There's Something About Lady Mary Part 26

As if filled with ether, her heart immediately soared into her throat. She felt as though she'd been targeted by a predator. Nowhere to turn, nowhere to run.

I'm not here to run.

When he crooked his finger, motioning for her to come toward him, she fought her impulse to flee. Instead, she put one foot in front of the other, approaching his booth until she stood before him. Even with the table separating them, she didn't feel protected. One sweep of his thickly muscled arm could have tossed the heavy oak aside as if it were paper.

"Your search has ended, zaika." His voice was heavily accented, deep as a cavern. "Here I am."

An Excerpt from

FURTHER CONFESSIONS OF A SLIGHTLY NEUROTIC HITWOMAN.

by JB Lynn Knocking off a drug kingpin was the last thing on Maggie Lee's to-do list . . . Take three wacky aunts, two talking animals, one nervous bride, and an upcoming hit, and you've got the follow-up to JB Lynn's wickedly funny Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman.

"I see a dis...o...b..ll in your future." Armani Vasquez, the closest thing I had to a friend at Insuring the Future, delivered this p.r.o.nouncement right after she sprinkled a handful of candy corn into her Caesar salad.

Disgusted by her food combination, I pushed my own peanut b.u.t.ter and jelly sandwich away. "Really? A dis...o...b..ll?"

If you'd told me a month ago that I'd be leaning over a table in the lunchroom, paying close attention to the bizarre premonitions of my half-crippled, wannabe-psychic coworker, I would have said you were crazy.

But I'd had one h.e.l.l of a month.

First there had been the car accident. My sister Theresa and her husband, Dirk, were killed; my three-year-old niece, Katie, wound up in a coma; and I ended up with the ability to talk to animals. Trust me, I know exactly how crazy that sounds, but it's true . . . I think.

On top of everything else, I inadvertently found myself hurtling down a career path I never could have imagined.

I'm now a hitwoman for hire. Yes, I kill people for money . . . but just so you know, I don't go around killing just anyone. I've got standards. The two men I killed were bad men, very bad men.

Before I could press Armani for more details about the mysterious dis...o...b..ll, another man I wanted to kill sauntered into my line of vision. I hate my job at Insuring the Future. I hate taking automobile claims from idiot drivers who have no business getting behind the wheel. But most of all I hate my boss, Harry. It's not the fact that he's a stickler for enforcing company policy or even that he always smells like week-old pepperoni. No, I hate him because Harry "likes" me. A lot. He's always looking over my shoulder (and peering down my shirt) and calling me into his office for one-on-one "motivational chats" to improve my performance.

I know what you're thinking. I should report his s.e.xual hara.s.sment to human resources, or, if I deplore the idea of workplace conflict (and what self-respecting hitwoman wouldn't?), I should quit and find another job.

I was getting ready to do just that, report his lecherous a.s.s and then quit (because I really do despise "helping" the general public), but then the accident happened. And then the paid a.s.sa.s.sin gig.

So now I need this c.r.a.ppy, unfulfilling, frustrating-as-h.e.l.l clerical employment because it provides a cover for my second job. It's not like I can put HITWOMAN on my next tax return. Besides, if I didn't keep this job, my meddling aunts would wonder what the h.e.l.l I'm doing with my life.

An Excerpt from

THE SECOND SEDUCTION OF A LADY.

by Miranda Neville Enter the thrilling, s.e.xy world of Georgian England in this splendid Miranda Neville novella-and catch a glimpse of Caro, the heroine of the upcoming The Importance of Being Wicked, on sale December 2012.

"Eleanor!" She looked up. He stepped forward to meet her on the bridge. "Eleanor!" He should ask her how she was, why she was there. But he didn't care why she was there. All he wanted to do was take her into his arms and tease her stern mouth into returning his kisses.

His outstretched arms were welcomed with a hearty shove, and he landed on his back in cold water.

"What-"

She looked down at him, grim satisfaction on her elegant features. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Quinton, but you were in my way. I have things to attend to."

As he struggled upright in the thigh-deep water, she completed her crossing. Cold soaked through every garment, chilling his skin, his ardor, and his heart. "Wait! You are trespa.s.sing," he called, a surge of rage making him petty. He'd been wrong, yes, but his intentions had ultimately been honorable. She had sent him about his business with a cold rebuke. And returned all his letters unread.

"Oh? Is this your land?" she said with a haughty brow, knowing well that his home was over a hundred miles away, near Newmarket.

"Effectively, yes," he said, clambering up the bank. "I have control of the Townsend estate for another three weeks, until my ward reaches his majority."

"In that case," she replied, "I'll collect my charge and be off."

Ignoring the squelching in his boots, he reached for her again. In the bare second his wet hand rested on her lower arm, warm under his chilled fingers, longing flooded his veins. "Eleanor," he whispered.

"Get your wet hands off my gown." She shook him off.

"Won't you forgive me?"

Her grey eyes held his. He'd seen them bright with affection and wild with ecstasy. Now they contained polished steel.

"I think, Mr. Quinton, it would be better if we both forget that there is anything to forgive."

Max deliberately mistook her meaning. "Good," he said. She watched him unb.u.t.ton his clammy, clinging waistcoat with the outrage of a dowager. Yet she'd seen him wearing even less. Or felt him, rather. It had been dark at the time.

The garment slid down his arms. "I'm ready to apologize again, but I'd like it even better if we could begin a new chapter. Can we start again? Please, Eleanor."

Eleanor watched Max Quinton drape his wet waistcoat over a branch, in fascinated disbelief that, meeting her after five years, he should be stripping off his clothes. She trusted he wouldn't be removing all of them. The entreaty in his voice affected her, but only for an instant. Giving him a dunking had blunted the edge of anger that his appearance provoked, that was all. Nothing else had changed.

"I made it clear in the past," she said coldly, "that our acquaintance was over. Forever. Should we meet again, which I trust won't be necessary, you may call me Miss Hardwick."

"Don't you think that's absurd, given what we once were to each other?"

She stepped farther away from this unpleasantly damp man. Never mind that his figure was displayed to advantage beneath clinging linen, fine enough to limn the contours of his chest and reveal an intriguing dark shadow descending to the waist. It was true that his thick, wavy hair looked quite good wet, but she no longer responded to the lilt of laughter in his deep voice. "Our past relationship was founded on falsehood and meant nothing. I never think of you, and I'd like to keep it that way. We meet as indifferent strangers."

A smile tugged on his lips. It was one of the first things she'd noticed about him, that hint of humor in an otherwise grave face. "Do you often push strangers into rivers?"

"You deserved it."

An Excerpt from

TO h.e.l.l AND BACK.

A LEAGUE OF GUARDIANS NOVELLA.

by Juliana Stone All Logan Winters wants is to be left alone with the woman he loves. But fate isn't on his side . . . Logan and Kira are back in the latest League of Guardians novella from Juliana Stone.

Priest knew he was in trouble about two seconds after they exited the bed-and-breakfast. Up ahead, just past the giant pumpkin display, stood a pack of blood demons. They'd donned their human guise, of course, but it did nothing to hide the menace they projected. A family of five gave them a wide berth as they traversed the sidewalk, and he watched as the mother hustled her children past.

Smart humans.

The d.a.m.n things looked like a bunch of thugs-all of them well over six feet in height, with thick necks, tree trunks for legs, and shoulders as wide as a Mack truck.

They were mean and strong, but dumb. Bottom feeders who kissed the a.s.ses of most of the underworld. He wondered who they called boss.

Normally, Priest wouldn't have blinked. As an immortal knight of the Templar, he was used to dealing with all sorts of otherworld sc.u.m. In fact, it had been a few months since he'd flexed his muscles and connected his fists with demon hide. Normally he looked forward to this kind of s.h.i.t because life, such as it was, gave him only a few moments to feel truly alive. Making love to a hot-blooded woman did that. Waking up to the smell of fresh rain did that. Killing a bunch of punk-a.s.s demons did that. He glanced to his side.

But normally he worked alone.

Casually he leaned his tall frame against the brick facade of the coffee shop to his right and kept Kira out of view. The woman didn't say anything-she didn't have to. Her pale features and large, exotic eyes couldn't hide her fear. But there was something else there, and it was that something else that was going to make all the difference in the world. Anger.

He reached his hand forward, as if to caress her cheek. All the while, his eyes scanned the immediate area looking for demons. To anyone glancing their way, they appeared to be a couple deeply involved in each other. Lovers.

Priest ignored both her flinch and her quick recovery as his gaze swept along the street behind him. His liege-the Seraphim Bill-hadn't told him much of this a.s.signment, but he knew enough. He knew where Kira Dove had been.

The gray realm.

It was a place he was all too familiar with, and he had to give it to her, the little lady had s.p.u.n.k. Anyone who escaped purgatory in one piece was strong. He'd never met the h.e.l.lhound, Logan Winters, but his woman had guts.

His eyes hardened when he spied a second pack of blood demons hunkered down near the bed-and-breakfast they'd just left. When he felt the unmistakable shift in the air that spelled real trouble, his insides twisted.

Lilith's crew.

Just f.u.c.king great. His Harley was nowhere near where he needed the d.a.m.n thing to be. He was surrounded by demons, in the middle of a large crowd of innocents and this little bit of woman had the very bowels of h.e.l.l on her trail.

A new scent drifted up his nostrils. Lilith's pack hounds were here somewhere, and their human disguises would be hard to penetrate. Those guys were pros.

Priest straightened and dropped his hand from her cheek until he drew her delicate fist into his large palm. d.a.m.ned if he was gonna let the queen b.i.t.c.h of h.e.l.l get to Kira Dove. Strong white teeth flashed as he smiled and looked down at her.

"You ready to rock and roll?"

Huge eyes stared up at him, their dark depths hiding a h.e.l.l of a lot more than pain and fear. There was strength there . . . determination, and-he smiled-a f.u.c.k-you att.i.tude.

She nodded and then whispered, "Let's do this."

An Excerpt from

MIDNIGHT IN YOUR ARMS.

by Morgan Kelly For fans of Downton Abbey and readers of Jude Deveraux and Teresa Medeiros comes the brand-new tale of a love that crosses the boundaries of time . . . from debut author Morgan Kelly.

Laura collapsed on top of him with a weak moan that he sucked from her lips as he withdrew and coiled himself around her, face to face, his arm cradled along her spine. They were both slick with sweat, drenched in the only substance that quenched what it had ignited.

"One doesn't learn that in finishing school," he murmured appreciatively into her ear, when he could speak. She giggled, hiding her face in his shoulder.

"I suppose you think me utterly wanton?" she said. "Isn't that a word you use these days, to describe women like me?"

"There are no women like you," he said, tucking a damp curl behind her ear.

"Not here," she agreed, snuggling against him.

"Not anywhere," he said.

Laura smiled and pressed her lips to his chest. He ran his fingernails slowly up and down her back, and she nearly purred. He loved the way their skin stuck together, as though they were truly fusing into one person. His eyes grew heavy, and he blinked, afraid that if he fell asleep, she would simply disappear. He didn't know the rules. He didn't know if there were any. They seemed to be making them up as they went along.

"In this time," he said, "are you truly not yet born?"

"Not for years and years."

"Then how is it you can exist, here and now, with me?"

She looked up at him, her head arched against the pillow. "I really don't know, Alaric. I only know that I do, and that I have never felt more alive than when I'm with you."

"If you . . . stayed, here, with me, what would happen when you are born?"

Laura rolled onto her back, her leg still hooked around him and her body pressed alongside his. She cradled her head on her arm, the sinuous curve of her underarm upraised. Tiny beads of sweat pearled her collarbone, a necklace of her own making. "I don't know. But my time isn't a good one, Alaric. It's a dangerous time, when the whole world has been at war with itself. I've seen things I can't erase from my mind. People have done things that take away their humanity-and now they are expected to carry on like decent citizens."

"I know what war is," Alaric said.

"Not war like this," Laura said quietly. "We can never be the same, any of us. Being here with you makes me feel like none of that could ever happen."

"Maybe it won't," he said gently, running his palm over her sweet flesh.

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