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About the author:
L. Ann has been writing stories since she first discovered those squiggly lines on the page were words. She writes paranormal romance and enjoys nothing more than throwing in twists and turns readers don’t see coming. A fan of alpha males and strong female characters, her books are jam-packed with heated romance and snarky humour. When she’s not writing, she’s supporting fellow authors – promoting their work and devouring their stories.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Cassie was less than a mile away from The Lodge when it finally dawned on her what a stupid decision it had been. When she first ran out of the apartment she shared with Rebekah and had dashed down Main Street to the town limits, her only thought had been to get as far away from her roommate and Sam as she could.
The Lodge, five miles outside of town, was a four-bedroomed house sitting on the edge of a privately owned forest. Her parents had bought it when they first got married, twenty-six years ago, and had raised both Cassie and her sister within its welcoming walls. Even after leaving home to move into town, it remained the place she ran to when she was troubled or upset. Her sister called it her ‘safe space’. And, after walking into her apartment to find Sam, her boyfriend of two years, bare-ass naked between Rebekah’s legs, her only thought had been to run.
So that’s what she did.
Legs aching and eyes burning with unshed tears, she slowed her pace as the drive leading to The Lodge came into view. And, of course, that was when she remembered.
The Lodge no longer belonged to her family. Her mom had sold it a few months earlier, just after her dad died, and bought herself a new condo in the ‘nicer’ part of town. She had told Cassie and her sister that she could no longer bear to live there without her husband.
Too many memories and a silent house was far too upsetting, she had claimed. Especially since Cassie and her sister no longer lived there.
With the remaining money, she had treated herself to a six-month luxury cruise, waved to her two daughters and not looked back.
Cassie sniffed and mentally shrugged away memories of the many arguments she had had with her mother over the sale of their family home and finished the walk up the drive to the front door. Now she was thinking about it, she remembered her mother saying she had sold it to someone from out of town, who had also bought the forestland behind and surrounding the house. She reached out to turn the handle, only to find it was locked and whispered a curse beneath her breath.
Of course it was locked! Why wouldn’t it be?
The house was empty. All the keys had been sent to the new owner. Cassie heaved a sigh and turned to begin the long walk back into town, then stopped. Not every key had been returned. There was one only she and her father had known about. That should still be right where her father had left it.
Cassie made her way over to the small rockery to the left of the decked porch – she remembered the weekend she had spent with her father building it when she was eight, carefully selecting each rock and giving long and considered thought to the placement to each one. She crouched down and traced her fingers over the stones, counted up four rows, then tipped up the purple-coloured stone on the fifth level to display a rust-coloured key nestled against the tufts of grass and dirt.
Our little secret, Cassie-bear, her dad had whispered to her and hugged her close.
Cassie scooped up the key, hurried back to the door and slipped the key into the lock. A wave of grief washed over her as she pushed the door open and entered. Everything in the hallway was just as it had been the last time she’d been home. The day after her dad’s funeral – she shied away from that memory and let her eyes close, breathing heavily around the lump in her throat.
Then she heard it …
The shower was running …
Rational thought fled, and instinct took over. Cassie charged up the stairs to her parents’ bedroom, not even considering what hearing the shower really meant.
For one wild moment, as the shower cut off, she imagined her father walking out of the en suite bathroom. She wanted the last four months to have simply been a terrible nightmare and, with that sole thought in her head, she flew through the open door. With her heart hammering painfully in her chest, her eyes sought out the one person she was desperate to see again, and her jaw dropped.
Coming out of the en suite was a man – but that was where the similarity to her father ended. Tattoos covered both his arms down to his knuckles and over the right side of his torso – swirling lines and patterns, glorious shades of red, gold and black. His skin was golden and toned beneath the colours, making them stand out boldly, and the artist in Cassie rose to the surface. She took a step forward, unthinking, and stretched out a hand to touch the bold lines, to commit them to memory so she could draw them at her leisure later.
A guttural curse snapped Cassie out of her daze seconds before her palm made contact. She felt her wrist caught in a vice-like grip and the breath left her body as she was slammed up against the wall behind her. Her eyes jerked up to meet emerald-green ones blazing with anger.
“How the fuck did you get in here?” he snarled.
The venom in his voice froze the response on her lips, and she dropped her gaze instinctively, her eyes locking onto the closeness of the tattoos across his shoulders where he pinned her in place with his own body. Her attention was caught, once again, by the patterns as they twisted from his shoulder down across his chest and ribs. From there they snaked over his right hip. He shifted, and she felt something hard press against her thigh … and it was then she realised he was completely naked.
A choked gasp escaped her, and she squeezed her eyes shut, shrinking back against the wall to try and put some space between her body and the part of him that suggested anger wasn’t the only emotion he was feeling at her intrusion.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” she babbled. “I’m so sorry!” She tugged at the wrist he held, then squeaked in surprise when he released it, but only long enough to grasp her hips and flip her around to face the wall. She felt his body press up against hers, briefly, his obvious erection nestling between the cheeks of her bottom and the breath caught in her throat.
“Stay there.” His warm breath tickled her ear and then the heat of his body was gone.
“I’m sorry,” she croaked out. “I … I didn’t know anyone was here.” Unwilling to turn her head to see what he was doing, she listened to the creak of floorboards as he moved around, trying to figure out where he was.
“Please be getting dressed. Please don’t be getting ready to kill me,” she whispered to herself.
“What are you muttering about over there?” His voice had lost the hard, angry edge, leaving it rich and husky – reminding her of good whiskey and chocolate.
“N-nothing.” Cassie swallowed.
There was a clink of metal and she tensed, waiting to be handcuffed or worse.
“Sure about that?” His slow drawl sounded amused.
Another floorboard creaked, and Cassie was sure she could feel him standing close behind him, feel the heat from his body, and she couldn’t stop a shiver.
“You can turn around now.”
Cassie hesitated, then turned slowly to find him standing in the centre of the room, a good three feet away. His arms were folded across his chest and his head was tilted to one side, watching her. He had pulled on a pair of black jeans which hung low on his hips, and his chest and feet were still bare. A thick chain belt hung in the jean loops – the noise she must have heard, and Cassie couldn’t hold back a sigh of relief.
His eyebrow cocked up at the sound, but he said nothing.
“My parents used to own this house,” she offered into the charged silence. “I didn’t think anyone would be here.”
One side of his mouth kicked up into a smile that screamed ‘of course they did’, and Cassie frowned.
“It’s the truth!” she blurted defensively.
He shrugged. “I didn’t hear a car. How did you get here?”
Cassie laughed nervously, a sound which quickly turned into a sob and she swallowed it down, taking a breath before replying.
“I ran … mostly.”
“You ran?” he repeated, his eyebrow hiking again. “From the town?”
Cassie nodded and tried not to squirm as his eyes slowly travelled over her. His gaze was sharp, intense, taking in everything from the blonde hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, the cream blouse and beige slacks she wore for work and paused, eyes narrowing, on the flat shoes that were not designed for walking in the woods. His eyes changed direction and slid back up her legs.
Cassie shifted uncomfortably, almost feeling the path his eyes took, her skin reacting to the imagined caress, heating under his gaze. Her breath was coming in short shaky breaths by the time he finished his slow perusal.
“You have no bag, no coat. You’re not wearing running shoes. I feel like there’s a story here, but damned if I can figure it out,” he said softly, almost like he was talking to himself. “You look thirsty after your … run.” He drew the word out, almost savouring it. “Would you like something to drink?”
“I … yes, thank you,” she replied.
He unfolded his arms and waved a hand toward the door. “After you.”
Cassie peeled herself away from the wall, took a step forward and then stopped.
“Could you … I mean … if you wouldn’t mind, that is, would you put a t-shirt on?”