Friday, December 27, 2013

Bijou Babbles: Bikers-Babes & Books

I'm attending my first book signing on January 11 in Houston, TX. If you're interested in knowing more, check out this page. Also, TrinDee's FB page where they're posting cool info on all the authors. So far, they shared fun facts about Belle Whittington and me!!!
 
As part of the promotion, I'll give away signed paperbacks for the four Damaged books. I'll have more info on the giveaways soon. Until then, I wanted to share the fun facts also on the TrinDee FB page.
 

1) How did you choose their names?
 
I chose the name Cooper for the hero in Damaged and the Beast because I wanted Farah to be able to call him something silly. He ended up being Coop the Poop. I named his brother Tucker for obviously reasons. Without realizing it, I set up for the hero in Damaged and the Knight to be Judd the Stud.
 
2) Favorite scene to write and scene that made me blush.
 
My favorite scene in Damaged and the Beast was also the one that made me blush. It was the first sex scene I wrote for them (since I wrote the book out of order). It’s also where Farah lets loose a bit. She ends up giving Cooper butt hickeys and he gives her a little oral gift too.
 
3) Scene that made me cry.
 
In Damaged and the Knight, the sisters talk about a traumatic experience from their pasts. The way they confront the pain and share their guilt broke my heart. By the end of the scene, I felt they were both stronger people.
 
4) My favorite characters to write.
 
I’d say my favorite were Vaughn and Raven from Damaged and the Outlaw. They share a sarcastic humor and their banter often made me laugh while writing.
 
5) Words I Use Too Much.
 
Horny was used a lot in Damaged and the Beast. Cooper is one easily aroused guy and often joked about needing sweatpants.
 
6) The importance of epilogues.
 
When I wrote Damaged and the Beast, I wasn’t sure I would write another romance. Who knew if anyone would read the book, let alone like it? So I wrote an epilogue to give a sense of closure, in case it was the end of the story.
 
I learned later how much romance readers love epilogues. Now, I dream up my epilogues early in the planning stage. I give glimpses of characters from the prior books too. So far, the epilogues have taken place one year out (Beast), five years (Knight), one and three (dual pov in Cobra), and seven years (Outlaw).
 
7) Dual POV
 
I wrote Damaged and the Beast and Damaged and the Knight solely from the chick’s point of view. After a lot of readers asked about Cooper and Judd, I realized I should add the guy’s pov to my future books. This is why Cobra and Outlaw include dual pov.
 
8) Going too far with bitchy Bailey.
 
Cooper’s younger sister, Bailey Johansson, was HATED by readers after Damaged and the Beast. I had originally planned for the third book to be about her, but readers wanted her dead rather than finding a HEA. Over the next few books, I worked to redeem Bailey in the eyes of readers. Now, most anxiously await her upcoming book, Damaged and the Dragon.
 
9) Aaron's HEA
 
I never intended to give Aaron Barnes his own HEA. After Damaged and the Beast was published, readers wondered who would be Tawny’s hero in Knight. Some wanted Aaron and I decided to write Damaged and the Cobra.
 
10) TV Inspiration
 
I find ideas for the tattoos in my books from watching the shows Tattoo Nightmares and Ink Masters. In fact, Aaron was modeled after Tommy from the former and a guest judge from the latter.
 
I'll be back later in the week with info on those signed paperback giveaways.
 
 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bijou Babbles: Damaged and the Outlaw is HERE!

Hell yeah! Damaged and the Outlaw is now available at Amazon and Smashwords! B&N always takes a bit longer. Still, I was happy to publish the book a tad early and get a jump on the holiday week.

I want to thank the readers who have supported me (not to mention been on my ass to write faster). My goal is to improve as an author with each book and satisfy everyone who has invested time and money into reading my novels. In 2014, I'll continue the Damaged series with Bailey and Nick's book.

Happy reading!!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Damaged and the Outlaw Excerpt

Vaughn and Raven First Meet

     Hotter than sin, Vaughn was a shining example of the wrong guy. He intimidated men when he wasn’t dampening the panties of every chick in the room. He walked to the bar like he was ready to hit someone then fuck a random chick to celebrate his win.

I’d been impressed since seeing him in passing when he came by the house to talk to the Johanssons. Having avoided him since then, I planned to do so again. Sexy and up to no good was exactly the kind of man I needed to abstain from. Of course, he walked directly to where I sat and took the stool to my right.

“Lark’s sister.”

“Cooper’s peon.”

A grinning Vaughn tapped the bar to get the bartender’s attention. Once he had a beer, his gaze returned to me.

“Saw you fight. Little bitch bit you, huh?”

After showing him my hand, I forced my gaze to my drink and away from his bright blue eyes.

“The biters are the worst,” I muttered. “So you like watching chicks wrestle. Typical.”

“Bailey wanted to come,” he said, adjusting on the stool so he was sitting even closer. “She misses punching people.”

“I don’t blame her.”

As Vaughn studied my face, I acted like I didn’t care. It wasn’t easy though with his maleness so damn intoxicating. Yet, I was abstaining specifically from guys like him.

“I bet you’re a real heartbreaker,” he said, giving me a nearly irresistible smile.

“I’ve never broken a single heart,” I admitted. “I’ve broken more than a few noses and stomped on several ball sacks though.”

Vaughn’s grin widened. “Let me buy you a drink.”

“I have a drink.”

“Fine. Let me take you to a booth and sweet talk your sexy ass into my bed tonight.”

“I’m abstaining from fucking guys like you.”

“Guys like me? You mean, sexy bastards that’ll make you scream their names?”

“Yeah, basically.”

As he slid a bit closer, I caught a whiff of his cologne. Smelling like chocolate, the scent was bait to any self-respecting woman. Like a moth to the flame, I had the worst urge to give him a lick and get a taste.

“Why don’t we just talk then?” he said soft and seductive. “We share friends. Let’s get acquainted, so it won’t be awkward at the crew get-togethers.”

“Crew?”

“It’s what Tucker calls the group. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but most of the crew is hooked up with someone. If we’re going to play solo, we might as well become friends.”

“I don’t have guy friends. Just don’t believe in it. The only thing men have to offer is what I’m abstaining from.”

A smirking Vaughn took my drink and gestured towards the nearby empty booth. “You and I are in the same boat with the crew. So I guess you’re going to have guy friends whether you like it or not.”

Despite my brain screaming for me to run from the bar and never look back, I followed Vaughn to the booth. He leaned back and stretched out his long legs.

“This is nice. Two friends being friendly,” he said.

Rolling my eyes, I sipped my drink and ignored his cocky smile.

“How long has it been?” he asked, tapping my sandal with his boot. “The abstaining thing.”

Crossing my arms under my tits, I tightened them and pushed up the girls for him to admire. I always loved teasing boys.

“I bet you’ve banged a girl recently. Like I could probably smell her on you, if I got close enough,” I grumbled, remembering how he smelled like chocolate and I had a sweet tooth. “You’re likely crawling with germs.”

Instead of finding offense, Vaughn watched me in a weird way. His lids lowered as the corners of his mouth lifted. A sly look on his face, Vaughn ran his tongue along his top teeth.

“I have a system,” he said softly. “After I hook up with a random chick, I shower with a big bottle of Purell. One of those economy-sized ones.”

Even smiling, I kicked his foot away from mine. “I’m a bath person myself. Just fill up the tub with really hot water then toss in a cap of bleach plus a few bubbles and I’m set.”

“Gotta have bubbles,” he said in a deep low voice.

“What are you doing?”

Vaughn shook his head, yet his gaze held mine. “Just admiring your beautiful smile.”

Rolling my eyes again, I sighed. “Lame.”

“I know. I really do. I use that line a lot, but it’s true with you. That smile changes your face. Makes you less sex kitten and more angel.”

“I’m no angel.”

“What a relief. I don’t like good girls.”

“I didn’t say I was bad.”

Vaughn sucked at his lower lip and sized me up with those eyes. “You didn’t have to, kitten.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Sugar?” he said, grinning brighter now. “Your sister didn’t like my nickname for her either.”

“Why would you give my sister a nickname?”

“Don’t be jealous. I like giving girls nicknames. Even girls I don’t want to spend time inside.”

“I can’t believe these lines ever work.”

“They don’t. Girls are drawn to my looks, not my personality.”

Snorting, I begged myself to stop smiling. “And you’re proud of this fact?”

“I’m proud of very little, pumpkin.”

“Keep trying.”

When Vaughn spotted someone and his smile faded, I followed his gaze to Beavis and Butthead.

“You’re insecure,” I said, kicking his foot lightly. “I find that sexy in a guy. Too bad I’m abstaining.”

Vaughn finally returned his gaze to me where it mellowed. “Why abstain exactly?”

“I told you.”

“Seems like you could just abstain from relationships if these past guys were losers. Why abstain from fucking? You frigid?”

“Yes, very much so.”

“I sense that about you,” he said, giving me a sly grin. “Betcha couldn’t handle a guy like me.”

“Reverse psychology. Really? I expected more from you.”

“I do what I need to.”

“Fuck some other girl. There are a few hot ones in the corner.”

“Saw them then I saw you. Now, I can’t look away.”

“Barf.”

Vaughn laughed a genuine laugh. No games or come-ons. I’d actually made the fucker giggle like a bitch.

“You’re really abstaining? Even from a chance to enjoy all this?” he asked, waving his hands around to show off his strong chest and hard stomach. “I’m the real deal. Not wearing a girdle to hold in the gut or anything.”

Vaughn lifted his tee to show off his stomach and I nodded my approval.

“Nice, but I’m abstaining.”

“Why from the fucking? Do you think you can’t screw a guy without falling in love? Are you that weak?”

“Stop playing your Jedi mind games on me.”

“Jedi?” he asked, giving me a frown. “Wait, are you a nerd?”

“No, but I assumed you were. There’s an arrested development vibe about you. Like you play a lot of video games and get horny for Lt. Uhura.”

“Oh, hell, you are a Star Trek nerd.”

“No,” I said, taking a gulp of beer. “I had a stepdad who was into that crap. He had all these nerd friends who came over and they’d talk about the show as if it was super cool. The only time I found Star Trek even remotely interesting was when they had the episode on Futurama about it.”

“Sure, nerd.”

“I like that nickname. Stick with it.”

“I’m not sure you really fit the nerd stereotype.”

“And you don’t fit the manwhore stereotype. For one thing, your pick up lines are fucking awful.”

Vaughn laughed again and he seemed different now. Less like an animal on the prowl and more like a guy chatting up another member of the crew. I didn’t buy it though. The guy wanted in my panties. I wanted him in them too. Sitting there drinking our beers, I wondered how he would make it happen when I was sticking with my abstaining promise.

The stress of wanting what I couldn’t have made me crave something else I couldn’t enjoy. Reaching into my bag, I found my nicotine gum and popped a piece into my mouth.

“Not going to offer?” he asked, tapping my foot in his weird attempt at foreplay.

“It’s Nicorette.”

“I gave up smoking years ago.”

Rolling my eyes, I kicked his foot away. “How long could you have smoked if you gave it up years ago?”

“I was a pack a day smoker for four months. Best quarter of a year of my life.”

“Idiot,” I said, grinning at him.

“Giving up smoking and fucking at the same time. Do you have a reason to punish yourself like that?”

“I’m a horrible person.”

“I can see that. Look at how you’re breaking my heart over here.”

Bursting into laughter, I begged, “Please, fucking stop. Your shitty lines are making me want to smoke more.”

“Because they make you so horny?” he asked, already laughing before he finished. “I know they’re making me pretty hard.”

“What’s your game plan here, stud? Harass me until I fuck you? I think I’d rather just nail you in the balls and make a run for it.”

“Sex is relaxing, you know?” he said, grinning in his devious manwhore way.

“I know.”

“Why not just fuck someone and stay away from all that crappy relationship stuff? It’s what I do.”

“How do I know I won’t blow your mind and you’ll become a clingy bitch?”

“I think I’ll be fine.”

“Can’t trust it.”

“Look, you and I are in the same boat. Loners in the crew. Unlike Bailey, we don’t want to hook-up for good. We just want to let off some steam. We could be friends with benefits.”

“Fuck buddies, huh?”

“I like your term better,” Vaughn said, giving a flash of anger at the men still eyeing us. “I might need to leave you just long enough to kick their asses.”

“I think I can manage without you.”

Vaughn looked back at me and grinned. “Was that a masturbation hint?”

“No, but you bring up a very good point. I could blow off steam on my own.”

Vaughn finished his beer then smiled. “I’ll give you oral and no vibrator in the world can say the same.”

Holding his gaze, I said nothing until finishing my beer. Finally, I gave Vaughn a smile and nodded.

“One night of empty awesome sex. Tomorrow, we act like acquaintances, not even friends. I want to be someone you barely remember exists.”

“No problem, nerd. Do you like Harleys because mine likes snuggling between a hot girl’s thighs?”

“Stop while you’re ahead.”

Standing up, Vaughn held out a hand. I ignored his gesture and stood up on my own. When I noticed the two guys still watching us, I flipped them off before taking Vaughn’s arm.

“Like they ever had a chance,” I muttered and Vaughn’s smile grew.

“Takes a special man to talk a girl out of abstinence.”

“Whatever you need to tell yourself.”

As we arrived at his black Harley, I mentally admitted it looked pretty fucking sexy. He’d make it sexier when he wrapped his strong legs over…

As if sensing my brain was already in horny overdrive, Vaughn leaned down and kissed me. Just a gentle peck lacking any heat. I frowned at him as he climbed on the motorcycle.

“That’s it?” I asked, not climbing on.

As the Harley roared to life, Vaughn laced his fingers through my hair and tugged me closer for another kiss. This one was deeper as his tongue explored mine. With Vaughn tasting like beer and smelling like chocolate, I nearly orgasmed right there. Instead, I climbed on and imagined him naked under me.

Damaged and the Outlaw Release Date: 11.26.13
 
 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bijou Babbles: The Countdown Begins...

As much as I had hoped to publish Damaged and the Outlaw around Halloween, I'm actually relieved to have the extra time. The publishing date is November 26th. I'll upload Outlaw the day before because Amazon can sometimes take longer than twelve hours to publish. I learned that the hard way with Knight. Better early than late, right?
 
I want to thank Hear This ~ Read That for doing the cover reveal yesterday. If you haven't checked out the blog, please do. Tons of cool romance books and lots of giveaways!
 
I've gotten a few questions on the blog and FB that I want to answer. Sometimes, the questions throw me for a loop and I'm unsure how to respond. My readers are a creative bunch. :)
 
Will Dylan get his book?
 
I'm definitely leaning that direction. Dylan and his heroine are in Outlaw, so I'll just wait to see how readers feel about the possible couple.
 
Would you write a book about Kirk and Jodi?
 
I had never considered this idea. If I had, I likely would have made Jodi older. Amazon is cracking down on erotica and romance (along with other genre books) with no-go topics. A sixteen year old with a forty year old man would likely get the red flag from Amazon. I do think it would be an interesting story though.
 
Will you write a story about Tucker and Maddy meeting?
 
Likely not because so much of their relationship has been played out, so it would be difficult to make their story fresh for readers.
 
When will Damaged and the Dragon be published?
 
Outlaw is the last Damaged book of 2013. I will spend the rest of the year working on books for my other pen names. In Jan (possibly sooner), I'll start Bailey's book. Ideally, it will be published in late Feb/early March. Damaged and the Saint's publishing date will depend on if I write a book for Dylan.
 
Next year, I'll also start my second series, Lush Gardens. The first book is Bourbon Blues and I have no idea when it will be released. Plus, I plan to branch out in romance. I've reduced the planned 2014 books for my other current pen names, so I can focus on romance. I find it more challenging than other genres and I enjoy pushing myself.
 
In a few days, I'll post an excerpt from Outlaw. I'm really excited to see what everyone thinks of the book. I loved writing Raven and Vaughn. Those smartasses had me in stitches.
 
Finally, I'm super psyched to have been invited to participate in the Bikers-Babes & Books signing in Houston. The opportunity to join so many great authors was something I couldn't pass up. I'm nervous as hell, but excited too.

Stay sweet and happy reading!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Quote from Raven

Guys like Vaughn were vain in the best way. His powerful shoulders and chest demanded an extra large tee to fit comfortably. Of course, an extra large shirt would hang loose over his ripped stomach. What could he do? Simply buy a large tee so it clung to his every sexy curve. Hell, I could probably see a mosquito bite under such a tight shirt. His vanity gave me quite the view and I nearly applauded.
 
Raven Hancock from Damaged and the Outlaw

Monday, November 4, 2013

Badass Biker Giveaway

I had a huge brainfart and totally forgot to give a shout out to this super cool blog giveaway. Give Me Books has a lot of sexy badass biker books included. The awesomeness lasts for only two more days, so check it out before it's too late!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bijou Babbles: Outlaw, Dylan, and other updates

Let's start with the bad news. Unfortunately, Damaged and the Outlaw won’t be published by Halloween. It’s definitely looking more like near Thanksgiving. There are two reasons why it’s taking so long.

 
One is that I’ve been off and on sickie because of the autumn weather. Hot, cold, and hot again has caused me endless sinus headaches and I don’t write well when feeling like crap. It’s finally just cold and I’m consistently working again.
 
 
The main reason for the delay is that Outlaw is a more complicated book than the others. I have the couple with their drama, the background characters living their lives, introducing Harlow and her family, and finally tying up the Devils vs. Reaper situation. By the end of Outlaw, life will be very different for Vaughn. We’ll even learn a little about Saint who is the H in the final book with Harlow.
 
 
So with Outlaw looking like a late November release, the other Damaged books won’t be ready until 2014. Bailey and Nick’s book will be next. I’m considering a book for Dylan, but it’s still up in the air. If it happens, it’ll be between Dragon and Saint.
 
 
I should also warn Bijou readers that my other pen names need love in early 2014. I’m behind on several series I hope to finish next year. So while I might seem slow, I’m not slacking off. Well, maybe a little bit, but not as much as it appears.
 
 
In the upcoming weeks, I’ll post more Outlaw quotes, a cover and blurb, and the first chapters. I'll likely know a more definitive release date in a week or two. Thanks for your patience and enjoy your Halloween!!!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Quote from Vaughn

If abducting the woman I loved was wrong, I didn’t want to be right.

A different guy might find a better way to make Raven listen. I wasn’t a different guy and I didn’t know how to be soft when imagining my woman fucking some loser. Hell, chloroform was as soft as I got when jealousy tore me apart.

Vaughn Majors in Damaged and the Outlaw

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bijou Babbles (10.7.13)

Hello again! I've been quiet the last week and feel like a turd for not responding to many comments on Facebook from my awesome readers. I just tend to get into a bunker mentality after I publish a book. Especially when I have a new one on the brain.

I'd like to thank everyone who has bought Damaged and the Cobra. I know there were a few glitches on Amazon, but everything seems to have worked out. I hope everyone is enjoying the book. I'll admit it was tougher to write only because the tone was lighter. Aaron and Lark aren't as damaged as many in Ellsberg, so they had less drama. I don't believe in forcing obstacles into relationships unless they feel organic to the characters. Mostly, I know readers are savvy enough to realize when an author is adding drama when it's not true to the story.

With Damaged and the Outlaw, the drama is organic and constant. Vaughn is a guy who craves a woman and family, but thinks he can't have a real life because he's marked for death. Raven is a chick who dreams of love and commitment, but she has a long history of bad choices with men. They both think they're destined to be alone. Of course, they're wrong. ;)

I want to thank the readers who suggested a male POV in the series. Writing Vaughn's back story is so much easier with his viewpoint. Otherwise, he would have been forced to tell everything in conversations and that's not how people talk. No one sits down and says, "Here's my life story."

In Outlaw, we'll meet Harlow along with spending time with the Ellsberg regulars. It's been fun to watch characters grow. One of the most difficult parts of writing is letting characters go. With this series, I've been able to reconnect with the old characters while writing the new ones.

This last week, I've read a few questions and comments on Facebook and Goodreads that I'll try to answer:

When is Damaged and the Outlaw expected to be released?
My goal is around Halloween. I don't know if I can make that date, but it's my goal. If something goes terribly wrong, it'll be done by Thanksgiving by the latest. Let's hope nothing goes wrong though. So far, the book is writing itself with ease.

How long will Damaged and the Dragon be?
Bailey and Nick's book will be at least as long as Cobra. It could be novel length. I just let the book tell its story and see what the characters want to say. I had planned to have Dragon out by Christmas, but I'm thinking about aiming for the beginning of 2014. I have Angela and Dakota books to finish then I want to goof around in December.

Will Tucker and Maddy get a book about how they met?
The only problem with this idea would be that we already know their HEA, so I'm unsure if there's real interest in how they met. Maybe I'll write a few scenes for the blog one day.

Will Dylan get his HEA?
I hadn't planned to write a book for him. By the end of Cobra, I did see how he could get a novella at least. What matters to me is if there's interest from readers for him to be the H in his own book. I added a poll to the blog for you guys to vote your views on the matter. I hadn't planned to write a book for Aaron, but did so when readers showed interest. I planned to write a book for Bailey then decided against it when readers hated her. Now, readers are warming up to her, so she's getting her book. I really do listen to what you guys want. :)

When will Saint be introduced?
He will be mentioned in Outlaw, but won't make an appearance until Bailey's book. His HEA with Harlow will be the final Damaged book.

In a few days, I plan to post a funny (and slightly nuts) quote from Vaughn. I just wrote it today and it made me laugh. Until then, happy reading!!!


Monday, September 30, 2013

Damaged and the Cobra is HERE!

Amazon was fast this time around! When I uploaded Damaged and the Knight, Amazon took over twenty four hours to add the book to their site. This time after less than eight hours, Damaged and the Cobra is already available! ***It's also available at Smashwords and will be on Nook and in paperback by tomorrow.

The word count for Cobra topped out at just over fifty thousand which is technically novel length. Yet, I'm calling it a novella and pricing it less. The book is lighter in tone, mainly because Aaron and Lark are less damaged than the couples who've come before them and those up to bat next. For the first time, a Damaged book is in both POV. I plan to continue this technique for the rest of the series.

In fact, I'm already working on Damaged and the Outlaw with Vaughn and Raven. They are definitely not a sweet couple and I'm having fun with their rough humor and personalities. Their book is due around Halloween.

La La blog readers likely know my youngest son is turning ten this week. To celebrate his birthday, I have made my Angela Horn penned paranormal romance Ain't No Angel free on Oct. 1, 2, and 3. I've also reduced the price of the sequel Ain't No Queen to 1.99.

Finally, I want to congratulate one of my readers who published her first novel this month. Stephanie Nicole Garza has written a second chance romance titled Love Came Back. She recently reduced the price to 1.99 on Amazon. Stephanie plans to have the next book ready in early 2014.

Thanks to all of my readers who not only support me in the best ways, but also light a fire under my lazy ass and keep me focused. Happy reading!!!


Damaged and the Cobra - Chapter One

Chapter One - Lark

Even when my heart was breaking, I smiled. No matter if I was sad, angry, or scared, I had a smile plastered on my face. My older sister Raven called it a coping mechanism. She heard the term on Oprah and it sounded right, but all I knew was I smiled even when inappropriate.

My grandfather once slapped me for smiling. At my little brother’s funeral, he hit me in front of everyone and said it wasn’t the time for my silly smiles. Raven screamed at him and punched his neck because she wasn’t tall enough to reach his face. She even tried climbing on a chair to hit him. By then, people were freaking out. My mother was crying and my grandmother ran off because she was afraid of my grandfather’s temper. The preacher struggled to settle everyone down, but it was no use. The funeral was ruined. Through the chaos and my tears, I kept smiling like I couldn’t stop myself.

There were very few things capable of making me genuinely smile since Raven ditched town six months earlier. Since then, I’d made new friends like Bailey Johansson who was loud and rough like Raven. I had also bonded with the Smith sisters. During Farah’s wedding, I found something really worth smiling over.

His name was Aaron.

While I never went as far as writing his name on my folder in class, I did think about doing it. Ever since I met him at the wedding rehearsal, I was forever wondering about Aaron. The first time he walked into the room and I noticed the cobra tattoo up his neck, I was fascinated. My interest only grew when I saw him smile and his blue eyes lit up in the most beautiful way.

Over and over, I tried to talk to Aaron at the rehearsal dinner. I planned to make another move at the wedding reception, but he brought a date.

Hopes dashed, I returned to my dull life in Ellsberg. My newest friends were living these wild lives with sexy men. Well, not Bailey who couldn’t keep a man past a few hookups. Even with her crappy romantic options, she was miles ahead of me in the exciting life department.

All I did most days was work the morning shift at Denny’s before hurrying to my two afternoon classes at Hampton College. I could only afford two because I was paying my way through college. Despite my irritation at how long it would take me to get a degree, I knew it could be worse.

No one in my family ever finished college or even worked in an office. They were all waitresses or janitors. My mom did marry a rich man with a business, but she had to give up a lot to keep him. I didn’t plan to end up like her.

I wanted an office job and a man who wouldn’t tell me what to eat and how to dress. I wanted to be strong and free. Even if I ended up alone forever, this would be better than being someone’s slave.

My sister refused to be a slave too, yet she had horrible taste in men. So Raven bounced from one loser to the next. Now, she was in California with her latest turd. While I missed Raven more than I could express to her or anyone else, I resented how she left Ellsberg. Most days, I blamed my stepdad Larry. When I was honest, I blamed Raven for leaving me behind.

No longer alone, I had a chance at a new direction in my life. Hopefully this new direction might one day include the gorgeous and artistic Aaron Barnes.

The one downside to my friendships was agreeing to activities I didn’t enjoy. Like bowling.

Bowling had always bored me. Raven and I had been in a league for a while with the girls from our roller derby team. On more than one occasion, I faked an illness to get out of it. I sucked at bowling and didn’t find it the least bit entertaining. Yet, I readily agreed when Farah invited me to join the crew at one of the local alleys.

Tucker Johansson called us the crew now. Everyone was pairing up and he seemed relieved about this fact. Claimed it felt good not to be the only whipped guy around. He made this announcement again while rubbing his girl Maddy’s pregnant belly.

Nearby, Cooper refused to admit he was whipped. However, he looked pretty domesticated with Farah on his lap feeding him nachos. She even wiped his mouth like she was practicing for when they had kids.

Judd and Tawny stumbled in late. With his dark hair tussled and her cheeks flushed, I sensed they stopped on the way for a quickie. Yep, everyone was in a state of bliss except for me. Oh, and Vaughn who was the only one who really liked bowling.

Ignoring all the whispering couples around him, Vaughn taught me to bowl while I faked like I cared. We were both on the outs and I suspected he wanted to find a new buddy now that Judd was attached to his angel. Every time Tawny laughed, Vaughn’s frown darkened.

“You should be happy for them,” I said as he guided me towards the alley.

“I am. Fucking overwhelmed with happiness. Now, pay attention.” When I flinched at his tone, Vaughn sighed. “It gets boring when your best friend is busy mating like a rabbit.”

“My best friend ditched me too, so I found new friends. Maybe you should too.”

“Crap no. Sounds like too much effort.”

I grinned. “You could play with Bailey. Here, she comes.”

Vaughn didn’t even glance at the arriving blonde who threw her hands in the air.

“I got dumped again! Men suck! I hate them all!” she cried, enjoying a hug from Tawny. “Who wants to set me up now?”

“I thought you hated men,” Tucker mumbled with his mouth full of a hot dog.

“I do, but one of them has got to work, right? Everyone in the world gets someone good, but I get shit. It’s not fair. I’m nicer than anyone ever.”

This comment elicited laughter from the crew including Vaughn who took my bowling ball and rolled it for me.

“Look,” he said,” you got a strike. I’m an excellent teacher.”

“Best ever.”

Vaughn and I eyed each other, thinking the same thing. Could we make a go of it and become a couple like everyone around us? We came to the same conclusion. Never going to happen. While I thought Vaughn was gorgeous, I felt the same way about the Johansson brothers and Judd. Besides gorgeous, they didn’t interest me. Only Aaron interested me, but I couldn’t have a single conversation with him.

Vaughn glanced over at a happy Bailey who loved all of the attention and pity she received after getting dumped. He was thinking if he could make something with her. Based on his eye roll, she wasn’t an option either.

Noticing Vaughn’s fresh tattoo on the back of his forearm, I had an idea.

“Where did you get your tat?”

“Aaron’s shop. You want to get a tat?” he asked, grinning as if this was hilarious.

“I have one,” I said, rolling the ball into the gutter. “It’s not finished though.”

“How come?”

“My brother interrupted the tattoo and I never had the money to get it done again.”

“No, I meant how come you’re such a bad bowler? Is it genetic?” he asked. “Like do you come from a long line of people who can’t make a ball roll in a straight line?”

“You’re hilarious.”

“I try, Pixie Dust.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“How come?” he said, grinning wider now.

“I’m not talking to you anymore.”

“Oh, don’t be like that. Chicks love when I give them nicknames. One of them got a tattoo of the name I gave her. Do you want to know where she put that tat?”

Laughing, I shook my head. “Is it expensive to get a tat at Aaron’s shop? I hear he’s good and I’d like someone to fix it that won’t make it worse.”

“Let me see your tat!” Bailey cried, suddenly behind me. “Wait, it’s not on your ass, is it?”

“No.”

“Hooch?”

“No.”

“Titty tas?” Glaring at her, I waited until her smile faded. “Are you really mad?” she asked, panicking now.

“No, I just wanted to mess with you.”

“Oh, well, thank you for that learning experience.”

Vaughn and I laughed, but Bailey was busy yanking at my shirt to look for the tattoo.

“It’s a tramp stamp,” I said to keep her from pulling up my shirt in a public place.

“Oh, I have one of those. Mine is classy though. It’s Hello Kitty.”

Instead of responding to her classy comment, I prepared for the teasing as I lowered the back of my jeans just enough to display my wingless butterfly.

“What a pretty worm,” Bailey said, doing her fake nice thing again.

“My stepbrother showed up and made the guy stop. My stepdad doesn’t like tats and told me I couldn’t get one.”

“Men suck,” Bailey said, nodding supportively then frowning at Vaughn. “Why do you suck so much? Too much ball toxins?”

“Sounds about right,” he muttered, rolling another strike. “Girls get PMS. Guys get ball toxins. Common knowledge. Are you two going to actually bowl? I’m the only one doing anything.”

Farah instantly rushed over and rolled a ball into the gutter. “We’re participating. We like bowling.”

Bailey snorted. “Hell, I lie better than that.”

Cooper joined Farah and glanced at the alley. “I could bowl, if I wanted. I just don’t want to.”

“Liar!” Bailey cried and Cooper faked like he might backhand her. She just rolled her eyes. “He sucks. Worse bowler ever. Old people bowl better. No offense to old people,” she added, looking at the nearby league of senior citizens.

Cooper ignored Bailey and wrapped an arm around Farah. “This is fun. I’m glad we’ve made a habit out of it.”

Vaughn frowned and his blue eyes darkened. “I’m not a charity case, so you don’t need to play with me once a week to keep me from bawling myself to sleep.”

“Sure, champ,” Cooper said then looked at me. “You have a tattoo of a worm?”

“It’s supposed to be a butterfly,” I said as Bailey turned me so her brother could enjoy my lame tat.

Cooper reached for the tat as if to run a finger over it. Before he touched me, Farah smacked his hand lightly.

“Don’t touch other women,” she growled.

Glancing back at them, I saw Cooper get his horny expression. I was apparently in the middle of a game they played. Gross.

“Do you know how much it would cost to get it fixed?” I asked as Cooper ran his finger over Farah’s pouting lips.

Without looking away for his wife’s face, Cooper shook his head. “I’ll pay. Just tell Aaron I said what I said. He’ll be cool.” As if a light bulb went off over his head, Cooper glanced at me. “You should go soon. Very soon. Can’t leave it undone for much longer or it’ll get weird. Yeah, go this week.”

Frowning, I noticed Bailey eyeing her brother. Her blue eyes got wide and she nodded.

“Yes, soon. So soon. Well, maybe not too soon. I don’t want to be alone.” When Tawny appeared next to her, Bailey decided to be nice and said grudgingly. “Soon, I guess.”

“What are we talking about?” Tawny asked as Judd rolled a ball, knocked over a few pins, then frowned like he might knock the others over with his angry glare.

“Aaron’s going to fix her tat,” Bailey explained while Cooper and Farah wandered off.

“He’s an artist,” Tawny cooed. “He made this angel on Judd.”

After Tawny showed me Judd’s arm, she put her hand back to where she had a gorgeous tattoo of a fallen angel.

“He’s very talented,” she added.

“I’m excited to get my butterfly finished.”

“He’ll do a great job,” Bailey reassured, taking a ball from Vaughn and rolling it into the wrong alley. “Oops.”

“Idiot.”

“Be nice or I won’t be nice,” Bailey warned, glaring up at him.

“I love feisty women,” he said, smirking down at her.

“Not interested. Blond men are usually stupid. Just look at my brothers. Anyway, I don’t want a dumbass loser. I want a smartass winner.”

“You deserve nothing less,” I said and Bailey smiled at me like I was amazing.

I did feel amazing. Not only would my tattoo get fixed, but I also had an excuse to talk to Aaron. I didn’t know if Aaron would enjoy the conversation as much as I did, but fate was no longer standing in my way.