LATEST NEWS

February 21st, 2017

I’m Working On It

Hey, everyone!

I wanted to touch base with you all, because I know so many of you are anxious for any news on Hideaway or when to expect the Fall Away spin-off series to start releasing. I appreciate your patience, and I’m really grateful ANYONE is excited about ANYTHING I have coming in the future. It tickles me pink.

HIDEAWAY is coming next. I’m working on it now, but I don’t have a release date yet. I know that’s the last thing you want to hear, but it’s the truth. Good things take time. If you loved Corrupt, remember that it took a year and half of dreaming before I even started writing it. That think-time is important. Believe me, I wish I could just spit this out and get it done, but I also know that many readers are getting burnt out. I see reviews for other books, discussion threads on Facebook, comments in groups, and many of us are only finishing one out of five books we start anymore. I don’t want to be one of the four you tossed aside in search of your next escape. In order to get a great scene that keeps you flipping pages and soaking up something you truly love, it may take three days of staring at my computer screen, an hour of spinning in my desk chair, 3 bags of Twizzlers, or doing make-believe snow angels on my office floor to get that great idea for that kick-ass scene. For example, last week I was writing Hideaway and this great scene started to stale. It was falling flat, and if I’m bored, you’ll be bored, right? I stopped writing, rather than forcing it, and a day later I had it. I was smiling and excited again. But for a day, I didn’t write. And sometimes, it’s three days.

I know waiting is hard, and I know waiting for the spin-off series is frustrating, too, but time makes a much better book. I’m only on my tenth novel, but I’ve learned at least that so far. And while I write Hideaway and Kill Switch (Devil’s Night #3), I’m adding pins to the new Fall Away Pinterest boards (still secret, sorry) and adding music to the playlists, so I’m plotting and thinking on those even now.

My hope if for HIDEAWAY to be out this spring, Kill Switch in October, and the Fall Away spin-off series to start releasing next year some time. Believe me, I wish I could snap my fingers and they’d be done for you. I’m as excited for you to read them as I am for them to be done. When I have more information, you’ll know. You’ll be the first to know the release dates. And yes, all of the Fall Away kids will be getting books.

Now I know many of my readers will say no worries, no need to explain, but I do see readers getting angry with an author when they feel they’ve waited long enough. Some readers even feel that three months is too long to wait for a book. This is just letting you know that I’m here, I’m writing, and writing is HARD! Lol. I’m going to give you a good book, but that’s not easy, and it takes a while. (Don’t let me tell you about the crying fit I had on my hotel bed when I hid myself away to work through Corrupt edits). In the end, all you’ll care about is that the book is good 😉 You won’t care how long you waited.

Thanks for your excitement everyone, and I’m on it. As soon as I have more info, I’ll let you know.

xoxo Penelope

 

 

 

 

 


January 21st, 2017

Next to Never Deleted Scene #2

This is the second and final deleted scene for Next to Never. Not terribly important for the pacing of the book, but just a little extra Kat and Jase. This would take place when Jared was still a baby.

 

JASE…

“The presents were too much,” Kat said as I wrapped my arms around her shoulders. “I can buy him things, you know? I have a job.”

“I know,” I told her, burying my nose in her hair.

We stood in the park where a light layer of snow covered the grass. Jared tried climbing the steps of the jungle gym. Christmas was a few days ago, and the park was nearly empty.

It seemed like time was flying. He was walking now, Kat’s divorce was final and she was in school, going for her accounting degree, and Maddie had taken our son to Hawaii with her parents.

“I care about him,” I admitted. “I’m not trying to use him to keep you. I want him to have the best.”

I saw him more than I saw my own kid these days. Besides the few moments in the morning before I had to leave, he was either gone or asleep when I was home. Even if I had a free day, Maddie had made plans and taken him off somewhere. If I got home early, it would only be a matter of minutes before she decided they had an errand to run. She wasn’t trying to keep him from me. I knew that.

She just didn’t want to be around me. I’d given up a long time ago, and she finally had as well. 

I could’ve gone on the trip to Hawaii and spent time with Madoc. I’d wanted to. But Maddie asked me to stay home, and so I squeezed Kat in my arms, because I felt like shit and she was the only thing I had to hang on to.

My wife had caught onto me. Our marriage was in trouble before Kat, but the wedge between us was an abyss now, and she did almost anything she could to avoid me.

The part that gutted me was that I didn’t really care. I wanted my kid, but I wanted Kat, too. I hated to admit it, but I was relieved when Maddie told me not to come. I didn’t have to put on a mask, because now we were just going through the motions.

But I did have some truths to face.

My behavior was a mistake, and the continuation of my marriage was wrong.  

And I was in love with Kat, and I was a terrible father.  

So why wasn’t I making the decisions I needed to make? Why was I so afraid to leave what was familiar, even if I was miserable, for what was unknown? 

“That’s something I want to talk about,” Kat says in a serious tone, turning around to face me.

“What?”

“I don’t want Jared to grow up confused about you,” she stated. “I don’t think you should just come by whenever you want anymore.”

I tensed.

“He’s getting to know your face,” she explained. “I don’t want him to see you around and be old enough to remember. Old enough to miss you when you’re not there and wonder why you have to leave to go to your real family.”

I blinked long and hard and let her go, nodding. Fine.

It made sense, didn’t it?

But the anger still built in my chest, because she was cutting me off, too.  

“I’ll try to be more discreet,” I said in a clipped tone.

I started to turn away, but she grabbed the lapels of my jacket, holding me in place.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I answered, kissing her forehead. “I’ve got to go. Merry Christmas.”

“Hey.” She pulled me back, making me look at her. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m not giving you up. You’re trying to protect your family, and I’m trying to protect mine. It’s a two-way street.”

I caressed her cheek, rosy from the winter air, and tucked her hair behind her ear. “I know.”

She leaned into my hand, and I could barely contain the need firing in my body. This girl had me completely wound into knots.

“I want to spend the night tonight,” I whispered to her.

Her eyes dropped to the snow, but I saw a little smile peek out. She turned around and pulled my arms around her again, snuggling close.

“You’re cold,” I said, feeling her body shake.

“No. Just thinking that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is on tonight, and I’m going to make you watch it.”

My chest shook with a silent laugh, loving the mischief in her voice. It was a rare occasion when I could stay over, and tonight we could just enjoy being with each other.

“As long as I can take you in for a nice long shower afterward, then I’ll play along,” I assured. 

Buffy. Sometimes I forgot she was still so young. ‘Course, so was I, I guessed.

I looked out, seeing Jared walking around the jungle gym. I’d given him a soccer ball as one of his gifts, but it laid abandoned in the snow. I guessed he wasn’t going to be much into sports, more interested in climbing a contraption he was still too little for.

“I wish he was yours,” she said suddenly, watching him.

And I kissed her hair, letting out a sigh. “Someday he will be.”

 

****

Thanks for reading, everyone. Hope you are enjoying the book, and I look forward to getting the new series to you <3


January 19th, 2017

Next to Never Deleted Scene

This is one of three deleted scenes I have for Next to Never! The first one, the prologue, is already available under the Extras tab, and the third one I’ll give you this Friday.

Some of you may remember this convo, but here’s the entire scene written out. It was only deleted from the final book, because we needed to get the word count down to be able to fit Aflame and Next to Never in the paperback coming in May.

Enjoy!! (This isn’t really a spoiler if you haven’t read the novella yet, but if you have, it takes place before Dylan picks Quinn up to go to Juliet’s and then the Loop.)

 

QUINN

I grabbed a wedge of sandwich from the plate in the fridge and walked over to my mother’s desk, built into the wall of the kitchen, and sat down in front of her laptop.

I couldn’t imagine Googling was going to give me much help, considering it was a particularly relative question, but—

“Addie made a platter of sandwiches, so eat up, and let’s go.”

All three of my brothers had rushed into the kitchen and they began rummaging through the fridge.

Oh, great. The quiet was nice while it lasted. Addie oversees my father’s household as well as Madoc’s, with help of course, and she probably made him his own platter of sandwiches, but no doubt Kade, Hunter, and their friends cleaned him out.

Which, I guess, is why he, Jared, and Jax swung by here to mooch off our food in their rush to get to the track on time.

I try to tune out their noise as I bring up the Internet, but the fridge opens and closes several times and they keep slamming the cabinets shut.

Once I decide it’s useless, I stop and twist around in my seat, looking at them.   “Hey, can I ask you guys a question?”

“Mmm hmm…” Jared replies, taking the pickles off the sandwiches.

“Yeah, what is it?” Madoc asks.

“Well, it’s kind of personal.” I sit up straight and curl up on my leg, sitting on my foot.

They continue on their food mission, stuffing sandwiches in their mouths while standing at the counter.

“Well, um…” I swallow the awkwardness that tries to creep up. “I kind of wanted to know…what does sex feel like for a man?”

Every single one of them stops and stares at me. It’s all I can do not to laugh.

Jared goes stiff, looking uncomfortable, while Madoc’s mouth hangs open in mid-chew and Jax’s eyebrows damn-near touch his hairline.

“Um…” Jax looks to the other guys like he’s at a loss for words.

But it’s Madoc who recovers quickest. “Well, it feels like…” and his gaze drifts up as if thinking before he nods and says, “warm apple pie.”

Jax snorts and Jared shoots him a disgusted look. “Don’t be an idiot,” he sneers at Madoc and then looks to me. “And you don’t need to know that yet.”

“I’m seventeen,” I point out. “You’re telling me you guys were virgins at my age?”

Madoc laughs and rounds the island, coming to sit at the table. “Come on, man,” he tells Jared. “She’s practice for Dylan. You’re going to have to deal with this sooner or later.”

Jared strolls over, avoiding my eyes, and sits down. “It feels good, alright? Is that what you wanted to know?”

“Yeah. It feels…really good,” Madoc adds.

And then Jax nods, carrying his bowl over and standing close. “Yeah, really good.”

“Good?” I mock. “That’s it? Come on, guys. I can’t ask Dad. And I’m not going to ask Hawke. He’s a year younger, and I’m not having him educate me on that stuff.”

Jax freezes, a spoonful of pasta salad halfway between the bowl and his mouth. “Hawke’s having sex?” he asks, and I momentarily wonder if I’ve gotten my nephew in trouble.

Honestly I don’t know if he’s having sex, but Jax looks a little freaked out as he sets his bowl and fork down with a clang. “Fuck, I gotta go.”

He leaves the room, and I turn my eyes on Jared, pinning him with a stare.

“Why do you want to know?” he questions me.

“Because I’m curious. I want to know what men like.”

“Everything,” he shoots back, stacking three sandwiches on top of each other. “And you can find out in college. After college. When you’re married. Not in high school.” He glares at me. “Understand? Every single high school guy is an asshole. Every single one. I promise.”

“Hey,” Madoc whines, looking insulted. “I have two boys in high school.” 

But Jared simply looks at Madoc, arches an eyebrow, and then meets my eyes again. “Every. Single. One. Got it?”

I let out a sigh and bury my face in my hands. Is it so hard to answer a question without jumping into Protect Mode? I’m not looking to get laid! I just want information, and every time I try to stretch my boundaries, Jared snaps like a rubber band, bringing me back into the circle.

“What’s wrong, Quinnie?” I hear Madoc ask.

But frustration is burning a hole in my stomach. “Don’t call me that. I’m not a baby anymore.” And I take a deep breath, looking anywhere but at them.

“Are you having problems?” he guages. “Because I’m going to tell you, you’re beautiful, so any issues are theirs. Not yours.”

I shake my head. “No. I just want to know… If a man saw me for the first time, would he think I was beautiful the way you guys think Tate and Fallon are beautiful?”

Jared and Madoc exchange looks and then Jared’s eyes darken as he studies me. “A man?”

I close my eyes, groaning. That’s the one word he focused on from that? I can tell already this is going nowhere. Madoc is Mr. Positive, thinking he needs to boost my self-esteem, and Jared is like a guard dog, pacing his cage and waiting for an opportunity to sic.

I stand up, leaving my sandwich next to the computer. “Never mind. I can’t talk to you guys about this.”

 


November 10th, 2016

Next to Never Prologue!

This prologue was deleted from Next to Never to shrink the word count in the paperback. If the paperback is too big (since it contains both Aflame and Next to Never) it would end up being too expensive for readers. This prologue still works and fits for the book, but it wasn’t crucially important to the story, so I’m offering it up now in its entirety for your enjoyment! Some of this has already been released to readers, but this is the whole thing. There will be a couple more deleted scenes coming after the release on January 17th!! Enjoy <3

 

PROLOGUE

“This isn’t working.”

I hear my mother’s voice coming from the office down the hall and pull my black sweatshirt over my head as I tiptoe undetected cross the hardwood floors.

“You’re twisting her into knots, Jason.”

“She’s fine,” my dad barks, and I hear papers shuffle. “You’re worrying for nothing. As usual.”

I’m careful to stay quiet as I stop next to the wall and inch closer to the office.

She. That means me, I assume.

A narrow strip of light spills through the crack in the door, and I peek in to see my father standing behind the desk, organizing his papers, while my mother stares at him from the other side.

It’s typical of my dad to avert his eyes in any confrontation with my mother. As if looking at her will make him fold.

“Jared and Tate rented a house in Huntington Beach for the summer,” she tells him. “I’m sending her with them.”

His gaze finally shoots up, and he glares at her. My heart starts pounding, because I know that look.

“Like hell you are,” he growls. “She’s thirteen years old! She’s not going away for an entire summer. Our daughter stays with us.”

“She needs a break!” Mom fights back. “She’s a straight A student, and you still have her seeing a Math tutor to get ahead. She’s in gymnastics, piano, the computer club, and she’s seeing a Spanish tutor three times a week in addition to the French she’s already taking at school. I want her to have the summer off.”

“Quinn likes to learn. She made those choices.”

“Because she loves you,” my mom says, “and she wants you to be proud of her.”

“I am proud of her,” he retorts, and I can see his chest starting to rise and fall faster as he plants his palms on the desk. “I’ve only ever wanted her to be happy. You know that.”

“But how do we know that she is?”

“Because there’s nothing wrong!” He pounds his fist on the solid wood of his desk, and I jump. “After all these years, you still don’t trust me. Our life is good now. Why can’t you let it be that way? You’re manufacturing these problems.”

My eyes sting, and I pull back, resting my shoulder against the wall. My parents are silent for a few moments, and then I hear my mother’s quiet voice, thick with tears.

“She doesn’t argue,” she tells him. “She doesn’t ever tell us what she wants. She just nods and agrees. ‘Sit still and do as you’re told.’ That’s Quinn.”

I lock my teeth together to keep my chin from trembling and stare down at my hands as I start to pick away at the pink nail polish on my thumb.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cry,” my mom continues.

“You want to see her cry?”

“Yes!” she bursts out. “I want to see her do something! Jared would yell, fight, break things, and I hated it, but at least I knew what I was getting was true. I knew what I had to work with. I can’t read Quinn.”

My toes curl into the floor as I run my thumb along the jagged piece of polish I’d peeled away.

My dad’s right. I’m fine. So I may not go out on big adventures like Hawke or tear up the track like my brothers. Maybe I don’t need to make a spectacle of myself or prove anything. Maybe I’m happier this way.

“Jared, Madoc, Jax…” my mom goes on, “they all raced over the edge, and they did it running. Quinn’s so afraid to even move a muscle.” She pauses, and I hear her inhale a breath, her voice turning resolute. “She’s going away for the summer, and that’s final—”

“She’s not going anywhere.”

“…and maybe I should go with her!” my mother bites out.

I suddenly hear a crash.

My breath catches in my throat as I peer into the office again. I see my dad glaring at my mom, his teeth bared and his breathing heavy, while everything on the desk is now piled onto the floor in a messy heap. The chords in his forearms, visible since the sleeves of his white shirt are rolled up, are tight and his hands are balled into fists.

Tears well in my eyes. I’m never seen him so angry.

My mother’s back straightens. “Careful,” she says in a smooth voice, almost cocky. “You’re still so used to life revolving around your every command, maybe it would’ve been better keeping me as your whore.”

My breath shakes, and I blink to keep the stinging away from my eyes. Whore? What the hell does she mean by that?

My dad stares at her and slowly rises, standing up straight and looking furious. She went too far.

My mother twists around, and I tense, seeing her come my way, but she doesn’t make it. My dad rounds the desk, grabs her by the waist, and pulls her into him, her back against his chest.

She gasps, and he wraps his arms around her, holding her tight as he buries his face in her neck.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers.

She closes her eyes, breaking down and quietly sobbing as she turns her face toward him.

I breathe hard, backing away and unsure what to do next. I’m so confused, and I don’t understand the conversation I just overheard.

Turning around, I stop and inhale a quick breath. A dark figure stands in front of me.

“Shhh.” Lucas holds a finger against his lips.

I stare through blurry eyes up into his, which are a blue I would recognize anywhere, except I can’t really see clearly in the dark hallway. He reaches out a finger, and I blink as he catches a tear hanging off my bottom lid.

“It’s okay,” he says gently. Then he jerks his head to the side. “Come on.”

I swallow the lump in my throat and follow my brothers’ friend down the hall, into the kitchen, and through the door leading into the basement.

“Where are we going?” I ask as he flips on the light.

“Pizza.”

He says it as if that explains everything. It kind of does, I guess.

Our family loves pizza.

Just like my dad had a skating ramp built for his stepdaughter back in the day, Madoc, my brother, had a custom kitchen built for me outside on the downstairs patio, right off the finished basement.

I was here a lot, and even though my parents had bought another house less than a mile down the road, this house—the one my brother grew up in—was still home-base. Parties, barbeques, holidays…everything important was held here. And since it’s Memorial Day weekend, my other two brothers are here with their families, as well. Even though their houses are only a few miles away.

Our family is close even though we aren’t family in the traditional sense. I have three brothers, one of whom I share a mother with and one of whom I share a father with. The other one isn’t technically my blood, but it didn’t matter.

And then they all have children, which means I’m an aunt to four boys and two girls who aren’t much younger than me.

Yeah. Even I still get confused.

And then there’s Lucas.

Lucas is twenty-five—twelve years older than me. Madoc mentored him as a little kid, since he grew up without a dad, so for all intents and purposes, he’s family. He was a part of the family long before I was born, and I’ve never known a time without him.

I don’t want to.

Lucas never says anything negative, never puts pressure on me, never makes demands or redirects me, and as much I love my family—and I know they don’t mean to put me on edge—he relaxes me.

I’ve always veered in his direction. Stayed closed to him. Even though lately, I’ve gotten more nervous around him. I’m not sure why. Nothing has changed.

Except me, I guess.

Following him through the main room of the basement, across the plush carpeting, past the pool table, away from the entertainment center with leather couches and the Wall of Shame and Fame with all our family photos, I watch as Lucas opens the French doors and walks out first, holding the door open behind him with his hand.

“It’s raining!” I burst out, stopping to stare at the light but steady downpour.

He just tosses back a smile and continues walking for the outdoor kitchen, complete with a small fridge, sink, stove, and a brick pizza oven.

The bottoms of his jeans drag just slightly on the slate patio, and I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. In his flip flops and gray T-shirt, he’s a lot less intimidating than he has been lately.

After Lucas finished graduate school last year, he started wearing a lot of suits for work, and it was hard to get used to. He looked like a different person, and while I knew he was a grown up, I’d never thought of him like…a man.

And that’s getting harder to ignore now. I liked the seventeen year old who taught me how to blow bubbles with my gum when I was five. Now it…it feels like he’s passing me up. Sprinting ahead while I’m still at a light jog.

A mosquito buzzes in front of my face, and I shoo it away, but I stop short when I notice flashes of yellow out in the distance. The streams of light are whipping back and forth, moving erratically into the trees.

“Who’s out there?” I ask Lucas, making my way to the kitchen and staying dry under the roof above us. “I see flashlights out there.”

“Well, since it’s raining, I imagine it’s Tate.” He lights the pizza oven and adds more wood. “I think she and Jared are checking out the tree house.”

My eyebrows shoot up. “Well, let’s go, too.”

But he just shakes his head. “Uh no. I don’t think they want to be interrupted.”

My shoulders falling a bit, I keep staring as the glowing light in the trees fade away, hearing the refrigerator door open and close as he gathers the ingredients behind me.

“Do I melt butter and spread it on the dough or use cooking spray?” he asks.

I turn around and see one of the pizza pans already prepared with pre-made dough that Addie, the housekeeper, and I keep stocked in the fridge sitting on the workspace. Lucas has taken out pepperoni, American cheese, bay leaves and…ketchup.

Ketchup?

“Oh, my God.” I groan. “Just let me do it.”

Walking over, I step in front of the counter, forcing him out of the way, and start putting away…well, everything except the pepperoni.

“Works every time.” I hear him gloat as he walks away. “And hurry up, I’m hungry.”

I roll my eyes, but I can’t help but indulge in a little smile. Cooking is the one thing I truly love, and I like it when people want me to do it.

As I get busy pulling out the mozzarella, sauce, and a small bowl of special seasoning, Lucas digs into a cupboard and takes out some pineapple juice, orange juice, and a small bottle of Squirt. Lucas pours equal parts of the juices and the soda into a shaker, adds ice, and shakes the concoction, mixing it up.

It’s my absolute favorite drink, and while it’s usually frozen to make a slushy-type punch for the holidays, Lucas figured out years ago how to make the liquid form behind the family’s back. They wait for Christmas to enjoy it, but I can have it anytime.

He pours it into a high ball glass, slips in a straw and sticks in a little umbrella, setting it on the counter next to me. While he digs in the fridge again, pulling out a beer, I dip my head down and take a quick swig.

“Thanks.” I laugh, feeling the flavor hit the back of my tongue.

He twists the cap off his beer and takes the stool next to the counter, giving me a quick wink. “It’s good seeing you smile, kiddo.”

The tension in my shoulders starts to relax despite the chills that spread up my legs from the breeze sweeping into the covered kitchen. We stay quiet for a few moments, and my mind drifts back to my parents.

I rarely see them fight, but I’ve been finding myself wondering more and more about some of the comments I hear. Things I never noticed before but I’m starting to pick up on now. Like how they’ve been in love for so long, but why did my dad have two other wives before marrying my mom?

And somehow, I’m starting to get the impression that their relationship didn’t start how I thought normal relationships were supposed to.

Life of shit? What did that mean?

I hear a shout behind me, and glance out to the vast lawn, beyond the pool, and see my nephew, Hawke, who’s only a year younger than me, catching a football in the nearly-pitch black night. I can’t see who threw it, though.

Turning back to Lucas, I sprinkle my secret seasoning mixture over the top of the uncooked pizza. “Can I ask you a question?”

He raises the bottle to his lips. “You can do anything you want.”

“What did my mom mean?” I ask hesitantly. “About being my dad’s whore?”

“You need to ask your mom.”

I drop my eyes and concentrate on my task to hide my disappointment. Lucas will almost always answer my questions, but I can tell he feels he shouldn’t say anything. And a small bite of resentment hits me that he knows something I don’t. I know about my dad’s previous marriages and my mom’s alcoholism before I was born, but I know there’s something else that no one talks about.

“Marriage is complicated,” he explains. “Or so I’m told. Committing yourself to one person for the rest of your life almost seems unrealistic.”

I can feel my eyebrows furrow. “But if you love each other…”

He smiles gently, and I can tell he’s thinking I’m such a kid.

“Do you think people change?” he asks. “Sometimes without knowing it?”

I shrug. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I think they do,” he replies. “I think the person who’s good for you at one point in your life might not be the right person for you later in life. I think our experiences change us, and the longer we live the more we change. I think that sometimes people outgrow each other or what they want changes over the years, and they become different people. I think that some relationships aren’t meant to last.”

I merely stare at him. What? What is he talking about?

“And some are,” he then assures me. “You’ve seen Fallon yelling at Madoc, you’ve seen Jared lose his temper, you’ve seen Jax out of his mind, because he did something to piss off Juliet…” He sets down his beer and plants his elbows on his knees as he leans forward. “Some people are better off without each other, but then there are those who can’t function without each other. Your parents are fine, Quinn.” He nods assuringly. “Like your brothers, your dad can barely stand a night away from his wife let alone forever.”

I smile to myself, relieved. I’m not sure I understand everything he said, but I guess he’s right. My dad’s—and my mom’s—other relationships didn’t last, because they weren’t meant to. But I was starting to understand that even if you love each other, it still doesn’t mean that everything is going to be easy.

Grabbing the bamboo pizza peel off its hook, I slide it under the pie and pick it up.

Extra pepperoni,” he speaks up, hinting.

I laugh and set the pizza down again. Taking a stack of pepperoni slices, I start adding more to the pie.

“Have you ever been in love?” I ask him.

He blinks and looks away, as if he’s not sure how to answer the question. “I think you would’ve known,” he mumbles, taking another drink.

Well, that’s true. I’d grown up around him my whole life. I’ve seen him with girlfriends, some of them more serious than others, but I don’t remember anyone being around that long.

“I wasn’t at college with you,” I remind him. There could’ve been someone he never brought home and introduced to us.

He heaves a sigh and stands up, picking up the pizza peel with the pizza on it and slides it into the oven.

“Why do you ask so many questions?”

“Because you’re the only one who answers all of them,” I shoot back. “Or mostly all of them. Everyone else just tells me to use Google.”

He laughs, a wide smile spreading across his face.

Just then, my brother Jax rushes underneath the covered area, catching the football, his white T-shirt soaked and his long ponytail glistening with droplets of rain. He must be the one playing with Hawke.

“What’s going on?” he asks us, breathing hard.

“Just making pizza,” Lucas answers, sitting back down on the stool.

“It’s late.” Jax looks to me. “I thought you were in bed.”

“Well, she’s not.”

Lucas’s response is curt, and Jax shoots him a look, arching a brow.

Shit.

This is so stupid. Hawke is younger than me, and Jax is letting him stay up.

Madoc once explained to me that they didn’t mean to be overbearing. It was just that they enjoyed having a little sister, and their gut response was to be overprotective.

Story of my life. Sometimes they were easier than my dad. Sometimes they were worse.

Jax looks annoyed, but he shuts his mouth and tosses the football back out into the rain. Probably to Hawke again, but I don’t care to look.

“You’re their sister, not their daughter,” Lucas points out after Jax heads back into the rain. “Speak up.”

“Why, when I have you?”

“I won’t be around forever,” he states.

And I look up at him, feeling my stomach drop. What does he mean? Is he going away?

“And you won’t need me,” he points out. “You’re going to grow up, and I can tell already you’re going to kick ass someday. No man in your life will know what hit him.”

Heat rises to my cheeks, and I drop my head, hiding my smile. I hope he’s right.

The football that Jax and Hawke are tossing around comes plummeting back into the kitchen, hitting the ground, and Lucas bends down to pick it up.

“Can I ask you another question?” I turn to face him as he tosses the ball back to the guys.

But he just laughs, throwing my joke back at me. “Just Google it.”

And then he jogs out into the night to join the boys.

I lean back on the counter, watching him go. Spotting his phone sitting next to me, I grab it and slowly type Whore into the Google bar.

My chest caves, reading, and I set the phone back down, a knot pulling tighter in my stomach.

 

****

Thank you for reading!

Pre-Order Next to Never, releasing 1/17/17—> http://amzn.to/2fz7UxN (eBook only)

Pre-Order The Next Flame, releasing 5/2/17—> http://amzn.to/2fEhb6w (Aflame and Next to Never in eBook and paperback)

 


October 24th, 2016

Punk 57 Deleted Scene#1 !!
This is a deleted scene from Punk 57!  I know many of you have not read the book, so please don’t read this. It will be in the Bonus section of my website in a few days, so you can read it there anytime.
 
This scene takes place in chapter 12, I believe, after the principal kicks Ryen off Misha’s lap and he walks out. In the original version, she joined him, sneaking out of school. The scene was cut, because overall, it wasn’t necessary.
RYEN

Two minutes later, I find him sitting in his truck. The parking lot is full of cars, being only lunch time, but it’s vacant of any people.

I guess the principal didn’t detain him for long.

“You really are wired wrong, aren’t you?” I bark through the open passenger side door.

He grins, starting the engine, and I pull open the door, climbing in. “I mean, seriously. She can make your life miserable until graduation, Masen. Wasn’t it you who wanted to stay off the authority’s radar?”

“I’m not scared of her.”

Well, I am. I never skip school, simply because I’d rather be here than home, and I nervously glance around me one last time as he pulls out of the parking lot. I’d thought about making up a lie to my friends, but instead, I’d just tossed my uneaten lunch away and headed to my locker to grab my wallet. I didn’t know if he was coming back to school today, and I didn’t have his cell number. I had to leave with him if I wanted to make sure I would see more of him.

“Tacos, burgers, subs…?” he asks, trailing off.

I look across the street, and I see Falcon’s Franks, and I point. “Hot dogs.”

I haven’t been there in forever, and I suddenly don’t feel like a salad anymore.

Masen pulls through the drive-thru and stops in front of the menu.

“Welcome to Falcon’s,” the person on the intercom says. “Go ahead when you’re ready.”

Masen looks over to me, and I sit up, leaning over the center console on my hands and knees to tease him.

“Hi,” I shout, “can I have a plain hot dog and a bottle of water, please?”

Masen scoffs and squeezes the back of my thigh, yelling into the intercom, “She means she’ll a chili dog with onions and a Coke. A large one. I’ll take a chili dog with cheese and a Coke.”

I scowl, turning my head toward him. “How did you know I liked my hot dogs that way?”

“Why are you acting like you’re a demure little flower with the appetite of a bird?”

I roll my eyes, sitting back in my seat. But secretly I’m happy. Yay, chili dog.

How the heck did he know that? Good thing the restaurant gives mints with the meal. I’ll want to kiss him today, onions of not.

He pays for our food, and I’m glad to see money in his wallet. I have no idea what he and I are or what to expect from him, but I can’t but worry a little. The Cove is not a home.

And no matter how tough he acts, the stress of whatever situation he’s in is in there somewhere. Buried deep or right underneath the surface. I’m growing increasingly curious about it even though I try to tell myself I don’t care.

He pulls into the empty car wash we came to a couple of weeks ago, and I remain silent as he parks in a bay and climbs out.

What is he doing?

I watch as he starts the hose and hops up on the step, placing it on the roof and letting the water spill down the windshield. Whatever light enters the dark truck is now dimmed, and the gentle rush of wash feels like I’m in a cave.

Flutters spread under my skin at the memory of the last time we were here.

He opens the door and collects his food, telling me, “Climb in the backseat.” The he slams the door and opens the back one, climbing inside.

Hopping over the console, I reach up and grab my food and drink, but he takes my Coke and places it in the cup holder on the door.

“Come here,” he directs.

Holding my thighs, he guides me on his lap, and I straddle him. He sits back and takes out his hot dog and begins eating as I start to relax. The cab is dark and no one knows where we are. No one can see us.

And thanks to the hose, we can’t see or hear anything out there. The ultimate escape.

“You know, you’re wasting water,” I tease, pulling my chili-dog out of the bag.

“You know, we’re not in the dessert.”

I smile to myself and take a bite. I like him.

“Did you know there’s as much water on the planet now as when the planet formed billions of years ago?” he asks, looking at me and taking a drink of his soda.

“Yeah, I took 2nd grade science.” I take a bite of chilidog, holding back the moan as the flavor hits me. It’s been too long.

“Did you know that 70% of bottled water isn’t regulated by the FDA, unlike tap water, which is?”

I shake my head, taking another bite.

“Did you know that sunlight is our most important renewable energy source and yet, only about one percent of the world’s electricity is generated by the sun?”

My stomach shakes with a silent laugh. I swallow and dip down, taking a drink of his soda. Chili is spilling on my finger, and I don’t have enough hands to unwrap the straw for my Coke.

“I did not know that,” I finally answer. I take another bite, wiping the chili from the corner of my mouth.

“Did you know that your open thighs are directly responsible for my renewable energy source?”

I snort, the hot dog catching in my throat, and I try not to laugh as I force it down and dive down for another drink.

I let my eyes fall to his jeans. “I’m wondering if everyone is starting to notice that.”

He sticks the last bite of hot dog in his mouth and scoots down a little, laying his head back.

I set mine down on top of the bag on the seat and take hi soda, washing my last bite down. “So how do you know all that stuff?”

“Thought I was a dumb punk, huh?”

“No,” I answer honestly. “On the contrary…”

His hands run up and down my thighs, and he’s quiet for a moment. “My sister was an encyclopedia.”

“Your sister?”

Was an encyclopedia? Was?

“I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

He speaks quietly, and I force a shrug. “Whatever. You brought it up.”

What should I say? No, no, I want to know. Tell me about her. Tell me about you. Tell me what you’re doing here, where your family is, and let me meet your friends. Tell me you like me. Tell me we’ll go to the baseball game and joke around with our friends and kiss in public and laugh like normal teenagers.

Tell me I’m crazy for thinking you’re holding back from me as much as I’m hiding you.

We stay there, the silence weighing heavy inside the truck, and I wonder if we should get back to school. Fifth period would’ve started by now.

But I look down, and I see something silver in the compartment on the door. Reaching down, I pluck it out and hold it up.

The small, triangular object shines, and I can feel the line grooves where your fingers are supposed to grip.

“A guitar pick?” I look at him. “You play?”

He stares at it, and something I can’t place passes in his eyes. Like fear, almost.

But he slowly shakes his head. “No. It’s probably one of my friends’.”

 

Thanks for reading!!


October 21st, 2016

PUNK 57 is HERE!!!!

My eight book is LIVE! Thanks to all of the bloggers who’ve read and reviewed already, the readers who’ve pre-ordered, and everyone who’s helping celebrate today! I certainly hope you’re ready. Ryen and Misha are special, and I loved writing them. I hope you love them, too.

Please follow my Facebook page today and throughout next week. Lots of giveaways and festivities going on —> http://bit.ly/2dEZgOZ

Also, there are several MAJOR prizes to win right here in the Rafflecopter giveaway

—> http://bit.ly/1OrwFot

 

Do you like companion features? Here you go!

Visit Punk 57’s page on Goodreads—> http://bit.ly/1RYP9Cj

Visit the Pinterest Board—> http://bit.ly/1SQtluS

Playlist—> http://bit.ly/2eotd8A

 

And if you’d like to get Punk 57 in your hands, here are the links!

Amazon US—> http://amzn.to/2aPzkeU

Amazon UK —> http://amzn.to/2dLZKCy

Amazon AUS—> http://amzn.to/2d45OrC

Nook—> http://bit.ly/2blH7Bx

iBooks—> http://apple.co/2dVOtRg

KOBO—> http://bit.ly/2bT56K4

Google Play—> http://bit.ly/2eaDKS8

 

HAPPY READING!! And again, thank you for reviewing!!


July 15th, 2016

ADRENALINE Is Now Live!

Hey, everyone! Just a heads up in case anyone missed it…I published ADRENALINE last night!

It’s FREE here—> http://w.tt/29zLpVb

For those of you who requested to have it on Kindle, here you go —> http://amzn.to/29zKTqj

I’ve loaded it on B&N, iBooks, and KOBO, as well.

Remember, this is all content that has already been shared here or on my website. It’s simply been consolidated into one text for easy access.

And please know, this is completely FREE if you want to read it on Wattpad. YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY FOR IT! Some readers just requested it be available on the retailer sites, to have everything in one place for easier access in their Fall Away libraries. I’ve had it professionally proofed and formatted, and $0.99 is the cheapest these sites will allow me to charge.

If you did buy it, thank you! I’ve made about half of what I spent on it back so far, so if I break even, hey…AWESOME!

Hope you enjoy and thanks to Katie at Just Another Girl and Her Books for hunting down most of this material!

xoxo Pen


April 27th, 2016

What’s Coming!!

Hi, everyone!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about what’s in the works for the coming year. Here is more specific information for those asking, as well as for those who missed the Facebook post. Since I’m an outliner, I’m going to outline: 😉

1. Presently, I’m working on Punk 57, a mature YA/New Adult (however you want to classify it) stand alone novel. This story follows high school characters at the end of their final year, but due to language and content (wink wink) it is recommended for adults 18+. The cover is coming soon–as in the next couple of weeks. Expected release–late summer 2016.

Read the blurb here—> http://bit.ly/1RYP9Cj

See the Pinterest board—> http://bit.ly/1SQtluS

2. Hideaway (Devil’s Night #2) is a sequel to Corrupt and will release this winter. Cover and blurb will release this summer. There will be two more books in this series as of right now.

See the Pinterest board—> http://bit.ly/1SBGenj

3. Untitled Fall Away novella!! Yep, you read that right. The publisher has agreed to print Aflame, but as a treat, you will get a BONUS novella in the paperback. The cover and blurb will release later on, but I can tell you the novella will be told from Quinn’s pov (Jared, Madoc, and Jax’s little sister), and all of the Fall Away kids will be teenagers. This is NOT her book. All of the kid’s stories will be full length novels in a spin-off series eventually. This novella is a wrap up of a few loose ends in the Fall Away series and a lead in to the coming spin-off series. Yet untitled. The digital novella will release early next year, and the paperback, featuring Aflame AND the new novella, will release next spring/early summer.

If you haven’t read the bonus scenes posted in January, here you go—> http://bit.ly/227Gm7O

The upcoming spin-off series, so far, features 4 full length books to start releasing late 2017. Sorry it takes me a while. I owe you a good book, not a quick one, right?

4. My events page will be updated soon, so if you attend book signings and I’m in your city, please come and say “hi”. Like, really. PLEASE! I’m kind of shy. I’ll be at Love N. Vegas this August, San Francisco March 2017, Berlin summer 2017, and Orlando October 2017.

Okay, that’s it for now. If I didn’t give you as much information as you needed, then I probably won’t quiiiiiiite yet. Thanks for your patience.

xoxo <3


February 13th, 2016

CORRUPT Valentine’s Day Bonus Scene!

This scene takes place a few months after the end of CORRUPT. The first 3 parts are from Rika’s point of view, and the fourth is from Kai’s. Kai’s point of view is a teaser for his book, HIDEAWAY. If you have not read CORRUPT, this entire bonus scene is a spoiler.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!

RIKA

Swimming pools creeped me out.

It never used to be like that—and if I weren’t alone, it wouldn’t be so nerve-wracking—but I hated being by myself in a pool now. Or probably in any body of water.
Which is exactly why I forced myself to use Delcour’s indoor pool at least twice a week. Ever since Pithom and Trevor and the cinderblock tied to my ankle, I…

I ground my teeth together, blowing out a hard breath as I slammed my hand across the water, sending a small wave crashing against the side of the pool.

Damon could go fuck himself.

And wherever he was I hoped he was in a lot of pain.

I was constantly walking around with one eye trained over my shoulder, and all the happiness I’d felt the past several months was only ever overshadowed by a tinge of black cloud that would pop up here and there to remind me that I wasn’t safe. Not completely.

He was still out there, and I hated it.

And…I didn’t.

While I tried to deny the fact that he rented a space in my head, there was a part of me that understood more and more that the threat of him might be a good thing. He kept me on my toes, and I was grateful for that.

Damon or no Damon, I shouldn’t get too comfortable. I shouldn’t relax. I should always keep in mind that the rug could be swiped out from under me at any time, and while I could lean on Michael, Kai, and Will…my survival, my success, and my life were ultimately in my own hands. I had to know how to take care of myself.

I hadn’t realized that last October when Michael and the guys came after me, and I hadn’t been prepared, but now I understood.

Don’t be lazy. Don’t be quiet. I’m in charge. I set the pace.

Thank you, Damon.

Walking through the water, I climbed the steps out of the pool, ringing out my hair as I dripped all the way to my towel.

Grabbing my cell phone, I checked the time, seeing that it was after six. Michael would be home soon.

I dried off quickly and slipped on some shorts before swinging the towel over my shoulder. Grabbing my phone and water bottle, I jetted out of the pool room in my bare feet and into the elevator, holding up my card key to scan for the penthouse.

As the elevator ascended, my stomach dropped a little, and I couldn’t help but smile as the butterflies took off. Michael had left town for a game, and I hadn’t seen him in three days. I didn’t care that today was Valentine’s Day or about the opera tickets he got for tonight, or even if we went out at all. I just wanted him.

I hated him being gone, but I loved him coming home. It was a conundrum.

The doors opened, and I stepped inside our apartment, immediately hearing music cranked up to an ear-splitting level. It echoed down the hallway from the apartment, and I stopped, every hair on my arms standing up in sudden awareness.

Music? I hadn’t left music on.

But then I noticed the song. Bodies by Drowning Pool.

I let out a sigh and rolled my eyes. Of course.

Will.

Michael never took his key away, so he’d show up at any time and raid the refrigerator or we’d find him in the middle of the night using the court.

Walking into the apartment, I spotted him sitting on the couch, slouched back in his crisp black suit and holding a sandwich in one hand and spinning a basketball on the finger of the other.

The music screamed. “Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!”

Yeah, yeah.

Dropping my stuff on the counter, I grabbed the remote and turned off the music. How could he listen to that song ALL the time?

He dropped his basketball, finally noticing me. “Oh, hey,” he greeted and then took a bite of sandwich.

His green eyes were always so big and puppy dog-looking that I couldn’t help but melt a little. Despite his behavior. It aggravated me that he always just showed up—I could just be getting out of the shower, after all—but he always gave the impression of a child who just drew you the worst picture but did it with the biggest heart.

See, mom? Did I do good?

I gave him a half-smile and made my over to him, nudging his feet off the coffee table. “Michael’s not here.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So why are you?”

He took another bite of sandwich and set the rest down on the sofa before sitting up and grabbing the towel off my shoulder to wipe off his mouth.

I scowled, about to scold him if he didn’t get his food off our furniture.

But he stood up, swallowed his bite, and smiled down at me, only a couple of inches from my face. “I’m picking you up,” he announced. “I’m under strict orders to bring you to Michael and Kai, so go get ready.”

I stayed rooted, staring up at him, confused. Picking me up?

Michael AND Kai? What?

It was Valentine’s Day. Michael and I had plans.

“I don’t understand,” I argued.

But he just smirked and swung the towel around my neck and pulled me in, playing. “Didn’t Michael warn you?” he taunted in his smooth voice. “You’re everyone’s valentine tonight, baby.”

I cocked an eyebrow and swatted his hands away.

He walked off, chuckling. “Get cleaned up, Little Monster.”

***

“So should I be scared?” I asked, sitting in the back of Michael’s G-Class, slipping on my stockings as Will drove.

Shower, hair, make-up, and squeezing into my evening gown took nearly an hour, so Will had rushed me out the door before I was even fully dressed.

“You don’t get scared,” he retorted. “You get excited.”

I smiled to myself. “Touche.”

He wouldn’t tell me where we were going, but from what I could see out the window, we were off to the other side of town. To Kai’s side of town.

Maybe we were finally going to be able to see inside his house? Probably not, but the prospect had me intrigued.

I slipped on my heels and fluffed the long black gown down over my legs as I inched up and double checked my hair and make-up in his rearview mirror.

I’d put in some loose curls and pinned back the top half, leaving my shoulders exposed in the halter-style bodice. The opera was much fancier than our usual outings, and I’d really enjoyed shopping for the dress, with its array of beads, jewels, and the sexy cut and the way it moved when I walked.

Will met my eyes in the mirror. “You look great, by the way.”

“Thanks. So do you.”

He turned his eyes away, breathing out a small laugh as if that was the farthest thing from the truth.

And I knew. While Will always looks healthy and happy, I knew how he looked on the outside wasn’t even close to what he felt on the inside.

“How are you?” I looked down, trying to avoid his eyes and not be too invasive as I went through my small clutch purse to make sure I had everything.

He grabbed a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth, lighting it as he spoke. “Fuckin’ awesome. Did you see my pictures from Mardi Gras on Facebook? I could be that drunk every day.”

He inhaled and blew out a cloud of smoke. I leaned forward and plucked the cigarette out of his fingers, flinging it out the window. “You are that drunk every day,” I shot back.

He caught me in the rear view mirror, shooting me a winning smile like it was all fun and games.

But the people who smile the most are also covering up the most. And I knew…

All the times he sneaked into Michael’s and my apartment to hang out, all the partying, all the nights with girls he didn’t even know, trying to avoid ever being alone, Will was not okay.

I leaned forward again and hooked my arms over his seat, sitting my chin down on the leather as I peered at him through the mirror.

He sighed, continuing down the street. “Stop looking at me like that,” he quietly scolded. “I’m only twenty-three. I’m fine, and I’ll find something to do with my life. Don’t worry.”

I grinned, sliding my hands around his neck and locking them in front of him.

He glanced at me through the mirror and pinched his eyebrows together, looking confused. “What?”

“Well, I have an idea,” I teased.

“Oh, you do, do ya?” He challenged. “Well, stand back everyone. The blonde’s brain is working.”

I scowled playfully. “Ass.”

His chest shook under my hands, and I watched as he turned on the windshield wipers, the sprinkles of rain when we got in the car turning heavier now.

“So what’s this idea?” he mused. “You want me to go to college? Or maybe put myself in my dad’s and my grandfather’s hands and see what office they can hide me in for the next ten years? Or maybe…” He grabbed another cigarette, sticking it into his mouth, “I should strap on a backpack and go off to explore the world. I always wanted to be Indiana Jones.”

I snatched the cigarette again, snapping it in half, and dumping it in the cup holder. “Yeah, I can see that.” I indulged him. “You’d work that whip like a champ.

He shook his head, laughing it off.

Wrapping my arms around his neck again, I snuggled in close, peering at him through the mirror. “But actually, I was thinking something different.” I dropped my voice, staring at him as he
stared at the road. “I was thinking…you could rebuild the gazebo.”

I watched him closely, seeing his face still and his smile slowly fall away. He didn’t say a word as he continued to stare at the road in front of him.

Okay, maybe that was going too far, bringing up the past.

Maybe I’d finally found Will’s trigger, and pushed the wrong button.

But no.

No.

I flexed my jaw, narrowing my eyes on him.

He needed to be pushed. Michael and Kai covered for him, never making him stand up and deal, figuring he’d handle his shit when he was ready, but I refused to enable him. I’d done it for my mother, and I wasn’t following their lead on this one.

“Well, what do you think?” I pressed.

But he remained silent.

All I could hear was the rain kicking up under the tires outside as the bustle of the city fell away and we entered what I liked to call “the dark zone.” It was the East District, an area of Meridian City that was once vibrant and busy, but now it was just…well, dark.

And abandoned. Kai had purchased a huge turn-of-the-century house over here, and while I knew he had his work cut out for him renovating it after years of neglect, I was suspicious as to why that was a good enough reason to keep us away. Were we going there now?

“She wouldn’t see it anyway, Rika,” Will finally spoke up. “I hear she hasn’t been home since high school.”

I looked back up, seeing him in the mirror.

The gazebo. She. Emery Scott.

“So it’s only worth doing something good if people are around to see it?” I prodded.

I looked at his face, the lost, forlorn look he seemed to always have when he didn’t think anyone was watching, and I let out a sigh, dropping a trail of cookies for him.

“And she doesn’t need to see it,” I teased, leaning in to whisper in his ear. “She just needs to hear about it.”

He broke out in a huge grin, turning down a dark alley as the rain made the street shimmer under the streetlights.

“You’re almost as good a talker as me.”

I leaned back and peered out my window as he shut off the car. “Almost,” I mumbled, suddenly forgetting our conversation.

Chills spread down my arms as I gazed up at the old black building. There were no lights on, no cars around, no sign of life…where the hell were we? Where were Michael and Kai?

Will opened his door, the sound of rain rushing in and making me immediately rub my hands up and down my arms to warm myself.

“Hang on, I’ve got an umbrella,” he said, reaching over to the passenger’s seat.

Popping it open, he dived out into the rain, the drops pummeling the umbrella as he hurriedly closed his door and swung mine open. I stepped out, hunching over as he closed my door and we both hustled to the small awning hanging over a narrow black door on the side of the building.

“What is this place?” I asked as Will opened the door.

I went in first, while he closed the umbrella and shook it out.

“It used to be apartments,” he shouted over the rain before dropping the umbrella on the floor and closing the door, “around the turn of the century, I think. Then someone bought it, knocked down all of the walls, and turned it into an art gallery in the 60’s.” He gazed around the dark space lazily. “Now it’s abandoned.”

I couldn’t see much with the lights off, but there was a small amount of light coming in through the windows, and I spotted a stove, a make-shift island, and some counters. I guess, whenever they renovated it from apartments, they decided to keep one of the kitchens.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on now? Where’s Michael?”

I was starting to grow aggravated that Michael’s first stop back in the city wasn’t me.

But Will simply turned to me, held out his arm, and gestured for me to go ahead. Looking to where he was directing, I stared down a long, black hallway and straightened, hesitating a moment.

I couldn’t tell where the dark abyss ended, but I straightened my back despite the flutters hitting my stomach.

Michael, Michael, Michael. And here I was, thinking the games would get boring after a while.

Shaking my head, slightly amused, I went first, slowly walking down the long hallway and passing a few doors on both sides with a narrow staircase on my right. The air was chilled, and I wished I’d worn a coat or a cover-up.

Coming to the end, I stepped over a threshold and into a larger room. I immediately spun around, taking in the rafters crisscrossing through the air high above and the windows lining the walls all the way up to the ceiling, proving that, yes, at one time there must have been apartments here.

Everything was dark and old. The wooden floor creaked under my steps, and the steel beams around the room were the only things breaking up the massive space.

This would be perfect was a dance studio.

Off to the sides of the room sat more doorways, and I also spotted a few hallways with more staircases.

“I love places like this,” I mused to Will. “Lots of nooks and crannies to explore.”

I turned to look at him but then my smile fell.

He wasn’t there.

Where the hell…?

“Will?” I twisted around, trying to search the room in the near-darkness.

My breathing picked up pace. Goddammit…

The rain tapped against the windows, the sound surrounding me like I was in a tunnel, and I shot my head up, hearing the wind howl in the rafters above.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Will?” I shouted.

“So do you like it?” a smooth voice asked.

I whipped around, searching the space behind me. No one was there.

But a flash of movement caught my eye above, and I looked up, seeing a dark figure standing still on the second level as he leaned against the railing.

“Kai?”

“It’s important that you like it,” he went on. “You’ll be here a lot.”

His hand—the only part of him to catch the light—moved across the railing, and I knew he was walking.

“Turn on the lights,” I demanded.

“Can’t,” he replied. “Power went out. So what do you think?”

I squinted, trying to see him, but even more, trying to understand what the hell was going on.

“What do I think about the space?” I asked. “Well, I guess it depends on what it’s used for.”

“A lot of good things could go down in a place like this,” a husky whisper hit my ear, and I jumped as long arms wrapped around me, pulling me in.

“Michael,” I gasped out, smiling in relief as his warmth and smell fell over me. “What are you guys doing? Someone turn on a flashlight. This isn’t funny.”

“Feeling a little déjà vu?” he teased against my neck. “I know you like it.”

I turned my face to him, brushing my lips against his. “Turn on a lights and tell me what all this is about,” I whispered, “or I’m going to go pick up Alex and she can be my valentine tonight.
Now what are you all up to?”

“We’re saying we love you,” he replied, turning me around in his arms and holding me close. “And we have something for you.”

“Oh?”

“You promised me forever,” he reminded me. “Are you still sure about that? You’re in this for the long-haul?”

I narrowed my eyes on him, wondering what this was about. “You don’t have to ask that any more than I need to answer it,” I maintained. “There is no choice. Now what is going on? What is this place?”

“It’s ours,” Will answered, strolling up to us and handing me a flashlight.

I took it and looked at Michael, confused. Ours?

But it was Kai’s voice that came next. “You were looking for a fencing club when you first came to the city,” he explained, coming down the stairs and strolling over to us, “so we thought, why not start your own?”

I just let the flashlight sit in my hand as Kai, Will, and Michael surrounded me.

“A fencing club?”

“You don’t like it?” Michael asked.

“No, I do…” I looked up again, now seeing more than just a big, empty space. “But…”

“But?” Michael pressed.

“But I have school,” I continued. “And I have FANE and my mother’s house to manage, and we’re overseeing the reconstruction of St. Killian’s, and I don’t have any experience teaching fencing—”

“Have you ever heard of Kendo?” Kai spoke up, stepping closer.

I finally caught him in the light and took in his black suit, the way the crisp white shirt and black tie sat against the smooth, olive skin of his neck. His hair was perfectly styled, not that it wasn’t always. Kai rarely had a wrinkle on his clothes or a hair out of place.

I called him anal to his face. Alex called him a serial killer behind his back.

“Kendo,” I repeated. “Japanese fencing?”

He nodded. “My father taught it to me. As well as Jujutsu and Aikido. I could teach you.”

Teach me? But what did that have to do with—

And then realization hit, and I froze.

Why were they all here? Why would Kai offer to teach me martial arts, and why would he offer now?

I held out my hand to Michael. “Let me see the deed.”

“Why?”

But I snapped my fingers, losing patience.

He reached into his breast pocket and took out a fold of papers, placing them in my hand.

I quickly opened them up and turned on my flashlight, scanning the papers. I spotted all the guys names…and then I spotted mine.

This wasn’t a present just for me.

I looked up at them. “We all own this building.”

Michael hooded his sexy eyes. “Of course. ‘We all go. That’s the rules.’”

And then he smirked, knowing I would remember the words he’d said on Devil’s Night more than three years ago.

“So it’s not just me starting a business, it’s all of us.”

They all watched me, and I turned in a circle, full understanding dawning of what the plan was. “A dojo—with fencing,” I said to myself, trying to see how all this was going to work.

Michael had no interest in fencing. Or martial arts. He got plenty of exercise with basketball.

But Kai would be here a lot, taking a vested interest in the business, and Will would be here, the other guys probably trying to keep him busy.

But I still didn’t get it. Michael and Kai were already overloaded with projects, so why would they take on this as well?

And then I realized something else.

I turned back around, cocked my head as I handed the papers back to Michael. “So…”I started. “This place, the dilapidated office building you bought a few weeks ago…” I ran down the list and
then looked to Kai. “Your little hideaway a few blocks away that you’re renovating, and then the lots on Darcy Street Will was scoping out yesterday…” I looked around, meeting all of their eyes. “Why are you buying up the East District?

This wasn’t just about giving me a place to fence. This was something else.

Michael quirked a smile, while Kai stood next to him, his arms crossed over his chest. “The Horsemen are building their empire, Rika,” he answered. “Will you join us?”

“We have an opening,” Will teased as he walked passed me, nudging me with his shoulder.

I hooded my eyes, trying not to laugh. Oh, for crying out loud.

“I was going to save this for tomorrow when we had more time to discuss it,” Michael said, taking out another set of papers, “but you may as well see it now.”

I took the papers and opened them up, scanning the documents. Again, all of our names were on it, and while the legal jargon was difficult to understand, my heart started to pound harder anyway.

“Graymor Cristane?” I questioned, looking up at them.

Michael just stared at me, waiting.

These documents were the establishment of a partnership between Kai, Will, Michael…and me. Everything was here. Who would manage what. The division of any profits. How decisions would be made, and even the details of the bank accounts that had already been set up to keep everything separate from our personal accounts.

Jesus. They were really doing this? Graymor Cristane was us. Parts of our last names to name the partnership.

I drew in a long breath, not realizing I’d stopped breathing as I continued to study the papers. “Your fathers won’t like this,” I warned.

Michael’s father, especially. They had built their own legacies and would expect their sons to continue their work.

“We’re counting on it,” Michael replied. “So what do you think, Little Monster? You wanna have some fun?”

I heard Will laugh and I glanced up, seeing the three of them looking amused like they just couldn’t wait to jump from one fire to the next.

***

The limo sped through the city streets, the view outside getting brighter and busier as all four of us travelled to the opera house. I sat staring out at the rain with Michael next to me and
Kai and Will across from me, working on their phones.

But the next thing I knew arms were scooping me up, and I gasped as Michael hauled me into his lap.

“Michael!” I whisper-yelled.

“Come here,” he whispered, pulling me close.

But I tried to pry myself out of his grasp. “Stop it.”

“I can’t.”

I ignored Will and Kai behind me, not caring to look and see any wise-ass grins as I spoke low right in Michael’s face. “If you want a partnership with me included, you can’t manhandle me in front of them. I won’t be seen as a pliable little girl who bends whenever you touch her.”

“They don’t see you that way,” he soothed, staring at my lips. “They see me that way.”

His fingers at my back slipped into the side of my dress while the other hand caressed a trail up my leg and disappeared under my dress.

“What are you doing?” I charged, trying to ignore the way my skin instantly tingled.

“You didn’t like your present,” he said.

His fingers brushed under my knee, and I ignored the shiver shooting up my spine. I was at least grateful that the dress was long with lots of layers to hide what he was doing.

“Yes, I liked it,” I replied.

“Well maybe you’ll like this one more.” He dug into a compartment on the door and pulled out a small box, handing it to me.

I forced myself not to smile, but I think a little one escaped. I was mad at him. Not only had he sprung the dojo and partnership on me, putting me on the spot in front of the guys, but I worried about his reasons for doing it, too.

I took the box and opened it up, seeing a beautiful silver case with designs carved into it. I picked it out and opened the lid to find matches. I laughed in surprise.

It was an antique match safe. An 1800’s version of a match box to join my collection. Only Michael knew me well enough to know how much I’d appreciate this.

Lifting it to my nose, I inhaled, smelling the phosphorous and sulfur.

“Christmas and fireworks,” Michael mused as he watched me.

“It’s beautiful.” I closed the lid and held it tight in my hand. “Thank you.”

“You’re nervous about the partnership, aren’t you?” He kept his voice low, keeping our conversation private.

“No, not really.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

I stared down at my hands and then took a deep breath, raising my eyes to his. “I’m worried you bought the dojo—and established the partnership—to keep me close.”

“Why would I not want to keep you close?”

“You know what I mean,” I retorted, glancing over to see Will still buried in his phone and Kai staring at his. I had a feeling he was listening, though. Turning back to Michael, I whispered,

“I mentioned finding a part-time job, and oh look, you suddenly have something for me to do when I’m not in school. You’ll always know where I am now, and if you’re not there, your friends will be to keep an eye on me.”

He sat back, regarding me. “You think I don’t trust you?”

I remained silent, not sure what to think. A few weeks ago I’d told him I was thinking of getting a part-time job for experience, and he seemed to get nervous. I don’t know if he was just aggravated my schedule wouldn’t revolve around his anymore or if he was afraid of me having a life that didn’t involve him, but I suspected it was the latter.

He heaved a sigh, eyeing me. “If I didn’t trust you, would I put you in the same space as Kai day in a day out and tolerate him offering to give you private Kendo lessons?”

I frowned, knowing he had a point. We rarely talked about what happened between the three of us, but Michael knew where my heart was, and I was glad he hadn’t doubted it.

“There’s no one I trust more than you,” he whispered.

And then I saw his eyes flash over my shoulder to Will and Kai before coming back to me. “No one,” he repeated.

Warmth flooded chest, and I felt relieved. I knew he cared about his friends, but it was important to know that I came first.

“But you’re right,” he continued, his hazel eyes hard on me. “I want you close. I’m gone a lot, you’re alone a lot, and if I can’t be there, I feel a lot better knowing they are. Damon is still out there, after all.”

I let out a breath and nodded. “I know that, and I understand, but you don’t micro-manage their safety.” I jerked my chin to the guys behind me. “And if you want Graymor Cristane to work, I can’t be coddled.”

“Okay,” he allowed. “I’ll lay off.” And then he leaned in to kiss me, whispering over my lips, “Just as soon as Kai teaches you some Jujutsu moves.”

I snorted, pulling away, but he wrapped his arm around me tighter, his hot breath growing heavier.

“Stop,” I scolded quietly.

His other hand trailed up the inside of my leg again, disappearing under my gown as he caught my bottom lip between his teeth. “Just a taste,” he breathed. “Please?”

His hand snaked up my thigh as his lips and tongue took over my mouth.

“Michael, no,” I whisper-yelled, trying to push his hand down through my dress.

But his fingers suddenly met skin and a stunned look crossed his face. He continued to trail his hand up, up, up, near the now very wet heat between my legs, and I whimpered, his fingers caressing my bare skin.

Heat filled his eyes as he glared at me. “Lace stockings and nothing else?” he charged. “That isn’t very nice, Rika.”

Shit. I felt his bulge underneath me thicken and harden, and he pulled me in, our lips grazing each other as his fingers curled around the inside of my thigh, so very close to where they shouldn’t be right now.

I thought it would sexy to tease him a little tonight by not wearing anything except the stockings underneath the dress, and while I was surprised that we were meeting up with Will and Kai, I didn’t think he’d try to finger me five feet from them.

“Goddamn,” he gasped, baring his teeth as I tasted his breath. “This is a problem.”

He closed his eyes, grazing the tip of his nose over my cheek and down my neck as he inhaled deep. He left a trail of small, soft kisses over my skin, and heat pooled in my belly as my
breathing turned shallow.

I quickly glanced over my shoulder, seeing Will still clueless about what was going on as he poured himself another drink and Kai still staring at his phone. But the curl to his lips told me he wasn’t at all clueless as he respectfully averted his eyes.

But just then Michael’s fingers brushed against my pussy, and I sucked in a breath as I turned my eyes back on him. “Stop,” I mouthed, my heart racing.

“Look at me, baby,” he whispered, taking my lips in short, quick kisses. “God, I love you.”

“Michael, please,” I begged, closing my eyes and groaning when his fingers, hidden in the layers of my gown, started rubbing my clit in taunting circles.

“Please what?” he teased, nipping at my lips again. “Your mouth says ‘no’, but your body is saying something else. I’m confused.”

Asshole.

The pulse between my legs throbbed harder and harder, and I wanted to spread my legs so fucking bad.

“We’re. Not. Alone,” I growled.

“I know.” He grinned, loving my distress. “And I can feel how much that’s turning you on right now. Cut me some slack. It’s been days since I’ve had my tongue and cock buried in you.”

I winced, trying to hold back the moan wanting out. The memory of waking up four mornings ago with my legs spread wide and his tongue going at me like a he was starved was still so damn vivid I could feel it.

“Keep whimpering like that,” he taunted. “It’s so fucking hot.”

His fingers swirled around and around, and I was so wet and frustrated.

I licked my dry lips and fisted the lapels of his jacket. And then I shouted, “Pull over, please!”

Michael’s chest shook with a laugh, and I glared over my shoulder at the driver. “Now!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Kai and Will’s eyes were on us, Will looking confused. Michael buried his lips under my ear as the driver pulled over to the curb, and I looked to the guys. “The opera house is only a few blocks away. Walk.”

Michael’s breath was in my ear as Kai chuckled to himself before shaking his head and sitting up.

“Hurry up,” he urged and opened the door, both he and Will climbing out. They slammed the door and Michael pushed the button, drawing the privacy glass between us and the driver.

“Drive around until I tell you to stop,” he ordered before the window closed.

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as the glass was up, Michael’s lips crashed down on mine, and his hands were already out of my dress and around my back, working the zipper.

“Fuck, I missed you,” he growled, pulling the zipper down and opening the back wide.

I pulled away and stood up, leaning over him as I squirmed out of the gown. It fell to the floor of the limo, and Michael pulled me in, kissing and nibbling my stomach before taking one of my breasts in his mouth.

I groaned, not bothering to keep my voice down this time. “I missed you, too.”

He ate me up, biting my nipple and making it hard as he drew it out with his teeth. I shivered, feeling a cyclone swirl in my stomach as he ran his hands up and down my thighs.

“These stockings are killing me,” he said, squeezing my ass and yanking me in. “Lay down.”

“No, I want to ride you,” I told him, climbing on and straddling him.

“Are you sure?” he asked, unfastening his belt and opened his suits pants.

I nodded quickly. The windows were tinted, but he knew I’d still feel exposed. I was too excited to care, though.

He pulled out his cock, and I sucked in a breath as he took the head in his hand and rubbed it around my clit, teasing me.

“Real fuckin’ romantic, huh?” he chastised himself. “I’m sorry, babe.”

“Don’t apologize.” I stilled, easing myself down on him and loving every fucking second of him sliding inside of me. “That’s not the guy I fell for. I don’t need sweet. I just need this.” I rolled my hips back and came in again, feeling his groan vibrate though my hand on his chest.

And then I kissed his lips, tasting the first time he ever touched me down in the catacombs and the first time he kissed me in the warehouse. The first time he held me in the cemetery when I was thirteen, and the first time he was inside of me. “Don’t ever stop.”

I moved faster and faster, rolling my hips into him and both of us groaning and grunting until we’d worked each other up into such a frenzy that I felt a drop of sweat glide down my back.

“Come on, baby,” he growled, gripping my ass so hard I thought I’d have bruises.

His mouth caught one of my breasts, and I rode harder, feeling him hit that spot so deep I just wanted it to go on forever. Nothing felt better than him.

“Don’t ever stop,” I gasped, feeling the pressure and heat and need building up that I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

“Never,” he said through bared teeth, pulling my hips in harder. “I want your pussy more than I want to fucking breathe.”

I smiled, unable to keep myself from laughing. “Now THAT was romantic.”

He broke out into a laugh, too, his whole body shaking and breaking our rhythm. “Screw you, Little Monster. I tried.”

I shook my head, wrapping my arms around his neck and looking at him. “Don’t,” I instructed. “You know what I like. Just slap me on the ass and wrap a hand around my neck in my morning shower.”

He grinned, leaning his head back and closing his eyes I picked up pace. “That’s my girl.”

***

KAI

Where the hell were they? The show was going to start soon.

I brought he glass to my lips and let my eyes slowly drift around the room, far from interested in who was here and more interested in noting the people I wanted to avoid.

Women held on to the arms of their husbands, while the men’s laughter and burly voices filled the lobby of the opera house—which was really just a poor imitation of one of the old Paris theatres. Much smaller, much cheaper, and a whole lot tackier.

I sipped the vodka and soda, but my lips touched something soft, and I stopped, pulling the glass away. Looking down, I spotted a wedge of lemon in the drink, and I immediately picked it out, flinging it into the garbage on the side of the bar.

That’s not a twist.

I sighed, checked my watch again and wondering if they had just decided to blow us off. Will was chatting up some young college girl off in the corner, and while I didn’t mind being alone, I’d rather be alone at home.

The more time I spent trying to rejoin the rest of the world, the more time I spent wondering why. I was growing more and more impatient with their eyes and their questions. I was sick of playing of nice to people who really didn’t want to have anything to do with me but only tolerated me for my father.

But no…Michael wanted us to come tonight, so we came.

“Where’s Will?”

I turned my head and looked down to see Rika at my side, flushed and glowing as her bright eyes smiled up at me.

My heart skipped a beat, but I ignored it, jerking my chin over to the far corner.

She followed my gaze, spotting Will exchanging numbers with the girl.

“You’re blushing,” I teased, taking another sip.

But she just laughed, sounding beside herself. “I’m shameless.”

I peered back down at her, seeing only a few hairs out of place as she bowed her head and smiled like she couldn’t help it.

“Don’t change.”

She took my arm, holding it with both of her hands as she blew out an exasperated breath and flushed with embarrassment. “I won’t. I’m too happy,” she said sweetly.

Yeah.

If I ever considered trying to steal her away, I couldn’t. She was head over heels for him.

“We were over there waiting for you to come over,” a woman’s voice, all too familiar, said, “but the show is starting soon, so…”

I looked over, seeing my mother approach and holding onto the arm of my father. She leaned in, and I kissed her on the cheek.

“I was working up to it,” I said under my breath.

She pulled back, offering me a kind smile, and I quickly glanced at my father, seeing him regard me in his usual manner. Silent, observing, and as if he were trying to figure out a puzzle.

“Good evening.” My mother held out her hand to Rika when I didn’t make introductions.

“Hello,” Rika greeted back and then held out her hand to my father.

“Rika, this is my father, Katsu Mori,” I said as they shook hands. “And my mother, Vittoria.”

“Oh,” she replied, sounding surprised. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“You’re Schrader Fane’s daughter.” My father’s eyes studied her under a stern brow.

“Yes. You knew my father?”

He nodded. “Very well. He was a good man.”

“Thank you.” Rika’s hand returned to my arm, and I saw my father notice.

But then she glanced behind my parents, saw Michael talking to Will, and politely excused herself, squeezing my arm one last time before walking off.

My father leaned in, kissing my mother’s forehead. “Would you give us a moment, please?”

My mother looked between us, her deep brown eyes hesitant as I braced myself. My father and my relationship hadn’t even come close to returning to what it was three years ago, and I knew she was worried. Every time we talked, it didn’t end well.

But she trusted my father, because he was almost always right. So she nodded and shot me a quick smile before walking up the stairs, probably to their private box.

As soon as she was gone, he moved to my side, standing level with me. “So Erika Fane?”

“Don’t.” I shook my head, hooding my eyes and knowing exactly where this was going. “She’s not for me. She’s taken.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, shrugging. “So was your mother when I met her. That didn’t stop me from getting what I wanted.”

Yes, I’d heard this story many times. How he had nothing, not even a ring to put on her finger, and how he still stole the Italian girl away from the wealthy fiance her family had chosen for her. And how together they built everything from nothing.

Yeah, my father was an amazing man, and I was nothing. I’d dishonored him when I’d been arrested.

I’d dishonored my whole family, and they didn’t even know the half of it. Not even Michael knew the half of it.

I was the worst of us. Not Damon. I was the worst, and I hid it the best.

“She’s Michael’s,” I clarified, sipping my drink.

“Yes, of course she is.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I heard him draw in a long breath before turning his head to look at me. “It means Michael always takes the prime cuts of meat first, doesn’t he?”

I tightened my fist around my glass, feeling the muscles in my hand ache as my father walked off, following my mother up the stairs.

He always stayed just long enough to remind me how much I didn’t measure up and then left.

Yeah, Michael always takes the prime cuts of meat first. That’s what my father said, but it wasn’t what he meant. No, what he meant was Michael always “gets” the prime cuts of mean first, because he doesn’t waste time hesitating, Kai. He knows his mind.

And that, above anything else, was what my father tried to always teach me. The one thing I never seemed to grasp. “Where there’s clarity, there’s no choice, and where there’s choice there’s misery.”

It’s written on the wall of the dojo at my parent’s house. Making choices meant always being slightly disappointed that you had to give up one thing to have another, but if you know yourself well enough, there’s never any choice to make. You already know what you’re going to do.

Michael chose Rika over us in that kitchen that night, and when the choice was forced on him, it wasn’t hard. He knew what he wanted.

Everything for me was difficult.

The lights dimmed, and I caught sight of Will, Michael, and Rika making their way up the stairs, Michael looking down and finding me, motioning for me to follow.

Reluctantly setting down my drink, I moved across the lobby and climbed the stairs, ignoring the eyes following us as we made our way upstairs.

My parents had a box on the other side, but Michael had reserved a lower one to give Rika a better view. She had never been to the opera.

Walking quickly down the hallway, I followed them onto the small balcony, alight with the soft light coming from the wall sconces. We all neared the balcony, looking down at the crowd and taking in the view.

It didn’t take long for curious eyes to find us and whispers start to spread from one clique to then other. Most of these people probably knew Michael, given his status, but they’d only heard of Will and me and what they knew had been whispered into their ears.

And then all attention eventually fell on Rika. They looked at her, whispered about her…

Who was the beauty with three men in tow? I smirked, looking over at her and seeing her amused expression as she looked down at them, unafraid.

I took my seat, placing Rika between Michael and me, while Will sat down on my other side. After several minutes, the lights lowered, shrouding the theater in black, and the performance began.

I didn’t really enjoy opera as much as I enjoyed symphonies and concerts, watching the skill of dozens of instruments working in sync to create something beautiful, but I couldn’t help but watch the look of wonder on Rika’s face out of the corner of my eye. The way her lips parted and she sucked in a tiny breath when the music hit her, and the way she watched so intently through her theater glasses.

She was mesmerized, and I had to admit, I liked living vicariously. It was better than nothing.

But then something hit my foot, and I looked down, seeing that she’d dropped the glasses. She let out a small gasp, and when Michael and I turned to her, her eyes weren’t on the performance.

“There’s someone watching us,” she said.

I followed her gaze, seeing boxes across from us filled with people, but I had no idea what she was seeing.

“Who?” I asked, swiping the theater glasses back off the floor.

“I don’t know,” she answered, standing up. “They were in that empty box up there.”

I raised the glasses to my eyes and found the empty box she was talking about. But it was empty.

“There’s no one there.” I handed the glasses to Michael who quickly took them.

“I think it was a woman,” Rika told us. “And she was wearing a mask.”

She spun around and left the box, all of us quickly jumping to our feet and following her.

“Rika, where are you going?” Michael demanded as all of us chased after her.

She lifted her dress off the ground and powered down the hallway, calling over her shoulder in a stern voice, “She was slender. Dressed in black with a ski cap covering her hair. Will, scope out the Mezzanine. Kai, check the lobby.”

Will breathed out a laugh. “Yes, ma’am.” And he took off to the right, heading up a flight of stairs.

“Rika, are you sure?” I prodded. What this really necessary?

“They were wearing a mask,” she pointed out again as if that meant something. She continued down the hall with Michael to the elevators while I stopped at another flight of stairs.

A mask? Half the cast in the opera were wearing a mask. It could’ve been anyone.

Nevertheless I trailed downstairs, heading back down to the lobby as she and Michael disappeared into the elevator, probably heading up to the empty box where she’s seen the mysterious person.

But after searching the entire lobby, watching the front doors, and waiting to see if anyone came out of the restrooms, I eventually just shook my head and climbed the stairs to search them out.

Rika was on edge. That’s all this was, and it was our fault after we’d fucked with her head so much. She was diligent about not letting it hold her back, but she was paranoid, seeing things that weren’t there.

Making my way up to the top floor, I noticed that the entire level was closed off for renovation. Every box was vacant, and I finally found Rika, Michael, and Will in a large room which sat off to the back of the balcony where she’d seen the masked person. The room was filled with crates and boxes, and a massive circular window covered the far wall with only the moonlight pouring in.

“Did you find anything?” I asked them.

But no one answered me.

I looked around at all of them, confused, and finally noticed Michael, holding a mask in his hands. Rika and Will stared at it like it was a bomb that would go off at any moment.

“Where’d you get that?” I questioned.

“The chair.” Michael tipped his head toward the balcony where two chairs sat.

“Well, that’s not one of ours.”

“It’s mine,” Rika piped up.

Michael narrowed his eyes on her. “What?”

A thoughtful look crossed her face, and she reached over, taking it from him. “I made my mom buy it at the sporting goods store in Thunder Bay when I was fourteen.” And then she smiled small, looking up at him. “I wanted to be like you.”

She turned the mask over in her hand, thinking. “But no one knew about it, and I kept it stashed away in my closet at home. I’ve never used it.”

“Well they mass produce those things,” I explained. “It might not be yours.”

But she raised her eyes and flashed me the inside of the mask, showing me her name written inside.

Her name that she must’ve written.

“When’s the last time you saw it?” Will asked, moving in.

She shook her head. “Not since…before the fire, I guess.”

And she looked up, all of us probably drawing the same conclusion.

The fire. My body tensed, and every muscle felt on fire.

“You’re sure it wasn’t Damon you saw?” I gritted out.

Damon, Will, and I had all been in her house that night. Maybe he found it?

“I’m positive,” she said, still looking worried. “She was petite. It was a girl.”

I took the mask from her hands, inspecting it. “Well, who the hell was she?” I said more to myself. “And why was she in your house?”

But she didn’t answer, simply turning for the door. “I need to call my mother.”

Will and Michael hesitated only a moment before following her out of the room. “Let’s go,” Michael urged.

I stared down at the mask, nearly identical to ours, only white with a small red heart on the forehead. A million ideas ran through my head as I searched my brain for an explanation.

There were plenty of people we’d pissed off over the years, but I couldn’t think of a woman that had issue with us.

Or maybe…she was working for someone else. Someone that wanted us fucked with.

Damon immediately popped in my head, but I quickly dismissed the idea. No, he wouldn’t work with a woman or hire one.

But his father might.

Gabriel Torrance was ruthless but clever. I’d already had a run-in with him where he made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he wanted his son back.

And I told him that his son was as safe as could be.

Unless he stepped a fucking foot in Meridian City or Thunder Bay.

And I almost hoped he would. Life was getting a little sedate for my taste.

I made my way for the door, bringing the mask with me, but just then I heard a shuffle from somewhere behind me, and I halted.

The floor creaked, and the corners of my lips curled in a smile.

She was still here.

I inhaled a deep breath, smelling a hint of her. The adrenaline heated my blood, and I debated going after her, but for some reason…I remained still.

Maybe I wanted to draw her out. See who was behind her.

Or maybe I wanted something to look forward to.

But I didn’t want to move. Not yet.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Little One?” I called out, not turning around. “Whoever hired you should’ve warned you. Once this starts we won’t stop until we say it’s over.”

The music from the opera drifted in, but the room was eerily silent as I felt her watching me.

“Well, if you’re sure…” I taunted, loving the rush of fucking power coursing through my chest.

If she was in this, so were we. But I wasn’t going to act. Not yet. Showing up at the opera, the mask…she was playing with us. Let her surprise me.

No one knew how bad I could be, but she’d find out.

I stepped forward, continuing for the door. “I would stop wearing that perfume,” I advised, “I’ll be able to smell you coming next time.”

THE END

*If you’d like to see my visual inspirations for Kai’s parents, Rika’s dress, her mask, Kai’s hideaway, and the new fencing club, go here!!
—> https://www.pinterest.com/penelopedouglas/hideaway-2016/


January 20th, 2016

Order Signed Books!!

***TAKING ORDERS NOW!!***

Please read the following before filling out the form…

I sell signed books semi-annually. I don’t offer them year round through my website simply because I’d rather take orders as my schedule allows instead of trying to make trips to the post office while I’m on deadline. The window for ordering will close Feb. 1, 2016.

I have a limited supply of books at my home and more coming. If I have your book in stock, I will send out invoices to the email address you provide on the form within the next few days. Once paid, your book(s) will be mailed. If you don’t receive an invoice in the next few days, that means I ran out of books and am awaiting a new shipment. I WILL FULFILL ALL ORDERS. And I will only send invoices when I have your books ready to ship.

Just as a reminder, this will be the last time I take orders for ALL of my books. In the future, I’ll do Bully and Corrupt, but it’s getting to be a big job for one person, so after this, I’ll be cutting back. At least until I can hire some help 😉 Thanks for understanding.

This is open internationally, and, again, the form closes Feb. 1 <3

http://bit.ly/1PfMPaG