Thursday, 28 November 2013

Excerpt: Under His Kilt by Melissa Blue

Under His Kilt
By: Melissa Blue

Jocelyn Pearson is determined to spend her last month as a twenty-something doing everything she's too busy or scared to try. Her imagination runs wild and then fixates on Ian Baird. He'll be working at the Langston Museum for a short stint as a consulting curator. He's Scottish. He believes sex is fun to be had. He's the perfect choice for a fling. She only has to get him break his rule about sleeping with co-workers. Seducing a man was on her bucket list...
Ian is no one's fool and knows exactly what Jocelyn wants—him. If she didn't work for the Langston Museum, he'd be more than happy to oblige any and every fantasy she desired, but she's the curator. She's sweet, inexperienced and well liked by everyone including the museum owner and director. Ian can't risk losing such an important contact for his consulting business. Not even when everything within in him craves a taste of her.
When Jocelyn sets her sights on him, there's no way Ian can deny her. They agree their affair will end in thirty days. No emotions, no entanglements, just sex. The closer the end date looms, they start to question if it's possible to walk away. They'll either have to come to terms of what they've become or stick to their original agreement.

And then a thought struck her sideways. A man who'd done all the things Ian had probably didn't need much goading to do what he clearly already wanted to do. All those moments where he'd been one muscle twitch from jumping hadn't been in her imagination. They both kept that boundary in place. What would happen if she tore it away? Ian couldn't cross a line that didn't exist. He'd built his career by being smart, courageous and certain. Not much changed his mind unless he wanted to be persuaded. And Ian wanted her. She was sure of it.
The thought sunk its teeth in. Her skin flushed and she did her best not to glance up with a grin that would look as mischievous as she felt. No, what she'd do next wasn't world domination. She just needed to make Ian lose control and break his goddamn rule. One, it seemed, he wanted to break anyway.
“I don't know what to do,” she said, trying for sex kitten and not sure if it was working. “What makes you pick up a woman in a bar?”
His white-gloved hands froze over the ritual ax, and something passed behind his gaze she couldn't describe much less distill into a single word. “She's attractive and breathing.”
She snorted and lost the hold on her sex kitten. “No really.”
He considered her again, sighing. “Do you plan to walk up to him?”
“Well, start with your walk. More leg and hip action. Not like those models who trot like horses. Sensual. Seductive. Understated. The kind of sway a man can imagine you being on top of him moving the same way.”
With a sly smile she stood. His gaze narrowed on her. She scrounged up every thought of being on top of a man, his cock sliding in and out, how it would feel rising up and down, his fingers gliding over her waist, up to her breasts and fixed those thoughts in her mind and walked toward him. She stopped a few feet from him and raised a brow. “Like that?”
His hands gripped the ax. “Passable, but now put that movement into thought and there in your gaze.”
She thought of Ian's fingers digging into her waist and holding her still so he could thrust into her. “Passable?”
He made a noncommittal noise. “Just like that, Lass.”
But he wasn't joking when he said it this time. Not with the way he spoke so softly, but a bit of a growl could be heard in the back of his throat. Her nipples hardened as though his voice was something tangible and could scrape against the sensitive tips. She had to swallow. “And then what?”

Author Info
Melissa Blue's writing career started on a typewriter one month after her son was born. This would have been an idyllic situation for a writer if it had been 1985, not 2004. Eventually she upgraded to a computer. She's still typing away on the same computer, making imaginary people fall in love.
Where you can find me:

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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Book Tour: The Wedding Date by Cara Connelly

The Wedding Date
A Save the Date Novella
By: Cara Connelly
 Releasing November 19th, 2013

Julie Marone isn’t your ordinary matchmaker. Instead of setting up singles, she matches already-happy couples with their dream homes. It’s her calling. Her gift. And since she lost the other half of her own happy couple, it’s become her passion.
Cody Brown isn’t your ordinary cowboy. Instead of roping runaway steers, he wrangles sick kids and strung-out junkies as an ER doc. It’s his job. His responsibility. And since his brother lost his wife to a drunk driver, it’s his mission.
When Cody moves from Austin to Boston, he wants Julie to find him a condo, and fast. But she’s got issues with that. Because not only is Cody single, he’s a doctor to boot, and ever since her fiancé died, she’s got a major grudge against doctors.
Cody charms her into breaking her “couples-only” rule, but when he angles to be her date for her sister’s Christmas Eve wedding, he finds out Julie’s “no-doctor” rule is unbending. Still, he’s not quitting, because as hard as Julie fights it, there’s heat between them. If Cody has his way, they’ll be a couple by Christmas, and the next dream house Julie finds will be their own.


The chandeliers sparked off the red in her hair. Her crossed leg swung like a black leather metronome. Strolling up to her, he stopped a little too close to her chair. Call him a caveman, but he liked it when she looked up at him.
She said a quick goodbye and shut off her phone.
“Trouble?” he asked.
She stood up, swinging her purse so it slapped him in the nuts. A brush-back, not an accident.
“Just my nosy, interfering sister grilling me about my date.” She headed for the door at the same half-run she’d used to get out of the weather. It occurred to him that it was her customary speed.
He lagged behind. After twelve straight in the ER, he wasn’t moving at anybody’s pace but his own.
“She the one who set you up?” he said.
She stopped to wait for him, just aggravated enough to talk about it. “Why does she care if I have a date for her wedding? She’s the only one who needs a date!”
She started for the door again. He lagged behind. She stopped, in a huff. “Are you injured or something? Did you sprain an ankle running in those boots?”
He pulled up alongside her. “I didn’t know we were in a race. But remember, the tortoise beats the hare.”
Author Info
Cara Connelly is an award-winning author of contemporary romances. Her smart and sexy stories have won high praise, earning Cara several awards including the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart, the Valley Forge Romance Writers’ Sheila, and the Music City Romance Writers’ Melody of Love. Cara lives in rural upstate New York with her handsome husband Billy and magical rescue dog Bella. Cara is proudly represented by Jill Marsal of the Marsal/Lyon Literary Agency.

Giveaway: TWO Digital Copies of THE WEDDING DATE

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Monday, 25 November 2013

Book Tour: Blue Lines by Toni Aleo

Blue Lines
Nashville Assassins #4
By: Toni Aleo

Opposites do more than just attract in Toni Aleo’s latest Nashville Assassins novel about a very bad boy and the good girl he can’t resist.

The instant Piper Allen sees Erik Titov, she wants him—wants his rock-hard body, sure, but the strength and mystery that lies behind that superstar hockey jock demeanor, too. So when he sidles up to her at a bar and slinks his arm around her waist, she’s lost. What follows is the wildest night of her life . . . followed by inevitable heartbreak the next morning. And then, a few weeks later, a very big surprise: two blue lines on a pregnancy test.

Only a check to the head could make Erik fall for a nice girl like Piper. But since their crazy-sexy night together, he’s been trying to forget about her alluring body by falling into bed with every woman in Nashville, and it’s not working. So when Piper shows up at his house with a baby-bomb to drop, it doesn’t take much for Erik to suggest the nuclear option: marriage. While it’s supposed to be all for show, the second they say “I do,” the ice between them starts to melt into sizzling steam.

Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: Taking Shots, Trying to Score, and Empty Net.


“I heard you liked me.”
Piper quickly turned from the bar at Wanna B’s to meet a pair of brown eyes, the same eyes that starred in her dreams ever since she first saw them. It wasn’t that she just liked the owner of the dark-as-night brown eyes; she was hopelessly in love with him.
Erik Titov.
Her sister’s brother-in-law. The man whom she’d been lusting over for the past two years. The man who could transform her into a puddle of goo with just one simple glance. Erik was everything she wanted in a guy, and she would do just about anything to be with him. Even in her current drunken state there was no denying she wanted him. All of him.
For more Blue Lines teasers, visit the next stop on the tour!

This is a romance novel, so if you're a fan of the genre, you'll be a fan of this. That said, I think the part of this book that really stands out is Aleo's ability to make her hero so easy to hate, but still redeem him and have readers pull for him. I loved the depth of character that allowed her to achieve this. It isn't typical of a lot of the romances I've read in the past, and I found it to be a refreshing change. Blue Lines gets 3 cupcakes out of 5!

Author Info
Toni Aleo is the author of the Nashville Assassins series: Taking Shots, Trying to Score, Empty Net, and Blue Lines. When not rooting for her beloved Nashville Predators, she’s probably going to her husband’s and son’s hockey games and her daughter’s dance competitions, taking pictures, scrapbooking, or reading the latest romance novel. She lives in the Nashville area with her husband, two children, and a bulldog.

Giveaway: FIVE Digital Copies of BLUE LINES, One Swag Pack w/ Digital Copy of BLUE LINES, Swag Pack w/ All ASSASSINS Series in Digital

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Friday, 22 November 2013

Excerpt: Knowing Vera by Rachelle Ayala

Knowing Vera
Chance for Love Book Three
By: Rachelle Ayala

Vera Custodio has never fallen in love, though she has strong feelings for her friend and sometimes lover, Zach Spencer. Long-forgotten memories resurface when Vera discovers Zach’s mother was the woman her father supposedly murdered many years ago.
After losing his leg, former triathlete Zach Spencer reevaluates his life—and realizes he’s falling in love with Vera. When she ends their relationship, Zach is determined to prove his love and follows her to Australia in search of the killer.
Caught between a web of family secrets and a deranged adversary, Vera and Zach must depend on each other for survival. Love blossoms, but the truth explodes everything Vera knows about herself. Will she close her heart forever or risk it all for a shot at happily-ever-after?
Knowing Vera is a suspenseful, cross-cultural romance mixing an unsolved murder, action and adventure, and hot, steamy love scenes.

March 1991, San Francisco, CA

“Papa, are we there yet?” Seven-year-old Vera Custodio yawned and hugged her stuffed bear, Bing-Bing. The lights on the Golden Gate Bridge glowed orange in the night sky. In the distance, a foghorn bellowed like a sick cow.

Vera watched the rain dribble down the side of the car window. Her stomach growled and she shivered. Mama would have made her put on a jacket.

“Papa?” She picked crusted blood from her fingernails. “I wanna go home.”

“Hun-Hun, almost there.” Her father braked and slowed to a stop. Horns blared, and their car shook from the passing traffic.

“Why are we stopping on the bridge?” Vera tapped the back of the driver’s seat with her toe.

“There’s a small emergency. Will you be a good girl and stay in the car? Papa has to look at something.” He grabbed a backpack from the passenger seat, opened the door narrowly and stepped
into the rain.

The motor was still running and the twin wiper blades jittered back and forth. Her father crossed in front of the car and lifted the hood. A truck barreled by on the left, its deep horn blasting.
Vera unfastened her seatbelt and pressed her nose to the window. Instead of fixing the car, Papa crossed to the pedestrian walkway. He walked past an emergency telephone and leaned over the railing.

“Wait! Papa!” Vera dashed from the car and chased after him.

He turned and held a hand out. “I told you to stay in the car.”

“But Papa, I love you.” Vera clamped her arms around his legs.

He picked her up and kissed her cheek. “I love you, too. Go back to the car. Remember, you didn’t see anything.”

“Is she dead?”

“Shhh. It wasn’t real. You had a nightmare. Sit in the car and wait for Mama.”

“I don’t want to.” Vera held on to her father’s neck. She peered over the rail at the dark water below. Wind whipped her wet hair into her face, blinding her for a moment.

“Let go.” He pried her arms and dropped her to the sidewalk, then slapped her. “I told you to stay in the car.”

“Ow, ow!” Vera gasped, not believing he’d hurt her. Hadn’t he told her she was his special girl? That he loved her best?

He swung a leg over the rail.

“Papa, I love you!” She grabbed his trousers, her stuffed bear dangling between them.

Heavy footsteps pounded toward them.

“Get off that rail,” a man’s voice shouted and rough hands pulled Vera from her father.


“Tell Mama I love her.” He dropped over the edge.

January 2014, San Francisco, California

I’ve never been in love. Serious like? Yes. But love? Not happening. Doesn’t matter if he’s sinfully hot or responsible for global panty warming. Or even if he’s the sweetest, most gorgeous man on the planet. I can still walk away. I have to.

Zach Spencer, scion of an Australian wine fortune, ambles slowly from the light-rail platform and waves. His swimmer’s physique, sun-streaked blond hair and audacious grin revs my heart every time. I can’t help but jump to my tippy-toes like one of those silly game show contestants. But today, I’m not going to run into his arms because I have to break up with him.
He steps toward me, oblivious of the crowd parting at the sight of his artificial leg. The muscular calf on his right leg contrasts sharply with the metallic rod and linkages of the other, ending with an artificial foot.

Until a few months ago he was a world-class athlete, a contender for the 2016 Olympic Triathlon team, but he lost his lower left leg in a jet ski accident while rescuing my friend Maryanne.
His magnetic blue eyes lock onto me as he wraps me in a toe-curling hug. Butterflies tickle my stomach and I want to disappear into his arms. How on earth can I end this without hurting him?
“Ready for the opera?” He guides me through the turnstile.

I tug at one of his oversized pockets. “Seriously, cargo shorts in winter?”

“I’m Aussie.” He kisses me with a loud smack.

“I suppose you’ll tell me it’s summer Down Under. Are all Aussie men so tough?”

“Dunno, but all Filipinas are gorgeous.” He winks and takes my hand, pulling me up the stairs and onto the crowded street. His smile raises the temperature a few degrees. “Shall we hop on a cable car or have dinner first?”

“Let’s catch a cab and take a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Have you ever been there?” I’m dressed to the nines, spiky stilettos and a metallic sequined dress, but the walk hopefully won’t be long.

He tucks an errant strand of hair in back of my ear. “No, but I hear guys are always proposing there. I’d have a hard time dropping to one knee …”

“Stop joking. We’re only friends—with benefits.”

“True, but we haven’t been very … friendly … lately.” His eyes telegraph bedroom, and his tongue does a quick flick over his teeth. “It’s my fault, of course.”

I caress the back of his hand with my thumb. “You’ve just recovered from major surgery. I’m glad to see you walking again.”

“Me, too. Now we can go places and get to know each other. Maybe start dating?”

A gasp catches in my throat. I never pegged him as the dating type. I suck in a deep breath to calm my speeding heart.

If only things were different and I hadn’t discovered the truth about our families.

Author Info
Rachelle Ayala is the author of dramatic fiction crossing genres and boundaries featuring strong but flawed characters. She writes emotionally challenging stories and is not afraid of controversial topics. However, she is an optimist and laces her stories with romance and hope.
Rachelle is an active member of online critique group, Critique Circle, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She is a very happy woman and lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers.
Visit her at: Website: Blog: or follow @AyalaRachelle on Twitter. Subscribe to mailing list for upcoming books and giveaways.

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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Review and Guest Post: Eternal Blades by V.S. Nelson

Eternal Blades
Sekhmet’s Guardian’s Book Three
By: V.S. Nelson

Tshering Snow never meant to fall hopelessly in love with her savior, the Ancient, known as Lance, but she did. He seems to care deeply for her, spending every available hour with her, but will he be able to give up his past and settle down with one woman? After all, he has the reputation of a playboy.

Lance hates the personification he has created around himself. Afraid the others might not understand why; he has held back the truth from Gabriel and the other Guardians, he has waited for the right woman, the one Sekhmet prophesized so long ago. And now he has found her. When he is accused of fathering a child by both Gabriel and Tshering, how can he make them believe the child is not his, even if the boy is a spitting imagine of him?

After the women are attacked by Set’s Legions while relaxing on Jennifer’s new yacht, they come to the unanimous decision; they will train and join the Guardian forces. But that’s not as easy as it was meant to be. Old fashioned and hard headed, Gabriel is determined he will not having women fighting in their war.

When Tshering, Jennifer and Jessica are taken hostage by Set’s Legions all hell breaks loose on the Guardian’s compound. Lost without their mates, brother fights brother while they try save their women and put an end to the Legion’s terror. Will Sekhmet, the goddess they serve, step in and reveal the truth or will she leave them to find their own solutions to a never ending war as she has in the past?

I haven't had a chance to read the first two books in this series, so there were some "what's going on moments" for me, but they didn't take much away from the book. I recommend reading the first two before this one, but I can still say it was a well-written, exciting read. I loved the multiple plotlines and variety of characters (sort of reminiscent of Game of Thrones). I can't wait to read the first two then continue the series when book four comes out! I give Eternal Blades four cupcakes out of five. 

Naming Characters

By V.S. Nelson

I’m often asked where I got my character’s names for my novels/series. Picking names for characters can be as easy as drawing a name out of a hat or it may require some long detailed research or it may come to an author as she or he is writing out the story.

Names for heroes and heroines also go through trends. After the Twilight Saga was released, one saw an amazing increase (or use) of heroines named Bella. I’m given a lot of books to read and review and I must admit I got to the point that if the heroine was named Bella, I wanted to immediately put the book down.
Sadly, once a hero or heroine’s name has become as well known as a character like Bella from Twilight, a reader will begin to identify with the original and not the character the author is portraying in their new work, no matter how hard the author depicts the new character with the same name.

One can also see an abundance of Edward’s, Ian’s, and Wrath’s (in its many forms) in paranormal romances. Just like mother’s naming babies, authors tend to name their characters by what is popular. Names for children that were popular 50 or 100 years ago are no longer used. Edith, Elsie, Bert, Howard have been replaced by Ashley, Shawn, Kristy, and Ian.

It’s not uncommon for an author to change the character’s name after the project is finished for one reason or another. Sometimes this is brought about by an agent or publisher who just doesn’t like the name, or the author discovers a name he or she merely likes better. Unlike several of my author friends, my character’s names have never changed, with the exception of one secondary character who a beta-reader suggested I chance since the description of the character was too close to someone in real life she knew. The primary reason I didn’t change my main character’s names is because, they (my characters) introduced themselves to me in a dream and although my seven heroes can at times sound like a bunch of Ninja turtles, their names have and will remain the same. There is also a little back story which tells how they got their modern names within the series which ties into some well known historical facts, which does give there presence and their names some credibility.
Their original Egyptian names can get confusing for the reader since they are often long and a couple of them are very similar in text and sound, so I have tried to refrain from using them, except when it is necessary to the story. I am currently working on two of the hist oricals for the series which take place in ancient times. My ancient Egyptian dictionary’s along with an abundance reference books sit on the floor beside me to help me when I use unusual names, places, etc.

Coming up with unusual names can be fun and rewarding. The heroine from, Eternal Blades, the third book in my series name is Tshering Snow. Tshering is an usual name and one that took many research hours on my part. Since she comes from a small country in the Himalayas’ I wanted her name to mean something special, sound original and still have the readers be able to relate to her. Even her last name, Snow, is an original Bhutanese surname.

When one is writing historicals, the author needs to first research the various time frames he or she is writing in. As we have already discovered, common names for various parts of the world have changed over time. That also includes the spelling variations for simple names such as Sue depending on time and location. Susan, Suzanne, Susannah, Suzan, Susie, Suzie, Suzy, and Sousan are all variations of the name Sue.

Coming up with a set of unusual, never before used names, can be very rewarding to the author and leave a great impact on the author’s readers. One such series stays foremost on my mind, J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. Her hero’s names share their flaws and strengths and are named accordingly; Wraith, Tohrment, Vishous, Rhage, and Vishous are just some of the names she uses in her series. Even her spelling variations are to be complemented on.  
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Author Info
With a love for history, Native American author V.S. Nelson, instructed elementary, high school and college in the U.S. and abroad before launching her second writing career.
V has been a story-teller all her life, always creating stories about people discovering the courage to make a difference. This drove her into writing her paranormal series centering on strong relationships and led her to coin the term: Ancient Legends, New Worlds.
She is well known for her “time management and sprint style writing,” producing well over five thousand words daily - consecutively.
V is available for speaking engagements, appearances and is more than willing to share her methodology with others in a variety of workshops.
A member of three RWA chapters she sits on several committees and judges writing contests across the states.
In Jan, 2013, Eternal Lovers, the first book in her eleven book paranormal series, Sekhmet’s Guardians launched with a fury. Being a series reader herself, she has held true to her promise by releasing no less than two books in the series per year in addition to her other work.

Author Links

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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Guest Post: Love Waltzes In by Alana Albertson

Love Waltzes In
By: Alana Albertson

To her millions of fans, ballroom champion Selena Marcil seems to have the perfect life: a great dance partner, a hit reality show, and celebrity perks. But underneath the glamorous ball gowns, Selena longs to find someone to share her life with when the stage lights dim.
Selena’s childhood sweetheart, Bret Lord, hung up his dance shoes after winning two national titles with her as a teenager, and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He never saw his former fiancée again, except on television and on the cover of men’s magazines. Ten years and three deployments later, Bret gets an offer to audition for Selena’s dance show. When the Marine Corps gives him temporary leave to appear on the series, Bret can’t refuse the quick cash that will enable him to provide financially for the widow of his buddy, even if it does mean coming face to face with his past.
When Bret shows up at her national championship, Selena is shocked. For years she searched for him to no avail. After spending time with Bret, Selena realizes despite their past romance, they have no future. He has no desire to live under a spotlight and she has no desire to leave it. Can Selena and Bret recognize when Love Waltzes In?

Buy Love Waltzes In

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Top Ten Things About Love Waltzes In
I 1. Istarted writing it in 2005.
22.      It was originally a chick lit story with 6 first person POVs.
33.      Benny Brooks is based on my old dance coach.
44.      Xavier and Robyn’s home is based on my parents’ home.
55.      The book won and finaled in 7 RWA contests.
66.      My first professional dance partner was a former Marine.
77.      I used to drive Cheryl Burke to dance lessons in Redwood City, California.
88.      The voice actor for the audio version has the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard.
99.      A producer is interested in making it a Broadway musical!
110.  Bret’s last name, Lord, was the last name of my friend’s fiancé. He was killed in Iraq.


Staff Sergeant Bret Lord sat on the dirty floor of his tent, going through the day’s mail: the latest Men’s Fitness magazine from his sister, a care package from his mom. He ripped open the package—socks, lip balm, sunflower seeds, and a thin letter that contained an old magazine clipping.
Dear Bret,
I miss you very much. Benny asked me to send you this article. I really wish you would consider his offer. Please stay safe.
Love, Mom
He swallowed hard. A neon sticky pressed on the wrinkled page had a note scrawled on it from his former master dance coach.
Bret, m’boy,
We’ll make it worth your time.
Cheers, Benny.
Thumbing the edge of the article, Bret stared at the sixteen-year-old boy in the picture and could barely recognize himself. His shoulder length, wavy blond hair was slicked back, not shorn in a “high and tight” like his current haircut. No signs of the tattoos or muscles that currently defined his body. Golden skin stained from a bottle, not the harsh sun of Iraq. His arms were wrapped around a gorgeous, curvy young girl with long jet-black hair. The jade Latin gown she wore matched the color of her almond-shaped eyes.
Bret tossed the article aside and removed his nine-mil pistol from his holster to clean it.
Lance Corporal Hernandez walked by Bret and snatched the article off his cot. After staring at it, Hernandez’s face brightened.
“Hey, Staff Sergeant, this you?”
“No, it’s my clone who’s also named Bret Lord.” Bret slid the rail back on his weapon and began disassembling it.
“Staff Sergeant, you know Selena Marcil? Did you hit that?”
“Shut up, Hernandez, or the one getting hit will be you—with the butt stock of my rifle.” Bret grabbed the paper out of Hernandez’s hands, and smacked him on the side of the head. The kid didn’t flinch.
“Staff Sergeant Twinkle Toes. Hey—can you hook me up with Selena? I’ll be her boy toy. I love her. Man, she’s smoking. Has the nicest ass. Not like all those skinny, Russian chicks on that show.” He nodded to himself with an eyebrow dancing. “Selena’s on my list. She’s Latina, too. We’d be perfect together. What was she doing with a gringo like you?”
“Hernandez, you’re way out of line.” Bret reassembled his pistol.
“My bad, Staff Sergeant.”
Bret grabbed the article, his pack, and his rifle. It was impossible to get some privacy in the tent. His only option was to sit outside in a sandstorm but even that sounded like a welcome retreat from his immature men. He walked about five hundred feet, then plopped down in the hot sand.
The red sky hung above him, thick from smoke from the nearby town. Bret struggled to catch a glimpse of the distant mountains. Sand seemed to pelt down from the heavens, blinding him and settling into every crevice in his body. He closed his eyes against the sting of the sand, and turned his thoughts to Selena. Was she the diva the tabloids made her out to be? Even after ten years, he could almost smell her buttery-coconut scent. A welcome change from the overflowing shitters, toxic diesel, and stench of his fellow Marines who hadn’t bathed in three weeks.
The deep popping sound of shots from a nearby AK-47 roused his ears but Bret didn’t move.
As a marksmanship instructor, he could distinguish the sound of any weapon system. These shots weren’t the lighter, faster rounds of his men’s M16s. Looking past the palm trees that peppered the dismal scene of dilapidated shacks, he tried to get a location on the origin of the gunfire. Probably just some insurgents outside of base. The rules of engagement were clear—he couldn’t stop them from killing each other even if he wanted to. And he definitely wasn’t going to endanger the lives of his men.
The sandstorm let up, and he reached into his pack to grab dinner. Spaghetti with Meat and Sauce was his favorite Meal Ready to Eat, even if it did taste like chalk. He hoped it came with cinnamon apples for dessert. He opened the box and laid out his day’s bounty: cherry-blueberry cobbler, potato sticks, wheat snack bread, plain cheese spread, lemon-lime beverage powder, and accessory pack “A” – coffee, creamer, sugar, salt, Tabasco, a moist towelette, toilet paper, chewing gum, and matches. Bret opened the cooking bag, placed the spaghetti pouch in it, filled it with water, and then leaned it against a rock to cook.
He stared at the picture of himself and Selena winning the U.S. National Youth Amateur Latin Ballroom Championship. Selena was the star of the hit series Dancing under the Stars. His childhood sweetheart was now plastered on the cover of magazines, billboards, and advertisements. The details of his life back then had faded away from his memory. Being at war made everything a blur.
Bret took a swig of water from his camelbak and downed two anti-malaria pills: one blue, one pink. The Marine Corps assured the troops that it was safe but Bret couldn’t help but wonder if the pills caused his daily headaches. Then again, maybe the migraines were just from the hundred-degree heat.
Staff Sergeant Ray Wilson emerged from the tent, and sat beside him. Even though Bret had wanted to be alone, he was happy to have his friend’s company.
“Slim Jim?” Ray offered. As Bret ripped the plastic off the snack, Ray nodded at the magazine article lying in the sand. “What’s that all about?”
Bret grunted. “A month ago, my mom told me that the judge on Dancing asked her if I would consider doing the show. He just sent me a note.”
“For real?” Ray took a bite of his own Slim Jim. “You’d have to be stupid to give up this paradise of sand and gunfire for the mansions of Hollywood. Your mother does realize you’re a Marine right? You can’t just leave the Corps and go on reality television.”
“That’s what I told her. But she has this crazy idea that the Marine Corps would let me do it for one season—like a recruiting tool. I doubt that, but I could use my vacation leave. Remember that kid on American Pop Star?”
“Yeah. Didn’t he gain like thirty pounds and fail his PFT? Can you still dance, Patrick Swayze?”
“Good enough to teach some teen mom from MTV how to cha-cha. I’d be the laughing stock of the Corps.”
“Maybe not. I mean you are the only Devil Dawg who happens to be a ballroom champion. You could be that all-American hero. The pretty face that recruits a load more boys to come join the rest of us here, and get shot at.”
“If you think it sounds so great, I’ll tell her you’ll do it.” Bret hated the public’s obsession with the “celebrities” on these shows. Young kids who became millionaires for making a sex tape or wasting their days doing nothing but going to the gym, tanning and partying. Meanwhile, Bret and his buddies were out here in hell, dodging bullets.
Bret checked his spaghetti. He dug into the warm, gooey meal.
Ray shrugged. “The only dance I know is the ‘Harlem Shake,’ and something tells me I’d be more of a target for that than I am for being a Marine in Iraq.”
Bret had no desire to ever dance again. Once he’d joined the Corps, he had found his calling. “Nah, I’d rather stay here with my men. I wouldn’t even consider it—if it weren’t for Pierce.”
Ray blinked hard. “What does the show have to do with Pierce?”
“I promised him that I’d take care of his family if anything happened to him. If I did the show, I could earn enough money to buy them a house.”
“Dawg, you would do that for them? That would be crazy.”
“He’d have done it for me.” Bret knew that Pierce would’ve done anything for him. Pierce had already proved that.
They sat there in silence.
Ray nodded toward Bret. “Pierce was a good dude. You should do it.”
Bret’s hands became sticky with sweat. “I couldn’t. I’d make a fool out of myself.”
“Man, it wouldn’t be that bad.” Ray stretched out. “And you can go check out your ex-fiancée—she is Maxim’s Sexiest Girl Alive. Even if she is with that pretty-boy dancer.”
“Dima? That guy’s a jerk. He was one of our coaches. But I would never get back together with Selena.” Though she was sexier than ever, Bret had no desire to go there, despite the fact that he could still remember every inch of her body. A relationship between them could never work out. She was too focused on her career—always had been. He loved the Marines and wouldn’t allow himself to get tempted by the fame and money of Hollywood. But he still felt protective over her after all she had been through as a child and he hated seeing her all sexed up for the cameras. The thought of a bunch of Marines jerking off to pictures of his first love made him sick.
Ray rolled his eyes. “Well you never know. Maybe she’s changed.” Ray broke out a bag of Skittles. “I’ll go with you. Can you request Beyoncé as your partner?”
Bret laughed. “Not sure if Jay Z would like that. Or your wife.” Ray had one of the good ones. Ray’s wife was any Marine’s dream. Beautiful and faithful, Nia raised their four children while Ray was away. She was the head of the Key Wives’ Club, kept her body tight, and still had time to send Ray the best care packages, hence his endless supply of Slim Jims.
Bret had tried to have that family life once, but it didn’t work out. After that experience, Bret had vowed never to get close to anyone again, at least until he left the Corps. He needed to focus on guiding his men—not be distracted wondering if another man kept his girl’s bed warm while Bret fought a war thousands of miles away.
Ray stood up. “Nia’d be cool with it. She loves the show, man. Do it. Big shot reality star will need security. I got your back.”
If Bret did it, he’d want to have Ray by his side to handle the entertainment world. But it wouldn’t be to get back with Selena. Bret had no desire to live in the spotlight, and from what he could see, she had no desire to leave it. He stuffed the article back into his pocket containing his “If I should die” letter.
The roar of the rounds boomed through the sky. His cammies were soaked in sweat and felt heavy on his chest. He couldn’t see anything, but the rumbling of the helicopters overhead told him this was no training exercise.
Ray and Bret didn’t say a word; they knew what was about to go down. A fire built in Bret’s chest and adrenaline took over. Moments like this made all the sacrifices of war worth it—knowing that his life meant something and that he was responsible for not only protecting his men, but also ensuring the safety of Americans back home. Bret tossed the rest of the food into his pack and gathered his weapon. They raced into the tent.
Bret screamed at his men. “Grab your weapons and take cover!”

Author Info
Alana Albertson is the former President of both Romance Writers of Americas’s Young Adult and  Chick Lit chapters and the founder of Academe Advantage, a college admissions & test preparation company. Alana Albertson holds a Masters of Education from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University. A recovering professional ballroom dancer, Alana currently writes contemporary romance and young adult fiction. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, two young sons, and four dogs. When she’s not spending her time needlepointing, dancing, or saving dogs from high kill shelters through  Pugs N Roses, the rescue she founded, she can be found watching episodes of House Hunters, Homeland, or Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.

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