Longer excerpt one:
The annoying buzzing in my pants vibrates again and I give up. Jess is relentless. If I don’t show, I’ll never hear the end of it.
Rays of sunlight scatter across the sidewalk as the clouds slowly drift in front of the afternoon sun. The air is crisp, vibrant, lifting my mood as I pull into Jess’ favorite lunch establishment. The deli is permeated with the aroma of pastrami, vinegar, and cilantro.
Jess spots me as soon as I step inside, giving me her smartass I-knew-you-would-come smirk, but Emma’s back is turned towards me. Her long hair is twisted into some kind of smooth bun. Her jacket hangs from the back of the chair and her soft, feminine frame is covered in a form fitting white sweater. It’s not too tight, just snug enough to torture a man with fantasies about the sensual curves hiding just underneath.
The acoustics suck in the old building but the food makes up for having to strain to hear the person next to you. Plopping in the seat next to Emma, she jumps, startled by what I quickly perceive as my unexpected presence.
Her shocked gaze pierces me. A fleeting pleased look flitters across her flawless features and the hint of a smile curves the edges of her soft pink lips before she catches herself and turns towards Jess, cocking one eyebrow, effectively cocking the unruly part of me into a rock hard state. Damn, I want to fuck her.
“I invited Breck,” Jess shrugs innocently.
“I gathered that,” Emma says through gritted teeth, all pleasure gone from her eyes.
The waitress arrives and starts to ask our order until her gaze falls on me. Her cheeks tint as she flashes a sexy grin before biting her bold, red lip.
Her reaction is not new to me, women have always seemed to be turned on by my presence for some reason. Despite what people may think, I don’t thrive on the attention; I’m just used to it, and I learned its advantages at an early age. It’s a mutual benefit.
Bringing the tip of the pen to her mouth, the waitress’ eyes are filled with exactly what she wants to do with me. I begin the game the women expect, playing the part they seem to want me to play, and give her my I’ll-have-you-out-of-your-panties-in-ten-seconds smile.
Jess mouths a vile word at me.
Emma shifts uncomfortably in her chair.
I smirk arrogantly.
Snapping her finger in front of the blonde’s face, Jess verbally scourges the waitress, “He’s not going to strip you down and have his way with you on the table, so how ‘bout doing your job and forget about him doing you and take our lunch order.”
The waitress shoots Jess a scathing glare before raising her eyebrow, impatiently waiting for Jess’ order.
Interestingly, the cocked brow action coming from her does nothing for me.
Emma orders an eight inch sub with extra sauce and fries, impressing me.
“I like a girl who eats,” I remark, turning my attention back to the girl who keeps surprising me, this time, by her choice of the loaded sub.
“You like a girl who is breathing,” Emma mumbles under her breath.
Biting back a chuckle, I turn towards the blonde waitress who seems to have regained her earlier flirtatious smile.
Emma glances between the waitress and me before I catch her, causing her to immediately look away.
Winking at the blonde, I have to force myself not to burst out laughing at the way Emma’s mouth drops and her nose crinkles up in that cute way when she’s disgusted. Knowing it will push Emma over the edge, I slowly lean in front of her, careful to brush my shoulder against her arm, as I grab the waitress’ hand, telling her that I want my sub spicy, hot, and dripping with juices.
The noise leaving Emma’s lips is something between a shocked gasp and a gurgling grunt. Snatching her jacket, Emma pushes away from the table.
Damn. “Where are you going?” I ask, the thought of her leaving affecting me way more than I like.
“Next to Jess. Sitting next to you seems dangerous; who knows what I might catch.”
“Ha, cute! I’ve got a clean bill, the epitome of health. I prefer not to make stupid decisions. I always use protection and get tested every few months.”
“More than I needed to know,” Emma spouts, her words drowning in disdain.
The pleading look Jess discretely shoots my way weakens me, making me bite back my smartass reply.
Emma refuses to look at me while we wait on our food, but I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from her, or the quirky way she fidgets with everything when she’s studying it. I want to bite that lip, graze its fullness between my teeth and taste its sweet ripeness before tasting the rest of her, wondering if the intoxicating flavor in my head is anywhere close to what I imagine. Somehow, I know it is.
Jess breaks the silence by attempting small talk, even going as far as asking me about work.
“Since when do you give a shit about my work?”
Pain explodes against my shin, and I send Jess a warning glare, which she ignores and kicks me again.
Clearing my throat, I slide my legs a little further under my chair and decide to appease her, “I’m busy trying to come up with a design for the new energy efficient solar line Granddad instituted.”
Emma begins to scribble on her napkin as Jess continues to ask me about the design needed while I flippantly answer a few of her questions before slanting my eyes, warning her to knock it off. She’s about as interested in my work at my grandfather’s business as I am, which is not much. The only reason I’m working at his company is out of respect for him.
Changing tactics, Jess explains that, in addition to the restaurant, I have taken over the decision making aspect of my grandfather’s business while he undergoes chemo.
Emma’s hand stops moving as her gaze meets mine, her eyes full of empathy. “I’m sorry about your grandfather.”
There’s a vulnerability in her eyes that I haven’t seen before, a sadness that sends a sharp ache straight through my chest. Fuck, another reason I want to hate her.
“Working at your grandfather’s company must take away from your other job. The owner of the restaurant must be really nice to donate food every night and give you the time needed to help out your grandfather.”
Jess opens her mouth to correct Emma, but I return her under the table kick, shutting her up.
Emma’s voice changes, her eyes becoming hooded, “Is your grandfather doing well with the chemo?”
I don’t want her sympathy, and I sure as hell don’t want her looking at me the way she is right now, making me want to scoop her in my arms and hold her until all of her sadness disappears. “He’s a tough bastard,” I state quickly, my gaze turning harsh, desperately needing to dispel the effect she has on me.
Her daddy may be a preacher but Emma seems to possess the ability to curse a man with her bewitching smile, casting a spell on what’s left of my soul, but it’s the radiance in her eyes that conjures the vexing illusion of something I can never have that’s so damning.
“What’s this?” I ask angrily, dragging myself away from her hex as I grab the napkin Emma’s been scribbling on the past twenty minutes. The bold, smooth lines of the company’s initials with a design made of a brilliant abstract mixed with a simplistic, clear, sure artistry creates a formidable yet inviting feel. “You just drew this?”
Emma’s hands drop to her lap as she leans back in her chair defensively, “I heard you and Jess talking. I was just playing around.”
My gaze snaps back to hers, seeing that ambiguous light becoming opaque, and I curse underneath my breath at the harshness of my tone with her. Although it’s torture seeing the light in her eyes, it’s unbearable watching it go, especially when I’m the one causing it to dim. Softening my voice, I hold up the napkin, “This is perfect, exactly what we’re looking for.”
“Oh,” she mumbles, relaxing her shoulders a little. “Um, thank you.”
Jess beams proudly, “Of course it is! She’s an amazing artist.”
The blush that spreads across Emma’s cheeks at the compliment does hateful things to me. Turning my attention back to the drawing, I ask, “An artist, huh?” I slide the napkin across the table, “How much for this design? After you recreate it on the computer with a little color and sharpen it, making it 1200 DPI?”
“I don’t mind designing it for you. I can have it ready by tomorrow.”
“You’d give it to me?” my question is laced with bewildered amusement.
Emma gives a small, unsure nod.
A hearty laugh bursts out before I can contain it, “You really are small town aren’t you?”
“Fine!” she snaps, halting my laughter and catching me off guard. Emma grabs the napkin, crumbling it and throwing it into her purse. “Like I said, it was only me playing around.”
Suppressing another chuckle at how she squares her jaw, lifting it just a notch, I can’t help but admire her determination to despise me when it’s clear by the hurt in her eyes that she cares what I think.
“Damn, Jess, I hurt your friend’s feelings again.”
“Stop being a prick!” Jess snaps.
“My feelings aren’t susceptible to your nocuous attitude,” Emma proclaims, smoothing her sweater before folding her hands calmly on the table.
Yes, she is most definitely a beautiful liar. Bursting out in laughter, my brows pull together, “Nocuous?”
The slightest curve tilts her luscious lips and a need-filled ache builds steadily in my pants as my throat goes dry. Feelings stirring to life inside shame me. I’m not the type of man to want the woman, just what the woman can do to satisfy my needs at that moment. With Emma, I want something more. If only I knew what that something is so I can just take it already, fuck her, and be done with it.
The next glance into her expectant eyes proves that it won’t be that easy. Not with her. “You mistook my meaning. I meant what I said about the design; it’s perfect for the product, simple but strong. I still want it, but I won’t take it for free, so what do you want for it?”
Emma appears uncomfortable. It’s obvious she’s out of her element when it comes to business deals. I’ll have to work with her on that before she starts selling her art, assuming she isn’t giving that away for free as well. I already know she’s giving lessons for free at the center, a quick call to Patty, the center’s coordinator, confirmed that.
“I-I don’t know. Maybe fifty dollars.”
“I don’t work for a small mom and pops business, Emma. Don’t undersell yourself.”
The chewing on the inside of her cheek, causing her lip to curve sideways and downwards, is a pretty good indicator that she’s still struggling with coming up with a price. I decide to put her out of her misery, “I’ll pay one thousand dollars.”
“One thousand!” Her eyes widen in shock.
“But, you have to present it,” I state, guessing she’s not done much of that either.
The panic in her eyes proves I’m right. “Present it where?”
“To the board members at the meeting on Friday.”
“I have to work on Friday,” she blurts, relief filling her beautiful eyes.
“Okay, Friday evening then, at the party the company is hosting for the new line. You can go as my guest and present it there.”
Jess glares at me.
I smile cockily.
“I have to work early Saturday morning.”
“You’ll be out of there in plenty of time to sleep before work the next morning,” I state, my tone indicating that the decision has already been made.
She opens her mouth to protest, but the waitress returns with our lunch and her blouse open a few more buttons.
Jess rolls her eyes as Emma glances at me through her lashes, deepening her spell.
Clinching my jaw, I tear my eyes away from her and give the waitress a wink chock full of innuendo, effectively disgusting Emma to the point where she is ignoring me again.
The rest of the lunch hour is spent with Emma barely touching her meal and Jess shooting visual daggers at me. I thoroughly enjoy my sub, knowing that Jess will not be asking me to do her anymore favors with Emma anytime soon.
“Can I please have a carry out box?” Emma asks the waitress, reaching for her purse.
“I’ve got the tab,” I announce, pulling out my wallet.
“Thank you,” Emma manages to spit out, “but I can pay for my lunch.”
“I’m sure you can, but you’re not going to,” I state, leaving no room for argument while I give the waitress a generous tip instead of what she really wants, as indicated with her number written on the receipt she hands me. Leaving the receipt on the table, I turn towards Emma and Jess, feeling every bit of the tension Emma is struggling to control.
“Thank you for lunch,” Emma’s words are rushed and tinged with a little anger.
“No problem,” I smile, refraining from brushing back a piece of hair that has loosened from the bun and is blowing across her face. The stark blue of her eyes shimmers, brightened further by her tan, silky skin. The chestnut wisp continues to torture me as it falls against the corner of her full mouth. Thoughts of my lips on hers, her lips on me, leave me in physical torment. I want to feel that mouth getting me off. Stepping away from her, I grapple with my waning self-control and make myself focus. “Where do you work?”
“Shallonelles,” she replies, her eyes not quite meeting mine. She hesitates before adding, “And the gallery on Main.”
“What do you do there?”
“I create the art for the paper’s ads.”
“What do you do at the gallery?” I ask, getting the feeling she left that part out on purpose.
“I give tours.” Emma flashes a forced smile.
“Is any of your work there?” I ask, already knowing the answer.
“No.” There’s that fake smile again, and something I wasn’t prepared for…a heartbreaking longing.
Ash to Steele
by Karen-Anne Stewart
Who I am and all I believe is marred with just one glance into angry, steel blue eyes. He seems to control my air, my ability to breathe. He makes me crave everything I know is a sin. Pure becomes tainted and lines are blurred. It’s my fault; I’m the one who isn’t strong enough. I’ve been damaged…broken. Breck’s words haunt me…’There’s a consequence for every choice you make.’
I’ve had so many women I can’t even remember over half of their names, but none of them are mine; I make damn sure of that. I take what I desire and never look back. I don’t need or want anyone, ever…not until I met Emma. Those eyes bore into what’s left of my soul and her touch sears me, weakens me. I want to hate her for that. She is my ruin…my sweetest hell.
Disclaimer: Intended for readers 18+ due to strong language, mature scenes, and some violence.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published February 13th 2014 by Karen-Anne Stewart
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ash-to-steele-karen-anne-stewart/1119687292?ean=9781495464416&itm=1&usri=9781495464416&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1&r=1,%201
Author of New Adult Romance who doesn’t shy away from writing about sensitive issues and hot heroes.
Karen-Anne Stewart has always adored reading and has now fallen in love with writing. Her written works are The Rain Trilogy: Saving Rain, Healing Rain, and After the Rain, Ash to Steele, and her newly released paranormal romance novel, Feel. Her debut novel, Saving Rain: The First Novel in The Rain Trilogy, was a nominee for the Book Junkie’s Choice Awards, and Saving Rain and After the Rain were nominees for the 2014 RONE Awards.
When Karen-Anne isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, hiking, and visiting new places. She fuels her addiction of creating new stories by her only other addiction, caffeine, and listening to a myriad of musical genres. Tucked away near the Blue Ridge Mountains, Karen-Anne lives with her husband, daughter, three dogs, and their cat. She plans on writing new adult romance as long as her fingers maintain dexterity.