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.”

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

Plotting My Torment, I mean Novel

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve met a vast variety of authors from all different genres. Yet there’s always that one detail, aside from genre, that divides us. A question really. A defining characteristic of our craft.

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

When I first started writing, I was a pantser. One hundred percent. I had a vibe, some characters, and a general idea for a plot. That’s what I used to guide me through the manuscript. Well, that and the driving force of NaNoWriMo pushing me through my daily word count. The mission was to get words down, not worry about the quality of the story itself.

I wrote this way for five years. Slowly, my process evolved to include a more cohesive story from the very beginning. Short stories and novellas were easy enough to write without an outline, but novels were tricky beasts and I found myself spending countless hours on edits, rearranging and rewriting scenes that didn’t fit into the story.

I can’t remember the moment I realized I was creating more work for myself in the long run by writing without an outline. But I adapted quickly after that.

There was no guideline, no worksheet, no mentor guiding me. I learned through trial and error what worked for me as an author. I’ve long since learned I should never compare my writing or my writing process to someone else’s. We’re all individuals with our own quirks and motivations. You can take what works, leave what doesn’t, and figure out the best process for you. But if you’re struggling with the same issues over and over, then maybe you should try something different and see if it helps.

My process:

  1. The inspiration.

A lot of times I’ll get inspiration for a book from a quote, a prompt, or a scene from a TV show/movie/book. That single spark often ignites a whole series of what if questions in my mind. This is the point where I write it down. Scribble a few notes and set it aside to marinate.

2. The rabbit hole.

While the idea marinates, I don’t overanalyze it. Most of the time, my subconscious will fill in the blanks and start answering the questions surrounding the scenario that sparked the idea. This is where I take random notes. Then, when I have a few spare minutes, I’ll get out a notebook and just write flow of consciousness.

“What if this happens? Then this? But what’s his motivation here? Why is she doing this? Ooh, what if this happens?”

These questions are the bones of my story. They paint a larger picture of the characters, the setting, and their GMC (goals, motivations, conflict.) It’s from this moment I outline scene by scene.

3. The outline.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds, trust me. I typically write anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 words per scene in one POV. Again, this isn’t a rule, it’s just how my work flows. So if I write approximately 2,000 words per scene, I’ll need thirty to give me a 60,000 word novel. That number is my guide to outline.

If I’m writing a novella, I shoot for 20,000 to 30,000 words. This is about 10-15 scenes. Knowing my word count helps me balance the story arc for the outline.

Once I have these details, I’m ready to start my outline with the following general arc in mind.

  • Establish normalcy
  • Inciting incident
  • Rising action on the defence
  • Reversal
  • Rising action on the offense
  • Climax
  • Resolution

For every scene, I make note of the key elements. Who is in the scene? Who’s POV is it? Where is the scene taking place? When does this take place? What happens in this scene? Why does it need to happen? Does it push the story forward? Then, I add any details I want included in this scene, including any random ideas or images that pop into my head. Dialog notes can also be made if the characters start talking. Anything goes here as long as you answer those basic questions. It can be as simple or as complex as you want.

Then, move onto the next scene asking what if when you get stuck. I also find that having a brainstorming session with a reader or author friend can help you get unstuck if you hit that block. My editor once told me that if I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, write ten things (no matter how crazy) that COULD happen and see if it helps uncover the direction of the story.

Now, outline.

If you don’t think you can do it, why not try? The worst thing that happens is you don’t end up following the outline as you write because your mind takes you in a different direction. And that’s okay. It happens. My characters deviate from my outline all the time. Granted, they’re minor deviations, but they can be frustrating.

A lot of times when they deviate, it’s actually better for the story as a whole. It’s almost like my subconscious knew before my brain registered. So I don’t get too upset with their shenanigans because it works out in the end.

Plotting your book doesn’t have to be complicated or intricate, with color coded cards or pages of detailed notes for every character and images galore. If that’s your process, then good for you. I’m glad you found something that works. Sometimes just having a basic framework to follow keeps you grounded in the project and motivated.

When I was a pantser, I struggled to write daily because I didn’t know where the story was going that day for that specific scene. But with a general outline, I at least have a direction when I sit down to write. It helps keep me organized and focused on the task at hand.

The beauty of my outlines is that they’re structured, but it’s not too rigid that I can’t change things if I need to as I write. I also get those surprise revelations during the writing process that keep me engaged in the story. It’s a win-win for me, giving me the best of both plotting and pantsing without the hassle of major rewrites.

So tell me. Are you a plotter? A pantser? What’s your process?

If you try my process, let me know. I’m excited to hear your thoughts and experiences.

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Sampling a New-To-Me Author

Let me begin with an honest caveat. I’m a self-published author and have spent ten years cultivating my online presence, learning tips of the trade, finding quality partners to help polish and edit my manuscripts, researching the market and my genre, and investing in the health and longevity of my stories. I may not have a well-known publisher behind my work, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of enjoyment. There are many self-published authors who invest time and energy to ensure readers get the best quality story at a reasonable price.

Self-publishing is not easy or cheap. Cover art, editing, formatting, marketing, and time all come at a price. I’m fortunate to have a husband who supports my artistic endeavors, both emotionally and financially. But I want to show him, and new readers, that my work is a worthy investment. Because it is. And so are the books of many other self-published authors.

With the expansion of self-publishing, it’s becoming harder and harder to have confidence in trying a new-to-me author. I get it. I often encounter this problem as a reader. When I find a book that catches my attention, I’m always cautious before hitting the purchase button. My solution: download a sample of the book.

Sample downloads are a game changer. If you haven’t been utilizing this feature, I highly recommend you try it. Amazon, Smashwords, and most other retailers allow you to download a 15-20% sample of the book before you purchase it.

When I start a new book, if I’m not hooked by the end of the first few chapters, I’m not going to be invested in the story. I used to be one of those readers who would finish a book, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. But I realized life is too short to read books that don’t resonate from the beginning. Thus began my DNF pile, but it also made me painfully aware of the cost of my unfinished hoard of books.

I don’t remember when I started downloading samples. But it changed the way I approached reading for pleasure. There are a lot of sample downloads waiting on my kindle, and that’s fine. I’ll get to them when the mood strikes and should they catch my interest, I’ll purchase the full book and continue reading. No harm, no foul.

With so many wonderful books flowing onto the market, it’s hard to decide what to spend your book money on. I understand it can be a difficult choice. But by downloading a sample, we’re trying a new author at no cost but our time. And since that sample is on our eReader, we’re reminded of its presence every time we open the application. This keeps the author’s name at the forefront of our minds.

Have I found wonderful new authors doing this? Yes. Have I found ones that didn’t meet my expectations or standards? Also, yes. I use this method with all types of authors, traditional, independent, or self-published. Even those with a publishing house behind their name are susceptible to the DNF pile. It’s nothing personal. I just know what I like.

Because I’m a reader, I know this also applies to me as an author. There will be those who find my work too steamy, too sweary, too brash. My books may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s perfectly fine. For those who find my stories and fall in love with them, I’m honored to have your support and love. You are my community, and I treasure your presence in my life.

Have you used the sample download feature? Does it help you find new authors to love? Tell me in the comments.

With Love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Confessions of a Fangirl Sample

When Confessions of a Fangirl released in December, I was recovering from Covid. So, that whole month was a blur. Allow me to give you a little sneak peek into the Rom Com that reads like a fangirl confessional. This book has a very special place in my heart. It taught me balance, which is a central theme and my new credo. Without further ado, allow me to introduce Jen, her devoted boyfriend, Shaun, and my made up fandom of Space Vendetta accommodating the deboinair, morally gray space pirate, Captain Korbin Ransom. Enjoy…

Chapter One

STAGE ONE: DISCOVERY

Everyone thinks they’ve got their shit figured out until they don’t. Somewhere between my first cup of coffee this morning and the afternoon staff meeting, my mind decided to take a leisurely stroll down Fantasyland Avenue. Unfortunately, I need to get it back in familiar territory so I can focus on the words coming out of my boss’s mouth.

But that will never happen. Thanks to the new guy sitting across from me in his well-tailored suit and rocking dark, wavy hair a tad too long to be fashionable. I bet it’s soft. His attention shifts away from the boss, and I catch his penetrating gaze. A half-smile forms on his lips. Shit.

I readjust the notebook in front of me and scribble a few incoherent phrases down to make it look like I’m doing something productive. My heart slows to a normal rhythm, and I curse myself for not paying closer attention to Mr. Roberts who’s rambling about quarterly reports.

Normally, I dread this monthly meeting when all the department heads gather. I’m flattered my supervisor is considering me to step in while she’s on maternity leave, but it’s been hell getting over this feeling I’m pretending to fit in instead of actually being part of the team. This opportunity will give me a shot at the promotion I’ve been hoping for—if I can focus.

When I glance up at Mr. Roberts, the new guy sits perfectly in my peripheral vision. And like that, my mind is cruising down Fantasyland Avenue again with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome riding shotgun. I glance at the pad again in defeat.

“That should do it for the moment.” Mr. Roberts gathers his files into a pile. “Before you go, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of our staff.” He gestures to the new guy I’ve been eyeing for the last hour. “Mr. Shaun Townsend. He’s transferred in from our Denver office to give us a hand in Marketing.”

My gaze shifts to Mr. Townsend who glances around the room with a pleasant smile. His gaze lingers on me for half a second before drifting back to Mr. Roberts.

“Thank you. Glad to be a part of the team.”

Oh, man. His voice. I could sit and listen to him read me the phone book.

“That’ll be all. Enjoy your weekend.” Mr. Roberts dismisses us, and I’m out of my chair in an instant.

I edge toward the door with the rest of my coworkers. Part of me wants to introduce myself to Mr. Townsend, but I remind myself to be professional. Work isn’t an appropriate venue for flirtation and romance as Pamela down in HR reminds us in her memos constantly.

Once I reach my desk, I settle in to work on the orders I started before the meeting. Not even five minutes later, Lily appears around the corner making a beeline for my desk. I envy her ability to rock vintage styles without effort. She slides into the chair beside mine, tugging her polka dot wiggle skirt down her stockinged thighs.

“Hey, Jen, did you see the new hottie in marketing?” She fans herself with dramatic flair.

“Mr. Townsend,” I inform her. “And yes, he was at the department heads’ meeting.”

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” She plucks a candy from the crystal dish and unwraps it.

My mind replays the fantasies I indulged in during the meeting. “Yes. He is.”

“Think he’s single?” Lily’s eyes sparkle.

“I doubt it.” I sigh and pout for her entertainment. “He’s probably married.”

“I didn’t see a ring.” She pops the candy in her mouth with gusto. “Means he’s still fair game.” She pauses. “Unless you want a shot at him.”

“Geeze, Lily, give the man a chance to breathe. He just got here. I’m sure he’s already got half the single ladies on staff drooling over him, not to mention the married ones.” I chuckle.

“You’re right.” She stands and smooths her hands over her hips. “Hey, are we still on for movie night this weekend?”

“Yeah, my place. Six o’clock. The new Space Vendetta movie is on Prime, I think.”

Lily bounces on her toes and claps with excitement. “Yay! I’ve been dying to watch it, plus I need some girl time. My roommates are great, but they don’t seem to get me. Ya know?”

“Why are you living with three guys again?” I lean back in my chair.

“I went to school with them.” She shrugs. “They needed a roommate, and I needed a place to live.”

“Any of them single?” I wink.

Her eyes go wide. “Trust me. You don’t want to involve yourself with these three. I’ve seen the train wreck dates they bring home.” She mimes gagging and laughs.

“Point taken.”

“I’ll see you after work.” She waves and saunters down the hallway toward her own desk.

My first day at Valentina’s, I ended up with a mud stain on the hem of my brand-new cream skirt. I couldn’t start my new job at a trendy, upscale department store looking like a hobo off the street. Without a word, a gorgeous woman who looked like a pinup model from the fifties took my hand and pulled me into the nearest restroom. Within twenty minutes, she’d worked her magic on the stain. Lily saved my ass, and I’m forever in her debt.

Three years later, we’re best friends. She grew up in Manhattan but lives in Brooklyn now. My family is from Staten Island, but I live in a small apartment in Brooklyn not far from Lily’s place. We commute together because single city ladies stick together.

I shake off the slump I feel sneaking up on me and dive back into those reports I promised myself I’d finish before the weekend. I hate having a pile of work waiting for me on Monday mornings. I focus on the screen and drown the office noise into the background.

Two hours later, I hit send on the final report and glance at the clock. Nearly four. I power down my workstation and tidy up before gathering my things and heading for the elevator. I pop by Lily’s desk on the way, but she’s nowhere in sight.

I glance around and then check my watch again. Five after four. Where is she?

As I wander the floor, I pull out my phone and send her a text. I stumble back when I collide with a solid warm wall, dropping my phone and my bag.

A pair of hands grab my arms and steady me. “Are you okay?”

Once I find my footing, I glance up to meet the piercing gaze of Mr. Townsend. My face warms and I curse the natural blush God blessed me with.

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

“It’s dangerous to text and walk, you know.” His lopsided smile makes my stomach flip.

“So I’ve been told.” I pick up my phone as he bends to retrieve my purse. Once we both rise, I offer my hand. “I’m Jen. I work in acquisitions for women’s wear.”

“Nice to meet you.” His warm hand nearly engulfs my own and a spark of need envelops me.

“And you, Mr. Townsend.”

His grip tightens. “Call me Shaun.”

I swallow the lump in my throat. “Shaun.” With reluctance, I release his hand.

A strained pause pulls tight between us, until he smiles. “I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but are you free tonight?”

My heart pounds. Free? Me? Are you kidding? “Yeah, why?”

“Would you like to have dinner with me?” He chuckles and the sound reverberates through me. I’m smitten with the sound of it.

“Sure. I know this great place in Brooklyn if you’re craving pizza.”

“Sounds perfect.” He laughs. “You read my mind.”

Oh crap, I’m beyond smitten. I’m half in love with him. I shake my head when I remember Lily. “Give me a minute and we can head out.”

“Sure. I’ll grab my coat.” He disappears down the hall.

I slump against the wall and text Lily. I’m going out to dinner with a friend. Catch you tomorrow.

After I send it, I close my eyes and lean against the wall. Did I just fall in love with a stranger? What the hell am I doing? I must be insane.

Chapter Two

Within thirty minutes, we’re in Brooklyn, standing in front of the pizza place I told him about. Mario’s neon sign glints from inside the front window. My apartment is in the building above the shop, but I don’t mention it to Shaun.

He opens the door and gestures for me to enter. Butterflies take flight in the pit of my stomach when he smiles. Oh man, I need to pace myself with this one.

I slip inside the door and wave at Johnny working behind the counter. The middle-aged pizza slinger with slicked black hair and a thick Brooklyn accent is like the older brother I never had since I eat here at least twice a week. I can feel his curious gaze sizing up the man entering the shop behind me.

I snag the booth in the corner facing the front window. It’s comfortable and familiar, and yet with Shaun sitting across from me, it feels new and exciting.

My coat is too hot. I tug it off my shoulders and set it aside as Johnny comes up and puts two menus on the table.

“Hey, Jen, how’s it goin’?” He tosses an easy smile at me before eyeing my dinner companion.

“It’s goin’.” I return his smile and smack my lips. “Can I get a Yuengling?”

“Yeah, sure.” Johnny turns to Shaun.

“Same for me.” Shaun leans back with a casual indifference that seems to say you’re driving this car.

“Want the usual, Jen?”

“You particular about toppings?” I ask Shaun before making my decision.

“Nope. I’m game for anything.”

I swear there’s a double meaning behind those words, but before I can chase the thought, Johnny mumbles under his breath.

“The usual is fine. Thanks, Johnny.”

“You got it, kid.” He shoots a glance at Shaun before retreating behind the counter once more.

“I don’t think he likes me much.” Shaun’s crooked grin makes my heart thump against my ribs.

“We’re practically family. I mean, I eat here more than I eat at home, so…” I shrug and my face heats at the confession of how much pizza I consume on a weekly basis.

“Ah.” He nods as Johnny returns with two frosted mugs brimming with lager. “Thanks.”

Johnny shoots me a sidelong glance as he sets the mug down with a look that screams if he tries anything stupid, let me know. It’s nice to know someone’s looking out for me. Once we’re alone again, I take a sip of beer and relax.

“Nice place.” Shaun’s gaze strays for a second taking in the small shop. When it meets mine, my whole body warms through like I took a shot of whiskey.

“So.” I shift in my seat under his perusal. “How was your first day? I’m sure our office is quite different from Denver.”

“It is. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m excited for a new challenge.”

“Are you from Denver originally?” I dig deeper wanting to know more about him.

He shakes his head. “No. I was born in Davenport, Iowa.”

I blink at him drawing a blank. “Where’s that?”

His eyes sparkle when he laughs. “Not many people can point it out on the map. It’s right on the Mississippi River. Just find St. Louis and follow the river north, you’ll run smack into Davenport.”

My face warms. “It’s been years since I’ve been anywhere farther than Pennsylvania. Guess it shows, huh?”

He shrugs it off. “You grow up here?”

“Staten Island. I mean, it’s still one of the boroughs, but it’s a bit more spacious than Manhattan.” I take another sip of the cool lager.

“But you’re a Brooklyn girl now, huh?”

“Yeah. I mean, my apartment’s not much, but it’s in a decent neighborhood.” I gesture to the room. “And the food’s great.”

We sit in silence for a moment, and I can’t help but wonder what’s going through his mind. I mean, I don’t know this guy. But being with him is comfortable and his warm charm makes me trust him. Maybe that’s why they chose him for the marketing director position. His charisma will go a long way in bringing in potential clients.

“You okay over there?” He rubs his thumb across the frosted mug as he watches me.

“Yeah.” I shuffle off whatever doubts remain and remind myself we’re still coworkers.

“You look worried.” He’s intuitive. Damn, that’s kind of hot.

“I don’t want you to get the wrong impression.” I twist the mug in my hand searching for the words. “I don’t normally…”

“Jen.” He interrupts me with a gentle tone. “You’re showing the new guy the best pizza joint in town. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that.”

I groan and hide my face behind my hand. But what if I want it to be more? “Sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?” He chuckles. “I asked you to join me for dinner.”

“I know.” Open mouth, insert foot. “But I’m still trying to figure out why?”

His eyes darken the slightest fraction, almost as though I’d imagined it. “Because I wanted to get to know you.”

Years of telling myself not to get involved with a coworker fade into a distant oblivion with those simple words. “Do you use that line often?” I tease, unable to stand the tension pulling tight between us.

“I’ve never used that line.” He laughs and the tension eases back into comfortable companionship. “In fact, I’ve always made it a point to avoid mixing my personal life with work. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s true.”

“So you never went out with your coworkers for pizza in Denver?”

“Never.” He scoffs. “What about you?”

“Oh, I hang out with my coworkers all the time outside of work.”

His brow arches, and I kick myself for not being clearer.

“I mean, I have a lot of friends at the office.” Yeah, keep putting your foot in your mouth. I groan. “Maybe I should shut up now. I sound like an idiot.”

“No, you don’t.” He leans forward resting his elbows on the table. “I want to be honest with you.”

Johnny arrives with a steamy, delicious supreme pie laden with veggies, sausage, and pepperoni. He slides it onto the table between us. “Enjoy.”

“Thanks.” I flash him a smile as he walks away. When I turn back to Shaun, his intense expression steals my breath.

“I’ve never broken my rule about dating a coworker.” His focus hones on me like a laser, and I freeze mid-reach for a slice of pizza.

“Dating?” The word feels foreign on my tongue.

“Is that a problem for you?” He reaches across the table and takes my hand. Those soft fingertips brush over my skin making me shiver with need.

“I mean if we were in the same department, maybe, but I don’t know. I’ve never dated anyone from work before. Holy shit. I wasn’t expecting this.” My heart thunders in my chest drowning out the sound of my own thoughts.

“Neither was I.” He squeezes my hand gently and then lets go. “If I’m going too fast, tell me. We can take it slow. I’ve always been told I’m too direct for my own good.”

My hand tingles where he touched me. I miss the warmth already. “Knowing what you want isn’t a bad thing.”

“The question is, what do you want?” His gaze bores into my soul.

“As long as it doesn’t affect work, I’m game for anything.” I throw his own words back at him in an effort to play it cool regardless of the simmering attraction steaming up the window beside us. Oh, no, that’s from the pizza. I reach for a slice giving my hands something to do other than reach for him.

Shaun grins and grabs a slice for himself. “Sounds like a plan.”

We eat in relative silence and hang out to chat over another mug of Yuengling. He’s sweet and conversational. The topics range from his childhood in Iowa to my adventures in Brooklyn and beyond. He asks about my parents and my interests. I reciprocate the inquisition, and we laugh at how different yet similar we are. 

When Johnny finally kicks us out at eleven, I’m stunned at how quickly time passes in Shaun’s company. Finally, a man who doesn’t make me feel inept or defensive. It’s so refreshing. We exchange phone numbers before pulling on our coats.

We stop outside the shop so I can pull on my gloves.

“Can I walk you home?” Shaun asks, his eyes glinting under the streetlights.

“I thought you said we were gonna take this slow?” I sway against him with a nudge of my elbow.

“You’re right.” He grins. “I wanna make sure you make it home safely.”

“That’s quite chivalrous of you. It’s not far. I’ll be okay.” I squeeze his hand. “Thanks though.”

His gaze searches my face like he’s trying to decipher a code beneath the surface of my skin. My whole body ignites and I’m melting regardless of it being a chilly twenty-five degrees in the middle of February.

He steps closer and cups my jaw in his hand smoothing his thumb across my lower lip. My breath catches as he lowers his head and kisses me. The soft brush of his mouth on mine is a welcome invasion. I grasp his lapel and pull him closer. His warm, spicy scent envelops me, tugging at the back of my mind. Gucci Guilty, I think, subtly buried beneath the fresh scent of linen and what I can only assume are his natural pheromones.

Shaun pulls me against him and teases my lips open with the slightest press of his tongue. I’m lost in the kiss, in his arms, drowning in a sea of unexpected bliss, I barely hear the sound of someone coughing behind me.

“All right, you two. Get a room.”

I pull away from Shaun with a start, and he laughs. I turn to see Johnny standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips.

“This ain’t that kind of establishment. Go home, Jen.” He jabs a finger at Shaun. “Don’t mess with her.”

“Sorry, Johnny.” I turn back to face Shaun. “I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah. Sleep well.” He reluctantly drops my hand and retreats down the street.

I watch until he disappears around the corner. With a sigh, I head toward the entrance beside the pizza parlor. My mind spins over the impossibility of the day’s events. If someone would have told me I’d meet the man of my dreams at work today, I’d have called them crazy. Maybe I’m the one who’s crazy. Either way, I can’t complain. Crazy is feeling pretty damn good right now.

Click here to grab a copy and continue reading…

Thanks for stopping by. XoXo

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel: Release Day and Sale!

If you’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to pick up a copy of Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel, then your wait is over. ❤

Starting on Sunday, March 27th, my fairy tale fantasy romance will be ONLY $0.99 for a limited time. Three romances in one novel for a buck! That’s a steal of a deal. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this opportunity. It goes LIVE on March 29th. Check it out. ❤

Once upon a time, an ancient darkness consumed the land. It cursed the innocent and seduced the powerful. No man could break it for none possessed the knowledge or the will to do so.

After seven years hunting the beasts who killed her aunt and grandmother, Scarlett returns to her cousins, Bianca and Rose, only to find her uncle slaughtered in the forest near their cottage. The man who once protected them from the queen was gone.

When three handsome brothers appear at the village market selling their wares, Scarlett and Bianca hesitate to welcome the outsiders, but Rose takes an immediate liking to the burly, quiet middle brother.

Unease fills the women when it becomes obvious something is hunting them. Trained in the art of the hunt and the healing power of nature, they set out to uncover the sinister truth behind the death of their family members. Wandering down a dark and twisted road, the trio soon discovers the hunter can easily become the prey.

Still not sure? Check out Buffyanna’s review:

“You have such bright eyes.” The observation fell from her lips in a whisper. “All the better for me to see you in the dark.”

Scarlett, and her cousins Bianca and Rose, are huntresses. Orphaned at a tender age, but not before they have been trained to be fierce and resourceful fighters, they live in the forest outskirts of the Kingdom of Revaria and wish to be left alone. Well, Scarlett and Bianca do. Rose, the most amicable and nurturing of the three, wants to know the new blacksmith better. The feeling is mutual, and he has two brothers who want to know Scarlett and Bianca better, too!

“What sharp teeth you have.” She licked the trickle of blood from her lip. Lust boiled beneath the surface of her fear.

Kirsten Blacketer performs pure alchemy, transmuting “The Red Riding Hood” and the “Snow White and Rose Red” fairy tales into one all-in-the-family dark tale complete with an evil queen, a cruel curse, and not only one, but three, love stories! Oh, how I loved this! In the first half, I was totally captivated and I couldn’t put it down. Towards the end, I forced myself to slow down, savour it, chew slowly, because I so desperately didn’t want it to end.

“Such a wicked mouth you have.” He grinned at the way she writhed beneath his touch. “All the better to—”

I loved the way the Scarlett, Bianca, and Rose are badass all the way through from beginning to end, but they do have their soft spots for their boys, each in their own way. There is a mystery as to why the evil queen and her huntsman have been pursuing them (which makes this a nod to both Snow Whites) but the reason was not one I guessed! I strongly recommend Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel to anyone looking for a carnal, suspenseful, feminine retelling of Grimm’s fairy tales.

Thanks for the support and love. I hope you enjoy my fairy tale reimagining. xoxo

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Inspiration: Grief, a Viral Video, and ReyLo

As an avid reader, I love learning behind-the-scenes information about a book I enjoyed. So, I’ve decided to have a little fun and show you the inspiration behind some of my books. This week, I’m going to chat about A Lockdown Love Affair.

There are a couple of layers to this one, so let me unpack them one stage at a time.

In March of 2020, I was living blissfully in Italy and planning countless trips across Europe for the upcoming year. Then the pandemic struck. Not only was I unable to leave my property for three months, but I ended up canceling every trip I had planned because no one knew how long it would last or what would happen. Needless to say, I experienced the stages of grief during that period.

Denial – This couldn’t be happening. It’s like a nightmare.

Anger – I only had a limited time in Italy and wanted to make the most of my ability to travel Europe. Piss me off.

Bargaining – I’ll follow the rules, just let me OUT!

Depression – I wasn’t going anywhere, and it left me hopeless and miserable.

Acceptance – There wasn’t much I could do to change the world around me, so I had to find something to do with my time and my emotions.

This post isn’t about the pandemic or my reaction to it, but I need to explain my initial reaction because it’s ultimately what breathed life into my characters, Ben and Penelope.

See, Ben Statler became a conduit for my stages of grief. I poured every ounce of my emotional response into his character. Ben absorbed all of my frustration and rage. His grumpy ass mirrored my own. But I gave him a life and a purpose of his own.

Penelope was my little ray of sunshine, my hope that something good could come from this. And it did. This book became the catalyst for my writing goals. I wrote and released four stories in 2020. Then, in 2021, I wrote seven stories and released four. This newfound drive became something I could use to my advantage. I pulled story ideas I began years ago and put them on paper. And new ideas flowed like wine at an Italian feast.

A Lockdown Love Affair saved my sanity.

But there are two other important contributors to the creation of this story. A viral video on Facebook, and ReyLo.

Scrolling endlessly on Facebook one day, I stumbled across a video of a guy in New York City who saw a girl dancing on the neighboring rooftop. He sent a note with his phone number using his drone and they started a socially distanced relationship. It was a cute story and sparked the inspiration I needed to bring Ben and Penelope together.

But what’s ReyLo and how does that fit into this?

Well, right before the country went into lockdown, my husband and I took the kids to see The Rise of Skywalker. Up until this moment, I hadn’t seen The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi. (Don’t judge me.) But the moment I stepped out of the theater, I knew I needed more Kylo Ren/Ben Solo x Rey in my life. More than that, I needed to fix what the creators destroyed. (I’m trying really hard not to go off on a tangent. Bear with me.) So I watched all the films, and then dove into the fan fiction. I became a ReyLo Shipper.

Gif from The Rise of Skywalker

I love fan fiction. I read copius amounts of it from many different fandoms. But this one hit me differently. I wanted to write so many variations and alternate universe ideas with the pairing, but I knew it would steal time away from my original fiction. So, I combined them.

I used ReyLo as the inspiration for Ben and Penelope, making him grumpy and brooding while she became his ray of sunshine. It was the perfect compromise. Ben Statler is still one of my favorite characters, and he appears in my other contemporary series as the main character’s boss.

There you have it. The inspiration for A Lockdown Love Affair. It may not be pretty or coherent, but there it is. A story born of my coping mechanism, a viral video, and my unwavering love of a fandom ship.

Life has a strange way of working things out in the end.

Which book should I dive into next? Let me know in the comments.

All my love,

Kirsten

Why Contemporary Romance?

Even though my journey as a published author seems like it began with historical romance, it really didn’t. Around the same time I wrote An Irresistible Shadow, I wrote two other stories, both contemporary romance. They weren’t as complex as my medieval romance, and both had elements of romantic suspense. Yes, both were also published at the beginning of my career.

My first publication was a short story called “What The Darkness Proposes.” If this title looks familiar, it’s because I published it here on my website a week before I posted this. I originally wrote it for a short story competition hosted by Romantic Shorts, and it won second place. Unfortunately, Romantic Shorts will be closing their doors. So, I made a new home here on my website for the short stories they published.

Around the same time, I submitted a romantic suspense novelette to another small press. Full Throttle: Blood, Sweat, and Gears. It was very much inspired by Tara Janzen’s Crazy series featuring fast cars and a smoking hot hero. I absolutely loved writing it. But this story has also been taken down from the publisher and the rights returned. I am considering the idea of revising it as a fun treat for my subscribers.

I’ve learned a lot since these first publications. My writing has improved. My tastes have also become more specific. But the best lesson I learned was to follow my heart and write the stories I want to read. I’ll chase down whatever idea strikes me and pen a delightful romance with its inspiration.

But after six years of writing historical romance, why did I suddenly dive back into contemporary?

Well, as much as I love historical romance, there are limitations when I write it. Specifically the firm constraints of the time period which could be etiquette, technology, or other details that may inhibit the creative process. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be exhausting trying to be true to the time period.

In Spring of 2020, I was enjoying my time living in Italy…when Covid struck. I had plans. To travel. To grasp every possible opportunity living in Europe had to offer. And then we got locked down. HARD. I mean, I didn’t leave our one-acre property for three months. My husband did all the shopping when he went to work. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere, and all of our plans were canceled, including my trip to visit Samantha Holt in England! I was enraged. Furious. Disappointed. Crushed. I had nowhere to vent my frustrations.

Only, I did. I poured my heart and soul into A Lockdown Love Affair that spring. Then it sparked an idea for A Holiday Love Affair and Mistletoe and Mistakes. All three books are interconnected and the characters were born from an idea sparked during my time in lockdown.

I set a writing schedule and stuck to it. By January of 2021, I decided to challenge myself and focus on writing a book every two months while publishing one every quarter. I met this goal with ease, even in the midst of an intercontinental move.

I pulled ideas for stories I had set aside years ago and focused on writing them. Confessions of a Fangirl had been an idea for a screenplay, but I morphed it into a romantic comedy that sparked two more books. Thus, the Her Confessions Series was born. The best part of that is these books interconnect with the universe I created for my Sunshine Meets Grump Series (A Lockdown Love Affair, A Holiday Love Affair, and Mistletoe and Mistakes.)

All of my contemporary romances so far weave together in the same universe. That’s the only tidbit I’m going to tell you because I don’t want to spoil the Easter eggs I’ve placed in the books. But even my 1985 time travel romance, When I Found You, spawned its own series of five books, and there are characters within those stories who tie into my contemporary universe. I love when a plan comes together, especially when I didn’t really plan it at all! My subconscious is a terrifying place sometimes.

Honestly, why do I like writing contemporary romance? Because I’m a contemporary woman. For me, it’s the easiest era in which to write. It feels natural because I’m living it on a daily basis. I can tie in modern technology and conventions while putting my own fun spin on it with pop culture.

It also brings a much-needed reprieve from writing a bygone era. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing historical romance, but it can be overwhelming at times. I love the freedom that contemporary romance gives me to explore topics and plots I couldn’t utilize in a historical romance.

Fortunately, I read a lot of both genres, so I’m able to bounce back and forth with ease. There are just some days when you’re in a very specific mood. I like to be flexible with my reading, but even more so with my writing.

I’ll keep going as I have been, writing both steamy historical and contemporary romance. But at least now you know the reason why I’m all over the place. Thanks for tagging along for the ride!

Are you camp Contemporary or camp Historical? Tell me in the comments.

Always,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Romantic Short: What the Darkness Proposes

As a second-place finalist in 2012’s New Year New Story Writers’ Competition, What The Darkness Proposes, by Kirsten S. Blacketer sets the stage as her first official publication. The short story was hosted on RomanticShorts.com previously. Although her writing has evolved and improved, this story showcases her improvement over the years and remains a crucial component to the foundation of her later works.

Enjoy!

What The Darkness Proposes

by Kirsten S. Blacketer

The note would do the trick. Donald Baranski was nothing if not tenacious. He slipped the folded paper into the briefcase that luckily sat open on Brad Martin’s desk. As he sauntered back to his office, he offered a wink and a smile to the secretary. She blushed prettily, but his tastes ran a little richer these days. He spied the boss’s daughter coming towards him and straightened his tie. Speak of the devil, he thought with a wicked grin.

* * * * *

Evangeline Martin walked towards her father’s office. She noticed that her father’s secretary, Miss LeDeux, gave her a jealous scowl. Then she saw her father’s partner Donald Baranski staring at her. His eyes were as dark as his mahogany-colored hair. He was a handsome man, but there was something unsettling about the way he leered at her.

Evangeline was more than the rich daddy’s girl many people believed. She prided herself on her savvy business sense and her killer shoes. Nothing else mattered to her, least of all people’s opinions. She was too busy making a name for herself in the fashion marketing industry to take time for her private life, which was sadly lacking.

Relationships were superficial. Her last boyfriend had been so obsessed with her that she found herself working longer hours and finding excuses to break their dates. When he confronted her about it, she ended the relationship. She had no friends to speak of. Men or women, it didn’t matter; they all brought drama.

If there was one thing Evangeline despised, it was drama. When it came to business, she could charm the pants off a priest. In the business world, negotiations and deals were part of a game she could easily manipulate to her advantage. But outside of these office walls, when she was merely Evangeline, not Miss Martin VP, she felt inadequate.

She shivered as she brushed past Mr. Baranski. An odor of overpowering cologne and faint cigar smoke wafted off him. “You look lovely today Miss Martin.” His voice was pleasant, but Evangeline wanted nothing more than to be away from him.

“Thank you,” she replied, smiling sweetly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a few things to attend to.” She entered her father’s office and shut the door behind her.

Making her way to his desk, she saw her briefcase sitting on the top. Her father had given her that briefcase for Christmas last year; it was identical to his. It wasn’t the first time her father had been in such a hurry that he’d grabbed the wrong case. She smiled at the thought of her father.

She was about to close it when she saw the small folded note. Evangeline opened it and felt the blood rush to her head as she read it. The note was one sentence:

Mr. Martin. If you want continued safety for your daughter, you will meet my demands. ~ X

Blackmail? Evangeline stared at the note in horror. Her father was in meetings all afternoon, and she needed to know the meaning behind this. She would leave a message for him to meet her for dinner. He’s not telling me something. I have to know. She scrawled a quick note and left it on his desk. Then grabbing her briefcase, she returned to her office and buried herself in work, ignoring the foreboding creeping up her spine.

* * * * *

Cedric snapped his cell phone shut and placed it back in his hip holster. This job was wearing on his nerves. The rich old man was paranoid, but he paid good money to have his daughter taken care of. He had hired Cedric several weeks ago to keep a watchful eye on his protégé, his little girl.

He scoffed. Little girl, he thought, hell, she is a full-grown woman with a full-blown attitude. The first time he saw Evangeline Martin, his heart had nearly stopped. She was a looker with a mane of long black curls framing a deceptively angelic face. He knew from his research that she was a lion in this industry. Thanks to Daddy and his deep pockets, he figured.

After shadowing her for nearly three weeks, he knew everything about her. She didn’t have a social life, worked all the time, and had a sweet spot for delicately crafted expensive footwear. Tonight, he thought, as he waited outside her office building. Tonight.

* * * * *

Evangeline glared up into the evening sky. A faint glimmer of starlight beamed back, mocking her. “Freakin fantastic,” she cursed under her breath. She bent down to pick up what remained of her three-inch Manolo Blahnik heel, which was torn off her shoe and now sat lodged in a sizable crack in the sidewalk. “I just bought these yesterday!”

She jerked it free and removed both shoes, seating herself on a nearby bench. Fortunately, Evangeline always carried a pair of ballet flats in her purse; luck favors the prepared. She slipped them on and glanced around the deserted park. She knew better than to cut through here after dark. Who knows what kind of people congregate here at night? Her brain screamed to keep moving, yet her slightly swollen ankle and the torturous instruments that passed for shoes had sucked the last of her resources. The things one does for beauty.

This shoe debacle was beginning to grate her nerves anew. Rubbing her ankle, Evangeline forced herself to breathe deeply, to quell the rising tide of frustration. Could this day actually get any worse?

“Do you need help?” The velvet voice was like a caress, smoothing her ruffled feathers. Evangeline looked up, startled by the sensuality of his voice, and his sudden appearance.

“No, I’m fine,” she replied, “just broke my damn shoe.” She muttered, “Contemporary torture device,” glaring at the offending accessory. His soft chuckle caught her attention.

“What are you doing here so late?” he asked, searching her face.

A bit confused at his question, she rubbed her ankle one last time and slowly stood, stooping over to pick up her belongings. “Short cut. Bad idea,” she confessed, finally taking a full, measured look at the stranger. He was well over six feet, his body a collection of shadows here in the dimly lit park. A faint, flickering streetlamp glowed nearby, providing just enough light for her to see his face.

Sinful. That was the first word that popped into her head. The second was dangerous. A close third was delicious. All in all, he was the perfect example of the man mothers warn their daughters about. His hair glistened as he cocked his head, the streetlamps catching shades of auburn among the deep mocha coloring of his hair. A shadow of a beard sharpened the angles of his cheeks and chin, while his cool grey eyes sparked with intelligence. She was going to make sure she didn’t underestimate that.

He stood with his hands in his pockets, relaxed, watching her. “Can I walk you home?”

She heard him say it but still couldn’t believe it. She took a step back, hesitant. Her mind protested, but something about his silver tongue melted her reservations. A distant warning in her mind burned like a neon sign. It said, Be careful what the darkness proposes. There was not a doubt in her mind that he was the antithesis of light. It was as if the night amplified him in some way. She would have bet right then and there that, had she met him in the daylight, he would still be just as dangerously handsome, but without the presence the darkness gave him. She took a moment and studied his face.

He did not look like a serial killer. He did not look like anyone she had ever seen before. Evangeline prided herself on her gut instincts when it came to first impressions. In her line of work, she had to make split-second decisions sometimes moments after meeting someone for the first time. No amount of pre-introduction research could ever prepare a person for a face-to-face meeting. Everything hinged on that gut feeling. At least it did for Evangeline, and right now, it was telling her to trust him.

“I don’t normally allow handsome strangers I meet in the park to walk me home.” She smiled. “But I can make an exception.”

His eyes glimmered with amusement. They walked in the general direction of Evangeline’s apartment. She was burning with questions, but fortunately, her tongue decided to cooperate with her tonight and not blurt out the first things that popped into her mind.

“Do you make it a habit to pick up strange women in the park?” she joked.

“No.” He glanced at her. “Just you.”

“Can I ask why?”

“Sure.”

She frowned slightly. “Why did you ask to walk me home?”

“You’re going to need help.”

Evangeline froze. “What do you mean?” She took a small step away from him.

He stopped and turned to face her. “Evangeline, at some point, you’re going to need my help.”

She shook her head, the very marrow of her bones beginning to tremble. “Who are you? What do you want? And how the hell do you know my name?” The questions raged from her lips. Evangeline was two seconds from bolting into the trees if it meant she could escape this man. But part of her sanity held her fast as if that small part knew that if she tried to run, it would only make things worse.

“You have no reason to fear me.” His voice was calm and soothing.

She wanted to believe him, but the whole situation made her uncertain. The memory of the note flashed into her mind. She closed her eyes, squeezing them tight. She shook her head then opened her eyes focusing all her energy on the devastatingly handsome man watching her. “Okay, you’re seriously creeping me out. Either you start explaining or you start walking.” She pointed in the opposite direction of her apartment.

For a moment, Evangeline almost thought he was going to answer her. He took a deep breath. But just as quickly as he opened his mouth, she saw a blur as he grabbed her arm and pulled her against him. His hand had covered her mouth and his other arm held her tight. He backed swiftly and quietly into the closest copse of trees, keeping her flush against his body.

“Quiet.” He whispered the word, his breath caressing her ear.

A pair of masked men bolted into the clearing, approaching where she and the man holding her had just stood. Evangeline’s blood pounded in her ears as she watched, helpless. What have I gotten myself into? She started to struggle, but Mr. Sinful was much stronger than she had anticipated. I’m going to die. They’re going to kill me. A sob caught in the back of her throat, and she struggled to hold back the threatening tears. This is the shittiest week EVER!

The masked men looked around for a few seconds, stopping on the path where she had stood just moments before. “Where did they go?” the tall one asked.

“Damned if I know.” The shorter one spat. “You were supposed to be keeping track of her.”

“Don’t start that shit now. C’mon, we’ll get her soon enough. Let’s get out of here before anyone sees us.”

The two men jogged back the way they came. Evangeline sagged a little in his arms when she realized that he was not in league with them. As the adrenaline rush slowed, she was immediately aware of the man holding her. Aware of every solid, muscled inch. She could feel the tension and movement in every twitching muscle. He slowly lowered his hand, but he didn’t let her go.

“Th-thank you.” Her voice sounded raspy in her ears.

“You’re welcome.”

His voice was a low baritone that gave her immediately dirty thoughts. Someone just tried to attack you and your brain is in the gutter. Something about this whole situation did not sit well with her. Deep in a dark recessed part of her brain, reason was trying to shove its two cents forward.

She spun on the man holding her. “What the hell is going on?” she exploded. She looked at the stranger expectantly, but he stood staring into the dark patch of woods where the masked men had just disappeared. When no answer was forthcoming, she turned; throwing her hands up in the air, she stomped away from him. Good riddance. She chewed on her lower lip, feeling the anxiety as it began to weave through her synapses. Evangeline was tired and frustrated. She longed for nothing more than to be safely tucked behind two deadbolts and a chain, sipping a comforting cup of spiked cocoa and vegetating in front of cable reruns.

“Where are you going?”

She looked up, seeing that he had caught up with her. His eyes weren’t hard or angry, just amused. Evangeline stopped. Putting her hands on her hips, she hoped she sounded confident. “I am going home,” she snapped.

“You know you can’t do that,” was his calm reply.

“The hell I can’t.” Her patience cracked in half. “Listen, I don’t know who you are or what you want from me. But I’m about this close to losing it. I want a hot drink, an even hotter shower, and then a date with my remote. And no one, least of all you, Mr. Dark and Sinful, is going to get in my damn way.”

His laugh gave her pause. It was melodic and honest. She blinked twice, mesmerized by the sound of it. It ended on a long sigh, and then he spoke.

“Evangeline.” He paused, thoughtful, and then shook his head. “Let’s go.”

She stood there staring at his back as he walked away. “Wait, who do you think you are just barging into my life by moonlight and barking orders at me?” She caught up to him and tossed what she hoped was an intimidating glare out of the corner of her eye.

“I asked you a question,” she ground out between clenched teeth. Still nothing. She had had enough. “Alright!” She put her hand on his arm and pushed him. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me who you are. I at least deserve to know that!”

Evangeline hadn’t even dropped her hand when suddenly he had her by the arms and spun her in front of him. His grip was hard and unyielding, but not painful. His grey eyes darkened like a storm cloud as they bore into hers. She felt as if he was reading pages torn from her soul, listing all of her deeds, and every one of her desires. She looked away, ashamed at her thoughts.

“Cedric Deveraux,” he murmured. She looked up at him again. His grip softened, his fingers released her and slowly caressed her arms as he dropped his hands. She shivered, feeling disappointed at the loss of contact.

“Come with me,” he said quietly. “I will explain everything.” The shadows danced over them as they wove through the park under lamplight and trees. Evangeline studied him from the corner of her eye.

“What kind of name is Cedric?” she asked, breaking the silence.

“A very old and distinguished one.” His answer was brisk.

“Old? How old are you Cedric?” Cedric’s silence annoyed her. She liked having all the information she wanted at her fingertips. Her nerves were already frazzled. He was just adding tinder to the fire. “I thought you were going to explain everything.”

“I am.”

“Well?”

“What?”

“I’m just trying to make conversation here unless you want to skip the foreplay.” She mentally smacked herself for using those words. His eyes caught hers and smoldered. She decided to change the subject.

“Are you a vampire?” she blurted.

He laughed.

“A warlock?” He gave her a strange look.

“Time traveler? Sorcerer? Werewolf?” she asked in quick succession. She covered her mouth, a giggle escaping her lips. “Sorry.”

“You sound amused.” He eyed her solemnly, then stopped to turn and face her. “Tell me, Evangeline, do you begin happy hour at noon or as soon as you get up?”

Her giggles stopped. “I’ll have you know I haven’t imbibed a single drop of alcohol today!”

“Yet,” he finished her thought. “Fear does that to some people. Most of the time it makes them insane, seeing things that don’t exist. You, however, use humor to cover fear. Try to pretend it’s no big deal.”

Her eyes locked onto his. She hoped he was getting her hate-filled message loud and clear. “Who are you?” She glared at him.

“I told you.”

“No,” she pressed, “I know your name. I want to know who hired you.”

“Ah, you think someone paid me to be here.” His mischievous grin deepened. “You’re right.” He began walking again.

She caught up to him. “Well, since you’re not going to tell me what I want to know and just admitted that someone paid you to be here, then go.” She pushed past him and stormed off in the direction of civilization.

“And pass up this lovely opportunity.” She could hear the amusement in his voice. Just the tenor of it made her limbs turn to jelly. “Your problems are far more complicated than just having me trailing your skirts.”

How could he be so cavalier? She was having by far the shittiest week of her life, and he waltzes in and starts barking orders. Work was an absolute nightmare. Donald had been hitting on her for weeks after Daddy had let slip about her recent breakup. Her gaze lingered on Cedric for a moment. I wonder if he’s married. Why am I even having these thoughts? Cedric was another matter altogether. Sure he was as decadent as a midnight chocolate binge, but he was dangerous. And off limits, period.

As if he read her mind, he caught up, catching her arm in his. She looked at him and his eyes flickered with an emotion that could be interpreted as either desire or intense dislike. It was hard to tell in the poorly lit park. Good, I hope he hates me. She chewed her lower lip. His eyes watched her mouth.

“What?” she snapped.

“Nothing,” he replied tersely. He took a moment and surveyed the park around them. The street was a hundred feet away. She could see the twinkle of the Starbucks and the glowing neon of Cantori’s, her favorite bar. “C’mon, let’s get a drink.”

She didn’t argue. But she vaguely remembered that she had somewhere to be. Although, right now, she didn’t want to admit to herself that she felt safer with Cedric. It’s nice not being alone.

* * * * *

Donald leaned against the tree, scowling at the couple that walked on the path no more than a stone’s throw in front of him. The tall, shadowed stranger by her side had been following Evangeline for weeks. He had thought his note might have scared the old man into locking his little girl at home. She would have been an easier target there. His frown deepened.

For far too long he had taken the old man’s lead, played second fiddle to the master. Since he won’t listen, I will remove my competition. Donald smoothed his hands over his hair and straightened his jacket. He was going to make sure Evangeline knew that her career was over, permanently.

* * * * *

This woman is a pain in the ass, Cedric thought to himself watching the sassy little brat push past him and burn a direct path to the neon-lit bar. His head cocked to the side as his eyes zeroed in on her posterior. What an ass! He shook himself mentally. This job was making him lose his mind.

Evangeline was a walking contradiction. She was smart, funny, and successful in her career. But away from the bustle of the job, she rarely left the house and never went out with anyone. Here was a sharp sophisticated business woman with every modern convenience who shunned friends and love. In Cedric’s mind, a professional life was a means to money for the relaxing comfort of a personal life. Yet from watching over her for the past three weeks, he had seen the two distinctly different sides to this beautiful woman. The VP Miss Martin who goes after what she wants and the quiet pretty Evangeline who has no idea what her heart truly desires.

Speaking to her tonight had been partly a lark. He’d toyed with the idea for days. This morning it was in his plans to run into her, get a bit closer and wedge himself into her life. All for the job, he tried to convince himself. By that afternoon he had talked himself out of it. What if the old man fires me?

He shook his head and darted across the street after her. Her glossy black curls bobbed against her shoulders as she looked back catching him off guard with a smile. She’s hot.

So what? His brain argued, trying to justify his body’s revolt. He wouldn’t admit it aloud but he was more than attracted to her. She’s a job, and that means NO TOUCHING!

Once she understood what was going on, he was sure that she would be pissed. If personal experience had taught him anything, he was prepared to take the brunt of her ire. She had a right to know the truth, even if it meant getting fired. The old man wasn’t going to like it, but Cedric was the best at what he did. To flush out this rat, he was going to need Evangeline to be on the same page with him.

He followed her into the bar and noticed her wave to the bartender, holding up two fingers. The bartender nodded. Cedric watched with mild fascination at the brass this girl had. They wove through the crowd and snagged the last booth tucked in the back corner. The bar was filled with people laughing and enjoying what was left of happy hour. In this town, every hour is happy hour, he thought.

Evangeline slid into the booth, and he sat next to her. Her green eyes sparkled as she peered sideways at him through her lashes. Cedric immediately thought of a cat with a bowl of cream. He had the feeling he had lost control of the situation the minute they’d entered the bar. The waitress stopped by long enough to deposit two highball glasses on the table, and then sauntered back off into the crowd. He sat there waiting for the green-eyed cat to pounce.

“My father hired you.”

It wasn’t a question, he knew that much. “Yes,” Cedric kept the reply short, waiting.

“Someone is blackmailing him and using me as the leverage.” She wasn’t speculating, and there wasn’t an ounce of humor in her voice.

“Yes.”

“You have no idea who it is, and you want to keep me close because it’s easier to protect me that way.”

Cedric’s brow furrowed. He was beginning to wonder how much she knew. “Yes.” Before he could ask her anything else her eyes flickered to a spot just past him.

“Oh shit,” she grumbled, and then Cedric saw the panic hit her eyes. She moved closer, turning fully towards him, and her lips connected with his. The touch sent sparks to his fingertips and toes. His arms instantly went around her, hands roaming her back. When she opened her mouth, he slipped his tongue inside touching his to hers. At that moment, he lost all coherent thought.

* * * * *

He tasted of cinnamon and home. It went to her head, making her dizzy for want of him. Kissing him had been for self-preservation, but now she completely forgot why she had done it. Her hands slipped under his wool pea coat, molding the linen of his shirt to the warm expanse of skin underneath it. He was so close and yet not close enough. She had not intended to do it, but when she touched him he felt so damn good. He growled and slipped a hand down grabbing a handful of her ass and squeezing. Her gasp made him smile against her mouth. That tiny fraction of reality reminded her why she kissed him and she opened her eyes.

The spot where Donald had been standing was now vacant. She buried her face in Cedric’s coat, too embarrassed to face him just yet. He had ceased all movement but didn’t push her away. They sat there for a moment, their breath synchronizing. She pulled away slightly and looked into his face. His eyes had deepened in color, his unshaven jaw locked. He looked as if he was waging some kind of internal battle. She waited for him to speak. He didn’t.

“Cedric,” she whispered, afraid to say anything else. She wanted to kiss him again, and that kind of thought could prove dangerous.

“What was that about?” he asked with what sounded like mild curiosity.

“I saw someone from work who I didn’t want to talk to,” she said, completely honest. “He’s an ass and has been trying to ask me out for months.” She shivered.

“So you kissed me to warn off this guy.” He sounded amused.

“Yes, is that a problem?” She pulled away from him completely, crossing her arms. He reached for his drink and took a healthy swallow. She watched him drink, the muscles in his neck moving. She licked her lips, suddenly dying of thirst.

“Who?” His question squashed her budding fantasy.

“Donald Baranski, my father’s partner.” She shivered again. “The guy might be as handsome as Brad Pitt, but he gives me the creeps.” She took a sip of her drink. “He was hanging out by Dad’s office again today. He’s forever bothering Dad, following him around the office. Typical brownnoser. He’s starting to become a pain in the ass.”

Cedric was staring at her. Evangeline smiled but he seemed to be lost in his thoughts.

“Excuse me, I need to go to the restroom.” She needed to put some distance between them. This man-made her heart and stomach want to do the fandango. A few minutes out of his presence should air the lusty thoughts swimming through her mind. She pushed past him when he stood to allow her out of the booth. When she cast a glance over her shoulder, she saw him watching her, a thoughtful smile playing on his lips, and her cheeks warmed.

Evangeline turned the corner leading towards the restrooms. She looked up as she brushed past someone. “Sorry, excuse me.”

“Now, isn’t this a surprise,” a familiar voice exclaimed. She looked up at the person she brushed past. Donald! Her heart began to race. Her brain searched for an excuse to be rid of him. “Donald, what are you doing here?” She smiled, but deep inside she was not at all happy.

“Oh, I heard you mention that this place had fantastic wings!” he said with a charming smile. She vaguely remembered mentioning it to Miss LeDeux. Of course, Donald would hear every word; he rarely missed an opportunity to loiter outside her father’s office.

“So they do.” She wished herself back to her cozy booth with Cedric.

“Oh, by the way, I have some papers you need to sign as soon as possible.”

“The Murphey contracts?”

“Yeah.” He smiled. “I know you’ve been working hard on their deal for weeks. You’ll probably want them before the weekend? They’re just in my car. Do you mind terribly?”

“Absolutely.” She needed to get that deal in ink as soon as possible. This was her biggest client to date. The sooner it was done, the better. “Where are you parked?”

“Just through there.” He gestured toward the back door. “I always park in the alley to avoid the traffic.”

Evangeline walked out into the dim alley and spied Donald’s car. She followed him. He opened the back door and pulled out a binder. As he handed it to her, the binder slipped from his hand and fell to the pavement. She bent over to pick it up. A sharp pain shot through her head. Everything went dark.

* * * * *

Cedric kept a close eye on the hallway where Evangeline had disappeared. It had only been a minute since she’d left him to go to the restroom, but a chill had settled in her absence. He looked around the bar once and then picked up his glass. Downing half the drink, his eyes settled on her briefcase. He picked it up and opened it. He sifted through the paperwork organized neatly in the manila folders, but it was the small folded note on top that caught his eye. He read it.

A wheel clicked and began to whirr in Cedric’s mind. It was another note. Just like all the other blackmail notes her father had received. God damn it all! She’d seen the note. That would explain how she knew what she did. Cedric slammed the briefcase closed and stalked off in the direction of the restrooms. He stopped in front of the women’s room and, when a petite blonde emerged, he asked her if there was anyone else inside. At her negative response, he glanced at the back door. Where was she?

He burst into the alley in time to see a black sedan disappear around the corner. A flicker of white caught his attention. A binder lay open on the pavement, its pages fluttering. He picked it up and read the name inscribed on the cover. Donald Baranski.

Cedric recognized the name. It was the man Evangeline was avoiding in the bar, her father’s partner. A thousand thoughts rushed him all at once. He knew now that she was in trouble. Baranski had been far too interested in sidling up to the boss’s daughter.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed. “Sir, I know who has been blackmailing you.”

* * * * *

The pounding headache throbbed mercilessly. Evangeline did not open her eyes. She tried not to even breathe, for fear of making it worse. Her brain slowly began to function over the pain. She remembered nothing after the alley. Her eyes shot open. She tried to open her mouth, but it was taped. She jerked her arms and feet. But she was tied to a chair. Her eyes searched the room frantically. Her brain searched for answers.

“I’m glad to see that I didn’t kill you.” Donald’s voice floated from beside her. She struggled to turn and look at him. She froze when she felt the cool kiss of the gun barrel on her cheek. “It’s so nice to see that you have at least a hint of sense in that pretty head.” Donald’s eyes gleamed with hate as he walked into her line of vision. He leaned against the mahogany table. “This would have been much cleaner had those two idiots succeeded in the park.” He nodded toward the two thugs guarding the door. “Or at the very least at your home, had you followed your routine.”

Evangeline glared at him. He had stalked her like a predator with its prey. He’s going to kill me, her inner voice screamed.

“Your father will be so distraught over your disappearance.” His dark good looks were charmingly deceptive. Evil was oozing from his soulless eyes. Deep inside, Evangeline knew she was as good as dead.

“That old bastard should have taken the hint.” His face was thunderous as his grip on the revolver tightened. “I was more than qualified to run that company!” He tossed his arms up, waving the gun in the air. He brought it down aimed at her head. “But he chose you.”

Oh my God, he’s insane! Her eyes darted to the door praying for a miracle.

“A spoiled princess.” He seethed. “As if you could run that company!”

At the thought of her father, tears sprang to her eyes. Evangeline pushed past the horrible things Donald said. She remembered she was to have dinner with her father to talk about the note. The note! She glared at Donald. He was behind the note.

Cedric. If her father had hired Cedric, then he must know that she disappeared from the bar. But how would Cedric know she hadn’t just ditched him? Hopelessness returned. She slumped in the chair. She didn’t even know where she was. She looked around the room and saw a picture of Donald on the mantle with a pretty redhead. We must be in his apartment. But no one knew he had taken her. The tears started silently.

“Such pretty tears,” Donald droned on. “Don’t worry, I’ll try to make this as painless for you as possible. Even though you don’t deserve it.”

“Mmm mmm mrhhmph!” She swore at him, the tears blurring her eyes.

“Did you say something?” He leaned in closer. “Speak a little louder next time.” His breath was hot on her cheek. “It’s a shame you never came around. We could have had a good time.” He leaned down and his tongue touched her neck. She cringed at the contact. He brought himself eye level with her. “Such a waste of a woman,” he murmured.

Evangeline waited for the right moment. Then leaning away from him, she let the powerful thrust of her head flow from her spine as she jerked it forward cracking his skull with her own. The force threw him backward, knocking the gun from his hand, but he caught himself before he fell. He glowered at her, blood streaming from his broken nose.

“Stupid bitch!” The back of his hand collided with her face. Suddenly, his hands were around her throat, squeezing, suffocating her. As she struggled to breathe, her eyes grew heavy and she slowly felt herself giving into the darkness.

A loud crash and shouting broke through her oxygen-starved haze. She opened her eyes. Donald was standing over her, his grip released. He scooped the fallen revolver off the floor and aimed it at the man fighting the two thugs. Donald couldn’t get a clear shot, so he put the gun to Evangeline’s head.

“Stop! Or she’s dead,” he shouted over the scuffle.

She recognized Cedric as he turned to face Donald, dropping the smaller thug to the floor. The two men quickly scrambled out of the apartment. “Get your goddamn hands off of her!” Cedric growled.

Donald’s hand was steady as he shifted the gun, aiming at Cedric. “Make me,” he sneered and the gun exploded.

Evangeline’s heart stopped when she saw Cedric’s body sway from the impact. He twisted and stumbled backward, collapsing to the floor. A cry lodged in her throat. Her body thrashed as she struggled. As she twisted her legs, she felt the rope give. She pulled her foot from its bonds.

Donald took a step toward Cedric. Evangeline thrust her foot out catching his legs causing him to crash to the floor.

“Freeze! Don’t move!” She heard the command as a swarm of armed police invaded the apartment. One of them stepped toward Donald, kicking the gun from his reach. Another one told him to put his hands behind his head and began to pat him down roughly.

They led Donald from the room in handcuffs.

Evangeline felt the tug of someone releasing her from the chair. She ripped the tape from her mouth and threw herself down on her knees beside Cedric. A medic had arrived and turned him over to apply pressure to a large bloody wound in his left shoulder. Relief and concern flooded her simultaneously. She could see him struggle against the pain. Evangeline took his hand in hers, kissed it, then held it to her heart.

“Are you okay?” he asked her.

She smiled at him, tears dripping down on his hand. She leaned down and wrapped her arms around him. “Thank you.”

“For doing my job?”

“For caring enough to finish the job.”

He smiled. “I should have quit weeks ago.”

She pulled back a moment and looked at him. His eyes were dark and intense. “Why?” she asked confused.

“So I wouldn’t have felt so damn guilty about wanting to do this,” he said as his right arm came around her crushing her down against his chest and capturing her lips with his. The kiss deepened briefly and he nipped her lower lip with his teeth. She sighed, sinking into him. He broke the kiss and looked into her eyes.

“I don’t think your father would have approved of my methods, but it would have kept you close.” He smiled at her when she laughed.

“I knew my first impression of you was right,” she said still laughing.

“Do I want to know?” he asked as they lifted him onto a gurney.

“I knew you were sinfully delicious, darkness personified. You came with a warning label, Be careful what the darkness proposes.”

His wicked grin was all the encouragement she needed.