Read an Excerpt
The jukebox had been playing nonstop in the honky-tonk since five o’clock, nothing unusual for a Friday night. People got off work for the weekend, ranch hands started filtering in, the beer began flowing and soon the postage-stamp-sized dance floor was filled with bodies gyrating to old and new country tunes.
Cade Thompson sat with his brothers, Justin and Mark, at a table in the corner of Shooters watching people move to the music—faces flushed, hips wriggling, practically having sex with their clothes on while Travis Tritt and Lady Antebellum echoed off the wooden walls of the honky tonk. They’d spent a hard week with the hands moving cattle from one pasture to the other and culling those for branding. Tonight they’d decided to give themselves a break from the ranch and hang out at the bar they’d bought when the previous owner died. Spring Valley was small enough as it was, with few entertainment options. They didn’t want to see the only real place their hands could hang out close down.
Getting a full-time manager on a permanent basis, though, had been harder than they’d expected. Apparently the list of people who wanted to relocate to Spring Valley was a short one. The men had been burning both ends of the candle—running the T ranch during the day and taking turns running the bar at night-when fortune had finally smiled on them.
Now Cade looked over at the bar, watching as Marti Jensen poured three drinks at once without breaking a sweat, and gave silent thanks once more for the day she’d walked in. He admired the way she kept her cool with all the chaos around her—the raised voices, the clicking of pool balls, the heavy thump of a bass and the squeal of the slide guitar, the lone waitress fighting for her attention along with everyone crowded at the bar demanding their drink now.
She was tall, maybe five-ten.
Just right for three brothers who all top six-four.
Stop! What are you thinking?
But he couldn’t take his eyes away from her lush body. The way the Shooters T-shirt fell softly against her ripe breasts and the jeans clung lovingly to the finest ass he’d seen in a long time. The way her riot of curly black hair cascaded down her back and framed a face with high cheekbones, violet cat’s eyes and full, sensual lips. He’d wanted to fuck her since the day she’d walked in with the San Antonio classified rolled up in her hand and said in her saucy tone of voice, “Someone in here looking for a manager?” And ever since, he’d done his best to try and push the thought out of his mind.
'Wild About That Thing' by Lisabet Sarai
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">Ruby could feel it in her bones. It was going to be a good night. Only ten thirty, but most of the tables clustered ‘round the stage were full. Lori had already lugged two extra cases of Heineken—tonight’s beer special—up from the basement, and from the looks of the empties accumulating in front the customers, they were going fast. The bartender caught Ruby’s eye and gave her a thumbs up. Everything under control.</span>
Up front, the Night Travellers hit a dark groove, wailing through Born Under a Bad Sign. Zeke’s fingers flew over the strings, improvising a high riff, while Jojo’s bass kept the song grounded. “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” Zeke growled, torturing his guitar to match the pain in his voice. Damn, but the man sounded black, despite the mop of straw-coloured hair he kept pushing out of his eyes. Born in Mississippi, he must’ve soaked up blues in the water and the air. Certainly he could play with the best. Ruby was lucky to have him and his band, given the pittance she could afford to pay them.
As if he sensed her attention, Zeke picked her out of the shadows at the back of the club. She felt the warmth of the smile he beamed to her, a smile totally at odds with the desperate mood of the song. You know why Zeke plays here, her inner critic commented. You’re just taking advantage of him.
He gets what he wants, she argued with the internal voice that sounded so very much like her mother’s. I treat him fine. Of course, she got as much out of their relationship as he did. Zeke was a strong man with powerful desires. He could set her on fire. It wasn’t her fault that he was so sentimental. You wouldn’t expect it from a rough and tumble guy like Zeke Chambers—ten years a New York cabbie, a guy who’d seen every horror the city could dish out.
Her phone vibrated in her jeans pocket, interrupting her train of thought.
“Hey, hon. What’s up? You should be in bed.”
“I’m going, Mama. I just want to finish this chapter...”
“Isaiah Jones, it’s nearly eleven and tomorrow’s a school night! You shut your light off right now!”
“Okay, okay, Mama! But don’t forget about your meeting tomorrow with Ms Rodriguez.”
'Orchestrating Manoeuvres' by Lily Harlem
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">I flopped back on my mountain of pillows, gasping, writhing and shoving Enrique—my new thick, black Rampant Rocker vibrator—into my pussy higher and harder. He was great—long, wide and lined with vein-shaped ridges. And because he was so new to my collection, he seemed to have extra energy, extra enthusiasm for pleasing me. It was as if he was competing for a favoured position in my top drawer.</span>
“Oh, yes, yes,” I called out, upping the speed and finally letting his wicked forked attachment buzz around my clit. “Oh, yes, Enrique!” I twanged forward, sweat forming in my cleavage and my heart pounding. Flattening my palm over my pussy, I held him against my deliciously tormented clitoris. Electric sensations surged through my nerves. My internal muscles clamped and moisture seeped over his shaft, easing his way as I pumped his impressive girth in and out, in and out.
I squeezed my eyelids shut and instantly Dale’s face appeared before me, a hot sheen on his brow and his mouth parted as he gave in to a fierce climax. Tearing open my eyes to shake the painful, memory-laden image, I stared at the huge framed poster of my own face gracing the cover of Vogue last month and came—sharp, intense and breath-taking. God, Enrique is good, worth every penny.
Panting, I pulled Enrique out and tossed him to the bottom of the bed. He’d served his purpose. Started my day with an orgasm. That was why I’d bought him. Carlo just wasn’t doing it for me anymore, his pink, plastic shaft pale and insipid, his rotating glans no longer a novelty and he just didn’t hit the spot with his thin little ears.
I glanced at the clock and sighed. Ten forty-five. I supposed I should get out of bed. Perhaps I could go and get a pedicure—I was already fed up with the Baby Bunting-coloured nail varnish I’d had applied three days ago at The Spa. Or maybe Naomi would be up for champagne and caviar at Jenson’s. I frowned and tried to remember if she was eating at the moment. I couldn’t be sure, but it was worth a try. I rolled onto my stomach and reached for my cell. There were two missed calls, one from my agent and one from my mother. I would sort them out tomorrow.
'Three-part Harmony' by Elizabeth Coldwell
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">Mark quit the band six days before we were due to embark on our comeback tour.</span>
It was the timing that really upset me, more than the news itself. After all, I’d been expecting him to leave at almost any time over the last eleven years, ever since the day I’d told him Stefan and I were getting married. Instead, he’d stayed—channelling all his sense of loss, betrayal and stone-cold determination never to let another woman hurt him the way I had, into songs that catapulted us to a level of international success far beyond our wildest dreams. Even during the eighteen-month hiatus we’d effectively been on between finishing our last tour and starting work on our latest CD, Mark had given no indication he was unhappy with the state of affairs. Indeed, the flow of ideas, the creative understanding between the three of us who wrote the songs, was as strong as it ever had been. So why walk out now, when Older, No Wiser was top of the download charts and the concert promoters were adding extra dates to the tour after the original ones had sold out within hours?
At least he’d had the decency to announce the news to our faces before leaking it on his Twitter feed. When he’d walked into the rehearsal room, lugging his faithful Stratocaster in its battered leather case, I should have realised something was wrong. But somewhere down the years, the almost telepathic understanding we’d once enjoyed had faded, and now I simply assumed he was grumpy after a bad night’s sleep in a strange hotel room.
“Oh, and about time, too!” Paul put his coffee mug down on top of the speaker stack with a theatrical flourish and went to sit behind his drum kit. As half of the rhythm section responsible for keeping time and pulling everything together tightly, he liked to extend that role into the rest of his life. Mark’s lack of punctuality never failed to annoy him.
“Sorry, guys. I would have been here sooner, but—” Mark sighed, pushing a hand through his black hair. “Look, there’s no easy way of saying this, so I’ll just come right out with it. I talked to Jeannie for a couple of hours last night, and I just... I just don’t feel my place is in the band anymore. I’ve got things in my life I need to sort out. Things I should have dealt with years ago. I’m going over to Bodega Bay to stay with Jeannie for a while. She’s going to help me work through them.”
'Savin' Me' by Wendi Zwaduk
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">“You scared?”</span>
Juniper sat at his feet, silent. Jacoby gazed down at her as he petted her honey-coloured hair, comforted by the silky texture and the scent of her flowery shampoo. Clad in nothing more than the silver, rope necklace collar and black stilettos, her head bowed and her hands folded over her lap, Juniper made the perfect picture of a submissive. Her lack of response served to fulfil his unspoken demand. “You may answer, pet.”
The certainty and honesty in her reply resonated to his core. He’d married her. He loved her and yet, he’d always felt there was something—someone—missing. He would never leave her, had never wanted to. “Look at me, love.”
Slowly she met his gaze. In her blue eyes, a million questions brewed. The collar glittered in the soft lamplight. He owned her heart. When they entered the bedroom, she willingly became his.
Juniper should’ve been enough for him. Jacoby patted his lap. “Sit. I want to look at you while we talk.”
Rising to her full height of five feet four inches, she stood before him. He ran the backs of his fingers over her taut nipples. When God created woman, he created perfection in the form of Juniper. She smoothed her hands over her hips, drawing his attention to the gentle swell. With curves in all the right places and an imagination nothing could snuff out, she suited him perfectly. She parted her lips and thrust her breasts towards him. The tight little buds beckoned to him, erect from desire, steel barbells glistening in the soft light. Nipple play factored into their lovemaking each time and he loved to hear her gasp and moan when he captured the dusky tips in his mouth or tugged them with the chain.
“You want to play, pet?”
She stared at him, unmoving.
“Although you are right to remain silent, I wanted an answer. Tell me, should I punish you?” The faint smile on her lips also lit up her azure eyes. He nodded. “A spanking. Four strokes should work—after we talk. Sit.” He loved their play, loved her more than life, but it wasn’t the same.
'Rhapsody' by Imari Jade
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">“You have to choose,” Axil Simmons told her.</span>
Why should I? Bryanna Trosclair thought. It’s their problem, not mine.
“She’s not going to choose,” Collin Ripley, the falsetto-voiced lead singer of Simmer replied angrily.
He’s right. How could she choose between him and the twenty-five-year-old golden-haired Axil, who’d been her best friend and confidant since they were ten? “I’ll tell you what. The two of you fight it out and the winner gets me,” Bryanna said, hopping from the stage and heading up the aisle.
“Come back here, Bryanna,” their tenor and lead guitarist Axil shouted into the microphone for everyone in the auditorium to hear. “You can’t just leave like this.”
Of course she could. She, being a liberated female, could do anything she wanted to...except break up a friendship and one of the hottest bands in America.
“Okay, don’t decide,” he told her.
Bryanna stopped in her tracks.
“What are you saying, dude?” Collin replied from his side of the stage. “Of course she needs to decide.”
“No, she doesn’t.” Axil’s tone was defeated. “Put yourself in her shoes. Could you make this choice?”
Bryanna turned to face them and waited for Collin’s answer.
“No!” He stomped away from his keyboard and went backstage to sulk.
“You’re killing us, Bry,” Axil said. He strummed his guitar and began playing a haunting tune. He used music to cope with his problems. He’d been this way even as a child, disappearing into his attic studio whenever things got tough. During those times his music had lulled her to sleep at night as the sound spilled over to her house next door.
Bryanna sat down in one of the seats to listen to the sweet sounds of the strings as the music permeated everything around them. Axil was unreachable when he was like this, turned on and tuned out to the rest of the world. He could make a guitar sing when he put his mind to it. He’d wanted to be a rocker for as long as she could remember. Now he was the hottest guitarist in Northern America. How could she decide between him and the dark-haired, dark-spirited Collin, who with just one look had stolen her breath away?