A new Eastport Bay hero is here!!

The Baby-whisperer and the Brute is a full-length small town rom com take on Rapunzel with plenty of humor and heat and a gentle bruiser with a heart of gold. It’s a sweet and sexy single-dad-and-the-nanny romance with a billionaire athlete hero and an innocent-but-strong virgin heroine. It’s live now on Amazon and available in Kindle Unlimited!

The Baby and the Blueblood is LIVE!

The Blueblood has arrived

She’s risen from the ashes of heartbreak. He’s looking for the perfect fit. A small-town rom com take on Cinderella filled with heart, heat, and secret baby/ second chance/royal billionaire romance fun!

BARGAIN WITH THE BACHELOR is live now on Amazon and available in Kindle Unlimited as well as in paperback. I can’t wait for you to meet Hunter and Kristal in this small town rom com take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves!

You can’t completely comprehend the term “shaken” until you find yourself playing an accidental game of Seven Minutes in Heaven with your lifelong unrequited crush at a swanky society fundraiser.
—Hunter Bestia

Have you met Hunter’s brother Jack yet? BOOKWORM AND THE BEAST is his story, and it’s available now to buy on Amazon or to read FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

Bookworm and the Beast is a completely unique modern rom com take on Beauty and the Beast. It’s a fun, sexy enemies to lovers, forced proximity, grumpy hero and sunshine heroine story. 

Want to read the first 3 chapters?? Scroll to the bottom and meet The Beast!

I’ve been sent into the lair of the beast….

It should be a dream assignment—leave my boring day-to-day routine and travel to a seaside mansion to interview superstar author Jack R. R. Bestia. Who wouldn’t want that?

Me, that’s who.

He has a reputation for being reclusive and temperamental, but that’s not why I’m leery of the assignment. It’s because the first (and last) time I met Jack… well, let’s just say I didn’t make a good impression.

When I get to the mansion—which is more like a secluded castle—things don’t go much better. I’m sure he’s going to throw me out entirely. The only way I manage to squeak in is by signing a massive non-disclosure agreement. And I soon figure out why.

Jack has a secret—and it’s a big one.

Now that iron-clad contract I signed means I have to stay here until his long-overdue book is finished—and he’s not going to make it easy.

Jack acts every bit as beastly as the tabloids claimed, and I feel like a fairytale princess trapped in his tower. But every once in a while I get a glimpse of the charming (not to mention super sexy) man beneath the growly exterior and I wonder… could this beast be tamed?

 

Bookworm and the Beast is a full-length hot romantic comedy take on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. It’s a standalone enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity, slow burn romance with no cheating or cliffhangers but plenty of humor and heart.

CHAPTER ONE

The Babbling

 

 

You can’t truly understand the meaning of the word “humiliation” until you’ve ugly-cried in front of the most gorgeous man you’ve ever seen in your life—then been escorted away by security. —Bonnie Hamelin

 

A line of people stretched down the East 12th Street sidewalk in Manhattan, disappearing under the iconic red awning of Strand Bookstore. Though I’d gotten there early for the signing, I hadn’t managed to snag a spot under the protective covering near the front of the line.

Instead, I was somewhere in the middle of it, huddled under an umbrella with my new neighbor and friend Erin. We’d already waited more than an hour as the line inched toward the enormous bookstore’s glass front doors.

Posters were tacked at intervals along the exterior of the building’s large, painted windows.

YES! We have Book 6!

And

Book Signing Tonight-NYT and USA Today Bestselling Fantasy Author Jack R. R. Bestia.

And

Thank you for your patience.

It was hard to be patient. For one thing, the cats-and-dogs rainstorm had upgraded within the last few minutes to tigers-and-rabid-wolves, and the umbrella wasn’t very large.

For another, a monumental experience waited at the other end of the line. I was finally, finally going to see my all-time favorite author in person.

Excitement simmered and popped inside me, making it nearly impossible to stand still. I’d read everything Jack Bestia had ever written. Like the rest of Onyx Nation, as his millions of enthusiastic fans were known, I was eagerly awaiting next year’s release of Anthem in Obsidian, the seventh and final book in the Onyx Throne series.

Unlike me, most of them hadn’t discovered his genius until that cable network had launched a high-budget drama series based on his epic fantasy novels.

I took some pride in being one of his earliest fans. Long before the Onyx series even released, I’d read his very first book, which most people had never heard of, and fallen head over heels in literary love.

“Are you sure this guy is worth it, Bonnie?” Erin asked in her charming Southern accent. “You already have the ebook. You could just order the hardcover online.”

“I’m sure. I want a signed book. I want to meet him,” I insisted. “Besides, the rain will probably let up any minute.”

After spending the past few years living and working in small towns, I was finally in a place big enough to merit a stop on one of Jack’s book tours. His success had exploded in the past few years as the TV show had led to action figures, coloring books, costumes, and board games, in addition to the audiobooks and foreign translations his bestselling series had already spawned.

This was my chance to see him in person, and I wasn’t going to let a little water stand in my way.

“Okay, if you say so.” Erin drew closer under the umbrella. “But you owe me a chick flick. Maybe two.”

My neighbor from the apartment next door didn’t share my love of books, but Erin had been the first person to befriend me when I’d moved to New York City a week ago, and she’d just earned friend-for-life status by heroically dashing across the street to The Bean and returning with two steaming hot chai lattes.

I clutched my cup greedily, letting the heat warm my chilled fingers and waft over my cold nose. The people in line around us—mostly men—groaned with envy and longing over our hot drinks.

Or more likely, it was my hot friend that had captured their attention. With her long golden hair, longer legs, and the kind of cheekbones cameras couldn’t get enough of, the fledgling model was always capturing men’s attention. It was hard to miss how they stared everywhere she went.

Tonight was no exception—I’d noticed several of the guys trying to catch Erin’s eye. I couldn’t blame them. Even soaking wet, my new neighbor was gorgeous.

And she was genuinely nice. Erin had volunteered to walk the six blocks here with me since I was still getting the hang of navigating the city. Unfortunately, she was getting drenched in return for her kindness.

“It’s okay if you want to leave,” I told her. “Really. It’s so yucky out, and I know you’re not really into this. We could just meet up later on.”

Obviously eavesdropping, a nice-looking guy with a neat beard stepped out of line a few spots ahead of us.

“Listen, I was thinking about bailing myself. I’d love to buy you another one of those.” He gestured to Erin’s lidded cup. “Or maybe dinner… if you’re hungry.”

His gaze slid down her body, her legs, and back up, finally reaching her face. “I know I am.”

Ewwwww. Apparently, the pickup lines in Manhattan were no better than they’d been in Ithaca. Or Syracuse. My high hopes for being single in the city were sinking fast.

Erin smiled sweetly. “No thanks. I’m here with my friend.”

The guy glanced over at me, apparently just noticing my existence. “Right. Of course.”

Undeterred, he pulled out his wallet and extracted a business card, offering it to Erin with two fingers.

“Maybe another time. We could ‘copter out to my place in the Hamptons one weekend. My number’s here. My secretary’s a registered pit bull, but I’ll give her your name so your call will get right through to me. I’m an investment banker,” he added, raising his brows and obviously waiting for her to hand over her name in exchange for that tidbit of unsolicited info.

“It’s Jennifer,” she lied.

The guy smiled. “Jennifer. I dated Jennifer Lopez for a while—she can’t hold a candle to you, though. I hope to hear from you soon.”

When he returned to his spot in line, Erin tossed the card into the nearby trash bin.

“Why’d you do that?” I asked. “How do you know he wasn’t ‘the one?’”

Erin snorted a laugh. “He’s a cheeseball. Besides, the one doesn’t exist. Not in this city, anyway. You don’t even know yet—dating in New York is a total nightmare. If they’re not trying to get you into bed on the first date, the men are looking around the whole time you’re out together, making sure they’re not missing out on something better.”

“Really?” It seemed hard to believe someone like Erin would have dating difficulties.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “In a city with almost five million women, they’re thinking ‘why commit to just one?’ And those are the guys who’ll even take you out. Most just want to get together for a one-time hookup.”

My sinking hopes capsized and sent up a flare. If this gorgeous woman couldn’t find love here, what chance did I have?

But then I thought about it. Erin probably had impossibly high standards. She was a model, for God’s sake. She worked with male models all the time.

My dating goals weren’t quite that lofty. I mean, who was I to demand physical perfection from a guy? If I did my best with my hair and makeup, I’d be viewed as pretty by some, not so much by others.

Which was fine. I didn’t need Prince Charming. I just wanted to find someone I connected with. Looks didn’t matter to me, personally. I cared much more about a man’s intelligence and wit, his opinions and interests.

My greatest hope was to meet a man who’d feel the same, who’d take the time to get to know me and take an interest in my insides—my mind and soul.

Of course I wouldn’t mind someday experiencing the kind of till-death-do-us-part devotion I’d witnessed in my parents long marriage.

And have the kind of mind-blowing sex I’d only read about in romance novels.

It hadn’t happened so far. I’d dated a few guys in college as well as in the two towns where I’d worked since graduation. Nothing promising had developed. I had liked them, they had seemed to like me, end of story.

I hadn’t really worried about it. My stints in both places had been relatively short, and I was still young—only twenty-eight. I was hoping that moving to a place with a large population would be an advantage—more fish in the sea and all that. I mean, I was bound to meet somebody here.

“You just have to be patient,” I said, sharing my own personal mantra with Erin. “It’ll happen. The nice guys have to be out there somewhere.”

“You really are an optimist, aren’t you?” Erin modified her cynical tone, attempting to match my idealism. “Maybe you’re right. They have to exist—somewhere. Who knows? You’ll probably meet someone when you start your job next week.”

She didn’t look as sure as she sounded, but I appreciated the effort. We took a few steps forward as the line progressed.

“That’s one of the best parts of working for a newspaper. You do something different every day and meet new people all the time,” I said.

My new job as a writer for the New York Daily Report was what had drawn me to Manhattan. I’d never been one of those people who dreamed of living in a massive city—I preferred small town life actually—but when I’d seen the opening at the legendary newspaper’s book section, I had jumped at it. It was the perfect opportunity to combine my love of books with my journalism experience.

The position didn’t pay much, but my needs were pretty simple, and meeting a great guy would be a very welcome bonus.

“Are you nervous? To meet Jack, I mean?” Erin asked.

“Oh, no,” I assured her. “I don’t get starstruck. I’ve met a few famous people as part of my job, and it didn’t affect me at all. I mean, they have morning breath and go to the bathroom like the rest of us.”

“Sure,” Erin said. “But I was an extra on one of those SVU shows last year, and I totally lost it when one of the stars got behind me in line at craft services. I nearly dropped my potato salad on his shoes.”

I shrugged. “This is different. Jack’s a writer, I’m a writer. We use the same twenty-six letters to do our jobs, right?”

*     *     *

Finally, we made it inside and up to the third floor where a table was set up inside the rare books room for attendees to get a signed book, exchange a few words with the famous author, and maybe, if they were lucky, a selfie with him.

I wouldn’t even ask for a photo—I didn’t feel the need to prove I’d met him or anything. All I wanted was the chance to tell Jack how much his writing meant to me. His books had even inspired me to write one of my own.

Well, I might not tell him that part.

He probably wouldn’t laugh at me—he was said to be friendly, approachable, and kind to his fans—but I didn’t want to take the chance. And I hadn’t told anyone except my parents that I was writing my own book. Maybe when it was done.

“So, I have to go find the little girls’ room,” Erin said, hopping a bit on her toes. “That chai went straight through me. You’re okay here, right?”

“Of course. Go. I’ll meet you downstairs near the registers.”

She left, and I took the opportunity to mentally practice what I wanted to say to Jack. Over the past few years, I’d met a few authors at local book signings. Most of them seemed really friendly and frankly thrilled that anyone had showed up for their events.

But this was Jack Bestia. And I wasn’t quite as cool as I’d claimed to be to Erin.

In fact, the closer I got to the signing table, the more jittery I became. My belly bubbled with a broth of anxiety and excitement. Thankfully, I hadn’t consumed much of my own chai. I’d mostly used it as a handwarmer, afraid to add any ammo to my nervous stomach.

Yes, rehearsing a few phrases was definitely prudent.

When I had them memorized, I shifted to self-talk. Be cool. Cool, calm, friendly but not a blabbering idiot. Definitely no blabbering.

I had been known to overshare at times when nervous.

“Next please.” The tone of the signing facilitator was decidedly impatient, as if it wasn’t the first time she’d said it. I blinked, realizing the customer ahead of her had moved away. It was my turn.

And there he was—Jack Bestia in the flesh.

He was… impressive. So much larger and better looking in person than he appeared in his official author photo. In fact, he was beautiful. The thing I’d said about how looks didn’t matter? It was true, but wow. His were hard to ignore.

Wide shoulders, thick, raven-black hair, smooth olive skin, and blue-green eyes the color of Caribbean waters when viewed from a seaplane. They sparkled with humor and intelligence and elevated his handsomeness from mere Hollywood heartthrob to Hemsworth-brother levels. I doubted if even Erin’s male model co-workers could compete.

“Next in line please,” the woman repeated, highly irritated now.

My heart leapt into my throat, and my feet felt like they’d been welded to the floor. What was the matter with me? I was not acting like myself at all. I snapped into action and rushed forward, practically skidding to a stop as I reached the table where stacks of novels with their iconic black covers surrounded the author.

He smiled warmly. “Hi. Thanks for coming. I’m Jack.”

Those eyes. Those spectacular blue eyes—which apparently possessed mind-erasing powers—were trained directly on me.

All the words I’d practiced fled my brain like a flock of birds lifting off from a power line.

“Who should I sign this to?” Jack waited, pen poised over the title page of an open book, dark eyebrows raised expectantly while my mind scrambled for a name.

For my own name. Which I’d completely forgotten.

A name… a name… any female name. God help me. Say something, Bonnie.

“Bonnie!” I blurted, flooded with relief. “It’s Bonnie.”

Jack chuckled and started writing. “Pretty name. How do I spell it? B-O-N-N-I-E?”

That was when it happened. The babbling. It came in with no warning, the way a tsunami sneaks up on the shore and then obliterates everything in its path.

“Yes. It’s Scottish. It means beautiful, which is not to say I’m beautiful—I’m not—it’s just what my parents named me because they thought I was beautiful, and don’t all parents think their daughters are beautiful? You’re beautiful.”

He glanced up sharply.

“I mean your words are beautiful. All of them. I’ve read all your books, like, a million times. Wow, I can’t believe I said ‘like.’ I never say ‘like.’ That’s such a middle school word, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve used it in conversation since then, but it’s just so cool to meet you. That’s another middle school word, ‘cool,’ but it is so cool to meet you, and I just love you, and…”

Jack had stopped writing and was now staring at me. Maybe he was wondering whether I should be wandering around unsupervised with my obvious mental and emotional challenges.

Or whether he was in some sort of danger from the nonsensical stalker woman.

It was like I was outside my own body, watching him watching me, and still the words just kept coming, tripping over each other and banging together in a jumbled stream-of-consciousness alphabet avalanche I seemed powerless to contain. I didn’t realize I’d also been gesturing with my hands until the cup of chai latte flew right out of them.

And landed on the table.

Where the lid popped off.

The contents exploded across the surface of the table, drenching the books and bookmarks and pens atop it. But it didn’t stop there. No, that would have been only a Category 3 nightmare.

This one went for full-on, batten down the hatches, evacuate the low-lying areas, declare a state of emergency status. The fragrant brown liquid rushed toward Jack like it was a heat-seeking missile programmed to target his lap.

That was when I cried.

As the runaway beverage hit his crotch, Jack yelled, “Fuck that’s hot,” and leapt backward. Two other people rushed forward. They appeared to be some sort of bodyguards or maybe security staff employed by the bookstore.

Either way, I had no interest in meeting them. I turned and fled toward the staircase.

“Is she okay?” I heard someone say behind me. Might have been Jack. Might have been one of the other, oh, hundred or so people gaping at the disaster scene I’d created.

As I reached the top step, a male voice said, “Stop her. Don’t let her leave.”

I glanced back over my shoulder to see the two security guys move away from Jack’s table and toward me.

Oh God. I’d maimed him, and he was going to press charges. Picking up speed, I ran down the stairs to the first floor and out the front door without another look backward—and without waiting for Erin.

I didn’t stop running until I reached the next block. Cowering under the awning of a café specializing in crepes, I texted her.

Meet you outside? I’m all done. Understatement of the year.

Hanging my head, I squeezed my temples with my free hand and fought to suppress another round of tears.

I told him he was beautiful.

And probably burned off his undoubtedly beautiful man-parts. The tears started again as the battle was lost.

Looking back on the debacle, I determined where it all had gone wrong. I’d been so in love with Jack Bestia’s words, I’d hardly even considered what he looked like.

Or how nice his voice might sound. Or how good he might smell.

It was inherently unfair a man could be so talented and so attractive. The total package he’d presented had been simply overwhelming.

If there was any good news, it was that I did live in a city of more than eight and a half million people. And Jack Bestia wasn’t one of them. He lived more than three hours away in Eastport Bay, Rhode Island.

There was no chance I’d ever run into him—or have to look into those remarkable blue eyes again.

CHAPTER TWO

Bestia the Beast

 

Jack- Two Years Later

I had nothing against cosplay or free speech, but this was getting ridiculous.

            A crowd of people stood outside the gates to my Oceanview Avenue estate as I pulled up in my Lamborghini Huracan. A shirtless man wearing a long wig and a braided beard had tribal tattoos painted up and down his arms. By his side, a woman in a platinum wig and gauzy full-length teal gown clutched a bright green dragon egg.

Several other men were dressed in black tunics, black pants, black boots, and black furry cloaks. A red-headed woman in a scarlet dress and cape chatted with another in an elaborate embroidered gown and a crown atop her long, blonde hair.

At least they were dressed. Another woman stood there naked, save for a snake. Her nipples and bikini zone were barely covered by the fake boa constrictor artfully wrapped around her.

At least I hoped it was fake.

Ever since the media had so thoughtfully published my address, driving up to my own house was like going to a ComicCon convention. It was Halloween every day, but instead of kids dressed as superheroes and ghouls, the people gathered at the tall, iron gates to my Eastport Bay estate were all adults, and the fantastical costumes they wore represented characters from my seven-book Onyx Throne series.

Well, it was supposed to be seven books, and would be… eventually.

When they noticed my approach, the assembled fans began moving about excitedly. I lowered my car window, planning to give them a wave and say a few words of thanks. But then several of them picked up handmade signs from the ground, holding them high so the words were clearly visible.

I love you Jack R. R. Bestia! one read. That was nice.

The next was a bit less adoring and more demanding.

Where’s Book 7? Come on Bestia—the Best is still to come. Your fans are waiting.

Another was downright desperate.

Pleeeease Give Us An Ending! 

My heart sank. The car window went back up, and my thumb jammed against the button to open the security gates. As they swung inward, the guard stepped out of the gatehouse to keep the “Thronies” from flooding inside.

I tugged my ball cap lower over my face and drove ahead, not making eye contact with any of them.

Franklin nodded to me before moving to disperse the crowd in a bored tone.

“Okay folks, show’s over. I know Mr. Bestia appreciates your enthusiasm for his books. Thanks for coming out, but you gotta keep the driveway clear. This is private property.”

I gunned the engine, driving toward the house, my belly roiling with an unpleasant mixture of irritation and shame.

I shouldn’t let it get to me.

How many times had I said that to myself? I’d be nowhere without my readers, and I knew it. Back when I was a new writer, I had dreamed of a reception like that.

The first time I’d seen people dressed like my characters, I’d been thrilled—of course I had. It had been surreal, the thought that someone—anyone—would appreciate what I’d written so much. It had only been five or six years since that day, but it felt like a lifetime ago. Everything had changed and not necessarily for the better.

Unless you counted this estate. The Onyx series and its rabid fans—and the TV series based on the books—had funded every penny of the seventeen million dollars it had cost me to acquire the mansion and the four acres of oceanfront property it sat on. It was my sanctuary—or my Fortress of Solitude as I jokingly referred to it these days. 

When I stepped into the entry hall, Mrs. Potts was struggling with an armload of boxes. The one on the bottom looked quite heavy, no doubt a gift from one of my readers.

I rushed forward and took them from her. “Let me get that.”

“Thank you dear.”

Carrying the load of shipping boxes and letters to the library, I set them on a desk in the center of the room and turned to face my housekeeper-slash-assistant-slash-Jill of all trades. Her plump cheeks were pink from exertion, but her green eyes were as sharp and merry as ever.

“You shouldn’t have lifted all those yourself,” I scolded her gently. “Let Harrison help you. Or Calvin. Or just save that stuff until I’m around. I don’t want you doing this kind of work.” 

“I am the housekeeper,” she reminded me. “It’s my job. I may not be as young as I once was, but I’m not so decrepit I can’t check the mail—not quite yet anyway. Did you have a nice outing?”

I barked a laugh. “Outing? I went to the DMV, otherwise known as the Eighth layer of Hell. Every good Rhode Islander knows you only go there when you literally have no other choice. I would have hired a body double to go for me if I’d thought I could get away with it.”

My surly words did nothing to dampen her cheery demeanor. “Nevertheless, I’m glad to see you getting out of the house.”

“I get out of the house every day to walk on the beach.”

“You know what I mean.”

She raised a single gray eyebrow, the same one she’d been raising at me since her brows had been a ruddy auburn color and she’d been looking down at me. Now she had to crane her neck upward when she scolded me. Which didn’t stop her—at all.

Her cheerful tone returned. “Did you see any of the neighbors while you were out?”

“All the neighbors hate me thanks to the daily freak show congregating outside my gates and parading up and down their tony street. Well, everyone except that heavyweight boxer who moved in next door, and that’s only because he hasn’t spent enough time here in Eastport Bay yet to get annoyed with it.”

Mrs. Potts patted me on the shoulder. “They don’t hate you, dear. Sounds like someone could use a bite of lunch and perhaps even a little dessert. Monsieur Laplume made Boston cream pie this morning.”

“I am hungry,” I admitted.

She stepped over to a panel on the wall and pressed one of its myriad buttons. “Sofie? Please tell Monsieur Laplume the master has returned and is ready for his luncheon.”

“Why do you keep calling me that? I’ve told you it makes me feel weird.”

“Monsieur Laplume likes it. Remember, he worked for European royalty before coming here to cook for you.”

She stepped forward and brushed a lock of hair off my forehead, studying my face in motherly concern. “I have an idea. Why don’t I have a tray sent up to your office? I just finished tidying in there. Clean as a whistle. And I opened the windows to let in a fresh breeze… perfect for writing.”

Her last three words were delivered in a hopeful sing-song tone that made me roll my eyes like I’d done when I was eleven and she’d suggested my brother Hunter and I “hop right on” our homework after school instead of putting it off and playing video games first.  

“You shouldn’t have bothered to clean in there,” I growled, though honestly, it was hard to muster any irritation with her. “I haven’t been in that office in weeks.”

The old housekeeper’s tone firmed as she looked directly at me and dropped her chin. “I know.”

Though my temper flared momentarily, there was no way I’d lash out at Mrs. Potts, who had been, for all practical purposes, a mother to me since I was ten.

I knew where all this was coming from. She was worried about me, and I was damn lucky there was someone in the world who was. My heart warmed, and I planted a kiss on her powder-scented forehead.  

“Thank you for ordering lunch. Please tell them I’ll take it in the dining room in about five minutes, after I’ve changed.”

“But—”

I walked away, calling over my shoulder, “Have a good day, Mrs. Potts.” I could practically hear the disapproving scowl on her face.

Opting for the grand central staircase instead of the elevator, I made my way to the second floor and down the long hall toward my bedroom suite, passing door after door, each of which led to guest rooms that had gone unused for at least a year.

Just shy of the double doors to my bedroom suite, there was an opening to the right, a narrow stairway leading to the turret room that served as my office. I stopped in front of it, staring at the floor. Breathed in. Breathed out. Turning toward the stairs, I put one foot on the bottom step and a hand on the rail. Paused. Took in a deep breath.

Then shaking my head, I let out the air and turned away, walking quickly to my room. Once inside, I went straight to the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the rocky beach and the open Atlantic Ocean. The view never failed to soothe me, no matter what the season or the weather. Today, dark clouds hung low over the blue-gray water, and there was a definite chop to the surface.

Storm’s coming.

I’d have to make sure someone went up and closed the office windows before it hit. They faced the water, and the wind whipped around the turret even when it wasn’t stormy. I’d always loved the sound. It was the best kind of white noise for writing—back when I did that kind of thing.

My phone’s ringtone jerked me out of my thoughts. I looked down at the screen. My editor.

Great.

Swiping to answer the call, I lifted the phone to my ear. “It’s almost finished. Really. I’m so close.”

Marina’s laugh sparkled on the other end of the line. “That’s not why I’m calling, though I’m glad to hear it. How are you, Jack?”

My eyes narrowed. If she wasn’t calling about my fast-approaching deadline—the one I couldn’t miss without obliterating my career as an author—then why was she calling? New York editors in general didn’t have time to chat, and as one of the top editors at one of the top publishing houses in the world, Marina definitely didn’t call to make small talk.

My tone was cautious, tinged with suspicion. “I’m fine. And you?”

“Great. Great. Crazed as usual, but it’s all good. Listen, the reason I’m calling is publicity has set up an interview for you with the New York Daily Report. They’re sending one of their people to talk to you next Thursday.”

“What?” I hissed, unable to believe what I’d just heard. My head suddenly felt too light, and my neck was hot.

“Your fans will love it, and it’ll add to the hype of your release. Gotta do it up big for the last book, you know.”

My jaw clenched, and I disciplined myself not to shout at the woman who’d shepherded my career through the first six books in my best-selling series and made me a household name—not to mention a billionaire—in the process.

“I hate the media,” I managed to grit out in a passably polite tone.

“Oh really? I hadn’t noticed,” she quipped, sarcasm dripping from her words. “I thought you were trying out a new smile when you literally bared your teeth at the photographers last month at the gas station. They’re calling you Bestia the Beast in the tabloids, you know.”

“I hate the tabloids even more.” Tone a bit less polite, but hey, we were talking about the lowest form of “journalism.”

“Well, the Daily Report is the furthest thing from a tabloid. It’s a very prestigious publication, and the writer has done some wonderful pieces over the past few years. She’s really quite talented.”

“I can’t do an interview. I’m busy. Writing.”

“I thought you said you were almost done,” Marina teased.

“Yeah well I… am… but I’m not done yet. I still have to write the ending. I don’t want to break the flow.” Ha. The only thing flowing around there lately was the tide outside my back door and the line of bullshit I was currently dishing out.

“Come on, Jack. Be reasonable. It’ll only take a couple of hours. She’ll come to the house, ask a few questions, take a few pictures, and leave. Piece of cake. And I know you can be charming when you want to—I’ve seen it.”

“You told them they could come to my house?” I roared.

Nonplussed by my increased volume, Marina said, “People want to see where the magic happens, you know? The whole glimpse of an enigma thing. It’ll be different. It’ll be fun.”

Panic simmered beneath my skin, making me hot and itchy all over. “No.”

Marina huffed a short laugh. “It’s not a request, Jack. Your contract says you agree to promote your work.”

“Promote my work? I’ve given my life to this series. I am my work. It’s all I have. No one cares more about making this a success than me.”

“Then you’ll do the interview. Non-negotiable, Jack. Just be glad it’s not a whole tour—I know how you hate to travel these days.”

When I didn’t respond, she said in a softer tone, “It’s a couple of hours. How bad could it be?”

At that I made a hmmph noise. “I guess we’ll find out, since it’s non-negotiable.”

“Thatta boy,” she purred. “And Jack… be nice.”

My response was a growl. “I’m always nice.”

“Ha. You’re a total grump, and everyone knows it. But you’re a brilliant grump, and no telling how many careers are hanging on your brilliant words, including mine.”

Well, thanks. No pressure there.  

“Listen, I’ve gotta run,” Marina said. “I’ll look for your pages by the thirtieth. Can’t wait to read them. Bye Jack.”

She disconnected as I said, “Goodbye.”

I paced back to the window and stared out at the darkening sky. Might as well say bye-bye to my career as well. The deadline was only a month away. Meeting it would take a miracle, and I didn’t believe in those anymore.

But one nightmare at a time. Unless a rogue wave came along and put me out of my misery first, I had to get through this interview.

And do it without letting this “talented” writer—whoever she was—find out the truth.  

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

Second Helping

 

Bonnie

My heart squeezed, and tears filled my eyes. Blinking to clear them, I turned the page and kept reading.

Though I was hunched over the desktop in my cubicle, reading through my lunch break, I was also in another world, living and dying with the characters on the page.

Nothing compared to the terrible, wonderful Dark Moment in a good book—certainly not real life. And this one was a very good book—one of the best. It was Jack Bestia’s debut novel, and I’d read it so many times I’d lost count.

Why hadn’t this been the one that launched his career into the stratosphere instead of the Onyx books? They were amazing, but this one was utter brilliance, the book that had made me want to become a novel writer myself.

Sadly, that dream had died a painful death. At least I had a job that involved books—and writing about other people’s amazing writing careers.

If only it paid more. With the events of the past few months, I needed a raise. Big time. My dad would need my support in the coming years, not just physically but financially as well.

“You’re making the rest of us look bad, you know.”

The voice came from over my shoulder, yanking me out of the beautiful fictional world and back into the real one, which at the moment smelled strongly of fish.

I twisted in my chair and craned my neck up. Sterling Gaston loomed above me, wearing what he no doubt thought was a charming grin and holding a takeout bag from a pricey sushi restaurant. The fishy odor was stronger now. It was a struggle not to gag.

“Look bad?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

He gestured toward the empty food storage containers on my desk and the book lying open in front of me.

“Eating at your desk. Working through lunch. You’ve got to cut it out or the CEO will start complaining about all the long lunches I charge to the company tab.”

“I happen to know your father is already quite familiar with your dining—and spending—habits. I think you’ll be fine,” I quipped.

Though he’d been at the Daily Report no longer than I had, Sterling was already a deputy managing editor. Of course, his father did own the company, along with several others.

I’d made the mistake of going out with Sterling shortly after starting my job here at the Daily Report. Let’s just say I’d learned my lesson about guys with too much money and handsomeness for their own good.

And about mixing work and romance.

He leaned one slender, designer suit clad hip against the edge of my desk.

“True. Besides, half the time I am eating with a VIP. Contacts are everything, babe. I snagged an interview with Matilda Morris Hunt,” he bragged. “The old broad’s as dry as burnt toast, but I can always spice up my article with a few extra juicy ‘facts.’”

He made air quotes with his fingers when he said the word. “… maybe doctor up her boring quotes a little.”

My gasp was audible. “You can’t… we’d never… it’s… it’s…”

Sterling looked down at me and laughed. “Listen to you stutter. I’m only joking.”

His wink made me wonder if he wasn’t joking about committing basically every journalistic sin in the book. Plopping the handled paper bag onto my desk, he announced, “Brought you some Soho Sashimi.”

“Oh, no thanks. I couldn’t.”

I’d told Sterling I didn’t eat sushi almost as many times as I’d turned down his incessant lunch, dinner, and booty call invitations. Listening was not his strong suit.

Neither was what had happened in the bedroom on those occasions in the past when I’d been stupid enough to say, “yes.”

“I know, I know what you’re going to say… too expensive.” He swished a hand through the air, dismissing the thought. “You should learn to value yourself more. I’ll be happy to spoil you anytime you’re ready to give me another chance.”

Erin had been absolutely right about dating in this city. Turned out that more-fish-in-the-sea thing only meant I was a guppy swimming with a whole lot of sharks. The stuff I’d said to Erin about being patient and letting it happen? I’d been patient. It wasn’t going to happen.

I’d accepted meeting “the one” just wasn’t in the cards for some people, and that mind-blowing sex thing? It didn’t exist outside of romance novels.

Sterling Gaston was a prime example of why I was happier at this point staying in on weekend nights with a cup of tea and a book boyfriend than wasting anymore of my time further proving the point.

Sterling lowered his voice and leaned closer. “I miss you, Bon-bon. I miss your laugh, your big smile, your tight little bod in my bed…” He waggled his eyebrows. “… the way you always enjoyed everything as if you were seeing and doing it for the first time. You were like a breath of fresh air.”

And you were like this stinky fish smell—nauseating and hard to get rid of.

I couldn’t say that out loud to my boss’s son, but I needed to get him—and the sushi—out of my immediate vicinity. Pronto—before I lost my economical lunch.

“I’m seeing someone,” I said.

It was true if you counted the occasional platonic outing with Erin’s brother Matt. Who was gay. “Besides, your father issued that new no-fraternization policy for co-workers, remember?”

Sterling smirked and stood. “What Daddy doesn’t know won’t hurt him. I’ll be inheriting before long anyway.” As he strolled away, he drawled, “The offer’s always open, babe—anytime you’re ready.”

As soon as he rounded the corner toward his large, windowed office, I got up and rushed to the break room where I deposited the unopened takeout bag of raw fish into the trashcan. The janitor, Mr. Ocampo, emptied it a few times a day, so hopefully the smell wouldn’t nauseate my co-workers the way it did me.

When I got back to my desk, an inter-office message blinked on the computer screen.

Would you step in for a minute?

It was from my boss, Charlotte, the editor of the paper’s book section. I placed a bookmark in my novel and closed it then hurried toward Charlotte’s office. The door was open. I poked my head in.

“Hi. You wanted to see me?”

“Yes.” My supervisor beamed at me. “Come have a seat.”

Charlotte gestured toward the chairs facing her desk, and I took one of them. What on earth was going on? I hadn’t seen Charlotte this giddy since Stephen King tweeted that the Daily Report’s book section was his favorite of all the national papers.

My bottom had barely hit the seat when Charlotte began. “So… I have some good news for you. The biggest publisher in the city has just offered us the biggest get in years, and I’m sending you to Rhode Island to do the interview.”

She raised both brows, anticipating my appreciation. I was excited but also a little confused. Which author was big enough to qualify as the “best get in years?”

And why had Charlotte selected me for the honor? I’d written some well-received articles, but I was far from the most senior writer on the staff. I wrote book reviews and covered literary news of the more mundane variety.

“Shouldn’t Alexandra do it?” I asked. “She usually does the big interviews for her Story Behind the Story column.”

“Alexandra has put in her notice. Which means we’re going to have to find a new voice for the column.” Charlotte paused with a significant glance. “This interview could give you a big leg up on the competition.”

Desire grabbed my heart like a giant hand. That job would mean a higher salary, and what could be better than doing interviews with awesome writers full-time?

Well, writing my own novels, but that ship had sailed.

“Wow,” I said. “Thank you. Who is it?”

Charlotte delivered the answer in a deliberate staccato, halting dramatically between each syllable. “Jack. R. R. Bestia. Can you believe it?”

I couldn’t. The hand around my heart squeezed harder, becoming painful. “But he doesn’t do interviews. I mean, not for the past couple of years anyway.”

“Well, he’s going to do one with us next week. With you, I should say.” Charlotte grinned widely, clearly expecting me to be thrilled out of my mind.

I might have been out of my mind, but I was definitely not thrilled. I couldn’t. I really couldn’t.

“I can’t.”

Charlotte’s smile dropped instantly. She blinked. “What?”

“I can’t do it. You should send someone else. How about Suzanne? She loves fantasy. She did a great job on the Maas interview last year.”

“I don’t understand, Bonnie. I thought you’d be thrilled. You love Jack Bestia.”

“Exactly. That’s why I can’t interview him. It wouldn’t be… objective.”

A laugh hissed between Charlotte’s teeth as she shook her head. “It doesn’t have to be objective. It’s a coup just to get him to talk to us. It’s a color piece, a victory march to create hype for the release of the final Onyx Throne book. No one’s expecting any sort of big expose on the ‘secret life of a reclusive author.’”

“But the release doesn’t need any hype,” I argued. “Believe me, Jack’s fans have been salivating over this book for years. It’ll hit the top spot on the bestseller list on day one.”

“And we’ll have the exclusive interview with the number-one best-selling author,” Charlotte said.

Starting to feel desperate, I searched for an out. “I can’t leave my father.”

Charlotte looked concerned. “I thought you said he doesn’t need full-time care?”

“He doesn’t. But he doesn’t know many people here. And… he can’t cook for himself.”

My dad had moved in with me seven months ago following my mom’s death. Though he wasn’t elderly, only sixty-three, he had late-stage macular degeneration, and his vision loss was now at a point where he was legally blind.

With his loss of eyesight, cooking had become too hazardous, though admittedly, he’d be more than happy to eat microwave meals—or order takeout Chinese or pizza. He loved that particular perk of living in the city and took advantage of it as often as he could. I wasn’t a very good cook anyway.

“It’s only for a couple of days,” Charlotte said. “I’ll be happy to stop in after work each evening and check on him. And I doubt he’d classify himself as lonely. When I called your apartment last week, he told me all about the people he’s met out on his walks with his dog Grover.”

Charlotte had me there. Dad loved going out for daily walks, and with a big friendly golden lab at his side, he’d turned plenty of strangers into friends. It kind of drove me crazy to think of my blind father out on the busy sidewalks alone, a perfect target for muggers and pickpockets. But he insisted he was just fine and wouldn’t be kept “prisoner” in a small apartment all day. A former military man, Dad was independent and brave to a fault.

“That’s true…” I was running out of excuses. “I just…”

“Wait—don’t tell me. You’re having an indoor pool installed next week.” Charlotte leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs and narrowing her eyes. “No one is more qualified to do this interview than you. I know you’ve read all his books—several times. You could probably teach a class on them. No one would do a better job on this than you. And you’ve interviewed plenty of authors. So what’s the problem?”

For a moment I stayed silent. Charlotte had been good to me. She’d given me this job, and now she was offering me a huge opportunity to advance my career. Every other writer in this building would be foaming at the mouth to get a chance like this. I owed her the truth.

I let out a long exhale. “It’s embarrassing.”

One perfectly groomed brown eyebrow lifted. “Oh. This should be interesting. Go on.”

“Well… you see… I’ve met him. I mean, not in the normal, social kind of way. I met him at a signing for his last book. As you said, I’ve met plenty of authors. I was always fine. I did my job, acted like a normal person, spoke intelligible English.”

A smile curved Charlotte’s lips. “I’m starting to get the picture. A little starstruck were we?”

“That doesn’t even begin to describe it. I knew I’d be nervous. I mean, he’s my favorite author of all time,” I said. “I practically know all his books by heart. But when I got to the table, and he was there in front of me, close enough to touch, close enough to see his eye color, I went completely blank.”

Those turquoise eyes. I’d never seen another pair like them before or since. Those extraordinary eyes were the only fragment of good memory I retained from that horrifying day, though they might have been at least partially responsible for my mental meltdown.

“That’s not so bad,” Charlotte said.

“I wasn’t finished yet.”

She laughed. “Oh boy.”

I nodded. “Yeah. Being struck dumb would have been a dream come true compared to what happened next. It was like the floodgates broke. All the admiration, and respect, and idolization that had built up over the years came pouring out. I babbled. I told him he was a genius, that I loved him. I still can’t believe I said that. I’ve never even said it to a boyfriend before.”

Cringing, I continued. “And then I cried. Not some delicate little tear glistening in my eye as I choked up. I bawled right there in the bookstore.”

My eyes closed, and my head dropped in defeat at the memory of the disgraceful moment. “I was like a tween fangirling over her favorite boy band member—only less dignified. Oh—and I spilled my drink all over the signing table and his lap. I might have… wounded him in a very sensitive area.”

“Oh my.” Charlotte’s hands covered her mouth as her own eyes filled with tears of mirth.

“He was horrified, of course. He yelled and jumped back right into the promotional banner behind him. I’m sure he was picturing that scary woman from Misery and expecting me to produce an axe at any moment. Either that or he was afraid I’d try to steal a DNA sample and clone him. I left without even getting the signed book. It remains, to this day, the most embarrassing moment of my life.”

When Charlotte stopped laughing, she said, “That story will be a great ice breaker when you get to his house in Eastport Bay.”

“It’s at his house?” I blurted.

My heart lurched with longing. To be able to see where Jack wrote, to take in the view he stared at when he was searching for just the right word. It practically made my mouth water.

“Yep. You’ll get to look around, take a few pictures, redeem yourself.”

Though I was shaking my head no, Charlotte kept talking. “That was two years ago, Bonnie. You’ve matured, grown as a writer and as a person. You wouldn’t be meeting him as an adoring fan this time—you’d be more like a colleague. You’d be approaching him as a professional, and I’ve never known you to be anything but professional.”

Never in my life had I been so conflicted. I wanted to accept the offer. I wanted to better my chances at the promotion. But I had to be honest. “I’m afraid I can’t be professional with him.”

Charlotte sighed. “Well, okay, if you’re sure…”

Rising from my chair, I started moving toward the door. “I am. I’m so sorry to disappoint you.”

Charlotte nodded and watched me go. When I was almost to the door, she said, “Bonnie.”

“Yeah?”

“Would you mind asking Sterling to step in? With the Bestia interview less than a week away, I need to get this nailed down and make the travel arrangements today.”

“Wait… you’re going to give the interview to him? He hasn’t even read the Onyx Throne books.”

Charlotte shrugged. “He loves meeting celebrities, and he’s always looking to up his ‘writer brand,’ as he calls it. He’ll do anything to advance his career.”

“Including embellishing quotes and making up fake news.” The thought of Sterling twisting the facts and putting words in Jack’s mouth had me stewing in a gumbo of indignation and protectiveness.

Yeah right, like international bestselling author Jack R. R. Bestia needs my protection.

I didn’t leave Charlotte’s office, though. I stood, half in and half out, my hand gripping the door frame.

“Unless you know someone who’d do a better job.” Charlotte leaned forward and pinned me with her famous challenging stare. “Someone who’ll give the article the care it deserves, who’ll approach it honestly and ethically…”

Oh, she was diabolical. She’d known mentioning Sterling would push all my buttons. Still, I couldn’t take the chance my boss might actually send that buffoon to do the interview.

It took me a few seconds to answer. The words were trapped behind the breath I was holding. I swallowed and finally forced them out.

“I’ll do it.”

Charlotte laughed out loud, clapping once above her head. “I knew it! My gut told me this was your interview. You’re going to rock it.”

“Yeah, well I’ll be happy if I don’t throw up all over myself—or him. But you’re right. No one here knows more about his books than I do.”

Certainly not Sterling. “And I want to be a team player.” And keep my sleazy co-worker from making up fake news about my favorite author and embarrassing us all.

“I’ll have Shelly get your train ticket and book the car service,” Charlotte said. “The hotel room’s already reserved—at the Seacliff Inn, which is pretty swanky—you’re welcome.”

She grinned. “I have total confidence in you, Bonnie.”

“Thanks. I hope you won’t regret it.”

And I hoped I hadn’t just signed up for a second helping of hot and crispy humiliation courtesy of Mr. Jack. R. R. Bestia.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Charlotte asked.

The answer to that question was what scared me, and in six days, I’d find out.