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Affairs of the Hearts Blog Hop Tour

Each day a group of blogs will present special excerpts from some of the books...look below for the blog hop schedule. AFFAIRS OF THE HEART
(15 NOVELS AND NOVELLAS FROM YOUR FAVORITE ROMANCE AUTHORS)
Name of cover designer: RENE FOLSOM Official genre of box set: ROMANCE Content warning: 18+
Contemporary Romance Box Set — Complete Stories Anthology — Hot New Release — Vacation Reading Package 15 COMPLETE NOVELS AND NOVELLAS FROM YOUR FAVORITE ROMANCE AUTHORS IN ONE PRETTY PACKAGE.
Due to mature content, situations and language, this collection is recommended for audiences 18+. Heat levels range from sensual to scorching. All works in this box set have been professionally proofed by Paper Gold Publishing, unless this service was expressly refused by the author. Some stories are written in American, and some in British English. The authors have chosen to stay true to their heritage. Includes a mix of already released and never-before seen stories, all complete works. Those books which are part of a series can be enjoyed fully without the need to read the complete series (though there is a chance you might develop story-addiction issues—for that, we apologize). Dive into summer in good company. Affairs of the Heart gives you the chance to make 15 new sets of best friends. Just think about it: 15 hot boyfriends and girlfriends you can lust after, laugh with, or shed a tear for. If there is one thing this set is brimming with is intense emotion. We guarantee you won’t be able to simply walk away, stone-cold, from this collection.
Maci strives for one thing in life—anonymity. With her writing career in full bloom, all she wants is to work in peace while concealing her true identity from the public. Though readers love the science fiction worlds she creates, Maci knows that gender stereotypes could damage her career if she is exposed as a woman.
Liam is the envy of all gamers as the lead developer for nZone Studios. Over time, he builds walls around himself, keeping people at arm’s length who only gravitate to him for his material possessions rather than who he is as a person.
With thick barriers around their hearts and their past looming in the shadows, Liam and Maci challenge each other by slowly peeling away their protective layers and seeing each other for who they really are. It doesn’t take long after their chance meeting at a coffee shop for them to become one another’s game changer.
Note: This contemporary romance novel is the first book in the Playing Games series and contains adult situations meant for ages 18+.
“Trust me, he says. You’ll be safe with me, he says.”
Amelie Watts is sick and tired of being treated like a child. She might be willowy and delicate, but she has strength of the kind that doesn’t show on the outside. Plus, she learned all she needed to know so she could cope on her own. Now, if only her big brother would finally release her inheritance! She would fly to the Bahamas and kiss the backwater she grew up in goodbye.
Jason Watts is fed up with picking up the pieces of his little sister’s life. If only she would grow up already and learn to live life without stabilizers! Her latest idea is insane, and bound to be her most enormous failure to date. But how to make her understand?
Enter Rob Tyson, incorrigible bachelor and Jason’s best friend. For a laugh, they make a bet.
Two people, a hastily acquired boat, and a tropical paradise. What could possibly go wrong?
Zaed, Sophie's American-born friend, kneels at a party to retrieve a glittering ring from the floor. Before anyone can comment, Natasha, Sophie's cousin, is shrieking 'yes, yes, I accept' to a bewildered Zaed. It's all a cosmic mistake, but things get out of hand rapidly as Zaed's father, an old friend of Natasha's father, bribes Zaed to accept Natasha's expectations and wed her. But then, Zaed and Sophie fall in love. And the huge, elaborate wedding between Zaed and Natasha, a wedding that will join two powerful families, is next week.
You don't just back out at the altar. Not in Pakistan…
James, a UK based chef, has tried to make a career with EAT-TV, but his womanizing ways aren’t what they’re looking for with their wholesome family style image. However, the producers of a new reality show about single life, The Fixer Upper, think he’s perfect. Against his wishes his agent convinces him to give it a shot. His overpriced bachelor pad is needing a mortgage payment, and he needs a job to support the tween-aged daughter that’s recently been dumped in his lap.
Margaret Dumas is control freak who has micromanaged her marriage to shambles. When she makes a deal with her mother to quit fixing her up if she’ll do this new reality show, she thinks she’s won. No more blind dates, no more friendly advice, no more “chance meetings” with her Mother’s friends’ sons. The only catch is she’s got to go on detestable reality television and expose her dating habits to a total stranger who is supposed to “fix” her and make her a dating machine. As if.
When Margaret meets James, they clash on the surface, but deep down they recognize something in the other that they want. Redemption.
My name is Alix and I am addicted to sex.
Had been for years. I thought I learned how to live a normal life, but that’s the thing about addiction, it creeps back up when you least expect it. There is no one there for me, no one I can turn to for help. Until I’m given a chance to explore a side of myself I’d always kept locked away. I was lost…until him. I can’t tell you who he is, or why he does the things he’s done. All I can say is I hope one day I behave well enough to take off the blindfold and see the man who controls my addiction. My Master.
My name is John and I am addicted to control.
I tried to deny the dominate side of my personality. I didn’t want to admit how much I enjoyed the power, how much I enjoyed causing pain. That is until the woman I’d been secretly been stalking waltzed into a BDSM club right in front of me. All bets are off. She will be mine.
Together our addictions feed off each other, fueling the fire that burns within. Until suddenly the fire is too hot to handle, burning everything in its path. The pain and scars we’d both come into our fragile relationship with are split wide open, exposing more than either of us can handle, possibly leaving nothing behind to salvage from the ashes.
**Warning: Intended for audiences 18+ due to explicit sex & vulgar language, mention of rape/abuse**
She'd been dealt too many blows to count. He'd always lived life on easy street. Are they Yin and Yang or a mistake of epic proportions?
Makeup artist Reggie Reynolds has endured a life as colorful as her ever-changing hair. After a painful childhood and a tragic adolescence, by sheer force of will, she found success – first in Hollywood, then on Broadway. Returning to her hometown offers a chance to help her aging grandfather and realize her dreams, not to mention soothe a broken heart. But even her storied past won't prepare Reggie for what happens in her next chapter.
When reporter Eddie Besson meets Reggie on a flight to New York City, he thinks he's at an all-time high-point in his cushy, perpetual-youth life. Twenty-four hours with Reggie changes Eddie's perspective. Despite the fact she doesn't want anything to do with him when he leaves, Eddie can't stop thinking about the girl from New York City long after he's gone from the Big Apple.
As Eddie's perfectly-orchestrated life falls apart, he has some tough decisions to make, with only one thing certain: there will be consequences to pay for his lackadaisical approach to adulthood. Reggie's own soul-searching reveals some painful truths, including guilt about passing judgment on the guy from Maine. When she runs into Eddie again – this time on his home turf – sparks fly and decisions must be made, choices that aren't universally well-received. Will this unlikely pair go all-in, find a way to balance the scales and live life on their own terms? Or will tragedy tear them apart for good?
What would you do if you had no place to go and no one you could trust?
Jackson Beaumont prides himself on being a nature-loving, guitar-strumming, carefree sort of guy. When the mysterious Lena Benton walks into his bar looking scared and defeated, it's not something he can ignore. He's immediately consumed by concern for her and driven by his desire to help. She's just so beautiful. So wounded.
After being shuffled from one foster home to another growing up, Lena Benton dreamt of finding her prince charming. When the captivating Troy Harington sweeps her off her feet shortly after high school graduation, she's certain she's found her happiness. Unfortunately, Troy's true colors surface shortly after their marriage and things turn ugly. Lena only has one choice. She has to leave him. She has to run...
Lena's escape has brought her to Jackson, and he clearly wants to be there for her, but can she trust anyone again after what she's gone through? And will Jackson be able to help her heal without losing his heart?
Mangled Hearts become Entangled Souls
Cade is on the road to recovery with Francesca’s love and support guiding him. His life is changing drastically, from attempting to mend the rift between he and his father, to trying to have a normal relationship with his now fiancé. Most of all, Cade must find a way to control his urges so he can be completely released from rehabilitation.
Francesca is building her law firm with the help of those she loves most, but when a close friend reveals her true feelings about Francesca's engagement, it sends her emotions into a tailspin. Through all of this, she is forced to put her feelings on the back burner for everyone else, until the anniversary of Josie’s accident rolls around. Francesca must learn to put herself first before she falls apart.
In this novella, join Cade and Francesca as they explore their relationship and begin their lives together.
Thank you for picking up this Crimson & Clover short story, SURRENDER. If you've read THE STORM AND THE DARKNESS, you will recognize pieces of this from Ana's flashback to her prom night. SURRENDER is an expanded version of that scene, painting her teenage courtship with Oz with color and context.
Having read other books in the series will provide deeper insight, but they are not required to enjoy this story. SURRENDER is the first of many Crimson & Clover Lagniappes (or, bonus stories). You can pick it up anywhere in your series journey.
I hope you enjoy this quick, lighthearted read about the joyful innocence that accompanies first love.
Andi has always been anxious about her weight and like many women, thinks that unless she is thin, she has no value.
Follow her 'misadventures' and see if this is true or will she find there are more important things that makes a person who and what they are?
Jack Austin had it all – a great home, career, and the girl of his dreams. Then one night he lost them all, thanks to his father. Now he has seventy-two hours to find a way to get back his ranch, and win the heart of the only girl he ever loved.
Katrina Mitchell was a small-town girl who had big dreams. She was the first in her family to graduate high school, and was determined to go to college. Then she met Jack and found out love did not have to come with a price. They made plans for their future, but it all came crashing down around them.
She lost more than she could ever tell anyone that night. Now Jack needs her help. Can she help him without giving away a secret she had fought so long to hide?
Leaving the Marines and returning to the Tormented Souls clubhouse to live with my brother, the president, wasn't as easy as I thought it'd be. I have too many secrets, too many scars to hide from the world. I thought the years away would've dulled the crush I've had on Ellis since I was a child. They didn't.
He's got his eye on me and nothing I say will change his mind. Not even when my boyfriend shows up and he finds out the darkest, most embarrassing secret I have. He thinks it's the only one I have, little does he know, I have a bigger, scarier one that I absolutely refuse to share.
**WARNING: CONTAINS ADULT CONTENT - Also, please don't bother reading if you think being in the Marines leaves you unfeeling and cold without the need for comfort when far away from home. Don't read this if you have problems with LOTS of sexy scenes or sex. There is vulgar language used so if that bothers you, probably best to skip this book**
A day of errands and fate were responsible for Nadia and Dillon’s paths crossing.
He asked her out, then found himself begging her to keep their first date, the date she had wanted to cancel. Five minutes of her time was all he asked for. He just wanted to see her again. They married and had a perfect storybook love.
But, when Dillon gets in a terrible car accident one morning on his way to work, Nadia’s world crumbles. Life as she knew it changed – perhaps for good.
From amnesia to a lengthy hospital stay to months of physical therapy. The stress of recovery has them questioning the state of their future together.
Will they find their happily ever after?
Joshua Elijah Griffin, IV is on his last chance. A stint in rehab and a transfer to a new school has scared him into putting his life on track. He’s determined to live up to his family’s expectations, but on the first day of class, Josh meets a girl, and he knows his father won’t approve, but in Carrington, he sees a kindred spirit. He's willing to give up everything to be with her.
Carrington Olivia Butler is ready to shine. Always in the shadows of her siblings, she goes away to college to break out of her shell. All Carrington wants is to feel special. Josh's attention is exactly what she craves, but their intense and sometimes volatile relationship is more than what she bargained for.
Josh’s demons return, and Carrington’s feelings fade, but both aren’t ready to give up hope. They give their love one last shot to survive, but hope, may not be enough.
**This book contains adult subject matter. Not intended for young readers**
When Isla Holmes’ life as a child is turned upside down and she is ripped away from her soul mate, she is forced to live a life with evil.
When Isla and her soul mate cross paths, will they find a happy ever after or will evil intervene?

SURRENDER — Sarah M. Cradit

A Prom night flashback… “You’re thinking relationships suck, and maybe this has potential but maybe it doesn’t.”
~
1- Anasofiya Q
Anasofiya Deschanel sat in the parterre garden of Ophélie, pretending to read. Back in the garçonierre, Oz and Nicolas were still sleeping, and likely would be until noon. 
Although she enjoyed their company more than almost anyone else, sometimes Ana needed the comfort of solitude, more than the comfort of others.
The Scarlet Letter had been assigned by their Honors English teacher, Mr. Nelson. He requested an essay on the town’s treatment of Hester Prynn. Ana could have completed this assignment in her sleep; she'd read the book a half-dozen times long before it was ever assigned. But her mind was restless, as usual, and she couldn't stop it from winding in a direction of its own choosing. 
Her thoughts were currently floating around what happened with Clancy Sullivan. He was a senior, and a cousin of Oz's. Clancy, with seemingly endless patience, had tirelessly vied for her attention over the past year. Where most boys eventually gave up, realizing Ana was not girlfriend material (or at least not like the other girls her age were), Clancy held strong in his pursuit. 
It would have been simpler had he been like some of the other crude boys who normally chased after her. But Clancy's kindness always threatened to penetrate her well-armored heart. When he smiled at her, his whole face lit up, from his perpetually flushed cheeks, to his inquisitive blue eyes. His requests came from a place of sincerity, and left her feeling confused rather than exasperated. 
She knew she could do much worse, but that wasn't the point. 
Why had she let him walk her home yesterday? Maybe it was the way he always smiled at her, whether his friends were around or not. Or perhaps she was simply tired of always saying no. Secretly, she sometimes wished she could return his affections.
"See, this is nice," Clancy had observed as they meandered through the Lower Garden District, down Prytania. Eight blocks. That's all.
Ana had merely smiled, lacking any engaging contribution to the small talk, something she'd never particularly enjoyed or excelled at. But then he'd laced his slightly damp hand tentatively through hers, and suddenly eight blocks seemed like eighty. Her toes curled in her shoes as they continued their walking, an involuntary mannerism; one of many Ana had developed to control anxiety.
"Have you started Nelson's assignment yet?" he queried, swinging their hands gently as they walked. The warmth of his large, soft hands distracted her in a way she didn't understand.
"Not really," Ana replied, not adding the assignment wasn't even a challenge for her. Immodesty was not only unbecoming, but it left her vulnerable to scrutiny. 
"We could study, together," Clancy shyly suggested, his hopeful smile pleading from the periphery of her gaze. He really was handsome; truly was kind.
"I'm working with Oz on it already," she lied, quickly.
"Oh." His face fell. "My cousin is a lucky guy. He gets to see you all the time."
Yes, Ana thought. Though hanging out and doing nothing is hardly anything to be jealous of. 
When Clancy finally deposited her on the porch of her father's Greek Revival on Second, she muttered an awkward, but still gracious, goodbye, hoping to disappear behind the oaken door before things could get any more uncomfortable. But then she'd dropped that book bag of hers in a completely ungraceful trip up the top stair. Before she’d gained her composure, Clancy was kneeling across from her, sliding books back in the bag, before tucking her hair behind her ears. When she looked up to thank him, he pressed his lips to hers in a hasty, impulsive kiss. His mouth was warm, soft, and unpredictably inviting. Ana surprised herself by not only letting him do it, but by lacing one hand over his shoulder, indicating she didn't mind if the contact lasted.
Ana was forced to admit, it wasn't altogether unpleasant. She would always remember the moment she broke away, his periwinkle eyes sparkling at her, his smile, as always, genuine. Ana's father once told her you could only really trust a man if he displayed the same emotions when no one was looking.
He really does like me.
She watched Clancy walk away, down the crumbling sidewalk. Once he disappeared from sight, she let out a shy, nervous giggle, pressing her hand to lips that, only moments ago, had been joined to his. Then she sighed, a long exhale which caused her shoulders to sag, as the weight of it hit her.
Anasofiya, at sixteen, had experienced her first kiss. But it was with the wrong boy. The wrong Sullivan.
Inside Ophélie, the right Sullivan slept the deep sleep of a teenage boy. She would never risk sharing with him the feelings recently growing within her. 
Friendships were safe. They were predictable, and reliable. You could count on them. They were persistent, and reassuring.
Relationships were not.
Ana had known Oz Sullivan since she was a very young girl. The connection existed initially through her cousin Nicolas, Oz's best friend, but the Sullivans were always a welcome addition to any Deschanel table. 
Ana was not one to take inventory on the relationships in her life, so she had never made an official assessment of Oz growing up. She knew he was one of the "good guys" in a time when it seemed like goodness was in short supply. Even Nicolas, whom she loved beyond measure, was not one of the good guys, although she knew he was not really a bad guy, either.
Dating Oz had never occurred to Ana as they grew up, despite how very much alike they were. Neither fit into the greater world especially well. Both preferred the comfort of a book to people, because books provided an innocuous protective blanket, buffering them from the reality of knowing the world might never understand them. Ana felt safe with Oz, in a way she only would have realized if the constancy of his presence were removed entirely. Oz understood her, and more broadly, he accepted the unusual abilities which were scattered about the Deschanel bloodlines. Some called it a gift, others a curse; to Ana it was a practical excuse for her personal inclination to remain distant.
Dating was something that required an openness and sharing of oneself that Ana found uncomfortable. As she grew older, she would understand she enjoyed physical connections, but at sixteen she had not experienced her sexual awakening yet. Relationships meant exposing herself, and worse, being put in a position where she would be required to at least try to explain who she was, and why she was the way she was. She envisioned her mind laid bare, all her thoughts exposed and analyzed. Ana did not understand that friendships and romantic relationships didn't have to be so different, and that she had already, without realizing it, shared herself with both Nicolas and Oz. 
But Oz was her friend, as Nicolas was. They were three against the universe, and that was enough. Whatever other feelings had recently sprung up simply didn't matter in the larger equation.
Boys mostly left Ana alone when she was younger. She had not been a child who needed a great number of friends, and never sought the approval of anyone. Some of Ana’s family, including her own father, had an extraordinary ability to influence others. Gifted in other ways, winning everyone over was of no great importance to her. She focused on schoolwork, looking forward to the moments after school where she could be herself, with Nicolas and Oz. 
Some of her classmates dismissed her as being weird, while others seemed not to notice her at all. But as she grew out of girlhood, genetics and hormones guided Ana on a metamorphosis from the awkwardness of youth to the loveliness of a piece of art coming into completion. She had her mother's bright, thoughtful blue eyes, while her grandmother gifted her with dark strawberry hair, freckles, and dimples. From her father, Ana inherited a fresh, youthful complexion.
Nicolas often joked she had the body of an Irish ballet dancer. "You have the grace of a swan... but we're going to need to do something about those boobs and hips." She hid behind sweaters and jeans, but it was no use. Her juxtaposed beauty and aloofness piqued everyone's curiosity. She was no longer weird, but mysterious. 
"All the girls want to be you, and you want to be no one," Nicolas said to her once. "There has to be a ridiculous cliché in there somewhere. My heart bleeds for you."
Unlike many of the family, Nicolas was benign; he had no special abilities. Well, that was if you didn’t count his prowess with women and apparently high tolerance for alcohol. Ana wished she could be “normal,” too. However, even though Nicolas teased her, Ana took comfort in knowing he understood her torment was very real. 
Oz, though, had a slightly different insight. "Even if you showed them all who you were, they'd never understand," he said one day, as they studied beneath a tree in his parents' backyard. Ana still remembered the way the sun shone crudely through the fall storm, and how the leaves from the banana tree provided complete shelter from the incessant rain. 
"But you do," she'd replied, nose down in a book.
Oz responded by smiling from behind his own book, resting his hand on her leg before resuming his reading.
Oz reflected his understanding in a much different way, instead choosing to date girls who were exactly his opposite, rather than one who might offer him a comforting reflection. Ana watched with fascination as he went from one vapid debutante to the next, never seeming to realize how each made him completely miserable.
Ana, in contrast, refused any of the boys who asked her out. Eventually, there came a time when boys asked less and less. Only Clancy persisted. But his kiss had terrified her, simultaneously awakening something within, while also bringing her to the realization she might never be normal enough for a sweet boy like Clancy Sullivan.
Several months later, Clancy asked her to prom, and she turned him down. I don't understand, he'd said, both of them thinking about that early fall kiss on her father's porch. Did I do something wrong?
Even Ana understood the "it's not you, it's me," line would be a cruel response. True or not.
It was her stepmother, Barbara, who persuaded her to accept Calvin Whittaker’s invitation to her junior prom. You will regret it if you don’t go, she'd said. You don’t have to marry him, Ana.
Calvin was an okay guy. Ana knew him from the school paper, where she was the editor. He wrote mainly sports features, one of the few popular kids who wrote for the paper. While he exhibited many of the typical, annoying tendencies around his friends, he wasn't so bad when working with the editorial staff. The only real problem she ever had with him was his tendency to turn things in too close to deadline. He didn't have her focus; but then, few did.
Ana knew he was interested. He hadn't been especially shy about it, always asking for her advice about how he worded things in his pieces. Ana had little interest in sports, and Calvin knew that, but it didn't stop him from seeking her advice. When he finally asked her out, it hadn't been much of a surprise. 
He wasn't sweet like Clancy, but, somehow, that felt safer. There was no chance of Ana falling for a boy like Calvin Whittaker.
It was her father who convinced her to wear her mother’s wedding dress to the dance. Well, it wasn’t exactly a wedding dress. It was a strapless white satin gown with a sequin-beaded top and a wide taffeta skirt that resembled the White Swan costume from Swan Lake. Ana had always adored the gown, but only because it had been her mother's, and there was an air of magic and mystery around anything belonging to the woman she had never met.
There were few images that brought Ana joy more than the pictures of her happy, smiling mother wearing the dress, clutching her new husband’s arm. 
Ana’s father never got excited about anything outside of his company, and even then it was a subdued kind of excitement. When Ana agreed to try it on, at his suggestion, she was rewarded with a smile unlike any she’d ever seen from him. Her heart swelled with joy at the sight of it.
“It fits you perfectly, Anasofiya,” he had said. There were tears in his eyes. “You look so much like her…”
Ana felt it was an unfair tactic from her father. He knew invoking the memory of her mother would sway her. She commiserated with Nicolas about it, but he had little sympathy this time.
"The bells are ringing with pity," he'd said, with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. Then, a moment later he added, "It's not wrong to enjoy looking pretty from time to time, Ana. You're going to be stunning no matter what, so why not also make your dad a little less cranky for once?"
It was so rare for Nicolas to be the voice of reason in their relationship. However, when she put the dress on and looked at herself in the mirror, it was her mother looking back at her. 
This realization gave Ana an unexpected burst of courage, and she began to look forward to the evening.
MISADVENTURES OF FATWOMAN — Julie Elizabeth Powell
A woman who thinks that unless she’s thin, she has no value… “Well I find chocolate a much better companion…at least you don’t have to do its washing and tell it how fantastic it is in bed!” ~
Chapter One
She’d never get into it! How did they expect her to? 
She held the dress at arm’s length gripping onto its hanger, willing it to miraculously expand enough for it to slide over her blubbered body – it hadn’t seemed quite so small, but filled with promise, when she’d grabbed a selection from the ordered racks. 
She’d almost given up her search when she’d spotted the sign ‘extra sizes’ in the shop window, but was this what they called ‘extra’?
I couldn’t fit my leg through that, she thought, as she continued to gaze at the misguided attempt at ‘bigger clothes for real women’. 
She wondered what they meant by real women, while thinking of how she could leave the shop with the minimum of fuss. 
Hooking it over the peg, the doomed dress joined the fray of other choices, each untidily abandoned along with any hope of finding what she needed.
All she needed was a simple black dress, or maybe even an evening trouser suit (though maybe her bum wouldn’t cope with that) – anything that would be suitable for her husband’s work’s Do. 
How hard could it be? 
Impossible! 
Sweating badly now (why were these shops always so hot and stuffy, and why did others never seem to drip as much as she did?), as she struggled to change back into the shapeless, black jogging bottoms and a T-shirt, with ‘Whatcha looking at?’ emblazoned across the front, Andi felt near to tears. 
Lacing the trainers, she wondered why there was never enough room in these places, and the curtain never quite fit the gap. Though she considered it was preferable to those communal changing rooms, where hordes of slim bodies paraded half-naked, with smug, satisfied faces, while glancing at those extra lumps of those less fortunate.
“No good, dear?” said the sympathetic, yet somehow supercilious voice from the other side of the curtain.
As Andi revealed her presence and shame, she couldn’t help but think that the staff in clothes shops seem to come in three categories; the immaculate, older, ‘string of pearls’ type, with a false smile plastered on their faces and disdain dripping from their words, or the ‘customers are such a bore’ variety constantly filing their nails while talking in huddled groups waiting for clock-off time, or the younger, sniggering ‘you’ll never fit into that, why did you even bother coming in?’ brand – the most typical of ‘fat’ snobs.
She usually just grabbed what she could from market stalls or Menswear outlets, where clothes were always a little longer and wider, but felt most comfortable at home in easy, slip on clothes with expandable waists and slack bottoms.
What was she going to do? 
She could hardly turn up in the latest zip up the sides jogging pants – even with the jaunty stripe they wouldn’t pass muster. 
There was always the ‘old women’s clothes’, as her daughter put it, made of nylon and came in a range of nasty patterns and colours of brown or orange – but at least they came in bigger sizes. 
She longed to visit one of those shops that were singled out for twenty-somethings (despite her great age of thirty-nine) and slip on something sexy and revealing, shocking her husband right out of his ‘I never take off my socks’ mode (what was it about Englishmen and their socks?). 
Though the ‘reveal’ idea took the colour right out of her cheeks – a feat in itself, as they were usually in a bright state of high crimson. 
Sighing to the inevitable, she trudged along to where she might be lucky – maybe they’d have something in black?
Everybody knew black was slimming. Or did it just make you invisible?
She’d decided to have a coffee first and one of those delicious slices of cheesecake, and as it cheered her taste buds, her mind mulled over what had brought her to this state.
*
Surely 9lbs 2ozs wasn’t that heavy? 
Yet she’d read somewhere that it was above average and maybe that was where the fault lay; big baby, big woman? 
She didn’t kid herself, why say big when she meant fat? 
For years she’d denied the word, cringing at its screaming assumptions – greedy, lazy, dirty slab of meat! 
Yet she was none of those things. 
And where had it come from? 
Her mother was tiny, though her father over six feet tall. 
However, investigations into the family tree exposed where the fat gene lay, in its entirety, amongst her mother’s clan – they might have been short but they certainly wobbled.
Even her mother had piled on the pounds when carrying her two babies and wobbled for a while, yet determination and twenty cigarettes a day helped reduce it to a minimum. Yet it had never entirely gone – the fat legacy, a constant reminder in the small tyre around her middle. 
The fat gene persevered however, amongst the family, causing one poor soul to literally burst to death! 
So, coupled with the tall gene, what chance had she, Andrea May Wallace, nee-Worthing, (once Stafford), of fighting the inevitable? 
She knew all about willpower, but for the most part it remained smothered under the temptations of everyday eating, to be unearthed and polished for short periods of time, until shards of desperation punched holes in her reserve.
She didn’t feel greedy, eating either toast or cereal for breakfast, sandwiches or cottage cheese salad for lunch and ‘meat and two veg’ in the evening. 
But maybe it was the in-betweens that were the sins? 
That mid-morning packet of crisps or nibble of chocolate, or the occasional appeal of strawberry cheesecake, or chocolate muffin, or chocolate ice cream during the afternoon, just before the school run or maybe it was the munchies in the evening, while unwinding after a hard day’s graft? 
Yet, even then, she could never have eaten that spread of immeasurable goodies that lay denounced across a large table, during those confessional TV programmes, where brave souls allowed themselves to be humiliated by their weaknesses. 
Despite her sympathy for them, she always wondered how they’d manage to find the time to fit it all in.
Willpower dusted, she’d exchange the snacks for fruit for a while, but Red Imp on her shoulder would talk her into ‘just one bar of chocolate or ice cream...it wouldn’t hurt’, pushing her back onto the jelly-wobble road.
And she certainly wasn’t lazy! 
Okay, she didn’t march to the gym everyday or pound the streets for hours on end – the considerations of these activities had ended in visions of her lumps being laid open for public ridicule – but she was always on the move. 
Between the daily grind of house, garden, two kids and a part-time job helping disabled adults group wing their way around a computer, time vanished, the days gobbled up amongst temptations of food.
As for dirt, well, she’d challenge anyone to find a speck of it in anything to do with her. 
In fact, one of the things that drove her husband and kids to climb the walls of insanity was her constant need for neatness and cleanliness. 
From a family of ‘leave it until later’ and ‘that’ll do for now’, her husband, Ray, had soon learnt that for an easy time it was better to ‘to the job immediately for a quiet life’, yet was still not fully trained. As for the kids, who unfortunately followed their father’s lead (despite only one of them being of his bloodline), they rued the day when their paraphernalia was left unattended for too long.
She had to agree with the slab of meat theory, however. For when she forced herself to look in the full-length mirror (one she’d purposely bought for the humiliation ritual that prompted yet another stab at a diet) she’d recoil at the figure that unfortunately belonged to her. 
Standing in bra and knickers, she’d wince at the way her stretched-marked stomach protruded, trying to remember if it had ever been flat, denying that it had always been like this. 
Having children hadn’t helped, though now, at seventeen and twelve, she’d known that enough time had passed for her to have ‘tightened up’ the slack.
Turning sideways, she’d continue the examination, seeing how the folds down her back nearly matched her front – though not quite, because she knew that if they were allowed to escape, her breasts would lay large and drooping, like overripe sagging melons, far outreaching their counterpart.
She didn’t think the size of her legs were too bad, and if she disregarded the red and blue tram lines and small craters that she knew became deeper around her bottom (which disappeared if she squinted) she could be reasonably satisfied with them.
Yet overall, she felt in proportion (albeit those proportions were oversized). Her waist did curve inwards and when the right clothes could be found, then she looked quite presentable – yet they were never quite what she wanted, as being over average height for a woman was an additional handicap. Trousers were never long enough, tops never quite reached their target and dresses were either too long or too short, despite the manufacturers finally realising that ‘real’ women came in all sorts of shapes and sizes. 
As she resisted a second slice of cheesecake, but lingered over a second cup of coffee, Andi continued searching into her past, not only answers for what brought her to this point, but also for something that would tighten her resolve and make her the person she always wanted to be.
*
From the moment of birth, according to her mother, all she’d wanted to do was eat, crying non-stop for the first few months of life, with nobody understanding why. Not for her the meagre offerings of milk and by the age of six months was demolishing a whole egg, working her way into the delights of everything available. After that first egg, however, much to everyone’s relief, she slept for the entire night.
The first stages of life are somewhat hazy for most people, so they rely on second-hand knowledge, photographs and vague feelings. 
For Andi, snatches of early life came in shadowy representations of prickly heat, enormous insects and dark skins that smelt of lemons and spices, not forgetting a new baby brother. At the age of two she’d lived in Singapore and water was the most exciting thing in her world.
Sipping her coffee, she remembered the delicious coolness of the midday rain, drizzling over her naked body, the delighted freedom of plunging, fear-free into the huge depths of the local open-air swimming pool, memories, which are helped by numerous photographs taken by her father all those thirty-seven years ago.
Smiling, she remembered her first real adventure, when she climbed the enormous ladder (it must have been more than thirty feet high) to the top diving board and shouting, ‘Dump, Daddy, dump!’ before jumping, feet first, into the water – much to the horror of her parents far below. Her father had told her that while his heart was in his mouth, the only thing to do was to let her jump, as the alternatives seemed far more dangerous. 
She survived of course.
As she mulled over the memory, what struck her was the utter confidence she’d had in her abilities, and those early pictures captured the only time when weight was not an issue. It also made her realise that she’d not been fat at all – then.
What had changed her?
Had it been the morning ritual of being dragged into school for the first few weeks by several teachers from the age of four? 
That fear never leaving her as she stood head and shoulders above the rest, as lines of children were inspected and filed into school each day. 
Her ungainly presence then shoved to the back of the class, where the writing on the board became a mirage of white lines and no understanding. 
She needed glasses of course – that other bane of the perfect society. 
It had taken years for her to accept them as a necessary evil, remembering with a shudder, those first, horrendous, round pink ones, free on the National Health.
Misadventures began early for Andi as she thought about the struggle to pass unnoticed through school life, but never quite managing to blend into obscurity. 
It still made her blood boil however, when she thought of the unwarranted blow from the teacher who thought she deserved a slap for mere curiosity. How was she to know it was against the rules to linger in the steaming cloakroom full of coats and smelly feet, to watch her administer impatiently to a child with a nosebleed? Even now she wondered if that teacher remembered what she’d done.
She’d denied it of course and Andi remembered the feeling of total fear and dread standing between her mother and Miss Bird arguing the point, and how those feelings had made her deny the truth. 
She was glad that her mother had always believed her. 
Sometimes she’d lie in bed and think of all the things she could have said or done – but realised that the past could never be changed. 
How many people, she wondered, lay awake in those lonely hours thinking of how it could have all been so different?
As she sipped from her cup, she pondered on whether that was the moment which set her future thinking? Was that the time of setting the seeds of ugliness, growing stronger as their tendrils drove deeply into her brain?
It hadn’t helped that her brother’s growth spurts seemed a long time coming. 
Despite the two and half years between them, she remembered that at the age of eleven she’d towered above him, a testament which is logged forever in the brutish photograph, where she appeared like a giant next to a tiny waif from Lilliput. 
Her family had been back in England for some years by the time of that photograph and lived knee deep in the countryside, where school was a thing to be endured until the long holidays allowed an escape from those evil terrors of slapping teachers and humiliation.
Adventures would start early during those summers, where food was crammed into used bread wrappers and bottles were filled with tap water (soon to be joined by bobbing breadcrumbs) and if they were lucky, a few coins tucked deep into pockets for ice cream. 
Legs pumped easily, riding side by side with her brother along country roads, racing towards the promise of sun and sea, where the whole day would stretch in exciting vapours of warmth and fun.
Sometimes they’d meet other kids from the neighbourhood, exploring all the places they’d been forbidden, where a group of six or seven would tie a rope to an old tyre and swing dangerously across a ravine that was filled with the rusty daggers of farmyard machinery.
Best of all was the haymaking. 
Careful to avoid the heavy hooves and follow the carthorses that would plod effortlessly along the lines of bales, pulling behind a long cart, the gathered groups would toss bale after bale of straw and hay into mighty piles, until full enough to take back to the farm.
Andi reasoned that it wouldn’t be sanctioned now – too many dictates from Brussels or Health & Safety – but at the end of a long day, the farmer would allow them to sit atop the bales during the last journey (and sometimes hold the reins). Languishing in the dusty smell of the trembling bales, mingled with the pungency of the horse, tired and happy, they’d revelled in the last of the day’s warmth.
Between exploring woods, picking bluebells, haymaking and bike rides to the sea, those summers had seemed to last forever in one sense, yet whizzed by in another, and strangely, it never seemed to rain until the thought of school reared its ugly head.
She’d always found eating to be a pleasure, yet it soon became a sin.
Was that where it started, she wondered, always feeling hungry even after mealtimes and so, helping to clear the table would clear the plates too of the last piece of bread or biscuits, all the while hating herself for doing so. That must have been the time when guilt about food began.
However, apart from school, where instances of humiliation ranged between verbal condemnation and physical punishment for seemingly trifling transgressions (she still remembered the sting of that wooden ruler across her knuckles), the rest of her life at that time seemed free of burden. 
She had always marvelled at the expression, ‘school being the best days of your life’, pondering upon the fact that until the age of sixteen, she’d withstood its tyrannical barrage and heaved a sigh of relief when it was all over. 
The irony was that she loved learning, but it wasn’t until many years after leaving school that she truly understood just how much.
As Andi finished her second cup of coffee and ordered a third, she realised that her early life was a mixture of fun and terror, resulting in home being the only place she wanted to be – until boys reared their spotty heads.
November 24
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Rene Folsom, author of contemporary and paranormal, lives in Florida with her husband and three kids. She has officially diagnosed herself with creative ADD and often has a million and one writing projects going at once. In addition to writing, she is also a graphic artist who enjoys creating custom book covers for indie authors. She is definitely an artist at heart and would love nothing more than to be elbow deep in clay during her waking hours.
Rene believes that all fiction is based on some form of reality—otherwise we would never have the inspiration or knowledge to dream up the realistic situations we portray with our words. She is proud to say that her personal experiences have been inspirational, though perhaps not always identical to that of her fictional characters. Where reality and fantasy diverge, however, must remain her little secret…
Ella Medler is a U.K. author and free-lance editor. She writes fiction in more than one genre, in a seemingly vain attempt to slow down her overactive brain enough to write non-fiction on subjects she knows a thing or two about. She also does not believe in the starchy use of English, and ignores the type of rule that doesn’t allow for a sentence to be finished in a preposition. Her books are action-driven, and well-developed characters are her forte. Loves: freedom. Hates: her inner censor.
HA Kay I was in grade 7, and bunking PE when I read Tolkien’s Two Towers from the LOTR trilogy.
I know what you’re thinking. Certified nerd! I remember what I was thinking. Where had this book been all my life?!
I loved it. I can’t recall the scenes I’d read then but I remember how transfixing Tolkien's Middle Earth was. I instantly wanted to write something like it.
But such dreams are easily forgotten in the wake of building a real career.
I went ahead and enrolled in a business college and did my MBA with tinselly rainbow colors, making a tiara out of my nerd cap. It was a good day. And it was a good year at the bank. But the best time was when I landed at an ad agency’s creative department to write jingles and slogans and slaughter both my languages (Urdu and English) in the process. I learned a lot there. I wrote a lot there. And I became apt in the art of killing my own brainchildren a.k.a. self-editing.
Then, I got married. Moved to the United States and started a family.
For two years I was a good stay-at-home mom. Then, I thought I could be good at something else too. I couldn’t decide on what exactly till I stumbled upon my old diary – a leftover from my baby and teen years. I read all the poems and stories I’d written therein, ranging from an ode to Mom to a soul-searching monologue. I realized I wasn’t bad. If I worked on my talent I could turn it into a skill. And perhaps be able to write like the numerous authors who’d inspired me for years. A lost afternoon in the school library from so long ago made its way into my present and I remembered the perfect Legolas. I remembered the imperfect Quasimodo, the roguish Rhett Butler and the ruthless Rory Frost too.
Suddenly, I wanted to create such characters and write their stories instilled with M. M. Kaye-like descriptions and Crichton-like research and Grisham-like authenticity, all tied together with intense moods borrowed from Victoria Holt. Tolkien’s magic dust and King’s dark secrets would just be the cherry and powdered sugar on top.
I enrolled in a writing program immediately and earned my diploma. Next I wrote and edited for a newbie magazine. I wrote two children’s books (5 Kids and 5 Snowmen and Boondon Ka Khel: The Playful Game of the Tiny Water Droplets), and co-authored a trilogy under the title Aoife and Demon.
Now, it’s Love Me Do.
I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Anne Conley has written her entire life and has the boxes of angst-filled journals and poetry to prove it. She's been writing for public consumption for the last four years. Currently she is writing three romance series. In Stories of Serendipity, she explores real people living real lives in small town Texas in a contemporary romance setting. In The Four Winds, she chronicles God's four closest archangels, Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, falling in love and becoming human. In Pierce Securities, she gives us Ryan, Evan, Miriam, Zack, Quinten, and Simon. She lives in rural East Texas with her husband and children in her own private oasis, where she prides herself in her complete lack of social skills, choosing instead to live with the people inside her head.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this story, sign up for my newsletter to receive news on new releases, extras, and random stuff!
Rachael Orman Mother by day. Writer by night. I spend a majority of my day with my children and reading while my nights are filled with the sound of the keyboard as I work on my next work.
I have written in nearly every LBGT category as well as the traditional erotic romance category.
I love to try new things and learn from every piece of work I write. I'll write just about anything once to learn from it. I've even ventured out of my normal erotica genre into Monster Erotica. Doubt you'll find me writing anything not erotic as you can barely get me to even read something out of that category, but then again, you never know what I might try next.
Never stop learning. Try everything at least once.
Lucy Gage started her writing career under another name, but the same vivid imagination and love of books still fuels her daily life. When she's not writing, you can find her spending time with her family in her home state of Maine, experiencing a life that helps shape her writing.
Look for her website in 2015. Book six in the Ward Sisters Series will arrive in 2015 and book 1 in the Vega Brothers Series – a Ward Sisters spinoff – launches later in the year.
Susan Griscom I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, spending most of my time daydreaming or playing around in the mud. I grew out of the mud play, well, most of the time, a good soak in the mud is always fun. I still daydream often and sometimes my daydreams interrupt my daydreams. So I write to remember them. If I didn't write, I think my mind would explode from an overload of fantasy and weirdness. To the annoyance of my friends and family, my characters sometimes become a part of my world. During my childhood, I would frequently get in trouble in school for daydreaming. Eventually, my vivid imagination paid off and I had the privilege of writing and co-directing my sixth-grade class play--a dreadful disaster, though not from my writing, of course. I'm pretty sure it was the acting.
I enjoy writing about characters living in small quaint towns and tend to lean toward the unusual and edgy.
My paranormal playing field delves into a different milieu, abandoning vampires and werewolves, but not discounting them. Someday I might like to write a novel about vamps and those furry creatures. But for now I like the bizarre mixed with romance. A strong hero or heroine confronted with extraordinary forces of nature, powers and capabilities gets my blood running hot, as does a steamy contemporary romantic suspense.
Felicia Tatum was born and raised in Tennessee. She always loved reading, and at the age of twelve began writing. Her passion for creating stories grew and in May 2012, she finally wrote her first novel, The White Aura.
She still lives in Tennessee with her daughter and her kitty. She loves cooking, books, and animals are some of her best friends. She watches a lot of Disney channel and often dreams up new book ideas. She's currently working on various projects. She's the author of the White Aura series, Scarred Hearts series, and Intoxicating Passion series.
Sarah M. Cradit is the USA Today Bestselling Author of the Paranormal Southern Gothic series, The House of Crimson & Clover, born of her combined passion for New Orleans, and the mysterious complexity of human nature. Her work has been described as rich, emotive, and highly dimensional.
An unabashed geek, Sarah enjoys studying obscure subjects like the Plantagenet and Ptolemaic dynasties, and settling debates on provocative Tolkien topics such as why the Great Eagles are not Gandalf's personal taxi service. Passionate about travel, Sarah has visited over twenty countries collecting sparks of inspiration (though New Orleans is where her heart rests). She's a self-professed expert at crafting original songs to sing to her very patient pets, and a seasoned professional at finding ways to humiliate herself (bonus points if it happens in public). When at home in Oregon, her husband and best friend, James, is very kind about indulging her love of fast German cars and expensive lattes.
Julie Elizabeth Powell I cannot ignore my dreams, so many of them, with names and places and ideas that spark my imagination and compel me to write; to create stories, whether fantasy or horror, or mystery or psychological thriller or murder or even humour and adventure. So, my garden is sown, flourishing, with all manner of growth, and still the dreams come.
Julie Elizabeth Powell, my soul lingering within my imagination; maybe you’ll join me?
Lynda Kaye Frazier I’m an avid reader of romantic suspense and started writing after a vivid dream. I know, sounds cliché, but that’s how it started. I work full time at a Cardiology clinic, then at night you will find me in front of my computer, writing. I grew up in Pennsylvania, but now live in Arkansas, surrounded by the Ozark Mountains where I get to enjoy the four seasons without a long, cold winter. Other than spending time with my wonderful family, my favorite things to do are writing, reading and listening to music, but my most favorite is going to the beach. Surf, sand and a good book, my stress relief.
Desiree A. Cox was born and raised in Iowa. She married her high school sweetheart and moved to the Philadelphia area after high school and has been happily married for over twenty-five years. She’s the mother of two sons and a daughter.
Writing has always been a part of her life. It started as a way to cope with her childhood shyness, allowing her to communicate without talking. Now she talks and writes … and talks. Desiree also enjoys traveling and spending time at the beach.
Over the past two plus years, she’s been working to get her thoughts in print. She is finally writing what she wants to write. Twisted by Desire, her debut novel, was published in December 2014. In March 2015, the sequel in the Lust, Desire, and Love Trilogy, Jaded by Desire, released. She also has a short story, Fantasy Come True, in the Wickedly Exotic Spring Erotic Wonderland box set that benefits the National Autism Association with 100% of the proceeds.
Look for Reclaimed by Desire, Book 3 and the final installment in the Lust, Desire, and Love Trilogy, later this summer.
Sydney Aaliyah Michelle is an Adult Contemporary Romance writer, a voracious reader, and movie fanatic who hails from Texas.
After surviving 5 1/2 years living in China, she had the courage to finally pursue her passion and become a writer.
Sydney has been blogging at sydneyaaliyah.com for three years, where she interviews people about their tattoos, discusses her favorite movie quotes, reviews books (New Adult & only the ones she loves) and journals about her writing and editing process.
An active tweeterer, she is also a JuNoWriMo (3x) and NaNoWriMo (2x) winner who notes the sci-fi action flick “The Matrix” as the best representation of her life in the past. She is blessed to be awake now and doing what she loves.
She can recite the entire script for the 80’s teen comedy/drama The Breakfast Club and loves any and everything associated with the Avengers movie, especially Tony Stark.
When it comes to books, Sydney reads many different genres, but some of her favorite writers are Stephen King, Cora Carmack, Alex J. Cavanaugh, Cassie Mae, & Emily Bronte. The Great Gatsby, Under the Dome, Losing It, CassaStorm, Switched, & Wuthering Heights are her favorite books.
Elaine May is my Author name. I live in the West Country of England with my two beautiful daughters and yummy hubby. I love reading dark and twisted tales that mess with your head. I love to travel and spending time with my family. My dream is for people to like what I've written and hopefully get to go to a book signing event as an author.
magicofbookspromo@gmail.com

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