Monday, April 24, 2017

Cover Re-Reveal ~ Letting Go (Anchored Hearts, Vol. 1.5) by J.M. Witt


Cover Re-Reveal
 Letting Go (Anchored Hearts Vol. 1.5)
By J.M. Witt





About the Book:

What happens when the girl who's only read about BDSM meets a flawed Dom? Will their tortured souls find love amidst the pleasure and the pain? Or will misconceptions and unrealistic expectations destroy them before they’ve even begun?
James Benedict III, local playboy and successful real estate investor, hasn’t stopped thinking about Cassidy since the horrific events that occurred in his bar several months ago. Working hard to protect her and still blaming himself for her grief, he’s unable to stay away any longer. Crashing back into her life, he discovers he may need her more than she needs him.
Cassidy Charles is slowly putting the pieces of her life back together once again. She's managed to leave everything to do with that horrible night behind her, including James. When he reappears, she finds the attraction undeniable and falls into a lifestyle that rivals her fantasies. As her demons come head to head with his, she worries that his world will destroy her.
When your past threatens to destroy your future, how long will you hang on before Letting Go?

Purchase Links:


 Meet the Author:

J.M. Witt

Residing in Metro Detroit, International Bestselling Author J. M. started writing poetry and short stories as a young girl. Rediscovering her love of reading, after having her fourth child, she started writing again. She also works full time as an Office Manager for a large landscaping company.Letting Go, her first publication, was released in December 2013 and My Secret Submission, her 9th, was published in May 2016. She enjoys music, time with friends, sarcasm, concerts, spending time with her children and husband, traveling, and getting lost in a good book. And if you ask nicely, she might show you her flogger and let you sample it.

Contact the Author:

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Blog Tour ~ Provocative (White Lies Book One) by Lisa Renee Jones


Provocative (White Lies Book One) by Lisa Renee Jones 

Release Date: April 18th 


Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book one in the sexy and intense new White Lies duet by Lisa Renee Jones! 

About the Book:

There are those moments in life that are provocative in their very existences, that embed in our minds forever, and sometimes our very souls. They change us, mold us, maybe even save save us. But some are darker, dangerous. If we allow them to, they control us. Seduce us. Quite possibly even destroy us.

The moment I walked into Sonoma’s Reid Winter Winery and Vineyard and made eye contact with Faith Winter for the first time was one of those moments. Provocative because I know at least one of her secrets, of which, I suspect she has many. Provocative because she believes I was a stranger to her when we met, but I am not. Provocative because I sought her out, with no intention of touching her. But now I have. Now I want her. Now I have to have her. But that changes nothing. It doesn’t change why I came for her.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: 

Hi everyone! I’m so excited that PROVOCATIVE is available now! Just a few notes: if you order PROVOCATIVE this week only you will get $1 off and it will only be $2.99 - I will be increasing this price at the end of the week! You’ll also receive the FREE novella Rebecca’s Forgotten Journals (these are NEW journal entries) in the back of your copy! PS - if you missed your chance to receive any of my bonus scenes from Amy & Liam, Chris & Sara, or Ella & Kayden, this is your last chance to get them! Register your order of PROVOCATIVE here - http://bit.ly/2pkQ49b and you’ll receive them early next week! 

Watch the Book Trailer: http://bit.ly/ProvocativeTrailer
READ CHAPTER ONE ➜ http://lisareneejones.com/duet


Read PROVOCATIVE Today!








Book two: SHAMELESS will be out on July 11th!







Meet the Author: 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones is the author of the highly acclaimed INSIDE OUT series. Suzanne Todd (producer of Alice in Wonderland) on the INSIDE OUT series: Lisa has created a beautiful, complicated, and sensual world that is filled with intrigue and suspense. Sara’s character is strong, flawed, complex, and sexy - a modern girl we all can identify with. In addition to the success of Lisa's INSIDE OUT series, Lisa has published many successful titles. The TALL, DARK AND DEADLY series and THE SECRET LIFE OF AMY BENSEN series, both spent several months on a combination of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists. Lisa is presently working on a dark, edgy new series, Dirty Money, for St. Martin's Press. Prior to publishing Lisa owned multi-state staffing agency that was recognized many times by The Austin Business Journal and also praised by the Dallas Women's Magazine. In 1998 Lisa was listed as the #7 growing women owned business in Entrepreneur Magazine. Lisa loves to hear from her readers. You can reach her at www.lisareneejones.com and she is active on Twitter and Facebook daily.

Connect with the Author:



Twitter: @LisaReneeJones

Stay in touch with Lisa by joining her mailing list:


Book Blitz ~ The Gentlemen's Club by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

The Gentlemen's Club
by 
Emmanuelle de Maupassant

About the Book:

Victorian London, 1898: by night, Lord McCaulay falls under the enchantment of Mademoiselle Noire, and her theatre of sexual exhibitionism. Humiliated by her before his peers, he becomes intent on revenge, but is drawn only further into her web, entering a dark spiral of erotic obsession. Meanwhile, by day, Lord McCaulay’s path intersects that of young aristocrat Maud, as she struggles to assert her identity against the domination of men.

Recommended by Stylist Magazine: sexiest reads of 2015

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

$0.99 for a limited time!


❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

Read Snippet #1:


He can smell the musk of her skin and see the pulse at her throat. Her décolletage is barely covered by the flimsy chiffon, breasts rising with each breath. He touches the end of the crop to her chest, brushing the silk covering her delicate nipple.  
He pulls the ribbon, so that the fabric falls away, revealing bare flesh in earnest: her belly, dark bush and legs.
The blood rises within him and his tongue grows dry in his mouth. His feelings are all confusion, thanks in part to the stirring of lust in his loins.
His hands clench against the stem of the crop, itching to reach out and seize the abundant camber of her breasts, to thrust his mouth at them, to devour them, to wrench his teeth at those ripe nipples, to bite them until she cries for his mercy.
He would graze his mouth down her belly and bury his face in her bush. He imagines its plump wetness and the taste of her juices. His desire to consume her near chokes him.
‘I’m waiting,’ she prompts, her voice silken.




Read Snippet #2:


Her eyes have grown dark with hunger. ‘There is a wild intoxication in being watched, knowing that every man is waiting for me, their impulse holding them captive.’
Her voice, so close to her ear, is almost a hiss.
‘At those moments, I control them, through their eagerness to take possession of my flesh. I satisfy their desires and my own, relishing that which others would consider barbarous.’


Read Snippet #3:


‘Lord McCaulay, I must be convinced that you can honour your part, allowing me to invite others into our bed.’
At this, she returns to the mirrored door and opens it wide, beckoning two to join them: the huge African and the young Zeus. Both naked, one ebony dark and the other golden, they exhibit strength and beauty such as no man can deny.
Knowing McCaulay is watching, she flicks her ostrich feather over her new lovers’ bodies, her eyes and touch roving to their tight buttocks, their biceps, and their toned abdominal muscles.



Meet the Author:

Emmanuelle de Maupassant lives with her husband (maker of fruit cake) and her little scruffy terrier (connoisseur of bacon treats and squeaky toys). She enjoys marzipan and sushi, and wild, windswept walks on Scottish beaches. Gin and tonic, always.


Social Media Links

Amazon Author Page : http://amzn.to/2o7xlhx

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Read an Excerpt from Dark Alpha's Lover (Reapers, Book 4) by Donna Grant


About the Book:

There is no escaping a Reaper. I am an elite assassin, part of a brotherhood that only answers to Death. And when Death says your time is up, I am coming for you...

I answer to no one but Death. I am impenetrable, impervious, immortal. I exist to do Death's bidding and no one--not Reaper nor human nor Fae--can stand in my way. Except for the bewitching half-Fae, Catriona. She swears the magic in her family passed her by, but I know better. This woman is strong. This woman is powerful. And when her abilities surge forth, no one will be able to stop the Dark Fae from coming for her. Except for me. I want to keep her close. I want to keep her safe. I want lose myself to her, again and again...


Read an Excerpt:

Chapter One
Galway, Ireland
January

Nothing was ever as it seemed.

There were more than humans walking this earth. The things seen out of the corner of your eye were real, even if your mind refused to recognize—or accept—them.

But Catriona Hayes knew of their existence, even if she wished she didn’t. They were Fae. Magical creatures that were so beautiful they seemed otherworldly—because they were.

The Fae had come to this world, seamlessly integrating themselves into the lives of mortals. But then again, when it came to beings with magic, they could do such things.

Cat blew out a breath and put the day’s earnings in the pouch before placing it inside the safe and shutting the door. She straightened and looked through the windows of the café and across the street to the pub alight with merriment.

There was a bit of wistfulness within her when she spotted three women walking into the bar with bright smiles. She’d never been that carefree.

From the first moment she could remember, her family had kept her apart from others. It wasn’t until she was older that she realized what made her so different—she was a Halfling.

Part human, part Fae.

Some might rejoice at the news, but she wasn’t most people.

The first time her grandfather had told her of her heritage, she’d laughed, thinking it was a jest. But as they’d walked down the streets of Galway, he began pointing out the Fae.

That was the day her life changed. At eight years old, she’d felt the weight of the world drop upon her shoulders. The burden had nearly brought her to her knees. And it had lingered, growing heavier with each passing year.

Yet she remained standing beneath it all. Only because of her grandfather. The man who smiled in the midst of the many storms life threw his way. He was what kept her composed and mindful of the dangers of living near Fae.

While she had been fearful of her grandfather’s revelation, her older siblings had embraced it as a gift.

Cat looked down at the counter and the top that covered it. Beneath the thick glass, next to the register, was a picture of her with her brother and sister twenty years ago.

Whatever gift having Fae blood had given her siblings had been taken away in a cruel twist of Fate several months ago when they were savagely killed.

Her brother had been murdered in a crowded pub, while her sister had had her life snuffed out on a train to London. No one had seen either attack. One moment, her siblings had been alive. The next, they were dead. It was how Cat knew the Fae were responsible.

Only beings with magic and the ability to veil themselves could have committed such crimes without a single person catching something on their mobile phones.

Ever since her family’s deaths, she’d been waiting for the Fae to come for her.

What was taking them so long? She and her grandfather—who she kept locked safely away in his cottage where no Fae could enter—were the only ones left.

A flash of lightning pulled her from her thoughts and reminded her that she needed to get home. She started toward the front, turning off the lights as she went. Flipping the sign in the café window to CLOSED, she walked out the door and locked it.

When she faced the street once more, she gripped the handle of her purse and looked around at the people. She knew the Fae could use glamour to disguise themselves, though most preferred to remain beautiful. That made it easier to pick them out, but it did nothing to lessen Cat’s dread.

She remained in the doorway as a couple walked past her. The man said something to make the woman laugh. Cat’s heart caught because she couldn’t remember the last time she’d giggled like that—never mind actually being on a date.

Cat squared her shoulders and turned to the left. Her cottage was toward the outskirts of Galway. She couldn’t wait to get home where she could relax.

“Relax,” she snorted.

There was no such thing for her. While others brushed their cares away with a pint of ale and loud music, she would eat alone at her house and sleep with one eye open.

Being half-Fae had done nothing but make her life miserable. She’d gotten nothing else from it. Her sister, Nora, had been able to move objects with her mind. Her brother, Domhnall, could grow plants.

For some strange reason, magic had passed her over altogether. No matter how hard she tried, there didn’t seem to be a smidgen of magic within her.

Countless times, she’d asked her grandfather what she’d done to not have magic. He’d never quite answered her. In his usual way, he would tell a story about all the Halflings who lived without magic.

But she always suspected that he was keeping something from her.

No amount of conniving or posing the question different ways ever gave her another answer, though. With every year that passed, she was more and more sure that her grandfather was hiding something.

Cat tensed when she walked past a Fae talking to a mortal female. His silver eyes, black hair, and sex appeal were the biggest clues to what he was—Light Fae. At least, it wasn’t a Dark.

The Dark scared her the most with their red eyes. She shuddered just thinking about them.

She turned the corner and quickened her pace. Thunder rumbled the same time lightning zigzagged across the sky. More rain was on the way, but if she were lucky, she’d make it back to her cottage before it came.

Suddenly, she stopped. She didn’t know what had caught her attention, but something told her to go no farther. Her gaze roamed down the street as people milled about.

There was something in the air that draped over everything like a wet blanket. It took her a moment to realize what it was—fear. She looked at the humans and saw that none of them appeared to be affected.

Then she heard the footsteps coming, quickly. She saw the man running toward her and looking back over his shoulder. He passed beneath a streetlamp, and she saw his eyes—red.

But it was the terror on his face that surprised her. She hadn’t thought there was anything a Dark feared, but whatever was after this particular Fae must be frightening.

Her head told her to run, but her body refused to move. She remained where she was, even as a man appeared out of thin air in front of the Dark.

The Fae slid to a halt, his eyes wide. The man before him had long, white hair that was pulled away from his face by three small braids on each side of his head.

She had little time to process that before she saw the light glint off a blade. The sword sliced through the air and cut down the Dark, turning him to dust in an instant.

Shock reverberated through her as she involuntarily took a step back. What kind of weapon did he have that could kill a Fae?

Because she wanted one.

He took two steps away before he suddenly halted, his body stiffening. Then he gradually turned his head to look right at her. She couldn’t make out his face because of the shadows, but she knew he’d seen her.

And then, he disappeared.

She took another step back and hastily looked around, but there was no other sign of the white-haired man. Yet she knew she wasn’t alone.

He was there. She was sure of it. Just as she was sure the Fae would come for her soon.

Somehow, she managed to stand her ground. If she were going to die, she would do it with courage. Even if she was shaking. She wasn’t going to run, no matter how much she wanted to.

She felt something behind her a moment before the sound of footsteps reached her. Cat whirled around, ready to face the unknown stranger. But it was a Dark Fae who walked toward her.

“Shite,” she murmured and turned back around.

“Hiya, darlin’,” the Dark called. “What’s your hurry?”

She walked faster and said over her shoulder, “Long day.”

“Let me buy you a drink.”

“No, thanks.”

She waited for him to say more, and when he didn’t, she gave a sigh of relief. It wasn’t until she was in her cottage that she slumped against the door.

Another day gone.

Copyright © 2017 by Donna Grant and reprinted by permission of Swerve.

Purchase Links:

Amazon  

Meet the Author:



New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Donna Grant has been praised for her “totally addictive” and “unique and sensual” stories. She’s the author of more than thirty novels spanning multiple genres of romance including the bestselling Dark King stories. The acclaimed series features a thrilling combination of dragons, the Fae, and Highlanders who are dark, dangerous, and irresistible. She lives with her two children, a dog, and four cats in Texas.

Social Media Links:

Author Website

Facebook: @AuthorDonnaGrant

Twitter: @Donna_Grant

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Release Blitz & #Giveaway ~ Provocative (White Lies, Book One) by Lisa Renee Jones ~ Contemporary Romance


Provocative (White Lies Book One) by Lisa Renee Jones 
Release Date: April 18th 



Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book one in the sexy and intense new White Lies duet by Lisa Renee Jones! 

About the Book:

There are those moments in life that are provocative in their very existences, that embed in our minds forever, and sometimes our very souls. They change us, mold us, maybe even save save us. But some are darker, dangerous. If we allow them to, they control us. Seduce us. Quite possibly even destroy us.

The moment I walked into Sonoma’s Reid Winter Winery and Vineyard and made eye contact with Faith Winter for the first time was one of those moments. Provocative because I know at least one of her secrets, of which, I suspect she has many. Provocative because she believes I was a stranger to her when we met, but I am not. Provocative because I sought her out, with no intention of touching her. But now I have. Now I want her. Now I have to have her. But that changes nothing. It doesn’t change why I came for her.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: 

Hi everyone! I’m so excited that PROVOCATIVE is available now! Just a few notes: if you order PROVOCATIVE this week only you will get $1 off and it will only be $2.99 - I will be increasing this price at the end of the week! You’ll also receive the FREE novella Rebecca’s Forgotten Journals (these are NEW journal entries) in the back of your copy! PS - if you missed your chance to receive any of my bonus scenes from Amy & Liam, Chris & Sara, or Ella & Kayden, this is your last chance to get them! Register your order of PROVOCATIVE here - http://bit.ly/2pkQ49b and you’ll receive them early next week! 

READ CHAPTER ONE ➜ http://lisareneejones.com/duet


Read PROVOCATIVE Today!







Book two: SHAMELESS will be out on July 11th!








ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

Prize: $100 Amazon gift card

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Meet the Author: 


New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones is the author of the highly acclaimed INSIDE OUT series. Suzanne Todd (producer of Alice in Wonderland) on the INSIDE OUT series: Lisa has created a beautiful, complicated, and sensual world that is filled with intrigue and suspense. Sara’s character is strong, flawed, complex, and sexy - a modern girl we all can identify with. In addition to the success of Lisa's INSIDE OUT series, Lisa has published many successful titles. The TALL, DARK AND DEADLY series and THE SECRET LIFE OF AMY BENSEN series, both spent several months on a combination of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists. Lisa is presently working on a dark, edgy new series, Dirty Money, for St. Martin's Press. Prior to publishing Lisa owned multi-state staffing agency that was recognized many times by The Austin Business Journal and also praised by the Dallas Women's Magazine. In 1998 Lisa was listed as the #7 growing women owned business in Entrepreneur Magazine. Lisa loves to hear from her readers. You can reach her at www.lisareneejones.com and she is active on Twitter and Facebook daily.

Connect with the Author:



Twitter: @LisaReneeJones

Stay in touch with Lisa by joining her mailing list:


Release Blitz ~ His Competent Woman by Ellen Whyte

April 18, 2017 Release Blitz

His Competent Woman

Ellen Whyte


30,000 Words 
Complete & Standalone

In desperate need for money, Emma applies for a job with handsome billionaire Curtis West. She's not really qualified for the job and to make matters worse, she loses her temper during the interview and fudges her credentials. Can she pull it off or will this end in tears?

Chapter One Emma: Bad News And Billionaires

     "Ben's a lovely boy," Miss Maddy said brightly. "We're so happy to have him."
     “Thank you so much!”
     Oh tell her to quit the chitchat and cut to the chase!
     That’s my inner devil. I’m patient and cool on the outside, but inside of me there’s this little voice that pipes up and says it how it is. She’s blunt, difficult and honestly, a bit of a slut. Maybe it’s the real me, I don’t know. But whoever that little voice really belongs to, she’s certainly impatient.
     While my devil was right, I resisted an impulse to hurry Miss Maddy along. Ben's schoolteacher was dedicated and likeable although somewhat longwinded. Being a teacher is a tough job, and Miss Maddy prefaced every conversation with endless compliments, as if parents weren’t capable of tackling reality without a spoonful of sugar.
     “Ben’s kind, generous and very popular.”
     "But Ben isn't doing well," I prompted her. "Is he naughty in class? Not listening maybe?"
     "He's in my bad books for being too chatty at least twice a week!" Miss Maddy laughed indulgently. "But that's normal for a seven year old, isn't it?"
     Come ooooooooooooooooon!
     "You asked me to come and see you," I reminded her. "You said it was important?"
     When she’d called me, I’d immediately envisioned broken bones or at the very least gushing blood. Once assured on both counts my mind had flown to some hideous disciplinary problem. Thankfully, Ben didn't seem to be in any trouble.
     "Ben's not doing well on his reading," Miss Maddy was finally getting to the point. "His writing is poor too."
     Okay, so my stomach plummeted at that. "He's young. I thought boys are slower to develop than girls?"
     "I think he may be dyslexic," Miss Maddy confided. "I'm not a psychologist, Mrs Reed, but he does seem confused about certain his words and letters. I think we should have him tested."
     Now I could barely breathe either. "Dyslexic? But that's serious, isn't it?"
     "Well, it makes school a bit more of a challenge but with support most children cope very well."
     “I’ll make an appointment with the doctor.”
     “I’m afraid that won’t work,” Miss Maddy said carefully. “Dyslexia isn’t covered.”
     Hell, hell, hell!
     If it wasn’t covered by the National Health Service, it meant private doctors. That meant money, and I didn’t have a bean. “Can you test him?” My voice was totally Mini Mouse, squeakily hoping against hope.
     “I’m afraid not.” Miss Maddy handed over a leaflet. "It takes a qualified psychologist. There’s a list here to help you out.”
     “They’re going to be expensive and I'm broke!"
     "I'm so sorry." Miss Maddy looked away, knowing it was bad news. "You're a widow, isn't that so?"
     "Yes." Dear Graham. Gone seven years now.
     "He died in Iraq?" Miss Maddy asked delicately. "Erm, during the war?"
     "Actually, he was run over." It still made me sad just thinking of it. "It was an accident."
     A stupid, stupid accident. A young man, a car thief, had made off with an army jeep parked at the Baghdad market. He'd jumped in, taken off and rocketed into Graham just twenty feet later. Killed instantly, Graham’s friends assured me afterwards. Graham hadn’t suffered at all, thank heaven.
     The driver had joined him shortly after. The mob had beaten him so badly that he'd died on the spot. It was no consolation. I didn't find it a comfort that two families had grieved instead of one. Still don’t actually.
     "Very tragic," Miss Maddy said sympathetically. “Look, there are some charities that help out. It’s all in the leaflet.”
     “Oh, thank God!”
     “But it can take months to make an appointment,” Miss Maddy cautioned me. “And it may not be in Oxford, so you may want to save for the trip.”
     Oh lord, it’s going to take us months, my inner devil moaned.
     Miss Maddy cleared her throat, piling on bad news, "I'm afraid that if Ben is dyslexic, he will need some support."
     Support. Crap, crap, crap. That meant specialist training, extra classes, and that meant more bills. My stomach pitched and rolled with fright. As if I weren’t already struggling to make ends meet.
     Parenting Ben on my own made working a regular job extremely challenging. Few businesses tolerate staff starting at 9am and dashing off at 3pm - never mind sick days and school holidays.
     I hadn’t been able to find a decent job, full time or part time, either. After applying to hundreds of companies, I’d turned to the gig economy. To my horror, I discovered that meant forking out for massively expensive babysitters at unreasonable hours. A zero hours contract at Tescos had actually cost me money at the end of the month, with all my salary and some of my last remaining savings going to sitters.
     Now I was just shattered at the thought of the months ahead. A psychologist would cost a bomb but there was nothing left to sell. The car had gone first, then the antique clock that had been my grandmother's and finally the 78s, the vintage records that had been Graham's treasures from his grandfather.
     All I had left of value was my wedding ring, an antique Cartier that I’d taken off and shoved into my pants drawer because two of the diamond chips had fallen out.
     Oh god, do we have to part with it? It’s all we have left of him!
     Just the thought made me feel like weeping but I had to pull myself together. Ben’s future was more important.
     "What will testing cost?" I asked Miss Maddy fearfully.
     "Well, there's the assessment. Last year we had little Siti Menon tested and I think her mum said it set her back -" Miss Maddy mentioned a figure that made me reel.
     “If he is, will he need special lessons?” I was praying she’d say not. “Or a special school?”
     “We can help,” Miss Maddy assured me.
     For a second I breathed again. If the school could pitch in, maybe we’d be okay. I was uncomfortably aware of being a burden, a scrounger on state benefits. Maybe I could help, volunteer for something.
     My spirits rose a little but then Miss Maddy whacked me right back down. “But if Ben’s diagnosed, there may be extras like a laptop and special software. Tutoring in coping techniques can sometimes help too.”
     She rummaged in her desk. “Let me see about prices. I had a list here from a chat group the other day. I think tutoring classes are charged by the half hour and that they tend to charge about -"
     By the time she was done, I felt sick. Even selling my ring wouldn’t raise enough cash.
     "But it's all worth it," Miss Maddy finished. "It really does work." Then she put the boot in. "Without intervention, he'll fall more and more behind."
     “Can the school help with a grant for testing?” I would crawl through broken glass if they’d help. Sack cloth, ashes, the lot.
     Miss Maddy just shrugged helplessly. “I’m so sorry.”
     “Or maybe if he needs it, with tutoring?”
     That got me another helpless shrug.
     I sat in my chair, shell-shocked. I knew that Ben would not get any more attention. It wasn't Miss Maddy’s fault. She simply had too many kids to cope with. The school was already under tremendous strain, with classrooms holding thirty children and sometimes more. Frankly, it was a miracle she'd not just dismissed Ben as lazy.
     "I'll see to it," I tried to sound totally cool. "Thank you, Miss Maddy. It's very kind if you to alert me."
     Miss Maddy blushed. "It's a pleasure. We all love Ben. He's such a pleasant boy."
     She’s a pain in the bum sometimes, Miss Maddy, but her heart is in the right place.
     Walking out on to the sunny street, I prayed for a miracle. Maybe the job centre had something new.
     "Oh, Mrs Reed," the counter staff knew me by name, I'd been in so often. "There's an opening in Tescos, but it's shift work. Mostly nights and weekends."
     "They pay so little that it won't cover the baby sitting," I couldn’t help but moan. "Is there anything that isn't zero contract hours or minimum wage?"
     "Nothing that matches your qualifications," the woman said sympathetically.
     "A degree in English literature and a year as a glorified intern in a publishing house have prepared me for nothing but benefits." Yes, I was on a total self-pitying grumble fest. "Why didn't I study something lucrative like accounting?"
     "Accounting?" One of the office staff popped up, holding a newly printed vacancy notice. "There's a job in Weston Enterprises. It says office manager but they said to give priority to people with bookkeeping or financial management experience."
     Weston Enterprises, a top of the line green architecture construction company. I took the posting and read through it quickly. It looked like simple enough work, a girl Friday job that covered office record keeping. It was nine to five, a proper contract and the salary was decent. It was a miracle.
     Run! My inner devil screamed. Get there right now! We’ll snaffle this job before some other desperate cow even gets wind of it!
     "I'll go straight away!" Then I ran out of the door before anyone could stop me.
     It wasn't difficult to find Weston Enterprises. Not only are they one of the richest construction companies in the country, but their headquarters consists of a silvered glass tower. Soaring straight up from a small park, the locals had nicknamed it Minas Ithil after the moon inspired spire from Lord Of The Rings.
     I managed to catch a bus that took me straight to the front gate. I blasted through the little park and arrived at reception pink faced and panting. "I've come about the office manager job," I announced.
     The receptionist, a pretty little bubble blonde in a blue flowered summer dress, glanced over the job vacancy sheet. "That will be Sam," she chirped brightly. "Top floor. Speak to Caitie. Her desk is in reception."
     The executive lift was opulent and made entirely out of glass. As it whisked me into the air, I was treated to a dazzling view of Oxford. The doors opened on an equally stunning vision: Caitie who was working the executive floor reception desk looked more like a fashion model than an office worker.
     She was perfect for Minas Ithil. Arwen Evenstar to the life, the girl could be an Elven Ring-bearer, no problem.
     Caitie was tall, slender and dressed in an emerald silky shift that looked straight off a Tokyo catwalk. Her glossy black hair fell down her back. It was so long, that it almost reached her waist. Everything about the woman screamed style. Even her nails were perfect; a classic French manicure with white glitter tips.
     I took in all the gloss, feeling my toes curl in shame. I would never, ever get a job here. It was amazing they’d even let me in the door.
     Her eyes are too close together and she’s probably got hammertoes. Inner me can be a bitch.
     “You’re here to see Sam?” The model was abrupt and her voice was rough. She was emptying out her desk, clearly intent on leaving. But she smiled nicely enough and waved me to a plush leather sofa. "Do take a seat."
     “Erm, can you point me to the ladies?”
     I bolted into the loo instead, took one look at my reflection and squealed with horror. I’d wanted to look smart for Miss Maddy so I’d worn plain black trousers and a navy blue blouse. It was suitably severe, corporate and nobody would guess that my black court shoes were so worn that the left one had a hole in the sole. But compared to Miss Evenstar out in reception, it looked hideously dull.
     As for my hair! It’s naturally curly and a dark chestnut that goes well with any strong colour from turquoise to wine. But with me raking my hands through it all morning, it was standing up on end. Sadly, it wasn’t a romantic wild cloud, either.
     I’d say porcupine but it has a flavour of puffer fish too, you know, that super poisonous one. Devil me can be mercilessly self critical too.
     To add a final horrible touch, my face was scarlet from running. As well as my looking like a freak, it had made my eyeliner run. Instead of sultry, I was looking at racoon eyes.
     “You look like Cher - after she’s put her fingers in a socket,” I grumbled at mirror me. “And without the sexy vulpine glamour.”
     Repairing the damage, I hastily combed my hair, pulling it back into a well-tamed bun. Running my hands under the cold tap and pressing them against my face, toned down some of the hideous flush.
     Waiting for the last of the red to cool away, I stared my reflection. My hair’s okay but I’ve got very ordinary brown eyes, too boring for beauty, a nice straight nose but it’s too big for my taste, and my mouth is too thin. Still, with the black and navy look I was presentable. I reminded myself that this was a job interview, not a beauty competition.
     Just as well really because my blouse looked as if I’d been poured into it and my trousers were disgustingly tight. I'd eaten been eating too much cheap stodge recently and had failed to lose my winter pounds as well.
     Real women have curves!
     It was not a comfort. "Well," I smiled at mirror-me. "At least giving up chocolate means no spots."
     Digging in my bag, I realised I was out of eyeliner. My mascara was almost dead, but a drop of water from the tap eked it out. I was almost out of lipstick too but by digging in the bottom of the tube, I made do.
     "There," I talked myself up for courage. "Understated, serious and dependable. Totally employable."
     There was no way I could compare to the gorgeous PA but seeing this was an admin job, hopefully looks wouldn’t matter.
     “You’ll be behind closed doors. Probably in the basement,” I assured myself.
     I looked at the job description again.
     Must have good organisational skills, communicate well and handle many details and challenging situations at once.
     Well, I could handle that. Having once invited Ben’s kindergarten group over to the house for his birthday, there was nothing a company could throw at me that would scare me. Twenty screaming kids had made me immune to chaos and yelling, and it was unlikely the executives would mimic little Kevin and vomit into my handbag or hang on to me so hard that my knickers slid down to my knees like they had with that minx Seema.
     Must be conversant with Microsoft Office packages including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
     Proofing manuscripts had made me an ace at editing, and I’d taken a course in PowerPoint at the Job Centre, just to improve my CV. My Excel skills were basic but I’d be fine after a bit of quick extra tutoring. All jobs have a learning curve. I could get up to speed in the evenings in the first week or so.
     Includes responsibility for liasing with vendors to ensure that orders are fulfilled as requested, invoices are paid and refunds or exchanges are processed.
     That sounded like it took common sense. Also, fighting with the plumber, the electrician and three roof contractors had made me an expert in negotiation. And with the plumber being a foul-mouthed Geordie, I’d not be knocked sideways by construction worker swearing either.
     Must hold a degree in business administration and have at least two years relevant corporate experience.
     Ouch. Now that was a stumbling block. I knew full well that a degree in English Lit would not be an acceptable substitute. But perhaps they were flexible on that.
     Human resources were always trying to filter applicants by box ticking, I told myself firmly. And anyway, figuring out our finances and living on the edge for seven years had to count for something.
     I took one last look in the mirror, straightened my shoulders and walked out, straight into a firestorm.
     “Caitie, my own bloody PA is cleaning out her desk right now! No notice!” The roar blasted out of the carpeted executive offices, ringing around the building. I flattened myself against the wall instinctively. “Family issues, she says! Her bloody sister had a kid and Caitie feels she has to run off and play nanny!”
     “Can we offer some leave instead?” a much more reasonable voice asked. “Negotiate?”
     “Seeing she’s been late every morning this week, and skiving off early, I told her to get out and not come back!” angry voice fumed.
     “Oh dear. And I came to tell you that Suze has given notice too.”
     "Whaaaaaat?" The loud angry voice echoed down the corridor, practically shattering the delicately tinted windows.
     "She has a baby, Curtis. She decided being a mum was more important than a career."
     "She told us when she applied for the job that she was a career woman!"
     "Yes, but she changed her mind. It’s not a total disaster, we can replace her."
     "Can we? We're still looking for a press relations exec too!" The voice was fuming. "One who won't give zero notice after falling in love with a bloody tourist and emigrating to Australia!"
     “Right, Anya,” the unfortunate Sam said. "Well, it was unusual, and rather romantic, I thought."
     "Romantic? It's disruptive and it costs a fortune to interview and recruit!" The anger was running freely, his voice ringing around the hall. "Babies, family issues and bloody husband hunting! They preach bloody equality but it’s all take and no give!”
     “Oh come on. We’re just hitting a bad patch.”
     “I've had it, Sam! From now on, no more women!"
     "Curtis, I appreciate you're angry but you know you can't do that. Discrimination is illegal."
     "Illegal? What about quitting with no notice? Three of them in one week!”
     “It’s unprincipled but we can’t exactly chain them to their desks.”
     “Unprincipled? It’s bloody robbery! Look at Suze! At the interview she went on and on about how she wanted a career, yet she married some banker a month later.”
     “Well, it’s not a crime.”
     “Isn’t it? She had a worthless bloody degree that qualified her for nothing when she started. I spent six months training her up, then she fell pregnant. She took her sick leave and her holiday, both of which I paid for. Then she vanished for the best part of a year on maternity leave, which I also paid for, and now she goddamn quits!"
     The roar reverberated through the hall. I shivered, frozen by the rage.
     "Yes, it's unfortunate-"
     "Unfortunate? It bloody well cost me a fortune!"
     “Yes, I know.”
     “Two years and I’ve not had an ounce of work out of her!”
     “Yes, but -”
     “You said I can’t fire her but now she can just leave?”
     “Yes.”
     “Can I sue her for compensation?”
     "No. It doesn’t work that way.”
     “Can I sue Caitie for walking out with no notice?”
     “Actually, no.”
     "Fine. In that case, no more women."
     "But Curtis -"
     I snuck down the hall, back into the waiting room, now empty, and then sat trembling. Curtis, the voice had said. That roar had been Curtis Weston, CEO of Weston Enterprises. I’d read about him often.
     Curtis was one of our local lions. An inspirational architect, the creator of the glass Minas Ithil tower and winner of several awards, including a coveted RIBA for innovation in architecture. He was a local boy who had built up a billion pound fortune, and everyone in Oxford was proud of him.
     In interviews he'd seemed pleasant if rather driven. Now I was changing my mind. Curtis Weston only cared about his business. He didn't have a clue that life, love and family can change lives and priorities.
     It was unfortunate that he was losing three of his staff at the same time, but being stinking rich, he could just replace them. Curtis Weston’s reaction was completely over the top.
     "Mrs Reed?" A tall friendly looking man with sandy hair and a slightly rumpled brown suit stood before me. "I'm Sam Jefferson, human resources director." He had a warm smile and a firm handshake. "You're awfully quick! I only sent the job spec an hour ago."
     I smiled, "I like to be efficient." Game on, right?
     "Right," Sam was looking me over. With a sinking heart I could see he was noting the lack of jewellery, well-worn shoes and probably my worried eyes too. Oh crap. The Job Centre probably sent him my CV.
     “Penguin Publishing!” Well, that’s impressive!” Yes, Sam was checking out my past. My heart was plummeting into my gut again.
     Smile and flash our boobs, my horrible self is shameless. Think of Ben! If it helps get us the job, it’s worth it!
     God to be reduced to this! I did have a promising start in Penguin but then there was a telltale year long gap, and then the dratted thing was littered with zero hour jobs. The whole thing reeked of loser.
     "Cashier at Tescos, driving for Uber, and part time cleaner for the Royal Bank," Sam said warmly. "You're versatile and not afraid of hard work. You’ve been taking short courses too. Excellent!"
     He was going to turn me down! The despair just blasted through me. He wanted a competent professional with years of experience, not a run down single parent. Especially with Curtis Weston ripping into him just minutes before.
     I’m a lame duck mum, I thought.
     The money I needed was receding before my eyes. In a flash I could see Ben being left further and further behind, with me standing uselessly on the sidelines, unable to help him.
     Fight, you stupid cow!
     "I'm organised and used to coping with problems," I said quickly. "I enjoy challenge and I'm a fast learner."
     "Yes, I can see that," Sam said gently. I could tell he hated this part of his work, telling desperate job seekers they were out of luck. Sam seemed a kind man, one of the best. He was probably thinking that Curtis Weston would kill him if he hired me. I wasn't even remotely a fit for the job either, or any job they had probably.
     "Mrs Reed, I'm very sorry but -"
     "The Royal Bank were very pleased with me," I interjected desperately. It wasn't a lie. The manager had complimented me on my sparkling clean corners and floor waxing.
     "Sam, can I borrow Jenny?" Curtis put his head around the door. "I've got a pile of correspondence and I’m busy with that presentation for Fitzsimmons -" he stopped abruptly and stared at me. “Oh,” he said crisply. “Hello.”
     He was much taller than I’d imagined. Curtis Weston was easily six feet, with narrow hips and long legs contributing to an overall impression of lean grace. He moved swiftly, every move economical and purposeful. It was sexy as hell; panthers had nothing on this man.
     The strong regular features were good too. Short brown hair, brown eyes and a light tan from working outside set off sparkling white teeth, small nose and slanting cheekbones.
     Oh sweet mother of god, YUM! He’s stunning! Want! Want! Want!
     I ignored my suddenly thumping heart. Okay, what am I lying for? The thumping was way lower down in my body.
     Good looks and ohmilord just look at the window dressing!
     The expensive suit was definitely more than an off the rack at some high-end fashion house like Armani or Cardin. No, this was pure Savile Row. It was hand made and beautifully tailored to highlight the sinewy physique and the expensive black material screamed money. So did the crisp blue shirt and the navy and red tie.
     My knees were going liquid just looking at him. He was damn gorgeous.
     Lean, dark and sexy, just like we like them, inner me moaned. And seeing he built this business up from nothing, he's also bright and hard working.
     I had to agree. If we’d met at a party, I'd have made the most horrendous pass.
     The thing about all that beauty and grace is that I suddenly became aware of less than glorious me. Horribly aware of my clothes, too worn to impress and definitely straining at the seams, I sucked in my tummy. I really had to lose some weight.
     Like chop off three inches all the way round. Or industrial lippo-suction.
     I was also cursing myself for my haste. Instead of rushing over, hoping that being first would snag me the job, I should have made an appointment, done my hair properly, dressed better and looked the part.
     Investing in some new shoes might have been a good move too. I could feel the unseen hole in the sole burning into my foot.
     "You're applying?" Curtis spoke swiftly, with a light, clipped tone.
     Say something!
     But I was tongue-tied, suddenly shy of all that gorgeousness right in front of me.
     “This is Emma Reed,” Sam said quickly. “She’s here for the office manager job.”
     Curtis stepped forward and I caught a whiff of his aftershave: leather and orange. It promised warmth and excitement. I could feel myself flush.
     He’ll have a lean body with long ropey muscles. Those arms will curl around us, sexy and hard. Totally delicious.
     I mentally shook myself and told myself to focus. Curtis Weston was clearly out of my league, just like the job but oh my God, if only I could take him home as a consolation prize!
     You still haven’t spoken, moron!
     “Hello!” It was supposed to come out cool and competent but I sounded like Minnie Mouse. I cleared my throat, adding, “Nice to meet you.” Hell! Now I was Billy Goat Gruff!
     Curtis Weston nodded briefly. “How do you do.” His voice was cool to the point of cold.
     He was looking me over. I suddenly had the impression that I was standing under a searchlight. Every inch of me felt hot and exposed. The hazel eyes ran over me swiftly. This was a man who was quick in everything, from mood to decisions. And by the pursed mouth I could feel him judging my worn shoes and lack of gloss.
     The image of Caiti, the supermodel in the emerald sheath, rushed back into mind. Yes, the slightly contemptuous gaze told me Curtis Weston thought I wasn't up to par.
     He wasn't gorgeous; he was a judgemental arse.
     Suddenly furious, I turned to Sam. "As I was saying, Mr Jefferson, the Royal Bank was pleased with my work. They did say they might have another opening, so if you've other candidates-"
     "The Royal Bank?" Curtis interjected. "You worked there?"
     "Yes, and for Tesco, and Penguin publishing." I decided I'd lay it on thick. I'd never get the job, Sam Jefferson would know I was misrepresenting myself, but at least I could walk out with my pride intact.
     "Are you married?" Curtis asked abruptly. "Or intending to get pregnant soon?"
     "Curtis!" Sam was red with annoyance. "For God's sake!"
     "Oh, I don't mind," I said sweet as honey. "Let me tell you, Mr Weston, that I am not married, and do not intend to marry. Frankly, I have no interest in men!"
     "Excellent!" Curtis said promptly. "You're hired!"