Undercover Fighter Chapter 1

Undercover Fighter, book #3 in the Underground Fighters series, is available for preorder! Better yet, if you can’t wait until February 1st, then the paperback is already available for purchase.

If you’ve been following the series, you’ve already met Wyatt. I hope you like him as a hero! I love him and Kat together.

undercover fighter cover

So without further ado, here’s Chapter 1:

Sleaze oozed from the pores of the room.

The dim blue lights obscured the worst of the sins, but there was still enough on display to make Wyatt feel like a virus crept over him, staining his skin and his soul.

Smoke curled up from the mouths of men and women, clogging the air with the scent of cigarettes and the harder drugs being passed freely amongst the party guests. Free-flowing alcohol sloshed in glasses and onto the floor as the night grew late. Women in skimpy outfits worked the room, their smiles brittle and their eyes dead. The men they pretended to fawn over either didn’t notice or didn’t care, too intent on copping a feel as the women passed with drinks or food.

Wyatt watched the proceedings from an armchair in the corner of the room, cringing inwardly at the sights. He kept McCready, his target and the only reason he was here, in his peripheral vision as he surveyed the room. It was a huge, open-plan space, fitting a hundred or so people inside before spilling them out onto the deck beyond. The crisp air outside didn’t deter the guests, as they drank and flirted and swam in the heated outdoor pool.

Inside, the room had enough columns, items of furniture, and pot plants to create an illusion of privacy if any guest wanted it. None took the house up on its implicit offer, though. Instead, men openly groped McCready’s women.

Wyatt turned back to his host. McCready surveyed the den of iniquity with intense satisfaction. He organised the underground fights Wyatt and other men participated in every Saturday night. Based on the guests here tonight, Wyatt was willing to guess that was only a small part of McCready’s business.

Wyatt wasn’t here to bust him for that, though. He had bigger fish to fry. He swallowed, moistening a throat dry from the smoke and the nausea currently roiling his stomach.

McCready glanced over and caught Wyatt’s eye. Wyatt tried not to curse. He’d done his best to stay invisible so he wouldn’t have to participate in McCready’s entertainments. But rather than let on, Wyatt forced a slight smile as McCready made his way towards him.

McCready was a man of average height and above-average width. His shoulders strained at the seams of his custom-tailored suit, tonight’s a royal blue. His shoes were shined to perfection, probably Italian leather, and his hair was an expensive undercut that probably cost more than all the haircuts Wyatt had got in his life put together.

None of those superficial trappings disguised the fact that McCready was a very dangerous man. His shoulders were broad with muscles—and not those from a gym. His eyes were hard, merciless, and Wyatt suddenly had no doubt this man had killed in the past, and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.

Though, now he had men to do that for him. Fighters he’d hand-picked and trained to be his right-hand men.

A role Wyatt intended to take for himself, God help him.

“Enjoying yourself?” McCready asked as he reached Wyatt’s elbow, raising his voice above the music and the crowd.

“Sure,” Wyatt replied, attempting to sound enthusiastic.

McCready raised a disbelieving brow. “And yet you haven’t had a drink, or a woman, since you got here. What, exactly, are you finding so entertaining?”

Wyatt set his jaw, determined not to let his surprise show at how closely McCready had been watching him.

“I’m getting a lay of the land first,” he replied. “Taking it all in. Wouldn’t mind a drink, though.” He’d rather not drink, not here, but it was the easiest concession he could make to get McCready off his back.

McCready smiled as if he’d won a point against him. He flagged down a passing woman in gold hotpants and a matching bikini top. She was obviously one of McCready’s women, the same who served drinks at the fights Wyatt participated in on Saturday nights. Wyatt had always been curious about them. Did he hire them for the occasions? Were they on retainers? Or, he thought with a sudden jolt of horror, were they more like pets McCready kept to entertain his guests?

This particular woman was one he’d seen a couple of times. Dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin. She was pretty, though not as pretty as the rest of the women, if he was being honest. Perversely, that made him like her more, as if she, too, didn’t belong in this place of excess and superficiality. But her eyes had that same dull sheen as the other women, almost robotic as she looked at him without emotion.

Wyatt had the sudden urge to flee. To arrest McCready, as he would have done a year ago. To take the Stepford Wives away from this man, and protect them. To bring them back to life, and help them forget whatever McCready had forced them to do that made them shut themselves off so completely from their surroundings.

Is this what Wyatt would become? Would his mission turn him into some kind of mechanical zombie, willing to do whatever the man beside him asked? He hoped not. Though perhaps that would be the price he’d have to pay to get the answers he wanted.

“What’ll it be?” McCready prompted Wyatt, pulling him back to the present. He couldn’t flee, not now, when he was so close. Getting invited to one of McCready’s parties meant he was at least somewhat trusted by McCready. Surely it was only a matter of time before he was close enough to glean the man’s secrets.

“Whiskey,” he told the woman. “Neat.”

She gave a curt nod and spun away, quickly disappearing into the crowd while dodging wandering hands as best she could. Almost all the guests were men, and none of them seemed to be the type who had qualms about touching random women. Wyatt had no doubt this was intentional on McCready’s part. He cultivated his acquaintances precisely. For what purpose, Wyatt wasn’t sure.

Though, given the fact that Wyatt believed he recognised at least one senator, and another prominent businessman, among the attendees, it could simply be business. Though, he doubted it.

“I could give her to you, you know,” McCready said casually.

Wyatt tore his gaze away from where the woman had disappeared into the crowd and raised an eyebrow at McCready.

“Hmmm?” he asked, not sure what McCready meant, but having a horrible feeling he knew.

“If you want her, she’s yours. For tonight, of course.” McCready eyed him closely, watching for Wyatt’s reaction.

He managed not to give him one. Just. “Maybe later. I don’t want to miss any of the party.” Even if Wyatt was the kind of man who’d take McCready up on his offer, he knew it wouldn’t come without a price.

McCready laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Fair enough.”

It had apparently been the right thing to say to put McCready off without raising his suspicions, but Wyatt’s stomach roiled. McCready handed the women around like the drinks and drugs? Didn’t they get a say? Were they prostitutes, and he their pimp? Or was there another reason they were so under his thumb?

“You fought well tonight,” McCready murmured, making conversation.

Wyatt slanted a glance at McCready, trying not to expose his growing hatred for the man. He’d known he was depraved, but Wyatt was beginning to think he hadn’t suspected the half of it.

“Thank you,” he replied. His match had been against Weston, one of McCready’s favoured few. The bigger man currently nursed a beer, sulking against the wall as he glared at the room. Cuts Wyatt had inflicted earlier decorated his face. Wyatt couldn’t help but get a thrill of satisfaction at the sight. Weston was a dick—violent, stupid, and thuggish.

The woman came back with a drink on a tray, proffering it to Wyatt. He clasped the glass and raised it to his lips. The liquid was smooth down his throat. Top shelf stuff. She hadn’t skimped on him—or maybe McCready only had the good stuff.

McCready grabbed her arm before she could turn away. “Kat, this is Wyatt. I want you to take very good care of him tonight. Whatever he asks, okay?”

Kat’s gaze turned to him, and for a moment he saw a flash of something in those dull depths. Hatred? Disgust? Whatever it had been, it was gone too quickly for him to make it out. But no matter what she thought of him, he was cheered to know the spirit hadn’t been completely sucked out of her yet.

“Of course,” she murmured, ducking her head.

“Perfect,” McCready said, eyeing them both. “I have to go talk to some of my guests. Have fun tonight.” The last was said with a pointed look at Wyatt, who plastered on a smile.

When McCready had disappeared, he turned back to Kat. She looked at him expectantly, waiting. Wyatt didn’t know what to say.

“I’m fine,” he told her.

She raised her eyebrows, some life entering her gaze again. “I didn’t ask.”

Wyatt cracked a smile, his first genuine one for the evening. “I mean, I don’t need anything. But thank you.”

Kat shrugged, giving him an amused once-over. Her gaze was penetrating, as if she could see far more than he wanted to reveal, and she didn’t exactly like what she saw. It unnerved him, wondering what she saw in him.

Her eyes drifted up to his, where they locked. A sizzle of attraction passed through his veins. She was far more beautiful now that she didn’t look so robotic. The life in her eyes made her look like a real person, not a doll, and Wyatt found he much preferred that in a woman.

“Well, I may as well stick by your side in case you need anything.”

“And avoid the groping hands out there?” he asked, only semi-joking, with a tilt of his head to indicate the room at large.

She blinked, her eyes growing wary. “Why are you here?” she asked suddenly.

Wyatt straightened, panic edging in at his corners. He took a sip of whiskey to stall. “What do you mean?”

“You had to be forced to get a drink, you haven’t groped a single woman, and you were sulking in the corner looking miserable. If you don’t want to be here, leave.” She was glaring at him, as if he’d personally offended her. By doing what, he couldn’t be sure. And, now that he thought about it, why had she been watching him so closely?

“You’re not having fun, either. So why don’t you leave?”

Her eyes shuttered. “I can’t,” she murmured, so low he could barely hear.

He stepped closer to her, crowding into her personal space. “Neither,” he hissed, “can I.”

Her gaze snapped up, landing on his in shock. Wyatt shrugged, and then turned and walked into the crowd. He felt unsteady. He’d nearly revealed everything to that woman—Kat—and for what? Because he identified with her? Pitied her? He couldn’t be sure.

One thing he knew, he had to stay away from her. Those dark, piercing eyes might be his undoing.

He kept walking until he found himself in an empty hallway. There, he stopped to take a breath and get ahold of himself. His mission was far more important than anything else. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to get the dirt on McCready, regardless of what a woman he didn’t know thought of him.

That reminder drilled into his brain, Wyatt started opening doors, exploring the hallway he’d found himself in. It was only a small part of the palatial building McCready lived in. When he’d driven up to the house he guessed there were about fifteen bedrooms on the floors above him. Surrounding the mansion was at least two pools, a tennis court, and a garage big enough for ten cars.

It would take him weeks to search the whole place. His plan to get in and out as quickly as possible took a sharp U-turn. Not that he expected this to be easy, but now he knew for certain he needed an excuse to stay here as long as possible.

It was a long shot, that McCready kept records. There wouldn’t be any point, not really. But since the other option was to have McCready or one of his goons to confess what Wyatt wanted to know straight to his face, he figured he had a better shot of finding a smoking gun in McCready’s house.

One of the doors opened onto something that looked like an office. A huge desk dominated the opposite side of the room, the surface strangely empty. Not even a pen. Bookcases lined the walls, filled with impressive-looking books Wyatt doubted had ever been cracked open.

Wyatt slipped inside and beelined for the desk. He opened the drawers, but they were empty, so he turned to the filing cabinet. A few bills, but nothing pertaining to McCready’s illegal businesses. He was about to start searching the book when a shift in the air told him the door had opened at his back.

Wyatt spun around. Relief flooded him when he saw it was Kat, not McCready or one of his men. But at the furious look on her face he reassessed his position, eyeing her warily.

“What are you doing?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Looking for the bathroom?” he tried.

Kat rolled her eyes. “Try again.”

Wyatt took a deep breath and strode towards her. “It’s none of your damn business,” he said, voice harder than he’d meant it to be. But he didn’t take it back, even as she straightened, eyes darting nervously.

“I’ll tell McCready,” she hissed.

“No, you won’t,” he replied, more nonchalantly than he felt.

“And why’s that?”

“Because you were meant to be watching me.”

Surprise flashed in her eyes, and Wyatt knew he was right.

“You weren’t just meant to serve my whims, you were supposed to keep an eye on the new guy. So, when McCready finds out I slipped away from you, I won’t be the only one punished.”

“As if McCready would punish me for exposing you,” she scoffed. “That would mean I was doing my job.”

“So why aren’t you calling for him right now?”

She hesitated. “I have my reasons.”

“You hate it here. You hate him.”

She glanced up at something on the ceiling above his shoulder. Wyatt turned, but it only looked like a motion sensor. He turned back to ask her about it, but she shook her head.

“I’m here, that’s what matters.” She crossed her arms defensively over her chest.

Wyatt stepped forward. “It doesn’t have to be. Help me.”

She stepped back, shaking her head. “I can’t. I won’t.”

“If you don’t, I’ll tell McCready you—” he broke off, unable to think of a suitable threat.

Kat glared at him, then sighed, defeated. She stepped forward, closing the gap between them, and pointed a finger into his chest. “I don’t give a shit how much trouble you get yourself into, but don’t drag me down with you. I’ve only got a few months left in this hellhole, and I’ll be damned if you get me in trouble and add more time to my sentence. So keep your mouth shut, and I won’t tell, got it?”

Sentence? What the fuck kind of nightmare was McCready running here? Wyatt swallowed thickly. He couldn’t allow himself to think about it, think about others. He needed to keep his eye on the prize.

“Got it,” Wyatt said, then pushed past her into the hall.

She grabbed his arm, stopping him before he could go three steps.

He turned back to her, their gazes meeting as that same electricity raced through his veins. She really was beautiful, more so than he’d first thought, but it was the personality in her eyes that really drew him. He knew for a fact she didn’t belong here, in this world, any more than he did. They were both pretending for their own reasons, and that gave him a sense of kinship with her.

“Whatever you’re doing,” she whispered, leaning closer. “Be careful. McCready is not forgiving of those that betray him. I’ve seen it.”

Wyatt searched her eyes, wondering why she was bothering to warn him. His heart beat faster, oddly grateful this stranger was concerned for his welfare.

He nodded to show he understood, and she let go of his arm and slid past him. She disappeared around the corner, and Wyatt blew out a breath the second he could no longer see her. It was like the air was charged in her presence, seizing his lungs.

He shook himself, preparing to re-enter the party.

And make friends with McCready, the man he was sure murdered his brother.

Grab it now!

Power Dynamics in Romance Novel Tropes

Every time I discuss my favourite tropes in romance novels, I’m struck all over again by the similarities between them.

The tropes I like tend to set up a situation in which the hero and heroine are more equal – generally by making the hero vulnerable to the heroine in some way. I enjoy books like this, because I feel like they are my one escape from the patriarchal world I live in, showing more ideal male-female relationships than I know tend to exist in the real world.

All the tropes I dislike tend to do the opposite, giving the power to the hero over the heroine. These tend to increase the power imbalance between the hero and heroine, and they tend to make me deeply uncomfortable.

Some examples of tropes I avoid include:

  • Boss/Secretary
  • Amnesiac Heroine
  • Alpha/Alphahole hero
  • Famous hero/“normal” heroine
  • Billionaire hero
  • May/December romances
  • Guardian/Ward
  • Rake/virgin
  • Royalty or Duke hero/Commoner heroine

That’s not to say these tropes can’t be done in a way that would interest me, but it would take me a lot to get over my aversion to them. Of course, I’m not judging anyone who does like these tropes. We all get something different out of the books we read, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

With most of these the power dynamics in favour of the hero are obvious, because he’s in some position of power over her.

Boss/Secretary: With the allegations of workplace sexual harassment coming to light more and more in the wake of the Weinstein articles, I think it’s become more than obvious why the power dynamics in Boss/Secretary romances (and similar) are so horribly unequal. He could fire her if she displeased him, or make her working life hell. If I don’t feel the heroine can say ‘no’ without punishment, I don’t believe that she can truly give consent, either.

Basically, my litmus test on tropes like this is: if the same actions were performed by a man the heroine didn’t secretly fancy, would I have the same reaction to the situation? Because if the only reason the scenario is palatable to me is because the heroine has the hots for the hero, then it turns out it’s not palatable at all.

I have a similar issue with Guardian/Ward romances. He has far too much power over her for me to ever see the relationship as equal.

Billionaire Hero: This one is often used in conjunction with the boss/employee trope, which makes the discrepancies even worse. Billionaire heroes often buy their way out of trouble, or tempt the heroine with their money with an “offer she can’t refuse”. These guys are often paired with good-hearted heroines in dire financial straits. Given that being self-sacrificing is part of the heroine’s personality in these scenarios, the hero offering her the money she desperately needs again feels like something she can’t or won’t refuse. So is she really consenting? Or is he just using her against herself to manipulate her into giving him what he wants?

Plus, I hate the idea that he can just buy his way out of trouble, or buy his way into her life. I’ve seen storylines where the billionaire hero buys the heroine’s company, and things like that, which again feels like he’s taking away her agency and forcing her into close proximity to him. And it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Plus, in the age of Trump, is anyone still digging the entitled billionaire hero? It seems to have lost the sheen of fantasy, no?

Famous hero/“Normal” heroine: This trope can often be a combination of the previous two. The heroine works for the actor/musician, and he’s usually very rich. But even if the former isn’t the case, it’s still not a trope that works for me. These are men with fame, fortune, and power. Often they are playboys that use women, regardless whether the heroine is the innocent type.

Even if the hero in this scenario doesn’t have direct power over the heroine, he is still more powerful in the world at large, more so than a “normal” man. And therefore the power discrepancy between them is too great for me to enjoy myself when reading.

Royalty hero/Commoner heroine: This is similar to the trope above. He just has so much power and privilege in the world that their power dynamics are too uneven. There are scenarios it can work, but mostly this is another trope I simply avoid.

Amnesiac heroine: So, this one is a little different to the other tropes on this list. Rather than giving power to the hero, it’s taking away power from the heroine. Can you imagine waking up and having no context for who you are? You’d be so reliant on others. They (in this case, the hero) could tell you anything and you’d have to believe it. You couldn’t make any choices based on your own skills and experiences, you’d have to rely on others to do it for you.

I saw a movie recently where the heroine loses her memory in an unfamiliar small town. The hero is her doctor – a nice guy, and one that won’t act on his feelings given that she’s his patient. But in the film she’s allergic to nuts. Which of course she doesn’t know once she loses her memory, and eats nuts and nearly dies. This sort of thing terrifies me.

Any trope that depowers the heroine, puts her on the back foot, and makes her scared and vulnerable is not a trope I enjoy.

Rake/virgin: This one is about the discrepancy in experience between the two. I especially can’t stand this trope when the hero is the one trying to seduce the heroine. (I can handle it if it’s the heroine attempting to seduce the rakish hero, sometimes). Often times it comes off as incredibly manipulative. He uses her own desires against her to get what he wants (sex). Those scenes where the hero is trying to seduce the inexperienced heroine, and her head is telling her all the reasons it’s a terrible idea, but her body is so overwhelmed by sensations? Yeah, that. He knows perfectly well what he’s doing. He’s using his skills in the bedroom to coerce her into something she doesn’t want, using her inexperience and her body’s reaction against her. I find it incredibly creepy and often feel sick reading those scenes.

There are other reasons I don’t like Rake/Virgin stories. Mostly to do with the “heroine has never had an orgasm until the hero and his magic wang comes along” kind of vibe I get from them. Why innocence is so prized in a genre targeted at women, I don’t know. (Well, I do, but I don’t like it). But this is all only tangentially related to this blog post so I may expand on it later.

Alpha/Alphahole hero: OK, so. For me, the alpha and alphahole heroes are basically walking privilege. They are arrogant, brash, overly-confident, think they know best, etc. Worse, they don’t tend to see their own privilege in the world. Or, if they do, they don’t care. In fact, they’ll often use it for their own gain. They’ll order the heroine around, be jealous, possessive, etc. And due to whatever circumstances they are in, even if the heroine fights back, the hero always ends up winning. Because otherwise he’d have to sit down and examine his faults and feelings and realise he was in the wrong, and pretty much no alpha hero would do that. At least, none of those I’ve come across.

So, he’ll end up just steamrolling the heroine until she’s like “it’s just easier to go along with what he wants”. I hate that. A lot. I see it in real life, too, and it is such a clear example of male privilege, of women groomed to be the “peace-keepers” that I can’t deal with it in romance.

In addition, even if the hero did accept his faults and privileges, how much work is that for the heroine to have to teach him this basic human decency? Because clearly no other woman in his life has got through to him before. So now the heroine has to spend days, weeks, months, years, of her life teaching this guy what empathy is? How to be an okay human being? About privilege and feminism and all of that stuff? What heroine has the goddamn time and energy for that? She’s not paid for that kind of labour.

And it’s worse if he’s like “my heroine is special and she’s the only woman I respect and will treat like a human being”. Like what kind of misogynistic…Anyway.

I just can’t deal with it.

Again, I think it comes back to that “is this only acceptable because the hero is doing it, rather than some random creepy dude? If so, no thanks” thing from earlier. In that sense I think the romance genre expectations work against us. We know that the hero and heroine will end up together, happy, therefore people tend to think the hero can get away with a lot more. At least, that’s what it looks like.

 

So that explains the tropes I don’t like. What about the ones I do?

The tropes I like tip the balance of the scale back in favour of the heroine, usually by making the hero vulnerable to her in some way.

The most common way to do this is to make the hero fall in love first. You’re never more vulnerable to someone than when you are in love with them, because they have a very unique power to hurt you more than anyone else. This is why I love stories where the hero is unrequitedly pining (or so he thinks) but hate stories where the heroine has been in love with the hero forever and he’s been oblivious to her. They, again, put the hero in the position of power over the heroine, just in a different way.

Therefore my favourite tropes are:

  • Beta hero
  • Man in love with his best friend or brother’s widow
  • Scarred/Wounded hero
  • Virgin hero
  • Heroine protects the hero
  • Lower class man/upper class woman
  • Hero in pursuit

A lot of these tropes are about the hero feeling inadequate when it comes to the heroine, thereby giving her the power in the relationship. Whether it’s because he’s a virgin and is nervous about his potential lack of sexual prowess; whether it’s because he’s horribly scarred and doesn’t think the heroine could love him; whether it’s because he’s from the wrong side of the tracks and has been told all his life he’s not good enough.

But it’s funny. When the heroine has the power in the relationship, like above, I feel that this balances out the hero and heroine. He has privilege in other ways, being a man in our society. By giving the heroine a measure of power in their relationship, it makes me feel much better about the place the heroine is in, if that makes sense.

And beta heroes? Well, they are in many ways opposite to alphas. They are often aware of their privileges, and more sensitive to the heroine’s position and feelings. He may not necessarily be without privilege, but at least he wouldn’t use it against the heroine. The sweeter the hero, the better.

 

This is not by any means a comprehensive look at the tropes in the genre, and I have read and enjoyed stories that use my least favourite tropes before. It just depends on the way it’s done. You can add a sweet beta hero to anything and I’d pretty much be guaranteed to read it.

Instead, I use these tropes as a shorthand to tell me what to avoid. Each trope has expectations that go along with it, and for me some of those expectations are good (a la beta heroes) and some are bad (alphas). Sometimes the expectations are met, other times they are not, for good or bad. But it helps to narrow down my reading, because there are SO many books out there and I don’t have time for them all.

And I’m a mood reader, too. Very occasionally I’ll dip my toe into a trope I’m not usually into if my mood calls for it, and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. But often I’ll just stick to what I know.

 

So, tell me. What are your favourite and last favourite tropes? Do you agree with my assessment of power dynamics? I’m interested to hear!

Christmas Giveaway!

For the previous two Christmases, I lived overseas in a country that didn’t really celebrate Christmas at all. So I had no tree, no home-cooked meal for Christmas lunch, and didn’t even unwrap any presents! I missed the traditions more than I can say.

So, this year I’m going all-out. And that includes my author life, too. I’ve signed up to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas with 11 other amazing authors. Each of us are doing a personal giveaway for the first 12 days of the month, (Mine is here, on Facebook!) and then each post has a giveaway you can enter to win a $50 Amazon giftcard!

I’m the final day, so all the authors before me have already posted their giveaways. Here are the links to see if you’ve missed any!

Day 1 – Kris Pearson

Day 2 – Joanne Dannon

Day 3 – Cassandra O’Leary

Day 4 – Annie Seaton

Day 5 – Monique McDonell

Day 6 – Kate O’Keeffe

Day 7 – Cathryn Hein

Day 8 – Tracey Alvarez

Day 9 – Leeanna Morgan

Day 10 – Wendy Vella

Day 11 – Charmaine Ross

Day 12 – Aislinn Kearns

For me, I’m giving away a copy of a multi-author anthology I’m a part of. It’s called Romancing the Holidays and has nine Christmas stories within!

This is the blurb for the set:

Curl up by the fire with a glass of mulled wine or hot chocolate and celebrate the magic of Christmas with these nine heart-warming stories about love, hope and family.

There’s something for any reader who loves the romance of Christmas. These sweet novellas are a perfect way to unwind in the busy the holiday season, so pick up your copy today!

And this is the blurb for my story in it:

Winnie Anderson hates Dan Walker. Well, she would if only he didn’t make heart flutter quite so much.

With the annual Christmas lights competition happening in a few weeks, Winnie is determined to beat Dan at his own game. She’s going to create the best display their town has even seen.

But when she breaks her leg, Dan surprises her by stepping up to help her complete her display. And Winnie realises maybe he’s not so bad after all…

I hope you enjoy it, and have a very Happy Holidays this year. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Romancing the Holidays is available for pre-order!

Romancing the Holidays is available for preorder! Preorder it here from Amazon for just $0.99! That’s 9 stories for just $0.99!

Curl up by the fire with a glass of mulled wine or hot chocolate and celebrate the magic of Christmas with these nine heart-warming stories about love, hope and family.

There’s something for any reader who loves the romance of Christmas. These sweet novellas are a perfect way to unwind in the busy the holiday season, so pick up your copy today!

My story is called Light Up Her Heart!

Winnie Anderson hates Dan Walker. Well, she would if only he didn’t make heart flutter quite so much.

With the annual Christmas lights competition happening in a few weeks, Winnie is determined to beat Dan at his own game. She’s going to create the best display their town has ever seen.

But when she breaks her leg, Dan surprises her by stepping up to help her complete her display. And Winnie realises maybe he’s not so bad after all…

Get it here for just $0.99!

Russian Beast – Chapter 1

Russian Beast is $0.99 for a limited time!

Muffled yelling pierced the rap music blasting through Alexei’s earphones. The thin walls of his apartment did little to quiet the sound of the couple next door as the argument escalated.

Alexei sighed and tugged out his earphones, allowing them to drop into his lap. The tinny sound of the song he’d been listening to was drowned out by the loud male voice currently making his displeasure known.

He swung his legs over the side of his bed, the mattress squeaking under his weight, and turned his head towards the wall. Peeling paint in a colour that had once been white, now a sickly grey, decorated the otherwise bare walls of his apartment.

The voices rose again, and he winced. He couldn’t make out what they were saying. It was hard enough for him to understand English in normal circumstances, let alone when it was furious yelling behind a barrier.

It took Alexei a moment to realise it wasn’t actually a couple yelling. Because the woman he knew lived there—whom he’d never spoken to, but had seen once or twice in the hallway, and had thought she’d lived alone—wasn’t replying. Only the man had something to say. The extremely angry man.

Alexei hesitated a moment. He shouldn’t intervene, he knew that. It wasn’t his business if a couple got into an argument, and it was a common enough occurrence around here besides. Worse, if the police got involved it would compromise Alexei’s carefully constructed life under the radar of the authorities.

Ah chyort,” Alexei muttered. Ah shit.

A crash sounded from beyond the wall, and Alexei was on his feet and moving towards his front door before he’d even made a conscious decision. Even as he stomped down the hall, having a moment to consider what he was about to do, he kept moving forward. He’d seen enough domestic violence first-hand to know the damage it could cause, and he wouldn’t sit by while another woman’s life was shattered.

He reached the apartment next door and stopped for a moment, chest heaving in anticipation of a fight. His blood was up, a surging lust for violence, a need to do harm to a man that hurt others smaller than himself.

He tried the doorknob. Locked. Very well. He bared his teeth and took a step back from the door. Another crash, and this time Alexei was sure he could hear a woman crying. Soft, subdued, as if she was trying to hold back the sounds, but even more heart-wrenching for the pretense.

Alexei readied himself with a deep breath, then charged forward. His shoulder slammed against the door with all his strength. The seams cracked as the wood splintered, but the door didn’t burst open.

The man hadn’t stopped his tirade, so Alexei assumed he hadn’t paid attention to the breaking and entering attempt. But Alexei could hear the woman’s voice now, clearer, and with a plaintive edge.

“Please, Jimmy.”

Those two words sliced rage through Alexei. He could no longer think rationally. Instead, he was a child again, hearing his mother plead in that same tone of voice. “Please, Grigori.” Alexei had been too young, too small, to do anything all those years ago, but the same couldn’t be said now.

Alexei gritted his teeth, raised his leg, and slammed his bare foot into the tilting door.

The door burst open, slamming against the wall with an almighty crash. It bounced off and swung back towards Alexei on uneven hinges, but Alexei didn’t let it close on him. He held out a fist and the door whacked into his arm and sailed harmlessly back again.

Alexei didn’t give it a second glance. He was too busy staring down the furious gaze of the man in front of him. Jimmy, he assumed, was a little over six foot, and had a decent set of muscles on him. Alexei would comfortably bet what little money he had on the fact that those muscles were gym-bought, and not from natural use. In fact, he’d be surprised if Jimmy used his muscles for anything another than intimidating women.

“Who the fuck are you?” Jimmy spat.

Alexei ignored him. He glanced at the woman, his neighbour, hunched on the floor near the wall. Broken glass scattered around her, the yellow shards reflecting the light from a small lamp a few feet from her. She looked so small, so vulnerable, sitting there amongst the wreck of her apartment. It whacked Alexei in the gut more effectively than any punch or kick. How could any man hurt such a woman, any woman?

She didn’t appear to be badly hurt, though a bruise was blooming vividly on her cheek, and her lip was split. She wasn’t looking at him, her gaze focused on the floor. It took Alexei a second to notice she was looking for something, until her hand closed around a small statue that hadn’t been damaged by Jimmy’s tantrum.

Alexei tore his gaze from her and glanced at his surroundings. A chair had been overturned, as had a table. But other items of furniture lay untouched, allowing him a glimpse of what her apartment usually looked like. Colourful, decorative items scattered the room, lifting it with a brightness that his own apartment lacked. Alexei got the distinct impression that she generally kept her place in perfect order, as if she was proud of her small, cheap apartment in an awful suburb, which just made its current state that much sadder.

The woman stared at him with wide, terrified eyes, her knuckles white where she clutched the statue, but Alexei had no time to placate her. He knew what he’d look like—a huge, muscled man with a perpetual scowl and violence in his eyes.

But the violence wasn’t directed at her.

Jimmy, clearly pissed that Alexei was ignoring him, strode forward, flexing his shoulders in what was meant to be an intimidating gesture. “Get the fuck out!”

Alexei stepped into the apartment, ducking his head to get under the door, then straightening to his full height. He had six inches on Jimmy, and twice the muscles. Even better, he knew how to use them to best advantage. In fact, he did so professionally.

Jimmy struck out with his fist, obviously having transferred his wrath from the girl to Alexei. Good.

The fist struck a few inches below Alexei’s solar plexus. Alexei barely flinched. As he’d suspected, the guy was an amateur. He survived far worse attacks in the cage once a week, and Jimmy didn’t have a chance.

Alexei grabbed him by the back of the neck and spun, slamming Jimmy’s head into the wall with brutal force. He kept himself together enough to pull back his attack slightly. As much as the rage pounding through his veins told him to kill this guy, he had enough control to know the woman cowering a few feet away wouldn’t appreciate her boyfriend’s brains smeared across her neat walls, even if the guy was a shithead.

Jimmy groaned, a pathetic sound that made Alexei want to sneer. The guy tried a weak swing back towards Alexei, but it didn’t connect. Then, he sagged. Alexei knocked his head once more against the wall for good measure. The guy collapsed to the ground with a thump.

All of Alexei’s rage and bloodlust drained out of him at the sight of the unconscious man crumpled on the floor. Unlike Jimmy, Alexei took no pleasure in beating on defenceless people.

Alexei turned towards the woman, immediately dismissing Jimmy from his mind. She stared up at him with wide eyes. He took a step towards her. At the movement, she scrambled to her feet, her eyes bouncing between Alexei and the sack of shit lying behind him. She was taller than he’d thought, coming up to his chin. She’d seemed so much smaller curled in on herself.

Alexei took a breath, not sure what he would say, but knowing it would be appropriate for him to say something.

Before he could get any words out, the woman straightened her spine and raised the small statue so it hovered between them like a weapon.

“Get out.”

Alexei blinked and froze. At first he thought she must be talking to Jimmy, but her gaze was trained directly on Alexei. It was a show of strength and defiance he hadn’t expected, and an odd surge of pride welled up in him to know she was neither beaten, nor broken.

But then her words penetrated and he scowled. She took a step backwards at his expression, her lips pressing tightly together. But she didn’t back down.

“What?” he managed, the word coming out more as vhat in his surprise.

Her hands shook as she pointed towards the door. Her breathing was uneven, coming in fits and starts that told him she barely held it together.

“You broke my door and smashed my ex’s head in. You just caused more damage than he did. So, please. Get. Out.”

And then Alexei understood. She was afraid. Not of her unconscious boyfriend, but of him. His teeth clenched at the lack of gratitude, even as the logical part of his mind understood.

Alexei hesitated for a moment, his eyes roving over her face once to make sure she’d be okay. The flash of fire in her eyes told him she’d survive, so he gave her a wry smile. Then, he turned back to the groaning piece of trash on the floor and hefted the smaller man over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He ignored the guy’s half-hearted protest as he stepped out of the broken doorway and into the hall.

He turned back, once, to see the woman standing in the middle of her ruined apartment, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. She watched him go with an indecipherable expression on her face. Was that fear? Anger? Desperation? She looked so alone in that moment Alexei had the odd urge to comfort her. But she didn’t want that. And he shouldn’t want that.

Shaking his head against the strange impulse, he strode over to the ancient, rickety staircase that was the only mode of traversing the floors of this shitty apartment building. No one had ever bothered to install an elevator, but Alexei never minded the exercise.

He jogged two floors down with the wriggling man over his shoulder, careful not to touch the railing, lest it topple under his weight.

Once outside he quickly slipped down the alley that ran the side of the building. There, he hefted Jimmy onto the filthy ground. He breathed shallowly in an attempt to avoid the foul smell from the overflowing bins nearby. It was dark; the only light source was the flickering street lamp a few doors down. But there was enough illumination for Alexei to make out Jimmy’s displeased scowl.

He hesitated a moment, then bent over the other man. Jimmy blinked and his head reared back as Alexei got close. The other man’s breath stunk of alcohol and his eyes had the glassy belligerence of a habitual drunk.

Alexei paused for a moment, finding the words in English. “You come near her again, I’ll kill you,” Alexei told him in his most menacing tone. He let the violence of his life, his history, enter his eyes, so Jimmy would know he was serious. He knew his thick Russian accent added to the effect—too many Americans associated Russians with the enemy, with evil.

Jimmy got the message, because he swallowed and nodded. Alexei stood and stepped back. He stared down at the hunched man for a long moment before turning and walking away. He wouldn’t, couldn’t, call the cops on the guy, as much as he might want to. And besides, that would be the woman’s choice to make. A choice he knew survivors often didn’t make, for a variety of reasons, both good and bad.

Sighing, he trudged back up the stairs to his crappy apartment. He glanced at the woman’s door, now shut but tilting precariously in a way that told Alexei the hinges were permanently damaged. He winced, knowing he’d done what he had to, but she’d have to bear the effects.

He took a step towards her apartment, compelled to apologise, to check on her, to…something. But as he neared, the scrape of a heavy item of furniture being pushed across the floor sounded on the other side of the door. She was shoring up her place for the night.

Alexei’s mouth twisted again in some approximation of a smile. He was glad she could take care of herself.

Alexei returned to his own apartment, looking at it with new eyes after seeing the care with which his neighbour had tended to her own. The place hadn’t been in great shape when he’d moved in, and he’d never bothered to rectify that to any great extent once he lived there. The items he’d bought second-hand from various places on the internet had been for their low price, not their comfort or style.

He had no personal items. No photos, no trinkets or decorations. Just the bare minimum. He didn’t need much else.

Frustrated with himself for questioning that fact, even briefly, Alexei returned to his bed, picking up the still-playing ear buds as he threw himself on the squeaking mattress. He hesitated for a moment with the ear bud hovering near his ear. Then, he shut off the music, and placed the phone on the chair that passed for his bedside table.

Instead, he stared up at the dark ceiling and listened to the careful sounds of the woman on the other side of the wall.

Get it here while it’s $0.99!

Russian Beast Available for Pre-Order – for just $0.99!

Russian Beast, book 2 in my Underground Fighters series, is available for pre-order! And it releases one week from today. Better yet, it’s at a limited-time price of just $0.99 only until release, so get in quick!

Here’s the preorder link!

Meet the Underground Fighters—men battling it out in illegal cage matches for money. All have their reasons for fighting. But will love be enough to free them?

Alexei: Strong. Silent. Russian.

Alexei has lived a life off the radar since he arrived in the US years before. Until he meets Evie—the woman he can’t get out of his head.

Having escaped Russia—and a brutal father—when he was barely out of his teens, Alexei now earns his living in illegal fights. There, his size and strength are an advantage, not a curse. When Alexei rescues his neighbour from her violent ex, he sees for the first time that he can use his power for good, and becomes determined to protect Evie from her demons.

Evie has avoided men since she escaped her ex, focusing on the final months of her social work degree. Paranoia has gripped her, and she can’t be sure whether the shadow she thinks is following her is really there, or only a figment of her imagination. But when Alexei barges into her life, she has to decide whether she can place her trust in him, or whether he’s just another man who uses violence to get what he wants.

When Evie convinces Alexei to teach her to fight, she must learn to trust her instincts, to trust him. If she doesn’t, her ex will shatter everything she holds dear, and she’ll risk losing Alexei forever…

Here’s that link again!

And remember, it’s $0.99 for a limited time only!

Author Interview – Annabelle McKinnes

Today on the blog I have my dear friend Annabelle McInnes, whose debut book releases today! Please welcome her!

  1. Tell us about yourself!

From the age of sixteen, I lived in a youth refuge while I remained committed to my education. I spent two years within a section of humanity that society overlooks. My experiences are the foundations that drive my stories and my characters. Outside of my love for reading and writing, I spend my free moments with my husband, son and poodle named Serendipity. I drink my Whisky neat and am known to scour the local markets for blue cheese and home-made jam.

  1. And tell us about your book!

True Refuge and the Refuge Trilogy is a tale that is interwoven with concepts that explore the extremes of the human condition when civilisation as we know it has imploded, and along with it, any promise of a benevolent future for the human race. The story moves past simple notions of good vs evil, love conquers all, or overcoming the past. These books delve directly into themes of grandeur, of epic undertakings that see the characters strive to rise above personal interests, reject societal constraints regarding sexuality, masculinity, femininity, and battle against the formation of an institution that threatens to swallow what is left of humanity. The characters fight for love, they fight for freedom, and they fight for the human race.

 

  1. What drew you to writing dystopian/speculative fiction romance?

I grew up reading high fantasy novels including all of J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist, and the early books by George R. R. Martin. These books influenced my imagination and my dreams. But the inspiration for the first draft of True Refuge came from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It was this book that truly made me appreciate dystopian and speculative fiction novels and how my experiences could shape these fictitious worlds. I adored the tension that McCarthy created with very little action. I also appreciated how he didn’t spend time explaining the “before” or the “after” of his world. I write about love and hope, about characters that overcome adversary to triumph over evil. Speculative Fiction, specifically Speculative Romance give me an environment to explore these facets of our humanity.

 

  1. You’re a debut author, what’s the experience been like so far? From writing through to pitching to getting The Call?

It has been incredibly humbling, overwhelming and exhilarating. I can only liken it to the getting the call on a dream job that you have been wanting and working towards your whole life. But like any new role, there are times that you feel out of your depth, that you feel as though you might fail. But with each day I become better at my craft, more comfortable with personal promotion and more adept at planning and routine. I have worked with some brilliant people, I have also made some great friends, so it has overall it has been a wonderful experience.

 

  1. What’s the best thing and hardest thing about writing romance, do you think?

In romance the most important element is the development of the character’s relationship. For me, the best and hardest to write are the scenes where this plays out physically. They’re the hardest because I find them tremendously draining. Writing the details surrounding the physical placement of the bodies while ensuring that the emotion and tone is perfect, is taxing. The Refuge Trilogy is a ménage relationship and often has three people intertwined in the act. The scenes must ensure that each character develops and that their individual journey is articulated, also that each individual’s quirks, mannerisms and physical limitations are detailed appropriately, and finally, that the relationship between the three of them progresses. It is a mammoth task. These scenes are always integral to my story, so the pressure to ensure that they are accurate makes them even harder to write. They are also some of my longest chapters.

But they are my favourite because of many of the same reasons. I relish writing the love that develops between my characters, the importance they place on each other, and highlighting the devotion and dedication that they share for one another. These scenes are often the most beautiful, and I really enjoy letting go with extravagant words for the right moments.

 

  1. How about dystopian fiction? What are the challenges there? And how much research did you have to do?

The Refuge Trilogy takes place three years after humanity was decimated by a plague-like virus. Thus, it’s often the technical elements I struggle with. How do catch small game to eat? What is the effectiveness/implications of antibiotics after their expiration date? What are the risks when shooting a soiled handgun? What type of maintenance would a solar panel require? Google offers a little guidance, but I am often asking ex and current servicemen/women in my friendship circles long and unusual questions.

  1. Would you ever write in a different genre? (Even a different sub-genre of romance)

I think most writers struggle with containing ideas, and I have many that rattle around in my head. I would enjoy writing thrillers. Though I would have to get a lot better at planning my novels to ensure I captured all the clues early on in the right context. I often struggle with this and need to double back throughout my manuscripts to ensure I picked up all the threads I left behind.

 

  1. What’s your favourite trope in romance?

Tortured hero, hands down. No second thoughts. There is nothing more delicious than an alpha male dealing with inner demons, just waiting for the right woman (or man) to pull him out of the darkness and save his soul… Sigh…

 

  1. What are some of your favourite genres or authors to read?

My tastes change as regularly as the Canberra seasons. It’s just one of the reasons why I love reading romance. No matter my mood, I can always find a book that suits my wishes. As I write, I tend not to read too much speculative fiction. However, when I am in a break between books I often enjoy reading this genre to ensure my own ideas/storylines are current with the trends. Pam Godwin, Charlotte Stein and Joey Hill are my auto-buys. I often enjoy spec-fic interlaced with dark elements. Alpha antiheros, confinement, abduction and fated mates are my catnip. Cari Silverwood, R. Lee Smith and Addison Cain are just to name a few of my most recent purchases. My contemporary tastes run a little more mainstream with Kristen Ashley, TJ Klune and this fantastic author I just adore named Aislinn Kearns.

 

[Aislinn’s note – thank you for the kind words!]

 

  1. What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned in the process of publishing so far?

Patience. Publishing is a long road. Writing the book is hard, but I’ve found it the easiest part of the process. Finding a publisher, surviving rejection letters, the editing, cover design, all the individual promotional work. Reviews? If only all I had to do was write! Even if the process of writing the book is quick, it can still take years to publish a traditional book. This is a career that requires dedication, grit and determination, because there are no quick wins in this business. I’ve also learnt that I love this. That writing feeds my soul. That right now, there is nothing I would rather be doing. I don’t have to be on a beach to achieve my dreams. I just have to have a computer and a chair with good back support and I’ll be the happiest woman on earth.

 

  1. If you had to do one thing over in your writing career so far, would you? And what would it be?

Hard question! I tend as a rule not to have regrets. I’m not hard on myself in that way, knowing that I did the best I could at the time. When I re-read my manuscripts, there are always things I want to change, but I think that is part of the learning process. With each book I get better, and I try to look ahead, rather than back.

 

  1. What’s your writing process like? How often do you find the time? Do you outline first? Do you listen to music while the magic happens? Give us some insight.

I write from 6am to 8am minimum five days per week. I have found that this is when I’m my most productive. I don’t let social media distract me and, once I’ve made my coffee, I can meet my word could per day. I use a simple algorithm to work out what my word count should be and stick to it, regardless of how good/bad/easy/hard my writing is that day. I don’t believe in writer’s block but I do believe in writer’s fatigue. So I try to make sure I calculate downtime and breaks into my daily word-count equation. I have attempted to write outlines but my books never go the way I originally plan so I don’t waste time on them now. My first draft, usually around 40k words, I often use that as a basic structure and then my edits/rewrites/embellishment happens from there. I have a playlist of twenty-four songs that I listen to on repeat. They range from Disney cartoon classics, to 80s rock ballads, to modern pop chart toppers. But they all tend to have the theme of unrequired love.

 

  1. Where do you get your ideas?

They say that reading is so important to writing, and it’s true. I get inspiration from the books I read. The wonderful thing about romance is there you are able to align themes to other books. That’s the whole point of sub-genres and tropes. It means I can find ideas and concepts that I’d like to explore in my own writing. It’s important to be fresh and relevant, which I strive to be, but I’m intrinsically wired to find inspiration from others, and as writing tends to be a very lonely business, so it makes books often my only opportunity for the development and moulding of new ideas.

 

  1. How do you recharge your imagination when you can feel your creative well getting dry? (Or is it just me that happens to!)

Nope, not just you! I ground myself. I’ve discovered that immersing myself in nature, while trying to get a little bit of exercise is the best thing for my creative soul. Social media drains me, so I often have to limit myself from it during down times. I also suffer from anxiety which impacts my creativity and writing. But if I can go for a walk by myself in nature, I can often get thing back up and running in no time.

 

  1. What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the structural edits for the third book in the Refuge Trilogy, Eternal Refuge. I keep expecting this process to get better, easier, and though in some ways it has, there is still plenty to learn from each book.

 

  1. What are your plans for the future?

Another Speculative Romance is on the cards. What it looks like yet I’m still unsure, but there are plenty of ideas that I can’t wait to explore!

 

Just for fun:

  1. Sweet or savoury?

Sweet, totally and utterly sweet.

  1. Hot weather or cold?

My skin is so sensitive to the Australian sun and I often get burnt and overheat in the summer. However, winter in Canberra can get very cold, and so as I grow older, I’m enjoying the warmer months more.

  1. If an apocalypse comes, what would be your most valuable skill?

I would be a terrible survivalist. I’m not very practical or a fast runner. I’m not good with blood either… to be honest, it’s unlikely that I would survive. Make sure you’re faster than me.

  1. Which celebrity would you choose to be stranded on a desert island with?

Keven Sorbo, from the 1990’s TV hit Hercules, obviously. Who wouldn’t want to be stranded with him? Long blond hair, a dusting of chest hair that peaked through an open shirt, piecing blue eyes. I was in love with that wannabe romance novel cover model before I even knew what romance novels were.

  1. Dream vacation spot? (Other than the island with the celebrity, naturally)

Scotland. I love that rugged, windswept country. It’s not just its towing mountain ranges and centuries old castles, it’s also the people, the food, the hospitality. Beautiful, with or without the Highlanders.

  1. If you won a million dollars tomorrow, what’s the first thing you’d buy?

The first item I would buy just for me would be a bespoke, custom made writing desk. I love the thought of having something feminine and unique, yet fictional and ergonomically sound. And a lamp. As a writer, you can never have too much light.

Thanks for stopping by, Annabelle!

If you want to pick up True Refuge, it’s available here at Amazon and at all good retailers! (I’ve already grabbed my copy!)

If you want to connect with Annabelle, here’s where you can find her:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorannabellemcinnes/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/akmcinnes

Website: https://www.annabellemcinnes.com/

 

If You Write a Book That Nobody Reads, Are You Really a Writer?

An interesting perspective. I felt better about it until the ‘Oh, and then I got a BookBub’ finale. If we could all get BookBubs, our careers as Indie Authors would be a lot easier!

Please welcome author Susan Wolfe to WU today! Susan is a lawyer with a B.A. from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Stanford University. After four years of practicing law full time, …

Source: If You Write a Book That Nobody Reads, Are You Really a Writer?

Caged Warrior is now available!

Caged Warrior is now available! You can purchase it on Amazon, or read for FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Grab it here!

Meet the Underground Fighters—men battling it out in illegal cage matches for money. All have their reasons for fighting. But will love be enough to free them?

Diego: Loner. Bad boy. Ex-con.

As far as the world knows, Diego Johnson is dead. And in some ways, he is.

Diego has his own reasons for fighting. Mostly, he just wants to be free. But for that he needs money, and there are only so many jobs a man can do when he’s supposed to be dead. Especially when violence was his only tool for so long.

When he meets Rosalyn—a gorgeous and mysterious redhead—at one of his fights, he realises what he’s been missing.

Rosalyn has her own reasons for getting close to sexy, tattooed Diego. She’s a journalist determined to prove herself, and a story about the underground fighters is exactly the kind she needs to impress her boss. But the brutal world she stumbles into is not what she expected. All the men have their reasons for being there, and they protect their own.

Only when Diego claims her as his does she have a hope of making it out alive.

Read chapter 1 here!