Wrong place, wrong time? No good deed goes unpunished?There’s probably a million ways to describe being blackmailed into a fake engagement. With the most accurate being: Sucker.
Words I never thought I would hear my sister say: “Mason, meet my sister, Willow. Willow, this is my fiancé, Mason Cartwright.”With model worthy hair, sparkling brown eyes and a scruffy salt-and-pepper jawline that begged to be kissed, I was trapped in his swirling vortex of charisma.Oh, Holy Hell’s balls.Good thing I don’t believe in love at first sight. ‘Cause if I did, I’d be booty over bean in love with Mason Cartwright.
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Eight dead men. Eight grieving widows…
After a series of particularly nasty home invasions, Blackwood Security is hired to catch the perpetrators. With the company’s reputation at stake, everyone on the team is desperate to solve the mystery, unaware that there’s a traitor in their midst.
Cade Duchamp’s eager to help, but a minor indiscretion with the wrong girl leaves him banished to undercover duty. He’s always been fond of motorcycles, but he doesn’t like being a biker. Uncomfortable leather, an itchy beard, a lack of soap—need he say more? Cade wants to be back at head office, hunting down the real bad guys. At least, he does until five-year-old Scarlet shows up. The daughter he never knew he had.
Office cleaner Taylor Hancock prefers to fade into the background—come to work, do her job, and avoid those dreaded social interactions. But nobody says no to Emmy Black, and as Scarlet’s new nanny, Taylor’s forced out of her comfort zone and into a world of shopping trips, parties, and play dates.
The only problem?
She’s the traitor.
He didn’t ask what she needed. He just gave it to her.
Jordan James is used to doing as she pleases and answering to no one, but when her life is threatened ex-special forces commander Robert Fitzwallace makes it his business to keep her safe. But the stern, sexy Scotsman isn’t just going to protect her. He’s going to master her.
She soon finds herself kneeling naked at Robert’s feet with her well-spanked bottom sore from a firm reminder of her place, and as Jordan is carried to her bedroom with the evidence of her blushing surrender still dripping down her bare thighs she knows there is much more to come.
He’s going to claim her so shamefully and completely that she will never forget who owns her.
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I had one dream: to infiltrate the bad guys and take them down from the inside.
And now, only six months out of my rookie year, I’d been flung undercover with only twelve hours notice.
I didn’t know what I was doing, but what I did know was that I had to take him down—Theo Black, the man behind the best crew in the state.
He was the bad guy.
I was the good girl.
I shouldn’t have trusted him.
I shouldn’t have confided in him.
And I definitely shouldn’t have touched him.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, that was what they said right?
Bad people do good things.
Good people do bad things.
It was never black and white, only ever gray.
I was crossing a line I knew I wouldn’t be able to come back from, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.
The world was a scary place, but I’d finally found my haven with the one person who never should have been on my radar.
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They say opposites attract. And we couldn’t be any more different.
He’s whiskey and ink, and I’m cupcakes and old books.
But our connection is instant. He sets my heart a flutter and my body on fire with just one look.
Until I realize he’s the arrogant jerk in 7C.
Suddenly, all that I found appealing becomes a turn-off. The harder I try to ignore him, the more persistent he becomes.
I’m not interested but he’s making it clear, he’s very interested and will stop at nothing to prove it.
Will we go down together in a blaze of passion or burning hatred?
One way or another, we will set this floor on fire.
I’m sure you saw this coming. You know how miserable I’ve been. If you were stationed closer, things would be different. I can’t keep doing this. We never see each other. Dale is here. He’s here and you aren’t. It just happened. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, Jake. I love you. I only wish you the best.
The torn-out notebook paper crumples inside my fist. I feel myself shaking.
Jaw tight, I turn toward the wall, cock my free hand back and strike my knuckles against it, pounding until I see blood smear.
That bitch. That stupid fucking bitch.
“Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” I roar.
I toss her bullshit onto the floor and tear through my room. I flip over the small table I keep shit on—shit of hers she gave me. Framed pictures and souvenirs from road trips and stupid fucking shit that means nothing. Two years of lies. Two years that were supposed to lead to more, but it just happened. Dale is there. I’m not. She’s fucking him. She’s giving him framed pictures and days that’ll turn into two years.
Fuck her. Fuck. Her.
I send everything crashing to the floor. I crush it beneath my boot.
The desk I share with my roommate—that piece of shit who said Katie didn’t seem the type to handle deployments and distance well—is next.
Fuck him for knowing.
Cheap plywood splits apart when it hits the floor, and the laptop I’d use to Skype on crashes against the wall after I hurl it.
She told me she loved me on that. She got off watching me get off. She’d smile at me on the screen and tell me she couldn’t wait to be done with school so she could move here.
She’s done with me and wishing me the best and fucking her neighbor and “FUCK YOU!”
I pick up the end of my bed and toss it as far as I can. I rip the phone cord out of the wall and throw the receiver.
I only got that shit because of her. Why the fuck would I need it now?
The Walmart purchase crashes against the door.
I punch the wall again. I keep moving. I keep pacing and kicking shit and breaking anything I can until I force myself to stop before I crush bone.
Chest heaving, I look around the room at my destruction.
My hands tremble.
My skin burns and itches, and I feel like I’m on fire.
I grip my hair and squeeze my eyes shut as relief waters my mouth and rushes in my blood.
The high I could chase to take all of this away is right there in my pocket. I just need to reach for it.
It’s simple. It’s easy.
“Do it,” the best feeling in the world whispers in my ear.
I just need to go numb for a day or an hour or a minute. I need to stop feeling this.
I need to forget her.
I need to forget what she’s done.
I need I need I need I need.
My phone is in my hand and a number I shouldn’t know is on my screen, and I can barely see it through the tears in my eyes.
I want this.
I hate this.
My hand in my hair pulls. I can already feel better. My fingers shake.
I’m going to do it.
I’m going to do it.
I’ll feel nothing in an hour.
I’ll hate myself tomorrow, but I’ll feel good first.
The high is better than the comedown. It’s worth it. It always is.
Dale—I can see that fucker in my head. He’s touching her. Kissing her. Fucking the girl I thought about buying a ring for. He’s shaking my hand and telling me he’ll keep an eye on what’s mine.
He’s smiling. They’re smiling. He’s taking everything I have.
“Just one more time,” my favorite memory beckons me.
She loves me. Cocaine-fueled and blackout drunk. She always will. There’s no one else for her but me.
Katie doesn’t feel that way. She won’t love me ever again. She never did.
My back hits the wall, and I slide to the floor. I almost hurl my phone across the room. Thank fuck I don’t.
“What’s up, man?” The rough voice in my ear sounds happy to hear from me. He’s smiling.
I want to kill myself.
“I need your help,” I croak. My throat feels like it’s ripping apart.
“I’m leaving now.” His tone changes to something that scares me. Something I’ve heard more times than I can count. “Give me two minutes, and I’m out the door, Jake. Hold on. I’m coming.”
My brother is coming.
Tears fall to my cheeks.
I hang my head and begin to sob.
It takes six hours for my brother to get to me.
I’m sweating and shaking and scared out of my fucking mind, and it takes six hours until he’s calling me because I won’t let him in. I won’t answer the door. I forget why he’s here.
Holy shit. Hi.
He’s screaming for me, and he sounds as scared as I am (was), and I don’t understand, but then he’s breaking into my room, throwing his shoulder into the door until the wood splits at the frame. He stumbles inside.
I smile so big because I love my brother and I miss him.
I laugh because my door is gone.
“Bro. You’re fucking crazy, you know that?”
My voice sounds far away, but not as far away as CJ’s.
I’m in South Carolina and he’s in Alabama, and we never see each other anymore, but he’s here now. My big brother.
He stands there, staring at the remains of my room. He looks over at me and curses.
“What?” I ask. “Come here, man. Get over here.”
I smile again, and my speech is slurred. I feel good now. Great, actually. I’m so happy to see my brother—I want to cry.
CJ finally rushes over to me.
I don’t know why but I’m on the bathroom floor, and I’m so fucked up I don’t stand. He has to crouch down to put us eye to eye.
“Jake. Fuck, what happened?”
He’s feeling my pockets and the tile beneath me.
What is he doing? What is he looking for?
“What. Nothing happened… come on. Stop.” I try to put my arms around him. “Come here. Give me a hug.”
“What the fuck did you take?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Jake! Goddamn it!” He grips my shoulders, shaking me hard. “What. Did. You. Take?”
I smile, but he doesn’t, and I want to laugh in CJ’s face. He should be happy I’m happy. Why isn’t he?
My brother looks miserable, and I feel like a fucking god.
CJ’s face is inches from mine, and he’s scared.
No. He’s terrified. I can see it now.
My breath catches, and I’m not smiling anymore. I forget how to.
Because I finally remember what I did and why he’s here.
I remember what I took.
My hand opens, and I show him the empty bottle.
“Oh fuck,” I croak.
My roommate’s Oxy.
He hid them in the desk. I didn’t know, but I found them. They were five feet away from me where I sat on the floor, the drawer he kept them in busted apart, and I tried to ignore the bottle. I did.
I made it an hour.
And then another.
I buried my face in my hands and screamed. I paced the room.
My skin sweated and itched.
Five hours. Almost six.
I thought about leaving and never coming back, but maybe…
Maybe I didn’t need to leave. Maybe it wasn’t even something I wanted to take.
I just had to check—one look. A glance, and I could forget all about them. I could relax. I could maybe even breathe.
I just needed to look.
I take every fucking pill in that bottle.
“I tried,” I say, voice cracking. “I didn’t want to, CJ. I didn’t.”
“I was waiting for you, and then I found them. I almost made it. I almost made it, CJ, but six hours. It took you six hours.”
“I know.” CJ sounds as devastated as I feel. “I’m sorry. Hey.” He gently holds my face, pressing his forehead against mine. “I’m so sorry, Jake.”
Tears fill my eyes.
My brother is good. He’s so good. He’ll do anything for me. He’ll drop whatever it is he’s doing and drive four hundred miles the second I need him. He’ll break speed limits. He’ll break down doors. Anything and everything.
He’ll even blame himself for this, but he’s not the brother who needs help. He’s not the addict. The fuck-up. I am.
Not him. Never him.
“It’s not your fault,” I say.
“I should’ve driven faster.”
“No. Bullshit.” I drop the bottle and it rolls across the floor. I peel his hands away from my face. “I won’t let you feel guilty for this. You don’t get to feel guilty for this, okay? You can’t.”
“How many did you take?”
“I don’t know.” My head feels heavy, too heavy to lift anymore, and I drop it back against the wall. “I don’t know how many were in there. I didn’t count them.”
I start laughing.
I don’t know why, but everything is funny to me again. “You broke my door, shithead.”
I think he wants to smile at me, but he doesn’t. He looks too sad to smile.
“Katie broke up with me.”
CJ’s brows lift, but only for a second. “I’m sorry.”
“She’s fucking Dale now, so. It’s cool. Whatever. I don’t even care.” I flex my hand and think about punching another wall, but I can’t get up. “I’m really scared, you know?”
“I fucked up, CJ.”
“It’s okay. Hey. It’s okay.” He lifts my chin, forcing me to look at him. “I’m not going anywhere. I won’t leave you. We’ll figure this out.”
“What do I do?”
“We need to get you to a meeting.”
“Yeah.” I nod, liking that idea. He’s so smart. “Yeah, that’s good. That’ll work.”
“You got one here?”
He sighs. “Shit, Jake.”
“I haven’t needed to go to one! I’ve been good. You know I have.”
“I thought you were checking in with people. You’re supposed to.”
I kick at him, which is really fucking dumb because CJ probably has at least thirty pounds of muscle on me and could easily whip my ass, but I’m pissed that he’s pissed.
So, I do it anyway.
“Fuck off, okay?” He doesn’t even budge an inch. “I’ve been clean for seven years! Stop talking to me like I’m a junkie.”
“You are a junkie.”
“I fucked up once! Get the fuck out of my face!”
“And go where, huh? You want me to leave you like this? You can’t even stand! Not to mention what you did to your room. This place looks like shit.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad?”
He stands then, looming over me like some massive asshole.
I don’t know when he got to be so big.
He’s not that much taller than me. But his arms and chest and shoulders are huge. He’s intimidating as fuck.
And he looks stupid.
But I don’t tell him that because again, thirty pounds of muscle. I don’t want to get punched.
“Your desk is destroyed. Both beds. Your laptop. There are holes in the walls—”
“Oh no. Call the police. I punched a wall.”
He glares at me. “What about your roommate, huh? What do you think is gonna happen, Jake? Have you even fuckin’ thought about the consequences of your actions? What if an MP finds you? What then?”
“Oh, here we go. Here we go. Officer Tully emerges.” I flip him off. “Suck my dick, pig. Do you really think I need you? I don’t. I’m fine.”
“You’re high off your ass.”
Whatever. I am not.
“Fuck you,” I spat. “Fuck my roommate. And fuck the MPs. You’ll probably rat me out to them anyway. I bet you want to.”
Goddamn military police. They can all suck a dick.
CJ looks at me like I’m crazy. “You need to stop talking before I beat the shit out of you. I swear to God.”
“You need to stop talking,” I grumble, looking at the floor and praying he doesn’t hear me.
CJ sighs and curses under his breath, but he doesn’t say anything else to me.
Not for several minutes, at least.
And the longer he’s quiet, the worse I feel and the sadder I get.
He drove four hundred miles to save me. A locked door couldn’t keep us apart. He’d do anything for me right now, I know he would, and I’m telling him to fuck off and trying to kick him. I’m wishing he wasn’t here so he doesn’t have to see me like this, again, because he’s seen me like this before and I promised him, I promised him it was the last time when I stole from our parents to get high and my own brother, my own flesh and blood had to arrest me. I swore to him that I was done fucking up my life and his and theirs. I was going to do better. And he said he knew I could do it, he believed in me.
“I’ll do anything for you, Jake.”
I cried on his shoulder when he dropped me off at rehab, and he smiled and told me he was so proud of me, and every year, he calls and tells me the same thing. “I’m proud of you, little brother.”
And I’m so fucked up right now, I can’t even stand beside him.
“NoNoNoNo.” I drop my head into my hands as tears fall down my cheeks. I can’t believe I did this. “CJ,” I sob.
His arms are around me before I can tell him how sorry I am. He lets me cry into his neck, even though it’s gross, and it’s like the last conversation didn’t even happen because he isn’t leaving me, I don’t need to do this alone.
“It’s gonna be okay, Jake, I promise,” he says, and I believe him.
I feel better already because my big brother is here. He knows I can do this.
And when he tells me we’ll figure this out, I nod and hold on to him tighter. It’s all I can do.
Everything is going to be okay. He promises me again. And he’s never broken his promises.
I made a mistake. A tiny mistake.
“It’ll be okay, Jake.”
It will. I know it will because CJ will make sure of it. He always does.
“What… the… fuck? Jesus Christ! Are you kidding me, man?”
CJ’s body goes rigid.
He can’t know who that is, he’s never met my roommate, but he knows.
Somehow, he knows.
And he leaves me on the floor to try and explain the situation and save my ass. He’s up and moving, and their voices are colliding.
CJ justifying what I’ve done (God, I love my brother) and my roommate yelling over him and trying to get to me (I fucking dare you), and they’re both talking/screaming at once—it’s muddled together, and Jesus, my hand looks fucked up.
I probably shouldn’t punch anything else.
“You’re a piece of shit!” my roommate yells, trying to get past my brother. “I’ve always hated you, you know that? Fuck you—get off me! Jesus! Do you see what he did to my stuff? You’re dead, Tully. You’re so fucking dead!”
I laugh and laugh. I can’t help it. My roommate doesn’t stand a chance against my brother.
“Oh, and by the way, I fucked your girl last year. Yeah. Who’s laughing now, motherfucker?”
My roommate smiles so fucking big.
I fly off the floor, and I think CJ lets me at him because my brother could stop me if he really wanted to.
Or maybe he’s just too shocked/stunned that I’m finally up and moving or too focused on keeping my roommate back that he doesn’t have time to turn around and grab me before I swing, connecting with cartilage and shattering that motherfucker’s nose.
“Jake! What the fuck?” CJ roars.
“What!” I yell back.
My brother is always worried about me. Maybe he thinks my hand is broken now. I should check.
I look down at my knuckles.
They’re bruising and swelling up, but I feel great.
Oh, and I know why too.
I leer at my roommate over CJ’s shoulder. “I bet you wish I hadn’t found your stash, man, cuz that looks like it hurts.”
CJ yells at me again, but I just laugh and cry. It feels so strange to do both. But at least I can stand now, and I don’t think my hand is broken, so, hey, good news all around.
And my roommate? That dick?
He’s bleeding all over the carpet and spitting out threats as the room starts filling with more people, all of them siding with him.
“You’re such a dickhead, Tully.”
What the fuck? He’s the one who fucked my girlfriend!
And then that douchebag is gone to rat me out, and for a moment, I think that’s the funniest shit I’ve ever heard.
“He’s going to tell on me. Oh no.” I crack up, bumping shoulders with my brother.
I expect him to agree. I listen for the low rumble of his laugh. I keep waiting for it.
“Jake,” he says, he begs, because that’s what it sounds like he’s doing. He’s scared now. I probably should be too.
I laugh enough for both of us.
It doesn’t really sink in and terrify me until hours later when all my shit is packed in the back of my brother’s truck, and we’re leaving the base I’ve been stationed at for five years, and I realize I’m never coming back here because I can’t.
That’s when it hits me.
And I spend the next six hours crying and wanting to die as I replay everything I did and every word my brother said to my staff sergeant when he pleaded with him to overlook this one tiny mistake.
“Look at everything he’s done for you. Look at everything he’s done for his country! Three tours! He’s given you everything. Please don’t do this to him. Please.”
His voice broke on that one, I heard it.
I cry harder and curl into a ball on the seat.
“It’s going to be okay, Jake,” CJ tells me again and again, and I want to believe him like I always do, but how can I?
I’m jobless and homeless.
I’m an addict who just lost seven years of sobriety.
I’m a Marine (former) who’s been dishonorably discharged.
And I want to get high, again. Right now, even though my life is over because of it.
That’s how I really know I’m fucked.
I hope you enjoyed reading the first chapter of The Tragedy of Felix and Jake! Make sure you Preorder so your copy is delivered to your reading device at midnight on 2/2/23! 🙂