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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Win a Kindle + Denyse Bridger talks about Winner Take All


Winner Take All – an Amazon Best-seller #MFRWAuthor #RomFantasy

 

I’ve long been an author who doesn’t linger long in any one genre, so imagine my surprise last week when one of my lesser promoted and known books suddenly climbed to the #17 spot on Amazon’s best-seller list in Westerns! A week later it’s sitting at #24, and a review posted today that made me laugh out loud. (In a good way!)
 

I’ve always considered myself more an Historical writer than contemporary, though in recent years I’ve become very associated with both contemporary and paranormal genres. The thing is, when I am feeling lost about where to go next, I inevitably go back to the Old West. My first heroes were cowboys and the love affair has never died.
 

Winner Take All is a combination of influences for me, and Dylan Coulter is many heroes rolled into one. He has Paladin’s charm and easy grace, Chris Larabee’s intensity and deadly accuracy with a gun, and probably both men’s tempers when pushed. (For those who don’t recognize those names – Paladin is Have Gun, Will Travel, played by the late Richard Boone, and Chris Larabee is The Magnificent Seven, played by Michael Biehn.) The heroine, Maggie, is a lady with fight, brains, and independence–she’s the heroine I often wished had graced the screen with the heroes I love.

 
This particular novella has an odd history. It was first published back in 2005, and sold virtually nothing. Once I got the rights back, I filed it away for a number of years. In 2012, I decided it was time to bring it back for readers. It was a disaster, the company I contracted it with was the wrong publisher for it, and it languished again. I think it was on their catalogue for a couple of months, then I requested termination. Winner had lost again, and I put it back in the literary vault. XoXo Publishing asked to publish it months later, and I decided to let it go again. Another doomed release. So, earlier this year, New Dawning Book Fair, a company I love working with, put out a call for Westerns. This is one of my best books, and I am fond of it. I considered it for a time, then decided to take a chance again. This time I think the book has found a home. Less than six months out, Winner Take All has found its audience.

 
Probably no surprise that I’m creating a new Western, too – one with some amazing and sizzling possibilities. It’s called Parlour Photography, and I think readers will love the idea!

 

Here’s an exclusive look at Winner Take All:

Historical/Western Erotica Novella

 

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When Dylan Coulter rides into Sparkling Springs, he quickly discovers the woman who runs the local saloon is worth the risk of facing the hangman. Things get ugly fast when Dylan is accused of killing the only son of the richest rancher in the area. Unwilling to leave her behind, Dylan takes Maggie with him as he tries to dodge bounty hunters and a determined Pinkerton agent who just happens to be Maggie's old love...

 
Excerpt:
 

It was well into the night before Maggie was able to herd the last of the night’s customers out of the Spur and lock the doors behind them. When she dropped the key in her pocket and turned around, she was startled beyond reason to find herself face to face with Dylan Coulter.
 

“Mr. Coulter, I thought you’d gone upstairs,” she said, feeling instantly foolish when he grinned at her discomfiture.
 

“Where am I supposed to go upstairs, ma’am?”
 

Her annoyance with herself went up another notch. “I’m sorry. I’d forgotten that you’ve just arrived. I’m on my way to my rooms, so I’ll show you the way.”

 
“You stay here?” He sounded surprised and she gave him a sidelong glance.
 

“Of course. It’s comfortable, and convenient.”

 
“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded, still smiling broadly.
 

He took the oil lamp from her hand and gestured for her to lead the way. A slight scowl marring her face, Maggie set her jaw and headed for the stairs, the soft pool of golden light steady at her back as heavier steps trailed hers up the plain flight, and along the shadowy corridor.
 

“Your room is number three, Mr. Coulter,” she told him, pointing, “at the end of the hall, on the left. I had your things sent up earlier. Your horse is stabled across the street.”

 
“When did you have time to do all that?” he challenged, pleased, but also curious.
 

She laughed. “While you were busy taking money from foolish drunks.”
 

“Thank you.”

 
“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Coulter.”
 

“It’s Dylan, ma’am.” He handed her the lamp and touched the brim of his hat before walking away, humming softly to himself.

 
Before she could think about it, Maggie stopped him by calling out quietly, “Dylan, have you had any supper?”

 
He turned, watched her for several indeterminate heartbeats, and then shook his head.

 
“Would you like to join me?” Some inner voice was already laughing at her, and Maggie ignored it. She never socialized with customers. This was not only uncharacteristic; to her mind it was absurd. Yet… “Jonas Wilkins runs the café a few doors down, and he often stays late for me,” she said by way of explanation.
 

The amusement in Dylan Coulter’s blue eyes was already making her regret the impulsive invitation, but she bit back the tart words that would retract her cordiality, and waited for him to walk back to stand in front of her.
 

“I’d be delighted to have supper with you, Miss Watson,” he assured her and offered his arm.

 
“Maggie,” she said. “If you wouldn’t mind waiting for just a few minutes, I’d like to tidy up before we go.” She knew full well that she looked more than a bit harried after a long shift in the bar.

 
“I’ll meet you downstairs in twenty minutes, ma’am,” Dylan said with a smile.

* * *

Fifteen minutes after they’d separated upstairs, Maggie was waiting in the main room of the saloon. She heard a heavy footfall on the stairs and swung around to look at him.

 
For the second time that night, Dylan Coulter took her breath away. He’d changed from his riding clothes into a suit of rich, dark blue. His shirt was pale blue, ruffled at the cuffs and down the front. His silk tie was black, and the jacket he was pulling on drew her attention to broad shoulders and the undeniable impression of strength and power. He hadn’t bothered with a hat, and his dark brown hair was neatly combed, the deep waves gleaming when he passed under a lamp.

 
As he continued his walk toward her, her eyes drifted over him. Narrow hips flowed into long legs that were muscled from many hours spent on horseback. His boots were polished black leather, and the silver spurs were more ornate than functional. A gold chain dipped gracefully from the pocket of his burgundy vest, and the watch fob was a small, exquisitely carved replica of an old-fashioned flintlock pistol. At his hip, once again, rested a polished black gun, holster and shell belt lacking ornamentation.

 
A tiny sliver of ice formed at the base of her spine and began a swift ascent, chilling the back of her neck in heartbeats. He knows how to use that gun, too, a tiny voice murmured inside her head. The knowledge scared her a lot more than she wanted it to, though she wasn’t sure why it should.

 
“Maggie?”

 
She actually started at the sound of his quiet, richly timbred voice. His accent, like so much else about him, was something of a mystery; it revealed lingering traces of the south, but also the precision of an education obtained abroad. There was a subtle, growling purr in the texture of his speech A sound that made her feel awkward and vaguely disoriented. She’d felt a shadow of that kind of feeling only once before, and the reminder of it unsettled her further.
 

“Mr. Coulter.” She tried to smile, and knew it was only a partial success when his eyebrow rose, curiosity lighting the deep azure gaze that studied her. “Dylan,” she corrected softly. “Shall we go?” It was safer than standing around looking at him. She was distinctly certain that too long in his presence would not bode well for her peace of mind.

 
“Ma’am.” He nodded and offered his arm. “How far is this café?”

 
“A few doors down,” she said, and waited while he locked the saloon and pocketed the key. She opened her mouth to question the action, then chose not to bother.

 
“How much money did Billy Madison lose to you?” She asked the question carefully, a deep reticence about the answer stirring something akin to dread in her heart.

 
“A fair bit,” Dylan replied, his tone casual. “He assures me his daddy will be happy to pay the debt.” He looked down at her, a tiny smile lifting the corners of his mouth. “Is that true, Maggie. Or is the boy really as stupid as he seems?”
 

She sighed and shook her head. “Unfortunately, both.”

 
Dylan nodded. “Is this the place we’re looking for?” They’d stopped outside a small building with several windows in the front, and a sign above the door that read Wilkins Café.

 
She glanced at the door, with its shutter down but a light clearly burning inside. She smiled. “Yes, this is it.”

* * *

“She’s pretty friendly with that stranger, Billy,” Gil Horner noted as they watched from the concealment of an alley across the street from the café. He wasn’t much interested in Billy Madison’s attempts to win Maggie Watson’s heart, but Billy’s father paid him well to keep the kid alive. He had the feeling this would be one night when he had to earn his pay by more forceful means than the threat of his presence. If the kid went after Coulter, Gil knew they didn’t really stand much of a chance. Coulter had an air about him that Horner had encountered before; he was dangerous, cool, and confident. All the things Billy Madison wasn’t, of course. “Why don’t you just leave it, kid?” he advised, knowing as he spoke that the boy wouldn’t be deterred.

 
“Maggie and me have an understandin’, Gil,” Billy objected. “I don’t aim to leave her alone to face the likes of Dylan Coulter.”

 
Grinding his teeth in frustration, Horner grabbed the young man by the shoulder and spun him around so he could look Billy in the eye.

 
“What you and Maggie Watson have is a misunderstandin’, kid,” he snarled. “She’s out of your league, Billy. Leave her alone before it gets you killed!”
 

He waited, and in a detached corner of his mind, he gave the kid a once over. Billy was a good-looking boy, with light brown eyes and hair as black as his Indian mother’s had been. He carried the best features of both his parents, and there wasn’t a girl within a fifty-mile radius who wouldn’t be eager to marry him. Nature being perversely absurd, the only woman he’d ever expressed an interest in was the one who didn’t want him. Maggie was twenty-five to Billy’s nineteen, and Gil had wondered a few times if that wasn’t her primary objection to the kid. Horner had made a play for her once, and like others, she'd shot him down with kind, but firm words.

 
“You still hankerin’ for her yourself, Gil?” Billy asked with a sneer. “That why you want me to give up?”

 
“I’m not a man who likes to be turned down more than once, kid,” Gil snapped. “She said no, and I’m willin’ to leave it at that. Unlike you,” he added pointedly.

 
“Go home, Gil,” Billy ordered. “If I need backup, I can find Boyd.”

 
“Billy,” Horner began with forced patience. “The Sheriff’s out of town. Boyd ain’t in a position to be doin’ you favors. He’s the deputy, let him do his job.”

 
Billy started to object, just as Horner knew he would. Gil’s closed fist rose straight up, clipping the boy soundly beneath the chin, snapping his teeth together and knocking him out cold in a matter of seconds. Sighing heavily, Gil caught the kid’s weight, hefted him onto one broad shoulder, and headed down the alley to the waiting horses. Billy would be madder than a caged bobcat come morning, but that was better than dead. At least in Horner’s book.

 
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Win a Kindle + Denyse Bridger talks about Heart of Stone


5.0 out of 5 stars No Emotion Left Untouched!


This review is from: Heart of Stone (Kindle Edition)

 

I've been a huge fan of Denyse Bridger's work for years now. This is one author who knows how to touch upon every human emotion and bring them to the forefront of your own mind and soul. Heart of Stone will make you feel as if you're center-stage with the characters Denyse has created. Better yet, you BECOME the characters. She weaves worlds with such rich detail and characterization you can't help but enjoy her books. Be prepared to laugh, cry, sigh, and swoon as you read this sexy tale.

 

Heart of Stone


 

Randall Stone is the stuff of heroes, a mercenary given a discharge from the army he has served with his life. But the government is still interested in using the skills they've taught Major Rand Stone, and he continues to work with his hand-picked team. Into his shadowy world a light has come, and in her love, Stone discovers unhoped for joy, and, perhaps, unbearable sorrow?

  

“How many messages do you think he’s got waiting for him?” Blake asked as they trailed after Stone.
 

Rand heard Jennifer’s laughter, and suppressed a smile at his team’s banter.
 

“Well, we’ve been gone three weeks, and he said to call in three days. By now she might not even be talking to him.”

 
“That don’t look promising,” Nick Holloway, a temporary team member selected for this particular mission, noted when they entered the military hangar and spotted Brookman waiting for them. On loan from the CIA, Nick had been an unofficial presence on many missions organized by Donald Brookman over the years. He’d worked with Stone’s team several times before, and was giving serious thought to making the move permanent.

 
“Listen, Brookman,” Rand began when they reached the International Security Director, who was their unofficial boss. “We’re tired, and I am not going anywhere for at least a couple of days.”

 
The rest of the team had stopped at his back, and his assertion was echoed by muttered affirmatives. When Donald said nothing, the silence settled, a strained, tension-laden quiet that was both ominous and unnerving.

 
“Brookman?”

 
Donald ran a hand over his silvery hair and looked Rand directly in the eyes.

 
“She’s dead, Rand,” he said with no preamble or cushioning words.

 
“Who’s dead?” Rand responded automatically, his weary brain sluggish. But his body grew taut with contained panic. He knew already. He really didn’t want to know at all.
 

“Robin Bourne died three days ago,” Donald stated softly. “Her car went off the road. She was killed in the explosion.”
 

The silence held for several seconds.

 
“What?” It was an expulsion of air, disbelief the only emotion present in the whispered word. Rand’s smile faltered. His gut told him it was true, but his head wasn’t ready to accept it.
 

Behind him, he felt shock radiate from the other members of the elite mercenary team. Jennifer touched his shoulder, but he shrugged her off, not willing to accept the comfort she was clearly trying to offer him.

 
“What the hell are you telling me, Brookman?” Fury rose like a tide, blotting out the pain he wasn’t ready to face. “She was on her way to New York for that bastard Ethridge when I left. Is that where this happened?”
 

“She went directly from New York to Butte, stayed with Lucky for nearly a week then came home. She was back five days before her death,” Brookman said.

 
“No!” Rand closed his eyes and rubbed them as his thoughts raced at warp speed. “There’s been a mistake—”


“Forensics gave them positive identification from dental records,” Brookman told him, visibly reluctant to impart the details. “When they couldn’t reach you, they contacted Lucky. He called me.” He reached into his jacket pocket and held out his hand.

 
Rand lifted the charred necklace from Donald’s palm. The silver dog tags with Rand’s name engraved into them; Jennifer had given them to Robin as a birthday gift, and she’d worn them from that night on, telling him that they made her feel just a little bit more his. That lack of feminist in her was one more complementary trait to Rand’s chauvinistic nature. She was happy to belong with him and to him.

 
Rand’s fingers closed over the tags, and he walked a few paces away from the group, pulling himself under control as he accepted his friend’s news. He turned to stare at them, dazed.

 
“Lucky and D.J. arrived this morning,” Brookman told them. “They’re at the club.”

 
Jennifer went to Rand’s side. “I’m so sorry, Rand.”

 
He nodded. He had no words.

 
“My car’s waiting,” Brookman interjected in a quiet voice.

 
“Who’s in charge of the investigation?”

 
“Detective Eric Karmac.”

 
“He’s our first stop,” Stone said, mentally distancing himself from the grief he knew he’d be living with for a long time. He’d grieve later, when he could tell himself he’d done something about her death. About the death of the first woman in much too long that he’d allowed himself to love and need.
 

Brookman gazed at the others, worry and uneasiness evident in his wary expression.

 
“We’ll go back to the club,” Jennifer assured him. Nick nodded his silent agreement.

 
“We’re here for you, Major,” Eddie said.

 
“Yeah.” Rand smiled a little. “Thanks.”

 

* * *

 
“Robin’s mother, Clara Shelton, is waiting for access to Robin’s house,” Donald said, once Rand had changed into civilian clothes and they were on their way to LAPD headquarters.
 

“Who the hell—” He shook his head. “Never mind. Where’s she staying?”

 
“Nowhere, yet,” Brookman replied. “She flew in a couple of hours after Lucky and D.J. arrived. Lucky wouldn’t grant her admittance to the house until you got back.”

 
Rand managed a small laugh.

 
“I gather Robin and her mother weren’t close?” Donald noted dryly.
 

“You could say that,” Rand responded with a hint of bitterness. “She hasn’t seen Robin since just after her father’s death. That was back in ’92.”
 

Brookman’s eyebrows rose, but he didn’t comment.

 
“And there’s been no contact since then? Is there any other family?”

 
Rand swallowed the threat of real tears as he fought to contain the raging emotions that battered his heart.
 

“A sister,” he answered after a few moments thought. “Aureena.”

 
“Should I find her?”

 
“From what Robin said, if Clara is here, Aureena won’t be far behind her.”
 

When Brookman would have asked more questions, Rand turned away and stared out the window.

 
“Later, Donald,” he whispered, his voice thick with too much pain.
 

The light squeeze of Donald’s hand on his shoulder was almost his undoing, and he closed his eyes for a moment as he forcibly put the grief aside to think about what he was going to do.

 

* * *

 

Brookman wasn’t convinced taking Rand into the morgue was a course of action that would do anything but cause more pain to the younger man. But Rand wouldn’t be dissuaded from seeing what little remained of Robin’s body. Maybe it was the only thing that would make it real for him, Donald decided, and followed him into the cold, antiseptic room.

 
“This isn’t necessary, Rand,” Donald ventured for what he knew would be the final time.

 
“Have your people done the follow-up?”

 
Brookman shook his head. “Is it really necessary?”
 

Stone smiled, an expression that was a world away from the casual devilment the shift in features usually conveyed. There was nothing, only the cold mask Donald knew hid the more lethal aspects of Rand’s personality. “…He’s a stranger in so many ways. Like there are two different people living in the same body, and I only know one face in many…” Robin’s voice whispered the words in his memory, and he began to understand the statement with new clarity as Rand stared at the blackened remnants of the woman he had loved much more than he’d had time to realize.

 
“I want everything double-checked,” Rand said softly. “Triple-checked, if necessary. I don’t want any doubt, Donald,” he finished as he turned to leave.

 
“Why—”

 
“Because I have to know!” he snarled before Brookman could finish the query.

 
At the police station Rand was given the reports to read, and he questioned Eric Karmac thoroughly on each piece of evidence the police had collected.
 

An hour later, they were headed for the Western Star Health Club. The health club had been established a couple of years earlier as a convenient cover operation for the government affiliated mercenary team. Rand had an apartment above the club, and his fortress-like command center was below ground. He conducted most of his life from the confines of the club, when he wasn’t trotting all over the world for Brookman.

 
“What are you going to do about her mother?” Brookman asked.

 
Rand’s eyebrow rose. “Why?”

 
Donald decided to wait for a few minutes, until they were inside the club and he knew if he’d have to make an announcement in front of Robin’s family.
 

As (bad) luck would have it, both mother and sister were present, sitting well apart from the members of Randall’s mercenary team. Clara’s hostility seemed to be directed at Lucky.

 
“You must be Randall Stone,” she said, rising from her seat the instant Rand came through the door.

 
“Yes, ma’am, I am,” he replied, shaking her hand.

 
“I want to see my daughter’s home, and I’ve been told that will be impossible without your consent.”
 

Rand glanced at Lucky and resisted a smile when the other man merely shrugged.

 
“There may be a slight problem there,” Donald interjected.

 
Clara’s icy gaze moved. There was little resemblance between Robin and her mother, and the lack of warmth that emanated from the well-groomed, chic woman who glared at him was as striking as Robin’s earthy, easy-going manner.

 
Aureena Shelton was a mirror image of her mother—tall, slender, fair. “What type of problem?” she asked, her annoyance clear to everyone.

 
“Robin’s left very specific instructions on how things are to be handled, and who is to handle them,” Donald told them, feeling the various levels of surprise his words evoked. “All decisions are to be made by the person she’s left in control of her estate.”
 

“And that would be?” Rand prompted.

 
“That would be you, Rand” Brookman said. “The will is straightforward, and the executor assigned.”

 
“Are you telling us that Robin has cut us out entirely?” Aureena snapped.

 
“Of course she hasn’t.” Clara’s voice rang with impatience. “We’re her family. All the family she had.”
 

“Wrong again,” Lucky spoke into the lull, his smooth voice unexpectedly chilly. “We’re Robin’s family. Look around you, Mrs. Shelton. The people your daughter cherished most are right in front of you.”

 
Clara’s stare moved from face to face, seeing strangers who grieved more visibly than she ever would. Her gaze stopped on Lucky, and would have unnerved a lesser man. When Lucky simply stared back, she was forced to look away.

 
“I want to see the paperwork,” she said.

 
“It’s all here,” Brookman assured her.
 

Rand left them to fight it out. He was tired, and there were too many things he needed to look into. When he closed his office door, he looked around, feeling Robin’s presence in the room with him. His gaze went to the photograph on his desk, and he had to close his eyes to clear them of sudden haze. Eddie had taken the picture here in the office. Robin was seated between his legs, surrounded by the remnants of her birthday party.

 
Rand crossed the room and lifted the receiver off the phone.

 
A half hour later, the door to his office burst inward, and Clara Shelton stormed in.

 
“I want to see my daughter’s house,” she informed him, anger blazing from her entire manner.

 
“I can arrange that,” he said. Having just spent twenty minutes on the phone, gratefully accepting the comfort of his grandmother’s warmth, he could more readily appreciate Robin’s rancor toward her own remaining parent. Some of that hostility dimmed a second later when Clara picked up the photograph he’d been looking at minutes earlier.

 
“She loved you,” Clara murmured after a lengthy hesitation. She sounded surprised.

 
Rand nodded. “She’s… She was an amazing woman.”

 
Clara’s momentary softening vanished. Harsh laughter sprang from her as she placed the picture back on his desk.

 
“Robin’s capacity for indifference was her most amazing quality, Mr. Stone.”
 

“You didn’t know her very well, did you?”
 

“Quite the opposite.” She smiled bitterly. “I knew her too well. She was her father’s child from the day she was born, and, like Edmund, she cared for no one’s needs but her own.”
 

Rand shook his head. “I’m not going to discuss this with you, Mrs. Shelton.” He rose. “I’ll have one of my people take you to the house.”

 
“That won’t be necessary. Just give me a key.”

 
Rand smiled. “I’m afraid it’s not that simple, ma’am. The house has a security system. Without one of my team, you won’t be able to walk in.”

 
“What on earth did a man like you see in her?” Clara murmured, after a thorough and insinuating appraisal of Rand.

 
“Everything you didn’t, apparently,” Rand commented dryly. He didn’t give her time for further conversation. He returned to the main area of the club, Robin’s mother only a few steps behind him. “Jennifer, would you take Mrs. Shelton to the house and stay with her?”

 
“It’s Clara,” Robin’s mother said.

 
Rand ignored her.


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Win a Kindle + Denyse Bridger talks about Champagne and Chocolate


A new genre débuts at Naughty Nights Press with this highly charged, erotic Historical Western.

 

Trailer:

 

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Available from these sellers:

 

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From different worlds, drawn by desire, passion is about to change their lives forever...

 
Indulge in a wickedly seductive taste of CHAMPAGNE AND CHOCOLATE:

 
Austin Standish is a man of refined tastes. Intelligent and educated, Austin enjoys all of the best life has to offer. A gambler, a gunslinger, and a man who has plans to taste the sweetest prize at The Palace Casino and Saloon - the lovely owner, Chantille L'Amour, the most sought after jewel on the Barbary Coast.

 
Running a high-class brothel and casino isn't exactly the life she was born to but Chantille is determined to overcome the ruin her family was left in once the Civil War ended. But, she has chosen a difficult path... one that demands much and leaves her lonely. She's noticed the handsome man who comes into her world from time to time, and when she chooses to give in to desire, the passion evoked by Austin's touch may change her life forever...


Excerpt:

 

As she led him to the private wing of the large building that housed her home and business, Chantille had time to question the wisdom of her actions—again. She'd been berating herself for most of the past thirty minutes. Austin Standish was a danger to her; she knew this on an instinctive level. Not that he would hurt her, of course. But, he was dangerous, just the same.

 
She was acutely aware of every panther-like, lissome step he took behind her. He was elegant in manner and dress, quietly contained but always alert. The sense of being in perilous company assailed her with new severity. She opened the twin doors to her living suite and went inside, hearing him close the doors behind him before joining him.

She continued into the room, uncomfortable as she chafed against the restraints of her heavy dress and the many layers beneath it. She'd permitted a few select men into this suite over the past five years, but none had ever made her so acutely aware of herself and the desire to shed her clothes and feel solid muscles and male hardness pressed to her warm curves. Her breasts felt heavy, and her nipples strained against the fabric of her chemise, rubbing against the soft material until the pebbled points ached. Between her thighs, a slow, steady throb began to increase in rhythm, finding a matching tempo in her heartbeat.
 

The soft illumination from the fireplace touched the wood that dominated the room's furnishings, warming the smooth, lustrous finish as shadows danced on the walls and glimmered in the reflections of the mirror that adorned one wall of the room. She saw nothing, only the darkness that had grown around her so steadily throughout the past half-hour, a darkness that touched her with fears she couldn't clearly define, much less explain.

 
Watching the play of light catch in the soft gold of his hair, Chantille was struck again by the intuitive knowledge that dominated the man's handsome features. Barely suppressed sensuality and anticipation were so strong in the shadowed intimacy of the suite that she felt she could reach out and touch the things that presently put them on opposite sides of a chasm she didn't know with certainty she wanted to close. The only thing she did know was that she wanted to be with him more than she had any man she'd ever met.
 

"Tell me what you're feeling right now, Chantille."

 
"Angry."

 
"At me?"

 
"No," she whispered, then shook her head to deny her dishonesty. "Yes."

 
"Why?"


"I don't like being vulnerable."

 

* * * * *

 

For the first time, Chantille looked right at him, and Austin could read all the uncertainty he hadn't taken the time to notice before. He answered her honestly, unwilling to do anything less.

 
"Being vulnerable isn't always a bad thing, Chantille. Sometimes it makes you stronger."

 
"I don't believe that, and you certainly don't." The edge crept back into her tone. "I feel like I did when I was a child, needing to be wanted. When I came to San Francisco, I swore I'd never feel that way again."

 
Austin drew in a deep draught of air and ran a hand through his hair.
 

"You don't have to be afraid of anything, Chantille." He knew the words were weak, and he could have kicked himself for them once they were spoken.

 
She actually managed to smile at the statement, though there was no warmth in the expression.

 
"Weak women hold no appeal for men like you, Mr. Standish," she remarked.

 
"Is that what you want? To appeal to me?"

 
She laughed, a low murmur of sound that stirred the air between them.

 
"I want to share my bed with you, Austin," she conceded. "What I don't want is for it to cost me everything I've worked for."

 
"What are you afraid of losing?"
 

"My independence."
 

"Your heart."

 
"Don't be ridiculous."

 
"Don't lie to me, or to yourself."

 
Chantille met his eyes as if she were trying to pierce the shadows that surrounded them, to see what lay hidden behind that confident stare. When nothing shone forth, she closed her eyes.
 

Austin let the silence engulf them again for a long minute, then he closed the distance, touched her chin, and made her face him. His thumb brushed at the tear welled in the corner of her eye.
 

"I do want you," she murmured, voice raw with the force of her feelings.

 
The loneliness and the need for reassurance was almost a physical presence in the room with them, and Austin was forced to wonder just how long it had been since Chantille L'Amour had uttered those words to any man. If she ever had.
 

"I want you, too, Chantille."

 
Austin's whispered words were like a soft breath of air touching her face as he leaned forward to cover her lips with a tender kiss. She moved into the caress with a soft gasp, and her knees seemed to buckle as Austin's tongue slipped into her mouth with possessive hunger.

 
Chantille broke the intense kiss, and her head fell back as a sigh of relief and pleasure slipped out of her. She wrapped her arms around Austin's neck, then buried her face against his broad shoulder as she shivered into the sensations they were igniting in each other. She smiled at the slight catch already detectable in Austin's breathing, then shuddered when his hands began to work the buttons of her gown.

 
Suddenly, she eased free of his embrace and took a step back. He watched, eyes narrowed for a moment as he waited to see why she'd withdrawn. The wariness left his gaze a few seconds later when she lit another lamp and stood next to it.

 
The soft golden glow of the flickering lamplight illuminated the deft movements of her hands as she undid the buttons and hooks that held her gown together. Austin smiled and went to sit in a chair near the fireplace, his eyes never leaving her. The beautiful amethyst silk crumpled into a heap at her feet, and she gracefully stepped free of the shimmering mass. Next, the petticoats and crinolines fell into a crisp white pile, and she smiled, her expression faintly wicked with delight. He forced himself to remain still while she undid the hooks of her corset, her actions slow and deliberate. Her eyes never lost their hold on his, and she walked toward him, hips swaying seductively.

 
When she was standing directly in front of him, Austin smiled up at her. His look dropped, and his eyes locked on the thrusting peaks of her breasts, mere inches from his lips, nipples a soft shadow against the white of her chemise. She bent slightly and cupped his face in her hands as she leaned into a slow, exploring kiss. Austin's arms went around her, and he lifted her off her feet and sat her astride his thighs as he settled deeper into the armchair. The kiss went on forever and grew more intense with each tiny stroke of tongue they exchanged. When he thought he'd die for want of air, she drew away again and met his gaze.

 
Austin's smile became a grin when Chantille slipped the straps of her chemise off her shoulders, then tugged on the front of the thin garment. She peeled the material away from her skin, offering lush ivory breasts to him. He was only vaguely surprised when she took his hands, and kissed each palm before placing his eager fingers over the smooth swells of her flesh. She placed her own hands on his shoulders and slid closer to him, her thighs gliding against his.

 
She turned as she pushed closer, and her breath hissed from between her teeth when he licked slowly at the ripe nipple she'd all but guided to his lips. She kissed his temple and pressed against him until he took the hard point into his mouth and began to suckle. He repeated the erotic play, first lavishing attention to one nipple, then the other, encouraged by the soft moans that escaped Chantille as she rocked gently in his lap.

 
"Austin…."
 

"Mmm?"
 

"Let me up?"

 
He leaned back in the chair and released her, curiosity holding his lust at bay for the moment.
 

She slid back, laughed shakily when her knees wobbled, then she walked a few steps from him. The light trailed her, seemed to be drawn to her within the room, and he watched with renewed fascination as she finished opening the chemise and tossed it aside.

 
She locked her gaze with his again for an instant, then smiled when his eyes followed the motion of her hands...
 

Denysé

"Live the Romance, Become the Fantasy..."


** Preditors & Editors Best Author 2012 - 2013 **

 
 
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