Teaser: Can’t Fight This Feeling

Forgive me, darling readers. December was a horrible month for us. And to make matters more complicated, I had dental surgery on the same day as the release of Can’t Fight This Feeling, Book 2 in the Craving 1985 Series. All went well and I’m recovering, but I can’t believe I forgot to post a teaser for the release of Rob and Marcy’s book! Allow me to rectify this now.

Welcome to 1985

Marcy Maxwell

I’ve worked damned hard to get where I am. After a failed marriage to an abusive asshole, I’m in no hurry to dive into another relationship. My business is booming, and I’m rubbing shoulders with the cream of New York!
But when one of my clients gets rough, I have no one to back me up. So I run to the one man who will bandage me up without judgment. My brother’s best friend. He knows too much, has seen me at my worst, and is completely off-limits.

Dr. Rob Thompson
I’ve been in love with my best friend’s sister from the first moment I met her. But she hates my guts. After her divorce, I watched her hit rock bottom. Her pride and persistence made her ten times hotter, and a million times more stubborn. There’s no convincing her of anything, let alone my sincerity. Until she finds herself in hot water.
I would do anything for her, even if it means sacrificing everything.


Chapter One

Marcy

I hate weddings.

That’s the first thought I had when my brother told me he was getting married. I love Arthur and Kate, but the thought of helping to plan a wedding and being an active participant in the whole event leaves my skin crawling.

I tried it once, the whole marriage thing. It’s bogus. I’d rather use my toothbrush to clean the bathrooms in Grand Central than tie the knot again.

But this isn’t about what I want. This is about my brother finding the love of his life across time itself. I don’t know how much of Kate’s story I believe. I mean, it’s pretty hard to swallow the yarn she told me.

From the future? Yeah, sure. Whatever.

But she makes my brother happy, and she’s pretty awesome. So I’m not going to rain on their parade.

I slide a tip into the caterer’s hand. “Thanks.”

“Enjoy your party.” He nods and leaves with his crew in tow.

“Did you finish those favors yet?” I ask my assistant, Liana, while I inspect the cake.

“Yeah. When did Arthur say Kate would be back?”

“Rob should be bringing her any minute.” I glance at the clock. Five to five.

Arthur suggested I throw a small bachelorette party for Kate instead of a bridal shower. I had no idea what it was until he explained. I guess it’s a big deal in the future. I don’t know. But it gives me an excuse to kick back and relax. Work has been crazy lately, and I’m in desperate need of some downtime.

Besides, Kate doesn’t have a lot of friends. And that resonates deep. I remember a time when I had no one but Arthur looking out for me. Well, Rob was there too, in a way offering support, especially that night…

I shake my head at the direction of my thoughts. I will not think about that night or my brother’s best friend. Not now. Not ever.

We put the finishing touches on the decorations. The moment the door opens, Liana pops the champagne.

Kate jumps and laughs, her eyes wide as she enters Arthur’s penthouse. “Marcy.” She puts her hands on her hips. “Did your brother put you up to this?”

I wrap my arm around her waist and lead her into the living room I converted into our party oasis. “He may have mentioned it in passing.”

“Thank you.” Kate takes a champagne flute from Liana.

“You’ve given us a reason to celebrate.” I wink and take the offered glass from Donna. “I never thought I’d see Arthur delirious in love.”

“To love then.” Kate lifts her glass. The small group of women around us cheer in agreement and drink.

I can’t toast to that. I won’t. Love ruined me. My hand trembles as I bring the glass to my lips.

A shadow flickers by the door.

Rob stands in the entryway, leaning against the doorframe, his blue eyes narrowed on me. His dark blond hair is short enough to keep it out of his eyes but long enough to run fingers through it. From a distance, he’s the perfect image of a medical professional. But I’ve seen him up close and personal.

That man is a hazard to my health.

While Kate is distracted by the small buffet and animated conversation, I cross the room, bracing for an oncoming storm with Rob.

“Thanks for bringing Kate.” I gesture to the door. “You can go now.”

A lopsided smile transforms his face from serious to amused, and he presses his hand to his heart. “That eager to kick me out? I’m hurt.”

“You’re so dramatic. Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Arthur hasn’t even left work.” He straightens, and I’m reminded of the staggering height difference between us. He looks down at me. “Why do you hate me, Marcy?”

“I don’t hate you.” A lump lodges in my throat and I swallow it. “I just don’t have time for playboys.”

Rob scoffs. “I’m not a playboy.”

“Whatever. Now shoo. This party doesn’t include you.” I press my hand against his chest, urging him back toward the door. He’s like a brick wall beneath my hand. I ignore the way his body flexes beneath my touch.

“Fine. We’ll be at the bar, then crash at my place.” He collides with the wall by the door and rests his hand on the knob. “Enjoy your evening.”

The moment the door closes behind him, relief and regret simultaneously slam into me. Why does he make me feel this way—twisted up and confused to the point I can’t think clearly? I know there’s sexual tension between us, but exploring it is not an option. Period.

I return to the party. The half dozen ladies I’ve gathered to celebrate Kate’s status as bride-to-be are ready for food and booze. By the time we cut the cake, the tension between Rob and me has lessened to a nagging pinprick in the back of my mind.

Kate curls up on the couch beside me, balancing her plate in one hand and stabbing bits of cake with a fork. “Thanks for the party, Marcy. You didn’t have to do this.”

I wave my hand. “Don’t worry about it. I like the idea of this much more than a stuffy, boring bridal shower.”

“The only thing missing is some strippers.” Kate laughs and stuffs a bite of cake in her mouth.

“Strippers?” I gawk at her before chuckling. “Why didn’t I think of that?” My voice drops low so only she can hear me. “Is that a big thing in the future?”

She nods adamantly.

“The future sounds like a wild trip.”

Kate’s mood sobers, her eyes glistening with tears. “It’s…different.”

My heart goes out to her. I have no frame of reference for the emotions she must be feeling—torn from her life and thrown into the past. It must be terrifying and heartbreaking. She doesn’t offer any details, but she doesn’t have to. Arthur’s told me enough to know she felt like an outsider in her own time.

I wrap my arm around her and pull her against me. She leans her head on my shoulder. We’ve all felt that way at some point, and even though she can’t talk about it, I want her to know I’m here if she needs me.

“So what’s going on with you and Rob?”

Well, that shatters the heartwarming moment. Kate sits up, her gaze curious when it fixes on me.

“Nothing. Why?” I sip my drink and focus on a streamer hanging on the far wall.

“Come on. I may have been here less than six months, but I’m not blind. You two have some kind of thing going on.”

“We most certainly do not have a thing,” I growl. “He’s my brother’s best friend. That’s it.”

“Really?” She looks unconvinced.

“Look, it’s simple. The only thing we have in common is Arthur. That’s it. There is nothing between us.”

“Would you want something?”

“With Rob?” I scoff. “Not in a million years.”

“Why?” Kate’s question is like a blade through my heart. “He’s a nice guy. I think you two would make a great couple.”

“I just don’t look at him that way.”

“Why not? He looks at you like he wants to—”

“It’s complicated,” I snap.

Hurt fills her eyes at my harsh response.

I sigh and take her hand. “Let’s not talk about this non-existent thing between Rob and me.”

“I just want to see you as happy as Arthur and me.” She squeezes my hand. “You deserve to be happy, Marcy.”

She knows the truth of my messy past; she’s just too kind to bring it up. I’m sure Arthur has filled her in on the details of my failed marriage and my subsequent struggle. How I refused to take his money and clawed my way up from the ground to reach this point. Arthur walked beside me the whole way, but I wouldn’t let him help me.

It was something I had to do myself. To prove I am strong enough to overcome what that bastard did to me.

“Thanks, sugar.” I kiss her cheek. “Let’s focus on you for now. In a week, you’ll be married and off on your honeymoon.”

“It’s so exciting.” Joy fills her eyes at the reminder.

“Have you picked a destination yet?”

“Italy. He’s promised to show me Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan. A whirlwind tour of the country over two weeks.”

Jealousy rears its head. Not over the trip to Italy. I could buy a ticket and spend a year roaming the country with the funds I have tucked away. No, it’s not the destination causing me pain; it’s that she’ll have Arthur by her side for the adventure. They’ll share the experience, and it’ll be a memory they carry into their golden years together. I can’t help but envy that.

“Nona would be so proud.” I beam at her, swallowing the sting of my own disappointment. “Be sure to take plenty of pictures.”

“I wish I had my iPhone. This film stuff is so old-school.” Kate claps her hand over her mouth. “Forget I said that.”

“Oh, honey, if I don’t recognize something you say, I block it out.” I wink. “At some point, I’ll figure it all out, but I don’t need to know the future. The present is enough of a challenge.”

“That’s true.” Kate leans back against the couch. “If there’s no stripper, then what do you have planned for us?”

“Well, I have two options. Games or gossip,” I tell the group as the guests gather around us. “What’ll it be?”

“You work with the hottest celebrities on a daily basis,” Kate’s coworker, Gladys, says with a glint in her eyes. “Let’s gossip.”

“What about both?” Kate asks, sitting up. “Marcy can name a celebrity, and we’ll ask her yes-or-no questions. If it’s yes, she drinks. If it’s no, we drink.”

“Sounds like a dangerous game but I’m in.” Liana settles a chair nearby and fills her wine glass.

While the other women scramble to fill their glasses, I prepare myself mentally for this game. Normally, I wouldn’t encourage gossip about my clients. But these ladies know me well enough to keep it within the bounds of my established rules. I may work in an industry that allows me to rub shoulders with the elite of New York City, but I’m certainly not a snitch or a sellout.

“Here is the only rule.” My gaze skims over the five guests and the bride-to-be. “I reserve the right to not answer a question if it crosses the line of client confidentiality, but I’ll entertain all questions before making that decision. Deal?”

“Deal,” they chime in unison.

“All right, Kate. You pick the first celebrity.”

“Jon Bon Jovi.” Her eyes sparkle. “Is his hair as soft as it looks?”

With a wicked grin, I salute her and take a drink. The ladies cheer my confirmation.

The evening continues with laughter and scandalous revelations about our favorite celebrities. Since I found success as a stylist to the stars, my view of celebrity culture has changed. I see them as people first, not commodities. Not all of them are pleasant, but for every asshole, there are ten who treat me with respect and courtesy.

I’ve spent a lot of time building my reputation as the top stylist in the city. It doesn’t put me in the spotlight like being an actor would, but it’s my passion and I’m proud of my accomplishments.

By the end of the night, I’m pleasantly exhausted. I’m not as young as my mind thinks I am, and these late nights take their toll. I’m closing in on forty. That alone terrifies me. The last thing I want is to wake up at seventy with regrets. Maybe I should start figuring out what I want to do outside of my established empire.

In one week, my brother will be married to a wonderful woman, and I’ll be on my own again.

That’s not true. My family will expand with Kate’s presence. I just can’t help but feel the gaping hole in my chest expanding.

Why should I need a man? I’ve done just fine without one. The last thing I need is another asshole barging into my life, ruining my hard work, and stealing my thunder before beating me unconscious.

To hell with marriage and men. After Arthur and Kate’s wedding next week, I’ll wash my hands of the whole institution.


I hope you enjoyed this little teaser! Thanks for stopping by.

xoxo,

Kirsten

New Year, New Challenges, New Steamy Reads!

Hello, darlings. Welcome to 2023, where the stakes are made up and the points don’t matter. Seriously though, I’m glad you’re here. 2022 was a rough year on my family, and with so many changes in our lives, I feel like 2023 is about to serve us some uphill battles. Am I ready for that? Nope. Not at all. But I’ll do what I need to do to support my family.

Last year, I made some pretty lofty goals for my year. While I didn’t meet them, I made significant strides in expanding my community and finding people who improve my personal and professional life. This year, I hope to continue to grow, expand, learn, and adapt.

Writing is my passion, my escape. It’s a blessing I’ve been able to do it for the past ten years with the unwavering support of my family and friends. I’ve learned a lot of skills that make me a faster and better organized author. My goal this year is to offer that support to other authors who might need a boost.

Besides writing and publishing my work, I’m looking to expand and offer author services. There’s nothing official yet. I’m still noodling around the ideas, but until my books finally reach the readers they’re intended for, I would like to share my knowledge and help other romance authors. I’d rather do that than clean rooms at the Motel 6 downtown. (While I’ve done that before, it’s not my favorite job.) Once I get more information, I’ll make a post and share it on my social media.

Now, if you’re here for the updates on current writing projects. Well, have I got news for you. I’m currently writing Just What I Needed Book 5 in the Craving 1985 Series. It’s coming along nicely. I’m already in love with Jessica and Cyril. It’s a time travel romance where the chauffeur from Book 1 finds himself caught in the same time slip as Kate and transported to the present, where he falls for his boss’s daughter. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but it’s so much fun.

For the last two years, I made it a point to release my books on a set schedule. One book every quarter in March, June, September, and December. The book releases on the last Tuesday of the month. Simple. Easy to remember. I already have March and June’s books written. I’m working on September’s and December’s is next. See, I told you I have a plan.

My intention is to release a prequel romance novel under my pen name, Jen Bradlee, in November. It will be a medieval romance focusing on Guy and Marian from The Prince of Whisper’s Trilogy I released last year. I’m excited about this one. Enemies to lovers. Forced proximity. Unlikely partnership. Slow burn. Guy of Gisborne/Richard Armitage vibes. He’s no knight in shining armor, and she’s no damsel in distress. There are bound to be fireworks. I anticipate the steam level to rival Crispin’s first book, but we’ll see. I’ll be releasing the new shiny cover for that one soon.

If you want updates dropped right in your email inbox, my monthly newsletter will have all the information you need to stay up to date on sales, releases, and other special events. Click the link at the top right of the page above the Robert Downey Jr. GIF and sign up. You’ll also get access to my free short stories through Bookfunnel if you sign up.

My heartfelt thanks to you for your love and support. If you enjoy my stories, even a little, please send me a message. They’re love letters to the author and I treasure them. They get me through the roughest days. Truly.

Here’s to another amazing year! May the muse be with you all.

All my love,

Kirsten.

Romantic Short: Naughty Feels So Nice

Originally published on RomanticShorts.com, Naughty Feels So Nice presents a fun and oh-so-steamy holiday-themed venture into the possibilities of Christmas magic. This story is quick, witty, and sparkling with some non-traditional cheer. Before you continue, please be aware, this short story contains coarse language and detailed sexual content. If you are under 18 or uninterested in a steamy holiday romp, please leave now. Read on, but beware: the title of this one is bang on!

Thank you and enjoy!

Naughty Feels So Nice

by Kirsten S. Blacketer

Joyful Christmas music filters through the speakers overhead and echoes across the now empty forty-fifth floor. I want to rip the speakers out of the wall and stuff them down my boss’ throat. The handsome, insufferable asshole.

If he were any other man on the planet, I would be first in line to climb him like a tree. But I have standards, and sleeping with my boss is a hard limit I have no intention of breaking. I need this job too much to risk it over some sexy fun time with my undeniably attractive boss.

“Hey, Holly, you done?” My coworker and close friend, Melody, bounds toward my desk with her usual perky enthusiasm. “The party’s already started down in the conference room.”

“Yeah, I’m just finishing a few things up for the Grinch…I mean Mr. Rosenfeld.” I smile, but it does nothing to hide the bitterness lacing every word.

Melody smothers her laughter behind her hand. “Oh, come on. He’s not that bad.”

I scoff. “Maybe not to you and the rest of the staff, but I’m the one who deals with his bad moods and overflowing inbox.”

“Okay, maybe he is a bit of a grump but he’s…”

“An asshole?” I grumble under my breath.

“I was going to say gorgeous, with that thick, dark hair and those soulful brown eyes. Oh, and those kissable lips.” She props her hand on her hip.

I laugh-snort. “Yeah, if you like those narcissistic, workaholic types.” I refuse to admit, even to Melody, that Mr. Rosenfeld is undeniably sexy. But it didn’t change the fact that I harbor a strong dislike for him and his heavy-handed micromanagement.

“Whatever you say, Sugar.” She leans in conspiratorially. “Admit it, you’d love for him to bend you over that desk…”

“Melody!” I screech glancing over my shoulder at his dark office.

“Fine.” Melody throws her hands up. “Oh, did you see the memo they sent out this morning?” She frowns. “No bonus this year. I was counting on it to pay for my family trip next spring.”

Acid burns in my gut. “Yeah, I saw.” I pull out my paystub from the week before and unfold the letter that accompanied it. “But at least you didn’t take a pay cut.”

“They didn’t!” She snatches the letter from my hand and scans it. Her expression softens with sympathy. “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. How could they do this at Christmas?”

I take the letter back and tuck it into my desk drawer. “It’s Mr. Rosenfeld. He’s heartless.” Fury boils beneath my skin. “At this rate, I’m going to have to put an ad in the paper for a roommate to help cover my costs. Living in the city isn’t worth the financial hassle but the commute is nearly as bad.”

“Well, at least you still have a job.” Melody lowers her voice. “I was talking to Josie down in HR yesterday, and she told me the company cut twenty positions this month alone!”

The news stuns me for a moment, but it doesn’t surprise me. The company took some major hits this year, and trimming personnel is the easiest way to staunch hemorrhaging cash. I mutter a prayer of thanks I wasn’t on that chopping block. I need this job. Which is why I didn’t tell my asshole boss to go stuff himself in a woodchipper when he dropped a pile of paperwork on my desk this afternoon with instructions to have it completed before the party.

“I guess someone up there is looking out for me.” I flip through the last file on my desk and groan. “I need to finish this up. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

“Okay, but you’d better hurry up. I heard they convinced Adam to dress up as Santa.” She winks.

“You mean sexy Adam who works down in marketing?” I shiver at the thought. The man is tall, dark, and irresistible. He’s almost as handsome as Mr. Rosenfeld. I’ve had my eye on him for a while but never dared to say anything.

“You think he’ll let us sit on his lap?” Melody bounces up and down.

“Girl, he better. I need something to distract me from the last month of disappointments.” Someone to take my mind off my boss and this unrelenting attraction simmering beneath my skin.

The elevator dings and slides open, and as if summoned with my thoughts, Mr. Rosenfeld steps onto the floor.

“Miss Bradshaw, aren’t you finished yet?” His cool, dark gaze lingers longer than necessary, making my face warm.

“Just finishing now, Sir.”

“Miss Harper.” His attention shifts to Melody. “I believe the festivities have already begun.”

“Yes, Sir.” She shoots me an apologetic look and heads for the elevator.

A caustic response burns the tip of my tongue, but I bite it back knowing it will only earn me more work and possibly cost me my position. Instead, I focus on typing the report into the system.

Mr. Rosenfeld hovers over my shoulder for a moment longer than is professional or comfortable. When he finally retreats into his office, I exhale the breath I’d been holding. Asshole.

Within ten minutes, I finish uploading the last numbers into the database and power down my workstation. Thank God because I need a drink. I grab my bag head straight for the elevator hoping to avoid another confrontation with Mr. Rosenfeld.

The doors slide open. Once inside, I turn and reach for the button that takes me to the second floor where the party has already started. Mr. Rosenfeld steps in just as the doors begin to close.

My spine stiffens, and I brace for some harsh criticism of my work or a rude observation of my attire, which he’s maintained over the past year is inappropriate for the workplace. I sniff and avoid eye contact.

When the door seals, I’m hyper-aware of the man beside me. The musky scent of his aftershave tickles my nose. His broad shoulders take up too much space in the cramped elevator I’ve shared with ten coworkers on numerous occasions with no issue.

I lick my lips and stare at the numbers as they slowly count down. The descent makes my legs wobble as the car vibrates around us. I try not to think of the empty space beneath the car and how high the forty-fifth floor really is. My heart races, but it’s not a fear of heights or death pushing me off balance. No. It’s Mr. Rosenfeld’s presence.

“You look pale, Miss Bradshaw.” His deep voice echoes in the confined space. “Is everything all right?”

“I’m fine, Sir.” I brace my hand on the wall.

“You don’t look fine.” His words burn with insensitivity.

“Since when do you care.” I turn and level him with a hard stare. Irritation ricochets through me even though I realize I probably won’t have a job on Monday morning. I’m beyond caring at this point. “I’ve been your assistant for the past two years, and this is the first time you’ve ever engaged in small talk. I do everything that’s asked of me and more. Yet never once have you ever inquired after my health or paid me a compliment.” I narrow my gaze. “So, don’t pretend like you suddenly give a shit about me, okay?”

At six-foot, he’s a full head taller than me and could easily wrap his hand around my throat and squeeze the life from me. That’s exactly what I imagine he’s considering behind that blank expression as his dark eyes search my face. A muscle ticks in his jaw before he finally turns his attention back to the elevator doors.

A ding announces our arrival as the elevator comes to a smooth stop. Mr. Rosenfeld exits without another word.

I wait until he disappears around the corner before stepping into the hallway. “Shit.”

Over the past year, I’ve imagined a hundred different ways of telling Mr. High-And-Mighty to stick it up his ass, but this was not even remotely what I’d envisioned. I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t fire me before Monday morning. Merry Freaking Christmas.

“Hey, there you are! I was just coming to get you.” Melody offers me one of the two drinks she’s holding. “Mr. Grinch finally let you come have some fun?”

My stomach revolts. “Mel, I screwed up.” I tell her what just happened in the elevator and her face turns the brightest shade of pink I’ve ever seen.

“Oh, my god. Why? Well, I mean, I know why you did it, but Holly, this is serious. You just gave him the ammunition he needs to fire you.”

“I know.” I run my hand over my face. “Damn it.”

She gulps down the rest of her drink. “I’m gonna need another one. Come on.”

The conference room has transformed into a winter wonderland. Decorated trees stand sentry around the room, tinsel and garland decorate every possible surface. There’s a small area for photographs off to the side and a line of tables brimming with finger foods and desserts and drinks. We weave through the tables, grabbing fresh drinks along the way.

We stop near the small photo area. A gingerbread house complete with oversized gumdrops and candy canes. Next to it sits an oversized gilded chair with red padding on the seat surrounded by fake snow.

“Has Santa made his appearance yet?” My fears of Monday and Mr. Rosenfeld fade into the background when I remember what Melody said about Adam dressing up in the red suit.

“Not yet, but I hope he comes out soon. The ladies are getting restless.” Melody points to a growing group of women, some I’ve never even seen before, waiting anxiously on the other side of the chair.

“I don’t blame them.” The warmth of the alcohol wraps around me. “One last hurrah.”

“What are you talking about?”

“After that fiasco in the elevator with Mr. Rosenfeld, I’m as good as fired.” I shrug, knowing it’s too late to care at this point.

“You don’t know that. Maybe you should just bring him a peace offering on Monday morning and apologize.” Melody frowns. “I’m sure he’ll understand.”

The look of steely determination on Mr. Rosenfeld’s face is permanently burned into my mind. “I highly doubt that. He looked ready to fire me on the spot.” Why didn’t he? I shake my head. It doesn’t matter. “Anyway, my mind is made up. I’m making a move on Adam.” I refuse to even examine how convoluted that sounds since I can’t seem to stop thinking about Mr. Rosenfeld.

The doors swing open and a handful of people dressed in elf costumes mingle with the crowd. Behind them, Santa follows with a huge sack slung over his shoulder. The crowd cheers over the Christmas carols, and everyone gravitates to the man in red.

“You’re positive that’s Adam, right?” I turn to Melody before downing the rest of the alcohol in my glass.

“One hundred percent.” She grins. “I saw him trying on the suit last week.”

I gape at her. “You were spying on him?”

“No!” Her cheeks turn pink. “His office door was open a smidge, and I just happened to catch a quick glimpse of him in the suit.”

“Stalker.” I nudge her with my elbow. “Did you see him naked by any chance?”

“Holly!” She shoves me. “Unlike you, I have some standards.”

“Liar. I’ve seen you ogling men at the gym.”

“Whatever. I’m just glad they convinced Adam to do it.”

“Why?” I scrunch up my nose. “So, everyone gets a chance to grope him.”

“That’s exactly what you’re planning to do, isn’t it?” Melody grabs my empty glass. “I’ll grab us some more. Why don’t you get in line?”

Why the hell not. I linger toward the end of the line until Melody joins me, and together we wait for our turns watching Santa entertain the neverending line of women as they take their turn on his lap. Jealousy curls in the pit of my stomach seeing their hands on him.

When there’s only one woman ahead of us in line, I nudge Melody forward. “You go first.”

“Fine, but don’t be jealous if he picks me.” She blows a kiss in my direction.

Melody takes her turn and perches delicately on his lap. Normally, Adam is tall and broad, handsome and charming. In the suit, he looks much bigger and most of his face is obscured by the fluffy white beard and full white head of curls. He laughs when Melody speaks. Nervous energy twists in my gut. I thought I was scared facing down Mr. Rosenfeld in the elevator, but this is completely different.

She presses a kiss to Santa’s cheek and slides off his lap. I catch the small thumbs-up signal she gives me as I step closer.

Santa turns his attention to me. He raises a white-gloved hand and crooks his finger that clearly means: You. Here. Now. My knees tremble as I take a step toward him. There’s not enough alcohol in the whole state to bolster my courage. His attention remains focused solely on me.

Just as I reach the chair, I stumble over the rumpled carpet and tumble directly into his lap. He catches me effortlessly and pulls me against him.

“Might want to slow down.” Santa Adam’s voice rocks through me. He deepens it on purpose and adds a chuckle at the end.

I relax against him, the soft material of the red suit brushes against my skin. Heat roils off his body and the familiar scent of aftershave mingles with the musty fabric. I shift my weight, and he tenses beneath me. No Santa in the world is this solid. Adam has been hiding a lot of secrets beneath his three-piece suits, that’s for sure.

“Have you been a good girl, Holly?” His chocolate-smooth baritone makes me shiver.

Memories of the elevator flash through my mind. “No,” I confess honestly, allowing the wicked part of me to take control. If this is my last chance, I’m going to take it. “I’ve been a very naughty girl this year.”

“Well, then.” His gloved hand rests boldly on my knee. “Then I guess you’re not getting what you want for Christmas.” He leans a bit closer melding our heat together. “What do you want?” His voice drips with innuendo.

A million wicked thoughts flood me at once, making my body weep and pulse with need. His mouth hovers close, and I can barely make out those full lips hidden beneath the fake beard. His dark eyes sparkle with amusement. I want nothing more than to slip my hand beneath his red jacket and down the front of his pants, wanting the hard, silky length of him in my fist.

I inhale deeply and lean close, whispering in his ear. “Meet me in the empty office on the forty-fifth floor in fifteen minutes and I’ll show you.”

Desire burns bright and hot in his brown eyes. Before I make a fool of myself in front of the whole company, I slide off his lap and straighten my skirt before walking away. My knees shake. Did I just do that? Oh, my god. What the hell is wrong with me?

Melody grabs my wrist. “What happened?” She’s practically bouncing. “What’d you say?”

“I told him to meet me in the empty office on my floor in fifteen minutes.” I press my hand to my thundering heart.

Her eyes widen. “You did it.” She squeals. “Do you think he’ll show?”

“I have no idea. I mean, he looked like he was interested, but I don’t know.” Angry bees swarm my stomach. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

“Too late now, girl.” Melody pulls me through the crowd and out into the hallway. “Go freshen up and get upstairs.”

I grab her hand. “What if he doesn’t show? I just made a fool of myself in there.”  

“No, you took a chance.” She shoves me toward the elevator. “Now, make me proud.”

On the ride up to my floor, I replay the exchange with Santa Adam over and over in my head. Since I won’t be an employee here come Monday, I might as well enjoy this one last defiant act.

After freshening up in the bathroom, I face myself in the mirror. “You can do this.” I ignore the last moment hesitation nagging at my conscience.

Haunting strains of Christmas music fill the hallway even though I’m the only person on the floor. I open the empty office and slip inside the dark room, latching the door behind me. When I turn, I’m nestled against a warm, soft suit and surrounded by a familiar, intoxicating scent.

“You kept me waiting, naughty girl.”

My heart beats wild and relentless against my ribs. I lick my lips and seek out his face in the dark room, but it lies shrouded in shadows. His warm hands wrap around my upper arms holding me steady.

“I didn’t think you’d come.” Heat builds between us. I tangle my fingers in the fake beard and pull.

The firm press of his hand on my arm stops me. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“I didn’t think you were interested in me.” Even through the dark, I can feel his gaze raking over my face.

“I would have made my interest known sooner, but one should never mix business with pleasure.” He leans close and the fake beard tickles my face while his voice tarnishes the last of my reservations. “But since you’ve admitted to being bad this year, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

“Oh, Adam.” I lean into him wanting every wicked temptation he offers.  

He stiffens, and the stillness overwhelms me with confusion. His fingers bite into my flesh and I wince at the pressure. When he releases me and steps back, I sway and brace myself against the door.

“You should go.” His command pierces my elation.

“Wait? What?” I stare at his shadowed figure at a complete loss for words. What just happened?

“Go.”

“Wh-?”

“This never happened.”

I blink twice before the words register in my mind. Angry, I lash out and my fist connects with his jaw. Pain ricochets through my knuckles and up my arm. The satisfaction of seeing him stumble from the force of the blow soothes my ego and numbs the pain.

“Fuck you.” I storm from the office and head directly for the restroom. Fury courses through me. I can’t leave, not yet, not feeling like my whole world has imploded. Inside the women’s room, I collapse against the door. Shit. Shit. How could so much go wrong on such a joyous holiday? I want to beat my head against the wall. First, I verbally berate my boss and threaten my job security, then I proposition a coworker only to be firmly rejected. What else could possibly go wrong?

Angry tears spill and I let them. How could I have been such an idiot? My only saving grace is the long weekend where I can drown my sorrows with take-out, wine, and Netflix before preparing a letter of resignation to hand in on Monday morning. After such a disaster, I don’t think I can work in this building ever again.

I splash water on my face and attempt to hide the red blotches of embarrassment marring my cheeks. Heaven forbid anyone sees me leaving the party looking like a hot mess. Not like it matters. Come Monday, I’ll no longer be employed with the company. With a resigned sigh, I slip out of the restroom and return to my desk where I left my coat.

When I round the corner, I stop cold. Mr. Rosenfeld’s office shines like a beacon. What is he doing here? I straighten my skirt and tiptoe across the floor hoping to avoid another disastrous confrontation with my soon-to-be-former boss.

Where is my coat? I swear it was hanging on the rack beside my desk. I search through the handful of garments and pull away with a frown. Where the hell is it?

The intercom on my desk comes to life. “Miss Bradshaw, come into my office.”

Oh, sweet merciful heavens. I stare up at the ceiling. Why do you hate me, God?

With a deep breath, I knock on Mr. Rosenfeld’s door.

“It’s open.”

As I step into the room, I make a conscious effort not to make eye contact with the man who summoned me.

“Close the door.”

I do as he asks and turn, keeping my gaze fixed on the floor. When his feet appear in my vision, I squeeze my eyes shut and pray for serenity.

“Miss Bradshaw.”

“Yes, Sir.” I exhale and lift my gaze to meet his. Those fathomless eyes root me to the spot, and all thought dissipates into the night. He’s discarded his suit jacket. The white dress shirt underneath pulls tight as he crosses his arms and leans against the edge of his desk. His normally perfect hair lays disheveled across his forehead.

Before this moment, I never truly allowed myself to admire how striking he is. Since I’m about to finally meet the end of my employment, I may as well wring what little enjoyment I can out of the moment. Hate him as I do, I cannot deny his physical allure.

“Did you forget something?” His baritone pulls me from my thoughts.

“No.” I shake my head, terrified he can read my mind and uncover exactly why I’m on this floor and not at the party. Then I remember my coat. “I mean, yes. My coat.”

He gestures to the couch on his right. “That coat?”

I spy my warm wool coat lying across the arm of the couch. “Ah, why’s it in here?” I move to grab it when he speaks again.

“Leave it.” He pushes off the desk and steps between me and the couch.

I take an involuntary step back and my backside hits the door. “I wanted to apologize, Sir. About earlier. In the elevator. I was stressed and tired and…” I shrug in defeat. “It was unprofessional and unacceptable. I’ll pack my things.”

He chuckles and the sound shoots longing straight to the darkest corners of my soul. “If I wanted to fire you, I would have done so already, Miss Bradshaw.”

“Wait? You’re not going to fire me.”

“Not for speaking your mind off the clock, no.” He leans closer. “I appreciate your candor. It’s one of the reasons I fought to keep your position.”

“I don’t understand.” The implication of his words sinks into my thick skull and I gape at him waiting for confirmation.

“The board decided to cut staffing, including your position. I told them no.”

“Why?” I swallow the lump of emotion in my throat. “You don’t even like me.”

His eyes sparkle, almost boyishly, when he smiles. “I would have made my interest known sooner, but one should never mix business with pleasure.”

Where have I heard…oh, my god.

It wasn’t Adam in that suit, it was Mr. Rosenfeld. My hand shoots for the door handle just as his palm slams down on the door beside my shoulder.

“I underestimated you, Miss Bradshaw.” His voice pours over me like hot caramel over ice cream and I melt against the door. “First the elevator, then your invitation to a stranger.”

“Adam was supposed to be wearing that suit tonight, not you.” I choke out unable to meet his gaze.

“Mr. Davis backed out at the last minute. Family emergency. I offered to take his place.” He hooks his finger under my chin and tips my gaze up until our eyes lock. “I thought you recognized me when you curled up on my lap and told me how naughty you’d been this year.” He brushes his thumb across my jaw.

“Oh, god.” I squeeze my eyes shut. What I wouldn’t give to dissolve into a million pieces of dust and float away. Embarrassment seizes me by the throat and tightens her grip when my body responds acutely to his touch. “Mr. Rosenfeld, please. I had no idea.” Loss fills me when he drops his hand and steps back.

“It seems most of the females on my staff are quite taken with Mr. Davis if their Christmas wish list is anything to go by.” He arches his brow. “But I never expected it from you, Miss Bradshaw, offering yourself to a stranger. I’m disappointed.”

Frustration, desire, and betrayal simmer in the pit of my stomach churning and souring. My hands tremble and tears prick at my eyes.

“Fire me then. Do it.” The force of my words surprises me. Determined, I press on. “I’m tired of busting my ass for someone who doesn’t appreciate me. And I won’t apologize for wanting to have sex with someone I find attractive.”

His jaw clenches. “You admit to wanting to have sex with your coworker at a company function?”

I draw back stunned by his question. “Don’t twist my words.”

“How did that work out for you then, Miss Bradshaw?” His lips curl in a sardonic smile. “When you set out to seduce someone, I recommend verifying their identity first.”

I strike before I realize my mistake. He deftly catches my wrist in his hand before it connects with his face. His grip tightens.

“You’ve already hit me once tonight, Miss Bradshaw.”

I jerk my arm from his grip. “You deserved it.”

He rubs his jaw before grabbing my coat and offering it. “Goodnight, Miss Bradshaw.”

Relieved, I grab my coat and clutch it to my chest. When I turn to open the door, my conscience twists in my chest demanding more than an easy escape.

“No.” I spin and face him, tossing my coat aside. “You can’t dismiss me with a wave of your hand. Why didn’t you tell me who you were? Why did you just push me away?”

“I wasn’t who you wanted.” He shrugs. “It wouldn’t have been ethical to take advantage of your mistake.”

I scoff. “I think we’re way beyond ethics now.”

He rakes his hand through his hair and closes the distance between us in two strides. His arms cage me against the wall, his breath hot against my skin. “Way beyond ethics, huh? Fine. If you’d have known it was me in that room, would you have offered me what you so readily offered Mr. Davis?”

“I…uh, I…” My mind blanks and my body short circuits.

“It’s a simple question, Miss Bradshaw.” His gaze drops to my mouth repeatedly.

“I don’t know.” Every breath comes in short bursts. He overwhelms me with his words, his presence, the piercing look of desperation in his eyes.

“Let me simplify this for you then.” He licks his lips, drawing his teeth across the fullness of his lower lip. “I went into that room aching for you. I was willing to throw professional decorum aside. Do you know why?”

My head shakes of its own volition since my tongue refuses to cooperate. His sacred confession holds me captive as effectively as the hunger in his eyes.

“I’ve wanted to taste you from the moment you took the position as my assistant.” His voice cracks with tension. “At first your neat little pencil skirts and silken blouses burrowed beneath my skin. Then your attention to detail and prompt responses. By the time you were able to navigate my wishes without me hovering over your shoulder, I couldn’t risk losing you. Not for a single bite of forbidden fruit, no matter how sweet and tempting. You’re too valuable to this company…to me.”

My heart skips three beats. “Mr. Rosenfeld.”

“I think we’re beyond formalities at this point.” His whisper caresses my cheek. “Call me Nick.”

“Nick.” I bite back a moan when I taste his name on my tongue. “We shouldn’t do this.”

He pulls back. “You’re right.”

I should be relieved when he puts space between us, but instead, shame and frustration consume me in a dark cloud. A battle unleashes within me demanding I choose a side. I want to scream.

“Does this change our working relationship? The whole misunderstanding with you dressed as Santa?”

“No.” Nick exhales and loosens his tie. “It may be best to forget tonight’s events entirely.” His expression falters, and I catch a glimpse of the weary man beneath the handsome, stern businessman.

“All I wanted was for you to acknowledge my hard work and dedication.” I cannot believe the words slip from my tongue. I forge ahead committed to the insanity coursing through me.

He scoffs. “I shouldn’t have to say it, but if you need that affirmation, take it.” 

I draw closer and take his tie in my hand sliding the silk between my fingers. “Do you think I’ll be able to forget so easily? The strength of your body under that red suit. That forbidden confession.”

“Holly, don’t tease me.”

“If you can promise this won’t affect our working relationship, then I’ll answer your question honestly.”

“I can’t guarantee anything, but I can promise to keep our time on the clock professional.”

I slowly unravel his tie from the knot. “And when the rumors start?”

“We’ll deal with it when it comes.” He grips my wrists. “Tell me the truth.” His heated gaze bores into me.

I revel in the power I wield and lean close. “Yes. I would’ve given myself to you. Because I’ve always wanted you.”

Once the words leave my lips, Nick pulls me against him and covers my mouth with his. The kiss drags me underwater, weightless and free. I wrap my arms around his neck and taste him. Dark chocolate and peppermint mixed with the spice of whiskey and pure Nick.

His hand frames my face and our tongues dance as he deepens the kiss. Heat sparks and flickers between us, igniting that dormant attraction with a burst of flame. We stumble together until he collapses on the couch, pulling me down across his lap.

His lips capture mine again while his fingers slide along my stockings until they disappear beneath my skirt. He toys with the garters on my thighs.

“You’re killing me.” He shifts my skirt up around my hips, and I straddle his lap. His hands slide over my inner thighs branding me in their wake. He snaps one garter and I gasp at the sting as it hums through my body.

I slowly unbutton my blouse and slide it from my shoulders. He snatches it from my hands and tosses it into a forgotten pile of silk on the floor. His gaze drifts over my bare shoulders down to the delicate vee of my lace bra. He takes a nipple in his mouth and pulls. I bury my hands in his hair and moan.

“I’ve dreamed about this.” He worships my body and the sensations push me higher into blissful abandon.

“Seducing me in your office?” I gasp when he nips my shoulder.

“Yes.” He draws back and rests his hands on my hips.

I reach between us and pull his shirt free from his pants before unfastening his belt and slipping it free. When I slide my hand into his trousers and grip his cock, he groans. Once he’s free, I admire the length of him.

He struggles with my underwear, but I rest my hand on his.

“They tie at the sides.” I lean forward and tug on his ear with my teeth. “You have to unwrap me like a present.”

Nick scowls at me. “Do you always wear provocative underwear to work?”

“Guess you’ll have to find out.” I tease as he pulls the bows and drags the lace free.

“Later, I’m going to bend you over that desk and spank you for teasing me.” He slides his finger across my swollen pussy and licks it clean. “But right now, I can’t wait.”

“Protection?”

He shifts his weight to pull something from his pocket. A condom.

“Do you always carry prophylactics at work?” I tease.

“Ever since you started working here.” He grins and it’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile.” I take the condom and rip it open.

He snatches it from my hand and rolls it on. “Consider it your Christmas present.”

“Merry Christmas to me.” I fit myself to him and slowly take him deep. He fills me perfectly and I gasp at the sensations he unleashes with such an elemental connection.

“Holy shit.” Nick leans his head against mine and grips my hips to keep me steady. After a few deep breaths, he meets my gaze and holds it. “Merry fucking Christmas.”

I dig my nails into his shoulders and rock against him. He tightens his hold and moves beneath me. We find a rhythm together, taking and giving until we’re both slick with sweat and panting.

When Nick presses his fingers against my clit, I spin out of control toward the inevitable climax just out of reach. He guides me, driving hard and fast, and I shake, bracing my hands on his shoulders, as it hits me. I moan his name and cling to him while the pleasure rolls through me like fireworks bursting in the night sky.

He quickens his pace and his climax follows a moment later, leaving us half-clothed and clinging to each other in the chaotic sexual aftermath. His heartbeat echoes my own, and we sit silent for a moment until our breathing slows.

After taking a moment to disentangle ourselves and clean up, I curl up in his lap, content as a kitten.

“Merry Christmas.” I press a kiss to his nose.

He kisses me thoroughly. “Best Christmas ever.”

“And here I thought you were a Grinch.”

“You know I heard you and Miss Harper today.” He pulls a look of mock disappointment.

My face heats. “You did. How much did you hear?”

“Everything.” He smirks. “I guess you did want your asshole boss to bend you over his desk.”

I hide my face in his chest. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” He kisses my forehead. “I was an asshole.”

“Wait, you came up the elevator while Melody and I were talking.” I study his face.

“I was around the corner and stopped when I heard you. After that tidbit, I backtracked and took the stairs down a flight.” He winks.

“Nope, I take it back. You are an asshole.” I shove him away and try to sit up.

He drags me back against him and holds me tight, nuzzling my neck. “Would an asshole boss fight the board to keep his favorite assistant?”

I go still beneath his touch. “What do you mean?”

“They wanted to cut your position. I convinced them you were worth keeping.”

“How?”

“Your record speaks for itself, but they were only worried about the financial consequences. So, I convinced them to give you a small pay cut and deduct the rest from my pay in exchange for a guarantee they wouldn’t cut your position.”

I twist in his lap and stare at him. “They were going to fire me?”

“Yes.”

“You took a pay cut for me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

His gaze softens and he brushes a lock of hair behind my ear. “Because without you by my side, I can’t function properly. We make a great team. If I can’t have you…” He shrugs.

“Were you ever going to tell me?” I drown in his soulful eyes.

“Honestly. Probably not.” He laughs. “I never intended to tell you how I felt about you either, and we see how well that turned out.”

My heart swells. “It turned out pretty fantastic.”

“What about Adam?”

“What about him?” I grin. “I got what I wanted. That’s all that matters, Mr. Rosenfeld.”

“You have been a naughty girl, Miss Bradshaw. Now about that spanking.”

Christmas Giveaway!

This year I’m hosting a Christmas Giveaway. Just like the last giveaway, I’ll have two separate categories. One for International Readers and one for US Residents! Please enter the correct category. No entrants under 18 years of age, please. Rafflecopter links as buttons below the giveaway images.

Good luck and thank you for all your support!

Giveaway prize for US Readers only! A pair of teacups, five signed paperbacks, and two hand made pendants!
Giveaway prize for International Readers! Your choice of 4 ebooks from my backlist.

A Grateful Heart

This year I’m reminded how grateful I am to have such a loving and supportive romance community. Over the past year, I’ve made some wonderful connections both with fellow authors and voracious, delightful readers. Each and every one of you have made my journey a memorable one. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

My goal for this year was to build and strengthen my romance community, and I believe I’ve done an admirable job of bringing together readers and authors who share a love of steamy, swoony, spicy, and sometimes sweary romance. I hope to continue to grow this fantastic network over the coming years.

As I celebrate all that I’ve accomplished over my author adventure, I want to thank all the readers who have taken the dive and devoured my books. I wouldn’t be where I am without you. The same goes for the romance authors I’ve met over the past ten years. Their kindness and unwavering encouragement have kept me going strong especially when I’ve felt like giving up.

Never underestimate the effect of a kind word.

Moving forward, I’ll be setting new goals and venturing deeper into my publishing journey. I hope you’ll join me. Together we can bask in the joyful radiance that is the romance genre where Happily Ever Afters are guaranteed.

Remember, if you love an author’s work, tell them. It means the world to hear how much our hard work is appreciated and treasured. And let them know how grateful you are to have a romantic escape from reality. I know I am!

Sending you all my love and gratitude. xoxo

Kirsten

Dangerous Desires: A Steamy Victorian Short Story

Happy Halloween, my darlings! As a special treat, I’ve written a steamy short story to share for the spooky holiday season. This story contains graphic sexual scenes, blood, death, and a villain who may tempt you. It is absolutely NOT safe for work, nor recommended for anyone under the age of 18 years old. There’s my disclaimer. Now, enjoy this venture into the darkness…

Dangerous Desires

The Phantom showed no mercy to his victims, and yet she longed to cross his path, if only to experience what it would be like to encounter death.

For six months, Emily Whitcombe followed the papers relentlessly, searching for any sightings of the masked vigilante. She studied his crimes thoroughly, scouring the details of each report, desperate for a glimpse of the man beneath the mask.

Why would a proper young woman launch herself into such a macabre search with such ferocity? It was all in the name of research. At least, this was the truth in the beginning. Now, it had become an obsession, a passion. Her desire to uncover not only his identity, but his motivations. This surpassed the curiosity in which she began her search for information regarding her gothic novel.

“Daydreaming again, are you?” Mrs. Merriton appeared, bearing a tray laden with tea and sweets. She tutted and bustled forward, placing the tray on the table beside Emily.

“Of course, Mrs. Merriton, I have my meeting tonight and must have my latest chapter outlined before then.” Emily set aside the book containing the first draft of her novel.

“Must you venture out so late?” The older woman frowned. “And without a chaperone?”

A sigh escaped Emily. As sweet as the landlady was, she clung to the antiquated ideals of a lady’s role and expectations placed upon her in society. It was no use arguing with her about the reality of it being the dawn of a new century. In two months, a new era would begin with the turn of the century. 1900. There had been leaps and bounds in advancements not only for travel and communication, but for women’s rights and autonomy as individuals. Poor Mrs. Merriton seemed uninterested in changing her views, so Emily remained silent and poured the tea.

“Perhaps Roan would escort you to your meeting,” Mrs. Merriton interjected when the man in question walked past the archway.

He paused, peering into the room. His thick, dark hair, a tad longer than was fashionable, hung across his forehead. “Did you need something, Mrs. Merriton?”

Emily’s heart fluttered at the sight of him.

“Would you be willing to escort Emily to her meeting this evening?”

“That’s unnecessary.” Emily held up her hand, and it fell limply into her lap when Roan turned his gaze toward her. “I shall be quite all right walking across town.”

“Pish posh,” Mrs. Merriton protested with a snort. “‘Tis unseemly to have a woman bounding about town alone and after dark. Especially with this Phantom menace lurking about.”

The soft flutter of her heartbeat doubled, resembling a drumbeat in her chest at the mention of the Phantom. Oh, to have such luck.

“If you require my services, Miss Emily, all you need to do is ask.” Roan’s striking green eyes sparkled with amusement when he studied her face.

“I appreciate the offer, sir.” She brushed him off with a soft chuckle, even though her face warmed at his response. “But I shall be perfectly safe on my own.”

He stood in the archway wearing a strange expression she could not quite decipher. “As you wish.” With an inclination of his head, he ducked back into the hall and out of sight.

Emily passed the tea to Mrs. Merriton and gathered her belongings into a bag. The handsome, bashful gentleman showed such concern for her well-being. Of course, he was only offering his services at the behest of Mrs. Merriton, but she could not help but imagine the possibilities of such a gesture if he truly fancied her.

Four years past, at five and twenty, Emily found herself alone in the world after her parents perished in a fire that stole her home and her family’s fortune. Mrs. Merriton’s boarding house offered a comfortable residence during her mourning and subsequent years as an independent woman.

With a year until she turned thirty, Emily now desired to finally claim her true independence and strike out on her own. As soon as she finished her novel and submitted it for publication. Alas, writing a gothic romance seemed much harder than she previously believed, which proved just how important her monthly writing meetings were. She could not miss one, not when her story was so close to completion.

The elusive details, of course, rest in her current obsession with the Phantom. If only she were fortunate enough to encounter the dangerous killer whose presence had created such a commotion in their small coastal town.

Emily sipped her tea while Mrs. Merriton prattled on about something inconsequential. She nodded and smiled, but deep in her mind the wheels turned, searching for ways to capture the essence of the Phantom into her villainous character, Damon.

The stories of Jack the Ripper ten years past sent shivers down her spine, but the Phantom was something different, something dangerous and unexpected. His victims were always scoundrels, thieves, wastrels up to mischief. He never harmed women or children, or so the papers claimed. But there were never any specific details provided about the men he killed.

Even so, the newspapers sensationalized his bloody crusade, making him out to be an unwanted, treacherous vigilante who would corrupt the innocent and murder any who crossed his path. But there was always more to the story.

Determined, Emily squared her shoulders. If only she could meet this masked menace, then she could ask the questions burning inside her. He could impart the details only one with a tarnished soul could, feeding her curiosity and aiding her in completing her novel’s critical character arc.

Perhaps that was the true reason she longed to walk alone after dark. The chance, however slim, would still leave a window of opportunity.

After tea with Mrs. Merriton, Emily gathered her bag and retreated to the hall to gather her coat and gloves.

“You had best take care, Miss Emily.” Roan’s voice made her jump.

She spun, placing her hand on her heart. “You gave me a fright.”

“My apologies.” A soft smile pulled at his lips. “You seem to take a vested interest in the Phantom.”

“Research,” she protested, patting the bag on her hip. “For my novel.” The excuse sounded pathetic, even to her ears. Guilt rose from deep within, painting her cheeks with heat.

“Does the possibility of crossing his path not terrify you?” Roan asked, his voice low. The tone of his voice and the implication of his question set her heart aflutter.

“On the contrary, I do not fear him as he has not proven himself hostile to innocent women and children.” Emily studied Roan for a long moment. “If I were to encounter him, I would enlist his aid.”

“You would ask a murderer for help?” Roan’s lips twisted in a smile. “With what?”

“My book.” 

His laugh warmed her through.

“You find this amusing?”

“I do.” He crossed his arms.

Emily struggled to pull her gaze away from the way his shirt pulled tight against his muscular shoulders and chest. “What would you ask the Phantom, should you stumble upon him in the dark?”

“Does he delight in killing?” She licked her lips. “Is there pleasure in causing pain?”

Roan’s eyes darkened. “Do you believe pleasure and pain are opposites?”

“Of course.”

“Perhaps in your mind, but there are some who find pleasure in experiencing pain, as well as inflicting it.”

“Fascinating.” 

“You should leave, or you will be late for your meeting.” Roan stepped forward and opened the door. “Enjoy your evening, Miss Emily.”

Shaken from her tangled thoughts, Emily nodded and stepped out into the crisp, fall air. 

“Beware. The Phantom is not one with whom to trifle.” With those parting words, he closed the door.

Handsome, charming, devilishly shy, Roan kept mostly to himself. He became the most recent addition to Mrs. Merriton’s boarding house a year past. Traveling through, he found work at a printer in town and stayed.

Handy and helpful, he also found work around the house, exchanging his services for board. All the tenants adored him. Emily, however, found him to be both a distraction and a delight. Her initial admiration for his presence slowly grew into the need to be closer to him, to know more about his history. The innocent brushing of hands and shy glances gradually stoked an innocent curiosity into a simmering desire. One she kept firmly contained and locked away.

The sojourn across town proved uneventful, as did the writer’s gathering. Much was discussed, and Emily made several notes to her already complicated manuscript in which to expand the heroine’s plight by interweaving it with the villain’s. Of course, this left her quite torn about how to proceed with the story, sensing there may be a thread of romance blossoming between the leading lady and the dashing villain, leaving the poor hero confused and neglected. More threads for her to untangle later by gaslight.

Roan’s words haunted her. Is there a difference between pleasure and pain?

By the time the meeting concluded, the stars twinkled overhead and the distant clock in the town square chimed eight.

As she made her way across town, a train whistle sounded in the distance. She cut through the small station platform, barely noticing the two men standing at the far end. They turned as she approached.

“Oi, lovey, what’s a pretty dove like you doin’ out so late, eh?” The taller one grinned, bearing a mouthful of discolored teeth.

Emily backed up a few steps, colliding with the brick building. She scanned the deserted platform. A sickening dread settled in the pit of her stomach when the short, balding man drew a knife from his waistband.

“Come now, lass, we won’t hurt you,” he said.

Emily darted to the right, hoping to clear the building and find help. The tall man was quicker, snatching her by the waist and pinning her against the brick wall. His breath reeked of malted alcohol and rotten teeth. She gagged as his heavy breaths puffed across her cheek.

“We only want a taste of what you got under those skirts.” The bald assailant grabbed the fabric, pulling it up.

Emily struggled against the tall man’s hold, trying to jerk free from his grip. She kicked at his shin, but he blocked it with his foot and leaned his weight against her, holding her for his partner.

She pinched her eyes closed and turned away. A sob choked her as the bald man’s dirty hands ran along the inside of her thigh.

The blaring steam engine rushed past the platform, creating a gust of air and enough noise to cover her shouts for help. He clamped his hand over her mouth. Her eyes watered at the stench. She fixed her gaze past the men, watching the train passing by. Lights flashed behind them, casting an inhuman glow on her assailants.

A shadow split from the darkness beneath the lamppost. The tall, dark figure swiftly overtook the men. A flash of silver cut through the night, glinting in the light from the passing train. With a garbled cry, the bald attacker grasped his throat, dark liquid spilling from the hole gaping between his fingers. He fell to the ground.

The taller one fought against the assailant as they wrenched him off her. A sucking gasp echoed between the clicking of the train on the tracks. Warmth coated her face and soaked into her gloved hands. He dropped next to the first man.

Emily tore her gaze from the bodies lying at her feet. Sticky, warm blood dripped from her face. Her hands trembled. Her heart thundered in her chest.

The lights from the train cars flashed behind him, illuminating his form in a surreal flickering light. The shadowed man stood over his kill. Two slender blades in his hands. With an audible click, they disappeared into his sleeves. The train vanished beyond the platform into the trees leading outside of town, leaving them in strangled silence. He stepped into the sliver of light from the lamp on the corner.

Her breath caught in her throat. The Phantom.

He wore a black half mask. His hair tucked into a beaver skin top hat and a caped wool coat framed his broad shoulders. He held his gloved hand out to her.

She longed for nothing more than to take it.

Had she completely taken leave of her senses? This man murdered two men and stood before her like a gentleman asking for an evening stroll. Why was she not running away in terror? He was no threat. If he would have wanted her dead, she would be nothing but a twisted pile of blood and bones. 

No, he came to her aid, and something deep within her wanted whatever he offered.

Emily placed her trembling hand in his. He guided her around the bloodied heaps and away from the train station. The clicking of the train on the tracks echoed in the distance behind her.

He led her through town, darting down alleys, shifting this way and that, weaving through the buildings, but always remaining encased in darkness.

The Phantom knew his way around town with disturbing ease. They appeared on a side street that led to a small park. She glanced around, her eyes situated to the absence of light. Across the street rose the boarding house, silhouetted against the night sky on a quiet street.  

How did he know…the thought trailed off as he pulled her toward a small building covered in ivy and moss tucked deep in the park. The gardener’s workshop. He opened the door and tugged her inside, closing it behind them. His large form leaned heavily against the door, caging her inside.

The Phantom held her captive, but the fear she should have felt never came. A strange excitement settled over her, knowing her one wish had been granted.

The scratch and hiss of a match being struck echoed loud in her ears. A dim, flickering light flooded the small space as he lit the lantern. His masked face betrayed nothing as he watched her. Even in the close space, she could parse nothing from this angle. Not the color of his eyes, or the true angles of his face from beneath the mask.

“You’re the Phantom?” she whispered, pressing her hand to her chest. Her heart beat at such a quick pace that she thought it would burst.

He inclined his head in acknowledgement.

“What are you going to do with me?”

“What do you want me to do with you?” His baritone sent a delicious shiver through her. What was she thinking? He was a cold-blooded killer. And she had watched him slay those men with little effort.

“Let me go.”  

“I cannot do that.” He set the lantern on the workbench and crossed his arms.

“Please. I promise not to say anything to anyone.”

“You’re covered in blood.” His words were simple and direct.

Her gaze dropped to her pale blue gown, spattered with blood between the gaps in her cloak. Her white gloves stained beyond redemption. There was no way she could return to the boarding house dressed like this. But she had no clothes, no way to wash herself. She discarded her gloves and wiped her face with the hem of her gown.

“Bloody hell.” Nothing about this situation was appropriate.

Even though the Phantom murdered those men, he had saved her life. For that she was thankful. Pushing the horrible memories away, she met his eyes again. “What shall I do?”

“Remain here.” He pointed toward the wall behind her where a small cot lay in the back of the shed. “I shall fetch you some decent clothes.”

“Thank you for saving me.” Emily stepped closer, reaching out to grasp the hem of his greatcoat as he reached for the latch. The faint hint of cloves and cinnamon tickled her nose, tainted by something darker and much more masculine.

“A good girl would be home—” he turned and slipped his gloved hand under her chin “—in bed.”

“I am a good girl.” She should have backed away, repulsed at his touch. Yet she leaned into it, savoring the warmth curling low in her belly. There was something about him, tempting and strangely comforting. As if all her months of reading of his exploits made her intimately familiar with this man. If he wished to hurt her, he would have done so already. She boldly met his gaze, shadowed by the mask. His breath caressed her lips as he leaned close.

“But you like to live dangerously. Don’t you, Emily?”

Her surprise at his use of her given name melted under the soft press of his lips as they claimed hers. His kiss ignited sparks of energy. They zinged through her body, landing in the pit of her stomach and releasing a flurry of butterflies. A soft moan bubbled from deep inside her throat when his spiced lips parted against her own.

All her questions, her curiosity, faded into the background. In this moment, there was only him and unbridled desire coursing through her veins.

Emily wrapped her arms around his neck. Pulling him closer, she let her need pour out. He unfastened her cloak, letting it fall to the floor. She gasped as his hand closed over her breast, squeezing through the fabric. Her thighs were slick with arousal from his touch, his kiss.

He slid a blade from his sleeve and gently cut the laces of her gown and corset, letting them pool around her feet. She flinched as the blade retracted. He stepped back, but she tightened her grip on his lapel.

“I’m not afraid of you.” Her husky whisper sounded strange to her own ears. She stepped closer, allowing her hand to glide over the coat and slip between the fabric. His arousal hard against her palm brought a smile to her lips. He desired her.

“You should be.” His voice was dark, full of sinful promises.

In one smooth motion, he spun her around, pulling her against his body. His cock rubbed against the cleft of her ass, even through the heavy coat. He removed his gloves before holding her hips in place. His fingertips teasing her as they slid across her stomach and into the waistband of her drawers. She shivered as they disappeared in the curls between her thighs.

Emily arched into his touch as he parted her folds, dipping a finger into her. Lifting his hand to his mouth, he tasted her arousal. She swayed against him, wishing she could bury her face from the shame of such an intimate action.

At nearly thirty, Emily knew of the passion between a man and a woman, but never experienced it. Her insatiable curiosity drove her to boldness as she parted her thighs, allowing him complete access.

“You taste sweet, just like I knew you would,” he murmured against her ear as his fingers delved between her thighs again. He slid two fingers deep inside her, mimicking the act, pressing into her. His thumb strummed against the sensitive flesh at the apex. A spot she knew intimately alone, but it never felt like this.

Emily cried out, the pleasure of his touch overwhelming and new. It rose to a crescendo, leaving her gasping and panting as he teased her earlobe between his teeth. Pleasure radiated like fireworks against the night sky. Slumping against him, she whimpered as he pulled his hand away.

Emily laid her head back against his shoulder. He nuzzled her neck, kissing the spot where her pulse raced, and cradled her breasts in his hands, rolling her nipples gently between his fingers. She sighed, her body tingling and tender.

“Forgive me.” He stepped back, leaving a chill to fill the void.

Before she could reach for him, he straightened his coat and disappeared into the night. Emily stood, naked and drenched in her arousal, staring in disbelief after the Phantom.

Disappointment filled her. Did he not want her? She snatched a blanket from the small cot in the back of the shed. Wrapping it around herself, she stared at her ruined clothes on the floor. The memory of their shared passion tugged at her mind.

After several minutes, she cursed. She never got to ask her questions. Damn and blast.

Suddenly, the door burst open. Roan stood in the doorway, a lantern in his hand. His hair disheveled, looking as though he had not slept in days. Emily clutched the blanket to her chest, her face heating. This must look horrible.

“What happened, Miss Emily?” he asked, his eyes wide as he glanced at her ruined clothes on the floor, then back at her.

“I’ll explain later.” She tucked her hair behind her ears. “Can you sneak me into the house? Please.”

Without a word of protest, Roan blew out the lantern. Quietly, he led her back to the boarding house. When they reached the back entrance, Emily turned to him as he held the door open.

“Thank you.” She rose up on her toes and pressed a kiss to his cheek. A lingering scent of cloves and cinnamon greeted her. His body stiffened as she pressed against him, her hand on his chest. “Roan,” she whispered, “How did you know I was in the shed?”

“I saw the light in the window.”

“How did you know…” She glanced at his lips, then his green eyes. “That I needed you.”

“Emily.” Her name fell from his lips in a dark, dangerous whisper.

“Have you been keeping secrets, Roan?” His eyes drifted closed as her hand ghosted over his cock. 

He gripped her wrist and met her gaze, his eyes glinting in the gaslight, then he pressed a finger to her lips. “Shhhh.”

She stumbled forward as he pulled her into his room and locked the door.

His fingertips burned against her wrist. She scrambled to catch her balance. The blanket slipped from her grasp and fell in a heap around her feet.

Roan’s hungry gaze drifted over her. “Is this what you desire, Emily? A villain. A monster?”

Standing nearly bare before him, Emily shivered, not from a chill but from pure need. What they had done in the shed, what she allowed him to do to her—saints, it left her aching and desperate. She bolstered her courage and rose to her full height.

“You are no monster.” She held his gaze, daring him to challenge her.

Warmth from the fireplace curled around them, casting an eerie glow against his face. A handsome, kind face. One she admired silently since the first day he appeared at the boarding house. Knowing Roan hid a darker side left her basking in confusion and want. A thousand questions assailed her, but those could wait.

“Sweet, innocent Emily. You cannot fathom what I am.” He stepped closer, running his fingertips along her jaw and down her throat.

“Then tell me.” She trembled beneath his touch, craving more. “Show me.”

Roan growled, taking her jaw in his firm grip, tilting her face up. “From this moment, you belong to me. Every tear, every drop of blood, every sigh of pleasure. They are mine alone.”

“Only yours,” Emily whimpered.

A raw groan tore from his lips as they crashed upon hers. Unbridled passion poured free from the fire burning between them.

He cradled her face in his hands, laying claim to her mouth, plundering his stolen prize. Emily surrendered to his touch and allowed him to guide her deeper into the darkness.

All her daydreams of haunting gothic romances shattered beneath the weight of his kiss. Roan had been the model for the hero of her tragic love story, and yet the Phantom had been the image she used as the insidious villain. But they were one and the same. And they now belonged to her.

Emily grasped his waistcoat in her fists and drew him closer. Her panting gasps echoed in the room amid the sounds of crackling flames. His searching hands skimmed over her bare flesh, leaving her skin sparking like embers bursting in the air. She fumbled with his waistcoat buttons, desperate to have him laid bare.

He grasped her wrists and spun her around, pinning her to the door. Those kind green eyes flickered with a darkness, a violent tempest raging within their depths. Using his full weight, he pressed closer, caging her against the solid wood. With his other hand, he tore the drawers from her waist, leaving her exposed. His thigh nudged the tender flesh he explored earlier.

She rocked against it, seeking release not from his hold, but from this unending torment. Pleasure danced just beyond her reach. If only she could…her body moved of its own accord, rubbing against the fabric of his trousers and the bulk of his thigh.

Roan’s low chuckle brought her crashing to a stop. “You would use me for your own delight?”

Emily ground her teeth. The agitation disintegrated on a moan when he nipped the tender flesh of her throat.

“Patience, my pet. I will ensure you are well sated before this night is out.” His fingertips traced along the insides of her wrists, sending her mind into oblivion.

There was nothing else in this moment aside from him.

My Phantom.

“Shall we play a game?” The question pulled her from her haze of desire.

“A game?”

“Your curiosity has put you directly in my path.” A lopsided smile tugged at his full lips. “I saw your notes. Your story.”

“You have been going through my things.” A shiver rippled through her. “Reading my work without my permission.”

“Curiosity, it seems, is something we share.” He leaned close, his breath brushing against her shoulder. His lips ghosted over the arch of her collarbone. “Watching you write in the window seat, day after day, disappearing into a world of your own creation. I could not help but wonder what could possibly seduce you with such force.”

Emily closed her eyes, savoring the warm path of his mouth against her overheated skin. She licked her lips, unable to grasp a thought from the jumbled mess of words circling in her mind like a murder of ravens taking flight.

“Tell me—” He brought his hand to her hip, his fingers digging into her flesh, pulling her closer and drawing a moan from her lips. “What thoughts haunt you that you dare not put on paper?”

“I—know not what you mean.” Fear and arousal spiked in equal measure, making her squirm against his hold. Every dark desire she locked away in her mind tumbled free, dancing on the tip of her tongue. Yet she bit her lip in restraint. Thinking about them was one thing, but voicing them to the object of her fantasies was something else entirely.

“Come now, pet.” He cupped her cheek, forcing her to meet his gaze. “I have read your lovely prose, but your words lack the passion I know lurks here.” His hand trailed down to rest between her breasts.

She arched into him as he brought himself closer. Her center brushed against the fabric covering his thigh, and he applied gentle pressure, soothing the ache enough to remind her of his control.

“Ask of me what you dare not put down in ink.”

The gentle brush of his fingertips along the curve of one breast unraveled what remained of her restraint. She craved what he offered. All of it.

“I need to feel.”

“Feel what?”

“Pleasure…and pain.”

His moss green eyes darkened, like a forest in the fading twilight. “Do you trust me?”

Indecision warred within her until the stronger tide swept her toward a decision. “Yes.”

A satisfied grin split his lips, making him look more villainous rogue than the kind, quiet man she believed him to be. His hand slid over her stomach, down until he cupped her sex in his palm. He groaned at the ease with which he parted her folds and caressed her.

Roan dropped to his knees and drew her thigh over his shoulder. He blew across her center, making her legs tremble. Pinning her against the wall with one hand, he held her steady as he dipped his head closer.

When his mouth closed over her sex, a moan ripped from her throat and she arched against him, thrusting her hips against his face. He lapped at her like a man starved, delving his tongue deep and suckling her flesh between his teeth. For every blissful spark of pleasure, he added a hint of momentary pain. A kiss, then a bite, until her nerves frayed with the unknown.

She threaded her fingers in his thick hair, tugging and pulling. He redoubled his efforts until she sagged against the door, unable to bear her own weight.

With a growl, he shot to his feet, grabbed her by the waist, and pulled her against him. His mouth crashed down on hers. She balked at the taste of herself on his lips but softened after a moment of acclimation. He cradled her face in his hands and drank deep.

Emily swayed when he pulled away.

“Grasp the bedpost and spread your legs.” His order sent a bolt of need straight to her cunt.

Placing her hands on the bedpost, she canted her hips as she widened her stance. Emily glanced over her shoulder.

Roan’s gaze drifted down before returning to meet hers. Slowly, he slid his waistcoat from his shoulders and tossed it aside. Her mouth watered at the precise movement of his fingers unfastening the buttons from their tiny nooses. When he peeled the shirt from his torso, Emily bit her lip at the strong, broad chest he revealed. A dusting of hair dipped down into the waistband of his trousers. He tugged them down over his hips.

Emily shifted her weight, unable to bear the torment of waiting a moment longer. When he withdrew his cock with its sloping curve and tapered, glistening head, she gasped at the thickness of it.

He chuckled at her reaction. “Have you changed your mind, pet?”

She shook her head and tightened her grip on the bedpost.

Roan stood before her, his hand stroking his cock. It tormented her to remain still, to wait for his direction. She pulled away from the post.

He closed the gap between them, wrapping his hand around her throat. “Impatient?”

“Please.” A keening moan tore from her throat as he gripped the base of her neck, putting just enough pressure to make her head spin.

Roan pushed her down onto the bed. Gripping her hips, he drew her back against him until her backside lay spread for his perusal. He ran his cock along her seam, coating himself in her juices. She rocked back against him, desperate for him to fill her.

His hand came down on her ass hard.

She squealed as the pain radiated through her, giving way to an aching, pulsing pleasure.

“Behave, pet. Next time, I will leave a mark.”

A question formed on her tongue, but a strangled cry broke free instead when Roan drove his cock deep into her. He split her in two, the pressure bringing tears to her eyes. She buried her face in the blankets as he withdrew and thrust deep again.

Her hands fisted in the fabric as she scrambled for a firmer grip. Over and over, Roan pounded into her. His hips bruising her backside. His fingertips gripped tight as he guided himself home, again and again.

With every stroke, the discomfort and pain ebbed away, making room for a blossoming pleasure. Emily rocked back against him, opening for him and welcoming his onslaught.

“Good girl.” He stroked the curve of her ass before withdrawing.

The loss of his touch and his cock buried deep inside her left her confused. Roan pushed her up onto the bed, rolling her onto her back. He climbed up, settling between her thighs and fitting himself to her once more.

Roan pressed his fingers to the tight bud he had laved with his tongue earlier, gently rolling it. Stars flickered behind her eyelids. With every jerk of his hips, his hand moved in tandem.

Emily dug her nails into his arms as the tension pulled tight inside her. When it snapped, his name broke free on a gasp. The release washed over her, like waves crashing on the shore.

Roan leaned forward, capturing her lips in a bruising kiss. He quickened his thrusts, driving her deeper into the bed. She thread her fingers through his hair and pulled.

He hissed a breath between his teeth and buried his face in her neck. The sting of his teeth against her skin made her clench around his cock. His seed filled her as he slowed his pace, finally coming to a rest with his head against her shoulder.

Sticky and sated, Emily stroked her finger along his nape. When he finally withdrew, he rolled onto his side and pulled her back against him.

Together they laid in the flickering firelight, silence a balm between them.

“Will you tell me?” she asked, sleepy and content.

“Tell you what, pet?”

“Why you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Kill.”

“Sleep first, then I shall tell you whatever your heart desires.”

A frown tugged at her lips. “But I must know why.”

His heavy sigh tickled her cheek. “To protect you.”

Confusion mingled with exhaustion, muddling her mind. “I don’t understand.”

“You will, pet.” He kissed her shoulder. “Sleep.”

It was useless to argue with him. She would have her answers soon enough. Burrowing into the pillow, she yawned and closed her eyes. His arm draped over her, keeping her close and safe.

In all the time she knew Roan, she desired him. But knowing she possessed both his heart as well as the Phantom’s left her with a deep-seated satisfaction.

The ending of her novel took frame in her mind as she drifted off to sleep. The hero was the villain in the end after all.

***

Roan stared into the distance, watching the shadows of the flames dance upon the patterned wallpaper. Emily’s soft breaths became deeper, more even until she relaxed completely against him, lost to the warm embrace of slumber.

The tension eased from his shoulders, and he inhaled the sweet scent of her, of their union.

This would certainly complicate matters.

How could he possibly give her the answer she sought without revealing the truth?

He stroked her cheek, tucking an errant lock of hair behind her ear. She curled deeper into his embrace.

So trusting. So innocent.

Roan grinned. His plan had worked, and now she lay content in his arms, oblivious to the danger encroaching on her perfect little world.

He made sure she would never recognize him from before that night. The night he killed her family with a single overturned lantern and a window curtain.

Her father stole everything from him, and he plotted his revenge. He never intended to seduce her. To fall in love with his enemy’s daughter.

Could he follow through with his vengeance?

Her soft moan filled the room. He tightened his hold on her.

Everything in his body screamed to keep her safe, to protect her. But his soul demanded blood. Payment for the wrongs done to him.

Perhaps he could indulge, keep her for a time. Love her.

The darkness in his soul crept forward, demanding satisfaction.

“Not yet,” he whispered to the darkness. She may yet bring hope.

Such dangerous desires. Ruin visits to those who dare to dream. To hope for something more.

With a kiss to her temple, he closed his eyes. He would worry about it later. For now, he would savor this woman. Even if she bore the name of the man who killed his family and left him in despair.

The End

Inspiration: Captain Pike, the Orient Express, and Daddy Issues

One bright summer day, I was chatting with my good author friend, Brianna Hale, about an idea she had for a new story. An older man who falls for the daughter of his close friend. Her story was contemporary, set in a fictional European country and a train crossing the continent. But the concept intrigued me.

More than that, it took root in my mind. Why? What’s so special about this story idea?

The man who inspired the hero of her story is one of my favorite Star Trek captains. See, we’re both fans of Star Trek: Discovery and had been smitten by the new incarnation of Captain Christopher Pike. Any Trekkie will tell you the importance of his character and the horrible fate he experiences. His journey is engaging and thrilling. Truth is, we were both smitten by his silver fox charm, those soulful blue eyes, and of course, the matching dimples he flashes with a warm smile. Anson Mount is sinfully gorgeous.

The best part of her idea was the romantic pairing that kindled her book idea. In our discussions about the handsome captain, I discovered Brianna also shipped Captain Pike with Ensign Tilly. While these two never hook up on screen, I daydreamed often about the thousands of possibilities. The way he looks at her…freaking swoon. I even indulged in writing a short fan fiction, giving them a stolen moment of passion. *wink*

Using the basic premise that inspired Brianna’s book, I crafted my variation in the late Victorian era. I altered everything else to fit my spin on her original concept with her permission, of course. One of the biggest components I kept was the train. But I needed it to fit the era I chose to write in, 1899.

Enter the Orient Express. It filled in the blanks for the inspiration I needed showcasing travel in the lap of luxury in the early 20th century. I took a page from the history of the Orient Express and created the Alpine Express. A sister line to the world famous express. I mean, who wouldn’t want to take a trip through the alps on a fancy train with all the amenities.

Placing the characters together in close quarters on a train put them in a position where they couldn’t escape. It forced them to face each other and the truth of their attraction. Add in a little mystery, a long-lost friend, some political intrigue, and an avalanche and watch the chaos ensue. But this story wouldn’t be complete with a little forbidden romance, would it?

Matilda Hudson is in love with Major Anson Montgomery. The worst part: he’s her father’s closest friend. When she meets him for the first time at twelve years old, she falls hard. But when he leaves the country, he never returns. She sends him letters, which he kindly returns, but he shows no interest in his best friend’s daughter. Until he meets her again on her twenty-first birthday in Paris.

Oh, the torment and indecision.

When she chases after him, following him onto the Alpine Express, he’s left with no alternative but to return her to her father and wash his hands of her foolish notions. But deep down, he grows to care for her and everything falls apart.

As Brianna and I talked about our individual projects, we joked our heroines had Daddy issues and that’s why they fell in love with men so close to their own father’s age. While there’s no underage flirtation or taboo romance in my story, there are some who may dislike the whole age gap romance and the fact that she loved him since childhood. I absolutely understand this hesitation. These tropes aren’t for everyone.

Seduction on the Alpine Express has a special place in my heart. When I started this story, I did not know the wonderful secondary characters it would create. This story introduces us to the major’s friend, Nikolai Veronia, a Russian bodyguard. Nikolai stole my heart, and I wrote his story in Temptation on the Alpine Express. I’ll write his story’s inspiration in a later post.

A huge thanks to Brianna Hale who gave me the spark for this book. I hope one day she finishes the story she started using these characters as the inspiration. I’ll be first in line to read it.

If you haven’t seen Captain Dimples in action, I highly recommend you check out Star Trek: Discovery (he’s only in season two) as well as Star Trek: Strange New Worlds with Captain Pike at the helm.

As the good captain says, “Hit it.”

That sounds so naughty out of context. Oh, well.

All my love,

Kirsten

Inspiration: Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood, and Pin-Up Couture

When I started writing Confessions of a Fangirl, I never imagined it would spark two additional stories. Jen’s best friends, Maggie and Lily were too vibrant to be passive secondary characters. They deserved their own stories, and I followed my heart, giving them both the happy endings they deserved.

Lily’s story is a bit different from the first two. She doesn’t lose herself in fandom or video games, but she struggles to find balance between work and chasing her dreams of being a famous designer. Lily gives a lot of her time and herself to those inside her inner circle, her friends, her roommates, and even her job. Cutting ties with the toxic relationships in her life leaves her frustrated and alone, but in the end, it helps her grow and finally achieve her dream of being a pin-up couture designer.

When I first wrote Mr. Roberts’ character, I didn’t think much of his role over the course of the series. He was just Jen and Lily’s boss. But in my head, I imagined Cary Grant in all his silver fox glory. I’m a sucker for age gap romances and wanted to indulge in this trope with Lily’s story. She happens to be a fan of older men, so pairing her with her dashing boss fit perfectly.

The age gap, office romance storyline doesn’t work for everyone, but these two tropes ended up being the keystones to Lily’s romantic adventure. Sprinkle a little mutual pining and holiday fun, and there’s a spicy romance hot off the press.

Mr. Roberts is the quintessential stunning silver fox. Why would I not have him channel that vintage Hollywood leading man personna? Lily’s a fan of all things vintage. It makes sense why she would be attracted to a handsome, older man who carried himself with confidence and class. She wears exclusively vintage styles with a pin-up girl flair. It’s like these two were made for each other.

While Lily lusts for her dapper boss, she’s also drawn to the idea of the rough and rugged cowboy. Enter Sam, a cowboy from Wyoming she meets in a Discord chat room. Lily’s never been farther West than the Poconos, let alone set foot in what her father would call a flyover state. But a newfound friendship with Sam opens doors she otherwise wouldn’t have explored.

Is this a love triangle? Perhaps. Read the story and see for yourself how it plays out. But I can tell you that Sam took his inspiration from Clint Eastwood, and we all know how sexy Blondie was in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. *swoon*

I love both the dapper gentleman and the rough and tumble cowboy. Lily’s story let me explore the delights of both types of men. It was no hard task to let my imagination run wild with both fine men. *wink*

This is a romance novel straight to the core, and it should go without saying that Lily’s undying devotion to her dream of creating vintage inspired pin-up couture lies at the center of it all. This dream of being a pin-up fashionista is her one true love, her heart’s desire, and both Sam and Mr. Roberts know and support her.

Did I mention she’s also an amazing cook? But don’t let her sweet exterior and kind heart fool you. If you cross her or mess with anyone she loves, she will not hesitate to strike back. Ask Gavin, her roommate and best friend since seventh grade. She punched a bully in the face for messing with the new kid. Lily’s dedication to her craft and those she loves only endears her to me more.

Seeing her in Confessions of a Fangirl and again in Confessions of a Gamer Girl made me want to write her story. She’s a wonderful character who deserved a happy, fresh start with a supportive man by her side.

Maybe we’ll see more of Lily, Maggie, and Jen in the future. I’ll never say never, so keep an eye out for Easter eggs and guest appearances in future books.

If you could fan cast a movie version of Confessions of a Glamour Girl, who would you have play Lily, Jackson, and Sam? And for funsies, you can cast Maggie, Gavin, Shaun, and Jen too. Tell me in the comments!

Teaser: Confessions of a Glamour Girl

Finally, the cool autumn nights have arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I’m ready for the chunky sweaters and spiced apple cider. But I’m most excited to share a sneak peek at my September 27th release, Confessions of a Glamour Girl.

This is the third and final book in my Her Confessions Series. I can’t tell yet if there will be a spin-off or a subsequent series built on this world, but I won’t close the door to possibilities in the future. For now, this will be goodbye to Jen, Maggie, and Lily.

If you’re in the mood for an Age Gap, Office Romance, then you should definitely snatch a copy of Confessions of a Glamour Girl. Lily’s story will give you all the warm, fuzzy feelings. Check out the first chapter below…

Chapter One

First Day at Valentina’s

I might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign over my head that says New Girl. After suppressing the urge to retreat, I take a deep breath and ignore the curious glances. Lifting my chin high, I cross the lobby, savoring the click of my kitten heels on the marble tile.

Staring is rude, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. Gawking. Not that I can blame them. The cherry print swing dress with the red petticoat always turns heads. Probably not the best choice for my first day working in a corporate position, but I don’t care. This is me, and I refuse to dim my shine to conform to ridiculous contemporary fashion standards. I readjust the purse strap over my shoulder, cursing the soft cashmere of the bolo sweater.

A glance at the clock on the wall calms my nerves. I have fifteen minutes until I have to be on the forty-fourth floor. I skipped my morning coffee to ensure I would be on time, but the lack of caffeine has undermined my confidence.

This is my first major step toward financial independence. After five years in college and six years working at a boutique downtown, I am still dependent on my father. He has paid for everything to get me to this point. My college degree. My wardrobe. My hobbies. Everything. Hell, he owns the Brooklyn Heights brownstone where I live with my three roommates. We pay rent, but still, I have my dignity. I’m tired of being daddy’s little girl, living on his charity.

Which is why I applied to Valentina’s. If I want to make my mark on the fashion industry, I need to understand how it works. College didn’t prepare me for that, but this will. Valentina’s is the largest high-end department store in the country, and I fully intend to learn everything I can.

With a yearly salary and room to advance, this job will give me the advantage I need to break free from my father’s controlling grip. He might be the most wealthy, powerful man in New York City, but he’s far from generous. He never invests in anything that won’t guarantee him a return. Me included. He’ll be pissed when he finds out my long-term goals don’t include him.

I’m relieved to see there’s a café in the lobby, and I step in line behind a tall man in a dark gray suit. While I wait, I admire the expensive fabric and the custom cut of the jacket. As a designer, I  take in every detail, noting the polished brown leather oxfords and expertly tailored suit. Whoever this guy is, he knows exactly what to wear to make an impression.

He steps up to the counter and orders his drink. “Doppio. Two sugars.” The deep, confident cadence of his voice leaves me breathless. He steps to the side, glancing to the left and giving me the perfect view of his profile.

Holy shit. Silver fox alert. I’m not normally attracted to older men—unless they’re Cary Grant or Gregory Peck—but dark hair threaded with silver at the temples is my kryptonite. Something inside me whimpers.

But it actually escapes my lips and he turns toward me. Oh. My. God. I look away and fidget with my purse.

“What can I get started for you, hon?” The petite barista raises a brow in question. She’s kind enough to not say anything about my gaffe.

“Cappuccino with caramel drizzle, please.”

She rings up my order and takes my money. I step off to the side to wait for my coffee, joining the sinful silver fox, who looks like he just stepped out of a vintage noir film set.

His attention remains on the newspaper in his hand when I stand beside him. Who is he? Does he work here? The thought of working alongside this man on a daily basis has my body thrumming. How the hell would I get any work done? I’d be distracted all the time.

The barista sets his drink on the counter and calls out his order. I manage to tamp down my disappointment when he takes the cup and walks away.

“Cappuccino with caramel drizzle.” She sets mine down on the counter. I grab it, making sure the lid is tight before I head for the elevator. I step into the full car right before the doors slide closed. When I reach for the button for the forty-fourth floor, it’s already lit.

It stops a few times on the way up, and by the time we reach the thirty-second floor, there is only one other person in the car with me.

The silver fox. He’s still reading his paper. I hold my breath and close my eyes.

“Please don’t be on the same floor,” I mutter.

“What number?”

Oh, shit. He heard me. I clear my throat and turn with a smile. “Forty-four.”

He looks up from the paper and I’m pinned in place by his ice blue eyes. “Hmm. You must be the new hire.” He folds the paper beneath his arm and takes a sip of his coffee.

“Yes, sir.” I’m so screwed.

“What’s your name?”

“Lily Astor.”

His brow knits momentarily, accentuating the firm set of his jaw, but his expression quickly relaxes. “Ah, yes. Miss Astor.” He holds out his hand. “Mr. Roberts.”

I shake his hand. His firm grip conveys strength and confidence, and it takes all my effort to mirror it.

The elevator comes to a stop on the forty-fourth floor, and I sway at the sudden halt in motion. His hand grips my elbow, steadying me. Before I can speak, the doors slide open.

“If you will come with me, Miss Astor.” He gestures for me to exit first.

I do, but the moment I’m out of the cloistered space, I step to the side and allow him to lead me down the hallway. We make our way through the maze of cubicles and hallways lined with offices. I keep my attention focused on his broad shoulders and curse myself for not looking up the staff I would be working with before I arrived.

“Good morning, Mrs. Foster.” Mr. Roberts nods to the woman sitting behind a desk outside a row of large offices facing the southern tip of Manhattan.

“Good morning, Mr. Roberts.”

He pushes open the door and steps into the office beyond the secretary’s desk. “Come in, Miss Astor.”

I nearly stumble over my heels but manage to compose myself quickly. Mrs. Foster casts me an encouraging smile before I follow him into his office. I glance at the door in passing and gasp when I see his name and the title beneath it. Vice President. Mr. Roberts closes the door behind me.

Oh. Sweet. Hell. I’ve been lusting after the vice president of the company. I take a fortifying sip of my cappuccino and hiss when it burns my lip.

“Please, sit down.” He gestures to the leather chair beside his desk.

Maintaining some semblance of decorum, I gently sit on the edge of the chair, careful not to mush the crinoline skirts, and cross my ankles.

He rounds the desk and unbuttons his jacket before sitting. “Well now, Miss Astor. I have a few questions before I let you get settled in.”

“Yes, sir. Of course.” I clear my throat and pray my voice sounds stronger than my confidence.

He pulls a file from the corner of his desk and opens it. “It says here you have a degree in fashion design from NYU.” He sets the file aside and meets my gaze with an intensity that leaves me simmering.

“Yes, sir.”

“Tell me, Miss Astor.” He steeples his fingers together and leans back in his chair. “Why Valentina’s?”

“Valentina’s is the oldest, most successful department store chain in the country. I want to learn all I can from the leader in the industry and be instrumental in reviving vintage fashion.”

“Interesting.” The corner of his mouth lifts, betraying his amusement. “Why work for us? With your family connections, I’m sure you could cast your influence with a much larger shadow.”

“I’m sorry?” I feign ignorance, but inside I’m cursing myself for not changing my name. Of course, they would run a background check before they hired me. My father once again asserts his influence without effort.

“Surely you don’t need to work when your father is one of the wealthiest men in the country.”

“In all transparency, sir, I may be the daughter of Monroe Astor, but our connection is in name alone.” I straighten my shoulders and keep my jaw from trembling.

“The tabloids once painted you as a daddy’s girl searching for her prince charming.”

“The tabloids print lies and fabrications to suit their own ends.” I pin him with a confident stare. “I am not a daddy’s girl any more than I am a media darling. I applied to Valentina’s in an effort to step out from under my father’s shadow and cultivate a name for myself. Now, do you have any other questions, or may I be permitted to do the job you have hired me to do?”

“Of course, Miss Astor. Please, forgive me. I did not mean to pry into a sensitive subject.” Mr. Roberts rises from his seat. “I look forward to having you on the team.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m excited to be here.”

He reaches the door before I can and opens it. “Mrs. Foster, will you please show Miss Astor to her desk?”

“Of course, sir.”

Mr. Roberts turns to me. “If you need anything, Miss Astor,” he smiles, and my heart shatters at the charm he carries with such ease, “please do not hesitate to reach out. My door is always open.”

“Thank you.”

Mrs. Foster leads me down the hallway, but the tension between me and Mr. Roberts remains like a nagging itch in the back of my mind. This will either be the best experience of my life or a waking nightmare.

One thing is for sure. I can’t indulge in vivid fantasies about my boss. Mr. Roberts might be the modern equivalent of Cary Grant with Paul Newman’s eyes, but I can’t let that distract me. His assertion about my father was accurate. I could have just batted my eyelashes and my father would have hung the moon for me. But that’s not what I want.

I’ll do it myself. I’ll show every last one of them how tough I really am. I’m more than a rich man’s daughter with a pretty face and expensive taste.

One day I’ll have my own vintage line with staying power like Gucci and Versace. But it won’t be my father’s name they see—it’ll be mine.

Lily Starling.


Thanks for checking out a sneak peek at my new release! I’m excited to share Lily and Jackson’s story with the world. xoxo

Releases September 27th…Check it out on release day for a special sale!

Much love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Birthday Giveaway!

This week I’m hosting a Birthday Giveaway for both my US and International readers to show my thanks and celebrate this monumental milestone. Thank you, darling readers, for all your love and support.

For my US Readers, I’m offering a chance to win a pair of gorgeous tea cups and SEVEN signed paperbacks.

For my International Readers, I’m offering a chance to win YOUR CHOICE of 4 eBooks from my backlist.

I’ve listed them separately, so everyone gets a fair chance. Please be sure you enter the correct giveaway and good luck!

I will announce the winners on September 1st on all my social media platforms.

Also, I’m hosting a sale for Mississippi Moonshine this week. Only 99 cents!

I hope you enjoy it! Sending you all my love.

Kirsten