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COMPANION NOVEL to the TANGLED WEB series
Kory McCallister has had her eyes on tattoo artist Stone Bowman for quite some time—so long, in fact, that no other guy will do. Stone pushes every turn on button Kory has—he’s tattooed from head to toe; he’s hot; he’s funny and charming; and he’s also mysterious. So when Kory’s friends dare her to ask Stone out on a date, she can’t believe she actually finds the guts to do it.
More surprising? He takes her up on the offer.
She discovers that, while his past might not be quite as dark or mysterious as she’d imagined, it’s bigger than she’d expected, and it’s something she will need to contend with if she decides she wants to keep him around to color her life for good.
Excerpts from Punctured, Bruised, and Barely Tattooed
Excerpt #1“Know what? Never mind. I thought you were better than that.” She turned on her heel and started walking down the street away from him.
Three…four…five. “Kory.” Yes. It had worked…well, at least she hoped so. She’d have to wait to hear what he had to say. Carefully, she turned around. She was several steps away from him. She made sure her face didn’t show sadness, fear, or anger. She hoped she had a look of annoyance, like he was an irritant at this point.
She let out a breath as though she didn’t have time to wait. Finally, she said, “Yeah?”
He walked toward her and she became aware of the sound his boots made on the sidewalk. Sure, she heard a couple of cars driving down the street, and she could hear noise from the bar she was almost standing in front of. She was becoming more and more aware of the heat bearing down on her shoulders like a weight, and it got worse the closer he got, because her breathing grew shallow.
He stood in front of her. Oh, fucking hell. His eyes were dark and her mouth started watering as his hands cupped her cheeks and he guided her chin upward until his lips touched hers.
Gone…the heat, the noise, even her goddamn heartbeat…until it started throbbing in her chest and her blood began swarming through her body, warming her back up from lifelessness. Stone’s tongue touched her lips and parted them before entering her mouth and, holy God, for the first time in a long time throughout her miserable existence, she felt alive. Overflowing with too much emotion, too much adrenaline and…
her fucking panties were wet
…hopes and dreams, unspoken and unknown, flowed through her like water.
Until the kiss was over. She opened her eyes, the breath gone from her lungs, and she searched his eyes. He’d done it. Why had he done it after fucking with her, blowing her off? Did he like messing with her mind?
But his eyes—they told her more than his words ever could. Jesus. What she felt then was heavy. Had he been screwing around with her head, when really he was just trying to deny something?
As she sucked in a breath, forcing it to the bottom of her lungs, she realized her hands had formed fists around the back of his t-shirt, as though she were clinging to him for dear life. No smile, no smirk. He said, “That what you wanted?”
Excerpt #2:Stone grabbed her hand and they began walking toward the river where they would find the trail.
Kory had never been on the river walk before, so this was going to be a treat for her. She was aware of the cool air, of the sound of chirping crickets in the background and the roar of the river in the foreground, of seeing dark leaves rustling in the tall trees near the river. But she was most aware of Stone’s hand holding hers. His hand felt like something sure—it was strong and as confident feeling as he was. It was the hand of an artist, the one that had permanently drawn on her arm less than a week earlier, the same one that had held her face while he’d kissed her. This was a hand she thought she’d want to hold forever, because of the man attached to it.
When they got closer to the river, Kory noticed a gravelly path beside it, up and away from it but close. She imagined that if the river ever flooded, parts of the path would wash away, but most of it was far enough away that it seemed safe. Of course, a huge flood—one that had the potential to damage houses—would wreck it all. She didn’t remember the river ever flooding Winchester, and she’d lived there her whole life. Surely, it had flooded at some time. All rivers did.
The rushing noise created by the water sounded somewhat violent to her, but it felt peaceful at the same time. Maybe it was because the water here would always flow, whether someone was here or not. It would continue bringing water from wherever it came from high up in the mountains and keep going down until it joined with another river and then another, so this very water right here would eventually wind up in the Mississippi and then the Gulf of Mexico. The enormity of it humbled her, and she suddenly understood the draw of nature.
Stone must have sensed her feelings because he said, “Really cool, isn’t it?”
They continued walking along the path, taking their time, breathing in the air cooled even further by the rushing water, absorbing the secrets of the night. Suddenly, Kory thought Stone was a genius. This truly was the perfect date, and for the first time in a long time, she felt her soul grow quiet and full of awe.
He paused and Kory stopped beside him. They’d walked far enough that houses and highways were behind them. It was truly dark and solitary. “Look at the stars. They’re bright tonight.”
She looked up. She felt so silly, because she’d been so engrossed in the earth that she hadn’t even stopped to consider the sky above her. God, it was incredible and just contributed to her sense of overwhelming humility and wonder at what surrounded her. She breathed, “Amazing.”
“Yeah,” he agreed and touched her face. It was the perfect time for a kiss, really, because she wanted to share this feeling with someone else and needed to be distracted from the beauty of the moment, because she wasn’t sure how to handle it. She was brimming with emotion and needed to expend it.
She didn’t know if Stone was feeling the same way or if he could simply sense what had been brewing inside her, but their kiss was passionate. Hot. Unbelievably so. And Kory realized she’d never wanted anyone as badly as she did Stone in that moment. Her fingers were in his hair and he pressed her into him, his hands firm on her lower back. One kiss led to another and another and another, and suddenly the night didn’t feel so cool anymore…
Excerpt #3Stone said, “Can I come in for a minute?”
She frowned at herself in the mirror. She still had residual makeup on—she wore her eyeliner so heavy that it would take lots of scrubbing to get it all off her eyes—but her face looked strange and naked. Still, she had nothing to hide.
Stone had amazed her. When she’d gotten up, he’d already had a workout (but she didn’t know if he had workout equipment or had just jogged around his property), shower, and said he’d worked on some drawings. She wondered if he did that every morning or if she’d simply made it impossible for him to sleep.
She supposed she should maybe feel weird around him now, but she didn’t. She only wondered what his huge fucking secret was…and then felt a little stupid, because she wasn’t ready to give up her own secrets anytime soon. “Yeah, sure.”
He took his time as if to give her a moment to collect herself, and the door pushed open slowly. She continued pulling the comb through her hair, though, and she didn’t have to force a smile when he came in.
What was that look on his face? She couldn’t read it. Surprise, maybe? He grinned. “You sure everything’s okay? You’ve been awfully quiet since breakfast.”
She couldn’t help the smirk. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you wanted me shouting to you from the shower.”
He laughed. “No, that’s not what I mean.”
She finished running the comb through her hair and pulled the few strands in its teeth out so she could throw them in the trashcan next to the toilet. “What do you mean?”
Stone Bowman at a loss for words. Yeah, he was. He shrugged and got closer to her. Shit. She knew it. She must look like a fucking teenager without the makeup. Yeah, that had to be why he was staring at her.
Or…not. He cupped her neck and rubbed his thumb on her cheek. “Did you know you are gorgeous? Why do you cake your makeup on like you do?”
“Yeah. You’re hiding the best parts of yourself.”
“Not bullshit.” He leaned over and brushed her lips with his. She felt a buzz pulse through her body.
She took a deep breath. “You are distracting the shit out of me.”
That smirk. God, that would be infuriating if it wasn’t so goddamned sexy. “I am?”
Kory swallowed, unable to mask her emotions from him. She simply nodded her head. His eyes searched hers, almost unbelieving, and then he grinned and said, “Your first class is at nine?”
A small breath escaped her lips as she considered him. “Yeah.”
“That’s a little less than two hours from now. I can still get you there on time…with a latte in hand.” She laughed then. He was obsessed with getting her that damned coffee. But then he touched her neck with his lips and the laughter ceased as her nipples pebbled under the damp towel in anticipation. He looked at her then, placing a warm finger in the dip just under her neck and tracing it straight down till it hit the edge of the white towel, and he followed his finger with his eyes. “I still want to lick you till you come.” He raised his gaze slowly, drinking in every detail of her skin, up her chin, until he burned holes in her eyes with the intensity. “Do you feel like you could let me try?”
She lives in Colorado with her husband and four children.