I’m very pleased to introduce you to Star, a sex worker in Amsterdam. Yes, she’s completely fictional, but she’s one of those characters who has taken on a life of her own. Through My Window is the first book in an intended line of short stories about her adventures. The second installment is currently going through the contract process. Woohoo! It’s a Christmas story so hopefully you’ll see that out in a few months.
Some of you may know, my husband and I enjoy traveling the world when we can. This series was inspired by our trip to Europe last year. We stopped in Amsterdam for a few days at the end of the journey (we started out in Spain then wandered through France, Belgium and the Netherlands). To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect but the city was gorgeous.
By day, the canals and markets were great scenery to wander through and at night… well, there was a heck of a lot more to see when the sun went down. Hopefully I’ve captured the international flavor of the city and their progressive attitude toward sex work in the book.
Through My Window is not unique, by the way. I’ve been to every place I’ve written about including Ireland, Italy, France and even Harrisburg, PA. Shifting Gears (sequel to Driven in the Cougar Challenge series, which hits shelves next month) features some of the scenery I enjoyed and insights I gained in China. So if you enjoy the travel aspects of my books, stay tuned for more. On impulse last week, my husband and I called our travel agent and took off to the Riviera Maya (in Mexico) for a long weekend. Who knows when or where that will turn up, but our excursions supply plenty of ideas for books.
Enough rambling! Here’s the blurb and a brief excerpt for Through My Window, which you can purchase from Ellora’s Cave here. I hope you enjoy the first glimpse into Star’s lifestyle.
Through my window, a sea of strangers swirl and retreat like waves in an ocean of humanity. I brush my hair, fix my makeup and flip on the glaring red light in my booth before turning to face my audience on the other side of the glass.
For Star, this is just another night on the job, though no two are ever alike. She loves her career and excels at bringing her customers pleasure, relief or intimacy. Adaptable and perceptive, she becomes many things in the course of one evening–whore, lover, nurse, psychologist and friend. But above all, she’s still a woman. And her customers change her with every encounter. Through her window, she observes the world and enhances it when it spills into her realm.
By reading any further, you are stating that you are at least 18 years of age. If you are under the age of 18, it is necessary to exit this site.
An Excerpt From: THROUGH MY WINDOW
Copyright © JAYNE RYLON, 2010
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
Through my window, a sea of strangers swirl and retreat like waves in an ocean of humanity. I brush my hair, fix my makeup and flip on the glaring red light in my booth before turning to face them on the other side of the glass.
They begin each evening like still waters. Ebbing and flowing past my window. Unaffected by buffeting winds or brewing desires. Eddying in swirls as they gather, peek around our infamous district with downcast eyes, then scatter—awkward and unsure yet inquisitive.
Curious couples setting out on tandem adventures, young men high on the moral freedom of Amsterdam and clusters of women indulging in a wild night with friends all dip their toes in the pool.
Later, much later, they will roil and crash against the glass in a typhoon of wanton excess—of food, drink, drugs and sex—that never ceases to amaze me.
Or to infect me with its primal power.
Most women shoot me glances of pity if they look at me at all. I feel sorry for them, that they don’t understand. But some…some grin and nod.
A select few go further, seeking my services so they can share in the rush for a brief time.
Men are more likely to notice my sincere yearning to please right away. All manner of them from young to old, rich to poor, thin to fat and virile to impotent appraise me with hungry eyes.
Cynics might say my killer curves, mile-high stilettos or long mane of platinum hair are responsible for their focused attention. I don’t buy that. I’m not the most attractive working girl on the block. But I’m one of the busiest.
Customers can sense I’m different than most. They recognize I’m here not because I have to be but because I want to be. I absorb their stares before returning some of my own. The authority they grant me is intoxicating and addicting.
I love enticing a kindred spirit to my lair for both our enjoyment and my profit.
The hot, red lights of my booth, along the canal slicing through the heart of De Wallen, glint off my silver-sequined costume. What little of it there is anyway. The warm air in the space caresses my bared skin each time my neighbors let someone in or show them out.
Theirs. And mine. Ours.
Woohoo! New cover art day! This time for Shifting Gears, out from Ellora’s Cave on 10/29/10. It’s the follow up story to Driven featuring Mark, the navigator. If you loved Lynn and Sebastian from Driven, no worries, they play a big part in the book, too! Here’s the official blurb and excerpt:
Mark envies his friend Sebastian and the Cougar who tamed him. For years he’s had his eye on a sexy, older, married woman. Despite his and Bastian’s sexual adventures, he refuses to poach outside his steamy fantasies.
Sloan travels with the race car drivers as the league’s publicist. Living abroad can be lonely, especially when touring somewhere like China—where beautiful landscapes surround them but language and cultural barriers are high. Until she meets Lynn, who shares her love of erotic romances. In Lynn, she gains more than a friend because sexy-as-sin navigator Mark is never far from the Cougar and her fiancé, making Sloan wonder if it’s time rejoin the dating scene after a nasty divorce.
When Lynn notices the chemistry between Mark and Sloan, she issues the Cougar Challenge. Sloan never imagined she might grant her younger lover the strength to explore the sexual tension that has been building between him and his friend since their Cougars entered their lives.
Four friends, two couples, one night none of them will forget.
Reader Advisory: Novel contains a f/m/m/f ménage.
By reading any further, you are stating that you are at least 18 years of age. If you are under the age of 18, it is necessary to exit this site.
An Excerpt From: SHIFTING GEARS
Copyright © JAYNE RYLON, 2010
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
“Oh my God!”
The woman on the corrugated aluminum bleacher several rows in front of Sloan turned with wide eyes when Sloan shouted. She caught Sloan’s stare on the sexy cover of her erotic romance novel and flipped it closed—cover side down—discretely.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.” Sloan smiled. “I know how it is when you’re lost in a good book. And that book is fan-fucking-tastic! I love Mari Carr. Her stories are smoking hot. Especially the ménages. Yum.”
The woman grinned and nodded. “I’ve read almost all of hers. My reading group back in the US mailed me this one. It arrived last night and I’m halfway done already. I tried to ration it out—a chapter a day—but it’s impossible.”
“Thank God for ebook readers, huh? I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have access to all the new releases from this side of the globe.” Sloan stepped into the stands then picked her way down the incline, closer to the woman, careful not to slip in her three-inch heels.
At least she’d worn jeans to the race site today instead of her usual skirted suit. “I hear that. It can get lonely being a foreigner in a country where you don’t speak the language. Especially one as difficult to pick up as Mandarin or Cantonese. Reading keeps me from getting too homesick, though it leads to other… complications.”
When the woman laughed, her entire face brightened. Around Sloan’s age, close to forty, she seemed carefree and infectiously happy. “I know what you mean. Or, at least I used to. Now I have a young stud to keep me occupied when I get revved up. I’m engaged to Sebastian Fiori. The driver for—”
“Oh! Don’t worry, I know who he is. Sexy as sin and a four-time world champion rally car racer to boot. So you must be Lynn Madison, you bitch.”
The humongous diamond flashing on the woman’s finger had confirmed Sloan’s suspicions.
Talk of Bastian and the alluring cougar who’d tamed him had run rampant this season. Scores of young sex goddesses mourned their loss. Many had tried for years to snag him or his luscious navigator Mark Rossi, but none had succeeded in tempting either guy into more than a one-night stand.
Until Sebastian fell head over heels in love on first sight last season. Everyone agreed he’d never performed better. Lynn must be good for the man.
What was good for the driver was good for the sport.
And that was good for Sloan.
“It’s true.” Lynn sighed and her eyes took on a faraway look. “I’m the luckiest woman alive.”
“I’m Sloan Desai, by the way.” She held out her hand, but Lynn hugged her instead of shaking it.
“Sorry, but after two minutes I feel like I’ve known you forever. Have a seat.” Lynn gestured with the spine of her novel toward the racetrack, which snaked past the base of the stadium they sat in. “You know, Bastian’s mentioned you before. I think we might’ve even talked on the phone once when you scheduled some of his interviews. You’re the publicist for the league, right?”
“Yep. That’s me.” Sloan winked. “In charge of keeping the boys out of trouble with the media, managing their images and bringing fans in by the truckload.”
“Seems like you’re doing a great job. I heard the first couple days of the exhibition are sold out.”
“They are. Thanks.”
“So how do you like China so far?”
The event would take place in Guangdong province, about a half-hour outside Guangzhou, in a few weeks—a great chance for the teams to tune up or experiment in the off-season. The crews had arrived early to acclimate, which meant Sloan had to be on-site to defuse any…situations…that could cause trouble with the local hosts.
Full of testosterone and daring, the guys in the league sometimes crossed the line.
“I haven’t been able to do much sightseeing. I have to stick fairly close-by.” Sloan shrugged.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Lynn grimaced. “The teams do tend to get rowdy on occasion. Maybe you can take a day trip or two with me. I write travel guides for a living, so I like to check out as much as I can in the areas we visit. Sebastian gets nervous when I’m out on my own though. Especially in locations a little more exotic.”
“You don’t seem like the kind of woman to sit around and wait for a man simply to ease his mind. A woman after my own heart, by the way.”
“You’re right, I’m no shrinking violet.” Lynn grinned. “But I worry that if he’s worried, he’ll be distracted. The sport is dangerous enough as it is. Plus, I miss him if I stray too far.”
“I hope ‘him’ is me.” A deep growl sounded from behind their spot on the bench. Sitting side by side, neither woman had heard the soft soles of Sebastian’s racing sneakers on the concrete as he approached. “Or I’ll have to kick some ass and those days are supposed to be behind me.”
Sloan swallowed hard at the jibe from the other guy who strode toward them—Mark Rossi. It was either that or moan aloud at his spectacular build. Thick muscles filled out his racing jumpsuit to perfection. She wished she’d seen him going instead of coming so she could check out his killer ass, but the bulge at his crotch and the humor in his warm eyes made for scrumptious consolation prizes.
She’d spied him from across the room at events she’d arranged, but usually she had a job to do while in attendance. Of course she’d found herself staring at promo shots of him on more occasions than she cared to admit, but never before had she been able to take her time and study his legendary features in person—bold cheekbones, olive skin and glossy, sandy hair.
And, shit, now she was staring.
Maybe her imagination played tricks on her, but it seemed as if he might be gawking in return.
Woohoo. Night is Darkest is out in print today, just in time for the three conferences I have coming up! So if you’d like to get your copy signed stop by and see me at:
RAW – Huntington, WV 9/9 – 9/12
COFW Write from the Heart – Columbus, OH 10/1 & 10/2
Romanticon – Akron, OH 10/7 – 10/10
Enough about me, here’s the blurb and an excerpt from Night is Darkest, Book One of the Men in Blue series (Book Two, Razor’s Edge, will be out 11/23!)
Some secrets refuse to stay hidden.
Lacey Daughtry’s perfect weekend is interrupted by tragic news of her brother’s murder in the line of duty. Plagued by a rash of mysterious phone calls, she turns to her brother’s best friends and fellow officers for protection…and comfort.
Spending time in close contact with Mason and Tyler, the two men she’s dreamed of since her first girlhood crush, seems like the answer to a prayer. Especially when they begin to explore the desire she’s harbored for so long.
But the partners are holding out on Lacey. Determined to suppress the most extreme facets of their lust, they agree to settle for sharing the woman they crave while concealing their desire for each other. Until Lacey cracks their resolve, unleashing a torrent of emotions that threatens to distract them when they can least afford it.
Their blossoming relationship is complicated by secrets. And the only way to evade the killer threatening their lives is to bare their souls in the darkest hours of the night. Or everything will come crashing down, just before the dawn.
Warning: After reading this book you’ll never look at a pair of hot cops, a cemetery or a can of Spaghetti-O’s the same way again.
REVIEW SNIPPETS – Click on links to read the entire review
5 Cherries, Long and Short of It, “Night Is Darkest is a story that packs one hell of a punch. Jayne Rylon manages to combine an intriguing story with captivating characters, creating a sensual roller coaster ride with some of the most sizzling protagonists you’re likely to meet. From the moment the story starts, you’ll be snared. … The material itself is tightly written and sharp, and the pace is so brisk you’ll soar through the pages and wonder where the time has gone.”
5 Hearts and Sweetheart of the Week!, The Romance Studio, “Jayne Rylon has written a wonderful story with a number of twists that only make the ending that much more satisfying. Everything about it will draw readers in and keep them turning the pages until the very end.”
Praise from Nicole Austin, “I am in awe. Ms. Rylon’s writing flows smoother than silk. The story is packed with action, mystery and H O T sex! Lacey is sweet and tough and thankfully not naive. Mason and Tyler…dayum! ”
Reader Review from Sandie “Night is Darkest” by Jayne Rylon is a riveting story filled with danger and misunderstandings that kept me glued to my seat until the last page was read. It’s also a fantastic story that I will read again many times. Jayne has given us a vivid look at the sorrow and pain felt by Rob’s sister and his two best friends after his vicious murder. The killer is still loose and someone appears to be stalking Lacey. Mason and Tyler, both cops, were Rob’s best friends and the longtime objects of Lacey’s heated dreams. They are also Lacey’s only safe haven after her brother’s death. But will the three of them be able to navigate the dangerous currents of their feelings for each other? The hot action between these three, in all its possible combinations, will have you hunting for a hunk or two of your own, along with lots of ice to put out the flames. Night is Darkest by Jayne Rylon gets my Very, Very, Highest Recommendation!!!”
Lacey could guarantee that the eerie sound of the first shovelful of dirt landing on the polished surface of her brother’s coffin would reverberate through her nightmares for eternity. The skittering of pebbles adding one more barrier between her and her last blood relative caused her to flinch. A warm, gloved hand reached out to bracket her elbow. Tyler. She didn’t have to turn around to recognize his steady, comforting touch. He and Mason stood resolute behind her in their dress uniforms like her own personal honor guard.
Her spine straightened. She drew her shoulders back and lifted her chin against the agony she struggled to hold at bay. Rob would be proud of her stoic bearing. Though, in all honesty, she couldn’t cry. She hadn’t shed one single tear since she’d received the news of his ultimate sacrifice. Whoever he’d died to protect, she prayed they were safe. She had to believe his loss held some value.
With dry eyes, she scanned the monstrous crowd. Rows of black clad mourners, so deep she couldn’t make out the end, ringed the gravesite beside her parents’ under the oak tree in the city’s oldest cemetery. The preacher’s speech—designed to comfort—couldn’t penetrate the gloom in her heart, which complemented the dreary, overcast day. In her mind, she heard Rob’s laugh, then replayed the petty argument they’d had over dirty dishes last Wednesday, before remembering his daily warning.
“Stay safe.” It was the last thing he’d ever said to her. He’d whispered the standard entreaty in her ear as he captured her in a bear hug before she’d headed off to work Friday evening. In her mind’s eye, it seemed he held her tighter—for a moment longer—than usual, but she recognized the wishful thinking.
If only he’d listened to his own advice.
She shivered against the October breeze as crispy leaves wandered past the pointed tips of her black leather boots. A few moments later, Mason’s jacket enveloped her. Lacey tugged the lapels over her breasts, soaking up the heat of his body. She could make three fitted coats from the fabric that had so recently framed his broad shoulders.
Over the past several days she had thrown herself into the preparations for this service and the party—she refused to call it a wake—that would follow. At no time had she been left alone. Though they’d stayed in touch with the fruitless investigation, one of Rob’s best friends had accompanied her while she delivered Rob’s dress uniform to the funeral home, selected music and readings, gave input into the obituary she’d penned and stopped just short of following her to the bathroom to see if she needed their assistance to wipe her ass.
They were driving her insane.
Mason nudged the base of her spine with a discreet pat. “Go ahead, doll. Do you need me to escort you?”
She blinked to clear the haze from her mind. The police commissioner now stood at the edge of the jagged hole in the ground, sparing her a glance drenched with pity. In his outstretched hand rested Rob’s badge, hat and service revolver. The sea of miserable faces focused in her direction goaded her forward, fortifying her determination to stay strong. She picked her way across the soggy ground to collect the personal effects presented with honor.
The eleven baby steps seemed like a marathon but, though her legs wobbled, they held. Lacey pivoted, then appraised the two men whose suffering mirrored her own. The support and worry in their glassy eyes, offset by the twin lines of their clenched jaws, spurred her to make the return journey to their sides without delay.
When the ceremony concluded, strangers pressed against her on all sides as they encroached on the open grave. They either wanted to offer their genuine sympathy or to gawk at the morbid spectacle, maybe both. Misery threatened to drown her. She couldn’t bear to witness Rob’s sweet girlfriend, Gina, weep through another silk handkerchief or observe the droves of people he’d touched say goodbye. Even the open arms of Tyler’s mom couldn’t entice her to linger. Instead, she snagged a flower out of the elaborate spray at her feet, clutched it to her heart beneath Mason’s coat, then turned to her brother’s best friends.
“Get me out of here.” The plea had barely crossed her lips before Ty sheltered her under his massive arm and Mason took point, clearing a path.
While he navigated a course around the headstones, she focused on tactical things. Things like how many place settings they’d need, the logistics of heating up the food generous neighbors and strangers alike had donated for Rob’s farewell party, and the ripple of Tyler’s six-pack against her ribs as he ushered her to Mason’s waiting truck.
Only when they sandwiched her between them on the bench seat, isolating her from the morose gathering, did she surrender a tiny sigh. Mason turned over the big block engine with jerky motions of his stiff limbs as Tyler enfolded her hand in his, chafing it to infuse some semblance of warmth into the frigid digits.
“Take me home, please.”
* * *
Lacey wove between the lingering clusters of guests at Rob’s party, picking up another empty hors d’oeuvre tray. She accepted Gina’s hug as one of the young officers, James “Razor” Reoser, prepared to escort the wrecked woman home. It became a struggle to find things to keep her occupied as a troop of helpful visitors, including Mama Rose and Lacey’s co-workers from the hospital, lent a hand without being asked. Though they meant well, their presence in her home and kitchen unsettled her.
“Lacey, why don’t you come sit down for a minute.” Her friend Jambrea patted the sofa beside her but even the comfy cushion couldn’t entice Lacey to grant her aching feet a reprieve. Like a caged animal, the pacing seemed to help.
“No thanks, I’m going to clean up a bit.” She waved the black plastic clutched in her fist then hurried in the opposite direction.
When she bent to retrieve a disposable cup forgotten under the side table in the living room, the intensity of Mason’s stare scorched her. She glanced up to find him scrutinizing her every move from his post near the front door where he thanked departing guests for coming with a solemn yet composed grace while he handed out copies of the photo-collages she’d designed yesterday. Her knees bent of their own volition. She didn’t want any observers to think she teased him by offering a glimpse of the bows edging her thigh-high stockings at a time like this despite the reputation she’d earned for tormenting him through the years.
Not that he’d ever taken the bait. After enduring the disappointment of a thousand rejections, she refused to delude herself into imagining he wanted to anymore. Only a greedy woman would wish to trade the enduring friendship he’d given her for a single night of wild passion anyway.
“Want me to grab that, Lacey?” Her neighbor, Rhonda, started to reach out but Lacey lunged, snagging it first. She collected the stray glass along with several discarded napkins before heading out the backdoor to add her overflowing trash bag to the growing pile. Her shoulders sagged under the weight of the whispers she left in her wake.
“Hasn’t cried at all.”
Out of space to retreat, she glanced around in panic at the fence surrounding their postage-stamp sized yard. The aged wood made her even more claustrophobic than usual. The lawn Rob had enjoyed manicuring now hosted a hodgepodge of folding tables, deck chairs and chimineas gathered from around the neighborhood. People had shared one final meal over fond memories of their co-worker, high school buddy or distant acquaintance by the fires but they’d abandoned the chilly evening with their obligation to attend fulfilled hours ago.
A burst of anger at life in general made her grunt when she flung the garbage, harder than necessary, toward the pile of trash. The seam of the black plastic sack split in flight, depositing half-eaten food, plastic utensils and God knew what else in a five-foot swath of debris.
“I would have helped you with that, Lacey. If you’d just asked.” Tyler’s weary statement came from a nearby table. She hadn’t seen him sitting there in pensive isolation.
“I can handle it.”
He moved like lightning to her side and, with an unrelenting grip on her arm, prevented her from avoiding the sight of his red-rimmed eyes to tidy up the mess. He’d always been the most sensitive of their group. Empathetic and kind. But the raw agony she witnessed now compelled her to break free and finish her task. He stilled her attempts with a shake.
“Enough.” No sign of his typical charm or easygoing smile could be found in the harsh set of his flattering features. “You’ve done enough. Let me fix it. Before he died… I promised Rob I’d take care of you. And I will.”
“You think cleaning up this shit is what he had in mind? Fine, go ahead!” She shook her head in disgust at the shrill tone of her outburst then schooled herself to release the tension in her spine before snickering at the fun-loving, shockingly handsome man. All her emotions bubbled and swirled in a confusing mix she couldn’t control. It was too much to deal with at once.
“Little one, you need to take a break. Come relax with me for a minute. I’ll rub your shoulders.”
As if that’ll help. The sure massage of his hands wouldn’t calm her down one bit.
“You have no idea what I need, Tyler.” The bitterness in her heart overwhelmed her better judgment as she let the stinging truth fly. “You’ve never understood me.”
His emerald eyes widened, the sexy arch of his eyebrows raised and his luscious lips parted as his jaw hung slack. She wrenched out of his grasp before he could recover, rotating with a sharp motion that tore the grass beneath her heel.
Lacey stomped up the stairs into the kitchen without a backward glance, in search of another task to occupy her thoughts. But, when she got there, she realized someone had already washed, dried and stored the dishes. The floor had been mopped, the leftovers boxed up and put in the freezer, the lavish flower arrangements she’d set aside to donate to the hospital had vanished and pointless conversations no longer echoed down the hall.
There wasn’t a single thing left to do.
The haunting silence threatened to suffocate her. She bolted for the rear staircase then took the steps to the second floor two at a time as she headed for her parents’ room. After their deaths, she’d often crept into their bed at night somehow hoping their essence would linger in their personal space. Ten years had passed. The stale air in the room provided no comfort now. Instead, the oppressive weight of the emptiness reminded her of a mausoleum.
How dare they all leave her behind to suffer alone?
Irrational rage propelled her to lash out. She swept the photos of her and Rob as children from the dresser. The happier times she’d experienced before the harsh realities of the world corrupted her blissful ignorance felt like a minefield of cruel lies waiting to detonate with one misstep of fate. Lacey faced the windows, yanking down the yellowed eyelet curtains her mother had prized. Maybe, if she could erase the memories, she could avoid the tsunami of misery zeroing in on her heart.
The flowered comforter suffered her wrath next as she ripped it from the king-sized bed, flinging it into a pile with the curtains in the corner. A primal roar escaped her chest as she climbed onto the bed to reach the framed portrait taken weeks before the accident that had stolen her parents. She twisted to drop it over the cushion of the comforter but lost her balance on the squishy mattress. The glass covering the photograph shattered on impact against the corner of the nightstand on her way down.
Her lost loved ones stared back at her with timeless grins covered in broken shards as she collapsed on top of the wreckage of her life.
“Lacey! What the fuck’s going on?” Tyler’s shout snapped her out of her daze.
She raised her eyes to his but couldn’t force a sound past the constriction of her throat.
The spit-polished shine of his dress shoes captured her attention as they gobbled the distance from the door to her landing site in two huge strides. His hands curled around her waist in a protective hold as he righted her. Instead of soothing her, the touch incited another bout of her righteous fury.
“Put me down!” Though he pinned her shoulders to his chest with one sculpted arm, she lashed out with the three-inch spike of her boot, hoping to connect with his shin.
“Mason! Where the hell are you? Get up here!” Tyler bellowed as he spun toward the bed then flattened her thrashing body to the mattress.
“Get off me, you overgrown asshole!” Lacey continued to squirm and kick but she moaned when the motion rubbed her against every inch of the flexed muscles blanketing her, subjecting her to another kind of torture. She had to get out from under temptation before she did something crazy. So she turned her head and bit the vulnerable flesh on the inside of his forearm. Hard.
“Son of a bitch!” Tyler jerked. With the opening presented, she slithered from his grasp then made a break for the door.
Arms folded across his monolithic chest, thick thighs braced apart, Mason blocked her escape route. His imposing frame occupied the entire opening. He took an ominous pace forward, the dangerous glint in his ice blue eyes not one she’d seen aimed at her before. The intimidating glower caused her to retreat a teensy bit before she could check her instincts. She bumped into the solid wall Tyler had formed behind her. Trapped between the two men, who overwhelmed her senses on a good day, she abandoned all vestiges of sanity.
“Leave me the hell alone, both of you!” She lunged to the side in a futile attempt to slip between them.
Mason’s broad hands gripped her shoulders, though the gesture made it seem more like he cradled her instead of jarring her as she expected. “Hang on to her, Ty.”
One sleek arm wrapped around her hips while the other clamped above her breasts. A whimper snuck from her throat when Tyler accidentally brushed her nipples along the way. Her breath huffed in and out of her lungs beneath his embrace as she wished he caressed her for more pleasurable reasons. The tired dream refused to wither.
Lacey averted her gaze from the intuitive question on Mason’s face but it landed on the raw mark she’d inflicted on Tyler’s arm. The sight of his injury deflated some of the mad overtaking her system. “Shit, I’m sorry. I-I don’t know what came over me.”
She leaned forward to place a tender kiss beside the ring of bruises already forming beneath the raven hairs dusting his forearm. His husky whisper came close to her ear, washing her with the scent of the chocolate cake he must have eaten.
“It’s alright, little one. It’s about time you let some of this out. There isn’t enough room inside your itty-bitty bod for all that rage.”
His gentle understanding unleashed a torrent of emotions from behind her carefully constructed dam. If he hadn’t supported her, the force of the gush would have knocked her off her feet but she squeezed her eyelids shut against the liquid threatening to seep out.
“You’re bleeding.” Mason’s rough timbre broached the awkward silence. He scooped up her hand from where it dangled at her side, raising it for inspection. When the moist, heated silk of his mouth surrounded her index finger, her eyes flew open. The vision of his lips suctioning the droplet of blood from the immaterial scratch punched her in the gut.
Lacey wanted nothing more than to let them care for her. But they wouldn’t soothe her the way she needed. They never had before, no matter how many times she’d made a fool of herself in an attempt to entice them. Instead, they’d remained steadfast friends, always close yet never close enough. What did a nick on the tip of her finger matter when her heart had been through the wringer?
Sudden, rending pain slashed across her soul as one too many of life’s disappointments annihilated her shaky composure. Her chest heaved with dry sobs a moment before an unearthly wail burst from her throat. Grief obliterated all perception of her surroundings. Tears poured from her, dripping off her cheeks in a steady stream.
Lacey thought she would drown in sorrow. For her brother. For herself. Someone lifted her then deposited her on the flannel sheets with infinite care. She curled into a ball on her side. Dual heat sources bracketed her shuddering body. Even through the despair shredding her guts, some basic part of her recognized Tyler’s attempt to comfort her by rubbing her back. She cried in horrid gasps, unable to stop the flood of grief now that it had begun.
Rob! Not him, too. It’s not fair! She pleaded with the powers that be to transform this nightmare into some colossal mistake through divine magic. When that plan fell through, she emptied herself of heartache, crying until nothing remained but a hollow shell, brittle to the touch. After what seemed like hours, the steady murmuring of Mason’s soothing litany reached through her sniffling and the occasional cough.
“That’s right, Lace. We’ve got you.”
Unfortunately, his attempt at calming her incited another crying jag. Their intimate display of affection was temporary. She couldn’t get used to having them so close—to relying on them. After all, they weren’t hers to keep.
All her life, she’d craved her older brother’s best friends. They’d indulged her girlish desire for adventure by helping her climb the tallest trees, smuggling her extra pieces of her favorite candy or racing her on their bikes while always keeping her safe. Then, their wicked good looks had inspired her first teenage crushes. Instead of fading from puppy love to deep-seated friendship, her longing for them grew year after year as she watched them mature into amazing men.
Smart, funny, aggravating and sexy. Together, they were everything she’d ever wanted.