Blog Tour Hop: AFFAIRS OF THE HEART

Each day a group of blogs will present special excerpts from some of the books…look below for the blog hop schedule.

AFFAIRS OF THE HEART
(15 NOVELS AND NOVELLAS FROM YOUR FAVORITE ROMANCE AUTHORS)
Name of cover designer: RENE FOLSOM
Official genre of box set: ROMANCE
Content warning: 18+

Contemporary Romance Box Set — Complete Stories Anthology — Hot New Release — Vacation Reading Package

15 COMPLETE NOVELS AND NOVELLAS FROM YOUR FAVORITE ROMANCE AUTHORS IN ONE PRETTY PACKAGE.

Due to mature content, situations and language, this collection is recommended for audiences 18+. Heat levels range from sensual to scorching. All works in this box set have been professionally proofed by Paper Gold Publishing, unless this service was expressly refused by the author. Some stories are written in American, and some in British English. The authors have chosen to stay true to their heritage.Includes a mix of already released and never-before seen stories, all complete works. Those books which are part of a series can be enjoyed fully without the need to read the complete series (though there is a chance you might develop story-addiction issues—for that, we apologize).

Dive into summer in good company. Affairs of the Heart gives you the chance to make 15 new sets of best friends. Just think about it: 15 hot boyfriends and girlfriends you can lust after, laugh with, or shed a tear for. If there is one thing this set is brimming with is intense emotion. We guarantee you won’t be able to simply walk away, stone-cold, from this collection.

Maci strives for one thing in life—anonymity. With her writing career in full bloom, all she wants is to work in peace while concealing her true identity from the public. Though readers love the science fiction worlds she creates, Maci knows that gender stereotypes could damage her career if she is exposed as a woman.

Liam is the envy of all gamers as the lead developer for nZone Studios. Over time, he builds walls around himself, keeping people at arm’s length who only gravitate to him for his material possessions rather than who he is as a person.
With thick barriers around their hearts and their past looming in the shadows, Liam and Maci challenge each other by slowly peeling away their protective layers and seeing each other for who they really are. It doesn’t take long after their chance meeting at a coffee shop for them to become one another’s game changer.
Note: This contemporary romance novel is the first book in the Playing Games series and contains adult situations meant for ages 18+.


“Trust me, he says. You’ll be safe with me, he says.”

Amelie Watts is sick and tired of being treated like a child. She might be willowy and delicate, but she has strength of the kind that doesn’t show on the outside. Plus, she learned all she needed to know so she could cope on her own. Now, if only her big brother would finally release her inheritance! She would fly to the Bahamas and kiss the backwater she grew up in goodbye.
Jason Watts is fed up with picking up the pieces of his little sister’s life. If only she would grow up already and learn to live life without stabilizers! Her latest idea is insane, and bound to be her most enormous failure to date. But how to make her understand?
Enter Rob Tyson, incorrigible bachelor and Jason’s best friend. For a laugh, they make a bet.
Two people, a hastily acquired boat, and a tropical paradise. What could possibly go wrong?

Zaed, Sophie’s American-born friend, kneels at a party to retrieve a glittering ring from the floor. Before anyone can comment, Natasha, Sophie’s cousin, is shrieking ‘yes, yes, I accept’ to a bewildered Zaed. It’s all a cosmic mistake, but things get out of hand rapidly as Zaed’s father, an old friend of Natasha’s father, bribes Zaed to accept Natasha’s expectations and wed her. But then, Zaed and Sophie fall in love. And the huge, elaborate wedding between Zaed and Natasha, a wedding that will join two powerful families, is next week.

You don’t just back out at the altar. Not in Pakistan…
James, a UK based chef, has tried to make a career with EAT-TV, but his womanizing ways aren’t what they’re looking for with their wholesome family style image. However, the producers of a new reality show about single life, The Fixer Upper, think he’s perfect. Against his wishes his agent convinces him to give it a shot. His overpriced bachelor pad is needing a mortgage payment, and he needs a job to support the tween-aged daughter that’s recently been dumped in his lap.
Margaret Dumas is control freak who has micromanaged her marriage to shambles. When she makes a deal with her mother to quit fixing her up if she’ll do this new reality show, she thinks she’s won. No more blind dates, no more friendly advice, no more “chance meetings” with her Mother’s friends’ sons. The only catch is she’s got to go on detestable reality television and expose her dating habits to a total stranger who is supposed to “fix” her and make her a dating machine. As if.
When Margaret meets James, they clash on the surface, but deep down they recognize something in the other that they want. Redemption.

My name is Alix and I am addicted to sex.

Had been for years. I thought I learned how to live a normal life, but that’s the thing about addiction, it creeps back up when you least expect it. There is no one there for me, no one I can turn to for help. Until I’m given a chance to explore a side of myself I’d always kept locked away. I was lost…until him. I can’t tell you who he is, or why he does the things he’s done. All I can say is I hope one day I behave well enough to take off the blindfold and see the man who controls my addiction. My Master.
My name is John and I am addicted to control.
I tried to deny the dominate side of my personality. I didn’t want to admit how much I enjoyed the power, how much I enjoyed causing pain. That is until the woman I’d been secretly been stalking waltzed into a BDSM club right in front of me. All bets are off. She will be mine.
Together our addictions feed off each other, fueling the fire that burns within. Until suddenly the fire is too hot to handle, burning everything in its path. The pain and scars we’d both come into our fragile relationship with are split wide open, exposing more than either of us can handle, possibly leaving nothing behind to salvage from the ashes.
**Warning: Intended for audiences 18+ due to explicit sex & vulgar language, mention of rape/abuse**

She’d been dealt too many blows to count. He’d always lived life on easy street. Are they Yin and Yang or a mistake of epic proportions?

Makeup artist Reggie Reynolds has endured a life as colorful as her ever-changing hair. After a painful childhood and a tragic adolescence, by sheer force of will, she found success – first in Hollywood, then on Broadway. Returning to her hometown offers a chance to help her aging grandfather and realize her dreams, not to mention soothe a broken heart. But even her storied past won’t prepare Reggie for what happens in her next chapter.
When reporter Eddie Besson meets Reggie on a flight to New York City, he thinks he’s at an all-time high-point in his cushy, perpetual-youth life. Twenty-four hours with Reggie changes Eddie’s perspective. Despite the fact she doesn’t want anything to do with him when he leaves, Eddie can’t stop thinking about the girl from New York City long after he’s gone from the Big Apple.
As Eddie’s perfectly-orchestrated life falls apart, he has some tough decisions to make, with only one thing certain: there will be consequences to pay for his lackadaisical approach to adulthood. Reggie’s own soul-searching reveals some painful truths, including guilt about passing judgment on the guy from Maine. When she runs into Eddie again – this time on his home turf – sparks fly and decisions must be made, choices that aren’t universally well-received. Will this unlikely pair go all-in, find a way to balance the scales and live life on their own terms? Or will tragedy tear them apart for good?

What would you do if you had no place to go and no one you could trust?

Jackson Beaumont prides himself on being a nature-loving, guitar-strumming, carefree sort of guy. When the mysterious Lena Benton walks into his bar looking scared and defeated, it’s not something he can ignore. He’s immediately consumed by concern for her and driven by his desire to help. She’s just so beautiful. So wounded.
After being shuffled from one foster home to another growing up, Lena Benton dreamt of finding her prince charming. When the captivating Troy Harington sweeps her off her feet shortly after high school graduation, she’s certain she’s found her happiness. Unfortunately, Troy’s true colors surface shortly after their marriage and things turn ugly. Lena only has one choice. She has to leave him. She has to run…
Lena’s escape has brought her to Jackson, and he clearly wants to be there for her, but can she trust anyone again after what she’s gone through? And will Jackson be able to help her heal without losing his heart?

Mangled Hearts become Entangled Souls

Cade is on the road to recovery with Francesca’s love and support guiding him. His life is changing drastically, from attempting to mend the rift between he and his father, to trying to have a normal relationship with his now fiancé. Most of all, Cade must find a way to control his urges so he can be completely released from rehabilitation.
Francesca is building her law firm with the help of those she loves most, but when a close friend reveals her true feelings about Francesca’s engagement, it sends her emotions into a tailspin. Through all of this, she is forced to put her feelings on the back burner for everyone else, until the anniversary of Josie’s accident rolls around. Francesca must learn to put herself first before she falls apart.
In this novella, join Cade and Francesca as they explore their relationship and begin their lives together.

Thank you for picking up this Crimson & Clover short story, SURRENDER. If you’ve read THE STORM AND THE DARKNESS, you will recognize pieces of this from Ana’s flashback to her prom night. SURRENDER is an expanded version of that scene, painting her teenage courtship with Oz with color and context.

Having read other books in the series will provide deeper insight, but they are not required to enjoy this story. SURRENDER is the first of many Crimson & Clover Lagniappes (or, bonus stories). You can pick it up anywhere in your series journey.
I hope you enjoy this quick, lighthearted read about the joyful innocence that accompanies first love.

Andi has always been anxious about her weight and like many women, thinks that unless she is thin, she has no value.

Follow her ‘misadventures’ and see if this is true or will she find there are more important things that makes a person who and what they are?

Jack Austin had it all – a great home, career, and the girl of his dreams. Then one night he lost them all, thanks to his father. Now he has seventy-two hours to find a way to get back his ranch, and win the heart of the only girl he ever loved.

Katrina Mitchell was a small-town girl who had big dreams. She was the first in her family to graduate high school, and was determined to go to college. Then she met Jack and found out love did not have to come with a price. They made plans for their future, but it all came crashing down around them.
She lost more than she could ever tell anyone that night. Now Jack needs her help. Can she help him without giving away a secret she had fought so long to hide?

Leaving the Marines and returning to the Tormented Souls clubhouse to live with my brother, the president, wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be. I have too many secrets, too many scars to hide from the world. I thought the years away would’ve dulled the crush I’ve had on Ellis since I was a child. They didn’t.

He’s got his eye on me and nothing I say will change his mind. Not even when my boyfriend shows up and he finds out the darkest, most embarrassing secret I have. He thinks it’s the only one I have, little does he know, I have a bigger, scarier one that I absolutely refuse to share.
**WARNING: CONTAINS ADULT CONTENT – Also, please don’t bother reading if you think being in the Marines leaves you unfeeling and cold without the need for comfort when far away from home. Don’t read this if you have problems with LOTS of sexy scenes or sex. There is vulgar language used so if that bothers you, probably best to skip this book**

A day of errands and fate were responsible for Nadia and Dillon’s paths crossing.

He asked her out, then found himself begging her to keep their first date, the date she had wanted to cancel. Five minutes of her time was all he asked for. He just wanted to see her again. They married and had a perfect storybook love.
But, when Dillon gets in a terrible car accident one morning on his way to work, Nadia’s world crumbles. Life as she knew it changed – perhaps for good.
From amnesia to a lengthy hospital stay to months of physical therapy. The stress of recovery has them questioning the state of their future together.
Will they find their happily ever after?

Joshua Elijah Griffin, IV is on his last chance. A stint in rehab and a transfer to a new school has scared him into putting his life on track. He’s determined to live up to his family’s expectations, but on the first day of class, Josh meets a girl, and he knows his father won’t approve, but in Carrington, he sees a kindred spirit. He’s willing to give up everything to be with her.

Carrington Olivia Butler is ready to shine. Always in the shadows of her siblings, she goes away to college to break out of her shell. All Carrington wants is to feel special. Josh’s attention is exactly what she craves, but their intense and sometimes volatile relationship is more than what she bargained for.
Josh’s demons return, and Carrington’s feelings fade, but both aren’t ready to give up hope. They give their love one last shot to survive, but hope, may not be enough.
**This book contains adult subject matter. Not intended for young readers**

When Isla Holmes’ life as a child is turned upside down and she is ripped away from her soul mate, she is forced to live a life with evil.

When Isla and her soul mate cross paths, will they find a happy ever after or will evil intervene?

LOVE ME DO — H. A. Kay
You don’t just back out at the altar. Not in Pakistan… “‘Til death do us part?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Because you love Natasha.”
And he froze.
His smile. His eyes. Everything.
~
CHAPTER ONE
It was an unfortunate circumstance.
Zaed was down on one knee, holding up a sparkly ornament; a masterpiece of one thick gold band set with a large emerald flanked by two smaller diamonds. After staring at it for a few seconds, he finally looked up at me. His chiseled face was crumpled into a curious frown.
“Uhm – Zaed?” I stared back. “What are you doing?”
“Found it on the floor,” he said. “Is it yours?”
Phew!
Okay. So, he hadn’t suddenly lost his mind and decided to propose to me. I shook my head to answer his question.
“Maybe it’s Natty’s.” I pointed a thumb at Natasha and tried to speak above the deafening party sounds. “And by the way–”
I was going to prompt him to stand up but before I knew it, the relative peace was destroyed by a loud and unsavory sound. Someone was screaming. It was Natasha. She was screaming and gasping for air all at the same time.
What happened?
I studied her to find an answer but she was too busy clutching her face with one hand and her heart with the other.
“Oh. My. God.” She gasped, staring at something south of herself. “Zaed – yes. Yes! I ABSOLUTELY YES!”
I turned sharply to look at our friend and my mind phased out for a few seconds. Zaed was still kneeling in front of her with the expensive ring gleaming like the North Star between his two fingers.
Uh-Oh!
It was amazing how smoothly her shriek pierced through a blaring surround sound deck chugging out drum beats faster than my pulse rate and managed to get the attention of some twenty five howling and dancing adults in the den. Everything came to a momentary halt. Then, they all rushed over, talking, shouting, gesticulating all at once and hurting my poor ears. Each one was dead sure that Zaed had proposed to my cousin.
“Did she say yes?” someone asked.
“DID YOU, NATTY?” A girl standing just three inches away from me hollered.
“No! Wait!” Zaed seemed to have found his voice, not his legs so much. “I never asked her!”
“Well, then, go ahead, man! What’re ya waiting for? Be a man!” A boy we barely knew but often saw at Amber’s parties prompted.
“Ask her! Ask her! Ask her!” the crowd chanted. Zaed looked positively mortified. Too shocked to say anything. Natasha came to his rescue and slipped the beautiful ring on her perfectly manicured finger all by herself as if she owned the trinket. The crowd broke into a frenzy of claps and cheers.
“Show us the ring!” The girls went wild as the guys helped Zaed to his feet and took turns in congratulating him by patting him on the back like he’d just recovered from a coughing bout. He went through the two-minute ritual mechanically. Natasha was smiling from ear to ear, showing off her ring with no less pride than a newly crowned Miss Universe shows off her tiara and perfect teeth.
Once the crowd eased off into music and partying again, leaving the three of us alone, Zaed came to his senses. He took hold of Natasha’s arm and dragged her into a corner not very far from where we were standing. I could see and hear them.
“Natasha! Listen to me!” He didn’t even use the fond Natty he usually did. He was notorious for never resorting to endearments except for when he addressed the girls he lusted after. “I didn’t propose.”
“What?” Natasha asked absently, still admiring the ring that graced her long fingers.
“I didn’t propose!” he repeated forcefully. “This isn’t my ring!”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean – I found it.”
“Found it?” Natasha smiled coyly. “As in you found it in a jewelry store?”
“NO!” He was quick to check his raised voice and drew in a sharp breath. “I mean I found it on the floor. Someone must’ve dropped it. It’s not mine.”
Natasha eyed him quizzically for a minute before speaking. Her perfectly outlined and shimmering lips slightly parted as she surveyed his face. Then, she tossed her abundant chestnut curls behind one slender shoulder and smiled. Her slim five-foot-five frame, wrapped in dark jeans and a glittery top, rested easily on black three inch heels.
“Okay,” she finally said. “So you’re saying you found it on the floor and you were just kneeling in that certain way, holding the ring up delicately in that certain way, tugging at my elbow to get my attention in such noise – just so you could not propose to me?”
Yeah – even I wouldn’t believe Zaed now. And I knew he was telling the truth.
“Yes,” he said meekly, trying his best to avoid Natasha’s eyes, but failing.
Suddenly Natasha’s smile vanished, and a stern, cold glaze hardened her doe-like black eyes.
“It’s about Amber, isn’t it?” she hissed, her white skin turning pink. “I know you were dating her. You’re worried about her!”
“Amber? No! This isn’t about her. This is about –”
“Omigosh!” Natasha gasped. “This ring was for Amber. You thought I was Amber!”
“No, I didn’t think you were Amber.” He looked frustrated. “I knew who you were. It’s not like you’re wearing the same outfit or anything and I couldn’t tell you apart in the dark.”
“You remember her outfit?”
“Yes. No! That’s not the point –”
“Here! Take your ring! Give it to Amber!” She tore the ring off her finger and dumped it in his palm. “In fact, I’ll go call her so you can tell her the good news in person!”
She was about to dart off quick as a flash when both Zaed and I leapt to grab her.
“Whoa! No, don’t do it!” he was begging. “I don’t want to marry Amber. I never wanted to marry Amber. This is a mistake. This all is a huge mistake. You don’t understand.” He was rambling now and in need for someone to cut him off.
I obliged.
“Zaed, shut up!” I held Natasha, who was crying profusely by then, by her arms and she swayed and almost fell on me, hugging me tightly like she always did whenever she was sad and needed support. “You can’t cry like this here,” I whispered in her ear. “Everyone will get suspicious.”
She instantly detached from my embrace. “But Zaed said –”
“Forget what I said!” Zaed gave the air in front of him a quick wipe with his palms. “Just forget I ever said anything. You’re beautiful. This ring is beautiful.” He slipped it delicately back on her finger. “Just stop crying. Please. Please!”
She looked at him, then the ring on her finger, and then back at him.
“What about Amber?” she asked innocently.
“No Amber.” He smiled. “There’s no Amber.”
Natasha bit her lip and cast her eyes down, looking at the ring again. When she looked up next, tiny tears shimmered on her mascaraed lashes, but there was no denying the shadow of a smile that lurked around the corners of her lips creeping all the way up to her eyes. She sniffed and finally smiled up at him.
“Okay,” she said softly. “I need to fix my face. I can feel the puffiness from all those tears.”
“Yes.” He nodded emphatically. “You go fix that face.”
“It’s that bad?” She ran a nervous hand over it, looking like she was on the brink of another downpour.
“Of course not,” I chimed in before Zaed could mess it up further. “Just a little mascara ran out of line around the edges.”
She wiped her under-lash quickly and checked for evidence on her fingertips. There was none, but I knew my cousin. Without further delay, she walked past us over to the other side of the mammoth living-cum-party room. As soon as she was out of sight and earshot, Zaed let out an audible sigh and tried to bury his face in my hair.
“Get away!” I pushed him, smoothing down the static in my tresses. Aside from the itchy dryness, this was the other reason I hated winters in Karachi.
“What am I going to do?” he wailed as he grabbed me by the shoulders. “Sophia! You’re the only friend I’ve got in this sad, sad place. Tell me what to do!”
“You mean, in addition to what you’ve already done?” I mocked him. “Seriously, there’s room for more?”
He stared at me, totally unimpressed. “Don’t make fun of me, Sophia. You know it’s not my fault.”
“Okay.” I looked at him kindly. “Let’s just go home and sort this thing out, okay? If you try doing it now, I don’t think it’ll go very well.”
“I don’t think it’ll go very well at home, either.” He sighed again. “Sarim will kill me. He’ll hang me for corrupting his child. He’ll totally go karo-kari on my ass, I just know it.”
“Oh, come on.” I suppressed a smile. “You’re his favorite wife’s cousin’s daughter’s only son. You’re practically family.”
“Aunt Mona is his only wife.”
“All the more reason for him to like you, then.” I smiled broadly this time.
“I still don’t understand where that ring came from,” he said thoughtfully. “Who would lose such a pricey piece and not miss it? And she flashed it at, like, more than half the room – every girl – and nobody claimed it.” He paused for a bit. “And why in hell would she be so sure I was proposing?”
“Well, I guess we all know the answer to that one.” I raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been flirting with her ceaselessly ever since you set foot in Pakistan two weeks ago, regardless of whom else you were wooing that time.”
“No. I’ve been dating Amber all that time. Very single-mindedly, too.”
“No. You just met Amber a week ago at that Selina girl’s place who, by the way, you dumped for Amber after only three days of courtship,” I reminded him. “And before Selina, it was –”
“Okay, okay, I get it.” He frowned. “I’m a predator forever stalking single women.”
I couldn’t agree more, and would’ve been happy to annoy him further with my knowledge of his love life had my thoughts not travelled back to his previous remarks. Honestly, it didn’t make sense that Natasha would expect a proposal from him. Surely, she knew he was only being nice…?
Secondly, it was odd that no one in the room had claimed the ring yet. Then, it hit me.
“Maybe the ring is Amber’s.”
“I’ve never seen it on her finger.” He said it as calmly as if he kept stock of every piece of jewelry that she owned.
I told him as much.
He rolled his eyes. “I mean, of course it could be hers but it’s too expensive for a casual ring. I mean, it could only be an engagement ring. Besides, if it was hers, wouldn’t she have raised hell by now?”
Point.
“Well, maybe it belongs to someone else in her family – maybe a relative or a guest.” It was my best theory and seemed to appeal to him as well.
“Yeah, it is her house,” he agreed. “In that case, shouldn’t we ask her?”
“Are you crazy? That’ll be like suicide.”
“But I can’t have Natasha wear something that she thinks I gave her when I didn’t give it to her and that, too, under the pretext that I –”
“Okay, okay, no need to freak out.” I held out a hand to control his rant as I scanned the room, looking for nothing in particular but thinking hard of what to do next. “Let’s discuss this. Let’s talk to Mikael. He’ll be better with ideas than we are for sure.”
“Yeah let’s – Wait. Where’s Mikael?” Zaed’s observation left me surprised, too.
“He was here just now, wasn’t he?” I was trying to remember the last time I’d seen the sanest member of our quartet. “He was standing next to me right before you showed me the ring and –”
Gasp!
“It was his ring!” Zaed almost sang out in exasperation. “It has to be! He was standing here,” he pointed to the exact spot where we both had last seen Mikael, right between Natasha and me, “and must’ve dropped it. I found it. Showed it you and all that fuss. He must’ve slipped out before all the commotion.”
“That means he must be carrying it to propose to somebody.” Who? “I didn’t know Mikael was seeing someone.”
“Dunno.” He quickly flicked out his cell and started punching numbers. I knew he was dialing Mikael even before he barked Hello and then made a face to indicate his call had been picked up by the answering service. “He’s not in.”
“Sheesh! He sneaked out in the middle of the party to meet whomever he was supposed to give the ring to, and without the ring…” I gulped. “I think he must be having a very bad night.”
“I’m going over to his place and find out what happened. If he knows anything about the ring, he can tell Natasha it’s not mine,” Zaed said urgently, patting his shirt down. “Keys? Okay. I need my jacket. Where’s my jacket?”
“Amber took it when we came in.” I scanned the sprawling den before us again and blinked as Amber morphed out of the psychedelic shadows. I was about to query her regarding Mikael’s whereabouts and those of Zaed’s jacket, too, when her deathly shade of pale killed my words.
Unfortunately, Zaed wasn’t as observant.
“Hey, Amby Bambi!” He smiled his dimpled smile. “Say, have you seen –”
Amber’s right palm made contact with his left cheek – literally slapping Zaed into silence.
“You pig!” she spat. Then, quickly turning on her heels, just as she had materialized out of darkness, she melted into it.
“Ouch,” I whispered as Zaed blinked. “How close were you two?”
“We weren’t.” He still seemed dazed by the happening.
“She was your girlfriend.”
“Two dates!” He held out his fingers for me to count. “And one kiss. That’s it!”
“You sure you didn’t sleep with her?” I eyed him suspiciously. “That slap hinted at more than kissing, my friend.”
“Oh please, I’m still a good boy by that count.” He looked bored. “Now be a good girl and take your cousin home. I’ll go check on Mikael, okay? I think that Rania girl will be nice enough to drop you guys home.”
“Is she next in line on your list of potential babes?” I teased him. “May I remind you, you got engaged, like, five seconds ago.”
He ignored my comment. “And do get my jacket from Amber, will you? It’s my favorite. And please tell her a few dinner dates never meant I’d actually marry her. It amounts to nothing even by Pakistani dating standards – that much I know.”
“I’ll get your jacket.” I frowned. “The rest you can tell her yourself. I wouldn’t be too surprised if she accuses you of telling her just how she was the girl for you. Probably proposed to her, too, over hot fudge ice cream scoops.”
Zaed smiled, leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. “You are the girl for me, Sophia. You’re amazing.”
“See? That’s what I’m talking about.” I scrunched my eyes. “You’d flirt with a wall if you had to.”
“Bye. See you in a bit.” He chuckled and headed into the foyer and out of the house, his tall six foot something frame disappearing into the dark December night.
I stood idly for a few seconds before finding my way back into the partying crowd to locate my very euphoric and wrongfully engaged cousin.

THE FIXER UPPER — Anne Conley

Two people looking for redemption… He was the Fixer Upper.  She wasn’t his to toy with.
~
Chapter One 
“You’re shitting me…”  James ran his palm over his stubble, wishing he’d shaved.  He would have had plenty of time if he’d known Adelle would be twenty minutes late.  Her eyeing his wrinkled state of dress with distaste simply pissed him off even more.  His frustration increased as he realized she not only disregarded the value of his time, but his career goals as well.  After she explained which show wanted him, he was livid.
Beaming brightly, she answered, “No, I’m not.  They asked for you specifically.  You’ve got the quality they’re looking for in their host.”
“What quality is that?”  Eying his agent menacingly, he leaned forward, not liking where this was going.  He needed a job, badly, but his agent’s idea of work was a joke.
She cast him a slow, flirtatious smile.  On any other woman, it would have been attractive, but Adelle was a shark, out for her own interests, and James wasn’t going there.  “You date women.  A lot of women, very publicly.  That qualifies you as an expert in their eyes.”
He’d been trying to curtail all that since Nicolette had come into his life.  Idly, he wondered if he ever would have got the playboy persona if he’d known about her from birth.  Would his life have been different?  Undoubtedly, but he had no way of knowing how.
“I can’t host a dating show, I’m a chef!  I cook.  I deal with food, not relationships.”  James scoffed to himself.  He definitely didn’t deal with relationships. He was botching the attempt to establish a relationship with a pre-teen, who happened to be his daughter. It had been six months and they still hadn’t gelled. Oh God, his longest relationship in twelve years was with a tween.  He watched Adelle’s mouth quirk up in amusement, as if reading his mind, and huffed, “Explain to me why hosting a dating show is right up my alley,” he growled.
 “Look, the way they put it to me is, you’re the quintessential dater.  And you’re sexy.”  She started waving her hands around, absently.  “You’ve got the whole British accent thing.  You have the look and the skills they want.  This could be your break, James.  Maybe you can even figure out a way to get some recipes on the show.  It might lead to what you’re looking for, but in the meantime, it’s a paycheck.”
A paycheck he desperately needed.  Respectable work had dried up almost a year ago and James was on the fast track to has-been status.  Now, with Nicolette in his home, he had expenses to pay.  But to what end?  He knew he needed to set an example for her; it was his duty as a parent, wasn’t it?  She was his offspring and he was the adult in her life.  He needed to provide structure, shelter, and guidance—whether she wanted it or not—but he couldn’t get the girl to speak to him, let alone listen to him.  How would taking a job on a cheesy dating show help their relationship?
“I’m really trying to change that image, you know?  I’m a father now.”  Technically, anyway.  He tried to shove images of last night’s fight out of his mind and focus on the meeting.
“You are? Congratulations!  I didn’t know you had a baby!”
“I told you this months ago.”  He sighed.  “Never mind.”  The futility of explaining something to a woman who obviously didn’t care was overwhelming, so James decided to not explain himself.  Again.
Adelle eyed him expectantly.  They wanted him to help people who couldn’t date?  Reality TV shows were getting out of hand.  He’d never really watched them, except for the few exceptions on EAT TV, where he would have done anything to have a show of his own.  Instead, he’d been a judge and guest chef a couple of times, but even those had been fewer and fewer over the last year.
Sonata, the four-star restaurant in London he’d built from scratch, should have been something he could fall back on—a respectable business for a father.  But he’d sold it, against his agent’s wishes, three years ago—using the bulk of the money from the sale for a considerable down payment on his overpriced LA condo.  That seemed to be his kiss of death—the beginning of the downward spiral of his TV career.  If he’d realized owning the restaurant would give him such credibility with casting agents, he’d have kept it.  At the time, though, he’d only thought it a major time suck, pulling his focus from his TV career.  And flying back and forth across the Atlantic was a bitch.  Now, the restaurant would have been a great contingency plan.
He took a deep breath and raised his head, “What about EAT TV?  They have nothing?”
She shook her head.  “Your reputation isn’t what they’re looking for.  I’ve brought you up at several meetings with their producers and casting agents, and your less-than-stellar history is a black mark, hon.  Fortunately, that reputation is what got you this gig.  You really shouldn’t turn your nose up so fast.”
She was right.  He was behind on his condo payments and his daughter’s needs were expensive.  He had to continue paying the housekeeper and his own lifestyle wasn’t cheap, either.  A date was a couple of hundred bucks, if he wanted to get laid, easy.  Not that he’d dated much since bringing Nicolette under his roof.  He felt like a total sellout, but he needed the money.
Sighing into his hands again, he finally brought his gaze up to Adelle’s.  “Alright.  Set it up.”
After the meeting, he went home to clean up before Nicolette returned from her sleepover.  As he straightened up his mess, he fervently wished his own life could be so easily straightened.  Last night, they’d fought before she’d stormed out of the house.  In a desperate attempt to forget he’d failed, again, he’d got drunk and passed out on the couch.
In the light of day, he saw how stupid that had been, but was clueless how to make things right with her.  He was angry with Olivia for keeping his daughter from him, for taking away his choice to be in Nicolette’s life before now.  Impotence was not something he was accustomed to, yet with his daughter, that’s all he felt.
Not only had he inherited a pre-teen-aged daughter when Olivia had died suddenly, but one who wanted to date and didn’t trust her dad enough to understand why it was a bad idea.  James had been a boy—he knew what went through their minds—and he’d be happy if Nicolette didn’t date until she was thirty.
Now that he was in the sanctity of his condo, he dipped into his memories of last night, before their tandem tantrums.
“Grow up, Dad.”  She’d stood there, hands on hips, evoking hazy memories of her mother.
“You’re not old enough to date.  Period.”  He’d been angry and completely helpless to talk sense to Nicolette.  She was as stubborn as he was, easily riled, and didn’t see him as a father.  He couldn’t really blame her, which made this whole situation that much worse.
“Right, and you’re the expert?”  Fire ignited her eyes with the accusation, and James completely lost it with righteous indignation.
“For Christ’s sake Nicolette, you’re twelve!” he’d roared, feeling slightly contrite afterward, but unable to apologize.  Nicolette had flinched, as if he’d slapped her, and he wondered if her mother had ever yelled at her.  Probably not.  It seemed Olivia had coddled the girl, when she’d deigned to dole out any attention to her.
She’d stomped out to go to her sleepover across the street, which James didn’t even want her to attend, but he was trying the whole give and take angle.  He’d give her sleepovers but take away the dating ritual, for as long as he could, anyway.
He hadn’t known of her existence until her mother died tragically.  Olivia had been a force of nature, a whirlwind full of life when he’d known her.  They’d dated years ago, back when they were both young and learning how to deal with their respective successes—he with his London restaurant, she with her international modeling.  James and Olivia had met at his restaurant after she’d asked to give her compliments to the chef, and he’d been smitten with the vibrant beauty.  Dating for nearly a year, they saw each other when schedules allowed, but her travels and his arrogance had driven a wedge between them.  He’d never even known she was pregnant.
So when Olivia had died six months ago, he’d been saddened to hear of her passing.  When her lawyer had contacted him, telling him he now had custody of a daughter he’d never known existed, he’d immediately ordered a paternity test.  Of course it was positive, and James had spent the next week trying to figure out how to breathe again.  The knowledge that Olivia had been pregnant when they broke up, and never told him about his daughter, had changed something in him fundamentally.  Something he wasn’t sure how to deal with.
Olivia’s betrayal had struck him hard.  He couldn’t think of anything he’d done specifically in their relationship to warrant such bitter resentment toward him.  Nothing.  Choosing to not tell him about their daughter, instead raising her in boarding schools had been a blow to his ego, his manhood, like she didn’t believe in his ability to be a father to a child.  And it rocked his confidence as well.  Did she see something in him that he didn’t?
Of course, their ill-fated affair had taken place when he was twenty-four, and if he were honest with himself, after they were finished, he’d fucked every woman he could find for the next twelve years.  He probably wouldn’t have wanted him involved in raising a child, so he couldn’t really blame Olivia.  But he did.
He’d never admitted it, but Olivia was his one great love.  He’d concede that they were all wrong for each other, but that didn’t stop the anger at her for taking away his choices in regards to raising Olivia.
His own upbringing, in a small village in England, was vastly different from Nicolette’s.  She was the daughter of a high fashion super model, jet-setting around the world when she wasn’t boarded away in school.  She was more cosmopolitan than he had ever been.
Of course, Nicolette didn’t believe he’d never known about her.  How could she?  She loved her mother, and knowing that Olivia had kept that secret was damaging to a young girl’s psyche, he’d imagine.  He wouldn’t believe him, either.
His daughter hated him.  Hated him for never being involved, for not knowing her birthday, for simply existing.  He had no way of knowing if she had always been difficult or if he just brought that out in her.
Yet, here he was, still trying to figure out how to include Nicolette in the downward spiral which was his life.
Well, I won’t be winning any parenting awards any time soon, he thought to himself as he eyed the pizza box sitting open with one slice of greasy pizza missing and a bevy of beer bottles strewn about.

November 24
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Rene Folsom, author of contemporary and paranormal, lives in Florida with her husband and three kids. She has officially diagnosed herself with creative ADD and often has a million and one writing projects going at once. In addition to writing, she is also a graphic artist who enjoys creating custom book covers for indie authors. She is definitely an artist at heart and would love nothing more than to be elbow deep in clay during her waking hours.
Rene believes that all fiction is based on some form of reality—otherwise we would never have the inspiration or knowledge to dream up the realistic situations we portray with our words. She is proud to say that her personal experiences have been inspirational, though perhaps not always identical to that of her fictional characters. Where reality and fantasy diverge, however, must remain her little secret…
Ella Medler is a U.K. author and free-lance editor. She writes fiction in more than one genre, in a seemingly vain attempt to slow down her overactive brain enough to write non-fiction on subjects she knows a thing or two about. She also does not believe in the starchy use of English, and ignores the type of rule that doesn’t allow for a sentence to be finished in a preposition. Her books are action-driven, and well-developed characters are her forte. Loves: freedom. Hates: her inner censor.
HA Kay I was in grade 7, and bunking PE when I read Tolkien’s Two Towers from the LOTR trilogy.
I know what you’re thinking. Certified nerd! I remember what I was thinking. Where had this book been all my life?!
I loved it. I can’t recall the scenes I’d read then but I remember how transfixing Tolkien’s Middle Earth was. I instantly wanted to write something like it.
But such dreams are easily forgotten in the wake of building a real career.
I went ahead and enrolled in a business college and did my MBA with tinselly rainbow colors, making a tiara out of my nerd cap. It was a good day. And it was a good year at the bank. But the best time was when I landed at an ad agency’s creative department to write jingles and slogans and slaughter both my languages (Urdu and English) in the process. I learned a lot there. I wrote a lot there. And I became apt in the art of killing my own brainchildren a.k.a. self-editing.
Then, I got married. Moved to the United States and started a family.
For two years I was a good stay-at-home mom. Then, I thought I could be good at something else too. I couldn’t decide on what exactly till I stumbled upon my old diary – a leftover from my baby and teen years. I read all the poems and stories I’d written therein, ranging from an ode to Mom to a soul-searching monologue. I realized I wasn’t bad. If I worked on my talent I could turn it into a skill. And perhaps be able to write like the numerous authors who’d inspired me for years. A lost afternoon in the school library from so long ago made its way into my present and I remembered the perfect Legolas. I remembered the imperfect Quasimodo, the roguish Rhett Butler and the ruthless Rory Frost too.
Suddenly, I wanted to create such characters and write their stories instilled with M. M. Kaye-like descriptions and Crichton-like research and Grisham-like authenticity, all tied together with intense moods borrowed from Victoria Holt. Tolkien’s magic dust and King’s dark secrets would just be the cherry and powdered sugar on top.
I enrolled in a writing program immediately and earned my diploma. Next I wrote and edited for a newbie magazine. I wrote two children’s books (5 Kids and 5 Snowmen and Boondon Ka Khel: The Playful Game of the Tiny Water Droplets), and co-authored a trilogy under the title Aoife and Demon.
Now, it’s Love Me Do.
I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Anne Conley has written her entire life and has the boxes of angst-filled journals and poetry to prove it. She’s been writing for public consumption for the last four years. Currently she is writing three romance series. In Stories of Serendipity, she explores real people living real lives in small town Texas in a contemporary romance setting. In The Four Winds, she chronicles God’s four closest archangels, Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, falling in love and becoming human. In Pierce Securities, she gives us Ryan, Evan, Miriam, Zack, Quinten, and Simon. She lives in rural East Texas with her husband and children in her own private oasis, where she prides herself in her complete lack of social skills, choosing instead to live with the people inside her head.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this story, sign up for my newsletter to receive news on new releases, extras, and random stuff!
Rachael Orman Mother by day. Writer by night. I spend a majority of my day with my children and reading while my nights are filled with the sound of the keyboard as I work on my next work.
I have written in nearly every LBGT category as well as the traditional erotic romance category.
I love to try new things and learn from every piece of work I write. I’ll write just about anything once to learn from it. I’ve even ventured out of my normal erotica genre into Monster Erotica. Doubt you’ll find me writing anything not erotic as you can barely get me to even read something out of that category, but then again, you never know what I might try next.
Never stop learning. Try everything at least once.
Lucy Gage started her writing career under another name, but the same vivid imagination and love of books still fuels her daily life. When she’s not writing, you can find her spending time with her family in her home state of Maine, experiencing a life that helps shape her writing.
Look for her website in 2015. Book six in the Ward Sisters Series will arrive in 2015 and book 1 in the Vega Brothers Series – a Ward Sisters spinoff – launches later in the year.
Susan Griscom I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, spending most of my time daydreaming or playing around in the mud. I grew out of the mud play, well, most of the time, a good soak in the mud is always fun. I still daydream often and sometimes my daydreams interrupt my daydreams. So I write to remember them. If I didn’t write, I think my mind would explode from an overload of fantasy and weirdness. To the annoyance of my friends and family, my characters sometimes become a part of my world. During my childhood, I would frequently get in trouble in school for daydreaming. Eventually, my vivid imagination paid off and I had the privilege of writing and co-directing my sixth-grade class play–a dreadful disaster, though not from my writing, of course. I’m pretty sure it was the acting.
I enjoy writing about characters living in small quaint towns and tend to lean toward the unusual and edgy.
My paranormal playing field delves into a different milieu, abandoning vampires and werewolves, but not discounting them. Someday I might like to write a novel about vamps and those furry creatures. But for now I like the bizarre mixed with romance. A strong hero or heroine confronted with extraordinary forces of nature, powers and capabilities gets my blood running hot, as does a steamy contemporary romantic suspense.
Felicia Tatum was born and raised in Tennessee. She always loved reading, and at the age of twelve began writing. Her passion for creating stories grew and in May 2012, she finally wrote her first novel, The White Aura.
She still lives in Tennessee with her daughter and her kitty. She loves cooking, books, and animals are some of her best friends. She watches a lot of Disney channel and often dreams up new book ideas. She’s currently working on various projects. She’s the author of the White Aura series, Scarred Hearts series, and Intoxicating Passion series.
Sarah M. Cradit is the USA Today Bestselling Author of the Paranormal Southern Gothic series, The House of Crimson & Clover, born of her combined passion for New Orleans, and the mysterious complexity of human nature. Her work has been described as rich, emotive, and highly dimensional.
An unabashed geek, Sarah enjoys studying obscure subjects like the Plantagenet and Ptolemaic dynasties, and settling debates on provocative Tolkien topics such as why the Great Eagles are not Gandalf’s personal taxi service. Passionate about travel, Sarah has visited over twenty countries collecting sparks of inspiration (though New Orleans is where her heart rests). She’s a self-professed expert at crafting original songs to sing to her very patient pets, and a seasoned professional at finding ways to humiliate herself (bonus points if it happens in public). When at home in Oregon, her husband and best friend, James, is very kind about indulging her love of fast German cars and expensive lattes.
Julie Elizabeth Powell I cannot ignore my dreams, so many of them, with names and places and ideas that spark my imagination and compel me to write; to create stories, whether fantasy or horror, or mystery or psychological thriller or murder or even humour and adventure. So, my garden is sown, flourishing, with all manner of growth, and still the dreams come.
Julie Elizabeth Powell, my soul lingering within my imagination; maybe you’ll join me?
Lynda Kaye Frazier I’m an avid reader of romantic suspense and started writing after a vivid dream. I know, sounds cliché, but that’s how it started. I work full time at a Cardiology clinic, then at night you will find me in front of my computer, writing. I grew up in Pennsylvania, but now live in Arkansas, surrounded by the Ozark Mountains where I get to enjoy the four seasons without a long, cold winter. Other than spending time with my wonderful family, my favorite things to do are writing, reading and listening to music, but my most favorite is going to the beach. Surf, sand and a good book, my stress relief.
Desiree A. Cox was born and raised in Iowa. She married her high school sweetheart and moved to the Philadelphia area after high school and has been happily married for over twenty-five years. She’s the mother of two sons and a daughter.
Writing has always been a part of her life. It started as a way to cope with her childhood shyness, allowing her to communicate without talking. Now she talks and writes … and talks. Desiree also enjoys traveling and spending time at the beach.
Over the past two plus years, she’s been working to get her thoughts in print. She is finally writing what she wants to write. Twisted by Desire, her debut novel, was published in December 2014. In March 2015, the sequel in the Lust, Desire, and Love Trilogy, Jaded by Desire, released. She also has a short story, Fantasy Come True, in the Wickedly Exotic Spring Erotic Wonderland box set that benefits the National Autism Association with 100% of the proceeds.
Look for Reclaimed by Desire, Book 3 and the final installment in the Lust, Desire, and Love Trilogy, later this summer.
Sydney Aaliyah Michelle is an Adult Contemporary Romance writer, a voracious reader, and movie fanatic who hails from Texas.
After surviving 5 1/2 years living in China, she had the courage to finally pursue her passion and become a writer.
Sydney has been blogging at sydneyaaliyah.com for three years, where she interviews people about their tattoos, discusses her favorite movie quotes, reviews books (New Adult & only the ones she loves) and journals about her writing and editing process.
An active tweeterer, she is also a JuNoWriMo (3x) and NaNoWriMo (2x) winner who notes the sci-fi action flick “The Matrix” as the best representation of her life in the past. She is blessed to be awake now and doing what she loves.
She can recite the entire script for the 80’s teen comedy/drama The Breakfast Club and loves any and everything associated with the Avengers movie, especially Tony Stark.
When it comes to books, Sydney reads many different genres, but some of her favorite writers are Stephen King, Cora Carmack, Alex J. Cavanaugh, Cassie Mae, & Emily Bronte. The Great Gatsby, Under the Dome, Losing It, CassaStorm, Switched, & Wuthering Heights are her favorite books.
Elaine May is my Author name. I live in the West Country of England with my two beautiful daughters and yummy hubby. I love reading dark and twisted tales that mess with your head. I love to travel and spending time with my family. My dream is for people to like what I’ve written and hopefully get to go to a book signing event as an author.
magicofbookspromo@gmail.com
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