Exclusive Chapter 1 Excerpt: Asa by Jay Crownover

Apr-14

I love Asa’s story and it’s coming this April! Asa Cross is the complicated, tortured con man caught between his troubled past and the future he yearns to have. His story is a tale of love between the criminal and the cop… and let me tell you it’s super sexy and engrossing. Asa is the final, highly anticipated book in the bestselling Marked Men series by author Jay Crownover and today, I have a two-part reveal of Chapter 1.

Read the first part of Chapter 1 on USA Today’s HEA blog here and then jump back here and read the remainder of the chapter. Make sure you pre-order too!

Synopsis

Jay Crownover’s New York Times and USA Today bestselling Marked Men series continues with the much anticipated story of southern charmer and certified criminal Asa Cross.

Starting over in Denver with a whole new circle of friends and family, Asa Cross struggles with being the man he knows everyone wants him to be and the man he knows he really is. A leopard doesn’t it change its spots and Asa has always been a predator. He doesn’t want to hurt those who love and rely on him, especially one luscious arresting cop who suddenly seems to be interested in him for far more than his penchant for breaking the law. But letting go of old habits is hard, and it’s easy to hit bottom when it’s the place you know best.

Royal Hastings is quickly learning what the bottom looks like after a tragic situation at work threatens not only her career but her partner’s life. As a woman who has only ever had a few real friends she’s trying to muddle through her confusion and devastation all alone. Except she can’t stop thinking about the sexy southern bartender she locked up. Crushing on Asa is the last thing she needs but his allure is too strong to resist. His long criminal record can only hurt her already shaky career and chasing after a guy who has no respect for the law or himself can only end in heartbreak.

A longtime criminal and a cop together just seems so wrong . . . but for Asa and Royal, being wrong together is the only right choice to make.

Chapter 1 – Part 2

Read part 1 first, here

Somewhere in the middle of all her bumping and grinding, she had lost her shirt, so all she had on was a skintight tank top that wasn’t doing much to cover her up. Her rich auburn hair had fallen out of its ponytail and was sticking to the sweat on her chest and neck, while her eye makeup was smeared under her dark eyes. Her chest was rising and falling from exertion as all her flawless, exposed skin gleamed with a sheen of perspiration. She looked like something out every wet dream any guy had ever had or a real-life Victoria’s Secret model using this no-name bar to strut her stuff instead of a catwalk. She was going to cause a riot, and I think somewhere under all the kamikazes fueling her blood at the moment she knew it. I could see it as she stared defiantly at me across the space that separated us.

“I’m okay with ugly; I’m not okay with her being in the middle of the carnage.” I shouldn’t care. Shouldn’t be concerned. The redhead was more than capable of taking care of herself, and like Dixie had mentioned, she was probably packing, but I couldn’t stop the surge of protectiveness that floated to the surface when a clumsy frat guy put his hands on her tiny waist and drew her back to his chest.

She didn’t struggle at first, her senses and reflexes obviously dampened by the steady stream of alcohol she had been swimming in all night.

Dixie left to deliver the drink and came back around the bar with a sigh. “I can’t wait until Rome hires his friend to hang around and do security stuff on the weekends. I love this place, I love my job, but watching you guys have to tangle with drunken hotheads all the time is getting old.”

I shrugged and moved past her so that I could go put a stop to the impending disaster. The redhead had finally gotten her sluggish wits in gear and was now actively struggling in the frat boy’s hold.

“It’s just part of the job.”

Though I had to admit that when the boss, Rome Archer, mentioned he had an old platoon buddy that was getting ready to come back home and was gonna need something to do until he got his feet under him, I was relieved that my time banging heads together when the crowd got rowdy on the weekends was going to come to an end. I had a criminal record. A long, colorful criminal record, and anytime I put my hands on another human being in any kind of violent way, I automatically saw pages and pages getting tacked onto it. Like so much from my life before I had died on that hospital table, it was something from my past that would always define me and hold me down.

Dixie called to me over the bar as I started to weave my way through the crowd: “You’re too pretty to put that face in front of a flying fist, Asa. Be careful.”

Frat Boy was holding his face while blood rushed out between his fingers as he covered his nose. The redhead was being held by two other guys, one with each wrist locked down as she glared at the group of men surrounding her. She was tall and in ridiculously good shape, but none of these inebriated guys would have any clue as to why. All they saw was a feisty girl that was wasted and had been enticing them all night long, whether it had been intentional or not. And of course, now that she had made one of them bleed, had unmanned him in front of an entire barful of spectators, it was clearly about to get nasty. It was one thing to get your ass handed to you by a girl. It was an entirely different thing to get your ass handed to you by a girl that looked like she should be walking a runway wearing fuck-me stilettos. It also didn’t help save face for the guy that she had on bright yellow pants that hugged her curves just right and breasts that it should be illegal to ever cover up.

In half of a heartbeat she was in the middle of a tug-of-war between the two guys holding her arms and I could see the anger building in the watery eyes of the guy whose nose she had probably broken.

I gave him a warning look. Dixie was right: I was pretty, too pretty to be as ugly as I was on the inside, but to counteract the deceptive beauty of my face, I was also big and had been in trouble since the day I took my first breath. So I generally had a way of letting an opponent know they were going to be on the losing end of a confrontation with me. The bleeder took a step back as I manhandled the guy closest to me off of the redhead’s arm. He grunted and swore at me, mostly because as soon as she was free and had enough leverage, she rammed her knee right into the guy’s unprotected balls, doubling him over.

I shook my head at her as she turned and sloppily swung at the remaining guy clutching her wrist.

“Royal. Knock it off.”

She ignored me as the band picked up a quick tempo cover of Shooter Jennings’s “A Hard Lesson to Learn,” and went into full-on attack mode.

Now, I fully believed there was nothing wrong with a woman defending herself against unwanted advances, and it was obvious she didn’t want this guy’s hands on her anymore. But this particular girl, this surprising young woman that just happened to look like a supermodel, was actually a member of the Denver police force, and I knew she could cause serious damage even in her less than sober state. I couldn’t allow that. Not just because the Bar would be liable, but also because I didn’t want her to do something that could ultimately end up costing her her job.

I reached around Royal and got my hand on the fingers locked on her wrist as she wiggled and swung wildly at her captor. Prying his fingers free was a task made even more difficult by the fact I kept having to duck to avoid an elbow in the face or the back of her fist on the backswing. She was quick and strong, something that the guy holding her finally realized as she landed a solid punch to one of his temples. He suddenly let go and stumbled back as I trapped her flailing arms to her sides and pulled her back to my chest. I bent just a little so I could whisper in her ear, “Calm down, Red.”

We both stared at the guy that had grabbed her, and I tried not to notice the way her really spectacular rack was rising and falling right above the arm I had locked across her rib cage. Even when I tried to help out, all those old instincts burned bright and hot right under the surface. I wanted to touch her in an entirely unhelpful way.

“She assaulted me.” He sounded like a disgruntled toddler that had lost his favorite toy to a bigger kid on the playground.

I nodded and made sure the hills of Kentucky were thick in my voice when I told him, “She sure did. But not until you put your hands on her.” Good-ol’-boy charm worked wonders to calm down a volatile situation. I think it made people think I didn’t have enough smarts to be any kind of real threat despite my size.

The band was still playing but I don’t think anyone was paying attention. Everyone was watching the chaos Royal had created unfold.

“She punched Bobby in the face and all he was trying to do was dance with her. She broke his nose.”

Again I nodded and tried not to think about the way that Royal’s absolutely perfect backside lined up just right with my fly. She turned her head just enough that I could see a hint of awareness and panic working through her dark gaze. Her tongue darted out to slick across her bottom lip and I had to remind myself I wasn’t a guy that took advantage of drunk girls anymore. At least I didn’t want to be that guy, but I never really figured I had much of a choice in the matter.

“Bobby needs to learn to ask if he wants a girl to dance with him. Look, everybody can just go to their separate corners, we can all forget this happened—”

I was cut off as he pointed at me and then narrowed his eyes at Royal. “I’m gonna call the cops.”

I felt Royal start to shake in my grasp. That was exactly the outcome I was trying to avoid. I lifted an eyebrow, shifted my hold on her so that she was behind me, and crossed my arms over my chest. I figured I looked a lot more intimidating not covered by a too-sexy-for-her-own-good redhead.

“You can do that, but it’s gonna shut the party down. The band is gonna have to stop, all these other folks in here are going to have to stop drinking, and it’s gonna make them mad since they had to pay a cover to get in and hear the music. Plus I’m gonna have to call the bar owner and let him know what’s going down, and that’s like waking Godzilla up from a nap.” I rubbed my thumb along the side of my mouth and gave him my best “country boy” smile. It had disarmed more than one person who was out for blood, usually mine, but I didn’t mind using it to prevent any of Royal’s from spilling. “Plus, between you and me, she has friends on the force.”

The other guy was trying to vet if I was serious or not, so I inclined my chin. “Her best friend is a cop. If you call the DPD, chances are they’re going to send him in since he knows this is where she likes to hang out, and then she’s going to tell him you and your buddies put your hands all over her without her permission and the cameras will back that up.” I pointed to one of the surveillance cameras Rome had installed all over the place. “You think that’s going to end well for you?”

He looked like he was considering how to answer when the lead singer of the band suddenly called out over the mic so that the entire bar had no choice but to listen: “You guys suck. Take your bleeding friend out of here and let everyone go back to having a good time.”

That rallied the rest of the bar-goers and suddenly a chant of “you suck!” went up and the grabby-hands bunch really had no choice but to leave. There was no way left for them to save face and they didn’t want to risk the chance that Royal did in fact know a cop.

They slunk toward the front door as I hauled Royal toward the bar and plopped her fine ass in a seat right in the middle, where I could keep an eye on her. I caged her in between my arms and leaned in close so that our noses were almost touching.

Through clenched teeth I told her, “Sit. Now I can either call Saint to come get you, or you can sit here, drink water, and eat something greasy and terrible until you sober up enough to get yourself home. Those are your only two options, Red.”

She blinked criminally long lashes at me and I could swear she looked like she was going to cry. I saw her gulp and she gave her head a little nod of agreement.

When she spoke it was only a hint of sound. “Don’t call Saint. I’ll wait it out.”

Saint was her closest girl friend, and also my friend Nash’s lady. She was a sweet and shy young woman that somehow managed to balance out all of Royal Hastings’s bold and brash attitude. They were an odd pair, but I knew Saint would drop whatever she was doing in a heartbeat to make sure Royal was taken care of. I didn’t blame Royal for not wanting her friend to have to come collect her in her current state. She was a mess. She was still beautiful, kind of wild and untamed looking, but under it all she was a disaster, courting trouble as well as danger and other bad things, which is what she had been actively doing for the last two weeks. This wasn’t the first disaster I had been forced to avert because of her antics, and the time had come to tell her it had to stop.

I pushed off the bar, walked around the open end, and glowered at Dixie as she smacked my ass on her way back to the floor.

“My hero.”

I grunted at her in response. I was not hero material. I fell more along the lines of arch-nemesis or supervillain. I poured Royal a glass of water in one of the giant beer steins I had behind the bar and thumped it down in front of her without a word. She jumped a little and I could see the regret and remorse starting to work its way into her face. A pink flush was blooming over the exposed crests of her cleavage and filling her cheeks.

I made my way across the entire length of the bar, stopping to refill a couple of drinks, closing a tab, clearing some empty plates until I got to the kitchen entrance that took up the entire back part of the bar. We typically only served food until midnight, but I knew Avett Walker, the new girl Rome had agreed to hire to work in the kitchen as a favor to an old friend, was still lurking somewhere around. I hadn’t seen her hot-pink hair dart out of the front door as soon as her shift ended like it normally did.

She was a mouthy little thing that had nothing but poison and attitude running in her veins as far as I could tell. She clearly didn’t want to be working here. Her mom, Darcy, was the kitchen manager and her father was the guy that had sold Rome the bar originally, but Avett didn’t seem to have any kind of fondness for the place. In fact she didn’t seem to have any kind of fondness for anything at all. She acted like coming to work each day was a prison sentence, which by default made me her jailer since I was her boss. We didn’t exactly get along. I think I saw too much of my old careless and thoughtless ways reflected back at me when I interacted with her.

I called Avett’s name, and when I didn’t get an answer I prowled through the empty kitchen until I got to the massive walk-in fridge. I didn’t have time to screw around, so I found some cheese, some bread, and some random pieces of fruit and figured that would have to do. I needed to shove something into Royal that would soak the booze up so I could tell her to get her head out of her ass and have the command stick.

I was kicking the door closed with the heel of my boot since my hands were full when the door to the beer cooler suddenly popped open and Avett came strolling out, fiddling with the zipper on her obviously stuffed-full messenger bag. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw me, her eyes widening and then narrowing in defiance.

“What are you doing back here? The kitchen is closed.” Like she had any right to question where I went in this place. It was a diversionary tactic I knew all too well.

I just stared at her and didn’t say anything. I looked pointedly at her bag and then back up to her chilly hazel gaze.

“What’s in the bag?”

She shifted her weight, and there was no mistaking the sound of bottles clanking together. She was trying to smuggle beer out of the cooler. It figured. My night needed one more complicated female I had to straighten out to make it more of a headache.

“Nothing.” She went to move past me and the sound of bottles clanging together got even louder.

My hands were full, so I just moved my entire body into her path to stop her. Avett took after Darcy way more than Brite, her dad. Brite was a giant of a man with a beard that I was sure had folk songs written in its honor. Avett was petite and barely came up to the center of my chest, and she had to tilt her head back in order to keep glaring up at me. What she lacked in height, she sure as hell made up for in bad attitude.

“Put it back. Don’t do it again and this is the last you’ll hear about it.” When I was irritated, the South tended to be heavy and thick in my voice, and not in the same way it was when I used my drawl to get something I wanted or to make someone think I was nicer and stupider than I really was.

“Get out of my way, Asa.”

“No. You don’t get to steal from Rome. I don’t care what your beef with Brite is and I don’t care that you obviously would rather be out wrestling wild mountain lions than working here. I’m not letting you take advantage of Rome. He’s a good guy and he deserves better than that.”

We had a glare-off and for a second I thought she was going to try and step around me knowing my hands were occupied, but I think there was some kind of invisible thread, some kind of aura that we shared that made her instinctively know that she could get away, but not for very long.

She huffed out a breath that sent her pink bangs dancing across her forehead. She would be a really cute girl if she wasn’t such a pain in the ass and practically a decade younger than me. She was just a kid really and she sure as shit acted like it.

“I’m going to a party and I don’t have any money for beer. I didn’t think it would be a big deal to take a twelve-pack from the cooler. After all, my dad practically handed this bar over to the soldier for free. A few beers seems like a fair trade.”

I rolled my eyes. “It wouldn’t be a big deal. You know that Rome wouldn’t care if you asked him. But walking around like you’re owed something for some unknown reason isn’t all right with me, and I’m not going to let you do it.” I furrowed my eyebrows at her and shifted my weight. “How can you be broke? You just got paid on Friday.” Since she worked in the kitchen, I knew Rome paid her an hourly wage. It wasn’t enough to retire on but it was enough that it shouldn’t be gone in less than twenty-four hours unless she was up to no good.

Instead of answering me, she whirled around and went to put the beers back in the cooler. I waited until she came back out, and made her lead the way out of the kitchen back to the bar. I had been gone long enough that the band was done with their set and that meant a crowd had gathered and Dixie was standing behind the bar trying to catch orders up. I nudged Avett with my elbow and deposited my haul into her hands. I pointed to Royal, who was sitting stoic in the middle of the rush, her head bent down and her gaze locked on the bar top.

“Feed the redhead. Make sure she eats it, and if I ever catch you trying to steal again you’re out of here. I don’t care what I promised Brite or how much it would break Darcy’s heart.”

She gave me a baleful look and muttered just loud enough that I could hear it, “Funny coming from you.”

She wasn’t wrong. It was ridiculous coming from me, so I ignored her and dove into the mess of trying to sort the rush out. It was only half an hour until last call, so it proved to be a little trickier than usual. The weekends at the Bar were getting busy enough since Rome’s remodel that I thought maybe I was going to have to ask him about hiring another server as well as a bouncer. Business was good, and in order to keep it that way we needed to make sure the crowds got service just as good as the battered old veterans that littered the place during the daytime hours.

I tried to keep an eye on Royal. I was worried she was going to try and leave before I could talk to her and before I could judge if she was sober enough to drive, but she was in the same spot, head bent down, eyes focused on the bar, and her water was gone. She had also put a good-sized dent in the food in front of her, so that made me breathe a little easier. She was abnormally quiet and I wished I had thought to grab her shirt for her when I pulled her out of the crowd earlier. She looked rumpled, like she had just climbed out of bed, and that wasn’t doing a thing to help me remember why I needed to get her out of the tailspin she had been in ever since the week before Christmas.

I got last call done. I paid the band and thanked the lead singer for helping me out with the frat kids, and he in turn asked me if I thought Royal would be interested in going on the road with them as a backup dancer. I had to laugh and broke the news to him that she already had a full-time job. I didn’t bother explaining what it was because I doubted he would believe me anyway. I helped Dixie clear the floor, and when we started to move people toward the front doors, I stopped next to Royal’s side and told her, “Hang out for a minute.”

She didn’t respond but she pushed some of her hair out her face, tucked it behind her ear, and looked at me out of the corner of her eye.

I took that as silent assent and helped Dixie get everyone outside and gave her a hand putting all the chairs up so that the cleaning crew Rome hired could spit-shine the place before we opened again tomorrow. Dixie and I had a system since we did this together six nights a week, so it was work that went by pretty quickly. When I was done I went behind the bar, poured myself a Dalwhinnie on the rocks, and took myself and my drink back around the other side of the bar so I could sit on a stool next to Royal. Everyone teased me that I should drink bourbon or whiskey, being as I was from Kentucky, but I preferred the smooth and dirty taste of scotch. It sort of fit since I was both those things myself.

I took a swig of the drink and set it down with a thunk on the bar. I ran my hand through my dirty-blond hair and looked at Royal out of the corner of my eye.

“So this is what you do now? Get drunk, rile up the natives, take half your clothes off in public, and just generally act the fool? ’Cause I gotta tell you, after two weekends in a row of it, I think it’s probably time you find another bar to haunt.”

I saw her shoulders slump and she matched my side-eye look.

“Why didn’t you tell those guys I was a cop?”

I sighed and turned to face her. I really wished she wasn’t such a looker. It made trying to be level-headed and rational around her that much harder.

“Because even though you can carry concealed legally because of your badge, you still can’t be drinking while carrying a loaded weapon. That’s illegal and a headache you really don’t need.”

“All of a sudden you’re concerned with others being law-abiding.” A little bit of her sass was coming back and that was a nice change from her maudlin moping that had settled around her since I pulled her off the dance floor.

“No. I don’t give a flying fuck about others being law-abiding, but you’ve got a job you like, friends that care about you, and you’re way too young to be flushing it all down the toilet. Even if that seems to be your new mission in life. You need to get your shit together, Royal, before you’re too far gone to fix the mess you seem so eager to make.” She was barely twenty-three. That seemed a lifetime younger than me, even though I had a couple more years ahead of me before I hit the big three-oh.

“That’s funny coming from you.”

Second time I had heard that in less than an hour. Maybe I just needed to keep my nose out of it and let everyone learn their own hard lessons just like I had been forced to do. I picked up my drink and took another slug.

“Get it together or don’t, but this is the final warning about bringing that nonsense into my bar. You want to go down in flames, I guess that’s your call, but I’m not going to watch you burn.”

Something flashed across her eyes, something so sad and lost it really made me want to reach out and comfort her, but touching Royal was like touching a live wire and I already had a hard enough time keeping my mind out of my pants and my hands to myself when I was around her. She blinked those long-ass lashes at me, stuck her tongue out to flick it across her bottom lip, and I forgot how to breathe for a second. She did it on purpose. I had no doubt.

“One of these days you’ll come home with me when I ask, Asa.” She leaned over on the bar stool a little and put her hand on my thigh. My fingers tightened around the tumbler in my hand so hard I was shocked the glass didn’t break.

“Is that why you’re here? Is that what the show is all about? You really want to make that kind of mistake?” My drawl was thick enough that the words were languid and heavy sounding. I felt blood start to race under my skin and I had no doubt that my eyes were probably glowing bright gold in my face. It wasn’t often someone made me uneasy, threw me off my game, but Royal had done it more than once in our short acquaintance.

She pressed her weight forward and stopped when her mouth was just a fraction away from mine. I could almost taste her. In fact, if I stuck out just the tip of my tongue, I would be tasting her. I clenched my teeth to stop that from happening, even though I was pretty sure she would taste like candy and fire.

“It seems like all I make anymore are mistakes. At least making that kind of one with you would be fun.”

She used her leverage on my leg to push herself upright as she slithered off the bar stool in one seamlessly sexy move. It made me bite back a groan.

“If you don’t want me here, I won’t come back.” She tossed her heavy hair over her shoulder and gave me a steady look out of her dark brown eyes. “I really thought you would make this easier.”

I didn’t say anything as she walked away, steady on those killer shoes and missing her shirt even though it was winter in Colorado. She was obviously sober enough to drive, but I had no idea where her head was at otherwise.

Dixie locked the door behind the redhead and wandered over to the bar. She grabbed herself a bottle of Bud Light, which of course was sacrilegious in this Coors Light–dominated bar, and refilled my scotch.

“I don’t know how you’ve managed to turn her down more than once.” She shook her own strawberry-blond curls and grinned at me. “I’m not even into chicks and I think I would do her if she asked. She’s pretty amazing.”

I muttered a few swearwords under my breath and tossed the second round back in one swallow. It burned a little and I had to blink.

“She’s a cop, a cop that has arrested me. I have better self-preservation instincts than that.” In my experience, cops were not my biggest fans, and I really couldn’t blame them. I set the empty glass down on the bar and climbed to my feet. It was late and I needed a hundred cold showers. “Besides, she doesn’t actually wanna fuck, she just thinks she does.”

Dixie snorted. “That’s not what it looks like to me.”

It might look pretty cut-and-dried from the outside. Royal was pretty, I was pretty, and we definitely had a spark, but I hadn’t lasted as long as I had screwing over everyone whose path I crossed without learning how to look deeper, how to see the danger looming, and it was obvious to me that Royal was dangerous in more ways than one.

“That’s a very pretty girl with a very ugly hurt, and somehow she got it in her head that she deserves to be punished, to hurt even more.”

“So she’s trying to drag you to bed to punish her? That sounds kinky and fun.”

I tossed my bar towel at her and pushed up from the bar so I could do the nightly cash-out and go home. Now the idea of Royal in her handcuffs and nothing else was going to be running around in my head for the rest of the night. Like she needed any help being unforgettable.

“She feels bad and she’s doing everything in her power to make herself feel worse.” I didn’t know all the details of what had started Royal’s recent decline, but I did know her partner on the force, who really was her best friend and had been for most of her life, had been injured pretty badly in the line of duty and that Royal was currently on administrative leave while the department investigated the circumstances that had led to two cops being shot. One of the officers hadn’t made it and the other was still in the hospital. The other being Dominic, Royal’s partner. “I’m not looking to be any part of that.”

I had used enough people in my life, even those that loved me unconditionally, to know what being a means to an end for someone else looked like. I wasn’t going to help Royal self-destruct.

Dixie gave me a soft little grin that reminded me that even though she was tough as nails when she needed to be, she was really a romantic sweetheart at her center.

“Maybe you should give it a shot and you could make her feel better, and maybe she could make you finally see that you have changed over the last year or so.”

I just gave my head a shake and told her flatly, “That’s not what I do.” Nope; I destroyed things not repaired them.

I never lied about the man I had been for most of my life or the things I had done. There were so many kinds of really ugly, twisted, and dark things I was capable of and yet everyone that knew me now seemed to be under the impression that I had undergone some kind of transformation after coming out of the coma I had been in after I died and came back. The truth of the matter was I was never going to be a good guy. I was never going to be the type of man that made things better. Regardless of what anyone wanted to believe or how desperately it seemed Royal needed someone to wade in and pull her out of the mire, I wasn’t made to be a hero or a savior. I was already so far under the thumb of the specters of my past mistakes there was no way I could pull anyone else to safety.

The old saying was true, a leopard never changed its spots; and just like the lurking jungle cat, I was a predator through and through even if others wanted to think I had somehow become a house cat.

Reading Order

Each can be read as a standalone.

Reviews: Rule | Rome | Nash | Rowdy

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Cover Reveal: Better When He’s Brave (#3, Welcome to the Point) by Jay Crownover

better when he's bold cover

Titus!!!! Feast your eyes on my new favorite hot cop! We’re back in the dark and dangerous, blood-covered streets of the Point, and Bax’s brother Titus is doing his part to keep his city safe. I love love love this cover and the book is even better! I can’t wait until you guys read Titus’ story in Better When He’s Brave. It’s brutal and sexy and it’s coming August 11th!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes ✦

Synopsis

In New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jay Crownover’s third novel in her sexy, thrilling Welcome to the Point series, a woman’s search for repentance leads her to the one man from her past she can’t forget as they join forces to save their city—and the explosive love neither can live without.

Titus King sees the world in black and white. Right and wrong. Which is why as a teenager he left behind the only family he’d ever known to make a better life for himself. Now a police detective in one of the worst cities in the country, he can’t deny his life has turned into a million different shades of gray.

The new criminal element in The Point has brought vengeance and destruction right to Titus’s front door, and the difference between right and wrong is nothing compared to keeping those he loves alive. To add to his already strained moral compass, the beautiful and mysterious Reeve Black has made her way back to town, and she might be as dangerous to Titus as the guy trying to destroy the Point because he needs her—in more ways than one.

Reeve knows all about how ruthless this new threat to destroy The Point can be… and instead of running away, she wants to help. She has a lot to repent for and saving the city, plus the hot cop that she hasn’t been able to forget might just be the only way she can finally find some inner peace.

With an entire city poised on the brink of war, Titus and Reeve stand in the crossfire—and it will take two brave souls to fight for the ultimate love.

Reading Order and Links

Reviews: Better When He’s Bad | Better When He’s Bold

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Review: Better When He’s Bold (#2, Welcome to the Point) by Jay Crownover

My Thoughts

An intense, sexy as hell, suspenseful page turner.

5stars

Synopsis

better when he's bold coverSome men are just better when they’re bold.

Welcome to the Point…

In a dark and broken kingdom, a ruler has to be fearless to control the streets and the ruthless people who run them.

Race Hartman is just bold enough, just smart enough, and just lost enough to wear the crown. Places like the Point will always have bad things and bad people, but the man in control of all that badness can minimize the devastation. Race has a plan, but can he prevent total annihilation without destroying himself?

Brysen Carter has always seen her best friend’s brother for what he is–too pretty, too smooth, and way too dangerous to touch. Basking in Race’s golden glow is very tempting, but Brysen knows she’d eventually get burned.

When she starts receiving threatening texts and someone tries to take her out in parking lot, the only person interested in keeping her safe is the one man she can’t allow herself to have.

Sometimes being bold is the only way to stay alive. But can she let Race save her life . . . if it means losing herself to him?

My Review

The Point has a new ruler, and it’s golden boy Race Hartman that dons the tattered crown. He’s running the streets now and it’s anything but easy as debts continue to be collected in blood. Race battles much on the inside and outside as he strives to carry out a plan that could change things for those that call The Point home. Luckily for him, he’s got the baddest of the bad at his side. He’s got Bax, who is notorious for being the most dangerous guy around. On the other side, he’s got Nassir, who is the dirtiest, get-it-done-by-any-means-possible guy.  The Point is in for a new world order with these three at the helm as bullets, blood and secrets reign.

Brysen Carter has had a crush on Race Hartman for a long time. The golden boy with the green eyes. The new kingpin of a broken kingdom. Race was bad, unpredictable… a complication she needed to stay away from despite the near-irresistible desire she felt every time she saw him. So she was mean. Guarded. Did everything she could to push him away.

Meanwhile, Race had more problems than he knew what to do with. Even his sharp, intelligent, problem-solving mind couldn’t fix everything he faced. And yet, a problem like Brysen was the best kind of challenge. He was fueled by her hard-to-get game, but he also sensed there was more to her story.

“We had never really been friends, didn’t know each other beyond the powerful attraction that seemed to pull us together, but the more bits and pieces of him I uncovered, the more I realized he was so much like me. His life looked one way, but underneath the surface there was so much more, so many other things going on.”

After Race swoops in to help her during a bad situation, Brysen begins to soften. Race is willing to help her, becoming someone she could trust. Before to long, her defenses fall and they become each other’s safe haven. But Brysen couldn’t forget who Race was… what he did every day. Could she really be with someone who ruined so many lives?

“In a place like this, there aren’t very many good people running around. That means there are a lot of bad things happening under the surface and a lot of bad people doing those things. I’m not a bad guy, Brysen, but I’m not a good guy either.”

As Brysen and Race battle turmoil inside, everything around them spins out of control. Someone is after Brysen and someone is looking to dethrone Race. The violence is escalating and there are no answers to who is behind it. Race, who is driven by his ability to fix things, to protect those he loves, begins to unravel and it’s Brysen who must come to terms with her emotions if she’s to help him.

“Being with guys like us… It’s like being in love with a loaded weapon and you’re the safety.”

I love Race as a character. He’s a really complex guy. He’s not a natural for the streets, but it’s become the only home he’s ever known. He doesn’t like being the bad guy, but he knows he has to do what’s needs to be done or things can get a whole lot worse. He’s got a plan for making The Point a little better, a little more manageable, and a little safer for those he cares about, but he’s afraid of losing himself in the process.

“I would hold on to her with everything I had and I would make sure she stayed just the way she was. I would never take the little things for granted, and just as tightly as I planned on holding on to her, I was going to hold on to this dark and dangerous place that was my home. They were both mine, and I would give up anything and everything to keep them.”

This was an intense book, and although the story is primarily plot driven, the character development is rich and you really want to learn more about each person in the novel. People like Booker and Nassir and Titus… I just can’t wait to experience their story. And in typical Jay Crownover style, it’s also super sexy. She always does an amazing job at creating that believable, hot-as-hell chemistry between her characters.

There are so many reasons to read this book, this series, but one of them is that Jay Crownover is really pushing the boundaries of the New Adult space, giving us stories that are edgier, grittier, more intense and twisty than those we’ve seen. For those of you that feel like New Adult has run its course, Jay’s books are the perfect example of how the category continues to evolve in a fresh, contemporary way. Next up is Detective Titus King, Bax’s brother, and I anxiously await diving into his story in Better When He’s Brave.

“I thought we weren’t a good bet, but now I would go double or nothing on us any day.”

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Reading Order and Links

Each book can be read as a standalone.

better when he's bad better when he's bold cover

Reading Order: Better When He’s Bad | Better When He’s Bold | Better When He’s Brave

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Exclusive Excerpts + Signed Giveaway: Better When He’s Bold by Jay Crownover & Dirty Deeds by Karina Halle

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Today, I shared a dual interview with bestselling authors Jay Crownover and Karina Halle on my Love In Suspense column on USA Today (see it here), where they talk about their latest projects: Better When He’s Bold and Dirty Deeds. Now, I’m thrilled to exclusively share these never-before-seen excerpts from both of these amazing books! Plus I have a giveaway for a signed copy of each, which you can enter at the bottom of the post!

Better When He’s Bold

better when he's bold coverSome men are just better when they’re bold.

Welcome to the Point…

In a dark and broken kingdom, a ruler has to be fearless to control the streets and the ruthless people who run them.

Race Hartman is just bold enough, just smart enough, and just lost enough to wear the crown. Places like the Point will always have bad things and bad people, but the man in control of all that badness can minimize the devastation. Race has a plan, but can he prevent total annihilation without destroying himself?

Brysen Carter has always seen her best friend’s brother for what he is–too pretty, too smooth, and way too dangerous to touch. Basking in Race’s golden glow is very tempting, but Brysen knows she’d eventually get burned.

When she starts receiving threatening texts and someone tries to take her out in parking lot, the only person interested in keeping her safe is the one man she can’t allow herself to have.

Sometimes being bold is the only way to stay alive. But can she let Race save her life . . . if it means losing herself to him?

Excerpt

I hurt everywhere. Every single spot on my body that had suffered a blow from heavy hands, every part of my body that had been used to defend myself, just ached all the way down to my bones. I felt battered and bruised everywhere, from the inside out.

The only place that didn’t hurt or ache was the spot on my chest where Brysen’s head was resting. In sleep, her ear was pressed to the thump of my heart and her hand was curled around my waist. She was like the cool side of the pillow. Like frost on a windowpane, soothing all the bumps and bruises. Where I should be burning up with all of her sexy and honeyed nakedness pressed up against me, instead I felt like she was a refreshing breeze cutting through the smog and pollution that typically flooded my lungs. Her white-blond hair felt like raw silk where it rubbed against my skin, and with zero effort she had my eager body stirring under the covers.

Since she stayed the night, let me have at her without question while I tried to work out all the dark shit in my head, I thought the least I could do was pull the bed out and let her sleep in semicomfort. Not that I let her get that much shut-eye. There was something unique about her. Something about the way she was when she was with me that made me want to get into her, take her apart, see everything she was working with and put my hands on all of it. She was like the best puzzle, the hardest problem I had ever tried to figure out, and it made me like her more than I already did.

I was just thinking about the best way to wake her up, wondering if she would freak out if I skipped all the preamble and just put my mouth between her legs. So far she had surprised me. She seemed down with whatever I wanted to do to her, do with her, but considering we had just scratched the surface of all the ways I wanted to mess her up, I still didn’t know how far she was willing to let me go or where her hard boundaries were. I don’t think I had any particular boundaries where she was concerned, and that made my blood thick and my dick hard.

I was running my hand down her side, thinking she felt like all the luxury and finer things I had long since left behind, when my chance to seduce her awake was blown by my phone screaming at me from the floor where it was tangled in my pants. I was used to the damn thing going off at all hours of the day and night. People wanted to give me money or take my money all the time and they never paid attention to a clock. What I wasn’t used to was my mother calling me—ever. That was a ring tone I hadn’t heard in months and months, including the time I had the life nearly beaten out of me by Novak’s thugs and I ended up in the hospital. She had firmly joined the Race-is-a-worthless-piece-of-shit bandwagon as soon as my father had declared me persona non grata at the Hartman castle. She had no clue what kind of man my father really was and saw no issue with believing him and whatever lies he told to justify disowning me and taking away every penny I had to my name.

Brysen muttered something and her eyes fluttered open to look at me. I saw her take a second to take stock, realize where she was, then she stacked her hands under her chin and looked out at me from under a tangle of pale hair.

“Are you going to answer it?”

I hadn’t, and now it was ringing again.

“I don’t really want to.” She was naked and draped across me, my face hurt, and my dick was hard. There were a hundred and one other things I could think of that I would rather do than answer that phone.

“Work?”

I sighed and shifted so I could snatch the phone up off the floor. She rolled to the side and took the single blanket I had thrown over us at some point in the night with her. She looked so sweet all rumpled and thoroughly sexed up but so out of place in the hollow and empty loft. She pushed her hair off of her face and watched me with careful eyes.

“I wish it was work.” I swiped a finger across the screen of the phone and moved to the edge of the bed. Only my past could instantly deflate the erection Brysen and her sexy, chilly blondness had inspired.

“Been a while, Mom.”

There was no masking the bitterness and anger in my tone and I saw Brysen look at me with concern. I sighed again as she climbed off the other side of the bed, taking the blanket with her as she went toward the bathroom.

“Race …” My mother was crying, hysterical even, and I thought I should try to care.

“What do you want?” I sounded like an asshole but I couldn’t help it. I reached for my discarded jeans.

“I need you to meet me down at the police station.”

I paused. “Why?”

She made a hiccuping noise and then a sound like that of a dying animal. “You father has been arrested.”

Reading Order and Links

better when he's bad better when he's bold cover

Each can be read as a standalone. Click on image to purchase from Amazon U.S.

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Dirty Deeds

dirty deeds coverFrom The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author of The Pact and Sins & Needles, comes the next standalone novel in the darkly romantic suspense Dirty Angels Trilogy – DIRTY DEEDS.

As a flight attendant, Alana Bernal has had her share of suitors. She’s also had more than her fair share of tragedy within her messed-up family. But what she hasn’t had is love. Real, rip-your-heart-out, tear-your-clothes-off, all-consuming love.

At least that was the case until she met an American tourist, Derek Conway, a ripped ex-soldier with steely eyes and a commanding presence.

What started as a chance encounter between the two in Puerto Vallarta, a weekend full of hot sex and mindless passion, has led to something more.

Something deadly.

Because Derek isn’t the type of man to fall in love. He’s not a man who sticks around.

And he’s definitely not in Mexico on vacation.

Derek is a mercenary, a killer-for-hire, a man who does the ugly jobs for the highest bidder.

Unfortunately for Alana and Derek, the highest bidder has the power to destroy whatever worlds they have created for themselves.

The highest bidder can destroy everything.

Excerpt

Once we were in the back of the cab, she was sitting with her thigh flush against mine. I was somewhat dressed up – dark jeans, white and blue pinstriped dress shirt – and yet I could feel her heat through my clothing. That and her smell and the way her hair fell across her face, highlighting the coy glimpses of her eyes and smile, was driving me borderline insane. Though we made small chat throughout the ride, my mind was elsewhere, concentrating on keeping that well-earned control I had. I had to focus on the task at hand, which of course was her. But not in that way. I needed in deep, for her own safety and my own sanity.

It took a long time to finally get to the restaurant, located in the old town of Puerto Vallarta, despite the driver cutting everyone off along the way. You either drove aggressively around here or you didn’t drive at all.

“Thank you,” she said to me as I took her arm and helped her out of the cab. When she straightened up she looked at the place and made an impressed face. “Wow. You know, I’ve never been here before and I’ve lived in PV for a long time.”

“First time for everything then.”

I picked the place because it looked a bit different from the tourist traps in the downtown area. There wasn’t much to the outside except for a tall stone fence topped with strangling vines and flowers that bloomed like white and magenta cotton balls. But on the other side of the cast-iron gate was a different story.

I helped her over there, even though she was walking so much better now on her cast, and a waiter opened it up, giving us a hearty welcome to Coconut Joes. I gave him the reservation name and he led us through tables with ivory-lace tablecloths, past a clear blue pool with koi fish and a waterfall, under dramatic palm fronds, and all the way to a table in the back corner with a lit candle on it. The place wasn’t anything too outrageous or stuffy but it was just classy enough.

“Again, wow,” Alana said as I helped her into seat. I was starting to like being her nurse. She looked around, her cheeks glowing beautifully in the candlelight. “This is something.”

“Something good?” I asked as the server poured us bottled water.

“More than good,” she said. “The guys I dated never brought me places like this.”

Something pinched in my chest. “Oh? They take you to McDonalds?”

She gave me a look. “Most of the men I dated were pilots. They would take me somewhere really snobby and expensive to try and seem better than they were.” She took a polite sip of her water and straightened her napkin on her lap. Every day, her pain seemed to be easing, her movements becoming more fluid. “Then the next night they would take some other stupid flight attendant to the same place.”

As much as I felt an unjustified hit of jealousy, she was giving me some information, something I could work with.

“So I guess there’s a lot of drama in the workplace, huh?” I said casually, eying the waiter who was approaching us with menus in hand. In the background “Morena de Mi Corazon” started to play from the speakers. “Spurned lovers and revenge in the air,” I added.

She laughed. “No, not really. It was my fault. Rookie mistake to date a pilot…even though I did more than a few times.” She looked away, embarrassed. “Most guys I date are a mistake but no one seems to get hurt.”

So that probably ruled out the whole spurned lover angle. Not that I thought an ex-lover could or would attempt to have her taken out and for that amount of money. Love made people do crazy fucking things but that would have been a first in my books. Besides, if she did have an obsessed ex-boyfriend then I was sure I’d find out about him sooner or later.

The waiter came by and told us the specials. I ordered for the both of us – seared Ahi – because I’d never done that before, not even with Carmen, and made sure he kept the bottles of wine coming.

She was about three glasses of wine in, giggly and eating her fish with gusto when I started pressing her.

“So do you have any siblings?”

The smile seemed to vanish right off her face. There. I had something there. No matter what her answer was, I hit a nail.

“I have a twin sister and a brother,” she answered simply.

“Oh? And where do they live? What do they do?”

She relaxed her jaw a bit and took a bite of her rice. “My sister, Marguerite, she lives in New York. Goes to film school.”

Hmmm. That placed her out of range and a student at that.

“And your brother?”

“He lives around here.”

“In Puerto Vallarta?”

She shot me a wary look. “Around here. But he’s an asshole and I’d rather not talk about him.”

I raised my brow. “An asshole? What makes you say that?”

“I just do,” she said stubbornly. Then she sighed. “He just is. Every family has a…what do you say, black sheep. Right? Well, that’s him.”

“What’s his name?”

She bit her lip and said, “Juan.”

I didn’t know her well enough to tell if she was lying or not. I’m not sure why she would lie about her own brother.

I pressed it further. “What does he do?”

“He’s in importing and exporting. Trade with America. That sort of thing.”

Well, we all knew what that meant down here. Running drugs, like everyone else. Still, that gave me something to go on. Of course the name Juan didn’t help me much.

“What’s his last name, his surnames?” I asked, knowing that sometimes the men in Mexico took on their mother’s maiden names as well as their father’s.

“Bardem,” she said without hesitation. “Why all the questions?”

I shrugged and leaned back in my seat. “Just want to know more about you.”

Her brows knitted together as she eyed me suspiciously. “Maybe so, but you’re asking with this look on your face, like you’re all David Caruso.”

“David Caruso?”

“CSI Miami. It’s still my favorite, I don’t care for the other ones.”

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you but I don’t have the hair to be David Caruso, nor do I have the sunglasses and quippy one-liners.”

She took a sip of her wine but couldn’t hide her smile. Good, she was back to trusting me again. I wanted to ask her about her parents but I thought that would be pushing my luck. Whoever they were to her though, they were either dead or out of the picture. They had never come to see her in the hospital and the truth about her brother and sister explained why they hadn’t either.

What the hell have you done, Alana? I asked in my head as I stared at her across the table, the light illuminating her in an angelic way. Why would anyone pay me two hundred thousand dollars to have you killed?

And how the hell would I ever know the answers to those questions without incriminating myself?

Reading Order and Links

dirty angels cover dirty deeds cover

Each can be read as a standalone. Click on image to purchase from Amazon U.S.

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Connect with Jay Crownover: Website | Facebook | Twitter
 Connect with Karina Halle: Website | Facebook | Twitter

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