Exclusive excerpt + giveaway: Roar by Cora Carmack

When I first read Roar, I giddy with excitement!!! I was dying to talk about it with everyone and anyone! This is undoubtedly my favorite Cora Carmack book to date with its magical storms, romance, adventure and intrigue. I can’t wait for you guys to read it and am so thrilled to be able to share a sneak peek with you today! Plus, there’s a signed giveaway up for grabs, so make sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to get the deets!

Roar is out next week on June 13th, and you can pre-order now.

About Roar

In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.

Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.

To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks―storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.

Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.
She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.

Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

Excerpt

Rora set off for the servants’ wing in the quickest walk she could manage without drawing attention. Shortcuts allowed her to avoid pal- ace guards, and in record time Rora was standing before the entrance to the storm shelter. She scurried down the stairs into the dark.

The servants’ shelter was merely a long empty room, whereas the royal shelter had elegant fixtures and furniture and even a few beds. Rora did not dare light a sconce as she walked through the shelter. Eventually, out of the darkness formed the shape of a familiar set of stairs that led to the outside. She opened the cellar door enough to slip out and then softly set it back into place. On the darkened street that ran along the palace wall, things became trickier. Cassius might have beat her here. She could head in the direction of the main road and hope she caught up to him. Or . . . she could assume that she changed quickly and took enough shortcuts to arrive ahead of him. She was still considering her options when the door behind her creaked open. She pulled the hood forward to hide her face as much as possible and began walking slowly toward the main road. She hunched and shuffled as if she were an old woman, then peered back briefly over her shoulder.

The newcomer wore a wide-brimmed hat angled to cover his face and a black traveling cloak. His height and build matched Cassius, and he walked with the same calm confidence. She continued her slow gait, and eventually he passed her. Rora waited until he was a decent length ahead of her, and then she dropped the act and followed as quietly and inconspicuously as possible.

As they neared the city’s center, the streets became less deserted. Two people huddled in a small alley. A shadowed form darkened a doorway. A group of men stood outside a seedy tavern, their voices loud and slurred, discussing the earlier skyfire storm as if they’d fought it themselves. Even in her disguise, a few people eyed her as she passed.

She began to worry that the possibility of getting caught by Cassius wasn’t her only concern. She had left the palace often; she did it regularly for her early-morning rides and for the occasional royal tour through the city. But that was along the main road that led directly from the palace gate to the city gate. It was well paved and well lit, and could be seen by guards patrolling atop both the palace and city walls. Now she was truly on her own.

When she looked away from the group of drunk men, Cassius was gone. Panicked, she launched into a jog, scanning alleyways and side streets for his silhouette. She saw what might have been a black cloak disappearing around the bend of a dark, twisting street. She hesitated. If she were wrong, the trail would go cold.

Trusting her gut, Rora darted down the street, unnerved by the darkness that lurked around her. The buildings grew more dilapidated, and up ahead a lone figure strolled down the street. Occasionally he stopped, peered into a building or down another street, and then continued on. The neighborhood grew rougher as they plunged deeper into the city—a city that was decidedly less pristine and prosperous than the one she always saw on the royal tours.

The streets smelled of some unidentifiable muck, and houses leaned together as if holding each other up. Surely people in Pavan didn’t live like this. Rora edged closer to Cassius so that she didn’t fall behind again. When he stopped again under the flickering glow of a swinging lantern, he glanced backward and she was luckily covered by the shadow of a building.

The lantern squeaked in the wind on the silent street. Too silent. It was late, but there should have been some noise . . . people moving in their houses, a crying babe, a barking dog. Something. Light shone on the familiar hard angle of Cassius’s jaw, then he dipped his head and disappeared into a building. Rora gathered her cloak up in her fists, and ran. Skidding to a stop beneath the lantern, she faced a set of stairs and a boarded-up door of a deserted building. Frowning, she approached and pushed against the wood. It didn’t budge. Feeling around the frame for any hidden latches, Rora came up empty. But just out- side the frame on the side of the building was something carved into the wood.

She ran her fingers over the grooves and followed the way they fanned out from a circle in the center. It reminded her of the way water in a tub swirled after the plug had been pulled. A storm. She wasn’t positive what kind—a hurricane, perhaps? Pavan was landlocked, so she had never seen one in real life, but she had seen illustrations of the monstrous swirling beasts.

Her fingers traced again over the carving, following it all the way to the edge. She expected to run into the next building, as it was clear when she looked up that the two were attached, but instead her fingers found open air. She leaned over the edge of the stair railing, and found a small gap that had been boarded up to make the buildings appear connected at a glance, but left enough space at the bottom for a person to duck beneath.

That must have been where he’d gone. The gap was small, and so dark she would not have seen it if she had not been looking. It must have been difficult for Cassius to fit. She felt ill with nerves as she approached the passageway. But she had to know what was on the other side. As her mother said . . . better the beast you know.

She squeezed through the opening. She had to shuffle sideways for about ten steps, then the tunnel widened. Twenty paces ahead, there was a faint blue glow in the darkness. Her stomach roiled like a tossing sea, but she continued forward. The eerie silence of the street at her back gave way to a dull roar that developed into voices as she neared the exit.

“Wind charms!” one cried. “Tie it on your laundry line and never lose another garment.”

A gruff male voice said, “Firestorms! Rare and potent!”

She poked her head outside the tunnel, but immediately pulled it back. There were people everywhere, more than a hundred, walking through narrow lanes of merchant stalls. Slower this time, she poked her head out, and when she didn’t see Cassius, she slipped out of the passageway.

It was a market, like the open-air one in the shopping district. But this one was far from open. The backs of buildings formed the border of the market, leaving a long rectangular gap hidden from the streets. A black cloth had been stretched overhead, providing further seclusion. Lanterns were strung up around the edges and down the aisles. But they didn’t hold fire inside. They glowed an eerie blue and contained . . . skyfire—dozens of thin branches of light that split and stretched toward the glass like the roots of a tree. The lightning was frozen inside the lantern.

It was not unlike the chandelier that she loved so much in the great hall. But she had never seen storm magic like this outside the palace.

“Need a lightning lantern?” An older woman stood at Rora’s elbow, her skin weathered and dark, her voice a gravely whisper. “Guaranteed to stay lit for one year. Buy two and I’ll cut ye a deal.”

Rora shook her head. “No, I—no, thank you.”

“Ah, ye sound like a pretty young thing. A skyfire necklace then? I’ve got one that’s exactly like what the princess wore to meet her new prince. A lil’ smaller, of course.”

The woman picked up a chain, and it had miniature crystals that fanned out just like the one Rora had worn. The center crystal had been painted ruby red to mimic a firestorm heart.

“No, thank you.”

“Sumthin’ a bit more extravagant, then? I’ve a talisman that would protect ye from all types of storms for one week. Ye could go any- where, see anything, and never have to fear that ye might not make it home. Or perhaps ye have an enemy? Maybe a nasty husband who beats ye? Is that why ye got so much of ye face covered? I’ve just the thing! A powder made from the heart of a firestorm. Sprinkle it in his food, and he’ll burn from the inside out.”

“No need to burn people from the inside out, Etel. This one is with me.”

A large, masculine form pressed into Rora’s side, and a heavy arm draped over her shoulders. The old woman straightened. She scowled and spit on the ground, and when she spoke, her tone was higher, less raspy, “Ye could have told me that, Locke, before I wasted me time.”

Rora froze. Cassius. He’d found her. She had been so distracted by the woman and her wares that she hadn’t thought to keep watch. He pulled her forward, and her feet dragged like lead. She couldn’t take a deep enough breath, and her eyes began to cloud with tears.

What have I done? How will I explain this? What will he do to me?

“Come on, girl. I’m doing you a favor getting you away from that fraud. You could at least play along.”

Rora lurched to a stop, and jerked her head upward. That wasn’t Cassius. Her hood began to slip backward. She tried to catch it, but her movements lagged behind her mind, and her injured arm had grown stiff and numb. Cool air hit her uncovered cheeks, her nose, then her forehead. Even with the scarf hiding her hair, she might be recognized. And she had a feeling this was a very bad place for a princess to be.

The hood’s descent halted; it wasn’t her fingers that had caught the fabric but his. He was so tall that Rora had to crane her head back to see him. His hair was a dark, wavy brown and hung long enough to brush against his shoulders.

“Keep that hood up. This is no place for little girls.”

“I’m not a little girl!” She clamped her mouth shut, immediately wishing she could take the declaration back. Not only because it sounded exactly like what a little girl would say but also because she had not tempered her volume. At all. And though it wasn’t Cassius who caught her, he was here somewhere. She bit her lip in worry, and the stranger’s eyes tracked down to her mouth briefly before darting around her face.

He still held on to her hood, keeping it back enough that he could see her eyes. “So you’re not a little girl. Still doesn’t mean this is any place for you.”

She could not argue with that. “She called you Locke.”

His eyes narrowed. “Yes. And?”

“As in . . . Prince Locke?”

He laughed so hard that he released her hood. She rushed to grab it and pull it down to cover her face. She had no doubt people were staring now. He sucked in a breath, and then as if he couldn’t help himself, burst into laughter all over again.

Still chuckling, he said, “I’m about as much a prince, as you are a princess.”

Rora resisted the juvenile impulse to inform him just how much of a princess she was.

“But . . . the name,” she said. “Are you related?” Perhaps he was the person Cassius had come to meet. In which case, she needed to leave now.

“I’d rather die than be related to that poor excuse for royalty. The name is just a name, like any other. Like yours?” he prompted.

Rora’s mind went blank when she tried to invent a name to give him. So instead she shook her head.

“Good. Smart girl. This is a place for secrets. Not truths.” For the first time, Rora looked away from him and her eyes caught on row after row of glass jars and tubes and bottles, each of them glowing like the lanterns she saw when she entered the market. But these weren’t all skyfire. A fat, round jar contained a funnel of black and gray smoke. She squinted, certain that it was moving. That it . . . twisted.

The man, Locke, picked it up, long fingers plucking the jar from the sea of others. Inside was a tiny twister like the one that had killed her brother. She stared at it, stunned into awe. There was something truly beautiful about the way a storm moved. The other jars swirled with different kinds of magic—blizzards and thunderstorms and skyfire and firestorms—each more wondrous than the last. All her life she’d been desperate for magic to call her own, and now it stretched out before her as far as she could see.

The stranger spoke again. “Steer clear of the vendors around the edges. Those are the frauds. Get whatever magic you’re here for, and get out. Don’t talk to anyone unless you must, and for sky’s sake, the next time you come here try to look less . . .”

“Less what?”

He moved closer, peering down through the shadows cast by her hood to meet her eyes. “Less like the kind of pretty girl this place would chew up and spit out long before dawn.”

Giveaway

One lucky winner will win a signed paperback of Roar, plus a special swag bag! U.S. or Canada only entrants, please.

  • To enter, click here and LIKE this Instagram post
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  • TAG a friend
  • BONUS ENTRY for sharing this post or the Instagram post on any social media channel, just make sure to tag me in your shares!

Winner chosen next Wednesday via Instagram. Good luck, pals!

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Cover Reveals: Inspire + Inflict (Muse series) by Cora Carmack

Inflict MuseInspire Muse

I’m so excited to show you these two beautiful covers!!! Inflict, the second and upcoming book in the New Adult PNR series, Muse, will be out in January. Inspire, book 1, has also received a cover makeover! Both covers were designed by the talented Regina Wamba of Mae I Design.

Inspire

Kalliope lives with one purpose.

To inspire.

As an immortal muse, she doesn’t have any other choice. It’s part of how she was made. Musicians, artists, actors—they use her to advance their art, and she uses them to survive. She moves from one artist to the next, never staying long enough to get attached. But all she wants is a different life— a normal one. She’s spent thousands of years living lie after lie, and now she’s ready for something real.

Sweet, sexy, and steady, Wilder Bell feels more real than anything else in her long existence. And most importantly… he’s not an artist. He doesn’t want her for her ability. But she can’t turn off the way she influences people, not even to save a man she might love. Because in small doses, she can help make something beautiful, but her ability has just as much capacity to destroy as it does to create. The longer she stays, the more obsessed Wilder will become. It’s happened before, and it never turns out well for the mortal.

Her presence may inspire genius.

But it breeds madness, too.

Available now on Amazon and other booksellers. ✦

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

Inflict

Wilder Bell made a dangerous bargain…

For a chance at love, he gave up his life.

History knew Kalliope as an ancient Greek muse, but to Wilder, she was simply the woman he wanted to fall asleep with every night and wake up next to every morning. He made a deal with Hades, but the only thing the Lord of the Underworld deals in is death. Now Wilder is wasting away in a cold and wretched afterlife, waiting for Kalli to come for him. She will come. He has to believe that. Because the alternative is worse than death.

Kalliope lived her entire existence knowing that she was both a blessing and a curse to anyone she encountered. Wilder was no different. She loved him, and she got him killed. Now to get him back, she’ll have to face a scheming god, a perilous task, and death itself. But before it’s done, the Underworld will take more from her than she ever thought possible.

To be made whole, all must first be lost.

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Review: Inspire (#1, Muse) by Cora Carmack

My Thoughts

A stirring romance with a supernatural twist
that is deliciously sexy and entirely addictive.

4halfstars

Synopsis

Dec-15

Kalliope lives with one purpose.

To inspire.

As an immortal muse, she doesn’t have any other choice. It’s part of how she was made. Musicians, artists, actors—they use her to advance their art, and she uses them to survive. She moves from one artist to the next, never staying long enough to get attached. But all she wants is a different life— a normal one. She’s spent thousands of years living lie after lie, and now she’s ready for something real.

Sweet, sexy, and steady, Wilder Bell feels more real than anything else in her long existence. And most importantly… he’s not an artist. He doesn’t want her for her ability. But she can’t turn off the way she influences people, not even to save a man she might love. Because in small doses, she can help make something beautiful, but her ability has just as much capacity to destroy as it does to create. The longer she stays, the more obsessed Wilder will become. It’s happened before, and it never turns out well for the mortal.

Her presence may inspire genius.

But it breeds madness, too.

My Review

Cora Carmack delivers a tantalizing forbidden love story with Inspire. It’s edgy, witty, sexy and mysterious with a unique supernatural twist that keeps us utterly addicted. It’s a perfect transitional book for contemporary readers, striking a lovely balance between traditional romance and paranormal. I loved the chemistry between our two protagonists, as their love story took shape… a relentless push and pull driven by emotion and anchored by a deadly truth.

“Creation and Destruction. These are the things I inspire.”

As a muse, Kalli knew temporary. She knew breakups. She knew the high of a quick inspirational fix and low of unending loneliness. Her power was both beauty and destruction, but lately it had felt like a curse—one that bridled her hopes of finding something real. Someone to love her for who she is, not what she inspired. Because although Kalli sparked greatness in musicians, designers and artists of all kinds, the high of inspiration was hollow and transient. She could never stay, never find love, never tempt those around her too much. Because the line between inspiration and madness was a fine one… a sharp, precarious edge she mustn’t cross.

“This is what it is to be a muse. I walk the line between want and need, between power and submission.”

As she danced from one relationship to the next, the burden of immortality weighed heavily upon her as the need for something more intensified. Despite her good intentions and her unique ability to create beauty, being around her was dangerous… a fact she recently experienced first hand. But the moment she met Wilder Bell, she felt something different. An undeniable attraction that made her usual control quiver. He’s everything she’s been looking for and everything she needs to stay away from.

“I’ve never known what it’s like to love someone, to build a life, to grow older… because loving me is dangerous. I’m the drug.”

Wilder is the perfect combination of sexy and sweet, passionate and steady. He seems all put together on the outside, but is also this disheveled, tatted up, rough-around-the-edges guy who is a bit of an enigma himself. He shoulders responsibility for a family that’s been torn apart, forsaken his own dreams to do the right thing. And just as Kalli is instantly drawn by Wilder, Wilder is intensely drawn to Kalli.

“I feel as if there’s a cord between us, and no matter where I go or what I think, I can still feel its weight, the reminding pressure that he’s there, that he’s not going away.”

Problem is Kalli is always running. Always warring with herself. Struggling between the pull of her heart’s desire and the push of her precarious reality. And yet, in the face of a storm of secrets, they fall hopelessly for each other, finding something real and beautiful and entirely dangerous. Something Kalli can’t seem to walk away from despite the many, many reasons she should. Wilder can’t make sense of Kalli’s vacillating ways, but he knows he can’t be without her.

“I don’t give a fuck about genius. But I’ll take madness if it gives me you first.”

We’ll see some unexpected twists before the oh-my-good-god end, which left me more than shocked and desperate to see what happens next. I loved that humor was threaded throughout, helping to give the story a relatedness amidst its mythological roots. As I mentioned above, there is a lot of romance, particularly midway through, as we see these two people fall deeply for each other, feeling that pulsating connection that wouldn’t sever despite Kalli’s best efforts. Through these moments, I tried to understand Kalli’s power, how it affected others and herself, and it all better clicked during the story’s climatic end. There’s so much to explore still, both emotionally and supernaturally, and I anxiously await how Cora Carmack will twist and tangle the story for us. As a lover of paranormal stories, I hope she takes us deeper into Kalli’s world to see how the decisions Kalli and Wilder made affect their future.

“Love me right now. Love me tomorrow. And the next day. The future isn’t written in stone. We decide it. Choose to love me every second. We’ll choose that together. The rest will all fall into place.”

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New Adult Paranormal Spotlight: Wicked by Jennifer L. Armentrout + Inspire by Cora Carmack

NAPNR

Paranormal romance (PNR) is probably my very favorite genre of choice. I love the world building, the mystery and magic, the supernatural richness vitalizing a story that is all romance, suspense and sexiness. We’ve seen lots of Young Adult and Adult paranormal,  and finally, we’re seeing more New Adult titles on the burgeoning list of PNR must reads.

December is a particularly banner month with two of my favorite authors each releasing the first book in a new NA PNR series. I’m talking Wicked by Jennifer L. Armentrout and Inspire by Cora Carmack!!! And because I get all excited and giddy at discussing these books with you, I wanted to tempt you with an exclusive look at each of these books, with an exclusive excerpt as we countdown the days until these hit our ereaders. I’ll have reviews for both on USA Today, so you’ll have to stay tuned for my thoughts on each!

Wicked

Wicked is the first book in A Wicked Saga, and it is so freaking good! I loved it! The story is irresistibly sexy, wildly entertaining and teeming with Jennifer’s wry and memorable humor. But this time, the story is enlivened by the wickedness of the Fae, and the mystery and decadence that is New Orleans. Wicked will be out on December 8th.

★ Pre-order Wicked: AmazoniTunes ★

Synopsis

Dec-08

Things are about to get Wicked in New Orleans.

Twenty-two year old Ivy Morgan isn’t your average college student. She, and others like her, know humans aren’t the only thing trolling the French Quarter for fun… and for food. Her duty to the Order is her life. After all, four years ago, she lost everything at the hands of the creatures she’d sworn to hunt, tearing her world and her heart apart.

Ren Owens is the last person Ivy expected to enter her rigidly controlled life. He’s six feet and three inches of temptation and swoon-inducing charm. With forest-green eyes and a smile that’s surely left a stream of broken hearts in its wake, he has an uncanny, almost unnatural ability to make her yearn for everything he has to offer. But letting him in is as dangerous as hunting the cold-blooded killers stalking the streets. Losing the boy she loved once before had nearly destroyed her, but the sparking tension that grows between them becomes impossible for Ivy to deny. Deep down, she wants… she needs more than what her duty demands of her, what her past has shaped for her.

But as Ivy grows closer to Ren, she realizes she’s not the only one carrying secrets that could shatter the frail bond between them. There’s something he’s not telling her, and one thing is for certain. She’s no longer sure what is more dangerous to her—the ancient beings threatening to take over the town or the man demanding to lay claim to her heart and her soul.

Excerpt

He dipped his chin, and my heart jumped. “You going to let go of my shirt? I mean, you don’t have to, but you keep tugging on my shirt like that, I’m going to get all kinds of naughty ideas that I will, without a doubt, act on.”

At first I didn’t get it. What the hell was he rambling on about? Parts of my body got hung up on the naughty ideas he’d act on and got all kinds of happy about that. My gaze dropped and I saw my hands were fisting his shirt, and . . . his arms weren’t around me anymore.

Oh my God, I was groping him—his shirt. Could you grope a shirt? I was pretty sure I was groping his shirt.

Dropping my hands, I took a step back and bounced into the brick wall. Total stealth move right there. I wanted to kick myself.

Ren’s eyes glimmered in the fading sunlight filtering between the buildings. He didn’t speak for a moment, just holding my stare with his and then, “We should probably clear out of the area.”

Good idea. Great idea. Witnesses could have given our description, and those we had on the force might not be around to play interference. Drawing in a deep breath, I reined in my newly discovered active lady bits as he stepped aside gracefully. For such a large guy, he moved as if he was made of air. Actually everything about the way he moved was fascinating to watch.

Or I really, seriously, just needed to get laid.

I sighed.

Then the worst possible thing in the history of mankind and beyond burst out of my mouth. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Holy shit balls on Sunday, I did not just ask that. Ren looked over his shoulder at me, one eyebrow arched. I did ask that. Those words really did come out of my mouth and I wanted to maim myself, but I waited to hear his answer.

Ren’s grin was like dark chocolate, smooth and rich. “Not yet.”

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✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

Inspire

Inspire is Cora Carmack’s first foray into releasing a paranormal romance and I couldn’t be more excited!!! I know that Cora is a big reader of both paranormal and fantasy books, and I can’t wait to see what kind of story she delivers. Inspire’s protagonist, Kalliope, is an immortal muse who is tired of leading the same life, over and over again. It never changes, and all she really wants is something different… real. Then she meets Wilder Bell, who is everything she wants… but Kalli is the last thing he needs. If she stays with Wilder, she could find everything she’s hoped for, but ruin his life in the process. Expect the novel to be a little dark and edgy, with some sexiness, suspense and humor. Inspire is out December 15th.

★ Pre-order Inspire exclusively on iTunes ★

Synopsis

Dec-15

Kalliope lives with one purpose.

To inspire.

As an immortal muse, she doesn’t have any other choice. It’s part of how she was made. Musicians, artists, actors—they use her to advance their art, and she uses them to survive. She moves from one artist to the next, never staying long enough to get attached. But all she wants is a different life— a normal one. She’s spent thousands of years living lie after lie, and now she’s ready for something real.

Sweet, sexy, and steady, Wilder Bell feels more real than anything else in her long existence. And most importantly… he’s not an artist. He doesn’t want her for her ability. But she can’t turn off the way she influences people, not even to save a man she might love. Because in small doses, she can help make something beautiful, but her ability has just as much capacity to destroy as it does to create. The longer she stays, the more obsessed Wilder will become. It’s happened before, and it never turns out well for the mortal.

Her presence may inspire genius.

But it breeds madness, too.

Excerpt

She’s warring with herself. I can tell. And I just wish I knew what has her keeping her walls so high. I’ll take them down piece by piece if I have to.

“Wilder. I—“

“Tell me you remember how good it was. I’m not imagining that, am I? I get that you don’t do hook-ups, and that seeing me again is a reminder of that, but you don’t just throw a connection like that away because the timeline is wrong.”

“It’s not about that timeline.”

“Then tell me what it is. I want you. You want me. I’m not giving that up without a fight.”

“I’m not good for you.”

“First of all, bullshit. And second, what about what’s good for you? You’re in here alone while your friends are out there talking and laughing and drinking. You find someone you have mind-blowing chemistry with, and rather than seeing where it goes, you cut it off before it even gets started. Something happens in your life that throws you so off-kilter that you seek out comfort from a stranger. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know why. But I know you deserve more than one night. I know you deserve to laugh with your friends, not stand on the sidelines.”  I brace one hand on the counter beside her and lift the other to curve around her cheek. At my touch, her eyes flutter closed, and she exhales so strongly that I wonder how long she’s been holding her breath. “Stop telling yourself what you can’t have or shouldn’t have. You deserve more, Kalli.”

I throw my patience out the window, and bend to touch my mouth to hers. It’s just a light touch, but it causes a tug of desire at the base of my spine all the same. She doesn’t quite kiss me back, but her lips part, and I can feel the puff of her breath against my mouth, sharp and uncontrolled. I remember how much she liked it when I told her what I wanted to do to her, so I take a chance and push things a little further. I grab hold of her knees, and gently pull her legs apart. She gasps, and her eyes pop open, but she doesn’t move away. Our faces are an inch apart, eyes locked together as I settle between her thighs.

This,” I whisper against her mouth. “I remember how fucking good this was. To have your legs around me. The way we fit… it’s like you were made for me.  I remember how you taste. The sounds you made. If we were alone, I’d show you exactly what you deserve, sweet. You’d come apart on my fingers and my tongue and my cock.” Damn, just imagining what it would feel like to be inside her is enough to make me ache. “Then we’d do it all again. I’d make up for all the days that have passed since I last touched you. Would you let me do that? Or will you try to run from me again?” Her only answer is to close her eyes and let her head fall back. I lower my lips to the hollow of her neck and kiss her pulse. It beats franticly beneath her skin, and my touch is gentle even though all I want to do is crush her against me. “Maybe I should tie you to my bed,” I suggest. “You wouldn’t run then.”

Her right hand comes up to grip my bicep, and she squeezes hard.

“You like that?” Interesting. “You could let go with me, Kalli. I’d take care of you. If you’d let me.”

I pull back from her neck, passing my lips over her jaw first, then the corner of her mouth. But I don’t go any farther than that. I’m okay with being on the offensive, but I want her to be the one to drop the walls. If not, I’m only going to end up climbing them over and over again.

“I—“ She swallows, and her eyes flick back and forth between mine. “I don’t know if I can. If I can risk…” I brush my lips over hers, dragging my tongue over her bottom lip, and she moans. I swear to God, I can almost taste the sound on my tongue. So fucking sweet my head spins.

I want her to choose this, but clearly I’m not above playing a little dirty. All I can guess is that she’s been burned before, and she doesn’t want to chance it happening again.

“You’ve got to risk to get the reward,” I tell her, sliding a hand around her waist and inching her just a little closer. “I won’t hurt you, Kalli.”

She exhales sharply, and makes a noise that’s almost a laugh. Pressing her lips together, she looks as if she’s steeling herself. Whether to push me away or pull me closer, I’m not sure. And I don’t get the chance to find out.

Because at that moment, Lennox charges into the kitchen again. “Time for a drinking—damn it. I have the worst timing ever.”

Yes. Yes, she does.

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