zaterdag 12 augustus 2017

Book Tour ~ Karma by Laura Simmons #Excerpt #Giveaway

Little Bits of Karma
by Laura Simmons
Genre: Paranormal Romance

A captivating story of reincarnation, redemption, and forgiveness. Even though Holly O’Rourke is having problems with her longtime significant other, James, she has never entertained thoughts of infidelity…that is, until the day she has a chance encounter with Charlie, a handsome coworker. James promises he will change and work on their relationship, but Holly’s feelings for Charlie just won’t go away. Distressed by her mixed emotions, Holly schedules an appointment for a reading with a psychic medium, where she discovers her adulterous past lives and their tragic consequences. Holly learns to do her own past life regression through self-hypnosis and uncovers not only lives that she shared with James and Charlie, but how the other people in her present life have been with her in the past—the threads of their lives interwoven for centuries. Holly is stunned by recurring themes and the issues of karmic justice that need to be addressed. Where will her karmic path ultimately lead? Find out in Little Bits of Karma, an entertaining new book about spiritual cause and effect.

Can be read as a standalone.

Chapter One - The Two of Cups

     Later that morning Holly woke up first and went into the kitchen to make the coffee. She looked at the clock on the wall and it was 8:15. She had her psychic reading later this morning and James had to be at work at 3:00. She felt better, although her head was still aching. She took two aspirin with her first cup of coffee and sat down at the dining-room table. She got back up and opened the curtains so she could look out onto the patio.
     She thought about last night and Charlie. The song “Me and Mrs. Jones” was running through her head like a freight train. She was having mental pictures of the two of them in the coffee shop and thinking of how they held hands walking to the Metro. I guess I sort of cheated on James last night, holding hands with another man, even though it wasn’t for very long. One part of her brain was thinking . . . Don’t be so hard on yourself. James has taken you for granted for a long time. He repeatedly hurt your feelings by choosing to spend time with his guy friends over you, and you never do fun things together anymore . . . no wonder you are attracted to someone else . . . Charlie is HOT! The other part of her brain countered with . . . Stop making excuses . . . you have years invested in James and you know you still love him . . . Work it out, don’t ruin it by having an affair. Her troubling thoughts were interrupted by James coming into the kitchen.

    “Good morning,” he said as he poured his coffee into a bright yellow mug.
    “Good morning,” she replied, feeling the unspoken coldness between them.
    “So, what are your plans today?” he asked.
    “I have an appointment at 11:30 downtown to see a psychic,” she replied.
    James laughed out loud, and it broke the tension. She started to laugh too.
    “Why the hell do you want to see a psychic?” he asked, still laughing.
    “I overheard some ladies on the Metro talking about past lives and I thought it would be a fun thing to explore,” she replied.
    “Past lives? I know you believe in that stuff . . . I don’t. I believe you get one chance at life, and then you turn into worm food,” he said with smug satisfaction. “Let me know what she says.”
    “I will. It should be interesting,” Holly replied. She was used to James not taking any of this seriously. He sincerely believed you turn into worm food and that is the end of the road.
    “I’m sorry I jumped on your case last night,” he said.
    “That’s okay. I understand. It wasn’t smart, forgetting to lock the door,” she replied.
    “How did you get home? You must have driven drunk,” he said, looking serious now.
    “I told you last night that I got home fine. By the time I got to my car I wasn’t drunk anymore, just buzzed. I drove fine,” she replied, slightly agitated.

    “How about I make a sausage, ham, and cheese omelet for us?” he asked, hoping an offer of food would calm the residual irritation between them.
    “Sure. I’m extremely hungry right now,” she replied.
    James cooked a delicious omelet for them. She loved that he could cook. There were advantages to living with a chef. James liked to invent new meals for the restaurant, and he often asked Holly to try them first, although it seemed like it had been months since he created a new entree. Holly scarfed down the omelet like a starving prisoner. James watched in amazement. He wasn’t used to seeing her eat like that.
    “You just inhaled an omelet stuffed with meat, and it wasn’t a small one either. I’m still working on mine,” he said with a look of surprise on his face.
    “The last thing I ate was a piece of chocolate cake last night and some potato skins several hours before that. No real dinner,” she replied.
    “I’m surprised you aren’t sick this morning. Please be more careful in the future and never forget to lock the door behind you, especially late at night,” James said to her, trying his best to not sound scolding.
    “Yes, Daddy,” she replied with a laugh and glanced up at the kitchen clock. “I need to get ready for my appointment.”
    She took a shower and later as she was putting on her make-up, James took one. By the time he was finished showering, she was ready to go. He was blow drying his hair in the bathroom when she went to kiss him good-bye.
    “I’ll see you when I get back,” Holly said and kissed him.
    “What do you want to do tomorrow?” James asked her.
    “Oh, I don’t know. Let me think about it,” she replied.
    “Whatever you want is fine with me.”
    “See you later,” she said.

    This Saturday morning was sunny and warm and Holly was feeling anxious. She hoped this woman would be able to tell her about her past lives. She arrived ten minutes early to the appointment. Martina was located within walking distance from the Metro. She lived in a small row house with a sign in the front yard indicating her services by appointment only. Holly rang the doorbell, and Martina opened the door.
    “Hello. Are you Holly O’Rourke?” Martina Preston asked her.
    “Yes. Are you Martina?” she asked excitedly.
    “Yes, I am. It’s great to meet you. Come on in,” Martina said with a smile and extended her hand. Martina’s demeanor was friendly and inviting and Holly instantly felt at ease.
    Martina was a little lady, standing no more than 5 foot1. She was in her mid-30’s with a round, pretty face with crystal blue eyes, medium brown, curly hair that fell past her shoulders, and a voluptuous figure. She was wearing a red checkered sundress and matching solid red espadrille shoes. She led Holly into a small room with gleaming hardwood floors and two white leather chairs and a round wooden table. There were two windows in this room. Martina pulled down the shades to block the sun. There was a large wooden cabinet next to one of the windows. The room was practically empty.
    “Have a seat Holly, and we will talk for a few minutes,” Martina said. The two women sat in the white chairs across from each other.
    “So, you are here today for a past-life reading, correct?” Martina asked.
    “Yes,” Holly replied.
    “First, I want to tell you what will likely happen during this session. I go into a trancelike state, and my voice might change. I sometimes take on the behavior of whatever spirit guide is there to speak through me. Usually it is my spirit guide working together with your spirit guide to access your past lives. Each of us has spirit guides to help us in our earthly incarnations. Your primary spirit guide is assigned to you before reincarnating into your current body. As you go through life, the circle of your guides expands, depending on the work you need to accomplish. When you reincarnate, you go through a veil of amnesia, and as you learn and grow in this life, you wonder, what the heck am I here for?
    “We come from heaven, a place of total love and happiness. Your enemies in this life are dear friends on the other side. By incarnating into physical bodies, you learn a deeper appreciation for good things and even the bad. The potential growth from experiencing the bad is tremendous. There is no ‘bad’ in heaven, and if you never reincarnate you won’t know the difference between good and bad. There are many wonderful worlds to advance to in heaven after your schooling on Earth and your incarnations are completed.

    “We plan our lives before we are born, and our spirit guides are here to help us achieve what we came here to learn and do. They do this by giving us intuitive nudges in the right direction, although we don’t listen to them most of the time. They do their best to keep us on track and guide us for our own good.
    “Today, we will be accessing an area of the spiritual realm called the Akashic Records. This realm contains detailed records of your past lives and the past lives for every soul who has reincarnated. Your thoughts, dreams, and actions are recorded for eternity. Do you have any questions before we start?” Martina asked.
    “No, I understand. We can begin whenever you are ready,” Holly replied thinking . . . Even our thoughts are recorded for eternity? That’s embarrassing . . . Thank goodness not just anyone can access them.
    “Okay. I will ask the guides to show the past lives that might resonate with you at this point in time,” Martina replied and became quiet.
    It took several seconds for Martina to enter a trancelike state. She began to speak and the voice was not her own. A deep male voice was speaking with a distinct Middle-Eastern accent:

    “Hello, Holly. My name is Kavi . . . I am your guide.” “You lived a life in Atlantis and fell deeply in love with your college teacher. He was married and would not leave his wife. You became pregnant with his child . . .” The voice paused for a few seconds.

    “You lived a life in India in 1500 BC. You were a man in that life, and we were brothers. Your name was Sanjay. We were devout Hindus and ran a spiritual center together where we helped people better their lives . . .” Again, he paused for a few seconds before continuing.

    “I see a life as a Roman Gladiator during the year of 47 BC. You were a prisoner of war and forced into fighting for the Roman’s entertainment . . .” More silence.

     “You were a baby left on the doorstep of a monastery in Ireland in the year of 816 and raised by monks. You died young, as the monastery was raided and burned to the ground by Vikings. The Vikings gang raped you before cutting off your head . . .” Still more silence.

    “You lived in Sweden in the 1740s during a time of war. You tended to wounded soldiers, like a nurse. You fell in love with a married soldier from an allied country and carried on an affair with him for over a year. This affair cost him his position, and he was stripped of rank and sent back home. This broke both of your hearts . . .” Again, the voice was silent.

    “In another life in England in the 1850s, during the Victorian Era, I see that you and this same man were again secret lovers and married to other people. You were best friends with his wife, and your husband was often away from home due to work. You had a falling out with his wife that ended your friendship, and the two of you began having a secret affair. One day your husband came home from work and caught the two of you in bed together. He shot and killed your lover. You turned to alcohol to ease your depression and died 1 year later . . .” Moments later, the voice continued.

Tough Karma:
A Race Against Time

From the Author of Little Bits of Karma comes a chilling new tale of loss, tragedy, psychic warfare, and eternal love. Amber Macklin’s world is cruelly shattered when she loses her baby girl three months after her husband’s sudden death. Her cousin, Bryce, comes to her rescue, moving her into his home for fear she will kill herself from the grief. He provides solace and a shoulder to cry on, and he has loved her as more than a cousin for a long time. Amber and Bryce soon discover they are not blood relatives, which opens the door for romance as he pulls her through her darkest hours. When Mike, a college friend of Bryce’s, stops by to visit, Amber senses a deadly secret behind his nice guy persona. She has a frightening dream that Mike is trying to kill her and recurring sleepwalking episodes where she draws detailed pictures of him torturing her. Deeply troubled, Bryce uses his ability to astral travel to investigate Mike and uncover his terrifying past. Mike has had his eye on Amber for some time, and when he learns that Bryce and Amber have become lovers, he is furious. Mike abducts Amber and takes her to his rural Georgia hideaway, and Bryce must rely on his astral abilities to track her down. But will he be too late?

Can be read as a standalone.

Chapter 1 - Sad September, Pages 1-4

She was too devastated to cry. The shock of losing Belle early that morning upset her beyond tears. Bryce, her sister Jenny, and Amber’s other cousin Luke, rushed to her side for support. Bryce encouraged her to stay at his home that night, and for however long it took to get her through this. He didn’t want her to be alone, fearing she might kill herself from the heartache. He would have preferred that she stay with Jenny during her time of sorrow, but knew it wouldn’t be a good environment for her or Jenny’s family. Jenny had two young children and a husband, and having a terribly distraught relative residing at their house would be stressful for everyone. He had loved Amber as more than a cousin for most of his life, and her staying under the same roof with him was going to be a challenge. Although he was an incredibly self-disciplined and confident man, he doubted his ability to hide his true feelings having her so close for an undetermined length of time. He couldn’t think of any viable alternatives. She could have stayed with Luke; however, she was closer to Bryce, and it made more sense. Luke traveled frequently, and wouldn’t have the time to spend with her.

She agreed to let them help because the thought of staying in her apartment surrounded by Belle’s baby things and an empty crib was more than she could bear. Jenny and Bryce packed her suitcases, while Luke drove her car to Bryce’s house. She let them swarm around her; she was too upset to do anything other than stand outside on the balcony and stare at the vehicles in the parking lot. The evening air was comfortable, so she pulled the screen door closed to let some air in and keep the bugs out. She was replaying the events leading up to Belle’s death over and over in her mind, trying desperately to remember if she saw something which may have prevented it.

“Bryce, check her medicine cabinet. She used to take sleep meds before she got pregnant. She’s going to need them now, or she won’t sleep for days,” Jenny said with concern while packing her sister’s underwear and lingerie. She was three years older and five inches taller. Both of them were pretty, with long blond hair and blue eyes.

“That’s true. She’s always had trouble sleeping. Won’t these drugs make her sleepwalk?” he asked seeing the bottle of prescription sleeping pills in her medicine cabinet, and taking them along with several other items.

“I’m not sure. She used to sleepwalk a lot when we were growing up. I don’t know if she still does. You need to be on the lookout for that. I think severe stress triggers it,” she replied.

“I remember you telling funny stories about her nighttime adventures. I’ve got to hide stuff from her. Car keys, knives, pills, anything she can hang herself with. God forbid she decides to take a joyride on one of her sleepwalking strolls. I better go check on her,” he said, handing the sleeping pills and other items from the cabinet to Jenny and walking into the living room.

Amber was still standing on the balcony staring at the parking lot, trying to process the day’s tragic event. Sliding the screen door to his right and walking up behind her, Bryce wrapped his arms around her asking, “Are you hanging in there, sweetheart?” and kissed her cheek. He was a little over a foot taller than her.

She leaned into him tilting her head back into his chest, placing her arms over his and replied, “I feel numb. I want to cry but I can’t. I’m frozen. I’m sorry I’m not helping.”

“You don’t have to do anything right now. We’re going to take care of you,” he said hugging her closer. “We’ve almost got your things packed.”

“Thank you,” she replied softly, appreciating the comfort his arms provided and knowing she could always count on him.

He walked back into the bedroom and helped Jenny finish packing. Amber snuck into the kitchen and quietly opened up the cutlery drawer. The butcher knife will fit nicely into my huge purse . . . she thought discreetly slipping it into her oversized handbag . . . I know he’s going to be watching me like a hawk. He’s going to lock up all the knives and pills. He’s an angel, but I don’t know if I can get through this. She closed the door to the balcony, locked it and took a seat on the sofa. A few minutes later they were ready to go.

They loaded her suitcases and other items into his black H3. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jenny said sweetly to her sister.

“Thank you so much,” Amber replied hugging her.

“You know you can call me anytime day or night,” she said. “Don’t worry about waking up Zac. You know my husband sleeps like a log!”

“I know. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jenny got into her car and drove away. Bryce opened the door for Amber, and she stepped inside. It was dark now, and the sky was cloudy with no moon or stars in sight. He got in and started the engine. Pulling onto the highway for the ride to his house in Vienna, Virginia, he reached for her hand. She took hold of it with a death grip and closed her eyes. They rode to his house in silence except for the radio which was tuned to a classical music station. He hoped that type of music would be soothing to her, and she didn’t complain. She was so shattered and lost in thought that she didn’t even hear it.

When they arrived, he put her in the room next to his, a second master suite with its own bathroom. He lived in an enormous, five bed, four and a half bath home, with 5,000 square feet of living space on a half-acre lot. His home was valued somewhere around $2.5 million and looked like it should be in the pages of a magazine, with its soaring ceilings, light-filled rooms and mostly hardwood floors, except for the gourmet kitchen and large sunroom which displayed beautiful porcelain tile in a sandy beige color. He’d hired an interior decorator when he first bought the place, as his taste was masculine and industrial. The decorator brought his home to life and added warmth without seeming too masculine or feminine.

He was a wealthy man, and his accommodations were lovely and luxurious. He owned ten martial arts studios in the Washington, D.C., area, teaching some of the classes himself in the evenings and Saturday mornings. He was an expert in Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do, although his company taught other forms of martial arts too. He had quit Luke’s underground gambling club shortly after Amber married James. He wanted to spend more time teaching classes, instead of being a bill collector for gambling debts and bouncing people out of the club. He was tired of playing a badass. His portrayal was convincing, and his physical stature helped it along. Standing 6 foot 3 with a hard, muscular body and shaved head, no one wanted trouble with him. Besides, his own legitimate business was thriving, and he had to stay on top of it. He was smart with money, and had made excellent investments in his younger years which had paid off handsomely. He could sell his company tomorrow and retire early - if he so desired. The Decker Martial Arts Company was having another record year – so much so that it was necessary to hire several new people to run the day-to-day operations.

I enjoy reading books on psychic phenomena and all things metaphysical. Most of my life I've been fascinated with astral travel, dreams, the ability to see the future, and reincarnation. 

I've wanted to write a book since I was a child, it was the first thing I can ever remember saying I wanted to do when I grow up. I love creating worlds in my mind and writing about them. My best days are when my characters decide to have lively conversations and I type them fast and furious.

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

vrijdag 11 augustus 2017

Blog Tour ~ Record of Wrongs by Sharon Kay #Giveaway

Title: Record of Wrongs
Series: Redemption County #1
Author: Sharon Kay
Genre: Adult, Contemporary Romance
Published: August 1, 2017
Do your past mistakes define you forever?

Cruz Zaffino leaves prison after a serving a decade for a crime he didn’t commit. With his life all over the internet, there’s nowhere he can go to avoid his illicit past. Involved with one of Chicago’s toughest gangs, he made enemies bent on ruining everything he has. Nowhere is beyond their reach.

Every day, Rosie Marlow lives with the scars from the worst mistake of her life. It’s the one secret she has in her tiny, gossip-fueled town. When Cruz walks into her bar, covered in tattoos and dangerous attitude, she’s captivated. His rough sexuality makes her melt, and his harsh experience calls to her own broken soul. But her story is private and buried so deep, she’s never had the strength to share it.

She’s the unexpected light to his darkness, yet he knows she’s hiding something. Sultry summer nights in each other’s arms weaken her resistance and taunt her with the idea of forever. But as his adversaries draw close, can she love him enough to let him go?

Sharon Kay writes award-winning fiction and can never get enough reading time. She loves winter and black coffee, and is endlessly inspired to write kick-ass heroines and the men strong enough to capture their hearts.

Sharon lives in the Chicago area with her husband and son, and one weekend the idea for her Lash Watchers and tough leading ladies formed in her head, refusing to stay quiet until she put pen to paper. Her characters tend to keep her up at night, as they banter, fall in love, and slay endless varieties of power-hungry demons.

Sign up for Sharon’s newsletter to keep up with her demons, see early cover reveals and be entered in periodic giveaways.
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Book Tour ~ Bound Souls by N.D. Jones #Giveaway

Bound Souls
Forever Yours Book 1
by N.D. Jones
Genre: SciFi, Fantasy Romance

A supernatural love triangle that tests the bounds of science, truth, and faith.

Regent Lela of Asiya is the most powerful person on her planet but she is powerless to save the life of her beloved soulmate—Zion Grace. For thirty years they lived as husband and wife, but Zion’s time is at an end. Lela must go on without him.

There will never be anyone else for me.”

Despite having died, nothing can keep Zion from his soulmate. He’s back but not as the man he once was. Zion must help Lela move on with her life, lest he lose her forever. But how can Zion convince Lela to accept the love and affections of another man when he still wants her for himself?

I love you, Lela. My heart is forever yours.”

Lela and Zion are bound souls, destined to live eternity together. For these lovers, death is not an end, but a fateful beginning.

N. D. Jones lives in Maryland with her husband and two children. Having earned a M.A. in Political Science, she is a dedicated educator. She taught high school social studies for nine years. Currently, she is a professional development teacher specialist with a local Maryland school system, working on increasing student achievement through teacher and administrator efficacy. N.D. is also a continuing education student who is pursuing her doctorate in education in Community College Leadership.

A desire to see more novels with positive, sexy, and three-dimensional African American characters as soul mates, friends, and lovers, inspired the author to take on the challenge of penning such romantic reads. She is the author of two paranormal romance series: Winged Warriors and Death and Destiny. N.D. likes to read historical and paranormal romance novels, as well as comics and manga.

Books by N.D. Jones

Winged Warriors Series:

Death and Destiny Trilogy:

Forever Yours Series:

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

donderdag 10 augustus 2017

Cover Reveal ~ From This Moment by Melanie Harlow


From This Moment, an all-new sexy and emotional standalone from USA Today Bestselling author Melanie Harlow is coming October 10th!


From This Moment

by Melanie Harlow

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Publishing Date: October 10th, 2017

Cover Designer: RBA Designs

Photographer: Wander Aguiar Photography

Model: Forrest Harrison

It was like seeing a ghost.
When my late husband’s twin brother moves back to our small town, I want to avoid him. Everything about Wes reminds me of the man I lost and the life we’d planned together, and after eighteen long months struggling just to get out of bed, I’m finally doing okay. I have a new job, an amazing support group, and a beautiful five-year-old daughter to parent. I don’t want to go backward.
But I’m drawn to him, too. He understands my grief and anger and loneliness like no one else—and I understand his. Before long, that understanding becomes desire, and that desire becomes uncontrollable.
We make excuses. We blame our sorrow. We promise each other it will never happen again.
But it does.
And when our secret threatens to destroy his family and my reputation, we’ll have to decide what’s more important—loyalty or love?


Preorder Today!

Nook: Coming Soon!
Add to GoodReads:


About the Melanie:

Harlow Headshot BW

Melanie Harlow likes her martinis dry, her heels high, and her history with the naughty bits left in. When she's not writing or reading, she gets her kicks from TV series like VEEP, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Homeland. She occasionally runs three miles, but only so she can have more gin and steak. Melanie is the author of the HAPPY CRAZY LOVE series, the FRENCHED series, and the sexy historical SPEAK EASY duet, set in the 1920s. She lifts her glass to romance readers and writers from her home near Detroit, MI, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and pet rabbit.

Connect with Melanie:

Twitter: @MelanieHarlow2
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COVER REVEAL & BLURB ~ PLAY ON by Samantha Young

PLAY ON by Samantha Young

Cover Design By Hang Le

Nora O’Brien chased a dream from Indiana to Scotland, so sure it was the right thing to do. Three years later she was left in her adopted country with nothing to her name but guilt and regret.

Until Aidan Lennox entered her life.

Older, worldlier, a music producer and composer, the sexy Scot should never have made sense for Nora. But somehow in each other they found the light they were looking for, the laughter and the passion—the strength to play on despite their past losses.

But when life dealt Aidan another unlucky hand, instead of reaching for her he disappeared. The agonizing loss of him inspired something within Nora. It fired her spirit— the anger and hurt pushing her forward to take control and reach for her dreams.

Finally pursuing a career on stage while she put herself through college, everything is how Nora wants it. She’s avoiding heartbreak and concentrating on her goals.
Sounds easy but it’s not. Because Aidan is back. And for some reason he hates Nora.

He’s determined to be at war with her.

And she has absolutely no idea why.

Out September 12th 2017

PLAY ON Preorder Links

iBooks US –

Barnes & Noble –

Kobo US –

iBooks UK –

Kobo UK –

Smashwords -

Connect with Samantha Young online:
Twitter: @AuthorSamYoung
Instagram: @AuthorSamanthaYoung

Release Blitz ~ A Better Place by Jennifer Van Wyk #Giveaway

Title: A Better Place
Author: Jennifer Van Wyk
Genre: Contemporary Romance
 Blue Tulip Publishing

Because fighting for love is always worth it.

After James Cole’s wife walked out on him, he put his dreams aside to raise his daughter. But now she’s grown and he’s ready for more.
When the opportunity arises to own a restaurant, his life-long dream, he can’t deny that it’s meant to be. And for more reasons than one.
He’s kept his heart closed off since the day his wife walked away. He’s never found someone who he thought was worth opening himself up to. But one look at her, and he knew she was everything.
Carly Hanson has a secret. A secret only she and her teenage son, Jack, know about. She’s built a new life but kept herself carefully guarded.
The day Carly stumbled, literally, into James, her world was turned upside down. She tries to keep him strictly as a friend, but he’s relentless in his pursuit. Can he break down the walls she’s so firmly built? Can he get her to join him in… A Better Place?

iBooks | B&N | Kobo | Smashwords

“Can I come in?” he asks, still standing on my front porch under the soft glow of the porch light.
“Oh! Yeah. Of course. Let me just let Jack know you’re here,” I say over my shoulder as I make my way back into the house.
“Wait. Can I talk to you? Just for a quick second?” he asks, reaching out and touching my hand and stopping me.
“Sure.” I nod my head. “What about?” I ask as I lean against the back of the couch in the living room. I reach over and grab one of the cream-colored throw pillows and hug it to my chest. It gives me a sense of comfort, and stops me from fidgeting — or reaching out and tugging him close to kiss the crap out of him. That might not give him the right idea for just staying friends.
“I have a favor to ask,” he hedges but hastily continues, “and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t really important, and it’s a strictly friendship favor. I promise.”
“James. I know I’ve been a little… determined to keep it in the friend-zone, and you’ve never crossed the line. I can’t tell you how much your patience means to me. I trust you. I promise.”
“Yeah? I’m not being too pushy?”
“Okay. Good. That’s good. I would never want to do anything to make you feel uncomfortable.”
There’s not a single molecule in my body that doesn’t believe that. “I know. And you haven’t.”
“Would you go to a wedding with me?” he blurts out.
“What?!” I ask, surprise evident in my voice.
“I’m sorry. I just kind of blurted that out, huh? Let me start over. My niece, Emily, is getting married a few weeks after Christmas. It’s only about two hours from here, but I wondered if you would be my plus-one? And I’d love for you to meet Lily, and she’s been so swamped lately that she hasn’t had a chance to spend much time here. I guess she’ll be here for Christmas, so maybe you can meet then, but yeah. And, Tess will be there, obviously, so you would know someone.”
“I don’t know, James. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m honored that you invited me, or thought of me…”
“No one else I would think of,” he murmurs before I continue with my protest that I know will just fall flat anyway.
“You don’t want to bring someone else?”
“Like who?” he challenges, turning his head to the side.
I shrug my shoulders and say the only name that comes to mind. “Christine?”
They actually seem like a logical couple to me, both being in the food-service industry. Both being single parents of daughters. But even though there’s so much that seems right about those two together — and I love Christine dearly — the thought of it makes me physically ill.
He’s shaking his head before I even finish saying her name.
“There’s no one else I would rather bring with me to this wedding, Carly. Jack can come with us, if you’re worried about it being too date-like. I told you I would keep it in the friend-zone, and I don’t go back on my promises. But that doesn’t mean that I want to stop getting to know you better or spending time with you.”
“Can I think about it?” I ask, already knowing that he’ll break me down, and my answer will be yes.
His smile stretches across his scruff-covered face. I was never big on facial hair, but the way James does it makes shaving seem like it should be a crime. Apparently, anything James does makes me change my views. Tattoos? Used to make me turn the other direction. Now? Hot enough to lick. Facial hair? Used to make me think lazy and dingy. Now? I want to run my fingers through it and lick. Either I’m severely hard up, or James is getting burrowed deep under my skin.
“Of course. But let me sweeten the pot. This way you can answer that question that you’ve been dying to have answered since the moment you met me.”
I giggle quietly. “Oh yeah? And what’s that?”
“Who’s the cooler uncle, Dean or myself?”
I almost burst out laughing. He’s so lighthearted and full of life. He’s truly just a fun guy to be around — always a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He could have become a bitter and cynical man after being left to raise a daughter on his own. Instead he embraced it.
“Oh, that question! I already figured it out!”
“It’s not hard to realize, right?” he said as he puffed his chest out a bit, giving me an impish grin.
“Nope. Dean is obviously the way cooler one between you two.” I press my lips together to stop the smile threatening to take over my face.
“Carly,” he warns playfully as he takes a step toward me.
“What? He’s probably not boring, and I’m sure way better looking.”
“Oh really?”
Two steps.
I nod my head seriously. “And in way better shape,” I say, almost choking on the words.
“You think so?”
Another step.
“I’m positive. And cooking? Pssshhh. Hands down, I bet he’s better in the…”
I squeal and take off running through the house as James advances one step closer, a deep growl escaping his throat.
I burst out laughing. Heavy footfalls follow me, making my heart race in anticipation. I round the kitchen island and spread my hands across it, breathless from laughing and running. “Maybe I had it wrong this whole time, and he’s Captain and you’re Private?”
“Take it back,” he says, smiling, his own hands spread wide across the wooden countertop of the island.
I turn my head to the side. “What? Take what back?” I ask innocently.
“Carly,” he warns again.
I tap my finger on my chin, feeling more playful and lighter than I have in years. “Hmmm, maybe I will have to come with you to the wedding. See what the younger Cole brother has to live up to.”
His eyes flash, and I know I’m in trouble, but I can’t seem to stop. “Oh, you think you’re so funny, don’t you?”
I giggle and shrug my shoulders as I start to take steps toward him. He turns and saunters my way, flipping his ball cap backward, our eyes never leaving each other’s. “I think I’m a little funny,” I say as I continue walking toward him, holding my finger and thumb up with only a little space apart.
“Funny or delusional?”
I guffaw and press my hand to my chest. “Delusional? Who’s the delusional one here?”
“You’ll see.”
“I’ll see the awesomeness of Dean? I have no doubts.”
And I’m suddenly hanging upside down over James’s shoulder being carried back into the living room.
“Aggghhh! James! Put me dow…” I laugh. “I’ll pee! James! Seriously!” I’m laughing so hard that tears are already forming in my eyes.
He tosses me on the couch and pounces, his large body covering mine in a very non-friendly way, but I don’t say a thing. I can’t say a thing. While we have not been overly touchy in the weeks that we’ve known each other, we also haven’t refrained from showing each other small amounts of affection. He always puts his hand on the small of my back when we’re walking, and he’s held my hand when we were crossing the street to go for supper. This, though? This is by far the most affection and feeling we have shown each other.
“Take it back,” he repeats, his eyes heated and voice husky, his arms pinning my hands above me, our fingers threaded together so perfectly it felt like they were made for each other.
“Hmm? What was that?”
“I said…” He lowers his face so we’re nose to nose. “…take…” His nose skims the length of my neck. “…it…” Deep inhale. “…back.”
Heart flutters.
My breathing picks up, and I know in this moment that I have two choices:

  1. Melt into a pile of goo. Which I’m basically well on my way to doing.
  2. Take matters into my own hands.

I choose option two.
I pull my hands free, frame his face, and pull him down closer. His eyes heat and flit over mine questioningly. And I do something I’ve been wanting to do for what feels like ever.
I lick him, from jawline to temple.
I lay my head back down on the pillow and watch as his face transforms from lust-filled to incredulous.
“Did you just… lick me?”
“I did.”
“I don’t know what to do with that,” he admits.
He pushes himself into sitting position, and I shimmy up the couch, crossing my legs and tucking my hair behind my ears. He’s facing forward. Slowly he turns his face toward me. “You licked me,” he says like he still can’t believe it.
“Yup,” I say. I have no clue why I did it, other than I just wanted to, so giving an explanation isn’t even an option at this point.
“First time your tongue was on me…” He trails off, looking away again.
A giggle bursts out of me, and I quickly put my hand up to my mouth to hold it in.
James shakes his head at me, stands up, and places his hands on his hips. He narrows his eyes and points at me. “Now you have to go to the wedding with me.”
“For the lick?”
“Wedding for the lick.” My eyes widen, and he continues. “That’s right. I said it. You licked me. Therefore, we wedding.”
“That’s not even grammatically correct!” Stupid argument? Probably.
“That’s your defense against going?”
“Hey! It’s true!”
“Be that as it may, doesn’t change the fact that you licked me. And we’re now going to a wedding. Together. Hi, Plus-One.”
I hear a deep snort from the other side of the room and gasp when I see Jack standing in the doorway to the living room, his broad shoulder leaning against the opening, an amused expression on his face.
“You guys are so weird,” he says, pointing to the two of us.
“You say weird. I say awesome,” James says. “Just wait and see who the best Cole man is when you both join me for Emily’s wedding.”
“Why am I being sucked in to this thing?” he asks. “I hate weddings. I don’t wedding.”
“Maggie will be there. In a dress. She’s a bridesmaid.”
“I’ll be there.”
James snorts and looks my way, winks, and my entire body goes up in flames. Bye-bye wall I built so strongly.

James huffed and puffed, and it blew right down.

From the Ground Up was Jennifer’s first published novel, with the hopes of many more to come. Jennifer makes her home in small town Iowa with her high school sweetheart, three beautiful and amazing kids, one crazy Jack Russell terrier. This is where her love for all things reading, baking, and cooking happen. Jennifer’s family enjoys camping, boating, and spending time outside as much as possible. When she’s not writing or editing/proofreading manuscripts for the many talented authors she’s come to love, you can find her cheering the loudest at her kids’ sporting events, sipping coffee or iced tea out of a mason jar with her Kindle in her lap or binging on Netflix.
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