Born on the wrong side of the tracks and dealt a fair share of hardship, Nikki Kline never gives up a fight. Even when her reason to keep going is ripped from her, Nikki tries desperately to hang on. But when the man who broke Nikki’s heart comes back into her life she doesn’t know how much she can take. Especially since that man seems determined to win back her damaged heart.
Wade Lightfoot is a man who knows he’s made more mistakes than most. As much as he would like to repair the damage he’s done to those he loves, Wade also knows there is no going back. But when he sets out to put things right the last thing he’s prepared to find out is that he had a son. A son he’ll never get the chance to meet.
When the truth is out and all the old wounds are bared, it seems impossible that Nikki and Wade will find their way back to each other. But true love is an undeniable force that even past hurts can’t destroy.
This book has been previously published and has been revised from its original release.
The book is out in print now… has pretty new cover. See? It’s been expanded, revised, cleaned up, etc, etc, etc…it’s a better read than it was when it originally came out. I still don’t think it’s my best work. Some people, though, say this is their fave of mine. Weird. Ah, well. Anyway.
On to excerpt…
“You’re going to be old before your time if you keep this up, sis,” a voice said softly, jerking her out of her reverie.
She turned her head and squinted up at Shawn. “Hey,” was all she said, not responding to his words. “What are you doing here?”
“I saw your truck on my way to work,” he said, kneeling beside her. His left eyebrow was neatly bisected by a thin scar. That, and the scars he bore inside, were his only physical reminders of the accident.
There were scars inside. She sensed it, wished she could help him…but she couldn’t even help herself.
Jason had been like a little brother to Shawn. He’d adored the baby from the first and talked about how he’d teach him to wrestle, to go fish…all the cool boy stuff. Stuff Shawn hadn’t ever had much chance to do himself.
“You ever wonder what would have happened if we’d just stayed at the store that day?” she asked softly. It was a question she’d asked herself a hundred times. A thousand.
“Only a few dozen times a week,” he said.
As she looked over and met his gaze, he shook his head. “And you know as well as I do, those kinds of questions will drive us crazy. Some stupid drunk hit us, Nik. You weren’t speeding. You weren’t doing much of anything except driving in the rain. Bastard hit us, ran us off the road. You can’t blame yourself.”
She just shrugged.
She could blame herself. And she did.
“Y’know, you’re going to be late for work,” she told him, turning back to study the headstone.
Shawn shrugged. “I doubt they’ll mind.” And even if they did, he didn’t care. How could work be that important when he looked at her and all but saw the dark cloud she had wrapped around herself? He settled on the grass next to her, uncertain of what to say. When he had been little, he had always run to her when he had been hurt. Nikki had always made the pain go away. And even when he had been nothing more than a street punk, causing trouble and raising hell, when he was in trouble, it had been her he had gone to. She had always fixed it in some way.
It didn’t seem fair that after so many years of patching him up and kissing away his tears that he wasn’t able to take away any of her pain.
“Jason is probably the sweetest angel in heaven, sis,” he said, looking at his feet as he spoke. He could feel himself turning red to the roots of his hair and he had no idea where those words had come from.
“I bet he is,” came her soft whisper.
And looking over, he saw the beginning of a smile on her face.
The words, wherever they had come from, had been the right ones.
Before Nikki got out of her truck she donned a dark pair of sunglasses and forced her unruly hair into a stubby ponytail. She hadn’t really thought she would be recognized when she had decided to use her own name on her books. She really hadn’t thought that far ahead. She had only wanted them to sell.
They had sold though, and she hadn’t exactly been in the best frame of mind when she was dealing with the contract negotiations. If she had thought things through, if she had listened to the agent she’d signed with, she would have gone with a pen name. She would have done something to have some modicum of privacy.
Now it was a little too late.
Besides, in a town the size of Monticello, everybody knew everybody else’s business. The hat and the sunglasses wouldn’t fool many people, but if it helped a little she was all for it. If she lived in a larger town she’d have more anonymity than she had in Monticello. In the past few years it had come to where she couldn’t go much anywhere without somebody hailing her down to talk about books.
My little girl wrote this. Isn’t that something…
I got a book. Can you help me…
And lately, total strangers who were just in town to fish were recognizing her. Nikki wasn’t ever going to let another picture be taken of her, and her webmaster had taken down the one they’d conned her into putting up. Now if she could just get it off the back of the books…
For a while she hadn’t minded the attention too much, but as time passed she started to crave solitude. People and questions were coming to grate on her nerves something bad. It was just a sign of her worsening depression, she suspected, and if she were smart, she’d just make the drive to Somerset where she was less likely to be noticed, but she didn’t have the energy.
She made it all the way through the store without any problems and was finishing up in the dairy section. She just might make it out of the store, she realized. It even had her mood climbing up a few notches—instead of toxic, it was just slightly hazardous.
She added a carton of yogurt and some cream cheese. As she went to turn the cart around she promptly ran into somebody else’s.
“Damn it,” she muttered, but her voice was lost under the sound of baskets crashing together and groceries tumbling to the floor.
A sheepish smile crossed her face and she said, “Sorry about that.” She would hit somebody whose cart was beyond full. Kneeling, she picked up a carton of cookies and Donald Duck orange juice. She placed them in the basket before stepping away.
The guy had knelt in front of a dark child of four or five, his face hidden as he scooped up items from the floor.
“No problem,” he said, although his voice belied his words. He sounded a tad—okay, he sounded a lot irritated.
Nikki was about to make a quick getaway, but then he stood. And revealed his face.
A very familiar face, one that haunted her dreams on a regular basis. His hair was shorter, cut at his nape, and his face had thinned out just a bit, the dimples at the corners of his mouth now slashes in his lean cheeks. But the eyes were the same, deep bottomless pools of brown velvet.
“Wade,” she whispered. Her eyes, stricken, then landed on the child’s face. A little girl, a little mirror of her father.
And of Nikki’s son. She wore a red T-shirt decorated on the front with a sketch of a bright-eyed puppy. A baseball cap in that same candy-apple red sat on top of thick black hair that fell razor-straight to her tiny shoulders. She held a stuffed cocker spaniel, a mirror image of the way Jason had carried his precious Mouse.
A knife slowly embedded itself in Nikki’s heart, started to twist.
For a moment his face was blank, and then his eyes narrowed. She was unable to move as he slowly reached up and tugged her sunglasses off.
“Nikki,” he breathed, his eyes lighting as though from within.
He took a step closer and brushed her cheek with the back of his hand.
Just a reminder, guys… my weekends are my time to be with my family and I don’t tend to keep up with facebook, twitter, email, etc. But a quick run-down on Beg Me, because of some questions/comments.
Okay, Beg Meis showing on Kindle now, you can find it here.
Now if people are having trouble with the files, I wish I could help, but as far as tech help goes, I’m useless. I don’t think it’s a file problem because a lot of people are downloading it fine with no trouble & reading it. So the best bet is check with tech support.
For Smashwords, (or if you want to buy from Smashwords) check their FAQs here for info about Nook, Kindle, etc. You can also contact their customer support by looking to the very top of the screen and clicking on the contact/customer support-be specific about your problem, tell them what device you have, what you’ve done and what problem you’re experiencing.
Re: The Nook
It does appear that Beg Me has gone through Smashwords premium catalog, and gotten the approval, which should get it out to the other various outlets, that includes Nook & Sony, and a few others. I don’t know when this will be. But it takes a few days to a few weeks. Please understand that even if I were to upload the book on my own, it’s not going to post right away-a friend uploaded a title of hers and it took almost a week to post to the Nook store.
None of this stuff is an immediate process. There are several other platforms out there and instead of taking a day to investigate each of them (at least), deal with the formatting (which could be an hour or another day long process and that’s for each platform…or I can simply go through Smashwords-from a time management standpoint, this is the wisest option. They’ll handle the various stores, Nook, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, etc. Since I also have writing to do, and a lot of it, I really need to focus on that. I’m already running behind on my own personal deadlines this month from my surgery and that’s not even taking into account some time I gave myself off for the loss of two close friends.
For those who don’t want to wait, you can still get the book on your Nook now. I realize that’s an extra step, but it’s not that much more complicated than saving a file to a disc-you just need your USB cord.
The format you want is epub, and you can browse Nook’s FAQs and forums for more info. Here’s one forum where they talk about sideloading in particular (drag/dropping-it sounds complicated but it’s really not, I promise).
I actually just downloaded to my Nook-all I did was plug in my Nook with the USB, selected the epub file, clicked download and save to computer (not open), and when it the screen pops up, it will show your Nook, just save it to the Nook. It took about one minute and all I needed was the account with smashwords and a paypal account. This is also how you’d get books from other epubs like Samhain and Ellora’s Cave.
And while I don’t use my Sony as much-the same process (if I recall correctly) is how it works for the Sony, too and Sony will read PDFs & epubs as well, I believe.
All that info can all be found on Smashwords FAQ page. (as well as how to read on iPhone, iPad, etc)
Once I get more info about the other ebookstores, I’ll get them posted as well.
Beg me…there had been a time when those words made her burn with desire. But now, there was only fear.
Once, Tania Sinclair’s life was almost perfect…oh, it had its ups and downs but she was happily married to a guy that adored her, one who had no problem indulging every kinky fantasy she ever had. But a couple of tragedies later, she’s barely holding it together. A car accident took away her husband, and an attack from somebody she should have been able to trust has shaken not only her confidence, but it’s also stripped away her fantasies and even made it painful to look back on her memories of her husband without fear.
Two years after her attack, Tania is determined to take her life back and the first step is taking back herself…her fantasies, her dreams, her memories. There’s only one person she can trust to do it, too. One person she wants enough…Drake Bennett, her husband’s best friend.
Falling for your best friend’s wife—never smart. Drake’s watched Tania quietly for years, watched her…wanted her, knowing he’d never have her. First, she was taken. And then, that night two years ago—a night that still scars her, a night that’s left bruises on her that still haven’t healed. He does what he can, though, because he loves her too much not to. He’s her friend, there when she needs him.
And now she needs him. She’s asked him for a favor…one that just about blows his mind…
Warning: This book involves light bondage play, rape fantasy & role-playing. The acts between the hero & heroine are consensual, but they may not be ideal for all readers…
It’s pending at Amazon. I have no control over when it goes live at Amazon.
FYI, Smashwords does sell the various formats so you should be able to get it on your Kindle, and I know you can get read other formats on the Nook, like epub, which can be read on the Nook. All you need to buy at Smashwords is a paypal account and the book is only $2.99 and it’s available worldwide. If you’re not sure how to get it to your reader…well, when I do it, I plug in my reader, download the book and then save it to the reader-the reader shows up like an external disk drive. Other more techie types can explain it better than that, though.
You can also use apps like Goodreader or Bluefire to read it on iPhone *and probably iPad*
FYI, I’m listing the Kindle buy link because it will show up there, but I’m aware it’s not live yet. Again, I have no control over that…Regarding other outlets (ie: Kobo, Nook, Sony, Borders), Smashwords does have a premium catalog and more than likely, this book should make it into that which will get it available to those outlets, but that takes time and it’s in Smashwords’ hands, not mine. I’ll keep an eye on the updates and once I know, I will post the info to the blog.
“I want to ask you for a favor,” she said, staring at him over her wine glass.
Drake told himself he could get through this—he told himself he wasn’t about to lose it, thinking about how sexy and sweet she looked in a short, flippy little tan shirt that left too much leg bare. He told himself he wasn’t all but drooling as he thought about the breasts under her close-fitting, clingy black top. He also told himself the dinner had been delicious, but he couldn’t remember what it tasted like or what he’d even eaten twenty minutes ago. Some kind of chicken. He thought. Or maybe pork. Right?
No, he was too focused on Tania, and the fact that she was sitting three feet away from him. Too focused on the fact that his cock was throbbing like a bad tooth and had been ever since she’d let him into her apartment an hour earlier.
Her words rang in his mind. She needed help—finally, though, something real, something physical he could focus on. That would really help. Maybe her car needed a tune-up, that was easy, although why she’d felt the need to cook for him just to ask for that, he didn’t know.
“Anything.” He tipped his beer bottle back, wetting his throat. Fuck it, she looked so beautiful. She was sitting so close, he could smell the scent of the lotion she’d slicked all over her skin. Good enough to eat, and that’s just what he wanted to do, too.
She grimaced and said, “Maybe you should put the beer down. Stop drinking for a minute because I don’t want you to choke when I ask.”
“Okay.” He smirked a little and leaned forward, setting the bottle on the table. “Although I don’t know what you could ask that would surprise me that much, Tania.”
“Five years ago.”
Okay—maybe I was wrong. She can surprise me.
Drake grabbed the bottle. “I think I need the beer,” he muttered.
She smiled. “Five years ago,” she said again. “You know what I like.”
He shifted his gaze to her, all too aware of just how little distance separated them, all too aware of that short, flippy skirt, of the sweet scent of her skin…and just how acutely he remembered things from five years ago.
“Do you remember?” she asked, her voice low and quiet.
Read the rest…
*UTA: for the print readers, I’m sorry, but I don’t know when or if I’ll get this into print…if this project goes well, I’m considering doing another one. If that happens, then yes, I’ll likely look into combining the two stories to make them long enough to put into a print single-author antho. Should that happen, I’ll post info to the blog, but I won’t know about that for a while yet.
Just a reminder-until 10/25, there are two BIG things going on with this book…
The Contest for the Nook:
Would you like to win a Nook Wifi? You can… here’s how. Buy The First Book of Grimm-either preorder it or buy the first week of release, provide me with the proof of purchase and you’re entered. It’s as easy as that.
Online orders and preorders will get you 50 entries
Buying in store the week of release, from 10/19/2010-10/25/2010 will get you 100entries (BTW, buying it in the store can also get you something extra, keep reading!)
For the no-purchase necessary option, send me a postcard, postmarked between 10/19/2010-10/25/2010. A postcard entry will get you one entry. You may only send one postcard entry per household. (postcards received before or after these dates will not be entered)
Here’s how it works. You send me your register receipt-from the store… (sorry, must be purchased inthe store for this giveaway) dated between 10/19/2010-10/25/2010…and I’ll send you the bookmark, along with one of the printed bookmarks done for The First Book of Grimm.
It’s that simple. You just send me the receipt, and you get a bookmark.
And here’s a nice long excerpt from one of the stories…
No Prince Charming… Book 2 in The First Book of Grimm
“I’m in hell.” Michael turned away from the window, forcing himself not to stare at Elle as she sauntered towards his condo.
She was alone…again.
Alone. And in a matter of seconds, she would be alone in the condo with him.
He didn’t know whether to be glad of that fact or terrified.
“Don’t be either. Just think about the job,” he muttered.
It had been a bad, bad idea agreeing to let her come here to pick him up before they headed to the club this time.
Being alone with her was a bad, bad idea, period.
As much as he hated Ren, it was easier to do the job when he was there providing a buffer.
The first night at the club, when it had been the three of them, had been the easiest, even if he had spent much of it torn between rage and other messy emotions he couldn’t quite define.
Having Ren around had made it possible for Michael to keep some measure of control. Now he had only his own strength to rely on because he couldn’t count on Ren’s presence. The other Grimm likely wouldn’t be back—Elle had said he’d been called away to another job, so they were on their own.
At least for the time being.
For now, he’d have to rely on his own strength, his own control to get through this. And that was a laugh, because he had no control with Elle. None. No control, no strength, no tact, no sense. Nothing but need.
And in a few minutes, he’d be alone in this little condo with nothing but her…and his desperate, dark needs.
“Don’t think about that. Think about the club. Think about the succubi and the incubi. You’ve got your hands full with them. There is no time to dwell on personal matters.” Michael pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered, “Not that there is any sort of personal matter between us.”
No. He’d ruined that.
All he had was this job…and the hope that he could protect her.
They’d decided it would look better if they arrived together instead of just meeting there. Elle wanted to drive and Michael imagined it was probably so she could take off running whenever she chose.
It had seemed a logical idea at the time, but now the logic wasn’t quite so clear. Especially since she was now on the porch. They were still separated by brick and mortar, but he could feel how close she was.
In a moment, she’d been in here, and they would be alone.
Alone with Elle. It was enough to make logic, control and sanity fly out the window.
The condo, perched on the edge of Lake Erie, was reclusive, remote and relatively private. It would take forty-five minutes to get to the club.
As she knocked, Michael stomped over to the bar and poured himself a snifter of brandy. He waited until he took the first sip before responding.
“Come in.” He remained where he was, staring into the cut crystal, swirling the amber liquid around. Better, he thought, better to study the pricey liquor than to look at her.
“Well, aren’t you in a happy mood today?” Elle drawled, her voice low and mocking.
Michael flicked a glance her way and took another drink. Not a sip though. He knocked it back, slammed the snifter on the counter and poured himself another drink. He belted that one just as quickly and grimaced as it burned its way down his throat. He was tempted to go for a third drink, but instead set the snifter on the bar and folded his arms over his chest.
Elle sauntered up to stand beside him, and from the corner of his eye, he could see the smirk on her face. She lifted his glass, sniffed it and then, with a shrug, helped herself to a drink of her own. Michael had to turn away when she closed her eyes as she sipped. It was either that or risk pouncing on her like a slobbering fool. She’d be dealing with enough of that later on.
“You don’t know how to treat good liquor,” Elle said from behind him. She gave a happy sigh and took another sip.
Michael glanced over his shoulder at her. Looking at her proved to be a mistake. Because one quick glance was not enough. Like a puppet on a string, he found himself turning around before he even realized he was doing it.
His voice edgy, he bit off, “If I was in the mind to savor, I’d savor. Right now, I’m more of a mind to get good and drunk.”
“Can you get drunk?”
“If I put my mind to it, yes, I imagine I can.”
“Hmm. Why don’t you put your mind to getting this job done instead?” Elle cocked a golden brow at him, still holding the snifter to her lips. They were slicked wine-red again—wine-red that matched the short silk sheath she wore. It covered her butt, barely. She wore no bra, and through that silk, he could see the outline of her nipples.
Oh, I’m definitely in hell.
“Where did the leather and lace go?” he asked.
“Leather’s hot,” Elle replied. She glanced down at her dress and then up at him. She smiled as she took another sip of her brandy. “What, don’t I look slutty enough?”
Michael clenched his jaw. “You don’t look like a slut.”
“Oh, I most certainly look like a slut. But that just means I’ll blend in.” She smirked as she studied his clothes. He was all in black again, a black silk shirt and tailored black trousers.
Under her breath, Elle said, “Tsk. Tsk. Here I am looking nice and slutty, and you look like royalty, Prince Charming.” Her voice was mocking.
Michael narrowed his eyes at her. “You know, Elle, I really don’t care for that name.”
With an unrepentant grin, she said, “I figured as much.”
Then her face sobered, and she gestured to his clothing. “Seriously, Michael. You don’t blend. We’re going to a sex club, for crying out loud. We’re not going to the opera.”
“There is no opera here,” he replied. He glanced down at his clothes and then at hers. “I’ll leave you to play dress up, darling. I will go as I am and play the indulgent lover.”
She’d been getting ready to take another sip, but she paused, the crystal pressed against her lips. “Indulgent lover?” she echoed.
“It works as well as anything else,” he said. He shrugged, gathering his hair in his hand, securing it in a tail at his nape. “You’re the lovely woman with a wicked streak and I’m just a besotted fool who’ll do anything to keep you happy.”
Something flashed in her blue eyes. Carefully, she set the snifter aside and smoothed a hand down her silk-covered side. “Well, this will be interesting. We both get to do some role-playing. I get to pretend to be a slut, and you get to pretend to be besotted.”
It was a role Michael could play easily enough. After all, he had only been living that way for three hundred years. Silently, he laughed at himself. “Just call me a method actor.”
Maybe I forgot to mention it here because I was celebrating with this…
Unfortunately, I don’t have much to tell you about it. No release dates and until I get blurbs and stuff from Ballantine, I really don’t want to post much of what the books are about. However, I did have this snippet that was in Romantic Times a while ago. It’s about all I’ve got to share, though.
She heard screams in the night. But nobody believed her except a cop approaching burn-out…and a killer.
One look at Jack Wallace and Perci knows he’s going to be trouble. Even surrounded by soul stealers, he’s a one-man wrecking crew. What does he need Grimm training for? He’s already hell on earth, a warrior bent on destruction. And something…more.
He’s too strong and fast to be a mere mortal. Even covered in blood, he makes her forget she’s only here to do a job and get out. It’s twisted. Sick. She hasn’t felt this alive in three centuries.
Born with a natural talent for killing unnatural things, Jack has always known things he shouldn’t. The fact that Perci is one of them glows all over her. Giving him an unholy urge to see just how far he can push her before don’t touch me melts into touch me there.
When they come together, it isn’t careful or cautious. It’s heaven and hell, exposing all their raw and wounded places to healing heat, resurrecting memories of a destined love from the distant past. But the evil that destroyed them once before has tracked them here, threatening their second and last chance at forever. Demanding a sacrifice no one—Grimm or human—should ever be asked to make…
Bits and pieces of memory.
A knowledge he shouldn’t have.
He had looked at the things earlier and known they were no longer human.
Orin. Soul stealers. The closest thing to vampires that existed, but there was nothing about them that could be romanticized. Demonic parasites. Whatever had once been human inside them was long gone, and the mortal body wasn’t anything more than a vehicle.
Jack couldn’t even explain how he knew, but he did know, and he fought with the ease born of practice, something that made no sense. Even as he hacked away with a bowie knife, part of him felt like he’d done it before a thousand times.
For as long as he could remember, he’d dreamt of killing monsters. Demons.
And he’d known the different sort of demons too. He could recall them from vivid, vivid dreams. But the dreams never terrified him.
To Jack, it seemed normal to dream of battling demons. So many demons.
The time had come when he didn’t just battle them in his dreams, but in reality. He’d killed the first one when he was fifteen, and it had felt so easy…so natural…like a habit. It hadn’t felt like the first time. It wasn’t exactly something he’d planned on, but it was what he was meant to do—what he was built for. What he was destined for.
Today is National Buy a Book Day…whether you pick up mine, or somebody else’s, can you drop into your local bookstore and buy a book? Not online, but actually visit a bookstore if you can? We’re hearing more and more about independent bookstores closing down, how Borders is having more layoffs, and B & N is shutting stores. According to writer Jaye Wells, Times Magazine actually had it listed in an article “Top Ten Things Today’s Kids Won’t Experience“… Read a Real Book… You know me, I love my ebooks, I love my Nook and my Sony. But I love my print books and I love my bookstores, too. If you’ve got a few minutes, can you hit your local bookstore and buy a book? Any book–for you, for a friend, for a kid you want to introduce to the joy of reading… **First heard about National Buy A Book Day via Jaye Wells
With demons running amok throughout the forests and mountains, a rebel army has been established to win back the land—and a new soldier has appeared out of nowhere to join them.
His name is Xan, and his past is a mystery to everyone, including Laisyn Caar—a beautiful captain in the rebel army—who is shocked by the powerful, all-consuming desire she feels in his presence.
But now isn’t the time for distraction. The future of her land—and of her people—is in her hands. On top of that, she’s been stripped of her magic—and without it she feels like part of her soul has been stolen away.
But when she discovers the dark secrets of Xan’s agenda, it will be up to her to determine whether the man she’s starting to love is a friend of her people—or a dreaded enemy…
(You’ve seen something similar or part of this, but it’s one of my fave scenes…)
That was all Lothen managed to get out before he ended up flat on his back with all of the breath knocked out of him. He lay there choking and sputtering for air. His opponent stood there expressionless. Lo came to his feet and shoved sweaty hair back from his face. “That was a dirty fucking trick,” he wheezed.
“Sometimes it takes dirty fucking tricks to stay alive,” Xan replied.
Syn stood off to the side, with her arms crossed over her chest. The man had some serious moves on him. She called out to Lo and gestured for him to leave the sparring circle. Catching Bron’s eye, she nodded toward their newest. Bron cocked a brow—she saw the question in his eyes. She answered with a smile, and as Bron entered the circle, she stripped away her weapons.
Bron kept him moving. A fellow captain, a lifelong soldier, Bron fought with speed and stealth. He’d started out as a scout, but now he was in charge of one of the combat units. He was good. He was fast. But he wasn’t as fast or as good as their new guy. Syn could only think of one other guy who fought so naturally—like it was as natural to him as breathing.
“He’s good,” Kalen murmured from just behind her shoulder.
She grinned. “Now why am I not surprised to see you here, Commander?”
“Just passing by and caught sight of our new boys. Decided to take a look.”
Calling Xan a boy didn’t fit, Syn thought to herself.
“You playing today?” he asked.
Syn lifted a shoulder. “Unless you plan to.”
Bron went flying passed them—literally. He landed with an “oomph” and lay there for a few seconds, a dazed look in his eyes. His lean face went red as he tried to breathe.
Syn and Kalen grinned at each other. Then Kalen said, “I’ll pass. Lee and I are doing some hand-to-hand tonight. I’d rather not start off injured. I’ll let you have the fun today.”
“Coward.” Syn clucked her tongue. She watched, gauging the distance, as Xan started toward Bron. As he offered a hand to the other man, Syn moved.
She went for his feet and as he went down, she slid away.
It was like hitting a brick wall, she decided. A heated brick wall. She was so used to being cold, but the moment she touched him, even though her touch was an attack and not a caress, his heat chased away the chill and left her entire body suffused with warmth.
He outweighed her, outreached her, and stood nearly a head taller than she did. Which pretty much described every sparring partner she’d ever had.
That unreadable gaze of his didn’t change, but she sensed some surprise coming off him as he came to his feet. Bron was up, too, and he moved so that he stood just a little behind Syn and off to the side. It was a choreographed move—they’d done this a thousand times and they’d do it a thousand more.
“So now it is two on one,” Xan said, his voice emotionless.
“It can be a lot of fun.” Syn flashed him a cheeky smile, keeping her weight on the balls of her feet. Her heart was racing. Her skin felt warm, edging close to hot as she waited.
Xan didn’t make a move toward her, even though she stood the closest. He circled around, trying to make for Bron. Even after he had Bron back down, he didn’t engage with her. Syn lifted a brow and asked, “You do have a second opponent you have to take down.”
“I’m not putting a woman on the ground.”
“Okay.” It wasn’t the first time she’d been told that, and she’d handle it the same way she handled it every other time. The cold knot tried to settle back inside her, but it faded when she attacked him—when she touched him.
He deflected her next attack. And the next. Bron was back on his feet at that point, though, and as he moved toward Bron, Syn went for another takedown. He went down and as he did, he tried to catch her feet.
She was prepared for him though, springing away at just the last second. Xan got back on his feet, and this time, the look he shot her seemed a little bit perturbed.
“You can either spar me straight on, or I’ll keep coming at your back.”
“I’m not fighting with a woman.”
“Then get out,” she told him. She wasn’t touching him now and as she crossed her arms over her chest, the cold knot returned. “The gate’s that way. You can walk out now. If you move quickly enough, you can probably catch up to the convoy. But you don’t get to pick and choose your poison here, my friend. You do it my way, or you hit the road.”
His eye narrowed on her face. “You sound very certain of that fact.”
“With good reason.”
With the exception of Xan and Syn, everybody turned to look at Kalen as he entered the circle. He stood a few inches taller than Xan. He wore cavinir—a light, form-fitting armor that clung to a hard, leanly muscled body.
Kalen had been born a warrior, forced to become a leader. At a time when he should have been dreaming about girls and dreading his impending adulthood, he’d been on the front line of their war.
He circled to stand in front of Xan, pinning the other man with a cool, silvery gaze. “Nobody stays in my camp without proving they can hold their own. Nobody stays in my camp without showing they know how to handle themselves, without showing they know how to take orders. That includes training—you either spar with Captain Caar, as ordered, or you get the hell out.”
“I don’t believe in harming women,” Xan growled.
“It’s not about harming women.” Syn moved between them and gave Kalen a narrow look. He inclined his head and fell back, letting her handle it. There was one thing she could rely on to chase away the chill, and that was anger. Right now, it flooded her, and she welcomed it—welcomed it and channeled it.
Giving Xan a pointed stare, she said, “I’m not calling you on the floor to get hurt, Xan. Trust me, I don’t like pain, although I am used to it. But this isn’t about hurting me, hurting women. It’s called training—we all do it.”
“Then train women against women. Females are naturally weaker than males—the risk for injury to the woman is too high, even in training.”
“So this is about having a level playing field?” Syn snorted. “Sure, because we’re fighting a war where there’s always an excess of fairness.”
Xan stared at her, his black gaze unflinching. “I do not raise my hand to women.”
Syn smirked. “That’s a way of thinking that could end up with you getting hurt—in a serious way.” She glanced past him and her smile took on a decidedly devilish twist. “Bron, you’re out. Elina. Coryan.”
Elina Corsairs, long and lean, came at him from his right, a blur of movement. She was all speed and grace and as he moved to deflect her attack, the other woman came up behind him.
Coryan Holder stood at six feet and her body was nearly as broad as Xan’s. As he backed away from Elina, Coryan caught him in a wrestler’s hold and wrenched him off his feet. He went down and as one, the three women in the circle moved on him.
Elina ended up on her ass first. She would have moved back in but Syn caught her eye and shook her head.
Now facing Coryan and Syn, Xan grimaced. He looked between the two women, his gaze measuring.
Finally. Syn knew what sort of picture they presented. Coryan had the muscle mass to rival a man’s and her face was scarred, hardened from battle and years of a harsh life. Syn had faced that same hard life, and many of the same battles, but she was slender, not particularly tall and she looked . . . well, soft.
He’d go for Coryan next, she figured. Eliminate what he perceived as the biggest threat.
This wasn’t a new scenario for her. Too many of the men who wanted to join the rebellion showed up with preconceived notions—they were fighting a war against those that preyed on their females, and having those females involved directly in the fight went against their baser instincts.
He feinted toward Coryan but at the last minute, he changed direction. Moving too damn fast, he came for Syn. Only one thing saved her—he wasn’t used to fighting somebody half his size. She darted away, relying on her flexibility and years of experience to evade him. It was close, though. She felt the disturbance in the air ripple against her flesh. He didn’t waste any time and came at her again, harder. Faster.
Syn took his legs out from under him, but he was prepared this time, and when he went down, so did she. Trapped under his bigger body, she sucked air into her lungs.
Once more, touching him flooded her with heat, heat that suffused every fiber of her being, chasing away the chill. For the briefest moment, they were close, close as lovers, and she let herself revel in that heat, let herself feel his strength, feel all of him. But not enough . . . nowhere near enough.
Through their clothes, she could feel the heavy thud of his heart, beating so close to hers.
Then he spoke, and the spell shattered.
“This isn’t a fair fight,” he said in a monotone.
Working her hands in between them, she jabbed at his neck. He went red and gasped for air. As he went to shove away from her, she caught him between his legs with her knee.
It was utterly silent, save for the strange, choked sound he made deep in his throat as he rolled to the side. Syn came to her feet and stood over him.
“You’re damn right it’s not a fair fight,” she told him. “But then again, you can’t win a war, you can’t survive if you’re busy complaining about a fair fight.”
She moved to the edge of the circle, watching Xan from under her lashes. He recovered quick, rolling to his feet and watching her with a mix of disbelief and anger. The anger melted away, replaced by that same measuring gaze he’d focused on every other fighter he’d met in the circle.
About damn time.
“When I was ten, my mother was taken from me—she’d hidden me with my older brother, told him to keep me quiet, no matter what. I couldn’t do a damn thing to help her. All I could do was listen, helpless, as five Sirvani dragged her away from me. I never saw her again.” A knot tried to form in her throat, but she ignored it. “My father had died the year before in a raid. My brother died two years later on a scouting mission. I was just a child and I was alone. There’s nothing fair in that. But complaining about it didn’t bring them back.”
“Fighting an unfair fight will not bring them back,” he said.
“No. But it might help another girl—it has helped other girls, other boys. Innocent children. The women of this world can’t sit by the wayside, letting the men fight. If we want safety, we have to fight for it. It’s about survival, not fairness. I didn’t learn how to survive by only fighting the battles I could win. I learned how to survive by fighting the battles I couldn’t win.”
He inclined his head. “Point taken.”
Kalen stood at her back. Bron was at her right. Elina and Coryan waited patiently at her left.
But she didn’t look at any of them. She took three steps, placing her body once more inside the circle.
“Lets try this again,” she said, staring at Xan and nothing else. “We do this my way, or you leave. The next time I tell you to step into the circle and fight a woman, what are you going to do?”
A faint smile curled his lips just before he attacked.
He spoke with no trace of an accent. Hell, if it wasn’t for his clothing, if it wasn’t for the way her gut screamed at the sight of him, she could have mistaken him for one of her people.
“How considerate of you, showing such concern for us.” She bared her teeth at him. “Any other reasons why you’re darkening my doorstep?”
His brows came together, a puzzled frown on his face. “I’ve yet to darken a doorstep, witch.”
“You’re too damn close to our territory—too damn close to a whole lot of people who’d sooner gut you than look at you. Why in the holy hell are you here? Where are the rest of your men?”
With a humorless smirk on his lips, he said, “It doesn’t look as though I have any men.”
“Not buying it.” Syn shook her head. “Warlords don’t travel alone. Where are the others?”
“There are none. I’m what you would call a…” He paused, his head cocked as though he was trying to find the word. “A deserter,” he finished, his voice cool and regal.
Off in the forest, they heard another ominous crack and the ground under them shuddered as one of the forest giants went crashing to the ground. They were going to be dealing with downed trees for a while, she suspected. Glancing up into the canopy, she hoped none of the trees around them gave out just yet.
Unless of course, one of them fell on the Warlord’s head.
Xan lifted a hand, rested it on her shoulder. He dipped his head and quietly said, “It isn’t safe to stay here, Captain.”
“Agreed,” Kalen said, his voice flat and hard.
Damn it, she knew that. But damn it, she didn’t know what to do. Tersely, she said, “What about him?”
She glanced at Kalen, one quick glance, because she wasn’t looking away from the Warlord for any longer than two seconds.
He didn’t answer outloud. His voice, hard and harsh with worry, blasted into her mind with enough force that she almost flinched. “I don’t know what in the hell to do, but I don’t think it’s wise to just leave him here.”
“How do we know he’s telling the truth about being a deserter? And what in the hell does that mean anyway? Why did he help us?”
Kalen’s silver flashed. “I don’t know. And we don’t if he’s telling the truth—you or Elina need to look at him. I can’t do it—if he’s ever encountered a psychic before, he’ll know how to modify his thoughts, but he can’t alter his basic emotional landscape. Look at him—if he’s a threat, kill him. Here and now. Otherwise, he comes with us. But he doesn’t leave here alone.”