Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Chiaroscuro - All Romance Ebooks

OUT NOW AND AVAILABLE FROM LOOSE ID- Boston Avant-Garde #6 Chiaroscuro
Published: Dec 31, 2013
ISBN # 9781623005498
Word Count: 77,663
Heat Index     
Lars Aasen uses his playboy image like armor. If he pretends he doesn’t care, nobody will ever guess he does. When his relationship with Mattie begins to blossom, he runs to Owen hoping the sexy bouncer will agree to keep it casual. Lars could have never guessed that he had found the two people he cannot live without.

Mattie is a quirky artist who wants nothing more than a home and a family of her own. She can’t help but wonder if her heart will ever recover from Lars’s abrupt exit from her life. Then a jaded bouncer named Owen intervenes when a local lunatic takes an unhealthy interest in Mattie. She can’t help but wonder if Owen might be her prince charming in a sarcastic disguise.

It doesn’t take Owen long to realize that he and Mattie both have unfinished business with Lars Aasen. Owen has dark secrets that force him to keep things casual, but he can’t stay away from Lars and Mattie. Fate threads the three lovers together, but an outside enemy threatens to rip them apart. They'll have to learn to see through the shadows to live together in the light.
Reader Rating:  Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating:   Not rated

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Owen turned the shower on full blast so he wouldn’t have to hear Lars slam the door on his way out. Owen should’ve been glad to see the last of his most recent lover. The past few months had been like a roller coaster. The kind that went up and down and never seemed to end.

The way the man waffled about his sexuality made Owen crazy. Why couldn’t Lars understand that it didn’t matter if they were both men? They fucked. It was highly enjoyable. Ergo, why stop? It wasn’t as if Owen had a desire to go pick out wedding china or something.

As if that’s ever going to happen for me.

Owen didn’t want to think about the sins he’d committed that would always stand between him and a normal relationship. Steam billowed around the small bathroom, fogging up the mirror and chasing away the specter of past violence that haunted him still. Owen walked into the spray and savored the burn. He closed his eyes and felt the water saturate his thick hair. Bracing his hand against the tile wall, he let the water wash away the sweat and scent of sex. At that moment, he wished it were possible to wash the memory of Lars away as easily.

A loud knocking pulled Owen out of his maudlin thoughts. There was only one person in the world who had the brass to bang on his door like that. He shut the water off and grabbed a towel before stepping out of the shower.

Another round of insistent pounding made him grumble, “I’m coming!” He anchored the towel a little more firmly around his waist. “It’s no wonder Malachi enjoys spanking your ass so much if you make a habit of being this rude!”

He caught the barest hint of a smothered noise of feminine outrage on the other side of his thick door. That made him smile. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but messing with Selena Aasen gave him intense pleasure. It was probably because she was always guaranteed to rise to the bait, and maybe because she’d managed to permanently snag both of his bosses. Of course, he also liked her—not that he’d ever tell her that.

Owen flung the door open and gave the slim blonde his meanest look. “What do you want?”

She didn’t even flinch. “Where’s Lars?”

Owen mentally recoiled. Lars was Selena’s cousin, but the way Lars seemed to hate himself every time he wound up in Owen’s bed hadn’t suggested he’d be free with information about their clandestine relationship.

“Come on, Owen.” Selena folded her arms and gave him the stink eye. It was an expression that turned the massive Malachi into putty, but Owen wasn’t Malachi.

He decided to be blunt. “Lars left about a half hour ago.”

“Dammit!” Her fierce expression dissolved into a look of worry he’d never seen before. “He’s not answering his phone. I figured that meant he was with you.”

Owen opted to let that pass. “Why? Did you need him?”

“No…it’s just”—she seemed to reconsider him—“my friend Mattie is stuck having a meeting with a total douche bag later on, and I was going to send Lars to keep an eye on her.”

“Why Lars?” Owen’s mental radar was a blaring siren in his head. Surely Selena wouldn’t send Lars to babysit a woman he didn’t know. What if this Mattie chick was the person Lars had refused to talk about earlier?

Selena looked uncomfortable. “It’s no big. I’ll just ask Demon to shadow her for a bit.”

Yeah, that’ll go over like a ton of bricks.

The Demon of Triptych didn’t shadow anyone but Selena, Malachi, or their daughter, Alisa. Demon leaving his family to take on a security detail for some random chick wasn’t going to happen.

“I’ll do it,” Owen offered.

“Oh.” She suddenly became very interested in her manicure. “I’d hate to send someone she doesn’t know. That would just creep her out more, don’t you think?”

“And she knows Lars, how?”

“Well they…”

He had her now, and they both knew it. Owen sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m not an idiot, Selena. I’m guessing they were fucking each other at one time or another.”

“I think they broke it off this past summer sometime,” she said hastily. “I’m sure it hasn’t happened since the two of you…uh…”

He couldn’t help it. Owen laughed so hard he nearly lost his towel. “Sheesh! You’re acting like I’m some lovesick girl. We’re hardly a couple, Selena. We fuck and we enjoy it. That’s it.”

She wasn’t laughing. Owen felt his own humor die at the speculative expression on her face. He became instantly aware that she and Lars had grown up as close as brother and sister. What had Lars told his cousin, and how weak would Owen look if he asked about it?

“Artists’ Row in Salem,” Selena said abruptly. “Her name is Mattie English. She’s got a stall on the opposite end from the Lobster Shanty. She’s meeting some guy named Daniel Hyde. I’ll e-mail you the dossier Malachi put together.” She dug her keys out of her pocket and stuffed them into his hand. The pink rhinestone princess crown hanging off the ring looked absurd in his grasp. “Take my car. Mattie gave me this keychain. That should give you a little credibility if you need it.”

* * * *

Mattie was jumpy as a cat all afternoon. Even the kids who’d shown up to her class seemed to notice. Each artist who was granted stall space in Artists’ Row for the season was expected to teach art classes to the community. Normally it was a job Mattie loved. In the fall she typically taught at the local elementary after-school program, and she saw many familiar faces on Artists’ Row. Today she could hardly keep her mind on the shading techniques she was demonstrating.

How was she supposed to concentrate on the pattern of light and shadow striking the potted plant outside her work area when she was scheduled to meet up with a man who had been arrested last year for sacrificing goats?

As if the very idea of animal sacrifice wasn’t enough to make her skittish, Mattie was still trying to figure out why Meecham would be aligning himself with Hyde. Wiccans didn’t practice that sort of thing. At least none of the ones Mattie had ever met would have considered it. Life was a precious, sacred thing. The members of the Circle she’d belonged to had valued life too highly to ever think they were worthy of snuffing it out. That was the Goddess’s decision, not theirs.

“Miss English?” Fourteen-year-old Lydia twisted her head sideways to get a better look at Mattie’s sketch pad. “Your tree looks possessed.”

So it does. “I suppose you could say this is an example of how we use chiaroscuro to make a mood.” Mattie decided backpedaling at this stage would only seem weirder, so she dove right into the demonic theme. In moments she’d shaded her tree into a pit stop on the way to hell. “We can use shadows in our drawings to set a peaceful, lazy mood, or you can make it look like something straight out of Sleepy Hollow. Artist’s choice.”

Mattie flipped to a new sheet in her book and tried to squash her nerves into the background. Her gaze flitted around the sunny walkway between the stalls until it settled on a man sitting nonchalantly at a bistro table twenty yards away.

Now there’s a body made for shading.

Her pencil began to sketch of its own accord. He was a big man dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans with one booted foot crossed over the other. His skin was like burnished copper, a shade she usually found in the local Native American tribes. He was utterly relaxed, but as she outlined his broad shoulders, she realized he was also very alert. Something in the way he held his head told her that his dark gaze could absorb everything at a glance.

She kept waiting for her brain to start comparing him to Lars—something it seemed to do with every man these days. Drawing side-by-side analyses of Lars Aasen and random men who seemed interested in her had basically destroyed any hope of a love life since Lars had run out on her during the summer. It had been totally unexpected. She’d thought things were going well between the two of them, maybe even ready to step to the next level, and then he’d stopped returning her calls.

Mattie sketched in the tree shading the bistro table, paying close attention to how the sunlight filtered through the tree’s branches, before shading her warrior in tones of charcoal and mahogany.

My warrior?

Yep, she was losing it big-time. She was practically salivating as she scoped out the darkened hollow beneath his sloping jaw and noticed the barest hint of blue ink visible along the neckline of his T-shirt.

Her hand stilled, the scratch of her pencil going silent. He was staring at her. She met his gaze. Not because she wanted to, but because she couldn’t stop herself. She was utterly trapped by the heat lurking beneath his calm exterior. Tendrils of awareness crept through her nervous system, culminating at a point between her legs. Molten desire melted her insides. She clamped her legs together and bit back a moan. It’d been too long. Celibacy didn’t agree with her. Mattie’s innate sensuality was so intense it sometimes left her trembling with needs she couldn’t acknowledge. It was something she kept at bay with very carefully orchestrated relationships while wishing fervently she could find something lasting.

Then she’d made the ill-advised split-second decision to get involved with Lars. Since then she hadn’t managed to put him behind her and find someone else. She’d become fixated on him, unable to focus on another man—until now.

Mattie believed strongly in the vibrant life force underlying all things. Every living plant and animal had its own energy—an aura, a tangible something that could be felt if she tried. Lars’s internal vibrancy had been like an aphrodisiac from the start. She’d never experienced anything like it. Hadn’t thought to meet anyone else with such a powerful intrinsic vigor. Now the memory of Lars and the reality of this perfect stranger seemed to blend in an unrealistic fashion.

“Miss English?” Lydia touched her shoulder. “What do you think?”

When her attention was ripped away and refocused on the class, Mattie felt drained, shattered, and shaken. Four teenaged girls were staring at her with openly curious expressions on their bright young faces. Exhaling deliberately, Mattie noted Lydia’s careful shading of the flower petals on her sketch pad. “Those are very realistic, Lyddie. You’ve developed a wonderful eye.”

The teen flushed with pleasure and turned to giggle with her friends. Mattie let her gaze wander back toward the stranger, only to discover he was gone. It was as if he’d never been sitting there. Disconcerted, she glanced back down at her sketch to reassure herself he’d been real.

She absently twiddled her pencil. Almost of its own volition, her hand added a few more details. The background materialized into another bistro table, a second chair facing the first. Lars’s body took shape on the page. The familiar lines of his slim-hipped frame, powerful shoulders, narrow waist, and long legs. She smudged in his perpetually tousled dark hair and the familiar dusting of five-o’clock shadow on his jawline.

Fully immersed in her own artistic world, Mattie placed herself at a triangular point between them. Not in a physical sense, but a focal one. It was as if she were staring at them both and soaking up the smoldering heat of their regard. Energy crackled to life on the paper, and she wished she had time to put what she was feeling on canvas in the broad, sure strokes of paint.

The spell ended, and Mattie snapped back to reality. Heat bloomed across her cheekbones, snaking down her neck and making her feel light-headed. There wasn’t a hint of jealousy or competition between the two alpha males on her page. Instead, they seemed oddly content to share…everything.

Talk about wishful thinking. I need to get laid.


Daniel Hyde popped out of thin air behind her left shoulder. Mattie quickly closed her sketch pad and gave her visitor what she hoped was a friendly yet unencouraging smile. A lump of dread settled in her belly when he returned her smile with a leer. This didn’t promise to be a pleasant afternoon.

“Girls?” Mattie glanced at Lydia and her friends. “That’s all we have time for this afternoon, but you’re all welcome to stay and finish up as long as you’d like.” In fact, she was hoping they’d stick around.

Hyde looked at the girls with thinly veiled contempt. He gestured toward the back of Mattie’s booth. “Shall we look over your paintings?”

She was starting to wish her black scoop-necked blouse and loose jeans were a baggy sackcloth. Hyde’s gaze was stuck to her chest as if he’d lost his eyeballs in her cleavage and wanted to retrieve them.

With a resolute sigh, she gestured to one of her largest pieces. “This is a personal favorite.” It had been painted near Marblehead in Lady’s Cove. The brilliant sunset showed the boats coming in with their colorful sails bathed in the fiery red-and-orange glow of the sun.

“It’s very nice.” He nodded toward a painting depicting storm-gray clouds gathering over Gallows Hill. “But this is more to my taste.”

Gee, why doesn’t that surprise me? Should I sketch in a few headless goats too?

The thought made her shiver. If Lars and the stranger outside both possessed brilliant energy, this guy’s aura could only be described as dark. Daniel Hyde gave off a vibe that made every hair on her body quiver with dread. Why had she ever thought him a harmless perv?

“Meecham says you can do a fair historic representation,” Hyde said. She met his gaze for a moment only to realize it was oily black. “I want to capture the terror of the hangings.”

He didn’t have to expand for her to know what hangings he was referring to. It was in his face, in his voice, a desire to revel in the madness that had seized Salem in 1692. Interest in those events brought people to Salem. Whether for simple curiosity or macabre reasons they kept to themselves, people wanted to know what had happened. Still, this felt different.

Hyde’s penetrating stare seemed to strip her skin from her body as it delved into her soul. “I need three paintings, one of the trials, with the spectral presence of the witches tormenting the victims. One of the hangings, and the last one depicting Giles Corey as he was pressed to death in the field.”

Her lungs couldn’t draw breath. Blood coursed wildly through her veins, and she grew light-headed. Finally, she managed to drag in enough air to speak. “I-I can’t paint that. What you’re asking… That’s not even what happened! There were no specters. There probably weren’t any witches. There are tons of theories. Ergot poisoning, political power games, bored teenaged girls—take your pick!”

Hyde edged closer, crowding her into the corner of her stall. She’d draped a sunny length of yellow linen across the rear wall. It tickled her ear as she tried to back away.

His lips curved into the vestige of a cruel smile. “Perhaps it was too much to expect a woman from a long line of cowards to believe the truth.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Mattie gazed wildly around, searching for someone to help. Lydia and her friends had wandered off, probably down to the Shanty to grab a snack. She could scream, but there was no guarantee anyone would hear or even care. What the hell had she been thinking meeting a weirdo like this?

OWEN HAD NEVER felt such an all-consuming urge to rip someone’s spine out. He’d turned away for less than five minutes, just long enough to get himself together after Mattie’s probing gaze had sliced right through all his carefully erected barriers. Next thing he knew, Daniel “Goatkiller” Hyde had pinned Mattie in the back of her stall for who knew what purpose.

Owen thought fast. He pulled out Selena’s keys and let the sparkly pink crown dangle from his fingers. Striding toward the back of the stall, he let them jingle. “Hey, baby, are you almost done here? I’ve got your keys.”

Hyde whipped around, his lip curled into a silent snarl. Owen lifted his chin and let the menace roll off his body in waves. Working as a bouncer at Triptych had taught him all kinds of things about silent presence. If he had to use every ounce of it to get Mattie away from this guy, he would.

Mattie peered at him as if he were offering a life raft in a storm. Her already fair skin was pale as milk, intensifying her dark hair and blue-gray eyes. Owen tried to exude as much goodwill toward her as he could. When her gaze flickered over the keys in his hand, he saw quiet relief enter her expression.

“My name is Owen.” Owen didn’t offer his hand to Hyde. He had no desire to touch a man who could give off the kind of evil this one was. “And you are?”

“Leaving, if you’ll excuse me.” Hyde turned on his heel and exited the booth without another word.

Owen turned, placing himself between Mattie and Hyde until the man was out of sight. He could sense her trying to gather what was left of her composure. When he turned around, she was trembling, one hand gripping a support pole.

“Selena sent me,” Owen said softly. “You’re safe.”

She seemed to waver. A tear streaked down the sleek contour of her elegant cheekbone. Her wobbly legs suggested she might collapse. Before he could think better of it, Owen reached out and drew her into his arms. She nestled there as if nature had made her to fit him perfectly.

I absolutely understand why Lars loves this woman, whether he’ll admit it or not.

“It was you,” she whispered. “Outside, staring at me.”


“Who are you?”

There was nothing but simple curiosity in her tone. He’d expected leftover hostility or fear from Hyde’s near attack, but there was none of that. She rested in his arms in a posture of utter trust. “I work at Triptych.”

“Yes, but who are you?” Her gaze made his cock quiver with awareness. “Why do I feel like I already know you?”

He wished he knew. It might make her less tempting. Or not. Owen couldn’t even decide if part of her allure was because she’d managed to snag Lars so thoroughly. Did she even know that? What if she was clueless, or worse, what if Owen was completely wrong, and there was something else instigating Lars’s self-castigation?

And why the hell do I care? I shouldn’t care. I can’t care.

“Will you take me home?” she asked. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Her instant faith in his good intentions humbled him in a way nothing else in his life ever had. “Anything you want.”
Copyright © Kaitlin Maitland

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Now Available-Junebugs, Haunted Houses & Jack-o'-Lanterns

I think some of the greatest love stories are the ones that happen between two people who think their chance at romance is already over and done. Getting swept off your feet by a handsome stranger is easy. What happens when you're navigating love in the messy everyday world of diapers, runny noses, post partum depression, and all those crappy little habits that take center stage in our married lives?

With the city of St. Louis and Clan McKinloch as a lively background, I hope you'll enjoy reading about two people who thought their romance was done. A guy who never said what needed to be said until it was too late, and a woman who desperately wants to know she matters.

Stacey is tired of sharing Donal with his job at McKinloch’s Pub.
She wants a husband who puts her first. Besides, sometimes being
married to the hottest guy in the room means you spend all your time
wondering who else is volunteering to warm his bed.

Donal has never wanted any woman but Stacey. There is no way he’s
letting her walk away from their marriage without a fight, even if he has
to step out of his comfort zone and sweep her off her feet. Fortunately,
chemistry is on his side, if only he can make Stacey understand that the
sparks they have in the bedroom could be carried over to the rest of their lives.

It doesn’t take Stacey long to realize that the guy you have might be exactly what you need. After all, nothing worth having comes easy. Worse, she’s starting to realize that she might have unfairly judged the one guy she needs to make her life complete.

An excerpt from the book

“Look, Mama!” Tyler cupped his baby palm around a shiny green beetle. “Look at the pretty bug!”

Stacey McKinloch crouched beside her son and tried not to feel as if every single person attending her brother-in-law’s wedding was staring at her. Although since they absolutely were staring at her, she was probably entitled to a little paranoia.

“What kind is it?” Tyler asked.

“It’s a june bug.” Stacey admired the way the torchlight shone on the beetle’s iridescent shell.

It was a beautiful evening. The twilight sky was a soft canopy over the outdoor dance floor and billowing white tents that had been set up for the reception. The air was balmy with just a touch of the humidity that would descend upon the St. Louis area like a suffocating haze come August.

“It’s May, Mama.” Tyler squinted his eyes at her as though he were trying to decide if she were pulling his leg or not.

Stacey chuckled, wondering how to explain to such a black-and-white thinker that the beetle’s name had very little to do with when he and his brethren descended upon the Midwest like a plague. Setting the abstract aside, she went with a logical explanation. “Maybe he’s early?”

Tyler giggled, his greenish-blue eyes lighting up his face and making her heart ache. Aside from his eyes, he looked so much like his father. The thick dark hair curling boyishly around his forehead and ears, his complexion, and even his smile reminded her of Donal.

As if the mere thought of his name could conjure him from thin air, Stacey caught a glimpse of her estranged husband leaning against the corner of the bar with his eldest brother, Oz. He was staring at her. It seemed as though lately all he did was stare at her. It was a pretty radical change considering he’d barely noticed her the last three years they’d been married. Three months after Tyler’s birth, Donal had started working endless hours and stopped paying any attention to his wife. Even their once active sex life had dwindled to nearly nonexistent.

Why couldn’t he pay this much attention to me while we were together?

She’d been a fool to come to the wedding in the first place knowing all her soon to be ex in-laws would be there. The whole lot of them probably thought she was a horrible person for filing for divorce from Donal, but then they hadn’t spent three years of a six-year marriage lying awake at night wondering if he was really at work or doing something--or someone--else.

Donal turned to say something to his brother, giving her a look at his handsome profile. She wasn’t ashamed to admit it had been his looks to catch her eye in the beginning. The first time she’d spotted him in a crowd at a high school soccer game, she hadn’t been able to stop staring. He’d been there to watch his younger brother play her school’s team in a matchup of long-time rivals.

He shifted abruptly, and their gazes locked. Stacey’s nipples peaked beneath her summer dress, and she felt a throbbing sensation between her legs. It had been like that between her and Donal when they first got together. The chemistry was explosive. Two kids, a mortgage, and their hectic life had changed things. Considering the lackluster state of their relationship in the last few years, she was surprised her body would react at all. Although her unpredictable hormones after the birth of their son three months earlier probably had something to do with that.

Stacey resisted the urge to fan herself. Donal would’ve known immediately, and giving him the idea she was beginning to change her mind about the divorce was on her short list of stupid things to do. Stacey wanted out. She wanted a relationship where she felt as though she were on equal ground. She didn’t want to look at every other woman who smiled at her husband and wonder if they’d spent the previous night flirting it up at McKinloch’s Pub where Donal worked. She didn’t want the “hot guy” anymore. She wanted the predictable, boring corporate executive. She wanted a perfect marriage like her parents had--a partnership where she ran the house and raised the children and her husband worked a steady, normal, nine-to-five job and came home every night for dinner.

A nudge against her arm brought Stacey back to the moment. “Hey, babe, I’ve got your drink.” Brett handed her a flute of champagne.

Stacey stood up and smoothed her skirt before offering her date a smile full of forced cheer. “Thanks!” She gulped the entire thing in one go. “Tyler and I were just checking out the june bugs.”

Tyler heard his name and grinned up at them, lifting his chubby little hands to show Brett his new buggy friend. If his expression was anything to go by, Brett wasn’t impressed. His tailored slacks, dress shirt, and imported shoes didn’t suggest he spent much time doing anything but sitting behind a desk in his brokerage firm’s office. Stacey knew he played golf, but his physique certainly didn’t suggest he’d last the hike across eighteen holes with a golf bag slung over his shoulder. He was her height, and thick in the waist with no hint of muscle definition. That, along with his thinning blond hair, made him exactly what she was looking for in a man the second time around. Brett would be a steady provider who didn’t draw too much attention, and would be home for dinner every night because he could leave his work at the office.

“Wanna hold him?” Tyler offered, smiling up at Brett.

Brett awkwardly patted Tyler on top of the head. “Gee thanks, sport, but I’m good.”

Tyler went back to his beetle. His ring bearer suit was filthy, but the pictures were over and done with, and Stacey couldn’t imagine trying to keep an active little boy clean while attending an outdoor reception.

Brett took a sip of his champagne. “Shouldn’t you tell him to stop playing in the dirt?”

“He won’t be three until next month. He doesn’t understand why he shouldn’t.” Stacey was starting to feel a bit miffed. Didn’t Brett like kids? He was dating her, after all, and she had two boys. It wasn’t like she expected him to raise her sons, but still. There was going to be a ton of dirt in her future.

Brett shrugged. “They call that parenting. Or maybe we could look into hiring a nanny if you’re incapable of handling it. At this rate he’s going to need a bath before he can get back in my car.”

Stacey was stunned he could be so callous toward her and her son. Her heartbeat began to flutter madly as she bit back the torrent of words she wanted to say. She couldn’t be rude to Brett no matter how badly she wanted to be. He was her father’s protégé. The man her parents thought was so perfect for her. The man she thought was perfect for her.

She pasted a smile on her face. “I really appreciate you coming with me tonight, Brett, but I know you’re busy. I was thinking about staying with friends if you’d like to take off.”

Brett pulled out his phone and began scanning text messages. “Are you sure? I don’t want to leave you on your own, but if you’d like to have a girls’ night, I won’t get in the way of that.”

“Oh absolutely!” Stacey aimed a wave at a group of women on the other side of the dance floor. “I see a few people I’d like to chat with, so I’ll just head right on over.” That, of course, was a total lie. There wasn’t one person at this party she felt comfortable talking to now that she’d filed for divorce from Donal McKinloch. These days she was practically a pariah in the Soulard area.

Brett tugged her close to his body. He was younger than Donal. Thirty-two to Stacey’s thirty. Stacey wished his ice-blue eyes and blond hair appealed to her. Unfortunately if she were totally honest, they really didn’t. At least she never had to worry about other women staring at him or hitting on him while her back was turned. Plus, her parents approved of him.

When he kissed her, she held her breath in anticipation. His lips were always slightly damp. He smelled nice, but she didn’t like the way he made her feel so smothered when he moved in close.

Brett cupped her backside and gave it a squeeze, something entirely inappropriate considering the situation. He moved his mouth to her ear and gave it a nibble. “I was sort of hoping you’d come by my place later on, after you took the rug rat home to your folks.”

“That sounds--nice,” she lied. “I’m not sure what time I’ll be done, though. Don’t you have an early golf game tomorrow?”

“That’s right, I do.” He nuzzled her neck. “Although I’ve been looking forward to getting you naked since the first night we met.”

Another awkward fact since they’d been dating six months, but her parents had introduced them well over a year and a half ago when she had still been with Donal. Stacey wished she felt as happy about her and Brett as a couple as her folks did. It would’ve made things a lot easier. She gave him her broadest smile and hoped it didn’t look as insane as it felt. “I’ll do my best to get out of here sooner rather than later so I can make it to your place.” Not.

“All right, honey.” He gave her a big wet kiss. “Call me.”

He turned and walked off without saying a word to Tyler. He didn’t even look back, although Stacey wasn’t sure she cared about that. She was still mentally reeling after his announcement that he was officially trying to get in her pants. There had been little pressure about a physical relationship at first because she’d been pregnant. After that she’d managed to put him off. Apparently her excuses were running thin.

She should’ve been ecstatic at the prospect of having sex. She was hornier than hell these days. Still, as difficult as it was to admit, she was horribly conflicted about the idea of being with someone else. Donal had been her first. After two babies and six years of marriage, she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t scared shitless to have another man see her naked.

DONAL GRIPPED HIS whiskey glass so hard he was surprised it didn’t shatter. It was a special brand of hell to watch another man kiss his wife less than a hundred yards away from him and be unable to do a damn thing about it. Stacey’s rich bastard of a boyfriend didn’t even see the way Tyler was frowning while he watched another man paw his mother.

Not that Donal didn’t understand why a man would have the urge to put his hands on Stacey. She’d always been pretty, but having their children had given her a certain something that made her incredibly beautiful. Her body was round in all the right places with fuller breasts, curvy hips, and an ass he longed to cup. Throw in the perpetually tousled shoulder-length blonde hair, sleepy green eyes, and full, pouting lips, and his wife looked as though she were made for pleasure.

“Have another drink, Donal.” Oz motioned to the bartender.

Donal shook his head. “No. I’m done. I’ve already had more than I should. A few more, and I’ll hunt that asshole down and rip off his balls.”

When Stacey’s new man walked away, Oz gave him a thorough evaluation from his designer-label shoes to the top of his overgelled head. “I’m not entirely sure he’d have any balls to rip off once you got him on the ground. Does he really think he can use product to paste hair over his bald spot? A dude who looks like that can’t possibly be a real man. He probably doesn’t even smell like one.”

Donal grinned in spite of himself. Stacey had always poked fun at the way Donal smelled. He didn’t have to wear cologne. He generally smelled like whatever sauce he’d been experimenting with last before he came home from the pub. She called it Eau de Yum.

The boyfriend strode off across the grounds toward the parking lot, leaving Stacey and Tyler all by themselves on the fringe of the party. Donal didn’t like it. He should’ve been glad her new man wasn’t treating her like a princess, but it didn’t sit well. He pushed away from the bar with the intention of moseying in Stacey’s direction.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Oz demanded.

“To talk to my wife.”

Oz snorted. “Ex-wife. She left you. Remember? Going over there is a bad idea.”

“I can be perfectly civil.” Donal threw his older brother a dirty look over his shoulder. “I seem to remember you’re the one who usually gets into fights at these things.”

Oz grunted, but didn’t respond. He hated weddings, loathed them in fact, though he’d never said why. The only reason he’d come to this one was because the groom was their youngest brother. You didn’t skip out on your baby brother’s wedding. At least a McKinloch didn’t.

Donal inhaled deeply of the soothing night air. It was unseasonably cool for June. More like a balmy autumn night. He could think of a million of those he’d spent with Stacey during six years of marriage. Why did this one seem as though the whole world rested on it?

Tyler spotted him first. “Daddy!” Tyler jumped up off the ground and wrapped his arms around Donal’s legs. “I found a june bug.”

Donal swung his son up into his arms, feeling the instant calm that always hit him when he held his children. “Let me see.”

Tyler opened his hand to show off his prize. “It’s green!”

“You must’ve caught the fastest june bug in the whole world, Chief.”

“Why?” Tyler demanded.

Donal pressed his face to his son’s tousled dark head and inhaled the familiar scent of childish sweat and the outdoors. “Because he got here a whole month early.”

Tyler dissolved into baby giggles until he spotted Donal’s mother across the garden. “There’s Gramma Ella!” Tyler squirmed. “I wanna go show her my bug.”

Donal set his son back on his feet. “Make sure you let her touch it, Chief. Gramma Ella loves bugs!”

Tyler bounded away as quickly as his short legs could take him. Donal watched him, waiting until he could hear Stacey shifting uncomfortably in the silence that lay so awkwardly between them. When he turned to face his wife, he was surprised to note she’d been watching him instead of their son.

Stacey gestured to Tyler and his grandmother. “He’s liable to put that bug right under her nose.”

“My mom raised four boys. She’s seen her fair share of bugs. It’s the snakes she could never handle.” Donal offered her what he hoped was a neutral smile. “I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you.”

She couldn’t hold his gaze. She kept glancing at a gaggle of women half a dozen yards away who seemed intent on staring at the two of them. Donal wondered why. Was she expecting him to head over and ask one of the women to dance, or was she waiting for her new Prince Charming to come back and whisk her off to his castle?

“Where’s Brett?”

“Oh, uh--he had some stuff to do.” She began to edge away.

Donal hadn’t meant to chase her off. He just didn’t know what to say. He never did. Words weren’t his thing. He glanced around helplessly, desperate for inspiration. His gaze fell on the couples swaying gently to the rhythm of a lazy ballad beneath the glow of the torches.

He extended a hand to Stacey. “Want to dance?”

“Is that a good idea?” She glanced longingly at the smooth wood floor nestled into the green expanse of lawn.

At least she hadn’t outright refused. Dancing had always come naturally to them as a couple. Donal’s mother was the old-fashioned sort. She’d made her boys take dance lessons until they could move like Fred Astaire. Plus, dancing didn’t require that Donal come up with fancy words. “Come on, Stace. You know there’s a debutante in a white dress inside your soul just begging to get out there.”

She glanced up at him in surprise, reaching for his hand as though she truly couldn’t resist. Donal had meant the white dress comment as a reference to her coming out as a deb, not as a reminder of their wedding. Still, the first time they’d taken the floor as man and wife wasn’t something he’d ever forget.

“I guess we could dance one song, just to be polite,” she said hesitantly.

He threaded his fingers with hers and tried not to focus on how right it felt to pull her into the curve of his body as they walked toward the dance floor. It shouldn’t be like this. How could it feel as though nothing had changed when in reality nothing was the same?

Copyright © Kaitlin Maitland

Junebugs, Haunted Houses & Jack-o'-Lanterns - All Romance Ebooks

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Enter for a Chance to Win a FREE Copy of Encore!

 Between writing, editing, and reading the final product there seems to be some kind of weird mojo that happens. It's a point where I look up from my reading and say to myself, "Wow, did I actually WRITE that?" This can either be good or bad, but it has a really profound effect on the way I view my work and my characters.

Now, the reason I just flopped all that info onto the page was to make this point--I LOVE this book. Encore was one of those projects that just sort of exploded onto the page in huge amounts. Like I'd sit down to whip off a few pages and look up from my computer three hours and forty five pages later and be totally amazed at how much I'd gotten done.

Of course the other thing about Encore is that it's fairly long. We call it a long novel. Initially I was rather apprehensive about not shaving it down to the same length as say, Impetuous. Fortunately for you readers and my characters, my editor had other ideas. She is absolutely amazing at taking the entire picture into consideration. Thus the end product is a book I still enjoy reading, and one with characters that continually pop up in other stories. For those of you who enjoy my Boston Avant-Garde series as a whole, you'll be seeing Dante, Jericho, and Suri again in Chiaroscuro, which is scheduled to release on December 31 of this year.

So I'd encourage anyone who'd like a print copy of Encore to click on over to Goodreads and enter to win one of four I'm giving away. The winners will be drawn on September 19, so don't miss out on your chance for a free copy.

For now, I'll leave you with just a teaser...

CONFUSION MINGLED WITH desire in Jericho’s mind until he couldn’t separate one from the other. Dante’s lips were firm, the kiss unlike any that Jericho had experienced. It wasn’t distasteful. It didn’t feel wrong. And damned if his cock wasn’t sitting up to take notice.

What did that mean?

Was Dante right? If gay was just a stereotype, and desire wasn’t gender-based, did that mean Jericho might find himself bored of Suri and
attracted to another guy?

Something akin to pain lanced through Jericho’s chest. He closed his eyes against the sensation. The thought of being with anyone else, male or female, was unacceptable.

“It’s getting late.” Dante turned to look over the balustrade again. Below them, the club was in full swing. “I think the place can take care of itself.”

Dante was leaving, heading back the way they’d come. Jericho took a few steps, leaving the marble for the thick carpet. He was torn by a longing to stick with what felt comfortable and an even stronger urge to explore what felt amazingly right.

“Are you coming?” Torn by the duality of everything he felt, Jericho couldn’t even find the words to respond. “This isn’t about making you uncomfortable, Jericho. It’s about finding pleasure in as many ways as we can.”

Dante made it sound so reasonable. As if Jericho would be nuts to turn down a chance to share that kind of intense passion with not one but two lovers...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Teaser of Good Things to Come...

A little tease from my upcoming new release, book number five of my Boston Avant-Garde series--Bellicoso...

SELENA HAD TO fight the urge to clamp her legs together when the stranger spoke. Arousal curled around her nerves and made her hot and wet without knowing the reason why. The only one who’d ever drawn such a visceral reaction from her gut was Malachi. Had her little adventure at Triptych unlocked some weird sixth sense she’d been unaware of until that moment?

Ms. Warren was trying to introduce them. “Mr. Yen is the coguardian of one of the students in this class. Ms. Aasen is going to be teaching dance for us while she continues her own training.”

This guy’s presence was reducing Selena’s intellect to that of an idiot’s. The headmistress would definitely rethink her decision to add Selena to the staff if she could barely babble a greeting. Scraping together what was left of her composure, Selena sucked in a deep breath and gave Mr. Yen her brightest smile. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

Malachi was handsome the way she’d always thought a Greek god would be. Mr. Yen was another kind altogether. He exuded dangerous like his own personal brand of pheromone. She’d never been attracted to an Asian guy in her life, but she’d never met anyone like him. He was only an inch or two taller than she was. His faded jeans and blue T-shirt hugged his spare frame, and his bare forearms were ripped with the kind of muscle that came from hours spent on physical pursuits.

She tried to swallow, but her mouth had gone bone-dry. She lifted her gaze to his face and was trapped by the beauty of his impossibly black eyes. Thick, silky hair hung in his face, and she had to forcibly restrain herself from reaching out to push it back. Remnants of the night Jackson had threatened her drifted through her mind. She’d had only the barest impression of dark hair and unfathomable black eyes.

No way. It’s not possible.

Still, Mr. Yen had a powerful aura. What would it be like to have the right to touch this man? To stroke his golden skin and run her fingers through the fall of hair before pressing her mouth against his full lips?

He took her hand and gently rubbed her palm. “A pleasure to meet you, Selena.”

Her knees sagged, and she struggled to remain upright. His satin baritone was the perfect counterpoint to the memory of Malachi’s bass tones that still whispered in her mind. A strange instinct made her want to kneel before this man. Doing so would’ve been as natural as the hedonistic experience she’d had with Malachi and the flogger.

Don't miss your chance to find out what happens in Bellicoso - releasing July 28 from Loose Id

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Bar is Back in Business...

I think my favorite setting of all time is always going to be a bar. It doesn't matter what the storyline is, the sheer ambiance of a bar just fits. In some cases, (I'm thinking specifically of McKinloch's in my newest series), even a good old fashioned pub is the perfect place to hang out with my characters. That said, some of you might remember one bar in particular that exists only in my imagination, and in the wildest fantasies of a LOT of my readers.

Yep, I'm talking about the Phoenix Rising.

I've had a lot of emails since the first book in the Phoenix Trilogy released back in 2009. (Whoops, did I just let the cat out of the bag?) Most of you want to know where the hell the bar really is and whether or not you can plan a trip. I've even had some locals wondering if they don't have the scoop on where this place really is.

Truthfully, the Phoenix only exists in my head and on paper. If you haven't yet, pick up a copy of the first book. It re-released in 2012 with my new publisher, Etopia Press. I can promise anyone who reads it a gritty, realistic, and sometimes erotically animalistic journey. And I hope that all of you new to the bar and its cast of characters will fall in love with not only Jessa and Connor, who own the first book, but also with our friendly neighborhood bartender Alex.

Which brings me to the point of this post. When I said the bar is back in business, I wasn't kidding. After a LOT of drama, a lot of planning, and a whole lot of writing, I'm psyched to announce that the second book in the Trilogy, Phoenix Burning, is in production. We've gone through edits and while I'm still waiting on the edge of my seat for cover art, I'm really excited at how the final product has turned out.

Just like the first book, my readers are going to find that there's not just an erotic side to this story. There's something just a little dark too. Except that it isn't just dark. It's a story about the light and the dark sides of human emotion and how they affect us throughout our lives. It's about the choices we make and how those choices affect not only our lives but the lives of everyone we meet.

But that's enough of a teaser for the moment. There's going to be more to come. I promise! And you might want to know why a Trilogy and not another series? Honestly? I've just always wanted to write a Trilogy.

And if you missed out on your introduction to the bar where anything goes and hedonistic pleasure is encouraged...

Pick it up here!

Monday, December 31, 2012

So You THINK You Want to Know What the Forefathers Would've Said???

I think it's safe to say that we're all just a tad weary of hearing the political commentators rip each other's throats out regarding things like gun control and fiscal responsibility. What caught my attention the other night though, was a buxom redhead screeching at the top of her lungs that the founding fathers would NEVER have condoned the use of automatic weapons. They would have NEVER approved this, or they would have NEVER... Of course she was cut off by someone else and then the "discussion" dissolved into a yelling match where nobody could understand anything anyone else was saying anyway.

Of course what stuck with me was the moaning and groaning this woman was doing about wishing she could get advice from the great minds that shaped our Constitution... Really? Let me ask you again, are you SURE?

I don't think it takes a seance or any kind of time machine to get a pretty accurate picture of what our founding fathers would have said about current events today IF you were foolish enough to ask them. First of all, men like Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin would have been incensed at the idea of a woman voicing her opinion on a political topic. So I'm guessing their first reponse would have been "SHUT UP!"

Another thing, these guys were white, land owning males. They would have told the female commentator to shut up only long enough for them to process the notion that the American public had elected a black man to the office of the President. Once they managed to wrap their minds around that, they would have gone out and bought up as many automatic weapons as they could lay their hands on.

These guys LOVED weapons. They would have been THRILLED at the idea of owning something that could lay waste to their opponents. We're talking about guys who had just come through a bloody war for independence from the British crown. They had seen horrendous carnage on battlefields where soldiers suffered from conditions that our modern minds cannot possibly comprehend. You might make a brief argument that the great minds who formed the Constitution were tired of war and wanted to lay down their arms and value life, but you'd probably be wrong. These were the same guys that came up with the Second Amendment. The right to bear arms. What does this mean exactly?

Our forefathers knew that an armed populace is an empowered one. They wanted the right to own weapons so that they could stand up to tyranny if it took root in their government once again. These men might have been tired of bloody fighting. But you can be damn sure they considered owning the biggest stick the best form of war prevention.

Now, before you go burning my books in effigy--My point is simply this...

We cannot look back and whine and moan about what our founding fathers, or what the writers of the Constitution might have thought because even if it were possible to ask them you'd never get the answer you wanted. They TOLD us what they thought. They valued men. Specifically white, land owning men. They wanted guns. They wanted their privacy. They wanted the right to practice their own religion. (Which started out with a mostly puritanical framework) They wanted to say whatever they wanted about whoever they wanted to. And really, they hated the concept of a federal government anyway. Doesn't anyone remember what a high value they placed on State's Rights?

More so, we shouldn't WANT to go ask them what they think. What matters is that WE remember where we came from, and that we've evolved, and what that evolution has cost us. Technology has given us incredible luxuries, power, and the fearful responsibilities that go along with it. But sometimes we must take our priviledged heads out of our priviledged asses and remember that giving away the freedoms guaranteed by that musty old document is NEVER a wise thing to do. Governments are a lot like teenagers. Give them an inch, and they'll not only take a mile, they'll use that first inch to tie you up and leave you in the dust. It is up to the people, not the feds, and certainly not the media machine--to determine what is right for our nation.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Best Stocking Stuffer EVER!

Looking for something in YOUR stocking? How about a holiday romance that is a promising first installment of a great new series?

As always, I LOVE to hear from my readers. This book is a slight deviation from my norm, which is always just a little scary. Still, I can't wait to hear what everyone thinks of my new fave family...the McKinlochs.

About the book
Genre: Contemporary; Holidays
Length: Novella
Series: Clan McKinloch

Everything has gone downhill for Ashton since the hot summer night she spent with a military man she hardly knew. Her career is in a shambles, her dreams of traveling abroad are impossible, and her love life is in the toilet. Worse, one of her coworkers has decided she’s the perfect girl for him. Too bad her heart is fixed on the guy she kissed beneath the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Trip McKinloch has never been the favorite son. McKinlochs are supposed to settle down close to home, marry, and help run the family pub. Instead, Trip joined the Air Force, has lived overseas for years, and is in love with a woman he shared one night with during his Fourth of July leave.

When Trip goes home for the holidays he is shocked to discover that the woman he cannot forget is now working as a bartender in his family’s Pub. Worse still, Trip’s brother Gavin has a hefty crush on Ashton and a grudge against Trip that could spell yuletide disaster. Now Trip has to find a way to convince everyone that the footloose McKinloch has finally found the one woman who feels just like home.

An excerpt from the book
Ravenous hordes of people crowded the vendor tents set up on the Arch grounds. Whether spurred by the introduction of Dr. Pepper and hot dogs at the 1904 World’s Fair or a citywide cultural preference, St. Louisans took their food very seriously. Tantalizing smells wafted through the sultry night air, and the boom of the first round of fireworks drowned out the cacophony of voices. What was left of the lawn had been crushed to yellow fuzz beneath the flip-flops of fairgoers. 

Ashton wished she had a clothespin for her nose. The scent of Pappy’s Smokehouse BBQ was more than her frail willpower could take. She’d been determined not to overindulge this Fourth of July. She’d gained almost five pounds eating Ted Drewes Frozen Yogurt and Gus’s Pretzels during last year’s Fair St. Louis. 

I am not hungry. I am not hungry. 

A family of four carrying waffle cones filled with melting chocolate ice cream passed her by. Ash kept striding resolutely away from the food in search of her friends. Luce and their usual crew were supposed to have grabbed the perfect vantage point on the steps overlooking the river. Her friend had texted Ash a picture of their spot near the center railing. She would have already joined them had she not needed to take a desperate trip to the porta johns set up on the other side of the Arch. 

An instrumental patriotic medley filled the air as the fireworks got underway. Ash slowed to a stop. She couldn’t resist watching the brilliant colors sparkle through the sky over the river. The rockets were shot from a fleet of six barges in the central canal of the Mississippi River below. 

The faint odor of burned gunpowder triggered memories of the sparklers, jumping jacks, and Roman candles Ash and her father had always lit off to celebrate the Fourth. She tucked a stray curl behind her ear and rubbed her sweaty palms against her denim skirt. Even dressed in a tank top with her long hair up in a ponytail, she felt grimy and overheated after a day at the fair. Luckily the coconut-scented sunscreen she constantly slathered over her pale skin to protect her “redheaded” complexion kept her smelling tolerable. 

A scuffle broke out to her left. “Hey, dickhead, watch where you’re stepping.” 

Ash attempted a hasty step backward, but she stumbled into a throng of strange men. All were on the large side with close-cropped hair. They were most likely military men from the air base across the river. The first guy grabbed the second one and shoved him in her direction. The impact sent her sprawling. 

“What’s your problem?” The guy who’d accidentally run her over didn’t seem concerned that she was collateral damage. He was too distracted by whoever had pushed him. 

The ground was hard beneath Ash’s rump. She tried to scramble to her feet, but someone stomped her hand. “Ow!” The blow brought tears to her eyes. 

“Stand down, Airman.” A commanding baritone sliced through the fracas. “You’re trampling this poor lady to death. If you can’t behave, I’ll ship your ass back to the base before curfew. Is that clear?” 

“Yessir. Crystal clear, sir.” 

A hand reached down and plucked Ash off the ground. It was warm and firm with a gentle grip that promised the owner knew how to handle a woman. Her nerves sang from her fingers all the way to her toes. She felt like a schoolgirl who’d just discovered the difference between girls and boys. 

“Are you all right?” The impromptu rescuer led her a slight distance from the crowd of airmen. “Some of us military types forget that not everyone is trying to stab us in the back.” 

“I’m fine, really.” Ash stared up at the tall, broad-shouldered man in khaki cargo shorts and a plain gray T-shirt. It was too dim on the lawn to see what color his eyes were, although his short hair was dark. Was it possible to tell by someone’s aura whether or not they were hot? Because this guy’s aura was screaming gorgeous. 

Gorgeous, provocative, seductive, alluring--how many other words can I come up with for yummy? 

“Are you out here by yourself, ma’am?” He hadn’t let go of her hand and was now scanning the people milling about as if he was determined to find somewhere to put her. 

She had to swallow a few times before her voice would work. “I’m meeting my friends by the steps.” 

“Your boyfriend shouldn’t let you walk around the fair alone, ma’am. It’s dark, and there are a thousand lowlifes skulking around out here.” 

“I don’t have a boyfriend at the moment.” Ash couldn’t help it. She laughed. “And skulking lowlifes? Really?” 

“Sorry, was that a little too dramatic?” Even in the reflected light of the fireworks, she could see the smile on his face. His features were bold, especially his strong jawline. “My name is Trip, by the way.” 

“Well that’s ironic.” She wondered who’d given him the nickname and why. Surely that wasn’t his real name. “I’m Ashton.” 

“Nice to meet you, Ashton.” 

He brought her fingers up to his lips in a gesture that made the bottom drop out of her stomach. The delicate sensation of his lips brushing over her skin sent tendrils of warmth licking silkily over her entire body. She’d never been attracted to someone like this. Never. 

He kept hold of her fingers as if reluctant to let go. “Can I walk you over to find your friends?” 

He smelled good. In an aromatic world of spicy food and flocks of people, how could she possibly pick out his scent? Oh, but she had. It was amazing. Sandalwood, mint, and something utterly male, it had lingered below her radar until she tried to grab a breath in order to speak. 

Trip had asked her something, and she still hadn’t answered. He was going to think she was an idiot. Forcing her brain to function, she hoped she wouldn’t come off sounding too eager. “You’re more than welcome to come with me. My friend Luce promised she grabbed a great spot to watch from. You can join us if you’d like.” 

The offer had seemed like a good one, in theory. Ashton’s heart sank when she realized she was taking this hot specimen of manliness to meet a hot specimen of femininity. Once Trip met Luce, he’d instantly forget Ash. 

Trip set a leisurely pace, heading down the hill and away from the thickest of the crowd that littered the lawn with blankets and picnic baskets. “Are you from around here, Ashton?” 

“I live in Soulard.” Ash paused when he did to watch a particularly bright flash of blue explode into burning white stars that sprinkled the sky. 

In the light of the explosion, she could see his teeth flash in a smile. “So practically right down the street then.” 

“What about you? You bossed those testosterone-loaded partiers like a pro. So I’m assuming you’re military something or another.” Ash wondered if it would be better or worse for him to be from St. Louis, stationed nearby, or just passing through. 

He chuckled, reaching up and rubbing a hand across his short hair. “Funny how that works, actually. I’m not even stationed over at the base, and I don’t have a clue who those guys were.” 

“And they listened to you anyway? That’s sort of bizarre.” Ash could have launched into an entire conversation about preconditioned responses, but she refrained. There was no need to make this guy think she was some kind of freak. 

“Honestly, they’re conditioned to follow orders. I’m an air force captain, so I’m conditioned to give orders.” He shrugged. “Its just habit.” 

Ash couldn’t hide her fascination. “So basically the training you guys receive makes it possible for anyone with authority to assume command. That way, if there’s an emergency, you don’t have to go through all that proving crap just to give a few basic orders and get something done quick.” 

He gave her a strange look. He probably thought she was a total geek. Ash sighed. Why did guys always want some giggling, vapid beauty queen who said her fondest wish for humanity was “whirled peas”? 

“Are you in psychology or something?” Trip asked. 

Here it was. The inevitable brush-off. “Actually, I’m an office manager for a dentist. People are really interesting to me. Sorry. I didn’t mean to talk your ear off.” 

“No, I like it,” he said. 

Something undeniably sad touched his face. Ash wished she could see more clearly, but the erratic flashes from the overhead fireworks weren’t enough to see detail. He seemed almost wistful. 

Trip lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a real two-sided conversation about something other than ordnance, who’s sleeping with whom, or why so-and-so didn’t do what he or she said they would.” 

Ashton’s insides clenched at the contact. Who was this guy, and how had she managed to find him in the madness of Fair St. Louis? She tried to find something she could say that would encourage him to keep talking without making her sound pushy. “That sounds as if it might get tedious after a while.” 

“It is. I’m home on leave from Afghanistan. My air force unit has been deployed for the last nineteen months.” He gazed at the sky, the vivid display of rockets reflected off the metallic Arch. “I’ve only been home ten days, but I leave again tomorrow.” 

Ash forgot her petty war against calories and fretting about being less attractive than Luce. This nice guy was about to leave for an uncertain world Ash could not possibly imagine. Compared to his, her problems didn’t even register on the scale. 

He glanced back down, and one corner of his mouth lifted in a wry smile. “I’m sorry. It doesn’t do any good to be a big wet blanket. I’ve had a great time while I’ve been on leave, and that’s what matters.” 

“What have you done for ten days?” Ash was determined to be upbeat and positive. “What do airmen do when they’re on vacation?” 

She couldn’t miss the pure mischief on his face. Not even in the near dark. “Depends on the airman.” 

“What have you done?” 

“I spent a lot of time with my family.” He wandered a little farther across the grounds. She could see the outline of the steps crowded with fairgoers. 

It wouldn’t be long, and their oddly private walk would be over. Ash was sad at the prospect. “Was there a woman waiting to spend time with you while you were home?” 

“Nope. I’m single.” He stopped and turned to face her. “That’s what you were getting at, right?” 

She could’ve happily sunk right into the hillside. Instead, she scrambled for a pithy comeback. “I was, actually. Kind of like when you asked why my boyfriend let me wander around the fair by myself.” 

“Guilty as charged.” His gaze felt like a physical caress. “Can’t slip anything past you, can I?” 

“I hope not.” 

He paused, and she could feel his gaze lingering over every inch of her. “Your hair is really beautiful.” 

Her breath stuck in her throat as he twirled a stray curl around his index finger. Nobody ever called her hair beautiful. It had to be the funky light. Her hair was six shades of red. Not auburn, not cinnamon, just plain in-your-face red. Worse, it was curly. She’d been Little Orphan Annie every Halloween for ten years because it was the only costume her poor dad could come up with. 

“Can I kiss you, Ashton?” Trip took her other hand. “I’m being pushier than I normally would be, but I’m leaving tomorrow. You’ a way I didn’t think existed. Everything lately has been so heavy.” He stopped talking as if he didn’t want to think about the overwhelming portions of his life. Seconds later, his face eased into a warm smile. “You make me think life hasn’t really gone to hell. I’d like to have that memory to take with me when I go back.” 

Oh. My. God. 

“You want to remember me?” She was melting inside, and it had nothing to do with the hot, muggy air. 

“God, yes.” He drew her arms upward until her hands were locked around his neck and she was stretched full length against his hard body. “In fact, I’d like to have a lot more to remember. But a kiss is a good start, and I’ll take whatever you’re comfortable giving.” 

She squeaked when his mouth descended to hers. It was like sinking into velvet. He tasted spicy and male, like his scent, only better. He kissed like a master, something that should’ve scared her but didn’t. Somehow the shadowy specters of his past lovers didn’t matter any more than her lack of experience. 

His tongue slid along the seam of her lips, begging entrance. She opened, and he pushed inside her mouth. He didn’t dominate. He coaxed, drawing her deeper. She moved against him, eagerly taking what he gave before sliding her tongue into his mouth in return. 

It was hot and carnal, the raw sensation of two people exploring the scent and taste of each other. The kiss left her squirming with an ache between her legs. She arched up on tiptoes and felt a bulge between them. Instead of making her back off, it excited her. She’d never felt so wanted, so powerful and feminine all at once. It was heady, and she wanted more. 

He finally broke away, his breath ragged. “I think I need to stop before I can’t.” 

“Don’t.” She nipped his lower lip. “Stop, I mean. You said you wanted more. I want to give it to you.” 

Trip groaned and pressed his forehead against hers. “Darlin’, don’t say things like that. I’m leaving tomorrow, and I might never come back. You’re not the kind of girl who goes around having one-night stands. I can tell that from one kiss.” 

“You’re right, normally, but even if I never see you again--I won’t regret this.” She looked up at a purple-and-red burst of shooting stars. How could it be wrong when it felt so right? “I think this is probably the most romantic moment of my whole life. Why stop now?”

Copyright © Kaitlin Maitland

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