Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Viscount meets His Match by Raven McAllan



Good Morning Everyone!

I have the wonderful opportunity today to introduce the lovely Raven McAllan to all of you. She's an amazing writer at Totally Bound Publishing and has a new book to offer you: The Viscount meets His Match! Read on for an exciting excerpt! We can only hope to have more books offered by this author in the near future.



The Viscount meets His Match

Raven McAllan

Published by Totally Bound Publishing 

How to persuade the lady your interest is genuine? No easy task. Has the viscount met his match, or can he win and claim a wife?
            What do you do when your father has no faith in you?

Ignore him.

David, Suddards’ father assumes—wrongly—that David gambles deep and has had an affair with a married lady before she has given her husband an heir. Enraged, his father issues an ultimatum. Marry within three months or lose everything that is not entailed.

David refuses. If that’s what his father thinks of him, he can go to the devil. He will marry when he is ready and not before.

What a shock then, a year later, when the one woman he is interested in shows no interest in him!

It’s up to him to persuade her he’s the right husband for her, and when he does…sparks fly. Can these two strong-willed people ever learn how to compromise and find that in fact they are the perfect match?

EXCERPT


David was honest—no well-brought-up young lady appealed to him. They never had, and he was wise to every trick any encroaching mama or deb might try to pull to ensure he had to make an offer.

Until now? He quashed that thought to be re-examined later. His tastes had always run to those females who were up to snuff and needed a man to dally with and satisfy them. That usually meant bored matrons—and only those with the requisite number of children of the correct sex, whose husbands accepted dalliance would be the next step. Plus, he didn’t approach opera dancers or the demimonde, whatever the grand dames of the ton chose to think. In fact, he ruminated as he glanced at the silent woman next to him, just lately he hadn’t had time to dally with anyone. Parts of him could well have seized up through lack of lubrication.

However, he had to acknowledge her lack of interest intrigued him.

Josephine halted just outside the ballroom and the tug on his arm made David stop mid-step. He looked at her inquiringly, and she grimaced before she must have remembered herself and curtsied. A gesture that was correct to the nth degree, he could imagine how much it had cost her.

“This is far enough, thank you. I, ah, appreciate your help,” she added stiffly. “Although I could have dealt with him myself, I do thank you for your intervention.” She didn’t add, ‘unnecessary as it was,’ but David could imagine her wishing she could.

“Of course you do,” he replied genially. “Why would you not? “

She flushed and he wished he had held his tongue, if not his actions. Because with regards to his intervention, he wasn’t so sure what his intentions were. Lord Reginald had a reputation for acting first and thinking later—and not always in a good way. The problem was how to divulge the information so she understood, took action and did not ignore him—or indeed overreact.

“Is it all men or only me you have an aversion to?” he asked as she began to walk away. He pitched his voice just loud enough for her to hear. She might ignore his question but there would be no chance of her not hearing it. “For if it is me, what have I ever done to you to deserve your contempt?”

“What?” She turned and took the three steps necessary to get within arm’s reach once more. Her blue eyes sparked in a way he had never noticed before and his body responded accordingly and tightened with interest. Again, she tempted him in a manner he would not have thought possible. How he’d like to shake her out of her present mood, but not in a manner that would be at all acceptable.

Not yet, anyway.

Again a notion to contemplate. Was he really debating dallying with this woman? His head said no, the rest of his body, the opposite. Why had he never really examined her luscious curves before? They appeared perfect in every way.

“Dare you not answer me?”

She frowned as if puzzled by his remark. David repeated himself. “How have I earned your contempt?”

“Sadly, as far as I can see, from my knowledge of your sex it encompasses all men, my lord. Although, with your reputation, I would put you near the top of my list.”

Well, that told him. David bowed and with a swift look around decided, if she thought she knew him, he might as well live up to the sort of person she thought she was.

He grasped both her arms, drew her close and pressed a hard, swift kiss to her lips.

The jolt of immediate arousal was as unexpected as it was exciting. 
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Totally Bound Publishing

 Raven is the author of both Regency and contemporary stories and also writes rom com as Katy Lilley.

She lives in the Trossachs, in Scotland on the edge of a forest, with her long suffering husband, who is used to rescuing the dinner from the Aga and passing her a glass of wine as she works.

Raven loves hearing from her readers and you can find her at www.ravenmcallan.com where all her social likes for Facebook and twitter are also found.






Thursday, 14 March 2019

Racing the Tide nominated as Best Mysterty/Thriller/Suspense for 2018 at LR Cafe


Cole and Gabby, undercover in Vancouver’s Chinatown, have no time for the attraction developing between them. Not when the race is on to rescue a kidnap victim before time runs out.


My name is Cole McClintock. My new job with the TETRAD Group has me working with a woman that’s gotten me so tied up in unfuckingbelievable knots that I’m a certifiable nut job. I mean, just look at her. The woman is beyond hot with those big doe eyes and luscious curves that makes me want to possess every single inch of her.


One look at Cole McClintock and knew I should stay right the fuck away from him. My name is Gabriella Banks and I’d be the first to admit I’m complicated, but at least my job as a new operative with The TETRAD Group keeps me too busy to dwell on my lack of a sex life. I never thought I’d be admitting this, but my strong-woman exterior hides a craving for something more—something only Cole can provide…

Read an Excerpt: 


Day One: 5:13 a.m.



The bed trembled, its legs jerking and thudding about in a kind of macabre dance. Cole woke instantly. Is this the big one? The king-size bed shimmied and rattled a few more times, then settled back down, coming to rest slightly askew on the hardwood floor of his bedroom, the earth having released its rage. Another fucking tremor. He ran his hands through his sweat-damp hair, glancing over at the bedside table.


Five-fourteen a.m. He slid his gaze from the clock to the picture, as he did every morning, ready to administer his daily punishment. During the long night of sleeping intermittently, he had made up his mind, but now, looking at her face, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t dishonor her memory in that way. Especially not in that way. The coward’s way.


His mind zeroed in on the single event defining his life, the day haunting him every second the clock ticked. The day almost a year ago when he’d pulled into his driveway after a voice message he could make no sense of. Finding the front door ajar. Walking down a hallway so silent he could hear the pounding in his skull echoing his slamming pulse. Finding the bathroom door shut against him. One more obstacle. Turning the handle as slow as a swimmer in deep water, finding it unlocked, his throat tight and aching. The creak of the hinges. The door swung open. His vision darkening around the edges as he took in the horror of the scene. The heaviness in his chest that made him sink to the floor, gathering her into his arms. No. Oh, God no. Not like this.
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Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Chapter One: Romancing Rebecca being released February 19th!




Good Morning You!

Just a quick note from the frozen Canadian prairies this fine sunny morning. :-)

Please find below an excerpt from Romancing Rebecca. The story of Rebecca and her almost Duke was a joy to write. I can only hope it brings you the same enjoyment in the reading.

Thanks for visiting!

Hugs, January Bain

Chapter One:


“Oh, my God. I’m driving the wrong way!” Rebecca Fairfax quit staring at the lovely wildflowers growing in profusion by the side of the country road and hit the brakes—hard—skidding the back wheel of her cherry-red Honda Gold Wing motorcycle to an abrupt halt.


“Damn it, why can’t everyone the world over commit to driving on the same darn side of the road?” she muttered from under her safety helmet, using her foot to help rotate the heavy bike around to face the correct way. Running late, check. Needing to use the bathroom, check. Losing my bloody mind, as evidenced by my accepting the Ringers’ dare to kiss a duke, check and mate.


After backtracking for a mile, she noted the brown tourist road sign she’d missed the first time. Castle Piers, next exit, with an image of a castle outlined in white. Sixty seconds later she made the turn, loving the sensation of the huge bike vibrating between her thighs while the world lived close, the air sweet with the aroma of honeysuckle, the wind caressing the bare skin of her cheeks. Riding a bike made being human different, somehow more raw and real. No other form of travel could compete. And, thanks to Lacey’s William James Thornton –®, the powerful bike had been waiting at the five-star hotel when Rebecca had arrived in glorious London last night.

Then Castle Piers came into view and the oh my God stuck in her throat.

Perfection. Surrounded by a vast moat stippled with water lilies and swans a-floating? She half expected the Lady of the Lake to rise and present her with Excalibur. Mesmerized, she rolled back on the throttle, bringing the bike to a standstill, bracing it with her feet and turning off the motor. She kicked out the back stand, and, with one booted foot outstretched to add stability to the motorcycle, leaned back in the leather saddle, determined to take the time to drink in the awesome sight. The sweet, fresh fragrance of early summer assailed her senses and she tipped her head back, eyes closed.

Then a new idea hit, making her reach for her notebook from under the elastic cord on the seat behind her. She began scribbling down her first impressions, afraid she’d regret not getting this moment back for posterity if she let it go, whether she was running late or not.

Xaviera St. Clair, her alter ego and the superheroine of Rebecca’s International Intrigue series, was scheduled to visit a castle during her next adventure. Rebecca’s skin tingled with ideas for the fun plot she’d dreamed up. Xaviera was going to learn how to handle the wiles of one Pierce Knight, art thief and man of a thousand faces. The steamy story included a definite proclivity for over-the-top escapades in the bedroom. Rebecca’s body heated further as she imagined the twists and turns of their delicious romps before switching her attention to capturing the view in front of her. This was her last book to finish out her contract before she began writing in her new genre, historical literary, and she wanted it to be the best one yet.

Okay.

Centered in the middle of the water, above the soft gray mist, stood a castle right out of myth and legend. Its sheer greystone towers rose skyward, with only a narrow causeway across the lake giving access to the gatehouse with the great nail-studded oak doors. A pennant flying atop one battlement snapped and fluttered briefly against the pale sky before changing direction, and a barely visible rainbow, leftover from the early morning drizzle, floated in a semicircle, caressing the tops of the trees with their lace of leaves. Wow. Just wow.


The mythology rushed over her, tugging at her soul. She could write here in her spare time. Research more about Samuel W. Piers, the founder of the Hermetic Order of the Rising Sun, a Freemason and ousted ancestor of the Piers family, until the cows came home. The expression amused her, and she gave a soft chuckle, remembering summers spent on her adopted grandparents’ farm helping pluck eggs from under irate, territorial chickens. The dusty smell of the henhouse sprang instantly into memory and she sneezed aloud in sympathy for her childhood self.


Time to quit dawdling, Rebecca. She tucked the slim journal back under its elastic holder, then gave a booted kick with her right foot to release the stand keeping the bike upright, pressed the starter and hit the gas. Maybe she could catch up with the tour yet.


Down the causeway she drove at a somewhat more circumspect speed, careful not to spill the motorbike over the steep sides and into the lake. Ha, imagine arriving covered in trails of green foliage like a water sprite rising from the mists. Not the first impression she’d want to make for the Piers family, hosting her this summer while she researched their ancestral home’s secrets.


Okay. So they don’t know my full agenda, thinking me here just to help run their social affairs. And, I might add, paying for the privilege, thanks to my Brass Ringers’ wish package. She snorted. Who else would get away with that bit of cheek but a family living in a castle right out of Camelot?

A second later, she had the oddest sensation of leaving her old life behind when she hit the halfway mark of the land bridge, a sense of being at a crossroad so unusual that she slowed down again, shaking her head to dispel the disquiet
.

“Help! Thief!”


The frantic words surged into her brain, thrusting away misgivings. She gunned the bike, driving under the portcullis and into the courtyard. Catching a blur of a figure out of the corner of her eye, she slammed the bike to a stop, sending the back wheel spinning into a semicircle before the machine ground to a jerky halt. She jumped off, asking forgiveness for the mishandling. She hated to take the time to kick the stand into place, but she couldn’t bear to see the bike take a tumble. She ran full pelt toward the spot where she’d spied the furtive action.


Where did they go?


She swiveled her head, trying to catch another glimpse of movement.


There.


The perp vanished between two stone pillars in the courtyard. No one followed on her heels, though she strained to catch any sounds of pursuit. She ran full tilt. Thank goodness I memorized the layout of the castle before I left Canada.


Her heart beating too rapidly, her boots slapping noisily on the pavestones, she dared a glance backward. A small group of tourists hovered about what looked like the tour guide in a yellow safety vest, pointing in the direction she was running, as if to direct her. No help there. She turned and ducked under a narrow overhang, wondering if she were nuts. If something had been stolen, it wasn’t hers, after all. But, damn it, it’s the principle of the thing.


Cooler inside, the massive stone castle pressed in around her, causing a sense of dislocation. Footsteps echoed hollowly, making her run faster, down the length of the corridor.


“Damn it anyway! Who steals from a fortress surrounded by a moat?” The map she’d pored over didn’t show any way out in this direction, though it could be missing some key features kept secret.

Her lungs burned. Note to self—up the workouts. Far too easy to beg off and write another scene for the current manuscript and skip the less fun part.


She glimpsed the culprit taking another turn. There were damn fast, she’d give them credit for that. They’d been up and down so many passageways her head was spinning.

Dashing around another corner near the kitchen, she tripped, catching herself with one hand pressed against a sharp stone edge. Dank, cooler air assailed her nostrils. An abyss lay dead ahead with steps leading downward and out of sight. She teetered on the edge, jerking her body backwards at the last possible second. Great. Just about ended myself before my overseas adventure begins. Second thought, looks like it has begun. This is right out of an action movie set. She made light of what could have been a critical error, sweat trickling down her spine, her guardian angel hissing in her ear about the cost of being careless.


“Yeah, I know,” she muttered.


She clambered down the stairs, holding on to the cold stone sides. No handrails, of course. Down, down she went, moving into uncharted territory she had no mental map for, making the going a whole lot riskier. She swore she could hear a bell tolling, upping her apprehension.


The tunnel narrowed, pools of water appearing on the floor. She gave a quick look to check out why. Oh, boy. Tiny waterfalls were following the path of narrow crevices worn into the walls. The water level deepened, more than could be explained by the trickles. Where was it coming from? She splashed through water up to her ankles. It flowed over her boot tops, soaking her feet and chilling her to the bone. Oh, my God, I’m under the goddamn lake. The thought made her breath freeze solid, two lumps of ice for lungs. This was a whole different enchilada. What if something above was just about ready to give way? Her fear of drowning reared, nearly stopping her heart.


To up her courage, she began to sing an old Johnny Cash song. “How high’s the water, papa? Sixteen feet and rising. How high’s the water, mama?” Her voice echoed off the walls. If the deluge got as high as in the song suggested, she would mostly likely drown, trapped in the tunnels under the castle like a sewer rat. She shuddered and kept up the singing, louder now to drown out the fear and the voice of reason.


She stopped mid-tune at an odd thudding sound very close by. Rebecca pressed on, far more frightened than she’d ever been before during her quarter century on the planet. I don’t want to die, not before I’ve lived. Think about something else. Anything else. At least a few sconces lit the way, some kind of portable device someone had rigged up. Maybe the thief?


She stopped mid-stride. Her peripheral vision had caught a glimpse of symbols carved into the rock, something man-made. An eye within the compass and the square, forming a partial pentagram. Not large, but distinct, and old, centuries old, Freemason imagery, found in many locations the world over. But it was the addition of another symbol nudged up against it that sent a shiver of excitement racing through her bloodstream. King Solomon’s seal.


She swallowed hard, her heart pounding as she stared at the marking, taking it all in, never having thought that her research would lead to so powerful a find so early in her journey to England. It boggled her mind what it meant, what it stood for. The threads of time were staring her in the face, and not many could make the connections her feverish brain could.


The pentagram within a double ring with an Egyptian ankh housed inside was a secret symbol known only to a few souls who didn’t mind spending time in musty libraries. The pentagram was also an alchemical symbol, the intersecting triangles representing the elements of fire and water or the elements of male and female. The symbols had later beenadopted by a group of like-minded occult seekers, by one of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s splinter charters, the Order of the Rising Sun. And the reason she was at Castle Piers.


The Piers family tree included a black sheep, the leader of the splinter group, one Samuel W. Piers, who’d run the Osiris-Sun Temple for the Rising Sun Order more than a hundred years ago. The mysteries of his leadership, the missing artifacts and the secret knowledge he was said to possess called across the ages, fascinating a small band of researchers, of which she was one—though she left the magical demonology part of the practice to others.


She reached out a hand with awe. She was about to touch her Holy Grail. Her fingers traced the ancient carvings, steeped in such mysterious history and beauty, and she shook her head in disbelief. Gobsmacking. Rudyard Kipling could not have been prouder, the storyteller behind The Man Who Would Be King, the tale of a pair of Freemasons looking to be kings of Kafiristan. He’d borrowed the imagery of that order, and now here she stood, tracing the stardust of that mythology connected to King Solomon.


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Wishing you a great day! :-)


Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Invitation to receive a free ebook from January Bain

Good Morning,

I hope you are having a great day! I was inspired this New Years to reach out a bit more to the world and share my hopes and dreams. And that means sharing my writing. :-) 

Please accept this invitation to receive an e-book of your choosing from the list below. It will be sent directly to your email inbox as my gift to you!

(1) Winning Casey: Book 1 in the Brass Ring Sorority series. 

(2) Chasing Lacey: Book 2 in the Brass Ring Sorority series.

(3) Romancing Rebecca: Book 3 being released February 18th 2019

(4) Racing The Tide: Book 1 in the TETRAD group series.

(5) Racing Peril: book 0.5 in the TETRAD group series being re-released April 16th 2019

Wishing you all the best in 2019!

Hugs, January 




Saturday, 17 November 2018

Answer for the Fun Game to WIN at The Romance Reviews!



If you are playing the Romance Review Game, here's the question & answer!
In Winning Casey, what is the name of the island in Canada on which the Templar treasure is buried?

A. Snow

B. Dog

C. Oak

D. Green
Casey and Truman search for buried treasure on Oak Island. Canada's very own money pit!



Tuesday, 26 June 2018

99cents for a 258 page ebook for a limited time!


Excerpt:

Suddenly, an ominous rumble of the ground beneath her feet. She froze. Listened. What the hell was going on? Earthquake? Something crashed landed? Which direction? Unfreezing and spinning around on the spot, she looked intently for a clue as to what was happening. Did someone need help? Her heart beating wildly, she had no choice but to wait, unsure of which direction the sound had come from.
A loud shout. There.
She took off running, shoving the phone into her pocket, adrenaline coursing through her veins, feet pounding down the path.
She raced around a curve in the path to find a sinkhole opening a few feet away, the ground still tumbling.
“Holy shit!” she exclaimed, stopping dead in her tracks. Should she move any closer? Would she destabilize it even more? She backed off a bit.
As the dust settled a man emerged standing upright in the pit. Not just any man, but a truly pissed off one. She could only see him from the shoulders up until she moved in closer for a better view. He appeared unharmed.
“If you wouldn’t mind lending a hand, darlin’,” he said, his tone suggesting she was not being very helpful just standing there gawking. “Just in case this thing decides to settle even more.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” She extended her arm. The poor guy was covered in dust and debris. He grasped her hand, she gave a mighty pull, and he scrambled up the side of the hole. He slipped at the last possible second on the unstable edge and tumbled forward, landing right smack on top of her.
Fuck. She went down with a thud, the breath whooshing from her lungs in a wild rush, his sudden closeness to her person a hell of a shook. The fragrance of his body wash mingling with his manly aroma washed over her as he lay prone on her body, his head cradled by her breasts. She starred into the bluest eyes ever as his startled glance locked with hers. A complete stranger, embracing her. Albeit, a very handsome and hot one that gave off a tantalizing fragrance if that made it any better.
The man had the grace to look even more horrified than her. When he realized his hands were on her person, and more specifically, squeezing one very sensitive breast, the nipple pebbling from the intimate contact, he extracted himself, getting to his feet, and then bending down to give her a hand up.
“My God, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” he apologised.
“I’m fine,” she croaked, swallowing hard. Her backpack worked to absorb most of the fall.
He took a moment to shake and pound the soil off. Her hands trembled as she took off her backpack to retrieve a water bottle. She drank deeply, offering a second bottle to him. He took it with a nod of thanks, downed half in one quick go.
“Wow,” she finally ventured. “That really was something.”
“Yeah, that was something all right,” he agreed.  She got a better look at him as he emerged from his dust cocoon. Topping six feet two at least he towered well above her, wide shoulders encased in a blue work shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, jeans hanging on narrow hips. His blue eyes blazed his square jaw tight. He reminded Casey of a young Robert Redford from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Golden Boy. Sweet Jesus.
  “Oh goodness, I’m so sorry! What happened? Are you okay?” A voice intruded as a young man rushed up dressed in a beige uniform, clip board in hand, expression aghast. Oak Island Tours printed in white on his red baseball cap blazoned his occupation.
“What happened is a blasted pit opened up under my feet. And I nearly hurt this young lady by landing on top of her.”
“I’m so sorry—” The man looked down at his clipboard. “Professor Harrison. I didn’t get the chance to warn you. I was running late, oh my goodness—you’re not going to sue the company or anything? I could lose my job.”
“Weren’t you off the marked path?” Casey interrupted, glancing over a black backpack lying at the base of a pine tree at least ten feet off the trail.
“What? Uh, yes, okay. I did go over to look—”
“Well, then, you’d better not sue the tour company for your own negligence.”
“What in the world are you talking about? Who said anything about suing anybody?”
“Well, it was obviously your own fault.” A devil made her say it. Blame it on the last few confusing moments. Things needed to get back under control. Her control.
“My fault!”
Yes, you strayed from the path, didn’t wait for the tour guide to give his safety speech.” She crossed her arms over her breasts, pursing her lips.
His blue eyes flashed and narrowed. “And you did? Why are you here anyway?”
“I booked a private tour. A perfectly acceptable reason I believe for being here.”
“I see you didn’t wait for the tour guide either. Isn’t that a breach of the rules?” he noted, his jaw tightening.
The tour guide pipped up. “Oh, I’m sorry about that. Apparently, I’m double booked for a private tour today.”
“You sure are sorry about a lot of things today,” he muttered, not letting up on his scowl.
“Mr. Harrison,” she began.
“Truman,” he said.
“Truman Harrison,” she parroted. That name sounded familiar.
“Precisely, darlin’. And you are?”
“Uh, Casey Madison.” She’d appreciated his pronounced southern accent having always enjoyed Kevin Spacey playing Francis Underwood on House of Cards. Compared to her stark Canadian accent, his sounded vastly more charming. Even when pissed. Make that royally pissed.
The tour guide spoke up, glanced her way. “Casey Madison from the U of M. Right?”
“University of Manitoba?” Truman asked, furrowing his brow. He leaned forward, pulling something from her hair. He held out a dry bit of twig. She took a step backward, chewing on her bottom lip.
“Yeah, so?” she kept up the brave front, smoothing her braid curving its way down her breast. She regretted tying a bright red ribbon around the blond ends this morning.  She glanced at his hair shining bright gold in the sunlight. Oh yeah. A real pretty boy. And being a bit of a jackass.
“Department of Archaeology?”
“Yeah.” Casey chewed on a fingernail.
“Don’t you think it only right and proper to welcome your new department head?”
Casey pressed her lips together into a grim line. Just. Fuckin’. Great. Of all the people to run into here, in Nova Scotia, he would have been the seventh billion in plausible possibilities on her list. Was this payback for stealing Soapy’s Gold? Her fingers twitched to squeeze the life out of the stress-ball printed with the Chancellor’s image thoughtfully presented to her by a fellow Ringer at Christmastime. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

Excerpt: Chasing Lacey by January Bain (released June 19, 2018)




“Happy ever after. Ha. It’s a myth, Lily. A legend. A shell game meant to sell more expensive wedding packages.” Lacey Cameron gave a snort, glancing away from the awesome view of crystal-blue water, fluffy white clouds and careening shore birds to stare her monozygotic twin right in the eye. Her carbon copy made that face—the one that suggested Lacey was being a pain in the butt. Again.


“Just because our parents couldn’t make a go of it—”

Make a go of it!” Lacey could hear the shrillness in her voice and took a deep breath to quiet the tinnitus that immediately pounced, dulling and annoying at the same time. The day loomed too beautiful and too shiny, a virtual Christmas package floating in cyberspace, to have this conversation. Besides, they were just about to the correct location to weigh anchor—the coordinates she was certain would bear fruit. Of the golden variety, of course. This was her number one bucket list item—diving for sunken treasure off the Florida Keys—and nothing was going to spoil it, especially memories best left in the past.

“It was far worse than just not making a go of it, as you darn well know,” she growled, refusing to go there, to relive the pain of her childhood. How Lily could was beyond Lacey’s comprehension. Best to outrun it and keep running. That had worked for her until now, so why change what worked?

She swung the thirty-six-foot Nautitech catamaran around. She stood in the cockpit, feet planted, savoring the most amazing panoramic view provided by any of the boats offered for charter. She preferred the stability of the twin-hulled dive boat and was pleased with herself for coming down a day early to get her safety competency card and boating license. A rarity for her, that much planning. But the freedom of being her own captain far outweighed any inconvenience.

“Well, I think Casey and Truman will make a go of it,” Lily huffed. “They’re good friends, like to do the same things, both love adventure and they have a ton of other stuff in common. Frankly, I think they’re a good bet.”

“Yada, yada, yada. Careful. You’ll jinx them.” Lacey smirked. No way was she ever going to latch on to one man, no matter how good a friend he was. No, not a chance that was ever going to be part of her life plan. She had decided on a different approach, brought on by her recent karate training at the dojo. It was based on the warrior mindset and had brought her some clarity, some purpose. Learning all the five hundred-plus techniques was going to take far longer than embracing the philosophy, but it was a beginning.

All she got for her trouble was the expected disgusted glare when she glanced Lily’s way for a split second. But it was the twinge of deep hurt that also crossed her twin’s face that flung the worst arrow. She’d just been reminded of her warrior creed, her sworn duty to protect the innocent, and if anyone was innocent it was Lily, incapable of seeing the world through anything but rose-colored glasses. How that had happened was beyond Lacey’s understanding. They had both been raised in the same dismal household.

“Hey, maybe it will work out for them,” Lacey reasoned in a more level tone of voice, swallowing hard. “Lord knows, it has to for some, right? Otherwise, why have the institution?” She pushed back a strand of bright red hair broken loose in the wind created by the boat flying across the water at an exhilarating speed. She tucked the hair under her ballcap and breathed in the fresh fragrance of the salty foam churned up from the propellers. Ah, the smell of adventure. Bring it on, world.

“We don’t have to let the past destroy our chance at a good future, do we, Lacey?”

Damn it. This wasn’t on the agenda for this gorgeous summer morning. Why was the past visiting now, when it was her turn? The much discussed, much anticipated week of treasure hunting?

“Honestly, I don’t know. But I find it best to just forget about it and keep moving forward.” She shrugged, not trusting herself to look at her sister. “What else can you do?”

She powered down the twin engines of the catamaran. They had arrived. The perfect time to end this verbal wrestling match that could never resolve things, anyway.

“Come on, let’s do this thing. Leave the past where it belongs.” She pushed the button that would drop anchor and stabilize the boat. This was the moment she loved best. The anticipation of things to come. The only thing that would beat it was holding some amazing treasure in her hot little hands.

Lacey grabbed her dive suit and hurried to step into it, tugging it up her body and zipping it in place under her chin. Hefting her air tank, she took a moment to check the equipment was working properly before setting it in place on her back. She watched Lily finish suiting up, then gave her twin two thumbs-up.

Seconds later, they were in the water.

She vanquished all thoughts of the upcoming nuptials of fellow Brass Ringer Casey and her fiancé Truman, because nothing was going to be allowed to interfere with the clear level-mindedness that diving in the waters off Little Conch Reef promised. The blue jewel of Plantation Key, especially when surrounded by a mosaic of rainbow-colored fish that immediately began to dance with her, made everything seem possible. It was the sea version of that Hollywood blockbuster, like her sister was blabbing on about with all the false promises to love and to cherish until death do us part. What was it called again? Oh yeah, living in La-La Land. She was too smart and too burned for that trap.

The exhaled bubbles rose steam-engine-style around her while she used her flippers to propel herself through the clear water. Absolute pure magic. A poet with a great deal more talent than her would have some struggle capturing this moment of sublime freedom. The tinny sounds vanished from her mind, leaving only anticipation for the immediate future in their wake. She thrust her body back and forth on a downward trajectory, moving away from her twin like a mermaid-in-training, her long hair streaming behind her.

Finally. It was really true. She wanted to pinch herself just to make sure, but it was past time to get to searching and find what the depths would reveal to her that day. What King Midas had in store for one Lacey Anne Cameron. Excitement glowed from an ember to a raging wildfire within her body in a split-second.

She swam parallel to the ocean floor, checking every nook and cranny of the Spanish galleon El Infante for a glimpse of something, anything, manmade. That brigantine lay battered and almost unrecognizable on the white sand ocean floor, a victim of the 1733 hurricane. She really didn’t expect to find anything at the actual wreck site—its bones had been picked over years ago—but farther out… Now, that held distinct possibilities.

The morning passed in the sweet sense of being on point, of something just over the horizon waiting for her to discover. Yes, the best of times for her was just before something occurred, the quiet of the hush. But still, this was taking longer than she’d imagined. She’d been certain that she’d bag important treasure before her sister. It had always been a contest to see who could beat the other to the prize. The only other person whose competition gene rivaled her own was Will, her best male friend and hang-out buddy. And today, this was going to be her day. She felt it deep in her bones.

She checked the tank monitoring system occasionally, making sure she had sufficient air to continue. She swam in and out of an underground cave, caught up in the mystical flow. Then a glint under the shifting sands at the cave mouth drew her eye and she was on it in an instant. Fanning the sand away, she worked to uncover the find.

It was deeply planted, the ocean reluctantly giving over its hoarded treasure only after a major tug-of-war. A large golden cross nearly eighteen inches across with a number of encrusted gems. A find worthy of King Midas himself. Ahhhh.

Then everything changed in a split second.

The reef hushed, gone silent.

The brilliantly hued school of fish abandoned her, skipping town like an old western’s inhabitants during a showdown at high noon, racing for the security of the reef and the bleached bones of El Infante. Even the sea anemones shut their flower-like structures, closed to business, paled to gray to match the death-like scene.

Why?

Lacey’s heart nearly stopped, skipping a full beat and making her chest bone shudder.

A lidless black eye. Unblinking and cold as sin. And with the audacity to materialize right smack dab in front of her face.

Sneaky freakin’ bull shark.

He’d blindsided her, swimming up silently in the warm waters off the Florida coastline while her attention was diverted elsewhere, digging for treasure. She sucked in a lungful of air, almost biting her mouthpiece in two.

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