Monday, 27 March 2017

Beauty of the Beast By Rachel L. Demeter

Beauty of the Beast
by Rachel L. Demeter
Fairy Tale Retellings, #1
Release Date: March 15, 2017
Genres: Adult, Historical Romance, Fairy Tale Retellings, Gothic Romance #beautyofthebeasttour
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🥀 Book Blurb ðŸ¥€
Experience the world’s most enchanting and timeless love story—retold with a dark and realistic twist.  

A BEAST LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF HIS PAST Reclusive and severely scarred Prince Adam Delacroix has remained hidden inside a secluded, decrepit castle ever since he witnessed his family’s brutal massacre. Cloaked in shadow, with only the lamentations of past ghosts for company, he has abandoned all hope, allowing the world to believe he died on that tragic eve twenty-five years ago.  

A BEAUTY IN PURSUIT OF A BETTER FUTURE Caught in a fierce snowstorm, beautiful and strong-willed Isabelle Rose seeks shelter at a castle—unaware that its beastly and disfigured master is much more than he appears to be. When he imprisons her gravely ill and blind father, she bravely offers herself in his place.  

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Stripped of his emotional defenses, Adam’s humanity reawakens as he encounters a kindred soul in Isabelle. Together they will wade through darkness and discover beauty and passion in the most unlikely of places. But when a monster from Isabelle’s former life threatens their new love, Demrov’s forgotten prince must emerge from his shadows and face the world once more… Perfect for fans of Beauty and the Beast and The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty of the Beast brings a familiar and well-loved fairy tale to life with a rich setting in the kingdom of Demrov and a captivating, Gothic voice. Beauty of the Beast is the first standalone installment in a series of classic fairy tales reimagined with a dark and realistic twist.  

Disclaimer: This is an edgy retelling of the classic fairy tale. Due to strong sexual content, profanity, and dark subject matter, including an instance of sexual assault committed by the villain, Beauty of the Beast is not intended for readers under the age of 18.

🎬 Book Trailer 🎬

🥀 Teasers 🥀


🥀 Excerpt 🥀

~ The East Tower ~

Arms sprang out from the darkness. They spun her full circle and slammed her body against the king’s portrait. Isabelle gasped, more in shock than from pain, as she stared into Adam’s deformed face. The lantern flickered behind his massive form, casting his cloaked body in silhouette. But she saw enough to know he was far from pleased. Rage and frustration radiated from his body like a palpable force.

“I warned you to stay out of here,” he said, his voice dangerously cold and deep. Those rugged vocals vibrated against her body and seeped into her marrow. “What part of forbidden didn’t you comprehend?” His voice lashed out from the darkness like a hurtled knife, and the word “forbidden” seemed to whisper another meaning altogether. Isabelle tried to answer but failed to find her voice. Indeed, her vocal cords had turned to solid ice, as numb and cold as the blood rushing through her veins. She couldn’t breathe; she felt like she was suffocating.

“My mother gave me that musical box on my fourth birthday,” he said, the sensual lull of his voice causing the fine hairs on her nape to stand erect. “And now your recklessness has destroyed it. Have you nothing to say?”

“I—I’m sorry.” He offered no reply; only the ragged sound of his breathing and the hammering blizzard broke the silence. “Please—I didn’t mean any harm.”

She struggled under the weight of Adam’s colossal body and battled to free herself. He merely gave a low chuckle and pressed her firmly against the portrait. He looked otherworldly at that moment, like an angel of death seeking vengeance. Both beautiful and monstrous, his cool, sapphire eyes overflowed with warring emotions. In spite of his harsh and ruthless exterior, she detected a quaver in his voice and saw that his large, cloaked shoulders trembled. The darkness in his soul cast a shadow that embraced her; as she peered up at him, she knew he was drowning in the turbulent waters of a past time.

“What a disappointment,” he went on, his voice growing deeper still, mocking her words from so many days ago, “You’re like any other woman.”

“I—I’m sorry. Please, Adam. I—” Her gaze shot past his body and over the wreckage of a past life. She thought of her private chamber again—of the stale perfumes and outdated garments.

Her flight or fight instinct seized hold of her. She attempted to scramble free, but he merely grabbed her shoulder and whirled her back against the portrait. Gloves wrapped his hands; his long, silk-clad fingers grasped her shoulder and kept her firmly in place.

He stood intimately close.

Far too close.

As close as Raphael had been that night.

“Going somewhere, ma belle? After you’ve worked so hard to find my East Tower?”

Hands like two steel bands held her wrists in place. Hot breaths, which faintly smelled of wine, seared her cheeks and assaulted her senses. Her breasts flattened against the pressure of his strong chest, and she felt that same chest swell and deflate in perfect sync with her own. One large hand slipped down her elbow and glided across her extended arm. The lush material of his gloves drew a shudder from her heaving chest. His breathing grew more ragged, shallower, and the erratic beat of his heart banged against her own.

Anger and desire warred on his face, twisting his features into a mess of both monster and man. “Find anything of interest, aside from my musical box? Come, come. You went through such great trouble to get here,” he asked, his voice now threaded with both anger and something else.

Yes, Isabelle recognized that something else. It was the same note that had entered Raphael’s voice that night…

She attempted to duck under his arm, but he moved swiftly, capturing her in the crook of his elbow. Reeling her toward him, he emitted a low, haunting chuckle that swelled the eastern tower to its rafters. She was back where she’d started—pinned against the portrait, Adam’s body serving as a flesh-and-blood blockade.

Hunger radiated from him, enfolding her in a current of sizzling power. His silk-clad hand grazed the curve of her breast as it moved down her body in a painfully slow caress. Even more alarming was her reaction to him. Her treacherous body responded with a crush of hot and cold pulsating waves. Then he whispered a taunt in her ear, and his liquid baritone slid down her backbone like honey; it swirled inside her, finding its home in her most intimate area.

He leaned closer still. His face’s uneven skin brushed against her neck, the black waves of his hair tickled her chin... His thick arousal expanded against her, reminding her of what he was capable of—and of her sheer vulnerability.

His lips teased the base of her throat. Cursing her traitorous body, Isabelle gasped at the gentle scraping of his teeth. His tongue and lips tormented her throbbing pulse—just barely, stirring her skin in a mere ghost of a touch.


🥀 Meet the Author 🥀 

Rachel L. Demeter lives in the beautiful hills of Anaheim, California with Teddy, her goofy lowland sheepdog, and her high school sweetheart of fourteen years. She enjoys writing poignant romances that challenge the reader's emotions and explore the redeeming power of love. Imagining dynamic worlds and characters has been Rachel's passion for longer than she can remember. Before learning how to read or write, she would dictate stories while her mother would record them for her. She holds a special affinity for the tortured hero and unconventional romances. Whether crafting the protagonist or antagonist, she ensures every character is given a soul. Rachel endeavors to defy conventions by blending elements of romance, suspense, and horror. Some themes her stories never stray too far from: forbidden romance, soul mates, the power of love to redeem, mend all wounds, and triumph over darkness. Her dream is to move readers and leave an emotional impact through her words.

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Friday, 24 March 2017

When Darkness Falls By Ellen Chauvet

Tristan's Lyceum Wolves by Kym Grosso


Charismatic and powerful Lyceum Wolves' Alpha, Tristan Livingston, is out for revenge after a devastating attack on his pack. Not only did he survive a building collapse, he orchestrated the rebuild of his chic, state-of-the-art nightclub within a week. Determined to mete out justice, he rescues a beautiful witness who may be the key to helping him find the perpetrators.
Dr. Kalli Williams, dedicated veterinarian, is hiding a secret that endangers not only her own life but the lives of wolves across the country. After being tortured by a savage vampire, she's reluctantly agrees to help the sexy Alpha in his quest to identify suspects; ones who'd kill her on the spot if they knew she existed. As Kalli places herself in the hands of the dominant wolf, she soon finds she wants nothing more than to submit. Tristan, committed to ruling his pack as a lone wolf, is inexplicably drawn to the mysterious and enticing woman, who seems more than human, but not quite supernatural. As he discovers her secret, he teaches her the meaning of trust, helping her learn how to be true to her nature. After living a lifetime alone, will he succumb to the visceral need to claim her, acknowledging the soul binding connection between an Alpha and his mate? And will he prevail against the menacing enemy who threatens to destroy Lyceum Wolves?
Kade
Kade Dark Embrace (Immortals of New Orleans, Book 1)
Luca
Luca’s Magic Embrace (Immortals of New Orleans, Book 2)
Tristan
Tristan's Lyceum Wolves (Immortals of New Orleans, Book 3)
Logan
Logan’s Acadian Wolves (Immortals of New Orleans, Book 4)
Leopold
Léopold's Wicked Embrace (Immortals of New Orleans, Book 5)
Dimitri
Dimitri (Immortals of New Orleans, Book 6)
Lost Embrace
Lost Embrace (Immortals of New Orleans, Book 6.5)
Jax Webshare Cover
Jax (Immortals of New Orleans, Book 7)
Kym Grosso is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning paranormal romance series, The Immortals of New Orleans. She also has a new erotic romantic suspense series, Club Altura Romance. In addition to romance novels, Kym has written and published several articles about autism, and is passionate about autism advocacy. She is also a contributing essay author in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum.
Kym enjoys reading, tennis, zumba, traveling and spending time with her husband and children. New Orleans, with its rich culture, history and unique cuisine, is one of her favorite places to visit. Also, she loves traveling just about anywhere that has a beach or snow-covered mountains. On any given night, when not writing her own books, Kym can be found reading her Kindle, which is filled with hundreds of romances.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Promo! Today only! Teacher (Innocence Lost Book 1) By CC Young #99Cents

Teacher by CC Young
Teacher (Innocence Lost Book 1)

By CC Young
Promo Price $0.99
For Thursday 23rd March Only 
Grab it while it's hot!



The private lessons were her idea, so he can't be held responsible: if you enter the lion's den you might just get nipped. Or scratched. Or devoured whole.


Buy Teacher on Amazon USA
Buy Teacher on Amazon UK




There is yearning, unrequited love, dark emotions, guilt, inner conflict, seduction and mind games.
There is innocence sacrificed at the alter of lust.
There is the awakenings of deep, complicated, grown-up emotions…
There are internal power struggles -
For him as he resists his darkest urges
For her as she comes to terms with unaccustomed feelings of desire that threaten to overpower her.


What The Reviewers Are Saying...

"Wow - the scenes were hot - I loved the slow build of tension - it becomes almost unbearable… Yes! I want to see more of these two!"  Kelly Armstrong, erotic fiction connoisseur

"More, more, more! I don't think I've ever been more turned on by a book. Why did it stop? I could read 10 more books about these two (plus my husband and I had the best sex ever after I read it!)" - Mrs. Taylor, voracious romance reader  


Get The Whole Series

CC Young novels



Stalk CC Young

Thursday, 16 March 2017

COVER REVEAL Retaliation Cat Mason

 


COVER REVEAL
Retaliation
Cat Mason
Release Date: March 31st 2017
When Roanne Frazier is thrown into a dangerous world she knows nothing about, the only one she can count on is the only person who has ever let her down.
Blood and bullets are part of the game for Jensen Stone. Being President of the Twisted Mayhem MC means sometimes business requires bloodshed and Stone has no problem getting his hands dirty. Known for being fearless and ruthless in his tactics, his main goal is doing all he can to better his club and his town. Though it is easy to be reckless when you have nothing to lose.
The world as they know it is about to be turned upside down. The pain of their pasts collides with the chaos of the present and sends the tension building between them into overdrive, proving that some things don't fizzle out with time. Secrets are revealed, lives are changed, and the small town of Legion Falls, Tennessee will never be the same.
Will Ro and Stone find a way to hold onto each other while everything comes crashing down around them? Or will they be torn apart good by their need for retaliation?
Cat Mason is a thirty year old, married mother of three. When she isn't writing; she is spending time with her kiddos or reading. She was born and raised outside of St. Louis, Missouri, just over the Mississippi River in Granite City, Illinois. Cat writes romance of all kinds with twists of humor.
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Monday, 13 March 2017

BBW Billionaire Romance by Ellen Whyte

I'm going to write two AJ Adams novels a year but I'm also branching out into BBW Billionaire Romance as Ellen Whyte, my In Real Life name.

The first book will be His Competent Woman. I'm aiming at beginning April. Still writing, so here's an UNEDITED first chapter.


His Competent Woman
A BWW Billionaire Romance
30,000 words
Self Standing and Complete

In desperate need for money, Emma applies for a job with handsome billionaire Curtis West. The thing is, she loses her temper during the interview and fudges her credentials. Can she pull it off or will this end in tears?









Chapter One: Emma

     "Ben's a lovely boy," Miss Maddy said brightly. "We're so happy to have him."
     I resisted an impulse to tell her to quit the chitchat and cut to the chase. Ben's schoolteacher was dedicated and likeable but she did have the annoying habit of prefacing every conversation with endless compliments, as if parents weren’t capable of tackling reality without a spoonful of sugar.
     Still, it doesn’t do to snap, so I was nice. "But Ben isn't doing well," I prompted her. "Is he naughty in class? Not listening maybe?"
     "He's in my bad books for being too chatty at least twice a week!" Miss Maddy laughed indulgently. "But that's normal for a seven year old, isn't it?"
     Would she never come to the point?
     "You asked me to come and see you," I reminded her. "You said it was important?"
     When she’d called me, I’d immediately envisioned broken bones or at the very least gushing blood. Once assured on both counts my mind had flown to some hideous disciplinary problem. Thankfully, Ben didn't seem to be in any trouble.
     "Ben's not doing well on his reading," Miss Maddy was finally getting to the point. "His writing is poor too."
     Okay, so my stomach plummeted at that. "He's young. I thought boys are slower to develop than girls?"
     "I think he may be dyslexic," Miss Maddy confided. "I'm not a psychologist, Mrs Reed, but he does seem confused about certain his words and letters. I think we should have him tested."
     Now I could barely breathe either. "Dyslexic? But that's serious, isn't it?"
     "Well, it makes school a bit more of a challenge but with support most children cope very well."
     “I’ll make an appointment with the doctor.”
     “I’m afraid that won’t work,” Miss Maddy said carefully. “Dyslexia isn’t covered.”
     Oh dear lord please no! If it wasn’t covered by the NHS, it meant private doctors. That meant money, and I didn’t have a bean. “Can you test him?” My voice was totally Mini Mouse, squeakily hoping against hope.
     “I’m afraid not.” Miss Maddy handed over a leaflet. "It takes a qualified psychologist. There’s a list here to help you out.”
     “They’re going to be expensive and I'm broke!"
     "I'm so sorry." Miss Maddy looked away, knowing it was bad news. "You're a widow, isn't that so?"
     "Yes." Dear Graham. Gone seven years now.
     "He died in Iraq?" Miss Maddy asked delicately. "Erm, during the war?"
     "Actually, he was run over." It still made me sad just thinking of it. "It was an accident."
     A stupid, stupid accident. A young man, a car thief, had made off with an army jeep parked at the Baghdad market. He'd jumped in, taken off and rocketed into Graham just twenty feet later. Killed instantly, Graham’s friend assured me afterwards. Graham hadn’t suffered at all, thank heaven.
     The driver had joined him shortly after. The mob had beaten him so badly that he'd died on the spot. It was no consolation. I didn't find it a comfort that two families had grieved instead of one. Still don’t actually.
     "Very tragic," Miss Maddy said sympathetically. “Look, there are some charities that help out. It’s all in the leaflet.”
     “Oh, thank God!”
     “But it can take months to make an appointment,” Miss Maddy cautioned me. “And it may not be in Oxford, so you may want to save for the trip.”
     Months. With Ben struggling and being so young, it might put him back a year or more.
     Miss Maddy cleared her throat, piling on bad news, "I'm afraid that if Ben is dyslexic, he will need some support."
     Support. Crap, crap, crap. That meant specialist training, extra classes, and that meant more bills. My stomach roiled with fright. As if I weren’t wasn't already struggling to make ends meet.
     Parenting Ben on my own made working a regular job extremely challenging. Few businesses tolerate staff starting at 9am and dashing off at 3pm - never mind sick days and school holidays.
     After Ben was born, I hadn’t been able to find a decent job, full time or part time. I’d also discovered the gig economy meant forking out for massively expensive babysitters at unreasonable hours. A zero hours contract at Tescos had actually cost me money at the end of the month, with all my salary and some of my last remaining savings going to sitters.
     Now I was just shattered at the thought of the months ahead. A psychologist would cost a bomb but there was nothing left to sell. The car had gone first, then the antique clock that had been her grandmother's and finally the 78s, the vintage records that had been Graham's treasures from his grandfather.
     All I had left of value was my wedding ring, an antique Cartier that I’d taken off and shoved into my pants drawer because two of the diamond chips had fallen out. Maybe it was time to part with it. Just the thought made my feel like weeping but I had to pull myself together. Ben’s future was more important.
     "What will testing cost?" I asked Miss Maddy fearfully.
     "Well, there's the assessment. Last year we had little Siti Menon tested and I think her mum said it set her back -" Miss Maddy mentioned a figure that made me reel.
     “If he is, will he need special lessons?” I was praying she’d say not. “Or a special school?”
     “We can help,” Miss Maddy assured me.
     For a second I breathed again. If the school could pitch in, maybe we’d be okay. I was uncomfortably aware of being a burden, a scrounger on state benefits.  Maybe I could help, volunteer for something.
     My spirits rose a little but then Miss Maddy whacked me right back down. “But if Ben’s diagnosed, there may be extras like a laptop and special software. Tutoring in coping techniques can sometimes help too.” She rummaged in her desk. “Let me see about prices. I had a list here from a chat group the other day. I think tutoring classes are charged by the half hour and that they tend to charge about -"
     By the time she was done, I felt sick. Even selling my ring wouldn’t raise enough cash.
     "But it's all worth it," Miss Maddy finished. "It really does work." Then she put the boot in. "Without intervention, he'll fall more and more behind."
     “Can the school help with a grant for testing?” I would crawl through broken glass if they’d help. Sack cloth, ashes, the lot.
     Miss Maddy just shrugged helplessly. “I’m so sorry.”
     “Or maybe if he needs it, with tutoring?”
     That got me another helpless shrug.
     I sat in my chair, shell-shocked. I knew that Ben would not get any more attention. It wasn't Miss Maddy’s fault, either. She simply had too many kids to cope with. The school was already under tremendous strain, with classrooms holding thirty children, some of whom didn't speak English yet. Frankly, it was a miracle she'd not just dismissed Ben as lazy.
     "I'll see to it," I tried to sound totally cool. "Thank you, Miss Maddy. It's very kind if you to alert me."
     Miss Maddy blushed. "It's a pleasure. We all love Ben. He's such a pleasant boy."
     She’s a pain in the bum sometimes, Miss Maddy, but her heart is in the right place.
     Walking out on to the sunny street, I prayed for a miracle. Maybe the job centre had something new.
     "Oh, Mrs Reed," the counter staff knew me by name, I'd been in so often. "There's an opening in Tescos, but it's shift work. Mostly nights and weekends."
     "They pay so little that it won't cover the baby sitting," I couldn’t help but moan. "Is there anything that isn't zero contract hours or minimum wage?"
     "Nothing that matches your qualifications," the woman said sympathetically.
     "A degree in English literature and a year as a glorified intern in a publishing house have prepared me for nothing but benefits." Yes, I was on a total self-pitying grumble fest. "Why didn't I study something lucrative like accounting?"
     "Accounting?" One of the office staff popped up, holding a newly printed vacancy notice.  "There's a job in Weston Enterprises. It says administration but they said to give priority to people with bookkeeping or financial management experience."
     I took the posting and read through it quickly. It looked like simple enough work, a girl Friday job that covered office record keeping. It was nine to five, a proper contract and the salary was decent. It was a miracle.
     "I'll go straight away!" Then I ran out of the door before anyone could stop me.
     It wasn't difficult to find Weston Enterprises. Not only are they the biggest construction company in town, but their headquarters consists of a tower made out of silvered glass. Soaring straight up from a small park, the locals had nicknamed it Minas Ithil after the moon inspired tower from Lord Of The Rings.
     I managed to catch a bus that took me straight to the front gate. I blasted through the little park and arrived at reception pink faced and panting. "I've come about the job," I announced.
     The receptionist, a pretty little bubble blonde in a blue flowered summer dress, glanced over the job vacancy sheet. "That will be Sam," she chirped brightly. "Top floor. Speak to Caitie, she’s on reception duty today."
     The executive lift was opulent and made entirely out of dark glass. As it whisked me into the air, I was treated to a dazzling view of Oxford.  The doors opened on an equally stunning vision: Caitie who was working the executive floor reception desk looked more like a fashion model than an office worker.
     She was perfect for Minas Ithil. Arwen Evenstar to the life, the girl could be an Elven Ring-bearer, no problem.
     Caitie was tall, slender and dressed in an emerald silky shift that looked straight off a Tokyo catwalk. Her glossy black hair fell straight down her back. It was so long, that it almost reached her waist. Everything about the woman screamed style. Even her nails were perfect; a classic French manicure with white glitter tips.
     I took in all the gloss, feeling my toes curl in shame. I would never, ever get a job here. It was amazing they’d even let me in the door.
     “You’re here to see Sam?” The model was abrupt and her voice was rough. She was emptying out her desk, clearly intent on leaving. But she smiled nicely enough and waved me to a plush leather sofa. "Do take a seat."
     “Erm, can you point me to the ladies?”
     I bolted into the loo instead, took one look at my reflection and squealed with horror. I’d wanted to look smart for Miss Maddy so I’d worn plain black trousers and a navy blue blouse. It was suitably severe, corporate and nobody would guess that my black court shoes were so worn that the left one had a hole in the sole. But compared to Miss Evenstar out in reception, it looked hideously dull.
     As for my hair! It’s naturally curly and a dark chestnut that goes well with any strong colour from turquoise to wine. But with me raking my hands through it all morning, it was standing up on end. Sadly, it wasn’t a romantic wild cloud, either. Porcupine was more like it.
     To add a final horrible touch, my face was scarlet from running. As well as my looking like a freak, it had made my eyeliner run. Instead of sultry, I was looking at a devil face with racoon eyes.
     “You look like Cher - after she’s put her fingers in a socket,” I grumbled at mirror me. “And without the sexy vulpine glamour.”
     Repairing the damage, I hastily combed my hair, pulling it back into a well tamed bun. Running my hands under the cold tap and pressing them against my face, toned down some of the hideous flush.
     Waiting for the last of the red to cool away, I stared my reflection.  My hair’s okay but I’ve got very ordinary brown eyes, too boring for beauty, a nice straight nose but it’s too big for my taste, and my mouth is too thin. Still, with the black and navy look I was presentable. I reminded myself that this was a job interview, not a beauty competition.
     Just as well really because my blouse looked as if I’d been poured into it and my trousers were disgustingly tight. I'd eaten been eating too much cheap stodge recently and had failed to lose my winter pounds as well.
     "Well," I comforted mirror-me. "At least giving up chocolate means no spots."
     Digging in my bag, I realised I was out of eyeliner. My mascara was almost dead, but a drop of water from the tap eked it out. I was almost out of lipstick too but by digging in the bottom of the tube, I made do.
     "There," I talked myself up for courage. "Understated, serious and dependable. Totally employable."
     There was no way I could compare to the gorgeous PA but seeing this was an admin job, hopefully looks wouldn’t matter.
     “You’ll be behind closed doors. Probably in the basement,” I assured myself.
     I looked at the job description again.
     Must have good organisational skills, communicate well and handle many details and challenging situations at once.
     Well, I could handle that. Having once invited Ben’s kindergarten group over to the house for his birthday, there was nothing a company could throw at me that would scare me. Twenty screaming kids had made me immune to chaos and yelling, and it was unlikely the executives would mimic little Kevin and vomit into my handbag or hang on to me so hard that my knickers slid down like they had with that minx Seema.
     Must be conversant with Microsoft Office packages including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
     Proofing manuscripts had made me an ace at editing, and I’d taken a course in PowerPoint at the Job Centre, just to improve my CV. My Excel skills were basic but I’d be fine after a bit of quick extra tutoring. All jobs have a learning curve. I could get up to speed in the evenings in the first week or so.
     Includes responsibility for liasing with vendors to ensure that orders are fulfilled as requested, invoices are paid and refunds or exchanges are processed.
     That sounded like it took common sense. Also, fighting with the plumber, the electrician and three roof contractors had made me an expert in negotiation. And with the plumber being a foul-mouthed Geordie, I’d not be knocked sideways by construction worker swearing either.
     Must hold a degree in business administration and have at least two years relevant corporate experience.
     Ouch. Now that was a stumbling block. I knew full well that a degree in English Lit would not be an acceptable substitute. But perhaps they were flexible on that.
     Human resources were always trying to filter applicants by box ticking, I told myself firmly. And anyway, figuring out our finances and living on the edge for seven years had to count for something.
     I took one last look in the mirror, straightened my shoulders and walked out, straight into a firestorm.
     “Catie, my own bloody PA is cleaning out her desk right now! No notice!” The roar blasted out of the carpeted executive offices, ringing around the building. I flattened herself against the wall instinctively. “Family issues, she says! Her bloody sister had a kid and Catie feels she has to run off and play nanny!”
     “Can we offer some leave instead?” a much more reasonable voice asked. “Negotiate?”
     “Seeing she’s been late every morning this week, and skiving off early, I told her to get out and not come back!” angry voice fumed.
     “Oh dear. And I came to tell you that Suze has given notice too.”
     "Whaaaaaat?" The loud angry voice echoed down the corridor, practically shattering the delicately tinted windows.
     "She has a baby, Curtis. She decided being a mum was more important than a career."
     "She bloody well could've thought of that when she applied for the job!"
     "Yes, but we can replace her."
     "Can we? We're still looking for an accountant too!" The voice was fuming. "One who won't give zero notice after falling in love with a bloody tourist and emigrating to Australia!"
     "Well, it was unusual, and rather romantic, I thought," the unfortunate Sam said.
     "Romantic? It's disruptive and it costs a fortune to interview and recruit!" The anger was running freely, his voice ringing around the hall. "Babies, family issues and bloody husband hunting! They preach bloody equality but it’s all take and no give!”
     “Oh come on. We’re just hitting a bad patch.”
     “I've had it, Sam! From now on, no more women!"
     "Curtis, I appreciate you're angry but you know you can't do that. Discrimination is illegal."
     "Illegal? And that cow Suze quitting is fine?”
     “It’s unprincipled but we can’t exactly chain her to her desk.”
     “Unprincipled? It’s bloody robbery! She told me she wanted a career, yet she marries some banker a month later.”
     “Well, it’s not a crime.”
     “Isn’t it?  She had a worthless bloody degree that qualified her for nothing when you hired her on. I spent six months training her up, then she falls pregnant. She took her sick leave and her holiday, both of which I paid for. Then she vanishes for the best part of a year on maternity leave, which I also paid for, and now she goddamn quits!"
     The roar reverberated through the hall. I flattened herself against a wall, frozen by the rage.
     "Yes, it's unfortunate-"
     "Unfortunate? It bloody well cost me a fortune!"
     “Yes, I know.”
     “Two years and I’ve not had an ounce of work out of her!”
     “Yes, but -”
     “You said I can’t fire her but now she can just leave?”
     “Yes.”
     “Can I sue her for compensation?”
     "No. It doesn’t work that way.”
     "Fine. In that case, no more women."
     "But Curtis -"
     I snuck down the hall, back into the waiting room, now empty, and then sat trembling. Curtis, the voice had said. That roar had been Curtis Weston, CEO of Weston Enterprises. I’d read about him often.
     Curtis was one of our local lions. An inspirational architect, the creator of the glass Minas Ithil tower and winner of several awards, including a coveted RIBA for innovation in architecture. He was a local boy made good, and everyone in Oxford was proud of him.
     In interviews he'd seemed pleasant if rather driven. Now I was changing my mind. Curtis Weston only cared about his business. He didn't have a clue that parents put their kids first. Suze and Catie probably hadn't known how babies would change their lives and priorities.
     It was unfortunate that all of his staff seemed to leave at the same time, but being stinking rich, he could just replace them. Curtis Weston’s reaction was completely over the top.
     "Mrs Reed?" A tall friendly looking man with sandy hair and a slightly rumpled brown suit stood before me. "I'm Sam Jefferson, human resources director." He had a warm smile and a firm handshake. "You're awfully quick! I only sent the job spec an hour ago."
     I smiled, "I like to be efficient." Game on, right?
     "Right," Sam was looking me over. With a sinking heart I could see he was noting the lack of jewellery, well-worn shoes and probably my worried eyes too. Oh crap. The Job Centre probably sent him my CV.
     “Penguin Publishing!” Well, that’s impressive!” Yes, Sam was checking out my past. My heart was plummeting into my gut again.
     I did have a promising start in Penguin but then there was a telltale year long gap, and then the dratted thing was littered with zero hour jobs. The whole thing reeked of loser.
     "Cashier at Tescos, driving for Uber, and part time cleaner for the Royal Bank," Sam said warmly. "You're versatile and not afraid of hard work. You’ve been taking short courses too. Excellent!"
     He was going to turn me down! The despair just blasted through me. He wanted a competent professional with years of experience, not a run down single parent. Especially with Curtis Weston ripping into him just minutes before.
     I’m a lame duck mum, I thought.
     The money I needed was receding before my eyes. In a flash I could see Ben being left further and further behind, with me standing uselessly on the sidelines, unable to help him.
     "I'm organised and used to coping with problems," I said quickly. "I enjoy challenge and I'm a fast learner."
     "Yes, I can see that," Sam said gently. I could tell he hated this part of his work, telling desperate job seekers they were out of luck. Sam seemed a kind man, one of the best. He was probably thinking that Curtis Weston would kill him if he hired me. I wasn't even remotely a fit for the job either, or any job they had probably.
     "Mrs Reed, I'm very sorry but -"
     "The Royal Bank were very pleased with me," I interjected desperately. It wasn't a lie. The manager had complimented me on my sparkling clean corners and floor waxing.
     "Sam, can I borrow Jenny?" Curtis put his head around the door. "I've got that presentation for Grants and -" he stopped abruptly and stared at me. “Oh,” he said crisply. “Hello.”
     He was much taller than I’d imagined. Curtis Weston was easily six feet, with narrow hips and long legs contributing to an overall impression of lean grace. He moved swiftly, every move economical and purposeful. It was sexy as hell; panthers had nothing on this man.
     His looks were plain but regular. Short brown hair, brown eyes and a light tan from working outside set off sparkling white teeth, small nose and slanting cheekbones. With the sinuous moves, the whole package came off as stunning.
     He was wearing an expensive suit, and definitely not off the rack at some high-end fashion house like Armani or Cardin. No, this was pure Savile Row. It was hand made and beautifully tailored to highlight the sinewy physique and the expensive black material screamed money. So did the crisp blue shirt and the navy and red tie.
     My knees were going liquid just looking at him. He was damn gorgeous. Lean, dark and sexy. And seeing he built this business up from nothing, he's also bright and hard working. If we’d met at a party, I'd have made the most horrendous pass.
     The thing about all that beauty and grace is that I suddenly became aware of less than glorious me. Horribly aware of my less than spectacular outfit, too worn to impress and definitely straining at the seams, I sucked in my tummy. I really had to lose some weight. Like chop off three inches all the way round. 
     I was also cursing myself for my haste. Instead of rushing over, hoping that being first would snag me the job, I should have made an appointment, done my hair properly, dressed better and looked the part.
     Investing in some new shoes might have been a good move too. I could feel the unseen hole in the sole burning into my foot.
     "You're applying?" Curtis spoke swiftly, with a light, clipped tone.
     “This is Emma Reed,” Sam said quickly. “She’s here for the admin job.”
     Curtis stepped forward and I caught a whiff of his aftershave: leather and orange. It promised warmth and excitement. I could feel myself flush. He’d have a lean body with long ropey muscles. They’d curl around me, sexy and hard. Totally delicious.
     I was ignoring the sensible angel on my shoulder yelling at me to focus. He was clearly out of my league, just like the job but oh my God, if only I could take him home as a consolation prize!
     “Hello!” It was supposed to come out cool and competent but I sounded like Minnie Mouse. I cleared my throat, adding, “Nice to meet you.” Hell!  Now I was Billy Goat Gruff!
     Curtis Weston nodded briefly. “How do you do.” His voice was cool to the point of cold.
     He was looking me over. He had hazel eyes but I suddenly had the impression that I was standing under a searchlight. Every inch of me felt hot and exposed. The light eyes ran over me swiftly. This was a man who was quick in everything, from mood to decisions. And by the pursed mouth I could feel him judging my worn shoes and lack of gloss.
     The image of Caiti, the supermodel in the emerald sheath, rushed back into mind. Yes, the slightly contemptuous gaze told me Curtis Weston thought I wasn't up to par.
     He wasn't gorgeous; he was a judgemental arse.
     Suddenly furious, I turned to Sam. "As I was saying, Mr Jefferson, the Royal Bank was pleased with my work. They did say they might have another opening, so if you've other candidates-"
     "The Royal Bank?" Curtis interjected. "You worked there?"
     "Yes, and for Tesco, and Penguin publishing." I decided I'd lay it on thick. I'd never get the job, Sam Jefferson would know I was misrepresenting myself, but at least I could walk out with my pride intact.
     "Are you married?" Curtis asked abruptly. "Or intending to get pregnant soon?"
     "Curtis!" Sam was red with annoyance. "For God's sake!"
     "Oh, I don't mind," I said sweet as honey. "Let me tell you, Mr Weston, that I am not married, and do not intend to marry. Frankly, I have no interest in men!"
     "Excellent!" Curtis said promptly. "You're hired!"



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