It's Release Day! The Loving on the Edge Bundle

It's release day! Woo-hoo!

This is my first boxed set and gathers together all four Loving on the Edge novellas, including the RITA-nominated BREAK ME DOWN, in one nice place with one sexy cover. That's almost 500 pages worth of smexiness, y'all. ;)

About the set:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Crash Into You comes four previously published Loving on the Edge novellas, together for the first time...

In Still Into You, married couple Seth and Leila head to The Ranch, a resort where any sexual fantasy can be had. Seth hopes to put the spark back in their marriage and to show Leila why he’s the only man for her...

In Forever Starts Tonight, two Dominant men and one submissive woman attempt to jumpstart their relationship with a getaway at a mountain cabin. When they get snowed in, however, the heat between them reaches a fever pitch, and secrets come out...

In Yours All Along, two men, Devon and Hunter, shared a hot night in college, but an accident tore their relationship apart. Four years later, Hunter is a professional baseball player, engaged to a woman, and in Devon’s bar. Neither man can get that one night off their minds...

In Break Me Down, Samantha Dunbar and sexy executive Gibson Andrews are Dominants, and according to Gibson, that makes them incompatible. But after an attack shakes Sam to her core, Gibson finds himself unable to let her go...

Grab your copy:  Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo

And for those of you who've already read the novellas (thank you!), I'd be forever grateful if you could leave a review on the boxed set. Reviews help tremendously with visibility in Amazon search and such, so I'm sending you all the heart eyes if you're so inclined. :)

Happy reading!

One Day More!

Okay, after that title, I'll be singing Les Mis for the rest of the afternoon. One day more, another day, another destiny...

But anyway, only a few hours until LOVING YOU EASY is here! 

Who's ready for Ren and Hayes? Here's a little sneak peek of the first time Cora *meets* ones of the heroes in the online game. Plus, who needs a reason for abs ogling in the afternoon? Enjoy!

I hope you enjoy the book! And if you do, I'm always forever grateful to those of you who help spread the word online and leave reviews. Every little bit helps. Thanks!

Who's Ready?

Only five more days...

Three lovers really click in the latest from the New York Times bestselling author of Call on Me—

Cora has an amazing sex life. She’s beautiful, daring, and the most popular submissive in Hayven. Too bad none of it’s real...  

IT specialist Cora Benning has figured out the key to her formerly disastrous love life—make it virtual. In the online world of Hayven, she’s free of her geek girl image and can indulge her most private fantasies with a sexy, mysterious master without anyone in her life discovering her secrets. Until her information is hacked and she finds herself working to fix the breach under two very powerful men—one who seems all too familiar...

Best friends and business partners Ren Muroya and Hayes Fox were once revered dominants. Then Hayes was wrongfully sent to prison and everything changed. Ren wants to get back to who they were. Hayes can’t risk it. But when they discover the new IT specialist is their online fascination, and that she’s never felt a dominant’s touch, the temptation to turn virtual into reality becomes all too great…

BUY THE BOOK:  Amazon  | Barnes and Noble |Books-A-Million |Indie Bound |The Book Depository 

BUY THE EBOOK: Nook | Kindle  | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

Sneak Peek: The First 2 Chapters of LOVING YOU EASY!

WANDERLUST will be here in July and I'm super excited to share that contemporary rockstar romance with y'all. But I thought today, I'd give you a special sneak peek of the next Loving on the Edge book, LOVING YOU EASY, which comes out in September. These chapters get a little steamy, so if you're at work or have kiddos reading over your shoulder, consider yourself warned. :)

First, a little about the book...

LOVING YOU EASY

Releasing SEPTEMBER 6, 2016

Three lovers really click in the latest from the New York Times bestselling author of Call on Me—

Cora has an amazing sex life. She’s beautiful, daring, and the most popular submissive in Hayven. Too bad none of it’s real...  

IT specialist Cora Benning has figured out the key to her formerly disastrous love life—make it virtual. In the online world of Hayven, she’s free of her geek girl image and can indulge her most private fantasies with a sexy, mysterious master without anyone in her life discovering her secrets. Until her information is hacked and she finds herself working to fix the breach under two very powerful men—one who seems all too familiar...

Best friends and business partners Ren Muroya and Hayes Fox were once revered dominants. Then Hayes was wrongfully sent to prison and everything changed. Ren wants to get back to who they were. Hayes can’t risk it. But when they discover the new IT specialist is their online fascination, and that she’s never felt a dominant’s touch, the temptation to turn virtual into reality becomes all too great…

BUY THE BOOK:  Amazon  | Barnes and Noble |Books-A-Million |Indie Bound |The Book Depository 

BUY THE EBOOK: Nook | Kindle  | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

Now, on to the chapters! 

Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2016 - All Rights Reserved Berkley Publishing Group

*18 and over only*

*pre-edit version, may contain typos

Prologue

February 14th—Log-in time: 11:26 p.m.

I know how  to recognize dangerous men .

My mother taught me from an early age what to zero in on. The way a man looked at you. The way he spoke. The way he tried to get you to do something or see his point of view. The way he made you feel when he came close to you, that visceral, bone-deep sense that there was danger present. Your instincts know, Cora. Don’t ignore them.

It’d been a lot to teach an eight-year-old.

I doubt Mom wanted me to have to face that kind of fear so early on, but when you’re a detective and there’s a killer on the loose with a vendetta against you, you do what you have to do. My mom never caught the killer, and I never forgot the lesson.

So even though he’s only a form on a screen, a cartoon really, I know the instant that he strides into the game what Master Dmitry is. I know what my body is trying to tell me even as I sit in the safety of my bedroom on the other side of a screen. Danger. Back away.

But I don’t. I can’t.

Dangerous men scare me. And I’m fascinated. After years of being mostly ignored, of failing at the dating game, of making high art of being put in the friend zone, I want to know what it’s like to be someone else. To not play it safe. To be desired.

I use my wireless controller and have my character, Lenore, flip her hair to catch his attention. She’s so unlike me, Lenore. All flowing blond locks and epic curves. Feminine with a capital F. She’s the girl the guys fantasize about. I want to be that girl for a little while. Feel what that’s like.

He turns and faces me. His hair is long and the color of the deep ocean, pulled back with a leather band. He’s chosen to wear all black. Most of the dominants in the Hayven game wear the same, but somehow it looks more fitting for him, like he was made to only wear that color. He hasn’t designed his character to be overly muscled. He doesn’t look like a comic book superhero like most of the male players in Hayven, but he’s tall and broad and intimidating. Quietly powerful.

“So, you’re Lenore.”

The deep voice in my headset makes me jump. I know the sound is affected by the voice changer the game has. Hayven has layers of identity protection. That’s why I’ve chosen this game, why I can be someone else without worry. But still, the sound of him in my ear is enough to send goose bumps prickling my skin. I lick my lips, force the word past my lips. “Yes.”

He doesn’t correct me, tell me to call him sir. I like that. I like players who don’t make assumptions.

He steps closer. We’re in the public part of the game. You can create whatever environment you want in the private spaces, but the main part of the game has zones—the park, the island, the city, the forest, and the main house. Right now we’re in the forest. A place with towering trees and limited moonlight. There’s a map in a small box in the corner of my screen where a few red dots glow, indicating other players are nearby, but I can’t see anyone. That’s why I was here. I was looking for others to watch. That’s what I do. Harmless fun. But with Dmitry moving toward me and the first-person style of the game, I feel like I’m suddenly alone with this man. Red Riding Hood to his Wolf. I’m looking through Lenore’s eyes and there’s nowhere to run.

“You’re popular around here,” he says, that deep voice a stroke against my ear, the sound intimately close in my headset. Despite the name, there’s no accent.

Popular. Ha. There’s a word that’s never been used to describe me before. Unless it was to designate most popular girl to play against in a video game battle or most popular chick to invite to guy’s poker night. But I remind myself that he’s not talking about me. Tomboy. Proud geek girl. He’s talking about Lenore. Pretty, voluptuous Lenore. “I do all right.”

The night sky is black behind him until a streak of lightning cuts across it, making the leaves of the digital trees turn to a thousand silhouettes. The gamemasters are brewing a storm, playing with the many toys this game has. Dmitry doesn’t appear to notice. If anything, he looks as if he’s called the lightning himself, his presence making everything feel electric. “Why do you think you’re so popular? Besides being beautiful. There are lots of beautiful women here.”

Yeah, no shit. No one’s going to make an ugly avatar. Hello, beauty of video games. But I don’t know how to answer the question. I’m not sure why I get a lot of friends or attention in the game. Maybe it’s because I’m involved but mysterious. I’m a watcher, a tease, not a participator. “I’m here a lot. People get to know me.”

His blue hair is blowing in the wind now, a few strands pulling free of the tieback. “You’re here on Valentine’s Day.”

The words hit me like icy drops of rain, yanking me briefly out of the game world and back into reality. Like I need a reminder. Like the TV isn’t playing a marathon of every romantic movie ever made. Like the dudes at my shitty job didn’t spend the day incessantly talking about how they’re so getting laid tonight because they threw a box of chocolate or some flowers at a girl. Like the guy I’ve been sleeping with for three years didn’t balk when I asked him if he wanted to do something tonight.

Why? It’s not like we’re dating, Cora. We’re just great FWB. You’re like a bro with a vagina. Sex without the drama of things like Valentine’s Day. Which made me realize a) I thought I had a boyfriend and didn’t, b) I’ve been sleeping with a guy who uses chat abbreviations in actual speech and c) he actually said bro with a vagina like that was an okay thing to call me. I’m not sure which one disturbs me more. Probably that I let this “bro with a penis” in my bed. For three years. It’s too pathetic to even cry about. Okay, maybe I cried a little.

“I’m not a romantic. Hallmark holidays aren’t my thing.” I ignore the half-empty heart-shaped box of Russell Stover candy I bought at the Walgreens on the way home.

“Guess we have that in common, then.” He’s close now. If this were real life, the wispy dress Lenore is wearing would be whipping in the breeze, brushing against his skin. He looks like he wants to rip it off. I kind of want him to, until he lifts his hand.

My fingers, so in tune with the controller by now, automatically shift to make Lenore take a step back. My heartbeat has picked up speed. The danger signals are going off in my head, the virtual world playing tricks on my real brain.

“Why are you scared to play, Lenore?” The voice caresses my senses, startles me with its quiet edge as he lowers his hand.

“What? I’m not. I just . . . like to watch.”

“I know. I’ve watched you watch. I’ve also watched you deftly deflect any offers. You’re good at the tease. Good at playing the less-experienced dominants and keeping them panting after you.”

My throat tightens and I reach for my beer to take a sip. I’ve seen glimpses of Dmitry in the game. But if he plays, he does it privately. And he doesn’t seem to have any regulars he talks to either. He’s like a shadow. That guy at the bar who comes in, drinks, and leaves. But somehow he knows. He knows that despite the submissive designation on my character, I’ve never actually played that role in the game. “You watch, too.”

“Yes, I do. But I also study. There’s a difference. I’ve studied you.” He steps closer and this time my fingers are frozen against the controller. There’s so much that I don’t know. I don’t know what he really looks like. I don’t know how he smells or if his real voice is that deep. But somehow with his words in my ear, the soft sound of his breath, my body reacts anyway, knows there’s a real man on the end of this phone line. My skin is warming, my blood pumping, arousal and a hint of fear twining together. He reaches up and brushes hair away from Lenore’s face. I shouldn’t feel a tingle against my brow where his fingers would be, but I do. “I’m tired of watching.”

“Oh.” My voice is small, an afterthought. My persona as Lenore the Confident Vixen slips out of my reach as my real self invades.

“I think you are, too.”

I close my eyes, the words filtering through my blood, my defenses rising, trying to put up some sort of fight against my galloping libido. “Why would you think that? You don’t know me.”

“I know enough,” he says with utter calm. “I know that you’re smart and that anytime someone gets you close to participating in the game, you make jokes, get sarcastic, and protect yourself. You’ve got a sharp wit and a smart mouth, Lenore. I bet in your life, you’re a force, a successful woman with a lot on her plate. You don’t give in to men. You don’t give in to anyone.”

The truth of the words rattle me. This man doesn’t know me, but somehow it’s like he’s peering through the computer screen and seeing my life.

“And that’s exactly why you crave this so much. Why you’re here so often. You want to know what it’s like and it terrifies you.”

My throat is dry, the words sticky against my tongue. “This is just a game.”

“It’s been a very long time for me, Lenore, and I know this is a game. Believe me. But ignore the window dressing on the screen. What’s real is that I’m here and you’re here. Whatever roles and labels we have in real life aren’t with us right now. All that’s left is this: what we want to do right now, alone, with no one else watching or judging. No one will know what happens tonight except us. You can let go. You’re safe.”

Safe.

My mother would say that word is its own kind of lie, but I want to believe it. Right now, I do. The truth tumbles out of me. “I don’t know how to do this.”

“Close your eyes.” The words are gentle but commanding.

I can’t do anything but listen. My lids fall shut.

“All you have to do is listen to my voice. You can always say no at any point, but trust that I’ve got your pleasure in mind. I can give you what I know you’re craving when you watch. All I ask is that you’re honest with me, in your reactions and in what you’re telling me you’re doing. And I’ll give you the same.” He pauses for a long second and when he speaks again, his voice has grit in it, his own need sneaking through. “Give me tonight. I want to hear what you sound like when you surrender to it, how you sound when you come.”

I swallow hard and something tightens low in my belly. I knew all along where this was leading. From the very moment he walked into my corner of the game. That’s what Hayven is about ultimately—sex. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use what I watched in Hayven for fantasy fodder. But I’ve never taken the step of sharing that experience with another player. It seems a little too . . . far. Too personal. Like it stops being a game and becomes part of my life. And maybe a piece of me had thought it would be like cheating on Kevin—Kevin who was never my boyfriend. But there’s no more Kevin and the temptation is beating through me like a wild drumbeat.

“Don’t you want to know what it’s like? To give up the power for just a little while? To let go of any responsibilities and just listen and act?” His voice is like a dark, winding river, rumbling against my senses, dragging me into the current. “To let me bring you to your edge? To know you’re bringing me to mine?”

I inhale deeply, keeping my eyes closed, and focus on just his voice. Not the game. Not Lenore. Not the romantic comedy playing in the living room. Not the fact that everyone else I know is on a date tonight. Just the unfamiliar sound of a sexy dominant man making irresistible promises in my ear. Let me bring you to your edge.

Your instincts know, Cora.

I’ve spent my life avoiding dangerous men.

I won’t tonight.

In the tell-no-secrets safety of my bedroom, I say yes.

 

Chapter 1

Four months later

BigMan232: I need you naked and at my feet tonight. You’ve been a bad girl. Time to pay up.

Cora kept her phone in her lap as she surreptitiously read the message lighting the screen and tried not to roll her eyes. Ugh, get a clue, dude. She clicked Ignore and Block. She thought she’d done that the last time BigMan had contacted her in the Hayven game but apparently not.

She quickly checked her inbox to make sure she didn’t have a message from the guy she really wanted to hear from, but there was nothing there. Bummer. He’d been quiet the last few days.

“You better not be working over there, cupcake,” Grace said from across the table, her voice barely cutting through the din of voices and music at the party. She popped a stuffed mushroom into her mouth and gave Cora the cocked eyebrow of challenge.

Cora pressed the button to make the screen go black. “Not working.”

“Liar.” Grace leaned forward on her forearms, her silver bangle bracelets jangling against the table and her poker-straight blond hair turning gold under the soft lights of the winery’s gorgeous cedar and glass event space. “Well, cut that shit out. This is called a networking party for a reason. No hiding in our phones. We’re here to drink loads of local wine and to mingle.”

“The wine I can do. But mingle? Have you met me?” She held her hand out across the table. “Hello, I’m Cora Benning, you’re mingle-averse best friend.”

Grace ignored Cora’s outstretched hand. “Mingle-averse.”

“Yes. It’s a thing, actually—like an allergy.”

“Uh-huh,” Grace said, deadpan.

Cora gave her a grave look. “I should’ve made you aware ahead of time. I could break out in hives or something, or you know, go anaphylactic on you—throat swelling, eyes bulging. Not pretty. Really, I should be carrying an EpiPen with me just being around all these strangers who require small talk. This is why I went into IT. Medical safety.”

Grace tossed a balled-up napkin at her, missing left. “Well, you’re going to have to get over it, smartass. You’re the one who wanted to start her own company. And part of that is putting yourself out there and meeting new people. Mingling. Mixing.”

Ha. She loved that Grace framed it as Cora wanting to start her own company instead of the truth—that she’d quit her last job in an unplanned blaze of non-glory only to find out afterward that she had no decent job options that didn’t involve working overnight at a call center. Yay for expensive college degrees that apparently meant diddly without a recommendation from your previous employer.

“You need bigger jobs than setting up virus protection for Marv’s Auto Parts or helping your mother out at the police station—which, by the way, she should be paying you more for. You’ve been getting intern pay for how many years now?”

Cora shrugged. “You know I don’t do the police stuff for the money. It’s a good cause.”

Plus, she’d never admit it to her mom but she loved the challenge of working on cases. In a different world, she may have gone into the field herself, but her mom had always warned her away from it. Too dangerous. Crappy pay. Find yourself a fancy office to work in, Coraline. Capitalize on that brain of yours.

“Yeah, the good cause of keeping your mother off your back. But I promise you, if they contracted that work out to someone else, they’d be paying whoever it was a helluva lot more. Playing Good Samaritan doesn’t pay the bills. Your landlord isn’t going to care that you’re doing good deeds when you can’t make rent.”

Cora groaned and took a big sip of her wine, trying to focus on how delicious the Water’s Edge Tempranillo was and not on the cold splash of reality Grace insisted on giving her. Last thing Cora needed to think about was the dwindling number in her bank account. She’d had a decent savings when she’d left her job at Braecom, but she’d had to lean on that to get her business started. And though the part-time gig at the police station helped provide some steady income, it wasn’t enough to sustain her once her little nest egg dried up. She needed to land some bigger accounts.

However, that didn’t mean she’d suddenly developed the ability to mingle. Business meetings? Presentations? She could handle that stuff. But small talk with strangers? Ugh. She’d only been half-kidding about the hives. “I can make business contacts by email. I’m better in writing. Or on the phone.”

Where I can control things and not have to be charming.

“No, babe. That’s called spam and is the chickenshit way of going about it. You’re better than that.”

Cora rearranged the food on her tasting plate. Cubed chorizo and smoked Gouda became little Monopoly-style neighborhoods, the spicy mustard a moat in between. She resisted the urge to level the whole gourmet town with a sweep of her hand. Grace didn’t get it. The woman sparkled at these functions. She could talk to a wall and make it interested. Cora could make that same wall feel awkward and want to excuse itself to grab a drink.

When she felt Grace’s stare burning into her, she looked up and attempted a deflecting smile. “So I’m a chickenshit. Exactly when did I hire you as my business coach? Because this motivational talk is really helping. I mean, I feel like I need a poster with a dude jumping off a cliff into the open sea or something. Or maybe that one where the cat sees the lion in the mirror.” She held up her hand and curled her fingers like a claw. “Rawr.”

Grace pointed at her. “Don’t get snippy with me, Benning. I’m acting as your benevolent and helpful mentor, which means I’m not above kicking your ass. I don’t want you living on ramen by the end of the year or worse, going to back to Braecom to beg for your job back.”

“Not gonna happen.”

No fucking way. She’d sell hot dogs on the street before she returned to Braecom. When her boss had gotten wind that she’d been sleeping with Kevin, Cora had gotten a talk about how to conduct herself professionally. A week later, he’d told her that she was no longer being considered for the supervisory position she was in line for because the rest of the guys on the team wouldn’t respect her as an authority figure.

And what had Kevin gotten? Her promotion. Fucker.

“It’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be,” Cora said, trying to sound upbeat and swallow past the bitterness the memories dredged up. “I have prospects. The other day, I had a lady offer me two grand to hack into her ex-boyfriend’s Instagram. I think there’s a business opportunity there. Cora Benning—Avenging Hacker for Victims of Cheating Assholes.” She spread her hands like she was seeing the words on a sign. “Though we may have to play with the company title. That may be too much to put on a business card.”

Grace snorted. “Yeah, let’s try to focus on things that won’t land you in handcuffs. You don’t need go to the dark side to make money.”

“But it wouldn’t really be the dark side. I mean, technically yes, but it’d be for a good reason. Only shitty people would be harmed. It’d be like Dexter or that show Cheaters, hacker style.” She gave Grace a bright grin, knowing it’d only piss her off.

“Okay, Robin Hood of Hackerville. Let’s not give your mother a reason to throw you in jail, all right? You just need to get out there and rub elbows with people who actually have cash and could use your services—the legal ones. You’re a badass, motherfucking, white-hat hacker. They need you.”

“Now that’s what should be on the business card. Badass motherfucking hacker. I’d get loads of business.”

“Not if you don’t speak to anyone ever.”

Cora deflated at that, her mood souring further. “Come on, Grace. I’m a start-up. The people here are big deals. We’re at some hoity-toity winery for God’s sake. That big-ass cowboy who was welcoming everybody when we came in? Yeah, that’s Grant Waters, the owner. He’s got so much money that he’s lost count. These people walking around? They own corporations and yachts and shit. They’ve already got a team of IT security on their payroll. They’re here to drink expensive wine and network with other CEOs, not people like me. I appreciate you getting Jonah to snag us an invite to this, and I love you for thinking I’m at this level, but I need to start smaller. Like way smaller.”

Cora’s phone vibrated in her lap again, and she forced herself not to check it. Grace knew she was always online but assumed Cora was just a workaholic. She’d die of shock if she found out her best friend was a regular player in a kinky online game. And then Cora would promptly die of embarrassment. Yes, my sex life is now one hundred percent online. No, that’s not pathetic at all.

“You don’t know that these people don’t need you,” Grace insisted.

“But I do.” Cora glanced out at the milling crowd. There were no tuxes or sparkly cocktail dresses. From the outside looking in, these people didn’t look important with a capital I, but she knew better. In the dot-com world, the more casual someone looked, the more money they probably had. The thought of pitching to any of them made her stomach knot, especially after the trauma of the job interviews she’d had right after leaving Braecom. You could only hear “not the right fit” so many times before you started to wonder if you’d accidentally been assigned to the wrong planet. She looked back to her best friend. “Plus, let’s not pretend you finagled an invitation to this party for my benefit. You’re here to meet hot Internet moguls.”

Grace put a who-me? hand to her chest. “Is it so wrong to have a two-pronged reason for being here? That’s called being efficient. And I don’t see how that would be bad for either of us. Your on-the-rebound dry spell has gone on for way longer than is healthy.”

Cora stabbed a toothpick through the Gouda tower she’d built on her plate. Was it really being on the rebound if the relationship hadn’t actually been a relationship? “I’m not in a dry spell. I’m on hiatus by choice.”

Truth. Sort of.

“No. You’re avoiding.” Grace lifted a hand when Cora tried to protest. “Since the Kevin incident and quitting Braecom, you’ve used starting up your business as an excuse to shut down your social life. That worked for the first few months, but I’m not buying that excuse anymore.”

Cora sniffed. “Exactly when did I have this booming social life?”

“You used to at least go out after work sometimes. And you’d let me drag you to bars. And before Kevin, there was that guy you saw for a while—Nick, Nelson.”

“Neil? You’re going back that far? We went on three dates in college. He liked to talk about dorm room beer-making. And smelled like old bread.”

She flicked a hand. “Details. Now you shut me down anytime I ask for anything that involves you going out after seven. I bet if this hadn’t been work-related tonight, you would’ve canceled on me. You would’ve turned down free wine and fancy cheese.”

True. She almost had. And really, turning down free fancy cheese was probably on her personal checklist of The-Girl-Ain’t-Right signs. But she’d agreed to go because she’d wanted to see Grace, and she knew Grace wouldn’t let her get away with inviting her over just to hang out and watch movies again. “I have a lot going on.”

“I know you do. But you can’t let all that stuff shut down your whole life.” Grace gave her a pointed look. “It’s my duty as your best friend to not let you become a crazy, sexless cat lady because some asshole wronged you. It’s in the handbook.”

Cora smirked. “I’m allergic to cats. And I’ve had sex. You’re cleared of liability.”

She cocked her head in that take-no-bullshit way she’d perfected. “Had being the operative word there. Had, Cora. I get that you needed some time. But don’t let what happened with Kevin turn you into a hermit. You thought you had something with him and you didn’t. He was a jerk about it.”

“He called me a bro with a vagina, Grace.”

“Okay. Fine. More than a jerk. A complete asshole. But I don’t think this is even about him. That night we had too many margaritas at Rosa’s, you told me the sex was sufficient. Who the hell wants to have sufficient sex? You never got stars in your eyes when you talked about him. He was cute and convenient. And safe. And he saved you the trouble of being out in the dating world. That’s what you’re mourning. Not him.”

A bitter taste crossed Cora’s tongue, and she had to take another sip of wine to clear it. She wished there was some magical app where you could just wipe a certain time in your life out of your head. One click and it went into some unrecoverable trash bin. But that trash bin would be overflowing by now. Reading too much into her hookups with Kevin had just been the final dating mistake in a long list of them.

In the end, it’d been a good thing. She’d finally accepted her place in the dating pecking order. She was and had always been a tomboy and a geek, never quite comfortable in the skin she’d been given until she’d accepted that “proper girl” trappings and behaviors were not for her. But that had set her up to be the girl to hang out with, the buddy. She was the one they’d sleep with if they had no one else better lined up. Sufficient. Nothing more. Not the woman anyone lusted over. Not the girl anyone fantasized about.

And really, after accepting that, the loss of her dating life hadn’t been all that tragic. Dating had always been painful and awkward for her. The sex . . . uninspiring. These last few months, taking that off the table completely, had been a weird kind of relief. She had friends to hang out with. She had Dmitry and Hayven. She knew how to take care of her sexual needs. Not everyone needed to pair off like little plastic pegs riding in the car in The Game of Life.

“I’m not in mourning or unhappy, Gracie,” Cora said, hoping her friend could hear sincerity in her voice. “Truly. You don’t have to fix anything. I’m fine. I don’t need a guy right now. I’m a busy girl and a wizard with a vibrator. Who needs more than that?”

Grace’s lip curled, her silver nose ring catching the light. “A wizard? Does that mean your vibrator is magical?”

“Hey, they don’t call it a wand for nothing.” Cora held up her toothpick and waved it around. “I’m working on my sex Patronus. I’m thinking mine will be shaped like a naked Chris Pratt riding a T-Rex.”

That earned a laugh, but concern lingered in Grace’s eyes.

Cora sighed and dropped the toothpick onto the plate. “Look, seriously, I’m fine. Why don’t you go and circulate? Do what you came here to do. I promise I’ll finish my wine and work up some liquid courage to do the same.”

Her green eyes went catlike, skeptical. “Yeah?”

“Sure. Drunk, chorizo-breath Cora will leave great impressions wherever she goes. All introverted tendencies will transform into glittering wit and brilliant sales pitches.”

“Cora.” She said it in the tone Cora’s mother used when she’d catch her playing video games instead of doing homework.

Cora shooed her with a flick of her hand. “Go. I swear I will leave this table once I’m done with my wine and will attempt to interact with fellow humans.”

Grace considered her for another second but then pushed her chair back and stood. She jabbed a purple-nailed finger Cora’s way. “I expect a fistful of business cards to be handed out, Ms. Benning.”

She saluted. “Yes, ma’am.”

Cora watched her friend go and then stared into her wine, wondering how long she could make it last. Maybe she could sneak a refill and drag this out. She took a teeny-tiny sip and let it roll around in her mouth, pretending she actually knew how to do this whole wine-tasting song and dance.

“Is this seat taken?”

Cora glanced up to find a well-dressed guy with a nice smile looking down at her. His hand was on the back of the chair Grace had vacated, and Cora was almost too surprised to speak. She swallowed the wine, half-choking. “Uh, yeah, I mean, no. It’s not taken.”

His grin went wider. “Great. Thanks.”

She took a breath, mentally preparing for a conversation with a cute stranger. She was still capable. Maybe. “So, some party, huh?”

Wait. That was her opening line? Maybe she had been hanging out in her apartment too long. Why not just ask about the weather while she was at it?

But the guy didn’t hear her anyway. Because instead of sitting down, he picked up the chair and walked away, bringing it to another table that was overflowing with laughing people.

The air whooshed out of her and heat flooded her face. Oh. Right. Of course.

She stood, her chair scraping hard against the floor, and drained the rest of her wine. Sitting alone at a table with one chair in the middle of a party was just a little too high on the pathetic scale, even for her. She left her empty wineglass and looked for a wall she could decorate with her presence.

She found a contender, one where the lighting was low and she could blend into the background. She started the excuse-me-pardon-me dance across the room. But as she made her way through the crowd, her phone buzzed. She grabbed it from the outside pocket of her purse, thankful to have something to make her look busy and not like she was escaping.

Dmitry: I’ve been thinking about you all day.

They were just little black letters on a screen, but God, did it unknot something inside her. Warm, sweet relief filtered through her. She typed back as she walked.

Lenore: Same here. Long, long day.

Dmitry: Plans tonight? Your dance card looks crowded.

She smiled. In Hayven, she never had a shortage of offers, especially since others knew she was now actively playing with the mysterious Dmitry. But she rarely watched anyone else’s scenes anymore. Since that first night with Dmitry, she’d developed a bit of an addiction for the man. He’d gone easy on her the first time, had led her through a scene where he told her exactly how to touch herself and for how long. He’d teased her for an hour before letting her come. It’d been simple. But it’d been one of the best orgasms off her life. And it’d made her forget all about being alone on Valentine’s Day.

After that, the boundaries had nudged farther out. He’d sometimes give her instructions. They’d be waiting for her on her phone when she woke up in the morning. No panties today. No touching yourself until you talk to me again. Somehow he could set her off balance with the simplest commands. There was something about having a secret that only the two of them shared that was intensely sexual. So even when she was alone during the day, she knew he was out there, pulling those invisible strings, maybe thinking about her like she was thinking of him. There was an odd sort of comfort in that. An intimate connection without the angst. Someone waiting for her to get home even though he wasn’t there physically. In a short few months, Dmitry had become a touchstone for her in her day.

Not that he still didn’t intimidate the hell out of her sometimes. Her instincts about him being dangerous still flared up. When he went into full dom mode, he was formidable as hell. But in the conversations in between, she’d found him to be smart and interesting and funny. They could play the game and push limits. But they could also have a normal conversation outside of the game. They’d become . . . friends.

And he used full English instead of text speak, which was odd and surprisingly refreshing. No FWB Kevin anymore.

Lenore: You’re the only one I want on my dance card. But I’m trapped at a boring work thing right now. Short of a zombie invasion, I’m stuck for a while. Will be home later, though.

Dmitry: Boring work thing? Since when is international espionage boring?

She laughed as she squeezed through a group of people and then coughed over it when she realized how loud the laugh had come out.

Lenore: That’s your guess? International spy? That’s what I had YOU pegged for. Well, after I ruled out Batman.

It was a game they played, guessing each other’s job. They knew neither would ever tell the truth. The beauty of the thing was in the anonymity. They didn’t want to know. Neither wanted the illusion shattered.

Dmitry: You got me. I’m currently hiding in the coat closet of a drug kingpin, gathering intel. *Types quietly*

She could almost picture that. She had no idea what Dmitry looked like in person, but his game persona would be fit for a spy.

Lenore: *looks at closet* Shit. You found me! Sorry that I have to kill you now. It’s been fun. *bang*

Dmitry: *catches the bullet between my teeth and spits it out*

Lenore: Oh no! You ARE Batman.

Dmitry: *captures you, strips you naked, and ties you to the bed*

Her stomach dipped, the scene turning vivid in her head. This was how things went with Dmitry. Their conversations could go from playful to hot in a few short exchanges. She reached the wall she’d been planning to park herself against. If she stayed there, she’d have a nice view through the picture windows that lined the left side of the room. She could make the excuse that she wasn’t avoiding the party but was enjoying the moonlit rows of grapevines and admiring the looming, cedar-and-stone building in the distance, presumably Grant Waters’ massive ranch home. But her face felt warm, and she was afraid that if Dmitry continued down this texting path, it would show all over her expression.

So instead of stopping, she slipped into a darkened hallway off the main room. The noise of the party softened instantly. Two doors labeled Storage were on the left, but no was around and nothing looked to be in active use. The quiet was more than a little welcome, and she let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding.

She glanced down at her phone.

Dmitry: *spends all night touching you and not letting you come*

She licked her lips, her temperature kicking up a few notches more, the words and the wine blending together in her blood. She should probably go back to the party, tell Dmitry she’d talk to him later. She’d made a promise to Grace and was supposed to be mingling. Instead, she moved deeper into the dark and stepped between two stacks of plastic storage crates. Only the dim blue light of her phone screen filled the space.

Lenore: *struggles but secretly likes having your hands on me*

Dmitry: You like the idea of being captured?

The question wound through her like sweet temptation. Never before would she have considered that a desirable scenario. She’d spent half her life being scared someone would grab her. Her mother and the cases she’d worked had put that fear in Cora. It was a legitimate fear. But playing that kind of game with someone she could trust? Facing that nightmare scenario and twisting it into something sexy? She’d never be able to trust someone that implicitly, but virtually, she could go there in her head.

Lenore: Only if you’re the captor.

Dmitry: Mmm. I’d like to watch you struggle for my touch. I’d make you ride your edge until you beg. I bet you’re beautiful when you beg. I know you sound sexy when you do it.

Goose bumps chased over her skin. Since she couldn’t picture the real man, she pictured the version of him from the game. She imagined him knotting the ropes around her wrists and ankles, touching her everywhere, searching fingers and hot skin, making her want all the things he could give her.

Dmitry: Are you struggling now, L? Are you getting wet at this boring work thing?

She shifted in her shoes. Her blood was pumping, the place between her thighs growing warm. The dark felt like a cloak around her. Safe. Secret.

Lenore: Yes. It’s not feeling so boring now.

Dmitry: Where are you? Meeting? Your desk?

Lenore: At an event, stepped into a hallway.

Dmitry: Are you wearing a skirt?

She frowned. Never. She’d never felt comfortable in the things, despite her mother’s repeated attempts to get her to wear them. She glanced down at her pinstripe dress pants and white silk tank top. Grace had given her a thumbs-up on the outfit, but Cora doubted Lenore would wear such a thing.

Lenore: Dress

Dmitry: Perfect. Part your knees. Pretend I’m there with you running my hand up your thigh.

Despite the fact that she wasn’t really wearing a dress, she stepped a little wider, imagining his hand gliding up her legs and along her overheated skin, causing her to shiver. Her nipples became obvious points beneath her shirt.

Dmitry: Did you do it?

Lenore: Yes.

Dmitry: Picture my fingers beneath your dress, trailing up your thigh, pulling your panties to the side. Can you feel them, teasing you, not quite giving you what you want yet?

Sensation traced over her skin and she tilted her head back against the wall. God, she longed for that feeling, wished she could will him into existence right in front of her.

Lenore: Yes.

Dmitry: Tell me what you need.

Lenore: You. Your touch.

Dmitry: I bet you do. You’ve been good for me, so I won’t make you wait. I can feel how slippery you are against my fingertips. I slide my finger lower and push inside.

Cora shuddered, her breath quickening.

Dmitry: You’re so wet for me, L, and I can feel you tighten around me. You need this so badly. You want to beg for more, but you have to be quiet. No one would know what I was doing to you. The event would just go on around you. You’d wear a nice polite smile while I fucked you with my fingers and made you come all over my hand.

A gasp slipped past her lips as her inner muscles clenched hard. She was steps away from a crowded party, but she could almost feel his hand on her, thick fingertips finding her sex and pushing inside her. She closed her eyes and pressed her thighs together, trying to put pressure where she needed it most. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and her nipples turned sensitive against her bra. She wanted to touch, to get relief. Her fingers curled against her thigh. Maybe she could just press the heel of her hand . . .

“So I think it’s time for our very important business meeting.”

Cora’s eyes popped open, and her breath caught at the sound of the unfamiliar male voice. She automatically clutched her phone to her chest, blocking the light.

A woman laughed. “Oh, is that what you’re calling it?”

Two shadowed forms came into view and passed by Cora as they headed toward the back of the hallway. The fine hairs that had escaped the twist in Cora’s hair fluttered against her face as the couple kicked up a breeze in their wake, but neither noticed her. She was just another shadow.

Cora squinted. There was enough light that she could make out the height of the man, the petiteness of the woman, but not much else. They were walking close together, obviously sneaking away for something and in a hurry. Cora glanced toward the entrance and the rectangle of light that led back to the party. She needed to bail.

“Keep it up with the laughing,” the man said, his voice low but ringing with authority. “See how long it takes me to shut you up.”

Cora stiffened and her attention swung back to the couple.

But the woman made a sound like she’d just taken a bite of the best chocolate. “Look forward to it, sir.”

Sir. The word rang through Cora. Reverberated. Sir. It meant a very specific thing to Cora. But this couldn’t be that. Her mind was just stuck on Dmitry and the game. This was probably some assistant and her boss sneaking off to make out. She needed to leave, make it known that they weren’t alone. Hello, innocent bystander here! I was just leaving. Don’t mind me!

And she was all prepared to do that until she heard the sound of a zipper and shift of fabric. She turned her head automatically toward the noise, the harsh unzipping like a beacon.

The woman’s breaths were sharp in the darkness—quick, anticipatory. Sexual.

Cora tried to pull her attention from them, tried to make her feet work.

Look away, Cora. Look away!

The man’s voice sliced through the silence like a bullet. “Suck it.”

Cora froze.

And she didn’t look away.

 

BUY THE BOOK:  Amazon  | Barnes and Noble |Books-A-Million |Indie Bound |The Book Depository 

BUY THE EBOOK: Nook | Kindle  | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

 

Who's ready for this one?

I'm a Double RITA Award Finalist!!!!!

So I totally had another post planned today and I was going to tell you about this great book I just read, BUT my brain cells are now only operating at half-capacity because I got the call today that I'm a double nominee for a RITA® Award (the romance writer's version of the Oscars)!!!!

BREAK ME DOWN is nominated in the erotic romance category!

and

NICE GIRLS DON'T RIDE is nominated in the novella category!

I'm over the moon excited. My morning has mostly consisted of this: 

and this...

Here's the list of all the nominees if you want to go on a book buying binge. I know I'm going to be doing that, lol.

Now I have to go shop for a fancy dress for the San Diego conference. :D

Have a great holiday weekend, y'all! 

 

COVER REVEAL! - Loving You Easy

The cover for LOVING YOU EASY, the next book in the Loving on the Edge series, is here!

Loving You Easy by Roni Loren

And here's the blurb:

Three lovers really click in the latest from the New York Times bestselling author of Call on Me— 

Cora has an amazing sex life. She’s beautiful, daring, and the most popular submissive in Hayven. Too bad none of it’s real... 

IT specialist Cora Benning has figured out the key to her formerly disastrous love life—make it virtual. In the online world of Hayven, she’s free of her geek girl image and can indulge her most private fantasies with a sexy, mysterious master without anyone in her life discovering her secrets. Until her information is hacked and she finds herself working to fix the breach under two very powerful men—one who seems all too familiar...

Best friends and business partners Ren Muroya and Hayes Fox were once revered dominants. Then Hayes was wrongfully sent to prison and everything changed. Ren wants to get back to who they were. Hayes can’t risk it. But when they discover the new IT specialist is their online fascination, and that she’s never felt a dominant’s touch, the temptation to turn virtual into reality becomes all too great…

This one will be out in September. What do you think? I love the colors of the cover and that it's fiber optics, which ties to the meeting online theme of the book. :)

The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon and B&N. Other retailers should be available soon as well.

My Books Are On SALE! Woo-hoo!

Hello, hello. So I'm just getting back from a cruise and am playing catch up (along with trying not to fall out of my desk chair because apparently my brain is still swaying even though I'm no longer on a rocking boat.) It was a great vacation and involved a lot of this:

Turns out staring at the ocean for hours is very rejuvenating. :) I spent most of that time either reading or brainstorming book two in the Pleasure Principle series. But now I'm buried under a pile of laundry and emails. So, though I don't have an official blog for you today, I wanted to pass along an unexpected sale. Looks like a number of my books have dropped in price from 9.99-12.99 to 6.99-7.99! I have no idea how long the sale will be, so I just wanted to share the news in case you wanted to grab any while they're a couple of bucks under normal prices. Here are the ones that are currently on sale:

Nothing Between Us is $6.99, which is a great discount because it's been sitting at $11.99 lately. This is a m/m/f menage romance with a heroine who is quite the Peeping Tom and two men who don't mind being watched. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crash Into You and Melt Into You are $7.99 (normally $12.99) so if you're new to me and want to start the Loving on the Edge series from the start, here's your chance to get book one and two!

 

Caught Up In You is also $7.99 right now. A geek hero, a former stripper, and a private island. What more do you need to know? ;)

 

That's all from me for now. Have a great rest of the day!

 

LOVING YOU EASY Blurb Reveal!

Some of you have been asking me when the next Loving on the Edge book will be out and who it will be about. Well, I have your answers! I don't have a cover yet, but LOVING YOU EASY will be out in September 2016. And you're going to meet new characters in this one. The heroes are former members of the Ranch and you'll see a cameo by Andre (from Melt Into You) but these guys and the heroine will be new to you. : )

Want to know what the story's about? Here you go!

About LOVING YOU EASY:

Cora has an amazing sex life. She’s beautiful, daring, and the most popular submissive in Hayven. Too bad none of it’s real... 

 IT specialist Cora Benning has figured out the key to her formerly disastrous love life—make it virtual. In the online world of Hayven, she’s free of her geek girl image and can indulge her most private fantasies with a sexy, mysterious master without anyone in her life discovering her secrets. Until her information is hacked and she finds herself working to fix the breach under two very powerful men—one who seems all too familiar...

Best friends and business partners Ren Muroya and Hayes Fox were once revered dominants. Then Hayes was wrongfully sent to prison and everything changed. Ren wants to get back to who they were. Hayes can’t risk it. But when they discover the new IT specialist is their online fascination, and that she’s never felt a dominant’s touch, the temptation to turn virtual into reality becomes all too great…

The ebook is up for pre-order only on Amazon right now and the paperback isn't up there yet. So more links will be coming as soon as the retailers get everything into the system. But I wanted to release the blurb as soon as I was allowed to share it. : )

So who's excited?


And I know September is a long time away, but don't forget that OFF THE CLOCK, book one in my new Pleasure Principle series, is coming in January. I'm thrilled to be doing two series at the same time and I hope you'll enjoy the world of The Grove in OFF THE CLOCK as much as you enjoy The Ranch. 

UPDATED RELEASE DAY: Break Me Down will be here Oct. 27th

Hey y'all, I just found out that BREAK ME DOWN's U.S. release date has been moved to Oct. 27th instead of the 20th. Sorry for any confusion but the book will be here soon! And if you haven't pre-ordered a copy, you can grab yours here:

Pre-order the book for only $2.99 Nook | Kindle | Kindle UK | Kindle Canada | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for those of you in the UK and Australia, yours will be out Nov. 12

 

Teaser Tuesday: 1 Week until BREAK ME DOWN is here!

Guess what, y'all? Gibson and Samantha are almost here! One week from today, BREAK ME DOWN releases. So I thought I'd give you a little preview. But first, here's what some reviewers had to say about it:

"WOW. Break Me Down is scorching hot!" - Vanessa Booke on Goodreads
"Loren's raciest novel to date." - Stephanie on Goodreads
"...a beautiful, poignant, yet hotter than than blazes story" - Sophia Rose on Goodreads
I just...so good. So very very good. I'm totally rocking a little book hangover from Break Me Down. From a novella. Whoa. You know you've found an amazing author when they're able to write a dynamic that's so NOT your thing and they still have you panting after the story and every single little word in it." --Anna from the Herding Cats Burning Soup book blog

Pre-order the book for only $2.99! Nook | Kindle | Kindle UK | Kindle Canada | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

So are y'all ready for a peek?

From BREAK ME DOWN

Chapter 1

“Are you trying to torture me? I thought your husband was the sadist.” Samantha dropped the tray of clean glasses onto the rack behind the bar and gave her best friend the stink eye.

Tessa frowned. “Kade didn’t tell me Gibson was coming along. You know I would’ve suggested another bar if I’d known, but I wanted to see you before we left for Bermuda.”

Sam sighed and tightened her high ponytail as she snuck a glance at the table where Tessa’s husband, Kade, was chatting with his stepbrother. Gibson didn’t look her way, but she got the distinct impression he knew she was watching him and was purposely not turning her way. Good, she didn’t need to see those gorgeous blue eyes, didn’t need to remember how their color had darkened to a summer storm when she’d put him on his knees. “Does he have to look so goddamned good in a suit? It’s ridiculous. Who gets to look that hot after a whole day of work? By the time I’m out of here, I look like I’ve been rolled around in a pile of sweaty bodies and beer. He looks like he’s ready to pose for an Armani ad.”

Tessa’s pink-glossed lips curled into a knowing smirk. “You know, pining isn’t good for your health.”

Sam scoffed. “Please. I’m not pining. I just went on a date two weeks ago, and last weekend, I scened with Julian at the Ranch. This girl”—she swept her hand over her black T-shirt and jeans—“is moving on.”

Tessa lifted a brow, clearly not buying it. “If the date was two weeks ago, that means it wasn’t worth a second date. And you and Julian are friends. I bet you didn’t even see him naked.”

Okay, so she hadn’t. Julian was a fun submissive to practice with and more than a little hot, but Sam had never taken it very far with him. In fact, none of the submissives she played with at the Ranch ever inspired her to take it to that level. It was sparring with friends—fun, exciting, but not all that sexual. The submissives didn’t touch her, she kept her clothes on, and she didn’t get off in sessions. It worked for her. Well, it had worked for her until the man sitting at the table a few yards away had come into her life. She’d let him touch. Once. Thoroughly. And the minute she’d crossed that boundary with him, things had gotten complicated, and he’d bailed like she had some virulent disease.

Shit, maybe she was pining.

“All right, the date was a bust. But I really am moving on. If Gibson wants to pretend that what happened between us was a fluke, that’s his business. I deserve a guy who’s not ashamed or afraid to be with me. I don’t have time for games.”

Tessa leaned against the bar. “If it makes you feel better, I think he’s pretty miserable over it, too. You should’ve seen his face when he found out we were coming here.”

“Good.” She gave a terse nod. “In fact, since he’s here anyway, I may as well enjoy his suffering. What are y’all ordering?”

“A Blue Moon, a Crown and water, and a dirty martini.”

Sam grabbed a few glasses and started pouring the drinks. “Give me a minute, and I’ll bring them over. How’s my hair?”

“Uh-oh.” Tessa laughed. “It’s a perfectly executed messy ponytail, but what are you up to?”

Sam adjusted her shirt, letting the V-neck show off a little more cleavage than she usually revealed at work. “Torture.”

“Sadist.”

“Yep.”

Tessa shook her head, still smiling, and headed back to the table. Sam finished up with the drinks and carried them over on a tray, making sure to put a touch more sway in her walk. She’d learned how to do it early on to get tips before she’d become the manager of the place. She hadn’t lost the skill, and she wasn’t afraid to use it to torment the man who’d walked away from her. No, not walked—bolted like his ass was on fire. She moved from sway to full sashay. Suffer, Gibson Andrews. Feel the burn.

When she stopped at the table, Kade looked up, all blond hair and broad smile. Effortlessly gorgeous like his stepbrother but without the dark and brooding vibe that Gibson seemed to be gold-medaling in at the moment. Or always. “Hey, Sam, long time no see.”

“Right. It’s been ages.” She’d just seen the couple a few days ago, when they’d all gone to a music festival together. “So, stalker boy, I presume the dirty martini is yours.”

He took the drink from her, not blinking at the nickname she’d given him last year when he’d doggedly pursued her best friend like a bent knight on a quest. She set the beer in front of Tessa and then finally turned to Gibson. She kept her smile poised, but it took everything she had to keep her composure when Gib looked up. He’d let his jaw go a little scruffy, and the dark shadow of a beard only made him more edible. But the look in his eyes was what sucked the air right out of her. So this was what a gazelle must feel like when a starved lion caught sight of her. Hunger had flared in that deep blue gaze—open, naked, and without apology.

God. A jolt of desire went straight downward, like a rope being tugged. Hello. Lady parts officially engaged.

She must’ve reacted, showed some chink in her expression. Because as soon as that look was there, he shuttered it, glancing away and offering a flat “Hey, Sam.”

Everything inside her deflated—the pin of reality popping the balloon of hope. Ugh. Stupid, stupid man. She wanted to grab that thick, dark hair and make him hold the gaze, force him to show her the truth. To be real with her. But of course, she couldn’t touch him anymore. And, well, that would look a little weird in the bar. Sexually frustrated manager grabs customer by the hair, makes demands. She swallowed past the tightness in her throat, completely forgetting her plan to look seductive and so over him. “Crown and water.”

She plunked the glass on the table without grace, causing some of it to slosh over the top.

“Thanks,” he said gruffly.

Silence ensued and Tessa cleared her throat. “Um, do y’all still have those potato things with the bacon? I’m starving.”

Sam snapped out of her daze and turned to Tessa. “Potato skins. You bet. I’ll tell Angie to put in an order. She’ll be handling your table. I just wanted to come over and say hi.”

Gibson took a long gulp from his glass and then brushed a hand over his wavy hair, trying to smooth the unsmoothable. A move she’d learned was his sign of discomfort. God, this was so ridiculous.

And she was done with it. So things had gotten a little out of hand during that last training session. He’d been helping her out, bottoming for her so she could learn how to use a whip. They’d been through a few weeks of lessons and everything had gone well. All had been done under the assumption that he was a fellow dominant who would be guiding her from the bottom—a friendly exchange. He wasn’t supposed to get hard when she whipped him. And she wasn’t supposed to get so turned on at the sight of him. And they weren’t supposed to kiss. And she definitely wasn’t supposed to let him push her against a wall and put his hand beneath her skirt to get her off.

But all that had happened, and when she’d tried to wrest control back and take him to bed as her submissive, everything had exploded in her face. He’d snapped out of whatever spell he’d been in from the whipping and had told her that nothing could happen between them because they were both dominants. That he had a masochistic streak, not a submissive one. The training had ended right there. And she might’ve been able to let it go, to buy that he was just a dominant with a taste for pain, but her instincts were telling her it was far more than that. Not that it mattered what she thought. For whatever reason, he wasn’t going to take the submissive role. Period. End of sentence.

She wasn’t worth the risk to him.

Fine.

“Is there anything else I can get y’all for now?” she asked, her voice coming out a little too bright, too twangy. Damn, she was going Dolly Parton on their asses. Usually that only happened when customers pushed her to her politeness breaking point. Of course I’ll get your hamburger recooked a third time, sugar. I should’ve known when you said medium you meant fossilized.

Tessa’s brow went up, seeing right through Sam’s act.

“No, I think we’re good, Sam.” Kade cut an annoyed look his brother’s way.

Sam hustled back to the safety of the bar, cringing at how easily she’d gotten knocked off her plan. Damn that man. But the crowd was picking up, and she didn’t have time to waste trying to figure out the indecipherable Gibson Andrews. She had a job to do. So for the next hour, she managed her bartenders, poured drinks to help them keep up, and made rounds of the floor to greet customers and drop off food. By the time she made her second walk around the place, every table was taken and the noise of all those different conversations reverberated off the walls.

This was her favorite part of her shift. Managing the bar wasn’t always the most glamorous of jobs—okay, try never glamorous—but when the crowd was buzzing and the energy pulsed around her, she couldn’t help but feed off it. She cruised by the back corner, checking on tables, and a sharp whistle caught her attention.

She fought the instinct to ignore it. Nothing ticked her off more than being summoned like she was a dog that needed to come to heel, but a customer was a customer. She turned around and forced a tolerant smile at the two guys swigging cheap whiskey at a back table. Dolly Parton made an appearance again. Well, if Dolly Parton had B-cups, too much black eyeliner, and an eyebrow piercing. “Can I help y’all with something?”

“Hey, sweetheart,” one said, tipping his ball cap up and revealing narrow green eyes. “I dropped my keys. Mind getting them for me?”

She looked down at the floor and the keys at her feet. She bent over, swiped them from the ground, and tossed them on their table. “Here ya go.”

His friend grinned her way and pushed the keys onto the floor again. Clank. “Maybe bend down a little slower this time, darling. I didn’t get a good view the first go-round.”

She straightened, the customer-is-always-right attitude falling away and fuck-off-redneck-asshole mode replacing it. “This isn’t the champagne room. I’m not here to give you a show. Do you need a drink or what?”

Idiot number one smirked and leered at her chest. “Yeah, how about two buttery nipples? Are they pierced like your eyebrow? I bet they are. You look like that kind of girl.”

She wanted to reach over and bang their two skulls together. It’d probably make a hollow sound. Usually guys got over the buttery-nipple joke by the time they were out of high school, but clearly these two hadn’t moved beyond that maturity-wise. Next they’d be ordering a Sex on the Beach. “Two drinks coming right up.”

She strode off and told one of her male bartenders to bring the drinks over to the guys. She’d be damned if she’d let any of her staff get harassed. Flirting from customers was part of the deal. People got tipsy, and their tongues got loose. But Sam didn’t put up with idiots who took it too far.

Sam slipped back behind the bar and started clearing empty glasses. But only a few minutes passed before idiot number one made a reappearance. He leaned against the bar, snapping his fingers at her. “Hey. I need to talk to you.”

She clenched her jaw and turned. “Is there something wrong with your drink?” I could spit in it if you’d like.

He slid the drink across the bar. “Yeah, you didn’t serve it to me. What? You’re too good to talk to your customers?”

“I’m managing the place. My staff serve the drinks.”

“You’re a stuck-up bitch is what you are.”

“Hey.” A knife-edged voice came from behind him, slicing through the din around the bar. “You watch your goddamned mouth.”

Sam’s attention jumped to the spot behind the guy. Gibson’s face appeared out of the crowd like a vengeful apparition as he shoved his way closer to the bar.

The guy turned toward Gibson, his features twisting into a scowl that made him even uglier. “Who the hell you think you’re talking to?”

Gibson was the picture of cool rage, completely unruffled and terrifying in his calmness. “You. Disrespect the lady again, and we’re going to have a major problem.”

“Fuck you, man,” the guy said, words slurring. “This cunt’s job is to serve me my goddamn drinks, and she’s not doing it.”

With lightning-fast movement, Gibson grabbed the guy by the shirt collar and jammed him against the bar. “Wrong answer, asshole.”

“Shit.” Sam hurried around the counter and yelled for Angie to get their bouncer, Herb. “Gib, stop. Let us handle this guy.”

But it was too late. The drunk idiot was already taking a swing at Gibson, and his equally idiotic friend was heading their way. The punch missed wide when Gibson ducked out of the way. A glass broke. Gib looked smug at the guy’s failed attempt and knocked him hard against the bar again, rattling all the bottles and glasses nearby. Soon it’d be the guy’s teeth. But before it could turn into a full brawl, Herb got in between to break it up. He dragged the drunk away and told him and his friend to get out.

The two men continued cursing and throwing insults her and Gib’s way, but they weren’t dumb enough to try to fight Herb. If they did, she’d have the cops on the phone before they could blink, and they’d be sleeping it off in the drunk tank down at county lockup.

The customers in the bar had stopped to watch the ruckus, but as soon as the two jerks were out the door, all the conversation kicked back in, like hitting Play after pausing a movie. Sam released a breath and turned to Gibson, who was straightening the cuffs of his shirt.

She shook her head. “I could’ve handled that, you know.”

He looked up, frown lines between his brows. “No one gets to talk to you like that. I saw them giving you a hard time earlier and could tell he was headed up here to cause trouble. What did they say to you earlier? You looked pissed.”

She shrugged. “They kept trying to get me to bend over and pick up things off the floor. Then they ordered buttery nipples while leering at me. Juvenile stuff. Dumb but probably harmless.”

His jaw flexed. “Customers or not, they don’t get to disrespect you like that.”

She smirked and stepped around him to return to her spot behind the bar. “Getting respect around here is hard to come by. I have to go other places to get that.”

“Too bad you can’t bring a single tail to work.”

She laughed. “No kidding. That’d get people’s attention. Talk back to me, and I’ll paint a stripe across your ass.”

His gaze flared at that. “That could make it worse. Some people might misbehave for that privilege.”

She cocked a brow. “People like you?”

He frowned.

She sighed and grabbed a rag to start wiping up the drink they’d spilled during the altercation. “Sorry. Guess we haven’t reached the point where we can joke about everything with each other yet. Want to talk about the weather?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry. It’s fine. I just hate that things are weird between us now. I miss hanging out with you. And my brother’s married to your best friend. We’re going to run into each other.”

She focused on cleaning the bar top, using a little too much vigor to wipe up things. Out, damned spot. “Doesn’t have to be weird. We can be friends.”

“Hard to be friends with someone you want in your bed.”

She looked up, something tightening low inside her when she saw the invitation in his eyes, that rope tugging again. Tug. Tug.

God, it would be so easy to give in and let him have the control. Sex with him in whatever form would probably be like winning the orgasm lottery. But it’d taken her so long to get to this point. She knew what she wanted, had finally figured out what flipped her switches, and she was tired of doing things halfway. “You know the price of admission for my bed, Gib. You’re not willing to pay it.”

Gibson leaned forward, bracing his arms on the bar and getting way too close for her to concentrate on anything but his dark eyelashes and full bottom lip. He kept his voice low enough for only her to hear. “We don’t have to be in any roles at all. We could just do things the old-fashioned way. Hot skin and cool sheets.”

She closed her eyes, a hint of his scent hitting her—rain-soaked earth. He’d always smelled like spring rain to her, something in his laundry detergent probably. But not until she’d had him under her whip did she get the rest of it—earth and man and hot need, who he really was beneath that polished exterior. She could smell it on him now. And that scent brought her right back to those sessions in the training room at the Ranch.

Never before had she felt such an utter need to make a man hers like she had when Gibson got into a scene. Something about him stirred those dark desires she’d only toyed with in fantasies before then. But the sessions had been her own kind of torture because they’d kept it so businesslike. He’d never taken off anything more than his shirt. There’d been no sex. He’d guided her from the bottom as her trainer and never gave over real control. Not until that last session, when she’d somehow broken through that outside layer, had she gotten a glimpse of what things could be like if they ever did those things for real, without restrictions.

And she knew without a doubt that if she agreed to an old-fashioned hookup with Gibson, physically she’d probably be over the moon, but deep down she’d be left unsatisfied afterward because she’d gotten a peek at what she’d be missing. She was done compromising. In her endless search to find Mr. Right, she’d spent too many years of her life dating guys who she’d jumped through hoops to please. No more. Even if Gibson was stupid beautiful and looking at her like he’d light her world on fire.

She poured a Crown and water and slid it his way. “Gib, let’s not pretend that either of us would be satisfied with old-fashioned. You don’t pay that exorbitant fee at the Ranch for nothing.”

The grooves around his mouth deepened and he straightened to full height, taking the drink in his hand. “I can’t be what you want me to be, Sam.”

“Why?” The word slipped out before she could stop it. But she’d seen how he’d reacted after that flogging. It hadn’t just been the pain. She’d been practicing dirty talk that night, dressing him down with her words. That had been the difference that night. He hadn’t just gotten hard; he’d been fighting subspace. Submission did something for him. She hadn’t imagined that.

His gaze slid away, the doors to his expression slamming shut. “Because it’s not who I want to be.”

She pressed her lips together, considering him for a long moment. She knew some submissive guys struggled with their desires. Many thought big, strong alpha men weren’t supposed to be anything other than dominant. But Gibson was so confident in his everyday life, she couldn’t imagine he gave a shit what societal norms or traditional gender roles called for. But for some reason, this was a no go for him.

She needed to accept that. Move on. She reached out and put her hand on his arm and squeezed. “Hey, that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Friends who are not weird with each other. Or at least only weird in an awesome way. Because, let’s face it, neither of us has any shot at normal.”

His lips tilted up at the corners, but his eyes didn’t hold the same humor. “Yeah, guess we’ll have to get some practice at that.”

She nodded. “Definitely. We’ll go have lunch or something soon, okay?”

“Sure.” He grabbed for his wallet. “What do I owe you for the drink?”

“It’s on the house for trying to protect me from drunk assholes. Thanks for that, by the way. I would’ve handled it, but seeing his teeth knock together when you shoved him against the bar was pretty entertaining.”

His mouth curved into a full smile then. “Anytime, sunshine.”

For the rest of chapter one, click here.

About the book:

The New York Times bestselling author of Call on Me invites you to discover the thrill of control as one couple wrestles for power in and out of the bedroom…

Samantha Dunbar needs to forget Gibson Andrews. When he trained her to be a domme, she experienced just how hot things could get with the sexy executive. She was ready to hand him everything—including her heart. But Gibson backed away, declaring them incompatible. He’s a dominant, and Sam’s no submissive.

But after an attack shakes Sam to her core, Gibson tracks her down at her family’s rundown farmhouse and makes her an offer. He’ll stay the week and be hers in every way—a helping hand for the renovation and a willing lover in her bed. He swore he’d never give up control to anyone again, but he hasn’t been able to touch another woman since Sam. Maybe a week alone with her will cure him of his relentless craving. 

But one taste only makes them want more, and Sam and Gibson are drawn in deeper than ever. The man who won’t give in has just met the girl who won’t give up…

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