Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: One Night Ever After

Just a Drive by Tere Michaels
After weeks of flirting, “One Night” Wyatt Walsh spends a fabulous night with his shy coworker, Benji Trammell. As Wyatt tries to sneak out the next morning, he receives a call from his frantic, very pregnant best friend Raven—she needs him immediately. With no other way to get from New York City to the Pennsylvania town where Raven and her husband live, Wyatt accepts Benji’s offer to drive him there. Wary and unsure of each other, they start the trip at odds, but as time goes on, the barriers that usually keep people at a distance fail. And what started out as “just a drive” becomes a step toward romance.

Just a Stranger by Elle Brownlee
The excitement of meeting a stranger in a club can’t be beat. Loud bass sets the rhythm to Michael Wiercinski’s primal urges as he flirts with Andrew, a cute guy offering the promise of a hot night with no strings, no complications. Still, when their night is done, Michael admits there was something about Andrew that left him wanting more. Months go by with no sign of Andrew until Michael moves back home to help after his father’s heart attack. Once there, Michael is completely amazed to find Andrew Lucas living in his hometown. Despite surprising “complications” in Andrew’s life, Michael vows to take advantage of this second chance to make Andrew more than just a stranger.

Just a Weekend by Elizah J. Davis
James is a homebody in a predictable, if not altogether comfortable, rut. He’d rather stay in with a book than brave the Seattle bar scene. One night, after allowing his friend Kara to coax him out for drinks, he meets Devin—charming, gorgeous, and way out of his league. With a little bit of help from Kara, James leaves with Devin to indulge in a night together, which is as much time as he’s bound to get with a guy as hot as Devin. He doesn't expect the easy rapport that quickly develops between them, and when the weather conspires to keep them together, James wonders if this could be more than just a weekend fling.

Just a Drive by Tere Michaels
WYATT WALSH uncapped the bottle of water, imagining he was actually decapitating the diva-in-training currently stomping around the set. Better for his career and reputation to tighten his fingers around plastic and not her neck.

“Chantel, dearest? I understand how uncomfortable this is for you—I do. But….” Wyatt made a helpless gesture as she stomp-stomp-stomped past him on another circuit. “What can I do? This is what the label asked me for.”

That was a lie, of course. He’d pitched the Alice in Wonderland theme for Chantel Baller (Seriously? Did they not notice that was a porn name?) for her debut album and if nothing else, Soundsource Records listened to their creative director.


“I hate it! It’s ridiculous! I look like a freaking freak!” she whined, stopping to stand in front of him with her arms crossed over her chest. “I want to look cool!”

See, they never listened to him when he told them not to pluck seventeen-year-olds out of Kentucky.

Was it too much to ask for the “next best thing” to not be a spoiled brat?

A knock saved Wyatt from explaining to Chantel that neither her waifish looks nor her thready, auto-tuned voice were going to go anywhere, so why not dress it up as quirky—and he turned to thank his savior.

The day went from crap to fabulous in four seconds flat.

His current favorite adorable young man appeared as if lifted from a dirty dream in Wyatt’s regular repertoire. Benji Trammell stood in the doorway and fidgeted, clearly uncomfortable as the entire loft of folks involved with the shoot turned to stare.

“Uh… sorry. I needed to talk to Kala?” His gorgeous baby browns darted around the room, desperately seeking the producer in the crowd of overdressed, overworked, underwhelmed peons.

“She’s somewhere,” Wyatt chirped, his mood and demeanor changing as he left Chantel in the dust. “Are you sure you didn’t come all the way down here for me?”

He’d been staring at the kid—an engineer of some sort, the particulars didn’t matter—for six weeks now, as they were thrown together while Soundsource blew their party budget for various nonsense reasons. Most of said reasons stemmed from upcoming divorce proceedings between the president of the label and her “singer” husband.

It was going to be the bitchfest of the year.

As Creative Director, Wyatt had enjoyed free-flowing top-shelf booze, amazing buffets, and hot and cold running catering waiters. But the treat of the night had been the brief but delectable appearance of Mr. Trammel and his ass-worshipping jeans.

Praise high fashion.

It hadn’t progressed past flirty small talk and making bedroom eyes at each other, but Wyatt was determined tonight would be it.

He was getting a piece of that.

Wyatt found a PA out of the corner of his eye and hissed a “find Kala” before coming to invade average height, dark, and handsome’s personal space. “Can I get you anything while you wait?”

Me. A cocktail and me. Me.

“No. But thanks. I’m just…. It’s a thing with the album and I was upstairs at a meeting so….” He gestured toward Chantel, who had begun ranting at the guy who brought their lunches, whom Wyatt suspected didn’t speak enough English to care.

Benji was the thing that fantasies were made of, at least for One-Night Wyatt. Young enough to be doe-eyed and confused, old enough to be legal. Slender build under an ironic hipster T-shirt and five-hundred-dollar distressed jeans. A thick head of espresso hair, chocolate eyes and, yeah—Wyatt yearned to lick coffee ice cream off his delicious-looking jaw. The shy thing he was working just made it even more appealing—the closer Wyatt got, the more Benji blushed, and it was adorable.

Erotically adorable, if that was a thing.

Benji smiled and Wyatt’s pants got tight.

“How’s, you know, the shoot going?”

“Oh, fabulous. Chantel loves my ideas,” Wyatt said brightly, shaking his head at the same time.

An even bigger grin made Wyatt’s mouth water a little.

“She’s a dream to work with,” Benji whispered, mimicking Wyatt’s head shake, a fake pout on his lips.

“No wonder Kala’s in the bathroom drinking vodka and texting her therapist.” It was just a guess.

They shared a moment of smiles and Wyatt couldn’t help himself—he leaned against the doorjamb and batted his eyelashes at Benji. “So are you going to the party at Bryant Park Grill tonight? Maybe we could get a drink together—I feel like we could both share our Chantel misadventures and purge our souls. You know. To save our sanity.”

Benji stared down at his basketball sneakers; the height difference meant Wyatt got a nice view of the back of his neck and that caused the lean to deepen. Like a moth to a porch light. Or a seasoned perv to a gorgeous young man.

“That sounds… nice.” Benji looked back up. “You know—to keep us sane.”

And naked.

“Fantastic.” Wyatt whipped his phone out, scrolling to contacts with practiced ease. “Give me your number and I’ll let you know when this delightful and very special afternoon with Alice in Bitchland is finished.”

Benji recited the digits slowly and Wyatt repeated them back. Then he took a step away from the door to point the phone at Benji.

Who blinked in surprise.

“Come on, sunshine—I need a picture to go with those numbers.” He snapped it before Benji could school his face out of “adorably confused.” “Perfect. I’ll call you later?”

His face a vision of “wait, what?”, Benji nodded. A second later, the muted sounds of the set were broken by a shout of “Kala!” and a slew of swear words.

“Kala’s off the toilet,” Wyatt said cheerfully. “You talk to her, I will divert Chantel’s attention with a ball of yarn, and this day might end at some point.”

Benji nodded as Wyatt turned to join the fracas. There was a definite sashay to his step as he approached Kala, who was trying to shove Chantel off her arm but was largely unsuccessful due to all the tulle.

One more look over his shoulder left Wyatt delighted to see that Benji’s expression was one of dumbstruck joy at the retreating view.

Feed the ego. Feed it well.

This was going to be a fabulous night.

HE MANAGED to convince Chantel that the shoot actually captured the essence of her music—pretending not to notice that this occurred after Kala gave her an “aspirin”—and finished the shoot before he did, indeed, die of job-related stress. After doling out cab fare (and beer money) to the stylists, Wyatt found himself on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, phone in hand.

The cool flush of the air-conditioned loft gave way to the muggy August air of Manhattan. At nine thirty, the rush of tourists and home seekers had reduced to a trickle. He toyed with the scroll for a second then dialed Benji’s number—first taking a moment to enjoy the upward tilt of his eyes and the pale olive of his skin. Someone’s parents had played the exotic-combination-of-genes card and it had worked out beautifully.

“Um, hey,” Benji said, clearing his throat a second later. “Hey. How’d it go?”

“Chantel’s still alive, Kala didn’t need an emergency admit to Bellevue, and we got enough stuff for the cover. So all in all, the perfect day.” Wyatt laughed. He started walking toward Sixth Avenue. “How about you?”

“Oh—well, it was good. Not as crazy as yours.” Benji cleared his throat again. “You still, uh—up for that drink?”

“God yes. The prospect has actually made this day bearable.” Wyatt dodged some chatting girls who didn’t seem to understand the concept of sharing the sidewalk. “I’m downtown still. Are you at the studio?”

“Yeah—you want to just meet at the party?

Wyatt let visions of a studio quickie fade, as it was probably prudent to show up at the work event—mingle, have a free drink, and then disappear into the night with his end-of-the-workday treat.

“That’s a great idea,” he said. “I’ll be there in twenty, God willing.”

“Awesome.” Benji’s voice perked up. He hung up almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

“Lack of conversation skills duly noted—thank God you have that ass,” Wyatt muttered as a cab swerved to the corner to accept his business.

HIS phone rang about three blocks into his cab ride; if it was anything but crickets chirping, he would have sent it to voice mail. Crickets, though, meant Raven, and Raven was the only human being on earth Wyatt would interrupt a booty call for.

“Baby girl,” he said, feeling his body unhitch and relax.

“I hate being in bed so much,” his best friend whined dramatically.

“Said no one ever.”

“Bed rest is hard.”

“Bed rest is actually the opposite of hard. I told you pregnancy would make you dumb.”

“Well, then we can finally have a conversation you can follow.”

“That nurturing thing hasn’t kicked in yet—you’re still mean.”

Raven sighed with theatrical flair. “Growing humans is hard, okay? And I’m growing double the normal amount.”

“Condoms, Rae. Condoms. We had this talk.” Wyatt riffled around in his pocket for money as the cab dodged vehicles into midtown.

“You could be a little more sympathetic to me, your dearest and only friend. Your godfather privileges will be revoked.”

He would never say this to Raven—his reason for being alive today, his reason for not being a total abusive dickbag—but if she unnamed him godfather of her impending twins, he would not be sad.

Children terrified him. Responsibility for other human beings in general? Cold sweat and horror. But he couldn’t say that to Raven, who’d turned her back on everyone from “back home” except Wyatt. Who’d let herself thaw and grow and evolve to the point where she had a husband and a home and two humans entering the world in fifteen weeks.

See? He paid attention during their weekly chitchats.

“No, please, no,” he said weakly and Raven laughed.


“You know you need to quit cursing like a syphilitic sailor before your kids are born.”

“I figure I have until they’re eight months old or so before I have to give it up.”

“Harder than cigarettes, right?”

“Shit, yeah.”

Now it was Wyatt’s turn to laugh. The driver was pulling over, Bryant Park illuminated up ahead.

“Okay, I gotta go. I have a date.”

“You mean dinner and a fuck.”

“Actually free appetizers and a fuck, but that’s too many words.” He stuck a twenty through the plastic opening for the cabbie. “Receipt, please.”

“Fine, fine. Call me in the morning and entertain me,” she commanded. “Rob has an early meet-and-greet breakfast in Spencer with some potential recruits.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Midwestern.” Wyatt pocketed his change and the receipt. He managed to stay on the phone, gather his bag, and slide out the door without face-planting—no mean feat.

“Asshole. I’ll talk to you in the morning.” Raven blew kisses into the phone. “Myrtle and Myron send their love as well!”


“Okay, I’ll keep looking.”

They exchanged “I love yous,” then Wyatt hung up with a sigh. He was in the middle of the sidewalk as New York City rushed around him in all its energetic beauty, about to have free cocktails and a fuck with a beautiful boy and….

He squared his shoulders and got his feet moving.

Just a Stranger by Elle Brownlee
THE club Andrew had wandered into was not his usual scene, but he wasn’t looking for that. He was looking to get laid. He figured in a place with pulse-pounding music that drowned out conversation and lighting that made everyone seem mysterious and attractive, he would easily find someone else wanting the same.

Generally, he wasn’t a clubber. He liked sports bars and mellow restaurants. But since his “generally” of the past few years had included almost zero adult social contact of any kind, he’d decided to skip to the main event and make the most of this one night he’d been able to wrangle as his own. He didn’t need game updates or five courses or even conversation. He needed available and no strings and—oh, that guy right over there.

Andrew darted from the bar and pushed through the gyrating crowd toward a dark corner where the dance floor melted into a semicircle of plushly cushioned loungers. As he approached, his intended glanced at him and looked almost guilty at getting caught. It gave Andrew the sense that this guy had been checking him out in return, and that emboldened him, while his throat went dry and his stomach lurched with the strength of instant attraction. The guy smiled hesitantly. Andrew realized he had stalked over there as if on a mission, and while that was true, it was also enough to make him laugh at the absurdity and relax a little.

“Uh, hi!” Andrew yelled, and he almost rolled his eyes. Not exactly a suave lead-in. He felt himself blush and almost turned tail, but the guy squirmed around enough to make room on the lounger and patted it. He leaned into Andrew once he’d sat down.

“Hiya yourself! I’m Michael.”

“Michael. Hey, hi. Hey.”

They stared at each other, and Andrew forgot to even blink. Even in the strobing, ever-changing colored lights and dimness, Michael was gorgeous and perfectly typed to get Andrew’s motor revving. He had a strong jaw that led to a cleft chin. He was olive complected with liquid dark eyes and equally dark, clean-cut hair.

Someone jostled into them and Andrew managed an apologetic smile. To distract himself from simply staring more, he downed his beer. He and Michael sat in the cacophony of techno beats and writhing bodies, an island of silent stillness. Andrew began to peel the label from his beer bottle.

It was almost pitifully comical that he’d homed in on the one person seemingly feeling as awkward and out of place here as he did. He was so bad at this, and so very out of practice. Maybe he should have gone to a sports bar or not bothered at all and just gone home.

“Wanna get out of here?”

“What?” Andrew whipped around to squint at Michael and their noses brushed. Tingles erupted from his nape and spread down along his skin in a delicious cascade that made him shiver.

Michael’s eyes danced promisingly in response, and his squared, blunt thumb swept into Andrew’s upturned palm. That only made Andrew shiver more. Michael grinned and leaned under Andrew’s ear again.

“I asked if you wanna get out of here!”

“Yes! I do, yes—with you!”

Andrew almost groaned because, good lord, at one point in time he had known how to be a real person around other real people, but he figured his answer hadn’t been completely inept when Michael’s grin softened to a happy smile.

Michael pried the empty bottle from Andrew’s hand and set it on a waiting side tray, then hefted him to stand. Andrew was a few inches taller and slim, while Michael was broad, with firm, wide shoulders that tapered to a trim waist. His movements were economical and smooth, which suggested physical labor or a good bit of effort put in at the gym. Either way, Andrew appreciated the results. He flattened his hand on the flex of Michael’s abs, just visible under a thinly stretched tee. That action made it Michael’s turn to shiver.

It was enough to ease a laugh from Andrew, and he led the way toward the main entrance. He liked when Michael snagged the center belt loop of his jeans at the back to keep them connected while they threaded through patrons and laden waiters and randomly strewn tabletops. He waggled his butt for show.

Once outside Andrew let out a long, relieved sigh.

“If you hate that kind of place so much, why bother going in?”

Andrew went for cheesy and bold. “I was looking for you.” He flashed the crooked, charming grin that used to get him out of all kinds of scrapes when he was a teenager, then into better opportunities once in college. It still had its uses today.

Michael groaned. “Well, you found me, and here I am, so I think that earns me at least knowing your name.”

“Oh.” Andrew’s smile turned wry. “Sorry? I didn’t realize I hadn’t—I’m Andrew.” He carefully didn’t give his last name and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

They shook and Michael lingered at the touch. He studied Andrew intently as if he’d noticed Andrew’s reactions had gone from embarrassed and open to shuttered away again. But Michael didn’t call him out on it, and Andrew was relieved.

“So, back at you.” Andrew nodded at the club. “If you hate that kind of place so much, why were you camped out on their uncomfortable loungers?”

“Buddy of mine’s birthday. I think he’s still in there somewhere. Don’t worry, he won’t miss me.” Michael shrugged almost apologetically and finally let go of Andrew’s hand. “Where to?”

Andrew had to ball his hand into a fist, then release it a few times to get normal feeling back after their handshake. Even then it was as though his hand burned and the warmth was spreading up his arm.

“Actually, I have no idea. I’m not from Indy.”

Michael eyed him speculatively, and Andrew found his disarming grin again.

“I’m on a business trip, some conference thing, and was on the verge of doing not-very-businesslike things to my boring colleagues. I thought rather than get into criminal activities, I’d let off some steam.”

“Horticulture or pharmaceuticals?” Michael asked sharply.

“Excuse me?” Andrew blanched. He didn’t actually want to say. He liked Michael a lot—too much already, truth be told—but he’d promised himself he’d do this, enjoy it, and give away as little as possible.

Michael pulled an annoyed face and waved his hand in the air, then he nudged into Andrew to start them moving again. “Now I’m sorry. Jeez. There are only two big conventions in town this weekend, so deductive reasoning and all.”

“Do you make it a habit to keep up with any going conventions, whether they interest you or not?”

Andrew watched as Michael chewed on his lip in such a way that made him want to lean in and follow suit.

“No, I kinda have to know—I’m a cop. Detective, even. It takes up like, three-quarters of my life? Sometimes it’s hard not to be that way in the other quarter. It’s a bad habit.”

“Yeah. I can see how that’d happen.” Andrew had cooled more than a fraction, and he knew Michael felt it too. He hadn’t meant to, didn’t want to, but there it was. His walls were ever present and returned full force far too easily. Michael wasn’t the only one there with some deeply ingrained habits.

They wove into the parking lot, and Michael stopped them next to a generic four-door. The warm September night was humid, and the streetlights coated everything in a mellow, dusky haze. Andrew stared at the vague dome of the sky mostly reflecting Indianapolis’s muzzy glow and discovered he missed being able to take in a night sky densely packed with stars. He’d become a small-town guy by circumstance, but he was discovering he fit there far better than he ever had in the city.

“Okay, look, I was going to tell you that I happened to know the perfect place for after-midnight coffee and pancakes and invite you there. I was also going to be awesome and charming and really funny about asking, then the whole time we were at my favorite diner, I was going to flirt with you mercilessly and play footsie under the booth. After that, I was going to mention the diner was walking distance from my apartment.”

Michael scratched at the back of his neck in a disarmingly adorable tell of uncertainty, then straightened.

“But the truth is, I just want to skip to the ‘my apartment’ point in the proceedings. And I really like you? A lot. But I don’t usually do this, like ever, so I can’t even say I’m out of practice. And I’ve put you off by asking too much about you already—and I haven’t even asked that much—so I can only imagine how breakfast tomorrow would go, and now I’m rambling which is another terrible habit of mine that, I’m told, becomes endearing after about a decade of knowing me and learning how to tune me out.” His eyes widened. “I didn’t mean to imply we had to, you know—”

Andrew took pity on Michael, and he also had to tamp down the stirrings of more-than-physical interest Michael’s endearing ramble had disturbed in him. He cupped Michael’s face in both hands and gave him a sound kiss, one that set off those sparks and fireworks he’d had hints of in the club. He trembled when he finally pulled away. Andrew told himself it was only horniness and having been dry and frustrated for so long, nothing more. Michael sucked in a breath, then pursued Andrew’s withdrawal, grabbing him close into another kiss.

A loud, playful whistle finally separated them. Andrew came back to the world to find he had Michael pinned to the generic four-door. Michael’s hands were in Andrew’s shirt and pants while Andrew had Michael’s wonderfully slinky hair tangled in his fingers.

“Wow, okay.” Michael let the words out on elongated syllables and shallow breaths. “Guess I didn’t ruin things after all?”

“Does your car have a siren?”

Michael looked at him blankly, and Andrew arched his eyebrows.

“I like pancake breakfasts. But I find I’m in a real hurry to get to what comes before that, so I’m hoping with you being a cop and knowing your way all around this city that you can, you know.” Andrew twirled one finger in the air and made woo-woo noises.

“Oh, right. Yeah, I do! C’mon.” Michael boosted out from between Andrew and the car, then held the door open.

Andrew wasn’t even buckled in when Michael had the siren blaring and the car squealing out of the parking lot. It was an entirely irresponsible abuse of power—something Andrew could easily tell wasn’t Michael’s ordinary habit—but it did wonders for his ego and mounting desire to get straight to business when they got to Michael’s apartment.

“For the record, Detective, I don’t usually do this either. Try, never.” Andrew cleared his throat and shifted in the seat. He knocked his elbow into Michael’s arm and smiled in the hope he didn’t sound desperate and dorky, but Michael only nodded with understanding and smiled back.

He watched Michael drive, competent and obviously thrumming with the same anticipation that had Andrew strung tight, and decided he’d only have regrets tonight if he walked away. Andrew wasn’t lying. He never did this. He didn’t date, not seriously or casually. He hadn’t even seen another guy naked outside of movies or the local YMCA locker room in years.

Michael cut the siren off a short distance before they turned into a nondescript parking area with an expanse of condos that looked like badly designed ski lodges. Michael curled his top lip ruefully. “Not my taste, but it’s in my budget and takes care of itself. I don’t exactly have a lifestyle that allows for gardening.”

Andrew didn’t complain, certainly not when Michael rushed him from the car up a narrow sidewalk and into the ground-floor unit. Michael didn’t bother with lights, just fumbled the door closed and locked again before pushing Andrew up against it. Andrew moaned and opened his legs, then met Michael’s seeking mouth in a dangerously appealing kiss.

They spun each other around and groped their way out of clothes and down the hall until Andrew backed into the bed and fell abruptly over onto it. He blinked rapidly when Michael snapped on a small side lamp. For a moment, he had those stirrings again, somewhere between his heart being glad that Michael seemed to be an actual nice guy, and his brain whispering they should get to know one another after this and how great that would be.

He bottled that thought up tight and banished it to some hidden recess that would hopefully never open again. Michael’s life was here in Indianapolis, and it didn’t even have room to mow some grass. Andrew’s life was hours away and had no room to add anyone else, not even a nice-seeming guy who could turn out to be really great.

He levered onto his elbows and grabbed Michael down onto him, bit, then sucked Michael’s full lower lip into his mouth. Michael melted against him with an encouraging groan. Andrew hummed intently and set to kissing Michael with thorough pleasure.

Andrew loved kissing. He loved making out and the sensations that could overwhelm his whole body when the kissing was good. Michael was very good. He fit against Andrew in the just-so way that allowed their hands space to explore and intermittent breaths without ever having to break contact. They teased each other in complementary moves and parries, with bites and swirls of tongue, then went back to open-mouthed kisses.

Just a Weekend by Elizah J. Davis
COME on, Brent had said. It’ll be fun! Boys’ night out! Isn’t that why you came to visit?

In truth, Devin had come to Seattle because he’d had to move back in with his parents three months ago after he lost his job, and while he loved his family more than anything in the world, they were driving him absolutely insane. Devin had needed to get away, and Brent was always good company for blowing off some steam.

The flip side to that, however, was that Brent tended to get a little carried away with his blowing. About an hour into the night, he’d taken off with some wannabe cowboy who was wearing skinny jeans instead of Wranglers, leaving Devin to find his own lodgings for the evening. Technically, he could take a cab back to Brent’s house, but his roommate Creepy Dave was there, and Devin didn’t like being alone with that guy.

It probably shouldn’t have been so annoying. It’d been awhile—he certainly hadn’t been bringing guys back to his parents’ house—and it wasn’t like he didn’t have some viable options. He’d been getting interested looks all evening, and several guys had attempted to chat him up, though none had been more original than I haven’t seen you here before. It was eleven o’clock; he should’ve been naked and sweaty already. Instead he was talking to one of the many straight girls there, and, if he were being honest with himself, having a really good time.

Kara was adorable, short and curvy, with thick curly brown hair and freckles. She was also wearing a T-shirt that said Jupiter’s, and while the coat she was holding covered the bottom half of the print, Devin was pretty sure there was a rooster under there, which was why he had started talking to her in the first place. What was his problem?

“So, what’s your problem, then?” Kara asked, nodding around the bar. “There are plenty of guys to choose from, and we both know you have your choice.”

“I don’t know.” Devin sighed. “I think I’m having hookup ennui.” He nudged her with his shoulder. “What’s your story? Friday night at a gay bar?”

“I occasionally have to browbeat my friend into getting out of the house. For his own good.”

“Of course.”

“Plus, my boyfriend is having a guys’ night, so it was kind of a win-win.”

“Boyfriend?” Devin waited as she pulled up a picture of him on her phone and whistled once she showed it to him. Boyfriend was six-plus feet of hunky gorgeousness. “Damn, girl. High five.” He took the phone from her for a closer look and held out his other hand for her to slap. “If I had that waiting for me at home, I’d never leave the house.”

“You would on guys’ night. Too much sausage for me to deal with.”

Devin arched a brow at her and looked around the bar.

“Yeah, no, I heard it,” she said. “It’s a whole different vibe, though.”

“Fair enough. So he’s totally straight, then?” he teased.

“One hundred percent.”

“Good for you.” He finally handed the phone back to her, giving a halfhearted nod to the guy eyeing him a few feet away. “You know that feeling where you’re in the mood for a really good book, but you can’t even decide on the genre you want to read?”

Kara laughed and gave him a sympathetic one-armed hug. “Okay, okay. Check him out. In the blue.” She gestured with her beer bottle to a guy tucked away at a corner table, smiling blandly at the adorable twinky blond trying his damnedest to chat him up.

“He’s all right,” Devin admitted. The guy was handsome enough in a bland boy-next-door sort of way. He was tall, with light-brown hair and a square, manly jaw. In any given romantic comedy, he’d be cast as the staid, dependable boyfriend. The bed warmer until the charming roguish hero of the story happened along. “Let me guess; your browbeaten friend?”

“Yeah, that’s my social butterfly James. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not hitting on you for him. I’m just curious about, y’know. The vibe he puts off.”

“Besides the flashing neon ‘Not Interested’?” Devin shook his head and tsked at the kid still giving it his all. “Give it up, sugar. Mr. Darcy’s not going to ask you to dance.”

“I am so tempted to smack him,” Kara said. “I mean, he’s cute enough, right? But he just sits there people watching. He doesn’t even try to talk to anyone, unless….” She threw her hands up in exasperation, splashing beer on both of them as another guy walked over to the table. “Yep. There we go. Right on cue. Unless his vapid, trampy ex shows up. Him he’ll go home with, and then he calls me the next day to absolve him of his shame hangover.”

“Really?” Devin looked at James with a bit more interest, though he felt a little disappointed with himself that the shame fucking made the guy so much more appealing. The twink had been chased away by the vapid trampy ex, who James looked only mildly more excited about talking to. The ex was tall and lanky, with an interesting face, though Devin didn’t consider him particularly attractive. “What’s the story?”

“No story really.” Kara shrugged and took another sip of her beer. “Roger is just that guy, and James is too nice to tell him to fuck off.” She wrinkled her nose like she’d just smelled something foul, then looked at Devin in a way that could only be described as diabolical. “How would you feel about playing white knight?”

Devin looked at his watch and back at James. Aside from being “cute enough”—he was at least that—James didn’t seem to be falling-down drunk, which would be a bonus if they made it to the sex part. The later it got, the fewer guys there were who could stand of their own volition, and in Devin’s experience, those guys were generally a terrible lay. At the very least, James’s boredom seemed genuine rather than affected, which was new and refreshing. “What’d you have in mind?”

JAMES could hear a voice in his head saying You will not go home with him as Roger spoke. The voice sounded a lot like Kara’s. He nodded to himself, resolved, only to have it waver a second later when Roger covered his hand with his own. It was predictably pathetic of him, but the sex was decent, and, if he was being honest, Roger was a lot less work than a stranger would be.

Someone sidled up next to him as James was wavering, and for a moment he thought it was Kara finally returning from the bar to rescue him. Instead he turned to find a surprisingly pretty guy with messy brown hair and green eyes smirking up at him.

“Hey, handsome,” the guy said, holding up his coat and scarf. “Kara said to tell you she’s hit the wall, and she’s taking a cab home, so we can go whenever you’re ready.”

“Uhhh.” Brilliant, James. He accepted his coat and scarf, trying to remember when he had given them to Kara. The pretty guy was still smiling at him, which made the whole thought process more difficult.

“Excuse me,” Roger said before James could come up with a more coherent response. “Who are you?”

“Devin. And you are?”

Roger frowned and ignored the question, shooting James a suspicious look. “James never mentioned you.”

Devin leaned against the table and shrugged. “Probably because most of the stories worth mentioning aren’t really any of your business.” He turned back to James and said, “I’m ready when you are.”

“Yeah.” James nodded and, for lack of a better idea of what to do, pulled his coat on. “I think we can call it a night. I’ll talk to you later,” he said to Roger and didn’t protest when Devin took his hand and led him toward the door.

“So Kara sent you to rescue me?” James asked as soon as they were outside, his thoughts finally clicking into place.

“White Knight Devin at your service.” Devin gave a little bow without letting go of James’s hand.

“And now that I’m rescued?”

“A reward is customary.”

It couldn’t be that easy. It was never that easy. Pretty boys with impish smiles didn’t throw themselves at him as a rule. “Do you… want to come home with me?”

“Oh thank God. For a minute there I thought you really might not ask.”

James shook his head, not entirely convinced this wasn’t a dream. Only his certainty that Kara didn’t have a cruel bone in her body kept him from suspecting it was some sort of joke. “Just like that?”

Devin’s smile faltered. “I’m sorry. You honestly don’t owe me anything. I can just go back—”

“No!” James wanted to smack himself. Good grief, was he really standing there talking Devin out of coming home with him? “I’m not very good at this. I don’t want to pressure you.”

“How about this?” Devin’s smile hadn’t fully returned, but he did look mildly amused, or maybe a little bit indulgent. “I, Devin, being of sound mind and body, would very much like to go home with you if you’d like to have me.”

“I’d like to have you. I mean—” he added when Devin laughed.

“No, let’s go with that. I’m good with that. Shall we?”

“Sure.” James frowned when Devin gave him an expectant look. “Oh! You mean go? Yeah, of course. I walked, if that’s okay? It’s not too far, but I can call a cab.”

“Walking is good. Just lead the way,” Devin said, gesturing for James to precede him.

“Do you not have a jacket or anything?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“So, I don’t generally have Kara pick up guys for me,” James said as they started off. “For the record.”

Devin laughed. “I’m sure you can get your own dates.”

“Well, no, not really, but I do have some dignity.” James smiled when Devin laughed again. “A little bit. I swear it’s here somewhere. In my other pants, maybe.”

“From where I was sitting, you had plenty of attention. You just didn’t seem all that interested.” Devin tilted his head and gave James a sly look. “What’s the story with the ex? If you don’t mind my asking. Sorry, I’m nosy.” He said it in such a way that made it clear he was still expecting an answer.

James sighed and wished he had a good one to give. “I don’t know. We were never a great couple, but at least with him I know what I’m getting. Hookups can be awkward.” He winced when he realized what he was saying, but Devin seemed delighted.

“No offense taken, I promise. I totally get it. The devil you know and all.”


“Yeah.” Devin scrunched his nose and leaned toward James conspiratorially. “I know a devil or two myself. Terrible habits to try and break.”

“Why does it sound so fun when you say it?” James asked.

Devin shoved his hands in his pockets, giving an exaggerated shrug. “I’m a fun guy.”

“Who’s obviously freezing,” James said instead of making the mushroom joke that so desperately wanted to come out. He stopped and turned to Devin. “Here, take my coat.” He started to take it off, but Devin shook his head.

“Then you’ll be freezing. I come from lands east of the Cascades and am of a heartier stock.”

James gave him a skeptical look and unwrapped his scarf, hooking it around Devin’s neck. “Take this, at least.”

The nearby streetlight was bright enough to give James a good look at Devin, and he was surprised all over again by how unreasonably attractive the guy was. What he’d mistaken for eyeliner in the bar was, in fact, a set of thick, dark eyelashes. His lips were pink and curved into what appeared to be a perpetual smirk. It was giving James ideas.

“It’s only a few more blocks,” James said as Devin wrapped the scarf around his neck.

Devin hooked his arm around James’s elbow and pressed up against his side, making James’s stomach do a little flip.

“Lead on.”

Author Bios:
Tere Michaels
Tere Michaels unofficially began her writing career at the age of four when she learned that people got paid to write stories. It seemed the most perfect and logical job in the world and after that, her path was never in question. (The romance writer part was written in the stars—she was born on Valentine’s Day.)

It took thirty-six years of “research” and “life experience” and well… life… before her first book was published but there are no regrets (she doesn’t believe in them). Along the way, she had some interesting jobs in television, animation, arts education, PR and a national magazine—but she never stopped believing she would eventually earn her living writing stories about love.

She is a member of RWA, Rainbow Romance Writers, and Liberty States Fiction Writers. Her home base is a small town in New Jersey, very near NYC, a city she dearly loves. She shares her life with her husband, her teenaged son—who will just not stop growing—and two exceedingly spoiled cats. Her spare time is spent watching way too much sports programming, going to the movies and for long walks/runs in the park, reading her book club’s current selection, and volunteering.

Nothing makes her happier than knowing she made a reader laugh or smile or cry. It’s the purpose of sharing her work with people. She loves hearing from fans and fellow writers, and is always available for speaking engagements, visits and workshops. Send here a message through her contact page or connect with her on Twitter (@TereMichaels) and Facebook .

Elle Brownlee
Elle Brownlee has always followed her creative, adventuring spirit.

Growing up she loved westerns and taking long hikes. On these explorations she'd craft miniature worlds with moss and rocks while making up stories about everything that happened there. This often included dashing cowboy heroes. As an adult, not a lot has changed. She still loves westerns, long hikes, and allowing her imagination to roam. She also loves spending time with family and friends, rooting for her baseball team, rainy days in autumn, and the perfect cup of tea (black, steeped extra strong, with milk—please!).

Her romances feature flawed but relatable characters in immersive settings, told with wit, tenderness, and a sly note of sarcasm. Though a cynic in many ways, Elle believes love can conquer all. Every story is a little bit naughty, a whole lot of nice, and will always end with happily ever after.

Elle currently lives in New York City, where she maintains her miniature worlds in terrariums and writing. She’s so thankful to be able to share her work with a growing audience, and especially grateful to have you reading along.

Elizah J Davis
Elizah Davis has lived in various parts of the United States, but currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, enjoying the abundance of coffee readily available there. She earned her degree in creative writing after she realized journalism involved too many facts and not enough unicorns. She loves stories of all kinds, but has a particular fondness for romance and fantastical adventures. When she isn’t busy making things up, Elizah enjoys reading, laughing at cats on the internet, buying girly shoes, and trying to come up with world domination plans that don’t require the donning of pants (her endeavors towards which have thus far been unsuccessful).

Tere Michaels
EMAIL: teremichaelsblog @

Elle Brownlee

Eliza J Davis


Love's Design by RJ Scott

Title: Love's Design
Author: RJ Scott
Series: Bodyguards Inc. #5
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: December 9, 2015
Can Christmas be the time when Kirby finally stops running and allows himself to fall in love with the man who saves his life?

CIA Agent Stefan Mortimer is cooling his heels in the UK until he can go home. Taking on easy assignments with Bodyguards Inc. seems like a good solution to keep him sane. He's used to life throwing him curveballs, and it’s just another day at the office when he rescues Kirby Devlin and his niece and nephew. Now he has to keep Kirby and the kids alive and stay professional.

Kirby Devlin has one priority; keeping his small family safe. On the run, and facing danger at every turn, Kirby finally runs out of places to hide on a snowy December day at an Edinburgh train station. Stefan comes to the rescue, saves him and the children. Is it possible that Kirby finally has someone to trust?

Now, if only it would be as easy for Kirby to trust Stefan with his heart.

"...Kirby was on the run with little Andy and Louise, having seen their father stabbed and left for dead. An unexpected attack at the train station left Kirby in a bloody mess and Stefan coming to the rescue. ... Love’s Design was a great addition to the Bodyguard, Inc. series, with a magical Christmas theme..."

What Others Are Saying:
“If you’re not reading this series, you really need to because it wins all the awesome!” ~Meredith at Diverse Reader

“When I read an R.J. Scott book I never fail to get a quiver in my body and a smile on my face. Love’s Design lived up to my expectations.”  ~Evelise at S.E.X. Reviews

What I Am Saying About Love's Design:
I will say that Kirby and Stefan may not be my favorite couple working at Bodyguards, Inc but they are still completely and utterly adorable that ranks them near the top.  Kirby may feel like he's floundering when it comes to taking care of his niece and nephew but he is doing what is most important, he's keeping them safe, keeping them loved, and doing everything he can to keep them fed.  Which is where Stefan comes into the picture, perhaps reluctantly but he still steps up and does what he does best, kicks a little ass and protects the hurt and innocent, although he may question Kirby's innocence he knows the little ones are.  RJ Scott has done it again and this time she's wrapped it in a big, sexy, hunky, beautiful Christmas bow.


What I am Saying for the Bodyguard, Inc Series:
Another great series by Miss Scott.  Even though each story is a standalone with the exception of characters being mentioned in passing or cameos, I'm writing an overall series review and each book easily deserves a 5 bookmark rating.  Many of us have some kind of bodyguard fantasy and with Bodyguards, Inc the reader gets a peak into the life of the occupation.  Each book has a little bit of everything, mystery, intrigue, drama, love, with definite levels of hotness throughout.  You might be thinking that what you have here is the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston movie Bodyguard with a gay twist, the truth is there are some similar elements but really, this series has so much more depth and appeal with every page.  Some say that relationships that are born during times of crisis and danger are not always everlasting but I think relationships, be it friends or lovers, can be built at any time and in these tales the author shows us how true it can really be.


Chapter One
“What the hell is he doing?” Stefan murmured as the man in the cheap suit moved out of the shadows and back into them again.

Tall, with his hands pressed deep into his jacket pockets, the man crossed from one side of the large empty waiting room to the other. His expression was one of determination, but his posture screamed anger, and it was difficult to tell which was winning from this distance. Stefan was killing time at Waverley, the train station in Edinburgh, waiting for the train holding his latest babysitting job to depart, and all he could focus on was this one man. Typical that even when he was supposed to be having a quiet time with his Kindle, Stefan spotted shit that just wasn’t right.

Call it boredom, call it a sixth sense, but the man in the suit was up to something. And he was one of three. He had two friends along for the ride: a tall guy and another as wide as he was tall, with his head disappearing into his thick neck. Abruptly, Stefan knew he had been looking at the man in charge of two heavies. Both Tall Guy and Neck Guy had disappeared into the bathrooms five minutes ago and had yet to come back out.

The Boss, as Stefan called him in his head, kept pausing outside the bathrooms, where a sign proclaimed “Cleaning in Progress”. The waiting area was sprawling, drafty and empty of all but a few diehards, probably those waiting for late arrivals, which were mostly delayed, due to snow.

Stefan knew something was going down in there and he fairly itched with the need to get involved.

“Not my circus, not my monkeys,” he muttered to himself. Kyle would kill him if he got involved with something that would call the wrath of MI6 down on them again. As it was, Kyle was trying to calm down the CIA after the whole missing-scientist incident, and almost had them agreeing to take Stefan back so that Stefan could hunt down whoever fucked up and exposed the scientist they’d had under protection.

Three suspicious men in a near-deserted railway station weren’t his problem. His problem was the annoyingly entitled investment banker who was now safely on a train with his next bodyguard, on his way to London. A glance at the board had Stefan wincing. He’d hoped to be gone from the station by now, but the snow was causing delays and some cancelations, and the London train would be the last on the board scheduled to leave, four hours late at nearly 10:00 p.m. The rest of the departures were listed with large signs saying everything had been canceled. No wonder the station was empty. And yes, he was bored.

One thing Stefan Mortimer didn’t do well, was sitting on his ass doing nothing. I’m bored. I need to get laid, and I need to go home. Not necessarily in that order. He’d been stuck in the UK for going on half a year now, and, by necessity, had slipped into working for Kyle at Bodyguards Inc. Not that he needed the money, but he was a man of action, and sitting around with his thumb up his ass was not the way he spent his time.

He sipped at his coffee, and the cold, bitter brew furred his tongue. He’d left it too long to drink while studying the dynamics of the man and his two bodyguards, and the drink hadn’t been that amazing to start with. Brits didn’t know how to make coffee, not like back home.

The man he’d been watching stopped pacing and checked his watch, then, with a brief look around the area, pushed through the bathroom door. He wouldn’t be able to see Stefan from that angle, not properly; to all intents and purposes Stefan looked like he was sleeping and was behind a metal grate enclosing a small area where he was hiding from having to interact with people.

As soon as that bathroom door shut, and with no real conscious decision, Stefan was on his feet, his hand automatically going for his weapon, then falling away when his brain caught up with his muscle memory. Scotland. No guns.

As he walked to the bathroom, he unzipped his jacket and flexed his arms a little to make sure he had full movement. He didn’t know what was happening behind that door, but he might need to think on his feet. Or, he might have to make a big deal out of washing his hands and retreating, if indeed nothing was going on.

He slipped through the door and waited just inside. The bathroom smelled of bleach, and the lights were low. There was a small entry area with long mirrors—two had large cracks in them—hand dryers, and an off-center arch that led through to the cubicles and urinals. That was where the noise was coming from. A rhythmic banging… and a whimper.

Either I’m walking in on an orgy, or shit is going down.

Stefan looked around for a weapon, anything he could use. Short of smashing a mirror, he had nothing, and only in the movies was smashing a mirror a good idea. Last time he’d tried it, he’d cut his arm open. He still had the scar to prove it. Stefan pulled back his shoulders and sauntered around the corner and into the main bathroom as if he had no better place to be. Like he belonged. Pacing Man from outside had his back to Stefan, Neck-Guy the same, but there was no sign of the victim or the third goon.

The third man came out of the last cubicle dragging something—a body—and looked directly at Stefan with a shocked expression. “Private party,” he said, brooking no argument. “Fuck off.”

Stefan slumped a little and made himself look as small and innocent as he could. “I just need to—”

“You need to leave.”

Stefan saw the blood, the body, saw the muscle-bound man turn and walk his way, observed Pacing Man step toward him as well. He knew exactly where they all were.

“What’s wrong?” Stefan asked. “Who’ve you got there? Your boyfriend?”

He knew better than to ask the bad people questions, but this seemed like a wisecracking kind of moment to him and he needed them all coming toward him.

Elephant-Necked Guy got to him first, a meaty hand on his shoulder, gripping hard and attempting to propel Stefan back out of the bathroom. Stefan allowed him to step forward, and then mid-step, when he was off balance, Stefan twisted his leg, caught the man behind the knee, and had him crashing into the urinals. His huge head smacked the porcelain, rendering him unconscious.

“Oops,” Stefan said. “My bad.”

Pacing Man stepped back in shock, and bodyguard two dropped the victim’s lifeless body before assuming a stance, clearly thinking this was coming down to a fight of some sort. Stefan steadied himself, waiting until he was gripped, and he had the second man unconscious at his feet with the judicious use of a bathroom door, a toilet, and a paper dispenser.

That just left Pacing Man.

Who, for fuck’s sake, had a gun on him.

“This is the UK, you know,” Stefan said, his breathing a little heavy. It had been a long time since he’d gotten physical with anyone, and it was showing. “No guns.”

“Fuck you,” Pacing Man said. “Turn around and leave.”

Stefan glanced at the body. Noticed movement, saw eyes open through blood, and shook his head. “Not happening.”

Pacing Man shook his gun. “I’ll shoot you.”

Stefan made a hundred small observations. Pacing Man was pale, a little shaky, the gun not quite so steady, but he had the gleam of something in his eyes, a confidence. Was he high? The victim groaned, made an effort to stand, grabbing at the slick tiled wall to find purchase.

“Help,” the beaten man pleaded.

“Why are you hitting him?” Stefan asked. He didn’t know what was going on here, but a gun against fists wasn’t a fair fight. He didn’t care why the guy on the floor had been beaten, because, whatever the reason for beating someone to a pulp, it didn’t sit right with him. Stefan stepped forward suddenly and Pacing Man reared back, fear in his face, his hand lax, and Stefan relieved him of his gun in the blink of an eye.

Pacing Man’s eyes widened, just before they shut as Stefan slammed his head against the bathroom door. Pacing Man twisted in his hold, taking Stefan by surprise, Stefan’s gun hand and the man’s head getting caught by the door as it slammed on them. Stefan felt the agonizing pain of mashed muscles and skin at the same time as Pacing Man slumped to the floor, unconscious.

Which left only Stefan and the victim awake.

Stefan leaned over and helped the bloody man stand, taking his weight even as they stumbled back against the wall.

“Help me,” the man said.

“Trying, buddy, really trying.” He attempted to hold the man upright though his wrist throbbed. He knew the pain would ease in a minute—he’d had injuries like this before—but, just at this moment, it hurt like a bitch.

The man exhaled noisily and wiped his face with his sleeve, blood smearing over pale, freckled skin.

“I need to get them,” he muttered.

“What’s your name?” Stefan began to move them out of the bathroom area.

“Help me,” the man said again.

Stefan helped him over the bodies on the floor; Elephant-Necked Guy was mumbling and groaning, and they only had a few minutes to get out of the bathroom before Stefan would have to hurt his fists again.

He reached awkwardly for the dropped gun and placed it in the small of his back. They needed to get the fuck out of here. He wasn’t sure he’d be up to taking on the big guy in there with only one hand in use and holding up the victim too, and he sure as hell wasn’t using a gun. “What’s your name?”

“Kirby,” the victim said.

“Okay, Kirby, let’s get you out of here.”

They made it out of the bathroom and out to the waiting room. Luckily for Stefan and Kirby, it was as empty as it was five minutes ago. Swiftly, Stefan moved Kirby along, but then Kirby balked and stopped.

“Wait,” he said on a painful exhale.

“What? No waiting. We need to get you to a hospital.” Hell, we need to get me to a hospital.

“Please,” Kirby whispered. He yanked himself away from Stefan, and the only thing stopping him from hitting the floor was the departures board support.

Stefan grabbed him to stop him from falling, intensely aware of the blood all over Kirby’s sweater and jacket. Kirby was bleeding, but from God knew where. Stefan had seen a cop here earlier, doing his rounds, or maybe it was a security guard. They’d exchanged nods, but the man was nowhere to be seen now.

“The hospital,” Stefan said firmly. He’d call the cops once he knew Kirby wasn’t bleeding internally.

“No.” Kirby shook his head, his eyes closing. “Help me.” Using Stefan as a crutch, he lean-dragged himself away from the support.

Stefan sighed noisily. He had half an eye on the bathroom door behind them and half an eye on every other fucking thing. Who the hell was this Kirby guy, and why were three men—well, one at least—beating on him?

“Help you how? You need a hospital.”

“No, they’ll be killed. Please.”

Who? Who’ll be killed? “What do you need me to do?”

“To the door, to get them,” Kirby mumbled.

They made it to a side corridor, and a door marked Staff Only.

Kirby leaned on the door. “Thank you.”

“What’s in there?” Stefan asked. Kirby’s thank-you sounded suspiciously like a dismissal. “Drugs? Is this a drugs thing?”

Kirby shook his head, and Stefan took the time to catalog the contusions under the blood. The blood on his face was from a split lip and a wicked-looking cut over one eye, and it had matted the long dark hair that fell around his face. He was skinny, short, and weighed nothing, but there was a fire in his bright emerald eyes.

“Thank you,” he said again and then waited for Stefan to leave.

“Not going anywhere.” Stefan was following this through to find out what the hell was hidden in the room. He had a gun in his possession, a man who’d been beaten, and three goons who were clearly after something. Stefan wasn’t letting this go.

A hundred thoughts must have passed through Kirby’s head, and they all telegraphed in his expression. Fear, anger, and finally resignation—at least those were the ones that Stefan read.

“Who the hell are you?” Kirby’s words were mumbled around a swelling mouth.

Stefan thought on his feet and pulled out the ID that he never left at home, realizing at the last minute that he’d have to reach across his body, because his right hand was way past sore. “Stefan Mortimer, CIA.” He waved it in front of Kirby, who grabbed at it and held it still.

“Fuck,” Kirby muttered.

“So, tell me what’s going on?”

Kirby leaned back against the door, and he pushed a hand into his pocket.

Stefan tensed. What was Kirby trying to retrieve? He only relaxed when Kirby pulled out a security card, which he pressed against the keypad.

“I stole a card.” Kirby wasn’t apologizing, merely explaining. The door lock released, and Kirby went into the room, with Stefan close behind. They shut the door and Stefan flicked on the lights. He didn’t know what he would see, but when boxes moved of their own accord, he tensed. What the hell?

Kirby stumbled toward the boxes, fell to his knees, and gathered two small children into his arms. Stefan felt himself go slack-jawed.


Not drugs, then.

The little girl was making that noise Stefan’s nieces made when they were just about to go into full-on, blubbering tears, and Kirby held her closer, muttering words under his breath but gripping the small girl tightly.

Stefan stepped forward to ask questions, He stopped himself. Someone else would deal with this; someone who was better placed to care about the man who had been beaten up. The same man who held these two children like they were the most precious things in the world.

And now the little girl was sobbing into Kirby’s neck. Stefan sighed inwardly, his innate sense of making things right pushing to the front.

“What is this?” he asked, glancing back to the door, but there was no danger, nothing chasing them. No one had seen them come into the room.

Kirby said nothing.

“Kirby?” Stefan crouched down by the three of them, reaching out a hand toward the crying girl before drawing it back.

She was all about Kirby and probably wouldn’t want a stranger talking to her. Finally, Kirby released his tight hold and opened his eyes—deep, remorse-filled green. He made to stand, off balance with the added weight of the girl and what looked like a slightly older boy hanging around his neck. Stefan held out a hand, but Kirby managed to stand without his help. Evidently he was used to the extra ballast.

“I am so sorry,” he said. He had a soft Scottish accent, more obvious now he was calmer. Maybe Kirby was from Edinburgh itself, or at least close by. “I had to leave Louise and Andy in here when I saw them.”

“You mean the guys looking to take you out?”

Kirby shook his head. “You shouldn’t get involved. We’ll be fine now.” Stefan saw he was talking directly to the young boy who nodded mutely. This must be Andy.

“You might have a concussion.” Stefan’s field training kicked in. “We need to get you to a hospital.”

Kirby smiled up at Stefan, although he grimaced with the pain of it and the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I don’t feel dizzy, just sore.”

Stefan wondered how much of a lie that was. Was he used to being beaten up? Hell, he couldn’t be more than a buck-sixty and at least six inches shorter than Stefan was.

“Just keep an eye on dizziness and feeling sick,” Stefan finally offered.

The little girl’s sobs had now reduced to hiccups, and huge blue eyes peeped at Stefan over Kirby’s shoulder: wet eyes with long lashes and tears sparkling in them.

“You’re bleeding,” Andy whispered. He touched Kirby’s face. “Did McLeod do that to you?”


Andy added something with resigned perception. “Was it Bull or Tommy?”

Kirby nodded. “It’s okay, though,” he said. “This man helped me, helped us.”

Andy slipped out of Kirby’s hold and looked up at Stefan.

Stefan was tall, a couple of inches over six feet and aware that he was probably intimidating, considering his white sweater was darkened with Kirby’s blood. He copied what Kirby had done, crouching low again, and held out his good hand. “Hello.”

Andy held out a hand and shook Stefan’s gently, his touch light and wary. “I’m Andy, and this is my sister Louise. She’s four, nearly five, and I’m seven.”

“Nice to meet you, Andy. What do you say we get Kirby to the hospital, huh?”

“We’re not going to the hospital,” Kirby snapped.

Andy winced at the harsh and unyielding tone of it. “No hospital if Uncle Kirby says no.” He pulled back his thin shoulders as he spoke.

Stefan didn’t like to see a kid wince that way, in fear, and he recognized the bravery that followed. He looked at Kirby, at the blood, at the pale wash of heat on his high cheekbones and the pain that bracketed his eyes. “Yes, we are. You, me, the kids, are all getting checked out.”

“I can’t,” Kirby said a little desperately. “If we do….”

“He’ll find us,” Andy finished.

Stefan looked from Kirby to the little boy and back. “Who will? One of the guys I knocked out?”

Andy’s eyes widened. “You did? All of them? Bull as well?”

“Is Bull the big guy with no neck?” Stefan asked.

Andy nodded. “Aye.”

“Yeah,” Stefan said. “Even him.”

Andy’s eyes widened. “Really?”

Kirby moved between Stefan and Andy. He evidently wanted to cut off the fledgling hero worship. “We need to go,” he said. “The bairns and I, we need to go. Now.”

Stefan translated the word bairns to mean children. “Sorry, can’t do that,” he replied. “I need some answers, and I need them now before I call Security.”

If anything, Kirby’s face paled further at those words and Stefan saw his gaze dart guiltily to the door.

“I’m just taking my niece and nephew for a break,” Kirby said quickly and started to brush past Stefan.

“I don’t believe you.” Stefan gripped Kirby’s arms, startled at the sheer fear in the other man’s eyes and wondering whether, if he looked hard enough, he could find a glimmer of guilt.

“Let. Me. Go.” Kirby’s words had an edge to them, an edge of violence, and it was all Stefan could do not to scoop up the kids there and then. Violence in a man with children this small didn’t bear thinking about. “I don’t know who you are, but you need to leave me and the bairns alone,” Kirby said firmly, drawing himself as tall as he was able. “He can’t have them, and I swear if you try anything, I will call Security myself.”

“Who can’t have them? Is someone after you? Is it Child Protection? What are you trying to do?” Stefan asked.

“Leave us alone,” Kirby forced out, rubbing soothing motions into the girl’s back as she whimpered at his raised voice.

Stefan realized the more Kirby talked, the more involved Stefan became. Clearly there was an agenda here, and Stefan wasn’t sure he wanted to be a part of it. He wanted to know why a man and two children were being chased down. What was Kirby’s connection to the kids? And who the hell were Bull, Tommy, and Pacing Man? Kirby would be going to the hospital if Stefan had his way, but first things first, Stefan needed to assess this situation.

“I’m calling Security,” he decided. Something was wrong here, and he had to get the authorities involved.

Stefan didn’t see Kirby move or put the little girl down, but he sure as hell felt the punch that snapped his head back. He immediately went on the defensive, grabbing Kirby, twisting him around, and pressing him to the wall.

Kirby yelped in pain, but Stefan wasn’t letting go just yet. He felt tiny fists on his thighs.

“Leave him alone, let him go!”

Both kids were thumping him. Stefan loosened his hold, watching as Kirby slid down the wall, and the two children moved to stand between him and Kirby.

“Please,” Kirby said, “No police.”

The way he said police—poe-leece—was so soft, and pleading was clear in every cell of him.

“Don’t touch my uncle,” the boy snapped, fierceness in his expression.

Stefan held up his hands. “I won’t touch him.”

“Let us go,” Kirby murmured. “Go away so I can find somewhere safe.”

Stefan thought on his feet and crouched again, so he was on the same level as the kids. “I can help you, but you have to tell me something first.”

The boy frowned but didn’t lower his fists or step away from Kirby. “What?” he asked suspiciously.

“Is he really your uncle?”

The frown didn’t drop. “Yes.” The boy nudged the girl. “Tell him, Lou.”

“Tell him what?” The girl, Lou, didn’t have her fists up. Her eyes were bright with tears, but she was as brave as her brother, standing as a barrier between Kirby and Stefan.

“Tell him you want to stay with Uncle Kirby.”

She didn’t answer in words; she nodded, then slipped back and into Kirby’s arms.

Stefan eyed the tableau critically. “Okay, I’ll get you all away from here, as long as your uncle promises to see a doctor.”

“I will,” Kirby said. “Let us go, and I will go straight to a hospital when I can.”

Stefan didn’t like to point out the contradiction in going straight there and the added “when I can.” He would cross that bridge when he came to it.

“This is how it’s going to go,” Stefan began. “We’re leaving.” He stared past the small boy and into Kirby’s green eyes, wondering what kind of man Kirby was.

“We’re getting a train,” Kirby said.

“Not tonight, you’re not. They shut the station down, issues with snow.”

“Shit.” The curse was loud and made Lou wince.

“Why do those men want you, Kirby? What did you do, and whose kids are these?” There, that was all the questions Stefan had at this moment.

Kirby stared at him, holding the girl tight. Maybe Kirby wasn’t bleeding internally, but he looked like shit. Kirby stumbled to stand, using the wall to support himself. Stefan took a step closer, and, in response, Kirby moved to one side, his hands on Andy’s shoulders, his legs hitting boxes. He looked scared and defiant, and he stepped forward so he was between Stefan and the children as much as he could be.

Andy still had his hands clenched at his sides, and there was a scowl on his face. “McLeod hurt Daddy, stuck a knife in him and made him fall down,” Andy said. “We saw him do it.”

Stefan looked from Andy to Kirby and put two and two together immediately. The kid’s dad was knifed, and the uncle was taking them from Edinburgh? Jesus, this was worse than he thought. “The children are witnesses to something?”

Kirby nodded mutely, and the horror of what was happening here hit Stefan. This was stupid; they needed to call the cops.

“An’ Uncle Kirby was keeping us safe,” Andy added. “Don’t you hurt him.”

Stefan shook his head, as struck dumb as Kirby was. The pain in his wrist was more of a dull ache, so it clearly wasn’t that bad. Either that or adrenaline was numbing him. Wouldn’t be the first time. He had to trust Kirby and his niece and nephew were in danger, and this was what Stefan did best—he handled threats, and he looked out for people.

“We need to get you out of here. Where’s your car?”

Kirby blinked at him. “We were going to…. I don’t have a car.”

“Okay. I have one. I’m in the main parking area.” He stopped talking and instead internalized all the steps needed to get Kirby and the children to his waiting car and then the authorities. By now the three men he’d dealt with would be awake. “Follow me and stay behind me. Okay?”

“Uncle Kirby?” Andy said from behind him.

“It’s okay, Andy. You remember the rules.”

“Aye, run, and if they catch me, I scream right loud, like a girl.”

The kid looked so earnest. His short dark hair was in a messy pile of sticking-up bits, his eyes were damp, but he’d spoken with complete determination.

Kirby nodded. “And stay with me.”

Andy looked up at Stefan. “You a bad guy who’s good?”

What Stefan landed himself in, he didn’t know, but hell if he was abandoning one skinny man with intriguing green eyes and two small kids.

A bad guy was not who he was. He was a typical good guy, who was quite happy being the bad guy if it kept innocent civilians safe. That was who Stefan Mortimer was.

And he was excellent at his job.

Chapter Two

Kirby held Louise tight and eased over one shoulder the backpack he’d left in the room with his niece and nephew. The burn was intense. Tommy had hit his mark each time. God knows what would have happened if Bull had joined in. Kirby should thank the heavens that Stefan had found them before he ended up a bloody mess or worse on a bathroom floor. They wanted Andy and Louise, and there was no way Kirby would crack and tell them where they were.

“Come on, Andy, he won’t hurt us,” Kirby lied. How the hell would he know what this superhero was going to do? He was CIA, but that wasn’t a cop, so he wouldn’t know who McLeod was, wouldn’t know how bad this situation was for Andy and Louise. He held out a hand to Andy, which the child took immediately.

“I’ll take the boy,” Stefan ordered, attempting to wrest Kirby’s grip from Andy.

Andy shouted a sharp “No!”

“What the hell? Stop it! For God’s sake, you’re scaring him,” Kirby snarled, his free hand coming out to block Stefan’s movement.

They stood staring at each other.

“I’m scaring him?” Stefan sounded incredulous. “How can I be scaring him? I’m trying to help him.”

“Just be gentle.” Kirby’s voice was determined, firm, but it wasn’t enough to get Stefan to stand down. At this point, Kirby wasn’t sure that anything he could say would make Stefan stand down. Kirby’s voice was low, his hand raised, palm upward, entreating Stefan not to make a fuss. As Stefan moved again, Kirby switched suddenly from simply telling to instant pleading. “Please, don’t hurt him. Just help us out of here.”

Stefan looked confused for a moment, and then, more carefully, he held out his hands. Andy looked from Kirby to Stefan before accepting the lift up. He curled into Stefan’s neck.

“Uncle Kirby?” Louise’s voice was so low that Stefan almost missed it. “I’m thirsty.”

The little girl was oblivious to most of what had happened today, but however used to the violence she was, she had to be scared and uncertain, and in turn, Kirby had to be the strong one. It broke his heart to hear her soft voice. “We’ll get you a drink soon, sweetie. You’re going to be okay?”

She nodded. Then it was clearly time to go. With the silent impasse, the tension curling between the two men, Kirby waited as Stefan opened the door a crack to peer outside.

“It’s clear,” Stefan announced.

Kirby wanted to ask him if he was sure, but he didn’t. Stefan was CIA; he must know what he was doing. More so than Kirby, general fuck-up and a waste of space, would.

Stefan turned back to him. “New rules. You stay with me, you don’t run off, we find the cops, and we sort this out.”

Kirby’s world shifted. “No, I can’t. We can’t. Please.” If the cops knew he was here, if they knew about McLeod, and Robbie, they would take one look at Kirby and take Andy and Louise. He wasn’t going to let that happen.

“What?” Stefan frowned.

“No cops, please. Just let me get them safe.”

Then what? Kirby asked himself. He didn’t even know what the fuck he was doing. Getting a train from Edinburgh to freaking anywhere hadn’t gone well so far after the snow had canceled so many departures.

“We need to report this,” Stefan persisted.

“I’ll explain everything. Just get us away.” Pain knifed through him from his chest, which Louise’s weight pressed on, and he couldn’t help the gasp of pain. “Please.”

Stefan stared at him, incredulous, and clearly two seconds away from calling emergency services and bringing the full weight of the law down on the idiot who thought he could fix everything.

“I’m not promising anything.”

“Then I will take them and run.”

“Fu—freaking idiot.” Stefan corrected his cursing. “People want to hurt you.”

“Not as much as I want to hurt them,” Kirby snapped.

Stefan’s lips tightened, He relaxed and exhaled noisily. He’d clearly read something in Kirby’s expression, probably the evidence that Kirby was not taking this to the cops.

“Okay, but the minute I think—”

“Thank you,” Kirby interrupted.

Stefan peered back out of the door. “Walk normally,” he said under his breath. “Hide your face.”

Kirby didn’t argue. He tried to walk as normally as he could despite every part of him screaming that he should run fast and far. He hid the bruises on his face and the blood that pooled at his throat behind Louise’s long hair and hoped to hell no one stopped them.

They made it out of the waiting area, and Kirby refused to look at the door to the bathrooms. What if McLeod was awake, or Tommy and Bull? With what Andy and Louise knew, those guys weren’t going to let them get away.

They crossed two roads before entering the parking lot. Kirby wanted to look around them, wanted to ensure Robbie and his goons weren’t waiting for them, but he didn’t. With absolute focus, he followed Stefan, walking just a few feet behind him, fixated entirely on the slightly limping walk that Stefan had going on.

That man was a goddamn hero; he’d dispatched McLeod and Tommy—not to mention Bull—in just a few simple movements. He was capable and clever, and he’d get them out of here. They reached a large black 4x4, and the sound of the doors unlocking was loud in the nearly empty part of the parking lot.

With quick motions, both men had the back doors open. Only then did Kirby realize there were no car seats. He closed his eyes briefly. They needed car seats. His eyes caught Stefan’s, and he knew that was the least of their worries. He strapped Louise in, watched as Stefan did the same with Andy, and then they climbed into the front.

“Please drive safely,” Kirby murmured. “Don’t hurt the bairns.”

Stefan cast him a quick glance that spoke volumes. If looks could kill, Kirby would be dead already.

Efficiently, Stefan had them out of the parking lot and onto the main road until the glow of the city receded and they were on the M8 driving southwest. Stefan kept checking his mirror.

“Are we being followed?” Kirby asked.

“No, I can’t see that we are.”

“You can drop us anywhere.” Kirby looked back at Andy and Louise, both dozing in the belts. “Soon. I don’t like them in the car without seats.”

“Seems like the least of your worries,” Stefan commented evenly. “Want to tell me what the fuck just happened?”

Kirby shook his head and faced front. “Drop us off at a bus stop or something.”

“Of course I can do that,” Stefan said.

Kirby sighed with relief; he’d been expecting Stefan to argue. “Thank you.”

“As soon as you tell me where you’re going. What bus stop should I be dropping you at?”

Shit. Kirby should have known that Stefan wasn’t letting this lie. He thought on his feet. “I have family in Jedburgh,” he lied.

“No, you don’t.”

“I do.”

“Kirby, stop. I’m not dropping you or the children anywhere for some freaking bus at nearly eleven at night. It’s freezing out there. You’d last five minutes.” They stopped at a junction, and Stefan crossed his hands on the wheel as they waited for the lights to change. He seemed to be favoring his right hand, and it looked swollen. Had he hurt it trying to help Kirby? “Stop messing about. What do you need?”

“No cops.”

“I got that. What do you need?”

“Sleep. Somewhere for the children to sleep, somewhere I can clean up. To think.”

Stefan nodded. “Finally, the truth.” He pulled into a gas station and cut the engine. “Stay here. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

Kirby nodded mutely. Where the hell would he go? Take Andy and Louise and run. But run where? Stefan had stopped in the middle of freaking nowhere, despite being on the main road. The snow was persistent but not heavy, the roads were still white with it, and anyone passing would be unlikely to pick them up. Was Stefan in there calling the police?

Stefan came back pretty quickly, with a carrier bag of stuff that he stowed next to Kirby’s seat. Kirby didn’t ask about the police; he had to trust Stefan. They left the service station and took the next road winding out into the countryside, with Stefan visibly looking for something in particular. They ended up driving for about ten minutes, and the outskirts of a small town began to emerge on the otherwise deserted road. The sign read “Livingstone,” and there was a Premier Inn. Stefan went in, paid, then drove to the rear of the hotel, parking the car under the trees by the snowdrifts against the wall, around a corner and out of sight of anyone happening to pass.

The man who had saved them had skills.

“We can go in the rear.” Stefan took the carrier bag, opened the back door and scooped up a dozing Andy, who murmured in his sleep, then woke and wriggled to be let down. Stefan let him slip to the ground as Kirby picked up the sleeping Louise. Soon the four of them had made their way through the rear entrance with their key card, and up one flight of stairs to room 210.

Kirby didn’t know what he was doing. Why did he trust this man? What secrets would he have to keep to stay safe? Fuck, how were they in a hotel room with a strange man?

What had happened to keeping his head down and staying alive?

Author Bio:
RJ Scott has been writing since age six when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies and was told to write a story. Two sides of A4 about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born. She reads anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror; however, her first real love will always be the world of romance. From billionaires, bodyguards and cowboys to SEALs, throwaways and veterinarians, she writes passionate stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and more than a hint of happily ever after.


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