Authors: Julianna Keyes
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
By Julianna Keyes
Dean Barclay had nothing to do with my decision to flee my old life
but he is 100 percent of the reason I vowed to never look back.
I’ve never forgotten how it felt to follow Dean—dangerous, daring, determined—away from the crowd and climb into his beat-up old Trans Am. I was sixteen and gloriously
for the first time. When I felt his hand cover my leg and move upward, it was over. I was his. Forever.
Until I left. Him, my mom, and the trailer park. Without so much as a goodbye.
Now Dean’s back, crashing uninvited into my carefully cultivated, neat little lawyerly life. Eight years behind bars have turned him rougher and bigger—and more sexually demanding than any man I’ve ever met. I can’t deny him anything...and that just might end up costing me everything.
This month I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who read, review and recommend. Word of mouth is so critical to the success of a book, and we so appreciate not just those of you who write reviews on retailers, review sites, and your personal blogs, but also those who have a love of talking books, as I do, and recommend the things you enjoy to friends, family and fellow readers in conversation, on social media, and at parent/teacher conferences (yes, I’ve done this!). Thank you, you help us grow and thrive!
Speaking of books to review and recommend, I hope you find something in this month’s lineup that inspires you. First, we’re pleased to introduce two debut authors. In
by Julianna Keyes, eight years in prison have left Dean insatiable, and a decade apart isn’t enough to stop Rachel from surrendering any way he asks. Don’t miss this sexy contemporary romance debut!
For those who have longed for something different in historical romance, Pamela Cayne delivers in
The Fighter and the Fallen Woman
. In Victorian London, Lady and King, a prostitute and a street fighter, are kindred souls, each trapped in their own hells. Both owned by a ruthless businessman, they have no chance at love if they don’t first risk death.
Also new to Carina Press this month is a brand new male/ male space romance series from author duo Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen set aboard a
-esque freighter, following a cast of misfit super-soldiers who have been through intergalactic hell and offering up a delicious and unexpected reunion romance. Don’t miss the first book in the
For those who love revisiting favorite authors, HelenKay Dimon’s
Chain of Command
is available in March 2015. Special ops Marine Sawyer Cain is ready for civilian life, trading danger for more stability by opening a gun range with his friends, but first he needs the land and that means going through Hailey Thorne...and nothing prepares him for her.
A drunken kiss between an out gay man and his supposedly straight best friend awaken long-repressed feelings that neither man is able to ignore in fan favorite A.M. Arthur’s
Getting It Right
Proving that all good things come to an end, we’re sad to say farewell to urban fantasy series Monster Haven from R.L. Naquin. In
Phoenix in My Fortune
, Zoey must stop the terrifying Shadow Man from breaking the ancient Human/Hidden Covenant and taking away all the Hidden in our world forever—including Zoey’s family.
Hunted by a killer, Layna Blair knows trust isn’t a mistake she can afford, but the six-foot-four Marine makes her an irresistible offer—her freedom, his rules, no questions asked in
by Sybil Bartel.
Author Kate Willoughby delivers another sizzling contemporary romance in
Out of the Game
. Alex Sullivan may be the San Diego Barracudas’ resident playboy, but he’s never forgotten his kiss with Claire Marzano. When he sees her again at a teammate’s wedding, he can’t think of anything but spending more time with her. Preferably naked.
Last, we wrap up two science fiction trilogies this month. In
The Epherium Chronicles:
by T.D. Wilson, Captain James Hood and his ship, the
, survived the battle of Cygni, but the victory at the new colony puts humanity in more danger both in space and on Earth.
And from Timothy S. Johnston’s science fiction mystery series the Tanner Sequence, described as Agatha Christie meets Michael Crichton, Homicide Investigator Kyle Tanner is on an emotional journey as he hunts killers in a society plagued by violence and brutality. Stranded on a disabled vessel with a hostile crew that includes at least one serial killer, he must rely on the love of a remarkable woman in order to decipher the clues and solve the mystery in
Coming in April 2015: a hot erotic romance, two new debut authors and the launch of a new male/male new adult trilogy.
Here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.
Editorial Director, Carina Press
This one’s for you.
Writing is a solitary process, and sharing the finished product is always a nerve-racking experience. I have nothing but gratitude to everyone who takes the time to read, and offer extra thanks to some:
My editor, Kerri Buckley, who brightened up my Friday afternoon when she called to tell me she had read and enjoyed
. An enormous thank-you for the thoughtful, intelligent feedback and your patient effort to make this story the best it could be.
To everyone at Carina Press who assisted in the production of this book, thank you so much! The road to publication involves so many unseen hands, but please know I am deeply appreciative of everyone who took the time to show this book the care my strongly biased heart thinks it deserves.
Finally, thank you to everyone who chooses to give me a chance and read—and hopefully review!—my books. Friends and family I haven’t seen in years—and some I saw just yesterday—have come out in droves to show their support of this hapless endeavor, and your enthusiasm means more than I can say.
“Next up for auction is the honor of naming the naked mole rat recently born at the North Campbell Zoo...”
The silent room fills with intrigued murmurs, and I polish off my second glass of wine, trying to keep my expression neutral. If it’s anything like the previous items, this particular “honor” will go for an embarrassingly high amount. Paddles fly up in rapid succession, the auctioneer rattles off extravagant numbers and people have a grand old time. And that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? A wonderful early summer day spent at the annual Ensley Golf & Country Club fundraiser for some cause no one in attendance knows or cares much about.
I glance around the well-appointed dining room, taking in the faintly sunburned crowd in their linen pants and navy jackets, pearls and heels. When I’d first started at Sterling, Morgan & Haines, I’d been desperate to attend this high-profile fundraiser, and now that I’ve been given the chance, it’s taking everything I’ve got not to fidget in my seat.
“Should we bid?” My boyfriend of six weeks, Todd Varner, is the perfect date. Unlike me, he grew up in this white-collar world and doesn’t have to feign enthusiasm for the proceedings. In fact, he spent most of the morning explaining the finer points of golf, making me wonder why we’d started dating in the first place.
“Why not?” I reply. People are going crazy for this thing. Have they never seen a naked mole rat? I saw a picture once, and its hideous little face is burned into my brain. Todd squeezes my fingers, and I feel bad for doubting him. He’s an accountant at the firm, handsome, smart and good in bed. I catch him eyeing me and smile eagerly, like I really hope we win.
He bids and I blanch at the number. “You’re having fun, right?” he asks, squinting at me. “You’re not thinking about work? On a Saturday?”
“No,” I lie, “I’m not thinking about work.” I am absolutely thinking about work. The firm is planning one of the biggest class action lawsuits in its history, and one fourth-year associate will be asked to second chair. I’d much rather be in my office, eating pad Thai and preparing my interview notes than sitting in this swanky dining room trying to win the right to name a rodent.
“Sold!” the auctioneer finally shouts, and the room explodes into applause. That’s when I realize Todd is beaming and nodding graciously—like a winner.
“That’s right,” he replies, leaning over to kiss me on the cheek as I grin dutifully. Is there a time I’ve smiled today that hasn’t been forced? I’m living the life I’d only dreamed of, the one I’d given up everything for, and I’m acting like an ungrateful jackass. I give myself a mental kick in the head and tune in to the conversation at the table.
“...such a whimsical gift,” the elderly gentleman—a retired city councilman—seated on Todd’s right is saying. “Do you have a name picked out?”
“Of course,” Todd answers, reaching for my hand. “I’m going to name it Rachel.”
My smile freezes. “Really?” I manage.
“That’s adorable,” the councilman’s wife coos. “Naked Mole Rat Rachel.”
I laugh weakly.
“You know,” Todd continues, “I actually had an unusual pet growing up.”
The councilman looks delighted. “You don’t say.”
“Yes, it was a rare cat called the Kurilian Bobtail...”
I take a guilty sip of my wine. We’re at this fundraiser because we can afford to give back. I make good money at the law firm and Todd grew up wealthy. Spending a small fortune on a name is actually something he’s done before: he’d once paid ten grand for a letter signed by Winston Churchill. And that wasn’t even the gem of his signature collection! Somehow I’d found the story charming. I’d even admired the fact that Todd had interests outside of work, and had been making a half-assed effort to achieve a better work-life balance myself.
I realize that Todd is now showing the councilman photos of his favorite signatures on his phone. It’s one step up from showing him pictures of his special cat. I pinch the bridge of my nose and take another sip of wine, but I can’t tune out Todd’s extraordinarily dull story of the time he almost bought a fake Bob Dylan signature. I’d heard it before but told myself it wasn’t as boring as I’d thought. And if Todd found it interesting, then I should be supportive. I should be interested in things other than work.
But I’m not.
I’m not interested in Todd. As kind as he is, as tall and fit and handsome as he is, he doesn’t distract me from work. Nothing does, and nothing has, for a very long time. I tell myself to keep going through the motions, that this ennui will pass, that Todd will become appealing again.
I have a good education; I’m a smart, ambitious, twenty-eight-year-old woman who knows what she wants and goes after it. When was the last time I’d even had a boyfriend? It had certainly been too long since I’d been in... Well, anyway. I’ll stick with Todd and visit this naked mole rat and look at his signatures and pretend I care about golf and...
“I guess that’s it,” Todd says, pushing back his chair and standing. He helps the elderly councilman’s wife from her seat and we say our goodbyes. “Time to go home.” He smiles at me hopefully, and I see a tiny glimpse of the man I’d found sexy six weeks ago, with his floppy dirty-blond hair and perfect white teeth. And then he picks up his sweater, ties the arms around his neck as if he’s finished a successful round of water polo and holds out his arm.
Yeah, I’m going to break up with him.
* * *
“There’s going to be a naked mole rat named after you?” Parker laughs uproariously.
“Well...not anymore.” I try and fail to hide a smile. Breaking up with Todd had been awkward, but it wasn’t without its upside.
I glance at Parker Finch, my favorite work friend, across the backseat of the company car the partners hired to schlep us out to the middle of nowhere. Parker is ten years older than me, though we’d been hired on the same day almost four years ago. He got married young and stayed home to raise his two kids while his surgeon wife worked her way up the ranks. When she was established in her career he returned to school and became an attorney, and my frequent partner in crime.
“Seriously, Rach. This place is dreadful.” He squints out the window as we approach the town of Camden, just outside the Chicago city limits, on a sunny Monday. Unfortunately,
is an accurate description of the area. For better or worse, Camden is mostly lumpy swaths of concrete with the occasional dead tree tossed in to add visual interest. It’s gray and hopeless, as we have learned from our near-daily visits over the past several weeks. We’re here signing up potential clients for a class action lawsuit against a company that used a carcinogenic cleaner to degrease its machinery, knowing full well it had been outlawed years earlier. As a result, thousands of innocent families are suffering as the latent effects of the chemical unleashes its fury on the central nervous system.
“First stop,” Jose, our driver, announces, parking in front of a run-down blue house with a tilting picket fence. Parker and I exchange a look before climbing out of the car and heading up the gravel driveway. The gutter hangs at a dangerous angle from the corner, and, though it’s June, the grass is patchy and yellow. Parker holds the gutter as I duck under, climbing up chipped concrete steps to knock.
The inner door swings open instantly, as though the household is as punctual as we are. “Good morning.” A little girl, maybe four, greets us, peering up through the screen. She’s wearing pink cartoon-print pajamas and her dark hair tumbles around her shoulders.
I smile down at her. “Good morning. Is your mom home?”
She turns to holler over her shoulder. “Mama!”
If I squint into the darkness I can see the faint outline of a stooped woman hurrying toward us from a dim hallway. She wipes her hands on her apron and chastises Judy in Spanish, warning her about the dangers of opening the door to strangers.
“They’re not strangers,” Judy pouts.
“Go,” the woman orders, pointing up a narrow staircase. “To your room.”
When Judy’s out of sight the woman warily pushes open the door, her worn face and prematurely gray-streaked hair making my heart pound. I know from her file that Pilar Castillo is twenty-eight, the same age as me, but she looks at least ten years older. Deep grooves are etched on either side of her pursed lips, and crow’s-feet radiate from her dark eyes. She looks tired...and suspicious.
I sigh inwardly.
“Mrs. Castillo?” I ask, extending a hand as she cracks open the door. “I’m Rachel Moser from Sterling, Morgan & Haines. This is my coworker, Parker Finch. We have an interview this morning?”
She gives my hand a light squeeze and glances between Parker and me, sizing us up.
“We’re here about the Fowler Metals case,” I add. Her expression doesn’t change, but she knows what I’m talking about. Her husband worked the night shift for Fowler, a massive manufacturing company that produces parts for refrigerator motors. Two years ago he’d woken up one morning, unable to move his arms and legs. That night he’d died. Chronic exposure to an unnamed chemical—known then and now as perchlorodibenzene—had wreaked havoc on his nervous system, and one day his brain gave up. He was twenty-seven. And he is just one of the five hundred and eleven cases Parker and I have been assigned; less than one-eighth of the cases our firm is investigating in the class action suit against Fowler.
Pilar wants to let us in, I can see it in her guarded eyes. “We’ve already spoken to many of your neighbors,” I tell her quietly, though she knows this too. “This is just a preliminary interview. You don’t have to sign anything today or make any promises. We’d just like to talk about your husband.”
Her eyes well up with tears that she blinks away. “My English...” she says cautiously, her accent heavy. “I don’t...”
I switch to Spanish. “That’s okay,” I tell her. “Whatever you’re most comfortable with.” Before starting these trips to Camden, I hadn’t spoken Spanish in ten years, but now the words roll off my tongue easily. I’ve worked so hard to shape myself into someone better than my upbringing foretold, and it’s scary to see how easy it is to slide back into old habits. I shake my head and focus on the task at hand. The scrappy girl who grew up in a trailer park has been methodically replaced by a well-groomed, refined woman who promised to never look back, and never, ever will.
* * *
“Jesus,” I moan, dropping into the backseat of the sedan an hour later.
“Don’t you mean
?” Parker replies, buckling his seat belt. “I don’t know what the hell you two were discussing in there.”
Up front, Jose smothers a laugh.
“How many of these have we done?”
It’s a rhetorical question and Parker knows it, but still he answers. “Fifty-one. Just...four hundred and sixty left to go.”
“I’ll never make it.” Not through hours upon hours of brutal interviews, having the inner workings of these poor families’ lives revealed, splayed out as facts and figures that just get worse and worse the more we pry.
“You’re Rachel Moser,” Parker reminds me, patting my knee. “Nothing gets to you.”
I force myself to straighten in my seat, smoothing my dark hair into its standard chignon and touching up my lipstick. “I don’t know why I care so much,” I admit, squinting into my compact mirror.
“Because you’re human?”
I shoot him a look as Jose pulls away from the curb to take us to our next interview a few blocks away. Camden alone is home to one hundred and twenty of our potential cases, and I know I’m being melodramatic, but I can’t help imagining that every cracked sidewalk and pockmarked building, broken window and stray dog is a result of that damn chemical.
“You know what’ll make you feel better?” Parker continues as we turn down Camden’s main drag, a nearly deserted strip consisting mainly of cheap restaurants, pawnshops and storefronts promising cash advances with low interest rates.
“It’s ten o’clock.”
“You’re not going to believe this, Rachel, but people eat at ten o’clock. Jose, pull up here, please. The one with the red sign. Thanks.”
“Jose,” I counter. “Keep driving.”
But Jose, no doubt hungry, parks at the curb and gets out of the car to stretch after he opens my door.
“I told you not to bother with the door,” I scowl.
He ignores me.
“You want some empanadas, Jose?” Parker calls, heading into the small, dingy shop. Through the open door I can make out a glass display case holding an assortment of potentially delicious food. My stomach rumbles, the traitor.
“Yes, sir,” Jose replies.
“He’s going to get murdered,” I mutter, hustling in after Parker. In his eight-hundred-dollar suit, shiny, tasseled loafers and coiffed—yes, coiffed—blond hair, he’s a walking ATM. One that requires no pass card.
“Yes, ma’am,” Jose answers.
I hear Parker greet someone, but it’s so dim inside the bodega that it takes a minute for my eyes to adjust, even as I’m bombarded with the mouthwatering smells of fried food and spice.
“What can I do for you?” the skinny teenager manning the counter mumbles. He’s wearing a pristine white wifebeater and the requisite baggy jeans. His scrawny arms are covered in skull-and-dragon tattoos and he looks bored out of his mind.
“A dozen empanadas.” Parker beams.
The kid looks him up and down before grabbing a brown paper bag and a pair of tongs, following Parker’s instructions to include a “decent variety of flavors.” I don’t need to be a mind reader to know what the kid is thinking—everyone who meets Parker assumes he’s gay, but he’s not. He’s just a friendly guy with a standing date at his pedicurist. And artfully coiffed hair.
“Here,” Parker says, jarring me out of my analysis. He thrusts a fifty-dollar bill into my hand and gestures to the back of the store where a sign reading Restrooms hangs vertically, one nail lost to the elements. “I’ll be right back.”
I hold up the money. “How much do you think empanadas cost?”
“Fifty dollars,” the kid tries.
I smile as I fiddle in my pockets for something smaller. I normally have cash on me but today’s search turns up only a business card, an old mint and a wet wipe. I set them on the counter and dig in my other pocket, looking up when a shadow falls across my strappy black pumps.