"A steamy, imaginative series that hits all the right marks...readers will be captivated." Larissa Ione, New York Times bestselling author of Eternal Rider
WITHOUT HER PASSIONS, SHE HAS NO MAGIC...
It's unfortunate for Natalie that Nigel Aquarian is so compelling. With his inner demons, his unbridled heat, and his "I will conquer you" looks, he calls to her in exactly the way that nearly killed her.
BUT LOSING CONTROL MEANS LOSING HER LIFE...
That he's an immortal warrior and that her powers rise from intense passions would seem to make them a match made in heaven, but unless they embrace their greatest fears, they'll play out their final match in hell.
With a unique voice that critics say, "carves out her own niche-call it paranormal romance adventure comedy," Stephanie Rowe delivers an irresistible pair of desperadoes dancing on the edge of pure temptation.
Praise for Touch If You Dare:
"Extraordinary settings and fiery romance...Action packed from beginning to end." RT Book Reviews, 4 stars
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Stephanie Rowe is the author of more than twenty books for adults and teens, and she is a four-time nominee for the RITA Award. Her books have been sold in Germany, Australia, and France, have been on the B&N bestseller list, and have received starred reviews from Booklist. A former attorney, Stephanie lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
Natalie Fleming had done the impossible, and she couldn't quite believe it. But as she stood there with her hands on her hips surveying the gleaming storefront of Scrumptious, she knew it was true. With less than three days to spare, she'd restored her boutique chocolate shop from the decimation and looting that had occurred after she'd been briefly murdered by a deedub.
The demonic leprechauns of hostile origin had declared her precious store a free-for-all after they'd mistakenly thought they'd finally brought her down, and it had taken a highly bribed restraining order and two weeks of twenty-four/seven work to clean up the utter devastation they had wrought to her dreams.
But she was only halfway there. Three days was all she had until the Michelin-O Gold Star Rating Team (the Otherworld branch of the esteemed ratings company) arrived to bless her establishment or shut it down forever.
How she was going to do it without her sous chef, she had no clue, but Gina Ruffalo had cheerfully volunteered to die instead of Natalie, and she was dancing in Afterlife with her true love and was entirely unavailable for emergency dessert creation.
Which meant it was up to Natalie to do the impossible. Of course, surviving a deedub attack had also been impossible, and she'd done that, so how hard could it be to create a mountain of mouthwatering, and highly magicked, desserts practically overnight?
Natalie grabbed her list of pre-looting inventory and hurried over to her walk-in freezer. She studied the list as she pulled the door open. She should start with the virility balls, because that was her most powerful creation-
"Hello, my dear."
Natalie jerked her gaze up. A young man was camped out in her barrel of high-testosterone Belgian cocoa, chocolate smeared all over his face. A black Yankees cap sat askew on his head. A platinum skull and crossbones dangled from his left ear. A row of diamonds along the crest of his right ear. All youth with attitude. Invading her precious space!
Indignation rolled over her. Seriously? "I just got this place clean! You don't have the right to eat my food! I have a restraining order from the Triumvirate. Punishment for violation is death, for heaven's sake!" Yes, she'd felt a little uncomfortable with the death part, but she also knew that their fear of death was the only thing that would keep her safe. She hadn't thought any of them would actually try to cross the line, not with that punishment. "Are you crazy..."
The words died in her throat as an old, well-repressed memory flared in her mind. "Oh, dear God." Her hand went protectively to her throat. "You're the one who murdered me."
He bowed. "And your whole family, of course."
Her mother and sisters bleeding on the kitchen floor, each of them infected by the deedub poison, cursed to die. The funerals, one after the other. Year by year, her family dying off, one by one. Her own gravestone, awaiting the moment when she finally succumbed-
"Didn't you turn out to be quite the unexpected surprise?" He cocked a jaunty eyebrow and flashed his vampire-wannabes at her. "Surviving a deedub bite? How on earth did you deem yourself worthy of such an affront to the laws of the universe?"
His cocky voice was like a shock of lightning to her cotton candy brain. "You don't get to have me!" She leapt back, threw the freezer door shut, and slammed the lock down.
The door to the freezer thudded as he slammed himself against it, and she jumped. The door bulged and strained against the hinges.
"Oh, crap!" She raced across the store and grabbed her purse, rifling through for her keys. She didn't want to abandon her store, but if she stayed, he would kill her and then the Michelin-O appointment really wouldn't matter, would it?
The deedub howled, and steel claws raked a triple stripe down the middle of the door. Steam rose off the steel, and it began to vibrate. "Oh, God." She found her keys and raced across the store. Her car was right outside. If she could make it there-
There was an explosion behind her, and then the freezer door catapulted past Natalie's head and crashed through the front window. Bins of chocolate flew through the air, clattering to the floor. One hit Natalie and knocked her down.
The deedub appeared in front of her in a burst of purple smoke, leaning casually against the doorjamb.
He grinned. "What? No hello? After all we've been through."
Natalie scrambled to her feet. "I have a temporary restraining order. You're not supposed to be here-"
He shoved off the doorway and charged her. Natalie lunged over the counter and grabbed one of her cooking knives off the counter. She spun around and-
He yanked the knife out of her hand and hurled it into the wall. "Don't you Sweets ever get that we can't be stopped? The fact you dodged death simply makes you more of a challenge. You know what men are like. The tougher a woman is to get, the more we want her." He leaned forward and sniffed, no doubt trying to get a high off the scent of her blood, which was way too chocolaty for her own good, courtesy of her Sweet heritage.
She palmed his jaw, slamming his head back, summoned her magic, and directed her most powerful suggestion at him. Not that her power of suggestion had ever worked on a magical being, but theoretically it was supposed to. "Get away from me!"
But instead of succumbing to her command, he grabbed her hair and pressed his nose to her throat. "Just like Godiva. Richer than when you were a baby. You smell like a luscious, decadent woman now." His fangs elongated, and he began to salivate.
She grabbed one of the diamond-crusted coffee cups reserved for her special customers and smashed him in the side of his head. He backhanded the mug and it flew across the room and clattered to the floor.
Was this really how it was going to end? At the dungeon-breath claws of the same monster whose poison had been killing her for the last twenty-five years? For three weeks she'd been free of him and his taint, and boom-ba-da-boom, it was over again?
He yanked her against him and aimed his teeth toward her throat, and she knew she'd just lost her chance at her second life, and she hadn't even gotten started. Dammit! This wasn't right! She-
"I'm afraid I can't condone that kind of behavior," a male voice interjected. "It's not polite."
"Nigel!" Natalie's insides furled with hope and warmth as her attacker lifted his head to see who had interrupted them. She couldn't see past the deedub's shoulder, but she didn't have to. She knew exactly who that voice belonged to.
The deedub growled. "Back off-" But before he could finish, a dozen tulip-shaped throwing stars flashed past Natalie and slammed into the deedub's forehead, marking out the shape of a heart. He bellowed and clutched his cranium as it caught fire. He stumbled backward, and then the air was filled with sparks of light as more metal objects in assorted floral shapes whipped past her, hitting him in every part of his body.
The deedub screamed, the unearthly bellow of a demon thwarted. He stumbled back, flashing like bad disco, and then he blinked out of sight. "I'll be back," he shouted.
But she barely even noticed his howled promise of retribution.
Because now that the deedub was gone, she could see her rescuer. Standing before her, a small frown quirking his brows, was Nigel Aquarian, the best friend of her sister's true love.
Never had the sight of the contemplative warrior been more beautiful. His dark hair was tousled, his leather pants creased, and his shoulders broad beneath his black T-shirt. On his cheek pulsed a pink rose tattoo that infused peace and serenity into the face of a man who should, by rights, be a cauldron of seething fury and anger, you know, given the fact he'd been tortured and betrayed for a hundred and fifty years by Death's psychotic grandma.
But not Nigel.
He sauntered across the floor and crouched beside her, and her heart began to race. She'd seen him around the house dozens of times, but they'd barely spoken, even when they were in a room alone together. She knew him. He knew her. But they'd never connected. Not until now.
"Thanks." Her body relaxed instantly, as it always did when he was near. "Your timing was fantastic."
He winked. "I'm known for my timing. It's one of my assets."
She blinked at the sound of his rich voice. She'd heard him talk to others. But having him direct that deep tone at her was different. It felt like he'd reached inside her and plucked chords she didn't even know existed. Suddenly all the tension she'd been holding the last three weeks vanished, and she knew she was safe, for the moment. "What are you doing here?"
"Your sister asked me to keep an eye on you while she was gone." He crouched beside her, his thigh muscles flexing as he supported himself. "I was picking up some pizza from across the street and thought I'd stop in." He cocked his head. "A man likes to feel needed, but I must admit to being a little surprised to find you being attacked by a deedub. Your sister implied you had that handled."
"Yeah, well, the restraining order didn't work." She struggled to a sitting position, and Nigel's hand moved as if he were going to help her. She caught her breath, exhilaration rushing through in anticipation. He'd never touched her before, and she'd thought about it often.
Then he dropped his hand, his gaze intensely watching her as she stood, as if ready to catch her if she needed it. "A restraining order," he echoed, a small frown etched between his dark eyebrows as he stood along with her. He was so tall, looming over her. "You came back to work based on the assumption that a restraining order would keep you safe from homicidal demons with a chocolate addiction?" Fire simmered in the depths of his eyes, but it was a quiet flame. One that was utterly in control, soothed by the serenity of his spirit.
She'd always basked in the tranquility of his aura and inner peace, feeding upon his spiritual tranquility when her own soul was roiling with turmoil, and she cherished that. Thoughts of him had been her salvation so many times when she'd been succumbing to the deedub poison, terrified and spiraling toward death. She smiled, breathing in the peace she always found in his presence. It was as if he simply blocked all the negative energy, allowing her soul to rest. "But the TRO carries the threat of death-"
"It's almost impossible to kill a deedub." A few remaining steel tulips vanished into his blackened palms, absorbed back into the flesh that had created the weapons. "You must know that."
"Well, that's why I got the restraining order, because I can't kill them myself, and I needed to open my store." She sighed when she saw her front window was shattered. Brand new, with freshly painted gold lettering. It was now glittering on her floor and the sidewalk, like hundreds of rainbow crystals. But they weren't rainbow crystals. They were carnage.
Scattered across her floor were barrels of her specially imported chocolate, the decadently expensive and powerful contents oozing out onto the floor. She couldn't stop the wave of defeat that settled on her shoulders. "Look at this mess. How am I going to fix this in time?"
Nigel followed her glance, and he swore under his breath. "You're lucky it was only your freezer and your chocolate-"
"No! I'm not lucky! It shouldn't be any of it!" She grabbed a broom from the closet and strode across the room, biting back tears as she began to sweep up the glass. It was mixed with the chocolate, so she couldn't even save the ingredients. "Do you think people would be upset if there were glass fragments in their desserts?"
Nigel raised his brows for a second before he apparently realized she wasn't serious. "Opening your store isn't wise right now. You're still too hot-"
"I have to do it." He thought she was hot? Sadly, she suspected that he wasn't referring to her hourglass figure or flawless skin, but more likely the fact that her name had been on the front pages of all the papers after she'd dodged her deedub fate.
"You don't have to do anything." His boots crunched on glass as he walked across the floor and picked up one of the two-hundred-pound chocolate barrels as if it were a glass of milk. "Take a year off. Let things settle. The deedubs know where to find you here. Go on a tropical vacation until they forget about you." He carried the steel tub to the freezer, striding across her store as if he'd been there a thousand times and had already staked his claim on it, even though this was the first time he'd ever set foot in it.
"A year? Are you kidding?"
"I'll book you a ticket," he said, his deep voice unyielding. "I'll take you to the airport tonight."
"What?" No! Panic rippled through her, and she knew these were her sister's machinations. She and Jarvis had no doubt convinced Nigel to cart her off for her own good, because they all knew she couldn't stop him. "Nigel!" She grabbed his arm as he passed by.
He stopped immediately, a huge warrior responding instantly to her light touch. It made her feel powerful, but not nearly as powerful as the burning gleam in his eyes as he stared at her, waiting for her to speak. His T-shirt was so soft to touch, and she could feel the hardness of his muscles beneath it. Something fluttered inside her, something at the core of what made her a woman. For a split second, she was tempted to move her hand two inches and touch his skin-
Dear God! What was she thinking?
She jerked her hand away, her cheeks flaming. God help her if she went down that path again. She didn't want to awaken that side of her ever, ever, ever again. She took a breath and tried to focus. "My soul needs to work with chocolate. I need to craft my desserts and use my magic to help customers." She willed him to understand, to let her be. "It's like your art," she explained urgently. "I need this store like you need art."
Nigel ground his jaw, and he didn't look pleased by the revelation. "I sure hope you don't need it the way I need my art," he muttered.
"What?" She was confused. This was the man who carried a sketchbook everywhere he went, who took time to bask in the beauty of his art right in the middle of battle, because it gave him such peace and focus. "What's wrong with your art? It's your salvation."
"That it is, my sweet girl, that it is." But his voice was quiet, as if there was a heavy weight behind his words.
My sweet girl? Her? Something shifted inside her, a softness that felt good. She didn't feel sweet. She was desperate, she was still carrying way too much fear, terror, and generally debilitating phobia from her trek down "murder victim lane." For him to even use that word... God. Maybe there was a chance that there really was a normal girl underneath somewhere. If she could resurrect her business, reconnect with her chocolate mojo, and find a way to ward off the deedubs, maybe a normal life was possible.
But it wouldn't be possible if she ran away. She had to own what made her feel alive, and that was this store. It was tapping into her magic. It was helping those who needed her. She folded her arms across her chest. "I won't leave."
Nigel set the heavy barrel down so carefully there wasn't even a sound. He propped his shoulder up against the stripped freezer door and folded his arms. "If you stay here, you'll get killed. He'll be back, and others will too. Deedubs can't stay away from chocolate." His eyes darkened, flashing with a protective violence that rippled through her. "And they can't stay away from Sweets. You're a Sweet. They will find you and attack you, just like before."
Natalie swallowed and realized her hands were shaking. Of course they were. She'd spent a lifetime fighting the deedub poison, waiting to die. And now it was only a matter of time until they came after her again. "I'll find a way." She lifted her chin. "I've been afraid my whole life, and I won't live like that anymore. I have a chance to live again, and this time I'm taking it. If I walk away now, I won't ever be able to come back. They won't forget me. Not ever."
Nigel swore, and she knew that he recognized her truth. They would wait at her store, and they would search for her. "Then you don't come back."
Nigel strode across the room with sudden purpose. He grabbed her upper arms and pulled her close. Heat was vibrating off his shoulders, and his face was fierce. But she felt no fear. Just a tremble of excitement at this other side of him, a side she'd never seen. His hands were burning through her sweatshirt, his grip so powerful and strong, but also gentle. She could feel his strength, but also his protectiveness. "Your soul is too beautiful to die," he declared. "I won't let you die."
She stared at him, shocked by the intensity of his words. By the power rolling off him. He was a man of intensity, a warrior who had risen to protector status. Because of her? A thrill echoed through her, a heat that buried itself right in the depths of her soul. "Thank you," she said. "That was beautiful." And it was. No one had ever looked at her like that, as if they saw a beauty that no one else could see.
Nigel blinked and then released her suddenly, as if he'd realized what he'd said. "I'll be back to pick you up tonight. Be packed and ready to go."
"What? Nigel! No!" Dammit! She could tell that he wasn't going to be dissuaded. Her sister had probably convinced him it was for her own good. Actually, her sister had probably bribed him to do her dirty work while she was out of town. "I don't need to leave. I can influence them to leave me alone!" Theoretically, completely true. In reality, not a chance. But dammit, if he took her away, he would steal her chance to live.
Nigel raised a skeptical brow. "Then why didn't you do it just now?"
Excellent question. "I wasn't ready. I'll be ready next time." She folded her arms. "I won't run, Nigel. I need to stay here."
Nigel studied her, and he finally shook his head. "You speak from the soul."
"Of course I do!"
Nigel slid his hands softly across her skin, rubbing softly. "You carry your own curse," he finally said. "Just like me."
She blinked. "My chocolate? It's not a curse. It's a gift. It's the only thing that has kept me alive all these years. I cherish it." She frowned. "You think your art is a curse?" She didn't understand. "But you love it."
His eyes darkened with denial, but he didn't voice it.
"Listen," she said. "It'll take that deedub at least a day to recover from what you did to him, so I'm safe from him for now. I expect the others will defer to him, since he found me first."
He rubbed his jaw, and she could see him evaluating her point. Finally, he nodded. "I agree."
Yay! "So, we don't need to do anything yet. Give me time to figure out a solution." No need for anyone to be carted off to the airport!
Amusement flickered in his eyes, as if he knew exactly what she was trying to do. "I'll be back to check on you."
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Why doesn't that surprise me?" Yes, she didn't want him teaming up with her sister in overprotective mode, but it was nice to know that he'd be by to toss metal tulips into the forehead of any assailants.
He laughed softly as he traced his finger across her brow, not quite touching her. She caught her breath, willing him to make contact, to feel his skin against hers.
His gaze met hers and his eyes darkened. He moved his hand, his thumb hovering over her lips. She waited, afraid to breathe, afraid he wouldn't touch her. But also terrified of the intensity of her desire for contact with him.
Then he shook his head once, an almost imperceptible movement, and dropped his hand. Disappointment surged through her. She should feel intense relief, really, but she didn't. All she wanted to do was to take his hand and lay it against her cheek. Feel his touch. Why did she crave him so badly? It was so dangerous. She'd learned her lesson. She couldn't be that kind of woman. She couldn't tap into that side of her. She'd tried it once, and it had killed her, so yeah, not the best results so far. And what she'd felt that time was nothing compared to the intensity of her reaction to Nigel.
"You have to stay alive, Natalie," Nigel said, drawing her attention back to him. "There's no other option." There was a fierceness to his words that made her think that maybe he wasn't actually acting on her sister's behalf, but that his stubbornness about deporting her was his own idea.
But why? They'd barely spoken before today. Why would he have made her safety such a priority? "Nigel-" But before she could ask, he spun around and stalked out of the store, leaving her staring after him.
He would be back. She knew he would. He wanted to keep her safe, which, of course, was a deliciously admirable trait in a man. But he would also steal her dreams, her soul, and her life, and that was just not acceptable. And if he ever decided to touch her, to tap into the intensity of her attraction to him... God help her.
The answer was clear. He couldn't come back. He had to leave her alone on all fronts.
But she knew he would never concur. How could she possibly stop a warrior like Nigel?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This series needs to be read in order it was published for the reader to get the most laughs out of the series. Definitely recommend.
Stephanie Rowe continues to be one of my favorite authors. HOLD ME IF YOU CAN is another wonderfully imaginative read full of fabulous characters one just has to love¿ or hate in some cases. Her heroes are not the stereotypical bad-asses. Sure, they have all the traits we expect in good guy-macho men but they also have unusual interests most consider soft, like needlework, hair styling and drawing. They are conflicted about these hobbies but find a release in them from the harsh world they¿ve been forced into. This, of course, only endears them more to the women they love. Rowe¿s paranormal world is refreshing because her characters are not vampires, fae, shape-shifters, etc. They are never before heard of species of villains and heroes straight from the depths of Rowe¿s imagination. The women are as tough as the men in some ways but remain thoroughly feminine. Nigel and Natalie are wonderfully flawed but find the answers to their survival and happiness in each other's love despite their best efforts not to. Oh, and they manage to save each other from doom. Their attraction sizzles but there¿s far more to it than just sex. I finished the book with a sense of incompleteness though. Many of the characters from the two previous books in the series are missing. Death and his grandparents were such a delicious addition to the other stories and are barely, if at all, mentioned. The villains in this story weren¿t nearly as well explored as I expected. Rowe has a real talent for giving the worse bad guys traits that hint at a redeemable soul but we don¿t get as much of that in this book. The story is fun in spite of these issues though. If you like your romance wrapped in a tense, unique story, you'll enjoy this book. I did. RATING: 4REVIEWED BY: Jeanne Stone-Hunter for My Book Addiction and More
An okay third book.
Men in touch with their feminine side! It's amazing what a little torcher can bring out.