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A Mermaid’s Quest – Episode 6

By Valerie Twombly

 

“Why do you hesitate?” Narissa asked, tugging on his hand.

Why? Because he was crazy and imagined some beautiful woman wanted to drag him into the sea. The worst thing about it? This was the first time he’d felt anything since that fateful night. At least something other than sorrow and guilt. For the first time, he experienced desire, and a deep-seated need his gut told him that only this woman could quench.

“I’m not a dream,” she whispered as she pressed into him and nuzzled his jaw. “I’m real. Do you feel me?”

Oh, he felt her. His senses suddenly awakened. His entire body zinged with an energy he hadn’t felt in…

He cupped her face and pulled her close. When he claimed her mouth, the taste of cherries burst across his tongue. She settled her soft curves against him and every thing about her was real. Familiar. He had to have her. The need to plant himself deep inside her was so overwhelming, it was as if she had somehow mesmerized him. He was operating on pure male instinct rather than common sense.

Her hand drifted to his thickening cock and squeezed, reassuring him she wanted the same thing he did. To press her point home, she backed away and pulled off his sweatshirt. Now only the moonlight bathed her skin in a seductive glow. The world stopped as he tore at his clothes, anxious to finally feel something besides his own self-pity.

Naked. The cool air brushing across his skin made him feel alive. In two strides, he was to the enchantress in front of him, and his body pressed against hers once more.

“Hurry!” She took his hand and led him over the rough terrain he had crossed to get to her. “I want to make love on the sand.”

He’d not argue with that as long as she hurried. When they reached the other side, she whirled to face him then pulled him down on top of her. He wrapped his lips around a rosy bud as she lifted her hips and ground against his shaft.

“I can’t wait any longer.” She reached between them and guided his erection inside her.

“Oh shit.” Her heat wrapped around him like a velvet glove, and if he died tonight, he would go a happy man. Narissa was an angel sent to save him.

She dug her heels into his back. “Simon, faster. Please, I need you.”

Already he fought to keep composure. He wanted to enjoy every second with her, but she was insatiable, so he thrust harder. Tangling his fingers into her thick dark hair, he stared into her eyes. He wanted to watch her come.

“So close,” she whispered. Then she detonated, crying out his name so it carried on the wind to those nearby.

He didn’t care. Her hot sheath convulsed around him, squeezing until his own orgasm pulled his balls tight and let loose. He closed his eyes and allowed it take him away. Moments later, when his breathing returned to normal, he risked a look toward her, fearful this had all been a dream.

Visions. Hundreds of visions flashed in his head and played at supersonic speed. So fast he thought his brain would explode. He rolled off Narissa and landed on his back, clutching his head as he howled in pain. Somewhere he thought he heard a female whimper, but he couldn’t help. Time no longer had meaning. He may have lain there for seconds or days, before the pain stopped and the visions passed. When he dared open his eyes, Narissa lay still next to him. His heart raced, fearful she was dead.

“Narissa?” He hovered over her. “No! Ana.” She didn’t look like his Ana, but he knew she was. Just as he realized he wasn’t Simon.

Rylan. The name rung in his ears and felt true.

Narissa opened her eyes then smiled at him. “You’re back. We’re together again.”

“Yes. Elnora will be furious.” The mermaid had wanted to rule and cut a deal to oust Rylan, who had been their king. He and Narissa––his true mate––had been stripped of their memories and banished to the human realm. Elnor had thought she had separated them forever, but they had found each other as Simon and Ana. Something had happened when Ana fell from the boat. By some miracle, she had changed back to her previous identity.

“I remember you now.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. “I remember everything. I fell into the water that night and somehow morphed back. I had no memory of Rylan or Simon though.”

“We could not be kept apart in human form, nor can we be kept apart now. It is time I come back to rule.”

She cupped his cheek. “Yes, let’s go back home. Together.”

THE END

A Mermaid’s Quest – Episode 5

By Lena Hart

 

Simon jerked back and studied the beautiful raven-haired siren. It wasn’t necessarily what she said but how she said it.

Why would they need to get along?

He slowly began to pull away from the woman, but something in her sea-green eyes stopped him. There was something about her that was hypnotic, making him forget his Ana and the memories that were still very much a part of him.

“It’ll be okay, Simon. This was all meant to happen.”

That odd declaration confused him more then ever.

“Tonight,” she explained. “Tonight was always meant to happen, Simon.”

So now she could read my mind too?

“Who the hell are you?”

“I told you. My name is Narissa. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“I’m not.”

She smiled in a way that told them both she knew he was lying. She took his cool hands into hers again, and the same warmth that had coursed through his body when she had kissed him spread through him. That tantalizing sensation made him forget who he was and what he’d done.

She made him forget a lot of things.

“I can feel your pain, Simon. It’s not your fault what happened to her. None of it was.”

“How can you say that,” he said through gritted teeth. “I was the experienced one. I should have known it was too dangerous to go out in the water. I should have tried harder to look for her.”

“You did everything you could that night.”

But he could have done more.

That single thought had plagued him for the last two years. His life had been a constant loop of wondering and second-guessing. It didn’t matter how many times his family and friends tried to reassure him, or how many cruises or trips they took to these private islands. Nothing could erase his mind of the doubt and what-ifs.

And nothing could erase the memory of the accusatory glares from Ana’s parents. He had no words to justify why he had taken their only daughter out on his boat during a tropical storm warning. Ana had fallen off of his boat and her life had been cut short because of him.

“Look at me, Simon.”

He stared down at her, this disheveled woman wearing only his sweatshirt. She was a stranger to him, and yet, he felt as if he’d known her forever.

“Do you trust me?”

For the life of him, he didn’t know why he agreed, but he couldn’t stop his head from bobbing up and down like an idiot. But with that slow awareness came a peace he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“Good, because I would never hurt you, Simon. You are my alteruid.”

“Your what?”

“My other…my mate.”

Her grip tightened around his hand as she slowly led him toward the boulder. The waves rolled and crashed against the dark rock, leaving a spray of white foam to cascade back into the black ocean bed. The stars above glowed brightly. The same brightness that had convinced him to take the woman he loved into his boat so he could propose to her. She should have been his partner…his mate.

Now she was gone.

“Where are you taking me?”

“To a new life. A happier one…”

Simon knew he had two choices. He could get as far away from this crazy temptress and back to his family…and his heartache.

Or he could succumb to his desire and follow this mysterious siren to the unknown—into the watery abyss that stretched before them…

 

 

A Mermaid’s Quest – Episode 4

By Angie Daniels

 

Narissa couldn’t believe it.

Nothing she’d heard or ever read about had prepared her for the man standing in front of her. Despite what Elnora said about humans being disgusting creatures, the gray-eyed hottie was one sexy beast.

“Did you say you can feel my pain?” he asked, gaze flickering with disbelief.

She nodded. “Yes, I feel what you feel.”

He was wondering if she was crazy. The same thought had crossed her mind. The ability to feel was only supposed to be possible between Hydronid soulmates, not with humans! Yet, there was no denying the dull ache at his cleft chin or the pressure of the rocks beneath his feet. But what caused her to gasp was the overwhelming heat that raged through his body, settling right smack at his groin. It not only had her nipples beading but also the area between her thighs, pulsing with unfamiliar need. Thank goodness for the large hoodie that covered her to mid-thigh.

As he continued to stare at her, Narissa felt an unmistakable magnetic pull between them. “Narissa, where did you come from?” he asked.

She smirked, loving the way her name rolled off his tongue. He had the kind of deep baritone voice dreams were made of. “I come from a place you’ve never been, but if you’re a good boy, I’ll take you home with me.” Playfully, Narissa bumped her shoulder against his.

He blinked at her. “Place? What kind of place?”

She was scaring him, and the last thing she wanted was for him to run away. “I’m on a mission.”

“This is some kind of joke, right?” He flashed a crooked smile that was so deliciously sexy it aroused all her girlie parts.

“What’s your name again?” Narissa asked.

“Simon.”

“Simon,” she repeated and found it had a nice ring to it. “Simon, this isn’t a joke.”

He was perfect. Curly brown hair. A strong nose. Gorgeous eyes. And a body like Poseidon. He was exactly what she was looking for to fulfill her mission, and in the flicker of a heartbeat, she was craving the taste of human lips.

“Kiss me.” She felt her body sway toward him.

His eyes widened. “Excuse me?”

Giggling, she whispered, “Kiss me, silly.” Reaching up, Narissa cupped the back of his head, urging his face toward hers. She planned on just a quick peck but his mouth was so soft and moist, a moan slipped from between her lips.

“Now that’s what I call an introduction,” Simon growled and dragged Narissa to him.

The heat radiating from his body surrounded her and then his large arms swallowed her. The pressure of his chest against her tingling nipples was enough to make her quiver. Am I dreaming? If she was, she was in no rush to wake up. Simon’s lips tempted her in ways she’d only imagined.

She deepened the kiss. Simon opened his mouth, inviting her to explore deeper. As soon as his tongue met hers again, all Narissa could think about was how Simon made her feel feminine and fragile, even though she wasn’t. She felt alive and new to passion although she’d experienced kisses before. Only this was far better than any schoolgirl crush.

Desperate for air, she brought a hand to his chest and drew back. His breath fanned her face while she watched him, watching her.

“I’ve never met anyone like you,” he confessed.

“Neither have I.” Narissa nodded slowly while her heart did a weird tap dance in her chest. “Simon, I think we’re going to get along just fine.”

 

A Mermaid’s Quest – Episode 3

By Aubrey Wynne

 

An invisible rope pulled at him—no, something subtler and even more compelling. A silky thread of gentle influence that spun around his head and shoulders and drew him toward the highest boulder. Simon climbed the rock, his fingernails scraping the slick algae that clung to his skin. A yellow froth simmered in the water. Just below his line of vision, a splash dissolved the golden foam.

He peered over the top, sharp points digging into his chest and ribs. A glint of sparkling scales in blues and greens and silvers. A soft sigh. He inched closer to the edge. Long slender arms gracefully stroked the water. The moonlight shimmered off her pale, creamy skin and gave the woman an almost ghostly appearance. As if sensing his presence, she turned her head.

He froze, feeling the earth spin beneath him as sea green eyes gazed up at him. She wasn’t a ghost; she was an angel. And then his hand slipped, his chin smashed against the stone, and he tumbled over the ragged cliff and into the water below. Splash!

He fought for breath as the cold water soaked his clothes. He kicked and floated up, breaking through the clear surface with a yell. He tread water, turning in circles, searching for the heavenly, raven-haired girl. Where did she go? Have I lost my mind? The scent of suphur burned his nostrils again.

“Are you all right?”

Her voice washed over him and warmed his skin. It was the sweetest sound he had heard in two years. She sat just inside a small cave, her knees up and arms wrapped around her legs—naked. I do need therapy. No one will ever believe this.

“Perhaps we can help each other?” She spoke in a slow, sensual tone like honey dripping from a spoon.

He swam over to her and she reached down to help pull him from the water. As he dripped over her, she quickly covered herself again. “Could you spare a wet shirt for a female in need?”

Simon opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again. Shut your mouth, you look like a gaping fish. Her slender arms barely covered perfect, rounded breasts. The curly dark shadow between her legs glistened with beads of water.

“Who are you? How did you get here? Where are your clothes?” Now that he’d caught his breath, every question in his head seemed to spill from his lips.

“Give a girl a break. I’ll trade you answers for the hoodie.” She smiled and his heart beat faster.

He pulled off the wet material and handed it to her. “What’s your name?”

“Narissa, and thank you. I came a bit unprepared.” The last of her words were muffled as she struggled to push her arms through the sopping sleeves.

Simon started to tug and when her head finally appeared, he was rewarded with a lovely grin on her soft, pink lips. Without thought, he reached around and gently tugged her hair out from the hood and laid it gently over her shoulders. Thick waves of midnight fell through his fingers and framed her heart-shaped face. A tremor passed through him, and he felt himself harden for the first time since… What the hell? I just got out of the ice-cold ocean, how can I be—

“And you are?”

“Simon. Were you in a boating accident? How did you get here?” An image flashed through his mind, the hull of his boat jutting out of the water, blackness all around, a cry for help.

“Oh no, nothing like that. Elnora was a little too adamant about the mission. I took off without a plan.” Narissa shrugged. “I have a bad habit of not thinking first.”

The late spring air chilled his skin and goose bumps rose along his arms and chest. He suddenly felt the stones under his bare feet and his chin hurt. As if reading his mind, she reached up and delicately touched it.

“Is there much pain? I can’t tell without any light.”

“Aren’t you cold?” He caught her hand as she pulled away. “How do you know my chin hurts?”

“I could feel it. And your teeth will start chattering soon if you don’t find some warmth.”

 

 

A Mermaid’s Quest – Episode 2

By Anne Lange

 

Simon shoved his fists into the front pockets of his cargo shorts and strolled along the beach, gazing out over the endless blanket of blue. With every wave that broke the shoreline, his hair whipped around his head and a light, briny-scented spray of water coated him. His younger sister had joked he needed a haircut. His mother had told him a shave would make him not look so forlorn or scary.

With each step, he sunk heel first into the wet sand, cold and clammy against his bare feet. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in—God, he loved the water—and let it out.

And he hated it just as much.

He opened his eyes and glanced over to where his family and closest friends had gathered on the beach after their day of playing in the sand and a picnic dinner. One of his cousins had brought his guitar, and Simon could hear the faint strums as Dean goofed around with some lively tunes. Most of them had switched to sweats or sat wrapped in camping blankets now that the sun had set. Even with the bonfire they were preparing, the cooler air coming in off the water warranted warmer clothing.

Simon didn’t feel the cold. He didn’t feel much of anything these days.

He appreciated that his family thought this little excursion would help. Though it was more like ripping off a Band-Aid in his opinion. They believed after all this time, it would bring him closure. Allow him to move on and finally fix what appeared to be broken.

But how did one fix a broken heart?

There had been a time that a trip to the beach or an outing on his boat would have done the trick. But not anymore. The boat was long gone. The trips to the beach… Well, this was the first since that day. Hell, he didn’t even own a bathing suit anymore. And if Dean hadn’t dragged him here, he’d be at home in his darkened living room, staring at photo albums.

Everyone around that fire probably thought his meandering along the edge of the water was his way of saying good-bye to the past. He snorted. Fuck. If they only knew. The only thing on his mind had nothing to do with the future.

It should have been him.

Simon trudged along, putting more distance between him and the others. The sounds of laughter, music, and crackling fire faded away until he couldn’t hear them at all.

When he looked up, he’d reached the outcropping of rocks at the end of the beach. If he felt so inclined, he could clamor over those boulders and truly be on his own. Few people bothered because they were wet and slimy, smooth from years of abuse from the sea, making them treacherous to navigate. But he knew from experience that the trip was worth it. After a handful of slips and scrapes, it felt like being on a totally isolated island on the other side.

The perfect place to fall in love.

To make love.

Too many memories reared up and pain sliced through him. Simon began to turn back, not ready to face them right now. They’d come soon enough when he finally closed his eyes.

From the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of something and paused. He stepped into cold water that swirled and frothed around his ankles and craned his neck to see as far around the rocks as he could. Bubbles rose from the other side of a particularly large boulder. As they popped, the scent of Sulphur hit his nose. What the hell?

“Ouch!”

Simon jerked and stumbled back. That was a female voice. There was only one way onto this beach, other than by boat of course. And his family had been the sole visitors today.

“Oh dear. Now what am I going to do?”

Simon stood there, speechless, while she grumbled and grunted somewhere out of his line of vision.

“How could I have been so stupid?”

He didn’t have an answer for that. He didn’t know how to respond to that voice at all. That soft, sweet, melodic voice.

“Elnora says go. We go. No questions. Just do as she bids. Again.”

Who was Elnora? And who belonged to that voice?

“Could have used a reminder to bring some shoes. And clothes.”

 

 

 

A Mermaid’s Quest – Episode 1

 

By Chanta Rand

 

“Humans are greedy, manipulative creatures that crave chaos and glory. They are ungrateful, vile beings, incapable of goodness. They are conquerors by nature—ready to destroy every culture they come in contact with. Yet, we now find ourselves in the unfortunate position of relying on them to help perpetuate our species.”

Narissa waited patiently for Elnora, the leader of the Lemurian Council to finish her speech. Elnora glided back and forth, her milky eyes appraising the seven females summoned to the Council’s meeting room. She was frightening, not just because of her gills and rough scales. What was more alarming was Elnora’s position in the Council. She single-handedly made most of the decisions, which were readily agreed upon by the others. No one dared to oppose her.

Even when she was wrong.

As an older Hydronid, Elnora lacked the ability to morph into human form. That was probably why she judged man so harshly. From what Narissa had learned about humans, she didn’t entirely agree with Elnora. Hydronids, who would be considered mermaids by ancient humans, had a similar genetic makeup to human females. By despising humans, Elnora despised part of herself. It was this same type of inter-species hatred that had caused Lemurians to destroy themselves years ago.

“As despicable as these creatures are,” Elnora continued, “we share much of the same DNA. Thus, they are the most logical choice for breeding.” She hung her head. “I wish there were some other way, but we must lower our standards and mate with these pathetic animals to ensure our survival.

“Living miles beneath the sea, our underwater fortress has afforded us protection from enemies who cannot survive the depths and the darkness of our world. However,”—she turned, her long tail sweeping angrily behind her—“this sanctuary has also kept us isolated from other civilizations, with no one to help us through our bitter civil wars with the Octopi. We’ve been cut off from trade, resources, and all further growth.”

Several of the older council members nodded their agreement. They were all females who’d endured the loss of husbands, sons, and fathers in the last twenty years. Narissa’s father had been killed when she was a young child, so she felt the same pain as the others here.

“There have been no males in Lemuria for over two decades,” Elnora needlessly reminded them. “Our species cannot be left to die out. I simply will not allow it.” She studied the faces of the seven young women standing before her. “Each of you has been chosen to leave our world and mate with human males.”

Shocked reactions rippled through the room. Some of the women’s scales flattened against their bodies. Others streamed sulfurous, yellow bubbles from their gills—an obvious sign of distress.

Born to a Hydronid father and a half-human mother, Narissa was more human than any of the other women assembled. She’d always considered her ability to morph between shapes a curse, some sort of deformity she’d never wanted in the first place. Now, she realized she could easily navigate amongst humans. Still, the idea of breaking the water’s surface was terrifying. She might never come back!

The world above was rife with enemies and obstacles. Vicious octopi that could suck the life from her with their deadly tentacles. Toxins from man’s polluted water and oil slicks. Commercial fishing vessels with nets large enough to ensnare her.

“Through the merits of evolution, you have been given a wonderful gift,” Elnora said. “Your ability to morph into human form can help you infiltrate their world. It is only through this infiltration that you will be able to keep our species alive. “Find a human man to breed with. Any man! Drag him back here if you must. Our survival is in your hands.”

Narissa didn’t want to leave her watery haven, but to ensure the perpetuation of their species, she must mate with a human male. The only problem was, where would she find such a man?

 

 

Ranger’s Reprieve, episode 8

By Kris Calvert

 

Adorkable? Jess had no idea what was wrong with him. He wasn’t the kind of guy who tried to impress women with cute pick up lines. Frankly, before he’d lost his hand and his confidence, there’d never been a need for them. He’d always beamed with confidence—the kind of light emitted by men who weren’t afraid of anything on the outside, including a beautiful woman. But since he’d been home, his confidence had been replaced with anger and a cockiness that only reared its ugly head when he felt pitied. But Lindsey had shown him she didn’t pity him. She treated him like the man he wanted to be again, and he found himself in new and dangerous territory—spending time with a woman who made him feel whole. A woman who could destroy him all over again if he allowed her into his new and closely guarded life and heart.

“Did you just call me adorkable?”

“What? No.” Jess fumbled the words, stepping out of the tangled web of dog leashes and away from the scene. He needed to catch his breath. A breath that wasn’t filled with the vanilla scent wafting from her red locks.

Lindsey dropped her chin, hiding the blush on her cheeks. “Oh. Sorry.”

“You’re the dog trainer. Can’t you do something about these two?” Jess did his best not to look Lindsey in the face. If he caught her glace just once, he didn’t know if he could stay away from her.

The weeks of pretending he didn’t care for the beautiful redhead, beyond Java’s training, were wearing thin on his stubborn constitution. More importantly, she was the first woman he’d even thought of in a sexual way since coming home. Countless nights he’d pulled a self-imposed sentry duty, watching through the blinds for a glimpse of Lindsey in her Princess Leia shirt before getting pissed at himself for lurking. He was better than that, and he knew it. Still, he couldn’t help himself. He was drawn to her like a fly to sweet honey.

“Java is in your charge, Jess. Why don’t you control her?”

All Jess could think was, I can barely control myself around you. How can I be expected to control the damn dog?

Lindsey went to the floor, solving the leash puzzle that quickly unraveled in her hands, as Java left Shelby yapping in Lindsey’s arms only to sit at Jess’ feet without command.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” Jess said, the words giving his now obedient mutt’s ears a loving twist. “I’m not ready for…”

Lindsey walked the four steps it took to meet Jess head on and stared at him without pretense. “You’re not ready? Or the dog’s not ready?”

Jess pulled the vanilla-filled air into his lungs, exhaling in a slow, deliberate breath. He was trying to calm his nerves, but mostly he was weighing his options. “Look, I’ve done my best from the moment I met you not to…”

Lindsey moved a step closer. “Not to what?”

Jess hung his hand on his hip, shifting his weight in his well fitting jeans, and looked around the room like a man who’d accidentally stumbled into the feminine hygiene aisle at the grocery store. He was lost, filled with panic, and looking for a way out.

“Why can’t you just acknowledge what we’ve both known since the night I stepped foot on your front porch in nothing but a Star Wars t-shirt?”

Jess’ eyes uncontrollably darted back to Lindsey.

“What? You think just because I was embarrassed when I noticed your arm that I didn’t see you looking? It’s true. I was checking you out. But you were checking me out too and have been every day since that night. At least I have the balls to admit it. Listen Jess, you want to act like there’s something wrong with you, but the only thing wrong with you is that you think there’s something wrong with you.” Lindsey’s voice reached a high pitch as she rammed her point home. “And there isn’t. You might think you’re not a whole person—a whole man, but I’ve seen your arm. It doesn’t scare me, Jess. It doesn’t,” she repeated. “Because even though you left part of your body on the battlefield, your soul is intact. And that’s the most beautiful part about you.”

Jess took a deep breath. “So, you weren’t wearing panties that night?”

“Out of all of that,” she said, waving her arm in a complete circle, “the only thing you heard was no panties?”

“I’m a man who hasn’t been with a woman in a really long time. I couldn’t help but hear no panties. So…really? No panties?”

Lindsey dropped her shoulders and took another step forward. “I never wear panties,” she whispered.

“Fuck it,” Jess muttered. “I can’t do this.”

Taking the nape of her long neck into his strong hand, Jess pulled Lindsey into his body, pressing his forehead into hers. Swallowing hard, he stroked the back of her head, gripping her long red hair in his capable fist. Resisting his urge to back her into the couch and kiss her—among other things—into tomorrow, he held his ground and made his confession. “I’m not very good at this…anymore.”

Lindsey blinked deliberately and without another thought, dropped her arm to her side, grasping his new hand in hers.

“Don’t.” It was all Jess could think to say. No one outside of his physical therapist had ever touched his prosthetic hand.

Bringing it to rest on the waistband of her tight jeans, she left him there, placing both of her hands on his rugged face. “Don’t say don’t to me.” She whispered the words and shook her head.

“Fine,” Jess replied, feeling his newfound confidence and neglected manhood growing by leaps and bounds. “How do you feel about, yes?”

“Depends on the question.”

Running his tongue across his dry lips, Jess closed his eyes and made the first real decision with consequences since coming off the battlefield.

“May I kiss you? I need to ask because once I start, I’m not stopping.”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes.”

 

The End!

 

 

 

 

 

Ranger’s Reprieve, episode 7

By Caroline Lee

 

The last three weeks had been giddying. There’d been her usual classes at the gym, and finishing up this second-to-the-last semester of veterinary school, sure. That was nothing new. But in between, in those glorious few free hours each week, she got to see…him.

Jess’s relationship with Java had progressed so well that the chocolate lab was living with him full-time, now. Which meant that she did her training visits right next door, in his house. Every time she went over, she was nervous and excited, and made a complete fool of herself. There was the time that she tripped on his doorstep and would’ve busted her head open if he hadn’t caught her. Then the time that she tried to hand him a leash when he was already holding the food bowl, completely forgetting that he only had the one arm. And of course, all of the time she spent admiring the really cool stuff his prosthesis could do, no matter how many times his dark brows drew in disappointedly when he caught her staring.

She should be too embarrassed to show her face over there again. She should find it too awkward to peek through her living room curtains at him, when he walked Java in the evenings. She should definitely not be fantasizing about him, wondering what it’d feel like to have his chest pressed against hers and taste those hard lips and—

Lindsey bit her lip, stirring the spaghetti sauce. There is absolutely no need to be thinking those thoughts, young lady. Her mother’s voice, and her father’s teasing, sounded loud in her brain. She’d heard them both often enough, the good Lord knew, in between her sisters’ joking about her distraction at their weekly family dinner.

But she couldn’t help it; she was distracted, and totally obsessed with her hot neighbor. The problem was, that Jess and Java worked so well together, there wasn’t much left for her to do. So she’d decided to swallow down her embarrassment and take a step. Instead of working at his house this evening, she’d invited them both over here, to her house. She’d claimed that Java needed a chance to socialize with Shelby, but she was hoping that he’d stay for the spaghetti dinner she’d cooked up too. And the wine. And the brownies. And maybe some more wine and Netflix, after?

Whoops, the sauce was dripping on the counter. Laughing at herself, Lindsey set the spoon back down and wiped up the mess, hurrying through the last few steps of prep before the 6:30 pm start time.

By 6:33, he still wasn’t there, and Lindsey was halfway through her first consolation glass of wine, sure that he wasn’t arriving. By 6:35, she considered throwing out all of the spaghetti and eating the pan of brownies in front of Gilmore Girls episodes.

So when the doorbell rang at 6:37, she darn near tripped over her freshly painted red toenails to get to it. Setting down the wine, she called to Shelby, clipped the leash onto her collar, and took a few steadying breaths. This was it. He was here. Did she look okay? Suitably casual and oh-I-just-threw-this-on but also really sexy? Lindsey squeezed her eyes shut, said a silent prayer that she wasn’t going to do or say anything stupider than usual, and threw the door open.

In the fading light, he looked just as scrumptious as he had for the last weeks. Except this time, there was a little smile under his stubble, and his lovely eyes weren’t as hooded as they’d been during that first official meeting. “Hi.”

Java’s leash was clenched in his fake hand—is that what she was supposed to call it? A fake hand? She had no idea, but it was one of a million questions she wanted to ask—so he was able to give her a little wave with his right fingers. “Hi.”

A good start. Unfortunately at that moment, Java smelled Shelby, gave a little wuff of excitement, and barreled through the door, pulling Jess past Lindsey. Shelby, however, was just as clumsy as her momma, because the mutt darted for the door, and Java followed, and in less than a heartbeat both humans were wrapped around and pulled together by the dog leashes.

It was a stunning feeling, to have his chest pressed against hers like this, and Lindsey resisted the urge to take a really deep breath. His prosthetic arm was trapped between their stomachs, and hers was around her back where she was still holding Shelby’s leash, but at that moment, it didn’t matter.

He smelled like a man should. He looked like a man should, all cut angles and harsh lines and firm muscles. He felt like a man should, and despite the supreme awkwardness of being wrapped up by two dogs, Lindsey wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

But a full minute of silence demanded her attention. “Sorry.” She tried for a flippant smile, but was afraid she looked love-sick instead. “I can be kinda a dork sometimes.”

A dork? She managed not to groan. Well, if you weren’t before, you are now, dork. He wasn’t the kind to make jokes. He wasn’t the kind to grin at her silliness. He wasn’t the kind—

She sucked in a breath—she could actually taste him, they were so close—when his fingers brushed against her cheek. And then he smiled. Really smiled, like he had when he’d met Java. “Well, I think you’re pretty adorkable.”

He’d made a joke? Or was he teasing her? Or did he—wait. He thought she was adorable? And then she stopped thinking altogether, because Jess was leaning closer.

 

 

Ranger’s Reprieve, episode 1

By C.A. Szarek

 

 

A bullet whizzed by his head and he ducked. “Son of a bitch!”

“Jesus, Jess, are you hit?” Chuck breathed.

“No, but it’d be nice if you covered my six, dammit.”

The guy had the nerve to laugh, but he patted the side of his rifle, an MK-16. “Bertha got it.”

Too bad the laugh was obliterated by utter shock, and the red starburst on his friend’s forehead demanded all Jess’ attention.

His fellow Ranger gaped and keeled over. Blood spatter hit Jess’ face, and he hadn’t realized it. Then the yelling from the rest of their team started, and returning fire and—

“Dammit!” He popped up, panting. His bare torso was covered in sweat. Jess’ brow was too, if the dripping in his eyes was any indication.

Eyes…dammit. The instant vacancy in Chuck’s brown ones would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Freaking dreams. Well, his stupid therapist called them night terrors—like he was five years old. Scratch that, no kid should have to see what Jess had.

Problem was—where he’d come from, three tours of duty later—it’d happened. Seeing dead kids. Dead women. Innocents in a country ravaged by war. Been there. Done that. Add fodder for the nightmares. That’d just f’d him up even more.

Discharge after his own injury had made it worse. He was home. Too bad the desert felt more like it than the bungalow his great aunt had left him in podunkville west Texas. Damn good thing he had it, though. He hadn’t wanted to go home to Tallahassee. Just couldn’t. Pity in his family and friends’ eyes would’ve bothered him more than the supposed PTSD.

Jess opened and closed his prosthetic hand. He’d fallen asleep with it on again. What was left of his upper left arm —a few inches past his biceps—ached.

He threw his legs over the side of the bed and groaned. Unhooking his new arm only took a few seconds. After being kicked loose from physical therapy for almost six months, he was an old pro. He rolled his shoulder and winced.

Damn, that hurts. Tingles shot upward, but it felt good, too. Jess sighed and glanced at his cell. He pushed the button to light the thing up, and the time glared—03:26 hours.

Shit. Again.

Would he ever get a good night’s sleep?

Might as well shower, he was covered in sweat anyway.

Noise at the front of the small house made him tense and want to reach for a gun. Then there was thumping and a tumble that could be someone rooting around. Jess had a feeling he knew what it was, and sighed instead of getting his Glock.

Not. Again.

Cursing under his breath with enough variety to make his whole team of Rangers proud—not to mention a trucker or two—he padded out to the front door and whipped it open. Ran his gaze along as much of the wrap-around porch he could see in the dim light the lamp over the door threw out.

A whine snatched his attention to the three front steps.

Jess’ eyes darted to the blondish ball of fur at his feet. “You!”

The dog wagged her tail.

He ignored the big brown eyes and the adorable few pieces of fur that overhung one, partially obscuring it.

“You don’t live here,” Jess growled at the dog.

“Shelby!” The female voice startled him, but he did his best not to show it.

Show was the right word because when he glanced at the owner of said blonde mutt, he saw that his neighbor. Lindy, or Lindsey or something with an L, was barely dressed.

Her oversized tee had Princess Leia printed on it, and stopped mid-thigh. What a nice pair they were, muscular, as if she exercised by running after her stupid canine. The other pair—her breasts—was fantastic, too. They had a good bounce going on as she ascended the stairs to his porch. No bra, because he could see the outline of her nipples.

His neighbor’s long red hair was loose and messy, and dancing with her movements.

Jess had never noticed how hot she was before.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Monroe,” she breathed and grabbed the small dog. “Bad, Shelby!”

The little furball wagged her tail.

She hiked Shelby to one hip, which made that shirt ride up.

He had to swallow and avert his gaze. Her underwear would be showing at any moment. Unless she wasn’t wearing any. Which would be better and worse.

“She cried and had to go out. Woke me up from a dead sleep. I let her out then she ran over—” His pretty neighbor’s eyes rose from her dog, but instead of landing on his face, they darted to where his left arm used to be. Stayed locked there, too.

“Just get your damn dog, and keep her away from my place,” Jess growled.

 

 

 

 

Merger, Episode 12

by, JA Coffey

 

“You’re doing the right thing by talking Lance out of tearing the holdings of your father apart.” Theresa sniffled and Betty Lou patted her shoulder. She could scarcely make out the conversation behind the closed door, but she was determined to help Holt if she could.

“Okay,” Theresa took a deep breath and nodded. “I’m ready.”

“Holt? We’re coming in.” Betty Lou’s sweating palm twisted the knob, flinging the office door open with the force of a hurricane.

A gunshot exploded in the silent office like a child’s firecracker. Her ears rang, but with adrenaline and fear gripping her gut, Betty Lou charged in the office just in time to see Carina slump to the floor with a soft whoosh. “Oh no!”

Lance looked aghast. His gaze darted from the still smoking gun in his hand to the woman crumpled on the floor and back.

“Sonafabitch.” Holt balled up his fists and landed a left hook that laid Lance out on the floor next to Carina. He bent over Carina’s lifeless form, inspecting the damage. Theresa Wright moaned softly and wrung her hands.

“Wait, here.” Betty Lou crept further into the room as Theresa nodded gratefully, then fished in her handbag for a tissue.

“Is she…? Are you….? Did he…?” Betty Lou scrounged for a First Aid kit in the filing cabinets, throwing pens and notepads to the floor in her haste.

“I don’t think so. She’s still breathing. I don’t see any wounds.” Holt sank back on his heels.

“So she…faked it?” Betty let out the breath she was holding with a whoosh.

Carina cracked an eye and stared up at them. “Hell yeah, I did. Did it work?”

“Like a charm.” Holt jerked his chin toward the prone Lance lying on the floor next to them.

Carina prodded Lance with the pointy silver toe of her shoe. He didn’t move. “Good. Help me up.”

“Oh, thank heavens you’re all right.” Betty Lou extended her hand, gratified that Carina only paused a moment before accepting it.

“Glad you got here in time. The asshole was making me delete the files. I caught him in the act of shredding.” Carina shrugged. “Who’s that?”

“Theresa Wright. Lance’s natural mother. Which makes her the legitimate heir.” Holt smiled. “Our ace in the hole, thanks to Betty Lou’s persuasion.”

Carina’s head jerked back. “Wait, that means Lance is-”

“Shit out of luck.” Holt finished for her. “I’ve already sent it over to the legal team. Lance has no legitimate claims to any of Wright and Sons holdings.”

“The authorities are already on their way.” Which meant this misadventure was almost at an end. Betty Lou bit her lip. She wasn’t exactly sure where she fit in this company scheme, now that Lance was out of her life for good. One thing was certain. She wouldn’t hesitate at the opportunity to work with Holt Bastion.

With, on top of, under…hell, she’d work him until they were both too tired to speak. All he had to do was make her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Carina whistled through her teeth. “That’s it then. My work here is done.” She brushed her hands together.

Holt quirked a brow. “I said the company’s safe, Carina. There’s no reason to get melodramatic.”

“I’m not, Holt. But, I do think it’s time for me to move on. Maybe start a little business of my own. Something that’s equally close to my own heart as BCI is to yours.”

“If that’s what you really want.” Holt crossed his arms. Betty Lou wondered if he’d miss Carina once she left. The woman seemed indispensable to him.

Carina nodded. “Starting my own yoga studio is exactly what I’ve been dreaming of. And it leaves you free to pursue what you really want. Good luck, Bastion.” Carina gave Betty Lou an appraising, but grudgingly approving stare. “I think you’re gonna need it.” She left the office in a swirl of red hair.

“Without Lance’s bogus claims, it appears I now own two companies.” Holt glanced at Betty Lou and held out a hand. “And with Carina’s departure, we have an opening. I’d like to propose a new, seamless integration. A long term partnership. Interested?” A faint smile played along the corners of his mouth. A mouth that promised days and nights of more interesting proposals and provocative mergers. Betty Lou felt a warm tingle spread from the top of her head to the toes of her flip-flops.

“Ohhh, my head. What happened?” Lance sat up groggily. The far-off whine of police sirens sounded outside the receptionist area.

“I’m afraid there’s been a change of plans, Lance.” Betty Lou stepped into Holt’s warm embrace, tipping a pile of paper shreds onto Lance’s head in her haste. “Consider this your early retirement.”

 

The End…