Ask and you shall receive! I got so many messages from readers wanting to know Zach and Shannon’s story, I couldn’t possibly leave everyone hanging. I had a lot of fun getting to know this couple, and for all of you who love Leah and Jagger, you’ll be pleased to see they make a few appearances. (Haven’t started The Escort Series yet? No worries–The Passion Project is a standalone story.)

The Passion Project releases on August 1, but you can have a sneak peek of it now. Keep reading for the first three chapters!

Chapter One

Zach

I never had a real fucking job before. I only had a job fucking. Didn’t exactly make me boss material.

But here I sat at my dining room table, pretending I knew what the hell I was doing. I should’ve been an actor instead of an escort, or taken the hint when Barry closed up shop on the agency I’d worked at for over a decade, and tried my hand at a new career. I suspected the two professions weren’t that different, and I was a master of selling myself in fucked-up situations.

I couldn’t let the guy who’d come for an interview know I was as nervous as he was. One of the first things I learned as an escort was that if I didn’t have confidence, neither would my clients. But the most important thing was how to read body language. Words couldn’t be trusted, but bodies couldn’t lie. Both things had made me damn good at my old job, but neither taught me how to hire my first new employee.

“How about a beer, man?” My business, my rules. I got up and headed to the fridge. No matter what his answer was, I was having one.

His eyebrows shot up. “Yeah. A beer would be great.”

“Porter? Lager? Fuck the beer and go straight for the whiskey?” Now that I was in charge, I had to be prepared for every scenario.

“Porter. Don’t bother with a glass.” He smirked, running his hand through his long, dark hair, like Jagger used to do.

“Good choice.” I opened the bottle and pushed it across the table at him, then took a swig from my beer. This guy was named Brandon, and through a friend of a friend, I found out he was interested in joining the agency. There was no resume or application I could have him fill out. Nothing to make this easier on either of us. “Why do you want to escort?” I asked.

Brandon jumped like my question was delivered via electric shock. He held the bottle close to his lips, but the beer didn’t cover his discomfort. He took his time answering. I liked that. He wanted this job.

“I was awarded full custody of my daughter. I was on the road the last few years with my band. One might consider that an unpaid internship for this job.” He grinned before taking another sip. “Now I need something that keeps me a little closer to home. My priorities changed, and I have to find a way to support her, part time.”

“How old is she?”

His face brightened. “Four.” He picked up his phone, but then glanced at me and put it down. He’d probably been about to show off pictures, like any proud dad, but he didn’t know who the fuck I was, besides the guy he was asking to hook him up with women willing to pay for sex—which didn’t make me the best person to show off the kid to.

We’d have to earn each other’s trust, but I liked that he had a daughter and that he was a single dad. I hoped it meant he’d treat our clients with respect. I’d been an escort for twelve years; these women taught me about life. It wasn’t just fucking for money—and not because we had to bill ourselves as paid companions to keep the business quasi-legal. It was also watching someone come into their own and claim their independence, or making a dream come true. Sex was power, and the sooner people started using it for good instead of evil, the sooner the world would become a better place.

“You choose the days you want to work and how far you’re willing to travel. Or you can stay in Miami and specify that you’re not available for overnight jobs. The clients book you in increments of two hours. Typical appointment is four hours. Of course, the more you’re available, the more money you make. I’ll have a survey for you to fill out, as lame as that sounds, so put down what you’re into and what your limits are. I’ll give the same survey to the clients, to make sure I give them the best match.”

He didn’t look like a guy who showed much restraint. He hadn’t accepted the beer to be polite; he was drinking it. His hair fell to his chest, and when he pushed it back, metal shone on his ears. He had muscular, tattooed arms and an easy smile. He might be the answer to my prayers—an escort the ex-clients of my best friend, Jagger Holiday, would consider. I used to laugh about Jag’s magic touch when he worked as an escort, but now the joke was on me. I needed a guy on the roster with the it factor, or my new agency was doomed.

It fucking stung that I wasn’t that guy. I had to get over it. I knew what the necessary qualities were, and I’d do whatever I could to get the right people on board. We were a high-end escort service that satisfied our clients’ needs, whatever those were.

“Think you’re interested?” I had a good feeling about this guy.

Brandon took a sip of his beer and leaned back in his seat. “Yeah. I am.”

I wanted to cheer like he scored a touchdown, but I couldn’t act like the fucking amateur that I was. “I’ll run a background check and a credit check on you. You’ll have to get tested, to make sure you’re clean, before you start and once a month. I also have an NDA for you to sign. Not sure you heard what happened with the agency I used to be with.”

He scoffed. “Yeah. I did.”

Jagger knocked me on my ass in more ways than one. A scandal between him and his now baby mama shut down the company we worked for and sent our clients scattering. They were actresses, politicians, businesswomen, and wives. The whole fucking world didn’t need to know what they did in their free time. That kind of trust didn’t come back automatically. It was probably better that Jag stayed far away from this new business, wrapped in the security blanket of his happily ever after. A good escort wanted things. Jagger had it all.

“Then you know how important it is to stay discreet. So I should probably ask—how good are you at keeping secrets?”

Brandon set the empty beer bottle on the table, but he didn’t let go of it right away. “I can do it.”

“But are you good at it?”

He nodded. “Yeah.”

“It doesn’t matter how good you are at fucking, as long as—for those four hours or whatever—your client is the center of your universe.” That was kind of a lie, but he could learn the fucking part. The most important part was the trust. It took a certain kind of person to be good at that. “Whatever she wants, you do. She may literally put her life in your hands. It’s your responsibility to keep her safe.”

“I won’t let you down.”

Brandon got it. “You’re willing to go forward with this?” I asked.

“Yeah. As fucked up as it sounds, it’s the right opportunity at the right time.”

“I’ve been doing this for twelve years. Doesn’t sound fucked up at all.” I was stoked to have this guy on board. He had the right balance of cockiness and humility, and something to keep his ass in line. Women would go crazy for him, and his little girl would want for nothing. “I’ll get the paperwork over to you. Do you have any questions for me?”

“Yeah.” Brandon leaned forward, putting his elbows on the desk, eyebrow raised and lips pressed together.

I’d seen this look so many times, but it was usually from my clients. He was sizing me up. It didn’t bother me; I had to prove myself to him as much as he did to me. I asked him to sell his body. I expected to have to explain a few things.

“Why are you an escort?” he asked.

I wasn’t prepared for that question. I finished off my beer, pushing down a bullshit answer with every hard gulp. “Because I wasn’t made for anything else.”

Brandon didn’t blink, and I thought about handing him another beer. No. He had to make this decision with a clear mind.

“Are you in a relationship? You know—outside of the job?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“Can it work?” he asked.

“Some guys try it.” Like Jagger, and here I was, digging myself out of the rubble. “And it never works.”

 

Chapter Two

Shannon

My grandma got me a good set of luggage when I graduated from college. She said I was going places, yet this was the first chance I’d had to use it.

I burst out laughing when the plane touched down in Miami. The passengers around me did a horrible job of sneaking some serious side-eye in my direction. I couldn’t blame them. Everyone was on edge when it came to air travel these days. I was only twenty-six, but I’d let too much time slip by, doing what everyone else thought was best for me. So I left a job many people would sell a vital organ for, as an associate producer on Great Start Today, to help my embattled ex-boss make her dream of an interior design business blossom. I watched her build it once from nothing. She got knocked down, but not out. I owed a lot to Leah Godfrey.

She taught me that if I followed my passion, my dreams could come true. There was a ton of hard work waiting for me between the starting point and the finish line, but it was possible.

Until I met her, I did the worst thing possible—I settled. In college, I met the guy I thought was the answer to every question. When he proposed, I didn’t even wait for him to finish the question. He could have said will you take out the trash, and I would have been on my way to the dumpster. I thought a solid foundation was all I needed to build my castle upon. Turns out we didn’t want the same castle. A piece of me would always love him—he led me to Washington and then my job at Great Start—but ultimately, I loved myself more.

I had to stop looking to other people to solve my problems.

Leah put her arms around me when I met up with her at the baggage claim, and seeing her wasn’t the only thing I was giddy about. Coming to Miami was an important step for me. Leaping before I looked wasn’t so bad.

“I can’t believe I’m here,” I said against her shoulder, wriggling my arm loose so I could wave to her fiancé, Jagger. The baby kicked me when Leah gave me a squeeze. “I’m ready to get to work.”

She laughed. “I’m not a slave driver. We’ve got a lot lined up. You might want to ease into it. I placed the order for Claire’s house, but we’re not expecting anything until next week. You’ve got some time to get to know Miami.”

Claire was the first client for Leah’s new business, and Leah gave me a ton of responsibility. It had been exciting when we talked about it, but now the reality was terrifying. I came from the marketing world, not the art world. But Leah saw something in me and gave me the courage to try my hand at design. So much was riding on this job. Failure was not an option.

“We got some of your stuff delivered to the gallery.” Jagger took my carry-on bag from me. It had been dangling painfully from my forearm, and I was happy for the relief. My ancient laptop was on its last legs, and I probably shouldn’t tell Leah I worked on her website the entire plane ride to Miami. Work was fun for me. A lot of people didn’t understand that. “Are we expecting more? It was only a few boxes. We can pick them up and bring them to your new place,” he said.

“That’s it.” I’d acquired embarrassingly little stuff since I struck out on my own. Everything belonged to my ex. He liked things a certain way. Blargh. So did I, but I refused to waste my time thinking about him when I was starting my life over in Miami. I’d be able to look out almost any window and see palm trees. It was impossible not to be happy. “I rented a short-term apartment until I get to know the city.”

It was my insurance plan, to satisfy that nagging voice inside that screamed for me to play it safe—that moving here was irresponsible and foolish, no matter what kind of opportunity was on the horizon. My new job came with no guarantees. I lied to my grandma when I told her about the move. She’d freak out if she knew I was working at a startup. I was a grown-ass woman, perfectly capable of making my own decisions, but she worried about me. She wanted me to go places, as long as they were safe and had a good benefit package.

I understood why Grandma was overprotective, and I’d worked my entire life to prove to her I wasn’t my mother. It wasn’t that hard. All I had to do was hold a steady job and spend most of the time sober.

“Smart.” Leah’s voice brought me back from the tunnel vortex I’d fallen into, listening to my inner bitch. “And these few days off will give you a little time to explore the city.”

The baggage claim belt buzzed, and we all jumped.

Leah put her hand over her belly. Her baby bump was starting to show. “The baby didn’t like that at all.”

Jagger grinned. “Karate chop to the bellybutton?”

Leah groaned, and she and I followed him over to the baggage carousel. “Yeah. I need to stop eating Wheaties. She’s strong.”

“I love it,” he said.

“Because she’s not kicking you.” Leah wrinkled her nose at him. “Shannon’s got super cute, striped luggage with pink bows on the handle. One bag or two?”

“One.” I stepped closer to her. Everyone was anxious to get where they were going, and travelers jockeyed for position to get their stuff. “Are you sure there’s nothing you need me to do? Paperwork, which I know you hate? Need me to clear out your email? Seriously. Put me to work.”

Leah and Jagger shared a glance. I didn’t know Jagger well, but I’d worked closely enough with him to know that look said oh, shit. I wasn’t second guessing my move, but I didn’t want to start it off on the wrong foot.

“I could use her at the gallery,” he said before dipping into the crowd to grab my suitcase. I’d packed it to the absolute limit, and I would’ve been dragged down the belt behind it. He lifted it like it was empty. “It would free up a couple of days to find new properties to photograph.”

I wiggled my eyebrows at Leah. She was as in love with Jagger’s talent as she was with the man. I listened to her gush about it, even when she didn’t realize she was doing it. It was adorable. Someday I hoped to be that hopelessly, completely in love with someone. But only if they were as crazy about me. And not any time soon. Men hadn’t done me any favors lately.

She put her hand on my shoulder as we headed to the garage, like she thought I might make a run for it. “I guess it’s a good idea. I’m worried about you getting burned out, though.”

“Don’t be. It will be totally different than what I do with you. And I want to make myself useful.” I gave her a cheesy grin.

“This isn’t Great Start. They were experts at running people ragged. Don’t get me wrong—we’ll work our asses off. But on our terms. It’s weird, working for yourself. At first, I kept waiting for someone to tell me what to do. It took me a minute to realize I was that person.”

“I’m not working for myself. I’m working for you.” The sunshine felt amazing. All airports looked the same, but once I stepped outside, there was no mistaking that everything had changed. And there were my palm trees.

Leah laughed. “You’re already not listening to me. I told you to take a couple days off.”

“Wait a minute. Are you calling someone out for being a workaholic?” Jagger pointed at her, and then at me. “Because you shouldn’t be giving anyone advice on how to relax.”

“It’s a blessing to have a job you love.” She pushed his arm, then looked back to me. “Okay. You work at the gallery, starting tomorrow. Are you hungry?”

“Starving.”

“We’re taking you out to dinner. Our treat. What are you in the mood for?” she said. Jagger put my suitcase in the trunk, and Leah kissed his cheek.

“Something I can eat while looking at the ocean.”

Leah opened the passenger’s side door and pushed the seat forward so I could climb in. She grabbed my arm. “Sold. I’m so excited you’re here. It makes the dream a reality.”

**

Getting the hang of Miami wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

Jagger’s gallery was in Wynwood, the arts district of the city, and it got tons of foot traffic. It was sandwiched between a consignment shop and a Cuban restaurant. A couple other cafes and bars were visible through from the front window. The aromas that drifted into our space changed depending on the time of day, but were always heavenly. The longer I worked here, the fatter I was going to get. It wasn’t an if I’d have to buy new pants; it was a when.

That was the other thing about Miami—everyone was beautiful. The art around here didn’t only hang on the walls. It walked and talked and lived and breathed. And it intimidated the hell out of me. The last few months I spent working in New York City, I didn’t pay much attention to myself, and it was painfully obvious in my new surroundings.

Appearances weren’t everything, but I was about to launch my career in interior design. I’d be working with people with high standards for beauty. Leah didn’t mess around, I noticed as I worked on filing invoices. She only had one client so far, but Claire wanted the absolute best. Leah relied on word of mouth to build her business, which would mean more people with expensive taste. My ponytail and worn-out sneakers weren’t going to cut it.

I needed to up my game.

And so did Jagger.

The gallery got a lot of visitors. I struggled to talk to them about Jagger’s art. But he did, too. He shot abandoned properties, which wasn’t my aesthetic. I preferred colorful art, and he was all about the black and white. His face would light up when someone asked about the work and he could tell them all about the property’s history, but he had a hard time closing the sale.

Leah pulled me aside on my first day of work. “He needs some help,” she said, shifting her gaze to him while he talked to a customer. “He’s so talented, and he wanted this gallery so much, but it’s not making any money. You’re my marketing expert. Can you take a look through things and see if there’s anything we’re missing? I’ve encroached on the gallery, putting furniture in here, but I don’t want to take over. But I had to do something. I’d hate for him to give up on his dream. We’ve got to turn a profit if we’re going to keep the doors open.”

“I can do that.” For my dream to thrive, I couldn’t let his die.

Leah was paying me out of her severance package, which shrank every day. My pay would increase once we had a steady clientele. Everything was on the line. I set up the social media portion of Leah’s old design business, and that was my passion. I’d asked her if she wanted me to do that again, and she did. She suggested I set up affiliate accounts to supplement my income as we got started. I’d send Grandma the money I got from the online stuff, so things would be tight for a while.

“I’m headed out,” Jagger said once I got settled in that morning. “I heard about a property on one of the blogs I follow. It’s an old bed-and-breakfast on the edge of the Everglades. A whole bunch of mid-century stuff. There’s a huge market for that.”

He nodded toward the gallery. Leah had set up sitting areas around each installation, and she used a ton of mid-century pieces. It made sense, with the clean lines and bright colors of the city. Miami was too hot to be fussy.

“Have fun.” I fired up my laptop, twisting my ponytail around my wrist as I waited for it to start. It was one of those autopilot moves I did when I was lost in thought. I couldn’t get rid of my ponytail, because I wouldn’t be able to function.

Jagger put his motorcycle helmet under his arm. “Anything you need before I go?”

“Yeah. What’s your website address? I’ve Googled this place six ways to Sunday, but nothing is coming up.” Except for the lawsuit a former client filed against Jagger when he was an escort. It caused the scandal that got him and Leah booted from Great Start Today. But it was like the gallery didn’t exist.

“Don’t have one.” His grin faded when I gaped at him. “Is that a bad thing?” he asked.

“Every business needs a website. If you do your SEO right, tourists will find the gallery when they’re planning their trip to Wynwood. You could start a virtual storefront and sell your work online. You’re leaving money on the table.”

“No doubt. But I have no idea how to do any of that stuff.” He clutched the helmet. “I take the pictures. I don’t know what to do with them after that. Honestly, I never expected this place to pay the bills.”

“The good news is I do know how to do that stuff. Don’t let what you don’t know limit you.” Shit. I shouldn’t have said that. I had a way of getting too excited about other people’s projects. Leah was the only person who seemed to appreciate it. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I need all the help I can get. Problem is I don’t know what I don’t know.”

I tingled all over with new project excitement. I wasn’t sure how much of a market there was for Jagger’s work, but there was no reason why the gallery couldn’t turn a profit. “Let me play around, and I’ll show you what I come up with.”

“Looking forward to it.” Jagger headed out the door. From the couple of days I’d been at the gallery, I picked up that he had a love-hate relationship with success. My job was to make success the sexy little minx he couldn’t resist.

Without him here, all I could do was set up a hull of a site. I chose a black-and-white theme, minimalist and clean, not to take away from the main event—the art. I’d ask Leah for his bio, because getting it from Jagger would be like pulling teeth. He’d say something like, let the art tell them who I am. It didn’t work like that. The gallery hosted an event called First Friday at the beginning of every month. It was invite only, and Leah told me they were using it as a way to get the art community to come see his work and make them feel like they were getting something exclusive. In a few days here, it seemed everyone in Miami liked to talk a big game, and if we wanted to succeed, we’d have to back ours up.

I wrote up a press release for First Friday—which I bet Jagger hadn’t done—and stuck it on the page. He could pick the photos that accompanied it. Critical reviews were the last thing I had to get. From everything I knew about Jagger, he’d rather let the gallery fold than ask people to say nice things about his work, so I would do it for him.

None of the names stuck out to me when I looked over the invite list. They were probably important within their circles, but nobody had given a business email address. Jagger needed real street cred.

The rest of the afternoon was spent looking up local art critics and museums that focused on Jagger’s brand of art. It was like learning a new language, and I couldn’t afford to let anything get lost in translation.

I squeezed my eyes closed every time I hit send. I included the press release as well as a couple of my crappy cell phone pics of Jagger’s work in each email, accompanied by a line about the website being under construction. Now there was nothing left to do but wait. I had no business barging into the art world, but Jagger hadn’t done it yet, either. I prayed that overstepping my bounds paid off. It wasn’t only Jagger’s livelihood that depended on it. Mine did, too.

 

Chapter Three

Zach

Jagger Holiday was all about appearances. He’d learned from the best. Me.

He came up with this event called First Friday—invite only. To make it special, he put out a tray of cheese and invited a guy to come play guitar. The first couple of months he hosted it, the sneaky bastard had me ask a bunch of our old clients to come, under the guise he might get back in the game. The ladies were willing to spend money on things they found beautiful. Either that, or they thought the fastest way back into Jagger’s bed was through his photography. That door had been slammed shut, but one thing was clear—Jagger understood my clients better than I did.

I should stop giving him so much shit. His new business worked. Mine hadn’t got off the ground yet. I didn’t want to deal with the administrative and marketing bullshit. More like I had no idea what to do with it. I just wanted to get paid to fuck.

Something was different this month. There was never a line to get in the gallery before. I scanned the crowd outside and waved to Marianne, one of Jag’s old regulars. She called me over.

“Jagger’s doing so well,” she said when she kissed my cheek.

“He is. I didn’t know you were into art.”

“I wasn’t, until Jagger opened the gallery.” She gazed at the window, grinning at the full room like the people were there to see her son, not her former hired lover. “I’m here to support him.”

I didn’t get one of the coveted invites. Big surprise there. If I didn’t initiate contact with Jag lately, I didn’t hear from him. I caught his eye for a second through the window, but he looked away. Shit. Leah saw me and glared. She had her hands all over Jagger, aware the room was crawling with women he’d had sex with. She had nothing to worry about. He talked to a couple I’d never seen before. There weren’t many times I’d seen Jag get excited in the past decade, but his face glowed like they told him he won the lottery.

If he did, I was totally asking him for a loan to get the new agency off the ground. It was the least he could do.

A cute girl with a long red ponytail was at the front door. Never seen her before, either. She was in her twenties, tiny black dress barely keeping her cleavage under wraps, and freckles blossoming over her skin. She opened each invite and checked it against the list on her clipboard. No wonder this was taking so long. She laughed a little too loudly at one of the people in line, wrapping her ponytail around her wrist as she glanced at the full gallery.

My dick strained against my jeans. The things I could do with that ponytail…

She hadn’t turned anyone away yet. Which was good, because I hadn’t been invited.

“Hi.” She smiled brightly at me. “Do you have your invitation?”

“I’m here to see Mr. Holiday.” That was what the person in front of me had called him. “I can’t even say it with a straight face. I’m here for Jagger.”

Her smile wavered, and she glanced down at the clipboard. “But you didn’t get an invitation?”

“Nope.”

“What’s your name? Maybe he added you to the list. I thought I sent invitations to everyone. You should sign up for our mailing list, to make sure you get an invite to next month’s event.”

“I’ve known Jagger for twelve years. I don’t need to get on a mailing list to come to his party.” Apparently, he was doing better than I thought, if he hired this woman to make a mailing list and guard the door.

She did that thing again—wrapped her ponytail around her wrist. I’d love to see her hair down. It would reach her waist. And as if she knew she was torturing me, she gave it a good tug. My mouth watered.

“The line’s getting backed up. I’ve got to let in the people with invitations.” She looked over my shoulder and gave the person behind me the same smile she’d given me. I wasn’t special. Even worse, I’d been dismissed.

No way was I leaving. I stepped aside, running my hand over my hair, hoping it had the same effect on her like when she did it. But my hair was shorter, and she didn’t care about anything but those damned invitations.

I tried to catch Jagger’s eye again, but Leah was in his lap, and he didn’t give one shit about me. I refused to give up. I had to get in there to talk to our old clients. Let them know I was back in business.

The redhead waved me over when the line died down. “Sorry. We’re trying to make First Friday an exclusive event, so if I let everyone in, it defeats the purpose.”

“Who are you?” I looked her up and down, and she grabbed her hair, like it would protect her from me. “I’ve never seen you before, and suddenly, First Friday is a red-carpet soiree. Are you some sort of PR person?”

A flush spread over her cheeks, connecting the dots of her freckles. “Kind of. That’s my specialty. I’m helping Jagger out.”

“Maybe I should hire you.”

She widened her eyes. “I’m not looking for a job, but maybe I could give you a few pointers.”

I could definitely give her a few pointers. My dick ached at the thought. “I’d like that.”

“What do you do?” she asked.

“I’m an escort.” There was no way she didn’t know about Jag’s old job. The lawsuit and the scandal had been in everyone’s faces for weeks. He could play straight all he wanted in here, but I’d seen him do things to half this room that most people didn’t dare dream about.

“Oh. Are you the one starting the new business?”

Didn’t see that coming. I thought Jag had shoved me into a closet with the rest of his skeletons, now that he was a family man. “Yeah.”

“I can help you out.” But she still wasn’t letting me into the damn party. “You’re Zach, right?”

“Zach Collins. I’m afraid to ask what he’s said about me.” I held out my hand, and she squeezed it. Her skin was soft and warm. This woman would be amazing to have on my team. She’d put new clients at ease, and if she could make Jag’s event exclusive, I could only imagine what she could do for me. That is, if it was possible to do promotion for an escort service.

“All good things.” She glanced at the clipboard like she was giving me a second chance.

“You won’t find my name anywhere on that list,” I said.

Her mouth opened in a sparkly, peach O. “Why not?”

“Because he hates me.”

Preorder now and have The Passion Project waiting for you on your ereader August 1!

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I’m so excited that Sin City Vampire Club will be available on June 30! The Vegas Vampire world was the first one I ever created, and going back to it feels like coming home. Last we left Holly in The Fire Dancer, she had made good on her end of a promise. Let’s see if she gets what she wanted in return.

(If you haven’t read The Fire Dancer–beware of the spoilers!)
Copyright © 2017 Kristen Strassel All Rights Reserved.

 

Chapter One

Blade Bennett needed to reclaim his stake on Las Vegas, and he wasted no time starting with me.

His kisses hadn’t lost any of their fire while he was trapped in a low-rent ring of Hell. They intensified. The flames consumed me, and the cool concrete wall of the parking garage was a relief when he backed me against it.

I shivered when his hungry lips moved away from mine. Blade needed blood, and he was drawn to the throbbing pulse in my neck. Energy sustained vampires, but he’d been denied everything for so long he no longer recognized the difference between want and need.

Or those things had changed for him when he’d been locked away and prevented from leading the most powerful vampire clan in the city. He certainly hadn’t wavered on his blind determination to take what was his while he was incarcerated. And he planned to mainline his way back into the spotlight.

I prayed he didn’t sink his fangs into my flesh in the middle of a dirty Vegas parking garage. We were the only two creatures in the city with fire. Or we had been, anyway. Now it was only him. I couldn’t give him what he needed.

I hadn’t prepared myself for how it would feel to be so close to the fire. Blade was my best chance to get it back.

“Holly,” Rainey said sharply.

Blade had no problem getting to work in front of the person who kept my world spinning. Calling Rainey my girlfriend was taking the easy way out.  That wasn’t something I was good at. Rainey and I had been together as long as I could remember, which was pretty close to forever. Blade and I separated with a grunt.

An apology was in order, but I wasn’t sure to whom.

“We have to get him back to the apartment.” I pulled up on the car door handle, but Rainey hadn’t unlocked it. “The sun will come up soon.”

The moon moved through the sky like a ticking bomb.

“We can’t bring him back to our house.” Rainey’s tone had yet to soften. I’d broken my promise to her in one shared heartbeat.

So much time was spent on planning to get Blade out of jail, we forgot to discuss what to do with him once we succeeded. We’d agreed on an outcome, but not how to get there. The hungry determination had yet to fade from Blade’s eyes.

“He doesn’t have anywhere else to go.” I glanced at him, knowing too much contact with him was dangerous in every facet of my life.

“Just for the day.” His voice was gravelly, stolen away from him along with the rest of the kiss. “Give me a chance to get my shit together, and I’ll go.”

My heart throbbed as the two most important people in my life played tug of war with it. Rainey and I should’ve thought this part of the plan through. But the problem was that we made decisions for Blade without consulting him first. The three of us had no time to come to grips with the fact I loved them both.

“The apartment isn’t vampire-proof.” Rainey unlocked the doors and Blade and I jumped into the passengers’ seats before she had a chance to take off without us. “We just finished fire-proofing it.”

Tires always squealed on the garage concrete, but Rainey’s shrieked as she high-tailed it out of there.

“You can put a blanket over the window. No place I’ve ever stayed has been meant for a vampire,” Blade said from the backseat.

My heart went to Blade in that round. I turned to put my hand on his filthy knee. It poked through his torn jeans. Besides the fire, there was another thing that Blade and I had in common—we were both desperate to find the place we belonged. For completely different reasons, we’d decided that place was Las Vegas. It would’ve been a much smoother transition if anyone else wanted us here.

Want, need—those things got tangled easily, and complicated quickly when you were used to having nothing.

**

“How should I do this?” Rainey eyed the sliding glass door in the living room as soon as we got home. As reluctant as she was to host a sleepover with Blade, she wanted an in-house vampire explosion even less. Forget getting the security deposit back after that. “I have an extra set of sheets, but it’s not enough to block the sun.”

Blade looked as anxious as she did. “How big is your closet?”

“Pretty big, but Holly took it over with all her stuff.” She had to twist the knife and get that detail in there. “Her stage clothes take up a ton of room.”

He shrugged. “I don’t care. I’ve slept standing up ever since I was captured. Let me take a shower and I’ll do anything you say.”

My stomach flip-flopped at the visual he’d painted. “The bathroom’s the door on the right.”

He was in worse shape than I’d realized. I’d visited him several times while he was in jail, but dungeon lighting left a lot to be desired. So did parking garage ambiance. Now that he was on my turf, I could get a batter look at him. He was covered in soot, but his blue eyes glowed, and several lines on his face shone with fresh blood. Dirt matted his blond hair.

The shower ran behind the closed bathroom door, and he groaned when he stepped under it. I winced; his pain was a tangible thing.

“What the hell were you thinking, kissing him like that?” Rainey snapped me back from Blade’s plight. “I won’t share you, Holly. If I realized you didn’t understand that, I would’ve never gone along with this ridiculous plan.”

“Calm down.” Worst thing I could’ve said. Rainey didn’t spontaneously combust on the regular like I did—or I used to—but it was about to happen. “Did you take a good look at him? He’s ripped to shreds.”

“He was in jail. He didn’t just come home from war,” Rainey muttered. I begged to differ.

“We have to talk. All three of us. And we have to listen to him, too. Let’s make it through the day first. Get some rest.” Jail didn’t destroy Blade, but a sleepover at Rainey’s might.

Rainey headed to the bedroom, tearing the closet door open and tossing my shoes and stage costumes to the side, under the guise of creating space for Blade. “They could come looking for him. I don’t want those people in my house,” she said as she worked.

Those people wouldn’t survive above ground.” If they were even people anymore. That underground jail was a suburb of Hell with an easy commute.

“That’s not who I’m talking about.” She glared at me. “Monsters roam free in Las Vegas. I know you’ll do whatever it takes to get your fire back, Holly. But you have to realize that I have limits.”

Blade would have expectations, too. I’d led him on, given him hope because he had what I wanted. All I’d thought about was my fire. I’d been accused many times of being selfish, and this was a shining example of it.

“We’ll all be happier if I have my fire back.” The water shut off in the bathroom. I needed to wrap this up before Blade came out. He knew enough of my weaknesses. I had one advantage right now.

I was his savior.

“Best shower ever.” Blade came out in a towel and kissed the top of my head, batting the rage ball back to Rainey. “Where’s that closet?”

Rainey smiled brightly through gritted teeth. “Right here. Hope you don’t mind—I snore.”

She never snored. I considered sleeping on the couch.

“I’ll wash your clothes for you.” I ignored Rainey rolling her eyes and grabbed the bundle of filth from under Blade’s arm. “Are you hungry? Oh, never mind.”

Was he ever. A malnourished vampire was lousy at keeping secrets. “I wish you two would stop fighting. It’s like crunching on nails,” he said.

He clutched the towel, but my gaze was drawn to it as it slipped. His lean body rippled with power, and the indent of his hipbones directed my attention to what I shouldn’t have been thinking about. Damn that V.  Even bruised and broken, Blade was still beautiful. In a totally different way than Rainey. It was a painful reminder that no one could have it all.

I pulled my pillow and a blanket from the bed, ignoring Rainey’s grumbling. Blade juggled the new items and the towel. Please don’t drop it. He’d choke on my desire.

“Get some sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow when our heads are clear and we know what we want. We’ve got work to do. It doesn’t get any easier from here,” I said.

Blade nodded, but didn’t say anything before he closed the door behind him.

“Come to bed.” Rainey was my lifeline. Without her, I’d slip into Blade’s nightmare without a second thought. It would be too easy to believe I belonged there. Rainey was a constant reminder I deserved better. “You’re not totally recovered, either. Tonight’s taken a lot out of you.”

“Thank you,” I said as I crawled under the sheet. Our lips met in a wordless concession. Love was supposedly never having to say you were sorry, but that was bullshit. I’d spend the rest of my life making this up to Rainey.

She’d nursed me back to health after I’d lost my fire. I’d burned from the inside out, and from the sound of it, she’d brought me to her house in an urn. I lost many things the night of the fire. My father, Cash Logan, perished at the same time I burned. And Cirque Macabre, the show that had made me a household name, had to go dark with its two biggest stars out of commission. But Rainey had always been there for me.

She sighed against my lips. Sleep would claim her any moment. “You know I’ll do anything for you, Holly.”

I held her until she fell asleep, kissing her as I figured out how to explain I’d do the same for her. I wanted so many things. My fire. For Rainey and Blade to get along. Another chance to perform on stage. After that night, I swore I’d never need anyone again.

 

Chapter Two

“We need to talk.” I ripped the closet door open, having no idea if Blade was awake or not. I’d stood outside the door until the only light in the room was from cars passing in our apartment complex parking lot. I’d lived with one other vampire, Cash, but he resided in a concrete bunker six feet underground. Appropriate. Nothing could touch him.

Shit. Blade slept naked. I’d spent the afternoon psyching myself up for this talk. I came up with every angle that he could take to disagree with my plan, and made sure I had a rock-solid rebuttal. But as my gaze fell to the curve of his butt, and the blanket falling away as he stretched, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t considered. The way my body reacted to Blade, the thing deep inside that wanted to ignite even though it had forgotten how. It hurt, in more ways than one.

“Good morning.” He grinned at me, his eyes not totally open yet. A good day’s sleep, even if it was on the floor of my girlfriend’s walk-in closet, did him wonders. Last night’s angry purple slashes were pink and tight as new skin replaced the horror of what he’d experienced before I freed him. His hair was wild against my pillow, like he done much more than sleep.

Wild impulses flickered through my veins at the thought of it.  He reminded me I still did have my fire, somewhere deep inside.

“Got any coffee? I haven’t had it since I was alive but I kept thinking about it while I was underground. I’d kill for a cup.” He chuckled when I flinched. “Kidding.”

“I’ll go make some.” I gulped as he sat up with no regard for where the blanket fell. Other morning rituals had followed Blade to the afterlife as well. “Put your clothes on before you come out.”

It was a couple second sprint from the bedroom to the kitchen. I leaned against the counter and concentrated on my thundering heart. Anything to forget his giant erection. Blade and I shared a kinship; an understanding, even though we had many differences. He’d worked with my father, providing him women for his on-stage kills. Blade benefitted from the horror, too, satiating himself on the domination and the desperation of the victims in their last moments of life, when they would’ve done anything to reverse their fate.

I was desperate. I couldn’t give him the one thing he wanted more than anything—a chance to dominate me. If I were to get what I wanted, it had to be a fair fight.

Blade honored my first request. He put his clothes on. They were torn, but clean. “Need some help?”

“Yeah.” I pushed the coffee maker at him. “I drink tea. This is Rainey’s.”

She’d be home any minute, and she wouldn’t want his paws on her coffee machine. Certain things she held sacred. Blade whistled low. “Someone’s serious about her coffee. I’ve never used a French press.” He looked up at me and grinned. “Kinda psyched about it. Does she keep instruction manuals anywhere?”

Like I had any idea. “I didn’t think guys used those.”

Blade stopped examining the coffee machine and stood straight. “Coffee is a serious matter. I can’t risk starting my first day of freedom on a sour note.”

Good to know.

He motioned to the counter. “Grab your phone, we’ll look it up.”

Rainey texted me. Several times. Checking in. Making sure everything’s going okay with Blade.

Hey… you there?

If you don’t answer me, I’m leaving work early. I should’ve never left you alone with him.

No, she shouldn’t have. Everything’s cool. We’re making coffee. I prayed her answer didn’t pop up as I handed the phone to Blade.

“Okay, we need to boil water. You can handle that, right?” Blade winked.

“My specialty.” I filled the pot and put it on the stove. “We still need to talk.”

“Can’t it wait until I have my coffee?” Blade groaned. “I’ve been looking forward to this for… how long was I in that jail? I lost track of time.”

It was like he knew I meant to break his heart and he intended to beat me to the punch. “A couple weeks,” I muttered. It gave me the perfect segue to what I had to tell him. “A lot of things happened while you were there.”

He clasped his hands together like he meant to pray. “Please tell me someone took out The Mistress.”

Blade’s ex, Callie Chabot, was The Mistress. She’d been a vampire for all of about twenty minutes before she’d been named the leader of the Las Vegas clan that Blade believed should belong to him. She also killed my father. We could both do without her stirring up a massive shitstorm everywhere she went. “Nope, still doing what she does best.”

He rolled his eyes. “Good. I had a lot of time to think about how I’d thank her for tossing me into the depths of Hell.” The light faded from his face—the memories were still too fresh. Visitors weren’t allowed in the bunker located deep below the Flamingo resort, but I managed to get in. I wasn’t sure if it had been luck or misfortune. Blade reached for me, and a smile played on his lips when we touched. I wished I could’ve shown him the sun. He cupped my chin. “What else happened?”

“Cirque Macabre closed, since I’m temporarily out of commission and they had to clean Cash up with a mop. Soul Divider’s show is over, too. They imploded the Riviera. Too bad they didn’t leave Noah inside when they did it.” He was their singer, and the only vampire I hated more than Callie. I snickered, then took a deep breath. “Rainey and I are a couple again.”

“I knew that.” He let go of my chin. I hated how much I missed his touch. “The two of you belong together.”

Which was exactly what Rainey had said about Blade and me. “I still feel—”

“Don’t.” The teapot whistled, and Blade reached past me to grab it. He swallowed hard as he poured the steaming water over the coffee grounds. “Thinking about you, us, kept me alive in those dark days.”

Now I was the one who should’ve cautioned him. “I won’t apologize for what I feel.”

“If you know anything about me, it should be how much I hate coming in second to anyone.” He stirred the coffee too vigorously. “It’s me or Rainey.”

“I’m sorry.” It didn’t begin to cover it. I didn’t expect the lump that formed in my throat. Blade was one step ahead of me at every turn. “More than that happened while you were gone.”

He leaned against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. I jumped when the key turned in the lock. Rainey was home. “What else?”

“I went to see Soul Divider.” My voice cracked. Hindsight was crystal clear. I’d traveled to many dangerous places, ancient ones full of people who didn’t understand my powers, but that trip to the Riviera was the stupidest decision I’d ever made. The consequences would forever be my souvenir. Putting words to the memories of the night was almost impossible.

Rainey gripped the back of my arm. “That bastard Noah sent guards after her. They pulled her up on stage and he humiliated her. Ripped her dress off and everything.”

Blade’s eyes did that glowy red thing. It didn’t scare me anymore. “Fucking bastard.”

“You’re preaching to the choir. Noah’s Rachel’s puppet. You need to be concerned with her. Forget Callie. Rachel’s a ruthless bitch and she’s running completely unchecked.” Rainey slammed two mugs down on the counter. She knew it would be a long night. Rainey had no reason to be nocturnal besides the fact I insisted on slumming with the vampires. “Cream? Sugar?”

“Just cream. Rachel came to me a lot at Embrace. She had a ton of questions,” Blade said. “Cash warned me to stay away from her, but he was never big on explanations.”

Honesty wasn’t a strong point in any vampire. I reminded myself to take everything Blade said with a mountain of salt. “He created her.”

Blade sighed after taking a long sip of his coffee. It was easy to forget he was quite possibly the enemy. “She really pissed Cash off. I felt bad for her, because she’s got power. She’s frustrated. It’s flowing through her veins and she’s got no outlet for it. She’s being wasted in this clan.”

Rainey rolled her eyes. “I don’t think you heard me correctly. She attacked Holly.”

“I heard you just fine. And I know what you want me to do. I won’t destroy her. She was created by a leader. It’s in her blood. If the clan must have a woman at the helm, it should be her. We need her on our side.”  Besides coffee, Blade had a craving for revenge.

“No way. She’s too dangerous. She doesn’t know the limits of her powers.” And the most important thing. “She took my fire. She only neutralized yours. I’m not a full vampire. It’s not a fair fight.”

“We’ll agree to disagree.” Blade put his mug in the sink. “Anyone want to be my plus one—or two—at Embrace? It’s a perfect night for a welcome back party.”

“No,” Rainey and I said in unison.

Blade headed to the door. I wondered if he realized what a long walk he had ahead of him. I chased after him. “We’re not done. I set you free. You have to hold up your end of the bargain.”

He stopped. “And what was that?”

He hadn’t promised me anything. I’d made way too many assumptions. “I want my fire back. And my show.”

“You’ll get your fire back, Holly.” He licked his lips, still holding the doorknob. I wondered if he was trying to remember the way I tasted. “I want things, too. Don’t forget that.”

 

Chapter Three

“I hate to say I told you so.” Rainey extracted Blade’s mug from the sink with two fingers like it was covered in creepy-crawlies and put it in the dishwasher. He had no idea that dishes in the sink was one of her biggest pet peeves. There was a poetry to it.

“No, you don’t.” I poured the rest of the now lukewarm water into a mug and steeped tea. “What’s the score now? Vampires, forty-seven, Holly, nothing? I get it. I can’t win. But I’ll keep fighting until I get my fire back.”

“I know.” Rainey padded into the living room, kicking off her shoes and curling her feet underneath her on the couch. “You’ll keep getting stronger. We can practice spells that build power. You don’t need him.”

Rainey had a grimoire, an ancient spell book. She’d always had it, and I’d taken it for granted until she’d used the recipes in there to rebuild my body from a pile of ashes, and to mask her identity so the prison warden believed she was Callie. Forget the vampires, Rainey was the most powerful creature in Las Vegas.

I rubbed my temples. Time made me dizzy, and for once I welcomed it. I hardly understood my immortality. I needed to make sense of hers.

“I felt something when Blade was here.” I knew Rainey would roll her eyes. “It was like trying to flick a lighter on, but it didn’t have any fuel.”

“That’s really good. It’s still there.” She went to the bookshelf. The spell book waited for her in a satin box tied closed with a faded and frayed pink ribbon. It contained so many secrets, she needed both hands to take it out of the box.  More ribbons hung out of it, saving the spots of her favorite spells. She didn’t cast often, only out of necessity. But a girl could never be too prepared.

“But that’s the first time I felt it since Rachel stole my powers from me.” It was hard to talk about, even with Rainey. I hated admitting defeat. I sat on the far cushion of the couch, reading the spell book upside down. “Blade did something to make me feel that way.”

Rainey raised an eyebrow.

“Something supernatural,” I clarified. “He didn’t touch me.”

The image of his bare body burned in my memory. Not the kind of burn I wanted, though. I hoped there was a spell to erase Blade Bennett from my memory. Even if I could time travel again—Rachel swiped that power from me too, the greedy little bitch—I couldn’t change anything about vampire history. Blade was trouble—he’d tangle himself into every facet of my life until I couldn’t remember what it was like before him. The good old days, when I didn’t know who I was or where I came from. I needed to be careful of what I wished for.

“It’s a start. We can work with that. You’ll need to channel that feeling…” Rainey trailed off when she realized what that feeling was. “We’ll find a spell to bring it back.”

“I’m willing to try anything.” I was afraid to touch the book. It held powers I didn’t understand, and Rainey regarded the text like she feared it.

“Don’t rely on him. You’re blinded by the possibility of getting your fire back. He’s worked with Noah in the past, and he’s not willing to break ties with Rachel. He’s not looking out for you, he’s looking out for himself.”

It hurt to hear, no matter how true it was. The only person who’d ever looked out for me was Rainey. “I’m willing to try any spell in that book. But I can guarantee there’s nothing in that book that will get me back on stage,” I said.

“Because you don’t need a spell. The power’s inside of you. Nobody can steal that. I See the crowds roaring again, calling your name. And you love it. I See you happy.”

Rainey didn’t need a spell to access her gift of Sight. Messages came to her, like wisps of smoke, holding her captive in a magic-induced haze until they were over. It was scary as hell to look at her and realize she’d stepped away for a moment. Her visions often came in the form of riddles, but when they came to pass, it was like she’d written a script.

Our gazes locked, and I leaned carefully over the spell book and kissed her. The last thing I needed was to put my hand on some horrific spell and absorb negative vibes while we were locked together, breathing for each other. Rainey lit a completely different fire inside me than Blade did. Warmth. Faith. Safety.

It should’ve been enough.

Rainey chuckled against my lips as I carefully climbed around the spell book and into her lap. She was everything I wasn’t—soft and voluptuous. I envied her body. I was so skinny after burning to a pile of ash. I hadn’t been on stage since my accident. I wasn’t in any shape to be in front of an audience.

“What do you suggest?” I asked.

“Another show started already at Theater Macabre, so we can’t get our show back. The Riviera is gone. The only question left is why Immortal Dilemma is closing? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“What have you heard?” I’d been so focused on Blade’s get out of jail free card I hadn’t been paying attention to the vamps who ran free above ground.

“According to the gossip sites, people think they’re kicking Tristan out of the band. He’s been partying like crazy lately.”

“That’s the whole premise of the show. Sex, blood, and rock n’ roll.” An army of women roamed the strip wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the band’s battle cry. “They created their own monster. Nobody can be mad they got what they asked for.”

Easier said than done.

Rainey shrugged. “No one has any other theories. The show closes on New Year’s Eve, then Sin City Vampire Club will be empty.”

“Tristan’s family owns that hotel. They bought it so he had a playground.” Or a babysitter, depending on who you talked to. Tristan Trevosier evoked an emotion among everyone in the undead world whether they loved him or hated him. He couldn’t be expected to go quietly into the night. It wasn’t his style. “It won’t be empty for long.”

There had to be a plan in place.

“I think you should talk to him.” Rainey played with my fingers, avoiding eye contact. “Make a proposal.”

It was official. Hell had frozen over. “Are you feeling okay? You just suggested I work with vampires.”

Indecision twisted her lips. “They understand what you do, and if they’re invested in you, they won’t hurt you, or let anyone else hurt you.”

“They’d control me.” I was done letting other people make decisions for me. The whole point of getting my fire back was so I didn’t have to rely on anyone—vampires, humans, or creatures who ticked the ‘other’ box.

Rainey’s face glazed over for a few seconds. “I See your face on billboards all over the city, surrounded by fire. Use Tristan as a stepping-stone, and take back what’s yours. The arrangement doesn’t have to be forever. Think of what you have to do in the short term to get what you want in the long run.”

My next kiss caught her off guard. Her head fell back against the cushion, and we both gasped when the spell book landed on the floor with a thunk.

Then I kicked it. Crap.

“Sorry.” I apologized more to the book than to her. I leaned over to pick it up, and I swear it zapped me. Creepy ass thing. The spirits that called that book home were not accustomed to disrespectful treatment. My cheeks burned as Rainey took the book from me.

“Wanna be my date on New Year’s Eve?” I asked. “Go see our old friends in Immortal Dilemma?” Who were not our friends at all.

Rainey placed the grimoire back in its box. No more magic tonight. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

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Stardust was released as part of the Sultry and Sinful box set, but now you can grab the story on its own! This is the story of how Holly and Rainey came to Vegas, so if you haven’t met them yet, now is a great time, since–spoiler alert–there’s more Cirque Macabre coming soon.

Rainey must cast a spell to destroy vampires, but her girlfriend’s been offered the opportunity of a lifetime—starring in a vampire show.
Rainey’s always considered her powers a curse. She casts spells and sees the future—most of it anyway. Ever since she moved to Las Vegas, shadowy figures have hidden in her visions, and she’s worried what she can’t see will harm her girlfriend, Holly.
When Rainey is asked to cast a spell to destroy vampires, she realizes they’re the blacked-out figures from her visions. But Holly’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime, starring in a show on the Strip with a vampire band. Rainey must figure out what will hurt Holly more—casting the spell or handing her over to the vampires.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2qADwYm
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2raKZ3n
iBooks:  http://apple.co/2smlREA
Nook, and Google Play: https://books.pronoun.com/stardust/

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Happy book birthday to Silent Night! Kyndra and Aidan are joining the rest of the Night Songs crew with their rerelease.

This Christmas isn’t about celebration. For me, it’s about survival. I’ve spent my days couch surfing, hanging onto my dead-end job by a thread, and trying to avoid my awful ex.

At Christmas Eve Mass, I hope to find solace. Instead, I find Aidan, a handsome, generous stranger who doesn’t feel like a stranger at all. Problem is, Aidan agrees. When he claims to be a vampire who’s been writing historical fiction under a pen name, I think he’s delusional. But when he claims his novels are about me, I’m sure he’s insane.

I can’t buy into his fantasy. But when my past comes back to haunt me, and my life spirals even more, Aidan and his fiction might be the only thing that will truly set me free.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nCTpgl
Nook: http://bit.ly/2nRY5Ba
iBooks: http://apple.co/2n9REFy
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2pdkN5e

Note: Silent Night will be joining the rest of the series in Kindle Unlimited. If you read on the other retailers, grab it now!

Aidan’s lips left mine and I gasped. I wanted him back. He lowered his lips to my neck, licking and sucking. That was better. I shivered and burned at the same time. I had no idea I’d been starving for any sort of feeling. His weight crushed me when I pulled him down on me. Aidan stopped kissing my neck and I let out a small cry. “Don’t stop,” I whispered. “Never stop.”

 

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Part of the Fated & Forbidden Collection. Each book stands alone but builds to one helluva climax. In Fated & Forbidden, the very existence of supernatural creatures balances on the edge of a knife. Are they worthy enough to continue living? Or were they a mistake that should be wiped from the world? There is one thing and one thing only that can save them: true love.

FIRE BRAND

Fire Brand is the story of sassy siren Avila, a fallen queen, and phoenix shifter King Asher of Chronopolis. Avila fears that Asher’s been played out of his city, but he shows her that no one plays the player….especially when he’s about to take a Queen.

Pirates have made an absolute fool out of me. After a violent invasion, I lost my crown and control of The Bay. My fellow sirens have vowed to take our invaders out one by one, luring them to their death with the one thing they can’t resist—sex. But I want to drive those bastards to their knees. I must form an alliance with the King of Chronopolis, the only man who can survive the night in my bed—phoenix shifter Asher MacKay.

Asher insists he loses a little bit of his humanity every time he spends the night with me. I think ruthless looks good on him. And each night I set his ashes free, I feel something more for him. Damn it. Falling in love was not part of the plan.
Now that the pirates have checked The Bay off their list of Things to Destroy, they’ve turned their sights to Chronopolis. Asher must choose a Queen that will strengthen his alliances in the region, and apparently, I’m not an option. I have a proven track record of failure.
I’ve woken up with the hangover from hell and a fire tattoo on my wrist that tells me what I’ve known all along. Asher and I are meant to be together. The clock is ticking—if we have any chance of saving our cities, I must convince him I am his Queen before the Blood Moon.

Available in Kindle Unlimited!

Yay! You found the moon graphic! Click on it and check out the next blog!
Have you read the books? Enter the scavenger hunt! There are 10 goodie bags full of prizes from the Fated & Forbidden authors up for grabs: enter here. 

The Challenge by Kallysten (the free prologue to the series)
Surrendering Saul by Holly Trent
Serena’s Salvation by Crystal Dawn
Dragon’s Cowboy by Rinelle Grey
Courting Fate by Cynthia Fox
Fire Brand by Kristen Strassel
Fallen Ashes by T.F. Walsh
Lone Wolf by K.De Long
Untamed Heart by Kim Faulks
Blood Moon (conclusion) by Kallysten

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We’ve got a book birthday in the house! The storyline with Callie, Tristan and Blade, as well as Melanie, Ryder, and Soul Divider is now complete with the release of We Own the Night. If you’ve been waiting on this series because you want to binge read—now’s the time!

The Night Songs Collection is urban fantasy, but this one does include a HEA.

Keep reading for an excerpt!

We Own the Night by Kristen Strassel

We Own the Night

The Las Vegas vampire clan is on the verge of chaos. Our leader is dead—the permanent kind, a bloodthirsty vampire is on the loose, and it’s all my fault.

The only vampire who has any idea how to fix it is Cash Logan, a magician shrouded in mystery. I’m not sure what side he’s on, but I have to take a chance on the only vampire who’s willing to give the answers I need, no matter how dark and frightening they may be.

To prove I’m worthy of being a leader, I have to take on the person I betrayed and destroy him.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2ntewTY
Nook: http://bit.ly/2ooHmTR
iBooks: http://apple.co/2na11VD
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2q4FUd2

Here’s a sneak peek!

Headlights were coming straight for me, and I jumped as high as I could, landing on the hood of a red sports car. I held onto the windshield wipers to not be thrown off as the driver skidded to a stop.

Cash Logan pushed his dark glasses on top of his head when he got out of the car. He had the nerve to laugh as he offered me a hand. “Hello, Mistress.”

“You drive like a frigging maniac,” I spat as I climbed off the car. “And don’t call me that.”

He jerked my body close enough so his long hair tangled in mine. “If you want people to start treating you like a leader, accept what you are.”

A much blunter version of what Tristan had said to me inside the bar. I’d learned my lesson, and I wouldn’t fight with Cash. I only had one chance to get things right with him.

I understood why Lennon had a thing for him. Something about him truly was magical.

“I can help you, Callie.”

His words snapped me out of my daze. “What do you want from me?”

“I haven’t decided yet. But I know exactly who to ask when I need a favor.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what a Cash Logan favor looked like. It wasn’t only magic that swirled around him. Magic was open for debate. He had power, and no one could argue with that.

Tristan revved the engine again. “Your creator is waiting for you,” Cash said.

“I know.”

“I like him.” Cash tipped his head toward the Viper. “This comes easily to him, and that’s why they all hate him. He’s meant for this, and so are you.”

“I’m not.” It wasn’t dangerous to admit my shortcomings. Cash knew them all. Vampires were lousy at keeping secrets.

“Nobody wants to help you because they’re afraid of you. You have something they don’t. That’s why they’re trying to keep you down. Focus on their energy, and you’ll figure out your advantage.”

“And you’re not trying to take advantage of me?”

“No.” Only a true magician could help me succeed.

Tristan leaned on the horn of the Viper. I really wanted to give him the finger. “I have to go clean up that mess.”

Cash grinned. “Don’t let them hold you down, Callie.”

Silent Night, Book 4 of the Night Songs Collection will be coming in May!


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The Night Songs rerelease continues with Night Moves! This is Melanie and Ryder’s story. And if you’re saying, WTF Kristen, you left us totally hanging with Callie in that office, and you want us to read someone else’s story. Yes, I do. 🙂 Melanie, Ryder, and Soul Divider figure prominently into the rest of Callie’s story, and this is the best time to meet them.

This story was so fun to write because we meet Soul Divider on tour. One of my bucket list items is to randomly drive around the country, stirring up trouble, and then driving off into the sunset. Melanie and her best friend Erin get to do just that.

You may know that I based Immortal Dilemma on Motley Crue. Think Bon Jovi and Slaughter for Soul Divider.

Enjoy the book! We Own the Night is coming in 12 days!

Night Moves

We bonded in darkness, over darkness.
I let my stupid job ruin everything—my social life was non-existent and my boyfriend was practically a stranger. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I came home to find him exploring other options—blonder, bustier options—but instead I made the biggest mistake of my life.
 
Now I’m on the run. And I happened to find my favorite rock band, Soul Divider, at some middle of nowhere motel. I’d fantasized about Ryder Maddox playing me like his favorite guitar so many times, and now he’s invited me on tour.
But Ryder and the rest of the band have a secret of their own. They traded their mortality for another chance at fame.
 
Ryder might have forever, but as the bodies pile up in the wake of the tour, I wonder how long until I’m next.
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