“Find me. Please find me.”

Title: Auctioned

Release Date: 6/28/18

Genre: Crime/Suspense/(Romance.)

Pairing: MM

Gray Nolan’s biggest problem in life was the torch he carried for his closeted coach. He was just another happy-go-lucky dude, a college student and hockey player, when his ordinary existence was interrupted, and he became a human trafficking statistic.

He and seven other young men were taken aboard a luxurious yacht where they were to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Gray was beaten, shattered, and almost defeated by the time his buyer stepped out of the shadows in a swirl of his own cigarette smoke.

He was Gray’s new owner.

Darius Quinn had vowed never again to find himself in a situation like this. His days as a private military contractor were over. No more missions, no more risks, no more personal attachments. Yet, here he was, after weeks of searching, face-to-face with his broken prize.

It was time to get the knucklehead back to his family.

Quick and easy was Darius’s plan.

Then everything went sideways.

Amazon US: http://bit.ly/amus-auction
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Signed paperback: https://www.caradeewrites.com/

oOo

Prologue

Gray grinned to himself as he scrolled through baby clothes on his phone. Online shopping was dangerous when you’d learned you were expecting your first niece or nephew, and his funds were limited. He couldn’t help it, though. He was stoked for his stepsister—and, frankly, himself. He was gonna spoil that kid rotten. 

Taking a left on Sixth Street, he looked up briefly to make sure shopping for baby socks wasn’t getting him lost on the way home. He could picture his friends and brothers ribbing him about that for years.

It’d gotten dark while Gray had been to the movies with a couple friends. He was almost home, thankfully. Summer was over, and he was one of the last to haul out the fall wardrobe. Probably time to start using a jacket. Northern Washington wasn’t known for its heat.

*

“Hey!” Gray banged furiously against the planks that boarded up the window. Between the cracks, he could see a man exiting a car across the street, and it was the first person Gray had seen all day. “Help! Over here!” With a growl of frustration and panic, he tried to dig his fingers between two boards to get them loose. “Up here!” He kept going, even as his fingers started bleeding from the rough splinters.

His stomach churned as he heard the heavy footfalls of the two men who lived in this house. Or so he guessed. He hadn’t paused to consider ownership of the shitty little house on a street he didn’t recognize.

“Just silence him,” one of the men snarled on the other side of the door.

Flight was out, so Gray steeled himself to fight. His chest heaved, his fists clenched. And the second the locks were turned and the door opened, he charged with every bit of strength he possessed.

*

A message popped up on Gray’s phone as he was crossing the park behind the community college.

I want to celebrate my birthday with you. Please say yes, beautiful.

Gray wanted to. Fuck, did he want to spend that day with Craig. But he’d drawn the line. It’d been nearly three years of texting and confessing feelings and fantasies, three years of not being intimate with the man he loved. He knew if he spent any alone time with Craig now, he’d cave.

His thumb hovered over the send button, reading and rereading his reply, then eventually fired it off.

Leave your wife first.

A strong wind rustled the trees above him and sent a shiver down his spine. Fall was really here. He zipped up his hoodie and bunched his shoulders. The apartment he shared with a couple teammates and too much hockey gear to stumble over was just around the little duck pond. He hoped he could fall asleep quickly tonight, ’cause being reminded of Craig’s birthday sucked.

Gray could thank—or curse—his mom for putting so much value on morals. High motherfucking morals. He shook his head and wished he could just, for one damn night, get what he wanted. A stolen moment. Technically, they’d already had one. A kiss—a heated, awesome kiss—right after Craig became Craig and stopped being Coach Fuller.

*

As Gray nursed his no doubt fractured wrist, he counted the cracks in the ceiling. The pain had lessened to a low throb after keeping it still for two days, and the swelling had gone down.

He knew a thing or two about fractures, being a hockey player. Unlike his younger twin brothers, he didn’t dream of making it in the NHL, though. Same with Gray’s best friend, Abel, who played for the Canucks in Vancouver. No, Gray wanted to coach or work with kids in some other capacity. But all of that hurt to think about now.

Rolling onto his side, he winced as his joints protested. The thin mattress was the only thing in the room, aside from a portable toilet in the opposite corner. More often than not, his eyes strayed to the boarded-up window, which beat staring at the faded wallpaper.

Six days. That was how long it’d been since he was taken. Long enough for him to become a case. First as a missing person, then with the suspicion of foul play. Had he made the news yet? Most likely. In fact, Gray counted on it, because he wasn’t the first to disappear from their little town. A boy had gone missing earlier this year, followed by a young woman a couple months ago.

He screwed his eyes shut and willed himself not to cry. It would do him no good.

*

With his apartment building in sight, he picked up the pace and—

A screeching sound broke his train of thought, and Gray looked around, confused. This area was usually dead at night, unless it was a Friday or Saturday and fellow students threw a party or four.

He was supposed to have graduated last semester, but failing grades had forced him to retake a few classes.

A black sedan rolled up right outside the building, blocking Gray’s path. A big man stepped out and asked, “Are you Gray Nolan?”

Gray stiffened, torn between worry and suspicion. “What do you want with him?”

The man cracked a grin that revealed perfectly white teeth, except one was missing.

Another man was quick to join the first one, and they exchanged a sentence in a language Gray couldn’t understand or identify.

A beat later, they both flew at Gray.

oOo

Chapter 1

Gray could picture his mom’s face in the most idyllic scenarios. He could envision her laughing as she walked down the sloped lawn behind the inn she ran. The sun shining, the wind catching in her long, dark hair, the apple trees in bloom. Perhaps Gray had told her an inappropriate joke, and she was doing her mom thing by pretending not to find it funny. She’d look up at him with narrowed eyes, even as they danced with mirth, and scold him for his language or something. Then a giggle would slip free, and the laughs would follow.

Maybe it was because she’d had kids young that Gray was so close with her. The mama bear was always lurking and ready to pounce, but for the most part, they were friends. He helped out at the inn whenever he had the time, working side by side with his mother when most guys his age would rather chill with buddies.

The memory of his mom’s mischievous smirks and soft laughter were among Gray’s favorites, but they were always interrupted by the harsh reality. Her happiness grew distorted before morphing into despair and anguish-laden rage. Gray imagined her surrounded by law enforcement as she tried to figure out where her second eldest son had gone. She was such a short little thing. A complete sweetheart, until you messed with her.

The van jostled, bringing Gray out of his head. The air was humid and pungent, reeking of mildew, piss, and vomit. His restraints were cutting into his skin, and the burlap sack covering his head was thick and scratchy.

Find me. Please find me.

*

“Stand still!” The motherfucker fisted Gray’s hair through the rough material of the bag that covered his head and positioned him on the scale. “One-eighty-nine. Gotta love the athletes. He’ll go for a lot.”

Gray gnashed his teeth together.

This isn’t real, this isn’t real.

He wasn’t going to be sold. It seemed as impossible now as it had the first time he’d been told of his fate. That shit didn’t happen, not in America.

Bob claimed otherwise. Men without faces and names had come and gone in the weeks Gray had been God knows where, except for one man. He had a craggy face and crooked teeth, and on the eighth day in a shitty little house with faded wallpaper, he’d strolled into what was left of Gray’s life, grinned widely, and said, “Call me Bob.”

Bob made Gray’s life a living hell.

Another man grunted. “The fit ones also escape easier. Measurements next.”

Every digit imaginable was jotted down. From Gray’s six feet in height to…Jesus Christ, the length of his flaccid cock. Bob and who Gray assumed was a physician spoke as if they were the only people in the room.

“Tattoos or scars?” Doc asked. “Eye color, hair color… Anything that stands out?”

Bob ripped off the burlap sack, and Gray blinked at the harsh light. His eyes burned and watered rapidly. A blurry face obstructed his view, and there was a painful grip on his jaw.

“Light brown hair. Blue eyes, I guess. No scars—wait.” He gripped Gray’s bicep next. “Four-inch scar across his neck, several fainter ones on his torso. No ink, no piercings, handful of smaller birthmarks on his back and chest.”

Doc hummed and walked closer. Gray’s eyes wouldn’t fucking stop running; he hadn’t seen daylight—artificial or otherwise—for more than a few seconds at a time in weeks. Ever since he’d been moved from the house.

Doc poked a pen at the scars along Gray’s ribcage. “What sport, boy?” This guy had a Southern accent. He was old, bald, and short.

“Fuck you,” Gray gritted out.

That earned him a bitch slap that sent his head sideways. The pain didn’t even register.

Bob laughed under his breath.

“Hockey,” Gray muttered at Doc’s impatient look. Then he wrenched his gaze away and took in the dank office.

There was an old newspaper sticking up from the trash can, but he couldn’t see if it was local or anything.

“Violent sport,” Doc tsked. “How old are you?”

“Twenty.” Blinking past the stinging, Gray continued to search the office for clues. He spotted a calendar on the wall that made him sick. November. “Twenty-one.”

He’d missed his birthday. He’d also been gone for over two months.

Doc narrowed his eyes.

“It’s true,” Bob said. “He’s twenty-one.”

Gray was stuck on the month. November, November, November. He’d suspected they were no longer in Washington—or even Oregon—and now he knew it for certain. The weather outside was too warm for November.

He couldn’t imagine how his mom was faring.

Every time he thought of his family, the grief nearly did him in. It spread like fire through his veins, making it hard for him to breathe.

“Has he tried to escape?” Doc asked.

“Three times,” Bob grunted in reply.

Doc wasn’t happy about that, and he asked his next question while making another note. “Did he ever get close?”

Once. Gray swallowed bile. It was when two men had escorted him from that house he’d spent the first two weeks in… Gray had gotten loose from his restraints and tried to run.

Bob had caught up with him, and later that night, he’d made Gray regret he was alive.

*

“Hello?”

Gray shut his eyes and stopped moving around inside the wooden box. He couldn’t stretch out his legs, and the top of his head touched the ceiling. Rolling his shoulders and twisting his body was often all he could do to stop the numbness from growing too painful.

He wasn’t alone in the back of the truck. Judging by the sounds and the voices sometimes reaching out, he guessed there were around nine of them right now. All men. Or boys… Always leaving one storage unit or garage bay to go to another.

“Try to get some sleep,” Gray croaked.

“You never answer,” the boy whispered. “I’m scared.”

Gray scrubbed tiredly at his face, ashamed because he did, in fact, avoid talking to anyone. It made the guys real. Some of them sounded so fucking young, and Gray was scared out of his mind too. He couldn’t be strong for others who might need him to.

“I know.” His head hit the side of the large crate, and he blinked. Sometimes, there were slivers of light he could follow. Nothing now, though. Everything was pitch black.

A thin film of slime covered parts of the crates. Bodily fluids and mildew.

The boy coughed softly. “Are you maybe from Camassia Cove in Washington?”

Gray frowned. “Why?”

“I heard a guard mention it at the last place,” he revealed. “I’m from there too.”

Gray released a breath. “When were you taken?” Was this the kid who’d gone missing at the beginning of the year?

“I don’t know, a few weeks ago.”

Oh. So, after Gray had been kidnapped.

He didn’t wanna think about it—or anything that involved their home. It was too painful and brought forth too many memories. He missed his family so fucking much. Gage, his big brother. Gabriel and Gid, his younger twin brothers. And Mom and Isla and his stepdad and…everyone. Friends—especially Abel. Craig. Fuck, his chest hurt. Wounded feelings from before mingled with love, combined with the increasing aches and the horror of being abducted. Jesus Christ, literally abducted. These things happened on the news! Or in movies.

“My name is Milo,” the boy said nervously.

Gray scrubbed at his face, the rope around his wrists cinching tighter. Now the boy had a name. It changed things.

“Does anyone know where we are?” another guy asked.

Fuck no. Gray snapped his mouth shut. He’d been through this before. Shortly after he was taken, he’d been in a truck with four others. They’d established names and birthplaces, all trying to piece details together. Then everyone was taken away, maybe in a different truck going someplace else or…fuck if Gray knew. The next time, there’d been a couple girls too.

He loathed thinking about what happened to them when they were suddenly shipped like cattle to another destination. It made him wonder how big this whole thing was. Could he call it a network? Organized slavery? Human trafficking. The term hit him like a bolt, and it wrenched a pained breath from him.

Trafficking was invisible, yet, somehow, always a word on politicians’ lips. Sometimes, Gray would hear about it on the news, trafficking rings being exposed and blown up, but it was a crime so heinous it was impossible to grasp. Like anyone else, he’d think how horrible trafficking was. When leaders rallied before elections, saying they had to fight the drug trade and human trafficking, everyone went hell yeah. Because who wouldn’t? No one stood up and said the war on drugs wasn’t important.

As Gray listened to the guys making wary introductions, it terrified him to think how big this could be. He envisioned a dark map lighting up with a neon grid that grew denser and more heavily trafficked, and no one knew. The men and women passing the truck he was in had no clue. Like him, they’d seen news segments. Young girls, often. Always far away. Not in the truck next to them. To them, the grid remained invisible.

How many locations had he been taken to? Twelve? Thirteen? During overnight stays, he was locked in his crate. He could only hear the nightmares of others.

*

Gray was jostled awake. At the first assault of a simple flashlight, he hissed and cowered away in a corner. Welcome to another night of terror. Knees pulled up, tied hands covering his face. Light burned. The familiar smell of piss and vomit mingled with salt… That sparked something, and he took a tentative whiff. Ocean. He could smell the ocean. Or was he imagining it?

“Wake up!” It was the driver, and soon, more light filled the truck. Bearable light, Gray guessed, in comparison to the sun. He wasn’t sure he could live through a sunrise at this point. His eyes only knew the flickering lights of garage bays and the sharp, white beams from flashlights. “Crate four and six,” the driver told someone. “Food for the others.”

Two crates were lifted off the truck, and Gray prayed he could forget the heartbreaking sound of young men begging for their lives.

How many weeks had passed now?

Packets of rice and steamed vegetables were shoved in between the cracks of the crates—the same every night. Then they’d be back on the road for a few hours, only to make a final stop before a new day began. At that stop, they’d be hauled out of their boxes and hosed down. If anyone got mouthy, which Gray had learned the hard way, their one and only bathroom visit was taken away, and they got to experience waterboarding.

He flinched at a certain memory but managed to shove it aside.

“On your feet, slave.”

Gray shuddered violently as someone guided him roughly out of the truck. There was a bag over his head again. The telltale beep to alert that the lift gate was in use, the low murmur of voices around, boys wondering what was going on, the lift gate lowering with him on it—Gray could anticipate all of it.

He stood stock-still on the concrete ground and waited for the water. Every shuffle and noise registered, and then it hit him. The blast of cold water. He sucked in a breath and squeezed his eyes shut harder. One boy cried out. If the low-life scum were feeling extra sadistic, the first attack of the hose would hit the boys right in the face. Not even the burlap could shield them from the force of the frigid water.

They were deemed clean when teeth were chattering and their bodies shaking.

A quick bathroom break entailed being shoved into a porta-potty where the men got two minutes at best to relieve themselves. It was the only time their wrists weren’t shackled or bound. After which, they stumbled out and felt a gun pressing to their heads.

Gray was beginning to take comfort from the burlap sack. He didn’t wanna see the hell he lived through.

Soon enough, he was shoved back into his crate, another night drawing to a close.

*

Like the doctor’s exam, a rare night here and there stood out. Tonight, Gray and the other young men were shuffled out of the truck and into another garage bay, bags thrown over their heads, but there was no hose waiting for them, nor had they been fed yet. Instead, they were all ordered on their knees with their heads bowed.

Panic seized Gray’s chest. Is this it? Have they gone through all this to give me a bullet in the head? Just like that, his rational side kicked in. There wasn’t a chance in hell they were gonna kill him after everything. He’d been manhandled by countless men throughout this time, and they probably didn’t do it for free. An operation like this had to be costly.

“Please don’t kill me,” one guy sobbed.

He was new.

“Disappointingly little money in selling corpses,” a man said impassively. “Start with him, Gregor.”

Gray’s ears prickled. He strained to be alert, refusing to let the fatigue get the best of him. Boots scraped the cement. Wherever they stopped, it wasn’t near Gray. This time.

“This the final eight for Joulter?” someone asked in a gravelly voice.

“Yes. We’ll get the other six tomorrow.”

The next thing that registered was a low, jagged buzz. The first words that flew into Gray’s head were tattoo gun. Confirmed by a boy whimpering in pain and a motherfucker telling him to be still. Gray tensed up and steeled himself. They’re gonna mark me. They’re gonna put a mark on me. Milo was next, and Gray listened to his shaky breaths as the boy tried to be brave. Each faint, choking sound was a stab in Gray’s chest.

“One of them was reserved, right?” It was the gravelly voice again.

“This one,” another replied, and it was followed by a pained sound. “He’s to be delivered with a chip already. Buyer ain’t takin’ any chances, I guess.”

Gray’s mind was quick to draw conclusions. Chip. GPS or something else that would track the kid. Making it almost impossible to escape. On the other hand, Gray and the other six wouldn’t be chipped. He would only need a small window. If he saw a chance to run, he would. Saw, being the ironic keyword. With a bag over his head, he didn’t see a whole lot.

A meaty hand clamped down on Gray’s neck through the scratchy fabric, and Gray clenched his jaw. This was it. He’d get some kind of mark—a permanent one. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t faze him more than the other abuse. He could survive a tattoo. Being kidnapped, maybe not.

The buzz grew louder, and the bag over Gray’s head was pushed up enough to expose the back of his neck. What followed was a trail of fire that pierced his skin. He broke out in a sweat, the pain reverberating in his skull and locking his jaw into place. He gnashed his teeth so hard he thought he was gonna crush them.

*

Something was different.

“Be quiet, Milo.” Gray spoke the words under his breath, too caught up in the outside world to try consoling Milo again. “Please. Something’s—” Shit, he didn’t even know what to say. As the truck turned, so did Gray. He twisted his upper body inside the crate, as if he could suddenly see through walls just because he was facing the right direction.

His neck strained, reminding him of the no doubt infected, two-day-old brand. Right now, he couldn’t bring himself to care. For the past hour or so, the truck had driven in a strange pattern. Bumpier roads, frequent turns. Hope was the last thing that died, Gray had read somewhere. And he couldn’t help but wonder if the sharp turns and detours meant that the driver was trying to shake someone. Someone following them, maybe.

After a while, the truck slowed down.

“Joulter cargo!” The voice of the driver was muffled through a wall but distinct nonetheless. Another voice replied, and this time, Gray couldn’t decipher the words. “No, the midnight departure with the queer boys.”

Gray’s back straightened and became rigid, and he hit his head on the ceiling of the crate. Queer boys. Oh fuck. “Milo.” He rushed out the silently crying boy’s name. “Are you gay?”

“I am,” someone else croaked.

“Me too.”

Milo sniffled. “Yeah?”

“Damn,” Gray whispered.

There was one guy Gray’s age—Cole—who’d traveled with them for maybe a week. He spoke up next. “Special requests from buyers.” His guess confirmed Gray’s fear. Every time they’d traveled with others, it’d been different legs of different journeys. Girls, boys, straight, gay; somehow, they were categorized, whether it was by sexuality, gender, body shape, or skin color.

Gray thought back on the glimpses of the guys he was with. Sexuality established: gay. All of them athletic and cut but not bulky. All on the young side. Gray and Cole were the eldest, if he wasn’t mistaken. We’re the fucking twinks. He glared at nothing, vaguely offended. He didn’t look like a stereotypical bottom boy, goddammit.

With a shake of his head, he thought further, mainly on how these people-harvesting criminals knew so much. They didn’t snatch victims at random, and Gray didn’t advertise his sexuality. Much. His friends knew and had zero problems; still, he was heavily involved in hockey, so he chose not to flaunt anything. He was also single—officially. Only one man would hopefully dispute that status. Regardless…no one would know he was gay unless they either knew him personally or…if they’d found his Facebook.

It sent chills down his spine to realize they’d been watching him.

It would explain how Bob had known his age. They’d fucking spied on Gray.

“We have to run,” he said quickly. Panic rose at the thought of not getting any more chances. “If we’ve reached the destination where they’ll try to sell us, we gotta try to escape—by any means necessary.”

“I’m in. We can’t afford to hesitate,” Cole said in his Southern accent. “Charlie, you can’t even try. They’ll know where you are.” That was the boy with a GPS chip embedded under his skin. “The rest of us—soon as we get a chance, we run.”

Gray nodded to himself. “Don’t wait for anyone. We have a bigger shot if one slips away and calls the police.”

It was an unstable agreement among Cole, Gray, and six boys who were so afraid that their every breath was shaky or thick with emotion.

If Gray had to choose between a life in captivity and death…

Light exploded around them as the door was opened, and Gray snuck closer to the boards. Blinking rapidly past the burn, he searched for clues and escape routes. He needed to be alert, because if that tiny window of opportunity appeared, he wasn’t gonna waste a millisecond.

His heart thundered in his chest as two men headed straight for his crate. Feet firmly planted on the floor, knees pulled up, he summoned all his strength. Which wasn’t much, but he had the element of surprise, and he could shoot up quickly in this position.

When he spotted one of the men gripping a shotgun tightly, his heart plummeted, though he remained determined. Childhood memories flashed by, and he swallowed hard. Life wasn’t supposed to end here. Not like this. It wasn’t fucking fair.

“Rise and shine, fuckboy.” A guard turned the key in the three locks that held the crate shut, then lifted the lid just enough to shove in the barrel of a shotgun. Opening the lid farther, the guard flashed a wide smirk. A scar slashed across his cheek and created a deep crease whenever his mouth twisted. “Turn around.”

“Why the fuck would I?” Gray spat out. Rage engulfed him, and he balled his hands into fists. His lungs squeezed.

He chuckled. “I think you’re smart enough to know we won’t kill you, but there are other ways to use a shotgun. Would you like it shoved up your ass?”

Gray swallowed, and against everything he wanted, he shuffled around inside the crate so he had his back to them. This wasn’t how he was gonna find his escape.

“See? Obedient already. Your owner will like you.” Next, there was a hand on his neck, and then a sharp sting. Gray’s eyes widened. It dawned on him as quickly as the sedative kicked in. They were putting him down like a goddamn dog in order to move…him…

“Fucking…bastards,” Gray groaned. The hatred blazed inside of him, even as his limbs grew heavy and his mind sluggish.

In Approximately 24 Hours…

Oh hai there!

In approximately 24 hours, the first part of my new mafia romance trilogy goes live, and if humor, action, drama, arranged marriages, and the grit of organized crime is your thing, read on!

Also, if you’re in the mood to join a giveaway where you can win a $150 gift card from Amazon, books, swag, and stuff, there is ONE day left to check it out. Just click here.

Here’s the blurb for This Life I. 🙂

Finnegan O’Shea

The Sons of Munster have been living this life for generations. We have our own protocol, our own traditions, dating back from when two families merged and created our syndicate in Ireland. Now, we have our strongholds in Philly and Chicago, and the wrong man holds the highest position. The day my uncle decided to betray us, he signed his own death warrant, and after a five-year hitch in the can, I’m ready to take everything from him. In order to ensure the demise of his management, I have to get close to him. I need to earn his trust and that of his closest associates. I’ll be the top earner he wants me to be. I’ll be the very image of a conventional family man.

For that to happen, this Irish bastard has to find himself a wife. Someone sweet and compliant who will stand by my side and make me look like I have too much to lose to screw over the head of the family.

Emilia Porter

When it rains, it pours, so I guess it’s been pouring for eighteen years now. Being from an old mining town that’s full of drunk cautionary tales, I spend my days juggling—and failing—school, work, and paying the bills so my dad can drink himself into a stupor. Then this freaking guy rolls into town in his expensive sports car and thinks I should marry him. This isn’t the fifties, and there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell I’ll marry a well-known mobster. No matter how much money he promises me. No matter how intensely the chemistry sizzles between us.

He asks for three years of marriage. Then I’d be set for life, independent, and free to start fresh on my own. Free to walk away. Who the hell does he think he is?

This Life Excerpts

Emilia Porter

All the shit I read about the murders, the trials, and the rift between the two families that’d started this behemoth of a crime syndicate made everything even more bizarre. Finnegan belonged in the newspapers, not outside of my house asking me on a freaking date. I shuddered at the thought of his “offer.”

“Miss Porter?”

I squeaked in shock and quickly exited the Wikipedia page, then looked over my shoulder to find a man in a suit there. He didn’t work at my school, and he looked so misplaced in our little library.

“Yes?” I pushed down my nerves and eyed him. Crisp white button-down, black suit, definitely a holster hiding under his jacket. If he was another O’Shea, I was gonna scream bloody murder.

“I’m Kellan Caldwell,” he said and extended a hand. “I’m a federal agent, and I was wondering if we could talk.”

My life was officially over. Finnegan O’Shea had asked me to dinner, and now I was on FBI’s radar. Oh God.

“Can I see some ID?” I shook his hand nervously and stood up.

“Of course.” He retrieved it from inside his suit and flashed his badge just like they did in the movies. “You’re not in any trouble, Miss Porter. In fact, we’re asking for your help.”

*

One dinner.

I hugged myself as a cold wind swept between us, and I stepped a little closer to my door. “Why do I get the feeling it’s never just a dinner with you?”

“You gotta think highly of me, huh?” Finnegan was way too amused, and he leaned forward as if to reveal a secret. “I’m not going to fuck you, Emilia. It’s really just dinner.”

Right at that second, he could consider himself lucky I’d kept at least ten feet between us. Otherwise, I would’ve rammed my elbow up into his chin, and then he probably would’ve killed me. Him fucking me hadn’t even occurred to me. I was more worried about ending up in a body bag. Maybe.

I blew out a heavy breath and reined in the anger. What I wouldn’t give to put him in his damn place! Uh—well. I had the chance. That place could be prison, if he said anything incriminating that the Feds overheard.

And so I was nervous as hell again.

Could I really do it? Could I be brave and help the FBI?

One dinner.

If I had to be honest with myself, I didn’t actually think something would happen after just one date or whatever this would be. Sweet Jesus, a date. With Finnegan O’Shea.

Another cold breeze blew past, causing me to shudder. It prompted Finnegan to give me a once-over before he narrowed his eyes at me. I got it, he wasn’t very impressed. No one was.

“One dinner,” I heard myself say. Agent Caldwell’s card burned a hole in my pocket. Holy shit, this was happening.

It seemed Finnegan was as surprised as I was, though he masked it quickly, and then he smiled. “Are you available tomorrow?”

Weird day to go on a date—a Thursday. Unless he was eager to drag me into a criminal lifestyle, at which he’d fail so miserably.

“Sure.” I was off work, at least. “Just—make it public, okay? No backwoods or ditches.”

He let out a carefree laugh that divided my thoughts. Firstly, he was even more gorgeous when he laughed. Secondly, I couldn’t wait to be the one who got the last laugh.

“You got it, princess. A public dinner.” He chuckled and stubbed out his smoke. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”

*

Finnegan O’Shea

“How did your date go, little brother?” Patrick asked.

“Good,” I replied, eyeing the food Ian was cooking. Sampling deli meat and cheese wasn’t enough when the kitchen was starting to smell like a steakhouse. “I’m trying not to think about her too much.”

“Why’s that?”

I shook my head, fingers drumming against the kitchen bar. “I thought she’d be fucking timid.”

Emilia Porter was the opposite. Wary and easily frightened, sure, but that was understandable. Her quick wit and feistiness, however…? I’d had no clue I’d crave it like an addict. I was already looking forward to our next date, which she’d agreed to reluctantly.

I had her in the palm of my hand, though she took every opportunity to bite my fingers.

It was sexy as hell.

Something far less sexy was her comment about her own mother. “She said something weird last night,” I admitted. “She thinks her mother is dead.”

“That’s fucked up.” Patrick frowned. “Did her pop make her believe that?”

“I guess so. I’ll do some digging.”

One way or another, I was going to use this to my advantage.

“Anyway,” I said, “hand me that, will ya?” I nodded at the box farther down the counter.

Patrick complied, and I dug out the new phone. It was a gift to Emilia. I just had to prepare it a bit before sending it to her. For one, I wanted it synced with my laptop so I could access her texts and phone history and see what apps she downloaded. For two, I had to install a call distorter so our friends at the NSA and the FBI didn’t get any ideas.

*

Someone rudely interrupted me by knocking on the door and then entering before I could even tell them to fuck off. It was Patrick and Kellan with snacks and a couple six-packs of beer.

“Have you done anything?” Patrick stared at the state of my living room.

“I’ve been busy,” I said defensively. Closing my laptop, I left it on the coffee table, something I’d actually assembled earlier.

“The plastic’s still on the couch, mate.” Kellan snorted and crossed the living room to reach the kitchen.

“That’s ’cause you spill, Agent Caldwell!” I called after him, and he laughed. Then I faced my brother. “The stalking has paid off again. The girls are texting, and Sarah mentioned being in the mood for Chinese.”

His forehead creased. “So?”

For fuck’s sake. “So take her out, numbskull! Call her and say you want Chinese. Bond or some shit.”

“Good idea.” He nodded firmly and pulled out his phone.

So did I, ’cause I’d waited long enough. At this point, with a phone she’d had less than a couple hours, Emilia had communicated more with her best friend and a fake FBI agent than me, the bloke who’d given her the damn thing.

I wanted some attention now.

oOo

If this sounds like your cup of Irish stout, you can preorder your 400 pages of mafia romance that is the first part of This Life I right here:

Amazon US: https://goo.gl/nXtp8A
Amazon CAN: https://goo.gl/wimRDZ
Amazon AUS: https://goo.gl/vGAWF1
Amazon DE: https://goo.gl/MqKvum
Amazon UK: https://goo.gl/HprvN7
Amazon FR: https://goo.gl/Yiy2Dm
Goodreads: https://goo.gl/ot9Quu
Signed paperback: www.caradeewrites.com

Here’s to an Irish year!

xo,
Cara

I’m doing it!

I’m blogging again! Possibly because a reader in my Facebook group was kind enough to point out, “shouldn’t you be blogging?” To which my smooth response was, “Oh shit.”

And then Eliza, the ever present PA/babysitter/manager, told me I should too.

So here I am. And today, she is more than a PA/babysitter/manager. She’s also a bartender. We’ll be celebrating my release of Power Play in my Facebook group, and she’s got book-themed drink recipes to share! I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll be sipping on a Slapshot and Needy-Wanty tonight.

Some wicked cool authors will also stop by for giveaways and games, so you better show up. Here’s a link to the group and you’re hereby required to come.

Check out this lineup!

So yeah, Power Play came out today! Hashtag Daddykink, gay romance, hot older tattoo artist, and younger cheeky hockey player. 🙂 Hashtag like a pro.

Have a blurb on the house.

I was my own worst enemy. For as much as I depended on order and a structured life to easier manage my bipolar disorder, fire was irresistible and indisputably my favorite toy to play with. On the ice, it turned me into a hotheaded hockey player. In the bedroom, my attitude was my last defense, a front I wanted to see tumbling down. But lately, all I got was burned.

Love sucked. Correction: it sucked when you were in love with your parents’ closest friend and he didn’t feel the same. I admitted my feelings for Madigan Monroe over a year ago, and I was still waiting for a response. Now my balance was gone. My anxiety was all over the place, my fits of rage had just earned me a suspension from the team, I questioned myself at every turn, and being home for two weeks was gonna make it impossible to avoid Madigan.

I used to be his Abel, his sweetheart, his trouble. It’d been the two of us against the world since I was a kid. I’d even discovered we had kink in common! On paper, I was seemingly perfect for him. Maybe that was why his nonverbal rejection hurt so much. Or maybe it was because, recently, he seemed hell-bent on us “being friends” again.

Whatever. I was a loser, and I couldn’t resist him for crap.

I’ll see you tonight, right? RIGHT? I mean, if you wanna. There’s gonna be free books and shit.

Until next time!

I was told to do this

“You gotta be more active on social media,” she said. “It’ll be fun,” she said.

“Update your blog more often,” she said. “It’ll be fun,” she said.

Are you having fun yet?

Eliza is a PA in a managerwolf clothing. (It’s a word!) She’s bossy. And it’s kind of hard to bitch at her when she’s right, although I do try. I feel like it’s my job, you know? (Let’s pretend for a minute I didn’t give her free rein to push me to be “better.”) Thing is, I enjoy interacting with my readers and online friends; more than that, I enjoy getting to know them better. But being…who I am, I fidget for a century before blurting out the most ridiculous crap, so when I go online to be social, don’t expect anything brainy because I’m talking out of my ass.

So far this year, I’ve tweeted about cloning myself so I can enslave my other me. I’ve posted a lot of pictures of drinks with cherries, and I said I’d like to be a test bunny for Lelo vibrators when I grow up. Which is true.

Now I’m gonna blog too. Yay.

For the record, this chick, Eliza, hurricaned into the romance industry a year ago, and I think she knows more about it than me now. I’ve just been chilling here for five years, but whatevs. Annoying little bug. She’s all about sales and plans and marketing and financial structure, and I’ll be here like, “But did you see the meme I sent you.”

Anyway. Let’s blog! Like pretty much all other authors, I’m currently writing. With Power Play being edited by my fantastic, road-trippin’ editor, I’m now back to writing delicious angst. Auctioned will be a five-book series packed with action, trauma, suspense, angry sex, and of course love. If you liked my Aftermath and Outcome, this is the type of book/s for you. Here, have a looksie at the covers!

What else can I blog about?

Oh! Here are three songs from my Auctioned playlist.

Warpath by Tim Halperin

Tear It All Down by Ed Prosek

New Kings by Sleeping Wolf

Link goes to my Spotify list for Auctioned. 🙂

What else…

Or maybe I should wrap it up before I start musing about how many cherries I can fit into my mouth. My guess is a lot.

 

Autism In My Perfect World

I don’t necessarily write autistic characters every now and then to make a statement, or to even raise awareness, though it’s definitely a big bonus. I write autistic characters in some of my books because they’re real.

They walk among us.

😉

Or, we walk among you.

I found out I was autistic in my late twenties. Ironically, I read a book in which a character might as well have been me. It sparked my curiosity, because that guy in that book had the same questions I did. What the freaking frakk is so important about staring into each other’s eyeballs so much? Why did I have to suppress sheer rage just because a goddamn label in the neckline of a shirt rubbed against my skin? Why did sudden noises give me heart palpitations? Why didn’t I react like most others did? And did I really have an unhealthy attachment to my headphones?

When you’re diagnosed later in life, chances are a person has perfected the act of pretending to fit in. While I don’t understand certain social cues or always pick up on them, I can fake them damn well. I learn by shoving memories into a mental catalogue, memories of how others react to specific things, and if I make a wrong move, I probably won’t do it again. Instead I’ll mimic what’s normal. This is one of the reasons many—who found out about Autism later—get the grating question, “But you don’t seem autistic” here and there.

Would it help if I behaved like Rain Man?

I’m not interested in Rain Man. I’m interested in those who can’t guess the number of toothpicks on the floor with a single glance.

Whether it’s a car mechanic in Bakersfield or a three-year-old little girl who doesn’t speak, I write Autism on the spectrum that it exists. Everyday struggles included, some more relatable than others, some more severe than others. I want it real because Autism isn’t all adorable quirks and funny mishaps, though they take place, too… We are pretty fucking cute. But most of all, Autism is personal and can alienate someone in the blink of an eye. All it takes is a neurotypical person’s perfectly normal reaction for an autistic person to feel different. And if that person doesn’t know about Autism, he or she can easily turn that into there’s something wrong with me.

You only have to scratch the surface before you realize how common Autism is. Yet, it’s so easily misunderstood and misrepresented. Other than the fact that Autism is an interesting topic for me, that’s why I write autistic characters on occasion. Because we’re friggin’ everywhere. And this applies to many mental disorders, so when an author has the insight and ability, I think it’s kind of cool they/we give these disorders a voice. If then someone learns something on the way, fucking A.

A little understanding never killed anyone.

Autism in my perfect world of fiction is about normalizing something that’s already common.

That’s all.

Crap. I guess this qualifies as a statement, after all.

Are you sure you’re happy with your novel?

I published a new book the other day. Fist-pumps the air. The idea for this novel came to me seven years ago, title included. This was back when I wrote more fanfiction, so I still have the banner I created. January 27th, 2011. Path of Destruction. Since then, the idea of the rock-star romance has grown and developed in some dark corner of my mind. Names for characters popped up, scenes played out before my eyes, and boom, hey, let’s end the guy’s rock star career with a prison sentence, and hey, let’s research addiction and abuse for the heroine.

I lived and breathed that novel once I really started writing. I questioned myself at every turn, I dreamed about it and woke up with ideas and lines and various crap I just had to include in the book, I—as usual—stopped existing in real life, and I had notes everywhere that I swear some little gnome move around when I’m not looking.

Since I value realism and plausibility as much as I do, research is a big part of my work. It’s something I take pride in. For this particular novel, there was a lot to learn. Lincoln, my main guy, has spent the past ten years in prison, and can you imagine? He missed the internet explosion. He’s new to social media, and he can’t for the life of him understand why people text so fucking much. When he leaves prison, he thinks Walkman is still a thing. He’s overwhelmed and has a short fuse.

Rewind: my first thought, no matter how brief it was, was about reuniting him with the girl he lost when he was arrested. Then I thought, well…hold up, he’s been to prison, and ten years have passed. Let’s find out how he’s actually going to react. Freedom comes before the girl. The world has changed.

Step by step, I brought him out of that facility. Literally, step by step. He’ll register the familiar sounds of the locks and heavy doors, the comfort of the only clothes he’s worn for a decade, and when he’s given some pocket change, he notices the design of the money’s changed.

Research brings a story to life on another level, in my opinion. Whether I’m reading journals from inmates who have spent years and years locked up, or I’m asking my musician husband about Lincoln’s guitar playing, I try to cover everything I can think of. A book is a puzzle. Everything has to fit. Does the way he speak match his education and background, would Jesse and Abel accept Lincoln’s presence quickly or would there be issues, and when the hell can Lincoln and Adeline finally get together?

I’m rambling. I actually have a point to make, believe it or not.

When picking beta readers, the last thing I want is a group of ass-kissers. I want their honesty about everything, and I did get some criticism. Thank fuck. Because if they didn’t catch it, it would fall on the readers to get dissatisfied. So I went back and did some changes; my editor and I went back and forth for weeks, too. Then my proofer had her go, and again, some changes, very minor this time.

Last reading round, I was so fucking happy with Path of Destruction. The puzzle was complete, and I heard enough “This is your best book yet; I’ll never forget it” to make me soar.

Of course, me being me, I suck at promoting myself, so this is hardly a book that will hit any bestseller lists. But, no matter what, I’m very happy with my work. I continue to write what I want to read, and I actually read it yesterday. I recommend it. 😉

To my point. An author can never please everyone. There will probably be readers who completely trash Destruction on Amazon and Goodreads. It happens. Always. Now, it’s close to impossible to offend me, but I can still get my feelings hurt, so I tend to avoid reading reviews. The reviews are for readers, not for writers. My job is done. But yeah, there will be those who don’t like it, and here’s what won’t happen if/when I see someone tearing Path of Destruction to pieces: me venting about it online.

As a writer, I understand the sting. Goddammit, we put so much energy into these books. Someone calling them shit can hurt. Some readers get overly vicious, too. But I promise, turning it into a fight won’t change the reader’s mind. If anything, more will see an author throwing a tantrum because someone didn’t like their book. On social media, we never see every side of the story. We scroll down our feeds and see one side, one bitch fit. And I’ll never understand why.

Are you not happy with your book? If you are, then why let one reader ruin it for you? Did no one ever tell you to not feed the trolls? Or…did the review strike a chord; did the reader have a point? In which case, accept it and improve because your butthurt is showing.

As I write my book, I think some crazy shit

I’m going to focus. Concentrate. Hard. I’m going to write this bitch so good. I see the scene in my head, the one that will end up somewhere in the middle of the book where the hero shoves the heroine up against the wall and growls “I’m done pretending” before kissing her until her panties are ruined. Y’all know that scene. I see it, so I’m going to focus. Concentrate. Hard. I wonder how different the scene would look if I wrote heroin instead of heroine…

Focus!

*puts on headphones and stares at empty document.*

A familiar sight. New chapter. I should upgrade from Office 2003, but I hate change so much that… I just don’t like change. To some, it’s a regular personality trait. To some, it’s autism. It’s been a while since I went on Pinterest to look for Aspie memes…

Fuck, now I lost concentration. I’ll just play Blossom Blast on my phone for ten minutes, and then I’ll be ready to write this bitch. So. Good.

Ten minutes is silly, though. I have five lives; I might as well stick it through until I can’t. I’m no quitter!

*plays Blossom Blast.*

A human interrupts me. “You hungry?”

I glare at him. Can’t he see I’m busy? “I’m working! How many times do I have to tell you that when I’m wearing my headphones, I’m busy–”

He points to my phone. “It doesn’t look like work.”

I suppress a sigh. He wouldn’t understand. Muggle.

“I’m not hungry,” I say, returning to my Blossom Blast game.

I run out of lives and rub my hands together. Then I lose track of time as I write my next masterpiece. Oh it’s going to be so good. My hero’s past is tragic. He doesn’t have any parents. They died because I don’t want to write them. Boring. Now I don’t have to include them. I don’t have to think about them. There won’t be any in-between takes where he goes to visit his folks, no boring phone calls from his mother. It’s really easy to kill off parents in books.

*tilts head.*

I wonder how many orphans there are in fiction. Many. Do other writers kill them off for the same reason? Or just to build up the hero’s tragic past? Ugh. This is not original. Maybe mine will simply be a bitter bastard, not because he lost his folks but because…um. Oy, this is getting complicated.

*kills off parents.*

There. Done.

“How was work, hon?”

“Good, I killed some people.”

I have five lives on Blossom Blast again!

I get to the next level before I’m out of lives. It was a good break. I check the time and wonder where the time went. Shit. Well, I did refill the lives a couple times… A two hour break is perfectly fine, because now I’m ready to write this bitch so good.

Two paragraphs later, I’m hungry like whoa. I’m also stuck, so it’s best to take a break again. I cook dinner and get my fill of human interaction. I do human things, and it gets me thinking on realism. I like that in my books. My characters get hungry. They go to the bathroom. You rarely see that in the fluffier romance novels. Even rarer in BDSM books. They can go out for a Mexican bean fest for dinner and then they hit the lavish playroom for some good ‘ol anal sex and maybe even a fisting. Or a bondage session. And I’m sitting there, wondering if the sub never has to pee.

“What’re you thinking about?”

I snap out of my thoughts. “Um…realism?” I raise a solidarity fist. “Buttsex before burrito.”

He’s looking at me funny. “Right… I’m not sure if you’re asking for anal or if you’re still hungry.”

“I’m full.”

“So you wanna…?”

I forget to answer, already getting back into work mode. I make sure my character goes to the bathroom before he gets on his flight, because really, he’s six foot two and airplane bathrooms were built for…children. I don’t know the PC protocol. Is it okay to say midget? Dwarf? Little person? I’m useless about that. When I’m around people I’m comfortable with, I use the r-word and justify it with a diagnosis. I’m entitled to use the word like some black comedians can’t crack a joke without that other word. You know the one.

Another word many seem to dislike so much in books is cunt. I think it’s about exposure. I used to think it was too crass, or best used as an insult. But I’ve changed my mind after reading smut where it was all cunt, cunt, cunt.

It can be hot when used right.

I snicker. That’s what she said.

I’m such a fucking dork.

Focus!

Right. It’s been a while since I played Blossom Blast…

Then I realize it’s late, so I might as well call it a day. I got little to fuck-all done, but I’ll write this bitch so good tomorrow instead. Grammatically, I know it’s write this bitch so well. I’m not completely r-worded.

I’m asked how work went today.

I answer, “I put on my headphones but forgot to push play. How was yours?”

The next day, I’m unreachable. Everything just clicks, and I write forty pages in no time at all. I don’t understand it sometimes, how motivation and determination work, but I’m thankful it does work on occasion. Otherwise I’d have to get a normal-person job.

Gross.