pace.

I don’t why I decided to pry, but I was curious if it was Madoc. As far as I knew he didn’t play, but there wasn’t much I did know about him, so I decided to be nosy.

Descending the stairs on light feet, I got about halfway when Madoc came into view. Sure enough, it was him. The “Fallen” tattoo blazed across his upper back, and his blond hair—what I could see—was still styled to perfection.

I almost wanted to laugh. He actually played the piano. I shook my head, wondering why the hell he didn’t talk about this. He was fantastic.

He wore black and white pinstripe pajama pants, and his head was bowed to the keys, moving side to side with the music. Lost and completely real, Madoc caressed the keys gently and slowly, taking his time as if each note he played had a purpose and a soul.

When the rhythm picked up, his body tensed, his muscles flexed, and his hands moved with precision.

When the tempo slowed, he looked as gentle as if he were touching a woman.

I leaned against the wall, watching him and wondering.

I wondered why the piano was in the basement, and I wondered why he hid this.

Looking around, I saw everything you’d expect to see in a finished basement. It was decorated almost as posh as the upstairs, except for a completely out of place looking skate ramp between the wall and piano. As far as I knew Madoc didn’t skate, either.

Finishing up the piece, Madoc’s fingers stayed on the keys, frozen as the last note disintegrated into the air.

I started to back my way up the stairs but stopped when he took the sheet music from the rack and almost methodically tore it in half and then put the two pieces together, tearing them in half as well. I narrowed my eyes, watching as he tossed the now ruined music into the trash and then closed the lid to the piano keys.

I turned and crept back up the stairs, sneaking through the door and heading for the refrigerator.

Jared probably didn’t know that Madoc played. I can’t see Madoc sharing something like that, and I wasn’t sure if I would tell Jared. He probably wouldn’t care, and Madoc obviously didn’t want people to know.

The fridge was jam packed with Madoc’s Gatorades and meat. Lots of meat. I found the Evian bottles on the door and quickly took one out, my hands still shaking.

I felt bad for spying on him, but it was too damn interesting. I wanted to know what else he was hiding.

“Need a midnight snack?”

I swung around to find Madoc resting on his forearms and leaning over the island.

I gripped the water bottle to my chest, probably looking guilty.

He smirked and waggled his eyebrows. “I can get you a midnight snack.”

Of course. This was the Madoc I knew.

“I’m not hungry,” I grumbled. “Do you mind?” I held up the water bottle, asking permission.

He waved me off. “What’s mine is yours.”

I closed the refrigerator door and squeezed the bottle, hearing it crack under my fingers.

“Thank you for our room. It was really nice of you,” I offered.And that was true. Madoc was a good guy. He took care of his friends. “No problem.” He nodded. “Just promise me one thing. If Jared ever gets kidnapped by aliens or turned into a zombie, you’re mine, right?”

I smiled, loving how he always worked in his harmless little flirts.

“You got it,” I promised.

Turning to head back up the stairs, I stopped and looked back at him, studying his handsome face.

His half smile told people that he was fine, and his quiet eyes never gave anything away, but I felt like Madoc always had something clawing to get out.

Something like what I saw downstairs.

“I heard piano music,” I said quietly. “You like classical?”

He pushed off the counter, laughing and locking his hands behind his head. “It’s not my style. You know that.”

I don’t why I didn’t tell him that I saw him, but I guess I just wanted to see if he’d lie or be honest for once.

I took a deep breath and braced myself.

“And the skate ramp?” I ventured, knowing that I had indeed just outed myself for spying on him. “Do you not skate either?”

His arms dropped to his side, and his back straightened. The amusement in his flat eyes was gone.

Now he knew that I saw him playing the piano, and it was clearly something he didn’t want people to see.

Rubbing his hands together slowly, he stared at the granite island. “The skate ramp’s not mine,Tate,” he said softly and looked up at me. “It’s just trash.”

Walking back over to the basement door, he didn’t even turn around to look at me. “See you tomorrow, okay?” And then he disappeared back into the basement.

Right then I knew I was right about one thing.

Madoc was not fine.

 

Happy publication day, AL Jackson!

Happy publication day AL Jackson! We’ve been yearning for so long to see what happens to Aly and Jared and now, with the amazing conclusion to their story, Come to Me Softly, we’re back with the swoon-worthy couple.

Are you ready? WE ARE. Bring. It. On.

A second chance at life . . .

 

 
A second chance at love . . .

 

 

 

 
Jared Holt never thought he deserved either – until he found both in the arms of Aly Moore. Aly has loved Jared for as long as she can remember, and she’s more than ready for the future they’re making together. But Jared can’t help remembering his own family. And he’ll never forgive himself for what happened to them. How can he allow himself the very happiness he once destroyed?

To live a life worthy of Aly, Jared knows he has to stop running and finally put his past to rest. But when he decides to face his demons head-on, he encounters more than he bargained for: a dangerous mix of jealousy, lies, and dishonest intentions. When those intentions threaten Aly, Jared loses all control, giving into the rage that earned him his bad-boy reputation years before. And he’ll fight to protect her no matter what it costs . . . even if he destroys himself in the process.

 

Come to Me Softly is out today! Be sure to read the start of this beautiful and gripping love story in Come to Me Quietly . . .

Happy publication day Chelsea Fine!

The second in Chelsea Fine‘s brilliantly unique and deliciously romantic Finding Fate series published today!

Perfect Kind of Trouble is Kayla and Daren’s story and it involves handcuffs. No really, they are literally . . . well, read the below and then try and tell us you’re not hooked!

Kayla doesn’t do bad boys, in any sense of the word. It’s a personal rule of hers, and for good reason. Bad boys have a tendency to leave scars and dust trails in their wake, and Kayla isn’t running short on either. So when Daren Ackwood rolled up to her late father’s funeral in his shiny sports car with sex and charisma coming off him in waves, Kayla knew she needed to keep a wide distance from him for the duration of her brief stay in this tiny, God-forsaken town. She was here to take care of her father’s will, nothing more. But it seems taking care of her father’s will might just mean spending some quality time with Daren . . . a prospect she wishes didn’t turn her on so much.

Daren didn’t like the old man and had no idea why the bastard mentioned him in his will at all. But never being one to turn down a few dollars, Daren still showed up at the executor’s office and awaited his payout with a bored expression. But when the sexiest thing on two legs walked in, saw him, and decided she hated him immediately, daddy dearest’s death became a whole hell of a lot more interesting. With money on the line and a feisty brunette to keep his eyes entertained, Daren agrees to the terms of the will. But when items goes missing and mysterious letters show up, the will turns out to be more of a scavenger hunt, and neither Kayla nor Daren are willing to give up the treasure, even if that means sticking by one another’s side every minute of every day. Literally.

Your questions . . . ANSWERED! A.L. Jackson lifts the veil . . .

Remember those brilliant questions you sent to A.L. Jackson? And how we were all like, ‘GAHHHHH so many good ones!!’

Well, we couldn’t send them all but the ones we picked pretty much covered all the bases, so most of you will see the answers you’ve been waiting for.

And we’re so not surprised, but A.L. Jackson has given some very kind, very insightful and deliciously teasing answers! We simply cannot WAIT now for Come to Me Softly!!

Thank you, thank you A.L. Jackson!

 

  • Where did the idea for the Closer to You series come from? – LAURA

Thanks so much for the question, Laura! The roots of Come to Me Quietly goes back a long way, back before I ever wrote Take This Regret. I was writing a paranormal romance, and the hero was none other than our Jared Holt. But as I got deeper into the story and Jared’s character grew, I knew he belonged in a different story. I so clearly saw this beautifully broken boy, and his story began to weave itself in my mind. So I shelved the paranormal and went with the story that spoke to me, which was Come to Me Quietly

 

  • Did you always want to be a writer? – KATE

Hi Kate! That’s kind of a difficult question for me because I think I was always a writer, although I never imagined I would it become my career. When I first started back when I was in college and a young mother, I just loved the feel of words and used them as an emotional outlet. I loved weaving them together, and it was pretty much poetry that came out in a free flowing stream of thoughts. It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I sat down and tried my hand at writing an actual novel, and that was when I really fell in love!

 

  • Can you give us any hints about what’s coming next in the series? – CHARLENE

Oh Charlene . . . just you wait! Book three is Christopher’s story, Aly’s brother from Come to Me Quietly and Come to Me Softly, and I’m absolutely in love with his story. It’s intense and sexy, and of course a little bit sad, but if you all loved Jared, I think you’ll love Christopher too! 

 

  • Who do you think would play Jared in a film? – BECCA

Becca, I’d say it’d have to be Charlie Hunnam. He’s just rough all around and has that edge to him that Jared possesses. 

We had to . . . we simply . . . HAD TO . . .

  • What was the hardest scene to write? – JOLENE

Hi Jolene! Without giving too much away, in both Come to Me Quietly and Come to Me Softly it was the two scenes toward the very end when Jared comes head-on with his past. Both catapult him to different places of healing and I don’t think one is more important than the other, but his path to finding joy and happiness and peace. Both scenes had me weeping when I wrote them.

 

  • Do you ever get embarrassed when writing the sex scenes? 😉 – RACH

LOL Rach . . . yes!! I have to admit one scene in Come to Me Quietly, I was so into it I had to jump up and run out of my office to get some fresh air. I was a little overheated 😉 

 

  • Was Christopher’s story mapped out from the beginning of Jared and Aly’s story or did his story unfold for you as you were writing theirs? – WENDY

Great question, Wendy! And no, definitely not. Christopher really grew right along with Jared and Aly, and as I he was in different scenes in the first two books, his story was taking shape in my mind. By the time I finished Come to Me Softly, I couldn’t wait to begin the third book. And one of my favorite things about it is it’s a companion novel, so while you don’t have to have read books 1 and 2 to read book 3, Jared and Aly still play a huge role in Christopher’s life. I love being able to continue to grow all these characters as they support and care for each other. 

 

Come to Me Softly is out on June 24th, 2014! Start Jared and Aly’s story with Come to Me Quietly, out now!

Digital Romance Festival!

It’s only two days until the world’s first all-singing, all-dancing, all-digital Romance Festival!! We’re delighted to be taking part and if you love to read or write romance, this is an event not to be missed.

How will it work? Saturday 7th of June will be the Professional development day, with tips from industry professionals, Google hangouts with global bestselling indie authors, and a chance to get your manuscripts read by expert editors. Sunday 8th June is all about the readers! That’s the day when your favourite authors will be available for one-off Q&A sessions, and you’ll hear behind-the-scenes info from some of the biggest names in romance.

We have a great selection of Piatkus authors involved!

Plus many more from Piatkus, such as Darynda Jones, Chelsea Fine, Laura Wright, Tim O’Rourke and Samantha Young!

Just to make this even more awesome, all of this is available absolutely FREE! Just sign up HERE to see the full schedule and go HERE to see the full author line up.

Join us, along with load of other publishers and authors, in this history-making event! Well, in our history books, at least . . . 🙂

Samantha Young – Deleted Scene 2!

And Samantha Young has done it again! Another sneaky deleted scene for readers to enjoy before the publication of Fall from India Place . . . TOMORROW!

Try to breathe now, peoples . . .

 

 

****

It wasn’t snowing. For this I was thankful. Snow was for when you were curled up safe inside with a fire roaring in a grate. It wasn’t for when you were driving a rental and taking the less than direct route to Dunoon, Argyll. Rather than driving west toward Greenock and then catching the ferry over, we were driving northwest to Loch Lomond and then turning back on ourselves but on the other side of the lochs that convened into the Holy Loch at Dunoon.

We were doing this because we wanted to take in a bit of the country, and although it was cold, no snow meant driving conditions were good.

Mostly we were doing this because Ellie hated the ferry.

Joss, Braden, Nate and Liv left at the same time as us in their rental late Friday afternoon for the large lodge Joss and Braden had booked for the weekend in one of his favorite spots. However, they were taking the ferry so they’d be arriving before Marco and I, who were riding in Adam’s rental with him and the ferry-hating Ellie.

Marco didn’t mind. He hadn’t seen much of the highlands and was sitting in the front passenger seat quietly taking in the passing scenery.

“I don’t know why Jo decided not to come. I thought she was going stir crazy in the flat,” Ellie said.

I glanced to my side, looking up from my ereader to take in Ellie’s frown. Her cheeks were even puffier now, as were her lips. Her baby bump was pretty huge, too. She was wearing a thick, knitted, turtleneck sweater, wooly leggings and Uggs. Her long hair was stuffed under a knitted hat that had a giant bobble on it.

Completely adorable. As was the way Adam hovered over her every second of every minute.

“She was. But her hormones are all over the place. Cole said he wasn’t going because he didn’t want to be a third wheel to four couples and then Jo decided she didn’t want to go either. One minute she was fine, the next a mess. And being around you, Els,” I added dryly, “Someone who is handling this pregnancy with the same aplomb as your last doesn’t help Jo feel any better.”

“Aplomb?” Adam grinned teasingly at me in the rearview mirror.

Marco snorted.

I narrowed my eyes on my boyfriend. “What are you laughing at?”

He threw a small smile at me over his shoulder. “Babe, you used the word ‘aplomb’.”

“It’s a good word,” I huffed.

He chuckled, turning to look back out his window.

“I have to say it’s nice to have an American guy in our group, Marco,” Ellie said randomly. “We’ve only had the American female perspective until now.”

Confused, I wrinkled my nose. “And how is being an American going to change his response? He’s a man. As far as I can tell they generally think the same way whether they’re Scottish, American, Chinese or Lithuanian.”

“Lithuanian?” Ellie wrinkled her nose right back at me. “What an obscure choice.”

“It’s hardly obscure. I could have said Tuvaluan.”

“Tuvawhatan?”

“Tuvaluan. The country of Tuvalu.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“Exactly.”

Adam glanced at Marco before looking straight ahead at the road. “You sure you want to get involved with a Nichols sister?”

I watched as Marco smirked at my brother-in-law. “At least they’re not boring.”

Adam grunted. “You might make it after all.”

Great. There was no telling what could happen if Marco actually became friends with Adam and Braden. I shot a panicked look at Ellie but she grinned at me like an excited five year old.

~

Marco, Adam, Ellie and I followed Joss down the wood-cladded hallway of the huge lodge we found ourselves in. Situated on the hill of the holiday park, set somewhat away from the other, smaller lodges, the massive open plan lounge and kitchen had floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a deck with a hot tub. It also looked out over the stunning Holy Loch. A coal fire was already burning by the time we arrived. Nate and Liv were curled up on one of the many sofas, a blanket wrapped around them, looking like something out of an advert for lovers’ weekend breaks.

Delicious smells wafted toward us from the opposite end of the room in the kitchen where Joss and Braden were already cooking. As soon as we arrived Joss led the four us into the back of the lodge. We hit a T-hallway and Joss pointed left at the top.

“Els, Adam, you’re across the hall from me and Braden. The door on your left.”

Ellie nudged past us grinning. I couldn’t help but laugh. My sister was in such a good mood these days she’d make even the grumpiest person happy.

Well, maybe not Jo.

Joss looked at me and then Marco and a knowing gleam appeared in her eyes. “You two are on the right across from Nate and Liv. Door on your left. Dinner will be ready in half an hour.”

She wandered back down the hallway and Marco picked up our weekend bags and led me into our room. It was a great size and we had our own ensuite.

“This is nice.” He dropped the bags on the bed and looked at me. “Like really nice.”

I shrugged. “Braden has a taste for luxury.”

“I know. I build his apartments and houses.”

I smiled. “Right.” I looked back at the door, chewing on my lower lip.

“What are you thinking?”

“Two things really.”

He slowly made his way over to me, sliding his arm around my waist. I moved into him naturally, my hands coasting up his chest. Nothing felt as good as being in his arms. Nothing. “I was thinking you seem pretty comfortable here. Not that I’m not glad… I’m just surprised.”

Marco frowned. “What’s surprising about that?”

“You’ve never really come across as the weekend-break-in-the-highlands kind of guy.”

His features softened with understanding and he gave my waist a squeeze. “I’m here because your family is important to you and I want to get to know them.”

I melted into him. “That’s such a good answer which makes the next thing I’m thinking a real bloody pain in the arse.” Marco waited for me to elaborate. “The walls are thin and Nate and Liv are across the hall. We can’t have sex.”

Marco bent his head to scatter barely-there lip brushes along my jaw. He whispered into my ear. “We can’t have loud sex.”

I shivered and sighed, turning my face to nuzzle his jaw. “No sex.” But I didn’t sound that convincing.

His hand slid down my back to caress my butt. “I think I can change your mind.”

“Mmm.” I pushed my hands under his shirt, feeling his hard abs. “I think you can too.”

“We better not start anything.” Marco replied gruffly. “We’ve got dinner in a little while and I don’t think I’ll make the right impression if I go out there sporting a hard on.”

I giggled, wrapping my arms tighter around him. “Perhaps not the right one but I’ll definitely be the envy of all the women.”

He laughed, kissed my neck and patted my bum. “Let’s leave this room before I throw you on that bed and fuck you senseless. Loudly.

I laughed and reluctantly let him drag me out of the room.

 ****

Samantha Young – Deleted Scene!

Guys, it’s only four days until Samantha Young’s next book in the On Dublin Street series!

Because even four days seems like far too long to wait, Entice are delighted to reveal that we have not one but TWO exclusive deleted scenes from Fall From India Place to reveal!

Read on for the first, and check back on Monday, 2nd of June for number two . . .

 

 

 ****

I pressed save on Marco’s English discursive writing piece and slid the laptop over to him. “I’ve made some notes. Once you go over them, you’re good to go.”

“Thanks,” he muttered, scrolling down the screen to see what I’d typed into the comment boxes.

We were sitting in Stockbridge Library instead of the school library, because last time we did that we could barely get anything done. This was due to the whispering going on around us as people wondered what we were doing together. Word had long ago reached enquiring ears —a.k.a my friends and his—that we hung out sometimes, and people were curious as to what was going on with us.

Unfortunately, the answer wasn’t as exciting as I’d like.

After I’d kissed Marco he’d avoided me for a month. But kissing him and being rejected had actually been somewhat liberating. Okay, it hurt like hell and I felt humiliated, but after a while I began to realize that the world hadn’t ended. I’d done something for me, something brave, and I’d made it out okay. It had changed my perspective. I spoke up in class now, and I stood up for myself and for my friends against petty name-calling. I entered my short story into the junior writing competition my English teachers had urged me toward, and I joined the debate team.

That’s sort of why Marco started speaking to me again. I, of course, missed the bus after my first meeting with the team and when I walked outside, there he was.

He never said a word to me about the kiss. He just pretended like it had never happened. I didn’t feel great about that but I was happy he was at least talking to me again. A few weeks after that I discovered his English tutor had up and quit on him because of her own workload. She had been helping Marco with Higher English.

Although I was a few years younger, I was ahead of the curve in English so I talked through his requirements with my English teacher and I’d offered to help him.

Thankfully, he’d taken me up on the offer and we met up once a week to work on it and anything else I thought I might be able to help him out with. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Marco’s problems with English were mostly a lack of confidence. Reading over his discursive piece only highlighted to me how much smarter he was than he realized.

“Now we need to work on your personal essay.”

Marco shut the laptop, covering his yawn with his fist. He blinked sleepily at me. “I’m trying. I’m pretty beat.”

I knew his Design and Tech teacher had helped get him an apprenticeship with a local independent tradesman in carpentry and joinery. It was a requirement that Marco had employment with someone in the trade in order to get onto the course at Edinburgh College for carpentry and joinery. Technically, he didn’t need Higher English or Higher Maths, but I felt like it was a challenge he’d put upon himself to prove that he could do it.

And he could do it. If he would organize his workload a little better. He’d gotten permission to leave school to work on his apprenticeship during his free periods and he worked all day Saturday with his new boss. He worked full time during the holidays, too. I knew he was tired. But I also knew that when it came to his personal essay, he was procrastinating.

Marco wasn’t really into oversharing.

“Have you picked a subject at least?” I asked quietly, unable to stop my eyes as they roamed his face, studying every little thing about it. I squashed the butterflies, as always, and waited.

He looked up from the desk, those amazing eyes of his staring right into mine. “Not really.”

“What about your grandparents or your life back in Chicago?”

“Hannah,” he smiled sadly, “Nonno pretty much hates me and I was bad news in Chicago. I hung around guys that were getting into really ugly stuff. That’s why my grandparents sent me away. That’s not really something I want publicized on an academic paper.”

Intrigued by this new information, I leaned forward. “Why do you think your granddad hates you?”

My mum’s dad had died before I was born but my dad’s father was still alive and he always showered me with love the few times a year I got to see him. I couldn’t understand a grandparent hating his grandchild.

Marco leaned back in his chair, his jaw taut as he stared at the desk. “I’m half African-American. My Italian grandfather can’t stand the fact that his precious daughter slept with a black guy.”

My lips parted in shock. “He’s racist?”

Marco shrugged. “My dad could have been Japanese, Jewish or Mexican and it would have pissed Nonno off. What mattered was that my dad wasn’t Italian and my parents weren’t married when my mother got pregnant. Nonno is really old-fashioned and a total traditionalist.”

You could call it whatever you wanted. There was no excuse for mistreating a child ever, and for the excuse for it to be based on simple genetics? I was furious for Marco. “Was he awful to you?”

Marco shrugged again but this time he met my gaze when he said, “My mom pretty much disowned my dad and my grandparents wouldn’t let him near me. He gave up, took off before I was even one. My mom stuck around for a few years but she couldn’t take being a mom. She was only seventeen when she had me. And she couldn’t take the fact that her dad, who’d once idolized her, couldn’t stand the sight of her and the massive disappointment she represented. So she took off too. Left me with them.”

My stomach felt heavy. “How bad was it?”

He looked me straight in the eye and I knew by his expression he wasn’t going to tell me. By not telling me my imagination worked on overtime and I felt nothing but fury at his grandfather and a need to protect Marco. “Nonna’s great. She tried to make up for… everything else. And most of my Italian side of the family are great. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to live with them.”

“So you got in trouble and they sent you here to your uncle?”

He nodded, a scowl forming on his handsome face. “My mom’s big brother. My Aunt Gabby is Scottish-Italian but her family is originally from Chicago. She came for a visit years ago and my Uncle Gio fell for her. They came up with the idea for the restaurant, her parents had capital, he moved here with her and D’Alessandro’s was born.”

“Is he okay with you?”

Marco’s upper lip curled. “He’s had his head filled by Nonno so make what you will out of that.”

“Marco,” I reached for his hand before I could stop myself, sliding my fingers through his. I waited as he stared at our hands clasped together.

I felt his fingers tighten for a second before he gently pulled his hand away. He cleared his throat. “I haven’t told anyone else that. I’d appreciate it if you don’t repeat it.”

“I won’t,” I promised.

There was a moment of charged silence between us.

Marco inhaled, as if trying to catch a breath in the suddenly thick air. “My personal essay?”

I shook my head. “You don’t need to make it too personal. Why don’t you write about working with your wood?”

He grinned suddenly and it took me a second to understand why. I blushed, realizing my inadvertent innuendo.

“No.” I pushed him playfully and he chuckled. “I mean write about one of your projects in woodwork. Write about why you do it, what it gives you.”

He stopped laughing. “Okay. I’ll give it a try.”

“Okay.” Still blushing I quickly stood up to escape my embarrassment. “I’ll just put this book back.”

I grabbed the book up off the desk and hurried down the aisle to where we found it. It wasn’t until I was there I remembered we’d gotten it off the top shelf, a shelf even I couldn’t reach without a stool. Marco had retrieved it.

And then he was there. The heat of his chest against my back. “Let me,” his voice rumbled in my ear and I tried to stop the shiver that chased down my spine and failed.

He took the book out of my hands and reached up above me, going on tip-toe so his chest brushed my back. As he slid the book back in place I turned around, thrilled by his proximity. Marco’s eyes dropped to my face and I flushed again at the sudden intensity in his expression. His arm lowered but instead of dropping it to his side he gently tucked my short hair behind my ear, his fingers brushing my skin as he did so.

I felt the heat and surge of attraction between us. I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and kiss him again, but I was frozen by the fear that if I did, this time he would stop talking to me for good.

“Thanks for your help,” he said gruffly, dropping his hand to his side and stepping back.

“Anytime,” I whispered, but he was already walking away.

****

A.L. Jackon is answering YOUR questions!

Are you as excited about Jared and Aly’s return as we are? Come to Me Softly is out June 24th 2015!

We’ve missed them so much! WAHHHHHHH!

Even though we have around one month to wait, A.L. Jackson has basically become the best person EVER and agreed to answer some fan questions. We know, pretty incredible, right?

Do you have a burning question that you need answered before the next story starts? Perhaps you want to know where A.L. Jackson gets her inspiration from, or what’s coming next?

Simply enter your question in the comments box below (be sure to include your name!) or email piatkus.entice@littlebrown.co.uk and we’ll post her answers in the week after the UK bank holiday weekend! So better hurry! You have three days to put your questions down.

We already have like, twenty. They might all be questions about Jared. NO shame.