Alex Grayson’s Excerpt: WATCHING MINE

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Do you like to watch?
Find out for yourself with this super hot excerpt from Watching Mine by Alex Grayson!
Read it ALL on January 19!!!

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I SIT BACK IN THE KITCHEN CHAIR I have parked in front of my window. Picking up the binoculars in my lap, I bring them to my eyes. The focus is off, so I twist the dial until it’s clear, then zoom in on the person I’m watching in the apartment across from mine. She’s entering the mouth of the hallway that leads to her bedroom.

I take my eyes from her just long enough to look at the clock on the stove. Right on time. Just like every Tuesday night.

My body tightens in anticipation.

Once she enters her room, her hands move to her hair and she releases the long blonde strands from her ponytail. She grabs the mass of curls and brings it over her shoulder before she runs her fingers through it.

My hands tighten on the binoculars with the need to have my own fingers in her hair, gripping it as I guide her head where I want her.

She stops in front of her dresser, her hands moving to the buttons on her bright red shirt, and she slowly starts releasing them. A black bra comes into view and my dick hardens beneath the zipper. The material slowly slides down her arms until it lands on the floor. Smooth tanned skin tempts me.

The open black curtains flutter as she passes by them. She disappears for a moment before her form comes back into view. Her hands move to the button and zipper on her skinny jeans. When she shakes her ass to get the tight material over her hips, I swear she’s putting on a show just for me. My balls draw up, and I’m forced to release the button and zipper on my own jeans. It never takes much for this woman to put me on the edge.

The first time I saw her was two years and two months ago, and it’s a day I’ll never fucking forget for as long as I live. I had been standing in front of the window, drinking a beer and randomly looking out across the way when something caught my eye. A woman, with her back facing the window, her wild blonde hair cascading down her back. She was on her knees in front of a man. His head was tilted back, one hand on the window behind her, the other fisting a chunk of her hair. Although he was helping guide her, the woman knew exactly what she was doing. I couldn’t see her face, but I desperately wanted to. I’ve always enjoyed watching people have sex, watching people period, but there was something about watching the woman’s blonde head bob back and forth as she took the guy in her mouth. To this day, I still don’t know what it is.

I took out my phone, pulled up the camera feature and zoomed in as far as I could. I still couldn’t see her face, but fuck if the view didn’t get better anyway. After several more minutes of her blowing him, he yanked her away. She stood, and without prompt, turned around and flattened her hands against the glass, presenting her ass to him. My first look at her face wasn’t that great through my camera, but it was enough to send the last of the blood in my body straight to my dick. I blew my load all over the window as I watched the guy fuck her.

I was at the window every day for nine days after that before I saw her again, and each of those days that she didn’t appear drove me insane. The day she did show, she was alone, and all she did was eat a meal she warmed in the microwave, watch the television for an hour, then go to bed. I soaked up every second of seeing her again.

I don’t know where she goes, but she’s rarely home. However, for the past year and a half, every Tuesday night, like clockwork, my ass sits in this chair, and I watch her. Every week the same thing happens. Except for that first time, she’s never brought a man home. Her curtains are always open, except one day a week. Thursday. Every once in a while, I’ll see her walking through her apartment, but most of the time she’s not there.

I don’t know her name, what she does for a living, if she has a family, or even the color of her eyes, but Tuesday is my favorite day of the week, because that’s when she puts on a show for me. This girl is mine, even if only in my head.

Fashion shoot of young sexy striptease dancer

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About Alex

Alex Grayson is the bestselling author of heart pounding, emotionally gripping contemporary romance including The Jaded Series, The Consumed Series, and two standalone novels. Her passion for books was reignited by a gift from her sister-in-law intended to distract Alex and help her pass the time while her husband was away for work. After spending several years as a devoted reader and blogger, Alex decided to write and independently publish her first novel in 2014 (an endeavor that took a little longer than expected). The rest, as they say, is history.
Originally a southern girl, Alex now lives in Ohio with her husband, two children, two cats and dog. She loves the color blue, homemade lasagna, casually browsing real estate, and interacting with her readers. Visit her website, www.alexgraysonbooks.com, or find her on social media!

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ENTICE ME Release Blitz | J. Kenner (@juliekenner) – Author

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julie_enticeme300dpi360x576From New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner comes a sensually seductive novella starring fan favorites Damien Stark and his wife, Nikki Fairchild.

Includes a special preview of Anchor Me, the highly anticipated fourth full-length novel featuring Nikki & Damien as they begin the next chapter in their life together.

I didn’t understand passion until I met Damien, the man who turned my world upside down and swept me off my feet.

And though our life together feels perfect, we can’t escape our secrets–and the danger that continually threatens to surface.

But for one night, I seek a respite. A birthday wish for my husband, my lover, my friend—one absolutely perfect night.

It is my most ardent wish.

And I only hope that it will come true…

 

Amazon | iBooks | B&N | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Kobo UK

 

He bends down so that his lips graze my ear. “Dance for me, baby. Right now.”
”Is that what you want?” I ask. “To watch me dance? Because I have something else in mind.”
His brow rises. “Do you?”
“Mmm,” I say, then start humming as I pull out my phone and find my current favorite song on my workout playlist. A little fast. A little raunchy. A lot fun. I click the button to send it through our sound system, and when the music starts, I press my hand to Damien’s chest and jauntily strut forward, forcing him backward to the padded bench that is intended as a place to sit and wait for the elevator. Right now, I have a different purpose in mind.
“I’ll dance,” I say, doing a shimmy and pulling off my T-shirt in the process. “I’ll even do a stripper dance,” I add. “But I don’t do solo shows. I require full participation.”
“Do you?”
“Absolutely,” I say, turning around so that my back is to him as I shake and shimmy in time with the music and very, very slowly ease my skirt off.
When I turn around, I’m dressed only in my bra and panties, and though I should feel silly, I don’t. Maybe it’s the alcohol. Maybe it’s the lingering high from fucking him in the limo. Maybe it’s the heated way that he’s watching my every move.
Maybe it’s the simple fact that I love my husband.
Whatever the reason, I’m enjoying showing off, turning him on and getting turned on in the process. And as I think that, I slide one hand over my bra and the other down my abdomen to cup myself over my panties.
I have my eyes closed, and the music’s loud, but I still hear Damien’s sharp intake of breath. I figure that’s as good a cue as any, and I open my eyes and strut toward him, then reach out a hand to pull him up.
He complies, amused, and I do my own version of a pole dance, with Damien playing the role of my pole. Up and down, stroking and teasing, shimmying and shaking. It’s a little erotic and a little silly, and by the time I have my bra off and am about to step out of my panties, I’m both desperately wet and giggling furiously.
I bend over to untangle my panties from around my ankle, and when I do, my giggles turn to squeals as Damien scoops me up and tosses me over his shoulder. I pound uselessly on his back, then cry out when he pitches me unceremoniously onto the bed.
“What are you–?”
“Shhh.” He puts his finger over his mouth, then strips off his own clothes. And though he doesn’t add any dance moves, I can’t deny that I enjoy the show.
Slowly, he eases onto the bed and straddles me. “I liked your dance,” he says. “I like even more that you did it because I told you I wanted it.”
“Anything you want,” I whisper, my voice throaty. “You know that.”
“I want you,” he says, then brushes a kiss over my lips. “

 

 

entice-me-teaser-4

 

julie-j-kenner-author-photoJ.Kenner (aka Julie Kenner) is the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and #1 International bestselling author of over seventy novels, novellas and short stories in a variety of genres.

Though known primarily for her award-winning and international bestselling erotic romances (including the Stark and Most Wanted series) that have reached as high as #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, JK has been writing full time for over a decade in a variety of genres including paranormal and contemporary romance, “chicklit” suspense, urban fantasy, and paranormal mommy lit.

JK has been praised by Publishers Weekly as an author with a “flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations” and by RT Bookclub for having “cornered the market on sinfully attractive, dominant antiheroes and the women who swoon for them.” A five time finalist for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award, JK took home the first RITA trophy awarded in the category of erotic romance in 2014 for her novel, Claim Me (book 2 of her Stark Trilogy). Her Demon Hunting Soccer Mom series (as Julie Kenner) is currently in development with AwesomenessTV/Awestruck.

Her books have sold over three million copies and are published in over twenty languages.

In her previous career as an attorney, JK worked as a clerk on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and practiced primarily civil, entertainment and First Amendment litigation in Los Angeles and Irvine, California, as well as in Austin, Texas. She currently lives in Central Texas, with her husband, two daughters, and two rather spastic cats.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | YouTube | Amazon Author Page

ENTICE ME Excerpt Reveal | J. Kenner (@juliekenner) – Author

ENTICE ME by J. Kenner
Release Day: Jan 17, 2017

 

julie_enticeme300dpi360x576From New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner comes a sensually seductive novella starring fan favorites Damien Stark and his wife, Nikki Fairchild.

Includes a special preview of Anchor Me, the highly anticipated fourth full-length novel featuring Nikki & Damien as they begin the next chapter in their life together.

I didn’t understand passion until I met Damien, the man who turned my world upside down and swept me off my feet.

And though our life together feels perfect, we can’t escape our secrets–and the danger that continually threatens to surface.

But for one night, I seek a respite. A birthday wish for my husband, my lover, my friend—one absolutely perfect night.

It is my most ardent wish.

And I only hope that it will come true…

red-purchase-links

 

Amazon – http://amzn.to/2jcAuZW
iBooks – http://apple.co/2gWl2wy
B&N – http://bit.ly/2ehhIeV
Amazon UK – http://amzn.to/2gWFwth
Amazon AU: http://amzn.to/2hnARg7
Kobo UK – http://bit.ly/2hPj85i

 

red-read-an-excerpt

 

He bends down so that his lips graze my ear. “Dance for me, baby. Right now.”
”Is that what you want?” I ask. “To watch me dance? Because I have something else in mind.”
His brow rises. “Do you?”
“Mmm,” I say, then start humming as I pull out my phone and find my current favorite song on my workout playlist. A little fast. A little raunchy. A lot fun. I click the button to send it through our sound system, and when the music starts, I press my hand to Damien’s chest and jauntily strut forward, forcing him backward to the padded bench that is intended as a place to sit and wait for the elevator. Right now, I have a different purpose in mind.
“I’ll dance,” I say, doing a shimmy and pulling off my T-shirt in the process. “I’ll even do a stripper dance,” I add. “But I don’t do solo shows. I require full participation.”
“Do you?”
“Absolutely,” I say, turning around so that my back is to him as I shake and shimmy in time with the music and very, very slowly ease my skirt off.
When I turn around, I’m dressed only in my bra and panties, and though I should feel silly, I don’t. Maybe it’s the alcohol. Maybe it’s the lingering high from fucking him in the limo. Maybe it’s the heated way that he’s watching my every move.
Maybe it’s the simple fact that I love my husband.
Whatever the reason, I’m enjoying showing off, turning him on and getting turned on in the process. And as I think that, I slide one hand over my bra and the other down my abdomen to cup myself over my panties.
I have my eyes closed, and the music’s loud, but I still hear Damien’s sharp intake of breath. I figure that’s as good a cue as any, and I open my eyes and strut toward him, then reach out a hand to pull him up.
He complies, amused, and I do my own version of a pole dance, with Damien playing the role of my pole. Up and down, stroking and teasing, shimmying and shaking. It’s a little erotic and a little silly, and by the time I have my bra off and am about to step out of my panties, I’m both desperately wet and giggling furiously.
I bend over to untangle my panties from around my ankle, and when I do, my giggles turn to squeals as Damien scoops me up and tosses me over his shoulder. I pound uselessly on his back, then cry out when he pitches me unceremoniously onto the bed.
“What are you–?”
“Shhh.” He puts his finger over his mouth, then strips off his own clothes. And though he doesn’t add any dance moves, I can’t deny that I enjoy the show.
Slowly, he eases onto the bed and straddles me. “I liked your dance,” he says. “I like even more that you did it because I told you I wanted it.”
“Anything you want,” I whisper, my voice throaty. “You know that.”
“I want you,” he says, then brushes a kiss over my lips. “That’s all I’ve ever

 

entice-me-teaser-6

 

 

julie-j-kenner-author-photoJ.Kenner (aka Julie Kenner) is the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and #1 International bestselling author of over seventy novels, novellas and short stories in a variety of genres.

Though known primarily for her award-winning and international bestselling erotic romances (including the Stark and Most Wanted series) that have reached as high as #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, JK has been writing full time for over a decade in a variety of genres including paranormal and contemporary romance, “chicklit” suspense, urban fantasy, and paranormal mommy lit.

JK has been praised by Publishers Weekly as an author with a “flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations” and by RT Bookclub for having “cornered the market on sinfully attractive, dominant antiheroes and the women who swoon for them.” A five time finalist for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award, JK took home the first RITA trophy awarded in the category of erotic romance in 2014 for her novel, Claim Me (book 2 of her Stark Trilogy). Her Demon Hunting Soccer Mom series (as Julie Kenner) is currently in development with AwesomenessTV/Awestruck.

Her books have sold over three million copies and are published in over twenty languages.

In her previous career as an attorney, JK worked as a clerk on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and practiced primarily civil, entertainment and First Amendment litigation in Los Angeles and Irvine, California, as well as in Austin, Texas. She currently lives in Central Texas, with her husband, two daughters, and two rather spastic cats.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | YouTube | Amazon Author Page

Take A Look Inside~ AFTER WE FALL by Melanie Harlow (@melanieharlow2)

 

After We Fall by Melanie Harlow
Publication Date: November 28th, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance

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Synopsis:

Jack Valentini isn’t my type.

Sexy, brooding cowboys are fine in the movies, but in real life, I prefer a suit and tie. Proper manners. A close shave.

Jack might be gorgeous, but he’s also scruffy, rugged, and rude. He wants nothing to do with a “rich city girl” like me, and he isn’t afraid to say so.

But I’ve got a PR job to do for his family’s farm, so he’s stuck with me for ten days, and I’m stuck with him. His glares. His moods. His tight jeans. His muscles.

His huge, hard muscles.

Pretty soon there’s a whole different kind of tension between us, the kind that has me misbehaving in barns, trees, and pickup trucks. I’ve never done anything so out of character—but it feels too good to stop.

And the more I learn about the grieving ex-Army sergeant, the better I understand him. Losing his wife three years ago left him broken and bitter and blaming himself. He doesn’t think he deserves a second chance at happiness.

But he’s wrong.

I don’t need to be his first love. If only he’d let me be his last.

“Second chances are not given to make things right, but are given to prove that we could be even better after we fall.” —Unknown

BEHIND THE COVER


“Wow,” she said, shutting the screen door behind her. “That was close. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome.” I crossed my arms, wishing I’d thought to grab a shirt. “Want to tell me what you were doing out there?”

Her cheeks colored. “Um, I was taking a run.”

“Up a tree?”

She laughed nervously. “No. Well, I didn’t start out in a tree. That happened later.”

I cocked my head, unable to resist giving her a hard time. Not so sure of yourself now, are you, Barbie? “Oh yeah?”

“Yes. See, I left the cottage I’m renting without using the bathroom by mistake,” she began, twisting her fingers together, “and I was planning on running a loop around the farm, but it’s bigger than I thought.”

“Ah. So you were looking for a bathroom in the woods?”

“Well, yes.” She swallowed. “Sort of. But then I heard a splash and saw you…” Her cheeks were practically purple now.

I played dumb. “Saw me what?”

“Saw you naked, OK?” she blurted, throwing her hands up. “I admit it—I saw you naked.”

I had no hangups about nudity, but I was damn serious about my privacy, and about people sneaking up on me. But her embarrassment was funny. The two times I’d seen her before, she’d been so polished and poised. It felt good to put her in her place a little. “So you climbed a tree for a better view, is that it?”

Bowing her head, she dragged the toe of one shoe across the wood planks of the porch floor. “Something like that.” Then she looked up at me. Took a breath. “I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I was—I mean, I got—I couldn’t—” She sighed, briefly closing her eyes. “I have no excuse. Will you accept my apology?”

She was prettier without makeup, I decided. And the way she wore her hair off her face emphasized the wideness of her eyes, the angle of her cheekbones, the arch of her brows. Her lips didn’t need all that glossy crap, either. They were a perfect rosy pink, and I wondered if they’d feel as soft as they looked.

Fuck. I hadn’t kissed anyone in three years.

Clearing my throat, I took a step back. “Yeah. It’s fine.” Now get out of here.

She didn’t move. “So you’re not going to fire me?”

“I never hired you.”

“I know. But I really want this job. I think I can help, Jack. I know I can.”

“Suit yourself. I want nothing to do with it.” My name on her lips was trouble. Needing some distance from her, I started walking toward the dock to get my shoes and socks, but she followed me. God, she was a pest. It reminded me of the way Steph used to tag along after the boys when we were kids, wanting to get in our games.

“Are you going to be like this the entire time I’m here?” she asked.

“Like what?”

“Moody and uncooperative?”

“Probably.”

“Why? Do you hate me that much?”

“I don’t hate anybody. I just don’t see why we should pay some city girl who’s never set foot on a farm to advise us.” We reached the dock, and I leaned down to get my stuff.

“I’m not even asking to be paid, so piss off!” she shouted, her voice carrying on the water.

I straightened. “Oh, you’re working for free?”

“Yes!”

“Then you’re an idiot. Or so rich you don’t need the money.”

“I’m not an idiot,” she said through clenched teeth.

“So you’re rich, then.” I don’t know why I was being such an asshole. But for some reason, I did not want to let her see another side of me, or see another side to her. “I should have guessed.”

She crossed her arms. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you look like you’ve led a charmed life. Like you’ve had everything you’ve ever wanted handed to you. Like you’ve never gotten your hands dirty.”

“So get them dirty.”

I almost fell off the dock. “What?”

“Get them dirty. Teach me about working this farm. I want to learn.”

Was she serious? The last thing I needed was to drag her ass around all day, explaining things. Or stare at her ass all day, imagining things. But one look at her defiant face and I shook my head. “Why do I feel like if I say no, you’ll just keep bothering me?”

She smiled and clasped her hands behind her back, rocking forward on her toes. “Because I will. I don’t like being told no.”

“Of course you don’t.” Jesus, she was trouble. A bad apple—smooth and shiny on the outside, spoiled rotten on the inside. But for no good reason, I found myself giving in. “Fine. Go change your clothes.”

Add to Goodreads

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About the Author:

Melanie Harlow likes her martinis dry, her heels high, and her history with the naughty bits left in. When she’s not writing or reading, she gets her kicks from TV series like VEEP, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Homeland. She occasionally runs three miles, but only so she can have more gin and steak.

Melanie is the author of the HAPPY CRAZY LOVE series, the FRENCHED series, and the sexy historical SPEAK EASY duet, set in the 1920s. She lifts her glass to romance readers and writers from her home near Detroit, MI, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and pet rabbit.

Connect with Melanie:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMelanieHarlow/?fref=ts
Amazon: http://amzn.to/1NPkYKs
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Website: http://www.melanieharlow.com
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BURIED SECRETS by J.C. Valentine (@AuthorJCV) ~ Cover Reveal + Excerpt

 

Buried Secrets

by J.C. Valentine
Publication Date: November 29, 2016
Genres: Adult, New Adult, Mystery, Thriller, YA, Suspense

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SPECIAL 99c #PREORDER PRICE!

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2e2NEpi

Synopsis: How do you live with yourself when you don’t even know who you are?

On a chill October night, a girl goes missing setting the small town of Oakridge on edge. James has spent the last five years running from a past that still haunts him to this day. Now he finds himself thrust back into a life he thought he left behind. Finding out his new home may be haunted and reconnecting with an old friend while being thrust into a murder mystery, James finds himself trying to figure out which end is up while questioning his own sanity.

**AUTHOR’S NOTE** Buried Secrets is a New Adult, mystery thriller with very little romance but heavy on the suspense.

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EXCERPT from Buried Secrets 


Fall crept in like a burglar while the town slept. It brought with it a chill that felt refreshing after one of the hottest summers on Oakridge record. A slight, sticky fog hung in the air and evidence of Halloween was on nearly every doorstep in the form of carved jack-o-lanterns. Skeletons hung on doors, and festive orange lights draped roofs. Leaves coated the ground, wet and matted to the sidewalks and streets.

James breathed in the cool air that stung his nose just a bit. He loved when school let out at the end of the day. He never could wait to get out of the confines of the small, overcrowded classrooms. Even now he couldn’t fully escape it. Classmates of his walked and ran the same mile stretch he was, laughing and talking about anything and everything. Right now, he knew the junior high girl and her friend from his science class walking a few feet behind him were debating the hotness of Tommy Henderson, the varsity basketball player for Oakridge High. Everyone knew him, and everyone loved him. He was going to take the team to the championships. Probably would graduate and take some college to their championship, too. Something the whole town could be proud of.

They met a few years ago when James was playing in the woods. AJ found him digging for worms—he’d been on a mission, wanting to teach himself how to fish, to live off the land like the people from ancient times—and he’d offered to help. AJ had run off, leaving James to sit and wonder where he had come from—he hadn’t heard him approach in the first place. He returned cupping a handful of water in his palms. He’d dumped the liquid in the hole James had dug, and moments later, worms began squirming to the surface.

They became fast friends. James kept their friendship a secret. He wasn’t sure why exactly, except that AJ was his only friend, and he wanted to keep him all for himself. If he told someone, they might want to meet him, then the magic might go away. So they spent all that summer collecting worms and pretending to be hunters in the deep woods behind Oakridge Park. When summer break was over and school was back in session, James was disappointed to find that AJ wasn’t in any of his classes. In fact, he wasn’t in any classes in the school. No one heard of him.

He finally broke and told his mom and dad about him one evening over dinner, because he was worried about AJ and needed to share him with someone, so he could feel close to him again. Like if he kept him a secret, and didn’t see him, then he wouldn’t be real anymore. It was an odd way to look at it, he knew, but he hadn’t ever had a friend quite like AJ. He was fun and daring and super inventive, and he liked James, flaws and all.

So when he told his parents about AJ, they were happy for him. His mom said he probably just missed him in the halls. The schools weren’t huge, but they were big enough to lose someone in. His dad said that AJ probably just went to a different school. Maybe in the next town over, since no one knew him here. That settled it for a bit, and the next time James saw AJ, which was at the park just after sunset one evening when James was on his way home from skipping rocks in the small stream in the woods, he asked him about it. AJ had told him that both theories were wrong. He lived a few miles west through the woods and his mom homeschooled him. He said his dad did some sort of factory work in the next town, which was just enough to pay the bills and put food on the table, according to him. It was only then that James realized AJ didn’t wear the best of clothes, and he wasn’t as kempt as James was. But that didn’t make any difference to him. In fact, he felt closer to AJ than ever before. Finally, he had found someone who would never judge him. Someone who could truly understand him.

So when Mercy Worthington fell into step with him, James’s heart beat a rapid tempo and his stomach turned to knots.

“Hi,” she said in a very delicate, but cheerful voice.

James stared at the ground and muttered a hello, but he couldn’t get up the nerve to really look at her.

“I’m Mercy. You’re James, right? James Clearwater. I think my dad works with yours at old man Jenson’s. He does the proofs, doesn’t he?”

James nodded. His dad worked at Jenson Design Studio where he developed photographs in one of the two darkrooms. His dad had big dreams of one day owning his own studio and becoming a famous photographer. Mercy’s dad was a set designer. James knew everything there was to know about Mercy and her family, and not just because the whole town knew who her family was, but because he paid attention and took notes. James was in love with Mercy Worthington, and had been since the third grade when she’d taken a job behind the lunch counter for a day and handed him a carton of 2% with that big, white smile of hers trained squarely on him. She was a senior at the high school, which made her five years older than James, who was thirteen now and in the seventh grade.

Today, like every day, she was radiant. Her dull blond hair waved gently behind her as the breeze caught it and when he found the nerve to look up at her, he found her green eyes smiling on him.

He was going to marry her one day.

“I thought so,” she said, grinning. She took in their surroundings. “Do you take this route every day?” He nodded. “I’ve never seen you, and I walk this way every day. How come I’ve never seen you?”

He shrugged. “I dunno.” He felt awkward and short on words. He stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“You don’t talk much, do you?”

He glanced at her and caught her teasing smile. He smiled back, feeling a little of the tension leave his shoulders. Why was she being so nice to him? A part of him felt like this must be a trick, but when he looked around, he only saw other kids from school walking silently or in small groups or pairs, chatting quietly. Could she really be interested in him? The only kids besides AJ that talked to him were the ones who poked fun of his clothes or his haircut, his slight lisp or the way he tripped over his own feet. She probably just felt sorry for him. He had heard of that before, girls who felt sorry for the underdog and took pity on them. Normally, he would get mad at being a charity case, but right now he couldn’t care less. Someone other than his family knew he existed. Mercy Worthington knew he existed. Suddenly, he didn’t feel like a shadow slinking around in the world unnoticed anymore.

“So how long have you lived in Oakridge, James?” Mercy asked, as they crossed the street.

“My whole life,” he replied.

She nodded. “Do you have any friends? I never see you with anyone.”

He shrugged. “Some.” He didn’t want to look like too much of a loser.

“What about a girlfriend, do you have one of those?”

He felt himself blush. “No.”

“I know what your dad does for a living. So what does your mom do?”

“She likes to garden, but no one pays her for it,” he said. His dad was old-fashioned and believed that the wife should be home with the kids while the husband went out and provided for the family.

“That’s cool,” she said. “My mom is a painter. Sometimes she sells her art to the museum or to some person with lots of money. She’s pretty successful. I was thinking of painting when I get out of college. What about you? Do you know what you want to do after college?”

Honestly, James wasn’t sure he even wanted to go to college. His dad never pushed the notion, insisting that he wouldn’t amount to much more than a gas-station attendant anyway. He wanted to be an astronaut when he was little, like most boys that age did, then he switched to a fireman after a class field trip to the fire station in fifth grade. Now, he just wasn’t sure what he wanted.

“I’m not sure,” he said honestly. “Maybe I’ll just travel across the world for a while and live off the land until I figure it out.” That had been a dream of his and AJ’s, to hitch rides all over the country with nothing but a backpack and a few dollars in their wallet.

Her face lit up with excitement. “That is so cool that you said that. I always dreamed of seeing the world, but my dad said that education comes first. I will have all the time in the world to do what I want after I get my ducks in a row.”

James wasn’t sure he believed that, but he kept his mouth shut.

Heavy footsteps approached from behind and moments later a big, strong arm wrapped around Mercy’s shoulder. Tommy Henderson had arrived.

“Hey, babe.” Tightening his grip on her neck, he pulled her in for a sloppy kiss.

“Hey,” she said when she came up for air. “Tommy, this is James. His dad works with my dad. He’s going to travel across the world one day.” She said this with a grin that made James’ stomach flutter a little.

Tommy sized James up, and James knew he was trying to figure out where he knew him from. James knew him from the many times he “accidentally” knocked his books from his hands, and “inadvertently” tore up his homework. James was afraid if he recognized him, he might have to endure another embarrassing moment involving colorful adjectives and descriptive threats, and he just didn’t want to be made a fool of in front of a girl like Mercy Worthington.

He hung his head, allowing a few scraggly scraps of hair to shield his eyes.

“Travel the world, huh? Like a hobo or something?” He laughed, his deep, belly rolling chortle that made all the girls weak in the knees. James thought it made him look and sound stupid. “What are you hanging out with this joker for? He’s like two feet tall. I could smash him with my pinkie.”

James felt his finger press down on the crown of his head in demonstration.

“Hey,” Tommy said, putting himself between James and Mercy. “You trying to steal my girlfriend?”

“Stop picking on him, Tommy,” Mercy snapped.

Tommy sneered at James, then his features smoothed, and he turned on a smile for Mercy. “Whatever you say, babe. Just making sure the boy understands there’s no competition. You’re my girl, aren’t you, babe?”

Mercy rolled her eyes. “Of course, Tommy.”

They had come to a fork in the road where James’ house was to the left and Mercy’s to the right. “I’ll see you around, James,” Mercy told him, smiling apologetically.

“Yeah, see ya,” Tommy said, then ruffled James’ hair like he was some little kid.

James watched after them as they turned and walked off. After a few feet, Tommy turned to face James. “And, James.” James raised a questioning brow. “Stay away from my girl.”

Mercy punched Tommy in the side playfully, and he laughed, tugging her closer as they resumed walking. James felt his body begin to shake. He was angry. At that moment, he wanted to beat Tommy Henderson until his arms were too weak to continue. For the first time in his miserable existence, James thought he felt angry enough to kill.

As the sun set, the day turned bitter cold, and the rain had moved in. It was sheeting down now, and Mercy’s shoes were soaking wet as her feet beat through every puddle. She was running, the rain pouring down her face in rivers, filling her eyes and blinding her to her path. Someone was chasing her.

She’d decided to walk home after an evening at her boyfriend, Tommy’s, house, and almost as soon as she rounded the first street corner, she felt someone following her. The shadowy figure kept pace for a couple of blocks, then steadily picked up pace, until Mercy broke out running…and so did they.

She was crossing the park playground now, and she could just make out the hill ahead. Her house was just over that hill, and if she could make it, she could get help. As her feet slipped, trying to find purchase on the soft, mud covered ground, Mercy could feel her muscles begin to cramp and burn with exhaustion. Against her will, she was slowing. When her feet hit the loose bark covering the playground, Mercy did slip. She caught herself with her hands and scrambled to her feet, pushing herself harder until she finally reached the bottom of the hill. There she used her hands, her fingers digging into the grass, and pulled herself up until she could look over and beyond to her house. The lights inside were a warm beacon, and she felt a sudden urgency come over her.

As she came to her feet, Mercy heard a muffled thud, and glanced over her shoulder. It was a mistake that she wouldn’t live to regret.

The shadow stood before her, and to her surprise, she recognized the dark figure.

“What do you want from me!”

A visual sweep revealed something big and heavy looking in their hand, and with quick precision, the shadow raised its arm high in the air and brought it down hard. A slow trickle of blood broke through her hairline and ran down her forehead, then her face and dripped off her chin. A second blow caused it to grow thicker and run faster and Mercy fell to her knees, then finally her face, where her eyes focused and glazed over and her breaths faded away to nothing. And still the shadow hit her, until all the fury, all the anger subsided.

Her last vision was that of the warm yellow glow coming from the living room window where her mother and father, sister and brother sat watching the evening news and waiting for her to come walking in the door any moment.

Stooping down, the figure wrapped its cold, wet fingers around Mercy’s ankles and pulled, slipping frequently under the girl’s slight weight as it dragged her lifeless body into the copse of oak trees beyond the playground. Come morning, when the sun broke through the clouds, children would run and play, never knowing the horrors of what happened just a short distance away.

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ABOUT J.C. VALENTINE

JC Valentine

J.C. Valentine is the USA Today and International bestselling author of the Night Calls and Wayward Fighters Series and the Forbidden Series. Her vivid imagination and love of words and romance had her penning her own romance stories from an early age, which, despite being poorly edited and written longhand, she forced friends and family members to read. No, she isn’t sorry.

J.C. earned her own happily ever after when she married her high school sweetheart. Living in the Northwest, they have three amazing children and far too many pets and spend much of their free time together enjoying movies or the outdoors. Among the many hats she wears, J.C. is an entrepreneur. Having graduated with honors, she holds a Bachelor’s in English and when she isn’t writing, you can find her editing for fellow authors.

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