Wednesday, February 27, 2013

~ Sneak Peek: Into the Dream ~

Want a sneak peak of my upcoming release? Here it is! This is the first excerpt from Into the Dream, Book 1 of the all new Arcadian series, coming April 16th! Enjoy!
 
Story Excerpt

“Shit…”

Allie stared up at the dark-red sky and two, count them, two purple moons in horror.

Weird.

She was in a coma. That was it. She must be in a coma having some fucking weird-ass dream. The lightning must have damaged her brain somehow. That was the only explanation that made what she saw plausible. And even then she had no idea she had such an active imagination.

She slowly sat up and looked around. The air felt thicker here, as if her lungs had to work harder to breath. Her body moved, but it was as if it were in slow motion, like she could bend the very air to her will.

Weirder.

Allie looked around to see she was in some kind of metal structure. It reminded her of the building that had just been started, the foundation all metal beams and drywall. Only there was no drywall. There were metal sheets acting as the walls, and gossamer lengths of dark material hanging from the beams, casting eerie shadows through the room.

She was on a ledge of some kind, on the second floor. There was a big cutout in the center of the structure of the four-story building that allowed her to see the ground floor. Down below there were plastic-looking containers stacked against the far wall, making it look like a warehouse of sorts.

It was all familiar but not, and what scared her more was the colors of this place all looked brighter, more vivid like she was seeing everything in HD color or something.

This was really fucking weird, but at least she dreamed herself some shelter.

Allie scrambled to her knees as a noise sounded in the distance. Grabbing hold of her fallen backpack, she hurried toward the dubious safety of the back wall where she could still view downstairs in case anyone came at her, but she would be hidden away in the shadows. She took a few steps back and bumped into something hard, something warm…something very much alive.

Allie tried to scream, but a hand clamped down over her mouth, holding it in. A deep voice rumbled from behind her, far above her head. Panic washed over her as she began to struggle. She fought with everything she had but couldn’t free herself. She bit down hard on the hand over her mouth, but the enormously strong arm wrapped around her just held her tighter against the body pressed up behind her.

The man spoke again, his voice a deep growl that made her body shudder. Part fear yes, but part something else that she didn’t want to think about.

What the hell was she thinking?

Allie gave up struggling and shook her head, trying to convey that she had no clue what he was saying. The man must have understood because he spun her around, holding tight to her arms to look down at her.

Holy shit…

The man holding her was a fucking giant. He must have been at least seven feet tall, far bigger than any man she had ever seen before. He towered over her with his powerfully built frame. He had a strong, chiseled jaw, high cheekbones, and lush, full lips made for kissing. His long black hair hung loose around his shoulders with two braids at the sides of his temples.

The giant had on black leather pants and a soft leather vest that had a variety of knives and other weapons sticking out of the specially made garment. Around his waist he wore a belt with an actual sword hanging down the side of his leg

He was a warrior, like something out of her wildest fantasies. Allie would have said she had never seen such a beautiful man before...but he wasn’t a man. Whatever this was holding her had bright, glowing gold eyes that seemed to pierce straight into her soul. And by glowing she meant glowing an iridescent-golden glow that was definitely not human.

Maybe this was a dream after all…

That was her thought until he opened his mouth to speak again and she saw his fangs.

Shit.

Or maybe it was a nightmare.

Allie’s gaze flew up to those glowing eyes and tried to keep her voice from trembling as she spoke. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand you. I have no idea what you’re saying!”

The man froze. He used one hand to push the hood off of her head so he could get a good look at her. He sucked in a breath, and as those golden eyes burned into hers, Allie wasn’t sure if she should be relieved or try to run as one of his large hands reached out to gently trail his hard, callused fingertips down her cheek in a reverent touch. He touched her hair lightly, rubbing a few strands together between his fingertips as if he couldn’t believe it was real.

In the next second she was swung around in his arms again, her back held tight to his chest with one of his large hands over her mouth.

Shit! The animal man was going to eat her or something.

And not in a good way…

 
INTO THE DREAM
 
Allison Summers is having the mother of all bad days. As a surgeon, Allie is a strong woman who has led a difficult life. She is fighting to make the best of her situation, but everything changes when she is struck by lightning and finds herself transported to another world.

Arcadian Princes Tynan, Cael and Ryder Dracor have been looking for the woman who will complete their souls. Born in a world with a shortage of females, they fear that day will never come. When a golden-haired goddess suddenly appears they are shocked, but know they want her as their mate. Allie wants to go home but now that they’ve found her, they don’t want to let her go…

When wills clash and legacies are unveiled, it seems as though Allie was destined to become part of this world. But as she struggles with her new life can she find a way to truly be happy and embrace being an Arcadian?

Monday, February 25, 2013

~ Guest: The Fabulous Lori King! ~

Today I have a special guest post - my good friend and fellow Siren author Lori King is here to talk about her amazing paranormal series: The Gray Pack! So, sit back and relax while Lori introduces you to some smokin' hot werewolves! Happy Reading!


Hi Readers! Laurie asked me to stop by and share my books with you, and I decided that the best way to share was to introduce you to the main characters of The Gray Pack.



Fire of the Wolf

Let me start with the Alpha’s of the Pack. Devin and Damon Gray are identical twins, who met their mate Caroline Trainor last summer, when they responded to an apartment fire. The sexy werewolf twins do double duty as pack Alpha’s, and firefighters for the Kansas City Fire Department. Here, let me help you get a mental image in your head. The twins are thirty five years old, and they are taller than average. Standing at about six foot three they tower over their mate who is only five foot four. With rock hard muscular physiques all gift wrapped in sexy golden Native American skin they are like a sinful dessert that you just can’t resist biting into. Green eyes that glow in their natural wolf form make them seem dangerously tempting, but it’s their protective Alpha nature that completes the package.

They refuse to leave Caroline’s side even after she is released from the hospital to recover from the fire, and convince her to rent a room from them until she can get back on her feet. Caroline Trainor is curvy brunette, with dark brown eyes and a wealth of pent up unexplored desire. She may be petite and fairly introverted, but once you get to know her she is a feisty independent woman. At thirty years old, she has put herself through nursing school and secured her dream career, but her focus on her future, has left her cold at night. The werewolf twins turn up the heat, and win her heart. But when Caroline gets cold feet about a permanent relationship, she finds herself in the abusive arms of a rival pack Alpha, and Devin and Damon will do anything to get her back. Read a Mature excerpt here: http://wp.me/p2vGi2-2M  http://www.bookstrand.com/fire-of-the-wolf  also available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

My Favorite snippet from this book:

“I’m in a home with two strange men I met yesterday after I almost died in a burning house, and they think they are werewolves, and I’m their mate. Now they want me to agree to let them fuck me, because they think they need to mark me in some way? I think I’m losing my mind! You two really need to work on your pick-up lines.” She started to giggle nervously.


Reflections of the Wolf

The second book actually overlaps the first book, but it follows Liam Gray, pack Beta wolf, and cousin to the Alpha’s. Liam discovers his mate Tina Jameson when he assists in the rescue of Caroline. The problem is that Liam doesn’t want a mate, and neither does Tina. Liam has been a ladies man for several years, and he looks wickedly sexy. Ice blue eyes, broad shoulders, narrow hips, and sun kissed Native American skin tone will make your knees weak, but it’s the tattoo trailing down his bicep, the gold hoop in his eyebrow, and the diamond stud in his ear lobe that will leave you breathless and begging. There is no way Tina can resist this luscious man.

Tina is the antithesis of introverted Caroline. She is the spice without the sugar, and she uses her wicked wit and sarcasm as a weapon to keep men away from her. She is tall with the long thin build of a ballet dancer, but with a bubble butt, black pixie cut hair, milky white skin, and deep brown eyes she sure doesn’t present herself as a dancer. She spends her days as a nurse, and her nights in the ballet studio dancing her aching heart out.

Both Liam and Tina have faced traumatic personal tragedies, and aren’t willing to even open the door to a relationship, but a one night stand…well that’s a whole different story. Read a mature excerpt here: http://wp.me/p2vGi2-aP    http://www.bookstrand.com/reflections-of-the-wolf also available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

My favorite snippet from this book:
            “You want me?” she said in a hesitant voice.

He grinned and winked. “Are you just now catching on? Damn, I should have rubbed harder against you, because I’ve been hard as a rock ever since I caught of glimpse of your sexy long legs under that too-short skirt.” He laughed, but paused when she didn’t.


Legacy of the Wolf

I can’t leave out the newest story! This third book is Liam’s adopted brother’s story. Rafe and Ryley Whetstone, are built like Vikings, and have golden locks, and blue eyes that would make Thor jealous. With a serious, romantic nature Rafe has been his brother’s guide through life, as Ryley flits from woman to woman with a serious case of Peter Pan syndrome. The brothers were abandoned by their parents at a young age, and taken in my The Gray Pack, but they crave their own kin, and desperately want to have children of their own and build a legacy. Until they find their mate Shandi Martin teaching at a local kindergarten. It should have been wonderful, but Shandi is hiding secrets of her own. A rogue stranger threatens their plans, and rocks their sense of peace in their lives. Will they be able to lean on Shandi, or will she leave to avoid risking her own heartache? Read a mature excerpt here: http://wp.me/p2vGi2-gn http://bookstrand.com/legacy-of-the-wolf also available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


My favorite Snippet from this book:

Unable to bite back her response, she smarted off, “Shoe size has nothing to do with penis size. If it did there wouldn’t be a single man with a shoe size over a 12 left in the world.”

It wasn’t until both of her friends started to snicker, that she realized she had spoken fairly loudly. There were several other patrons of the bar currently chuckling at her bold statement. One particularly deep rumble of mirth came from her right; the direction of the two sexy Viking Firemen.


So what’s next? Well I’m so glad you ask! I have four more books plotted for The Gray Pack, and I look forward to sharing them with you! These men are sweetly tender to their women, but ferociously protective if they feel threatened. And coming in April: Sidney’s Triple Shot, the first in a series of contemporary ménage stories following former Marines making their home in a small Texas town.

I have multiple sneak peaks and teasers from all three stories on my blog www.lorikingbooks.wordpress.com and I would love to hear from you on my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Lori.King.Author.

 

Friday, February 22, 2013

~ Review: The Paladin Protection Agency Series by Susan Hayes ~

Are you looking for a new paranormal series to read? Here is one I highly recommend you check out! The men and women of the Paladin Protection Agency are fighting to keep people safe from the things that go bump in the night. There are no sparklies here - just kick-ass action mixed with hot, steamy lovin' that will get your pulse racing! This series gets FIVE STARS from me!

The Paladin Protection Agency Series

They started out as cadre of ex-military men and women who found a home and a place in the world offering their services as a straight forward security and protection service. After an accidental brush with the supernatural, they formed Division S, a special task force who offered their services to those with unique problems. Vampires, werewolves and things that go bump in the night.

 
Saved by Sin: Book 1

 

Security consultant Sinjin Heath is on leave while recovering from a failed mission. His hiatus is put on hold when Michelle Jamieson takes refuge in the lakeside cabin next door. Ready or not, Sinjin is back in the protection business as he finds himself standing between Michelle and the violent ghost of her ex-boyfriend.
 
BUY LINK
 
REVIEW
 
After reading Susan Hayes’ Whispers in the Dark, I had to check out the first book of the Paladin Protection Agency, and I am very glad I did. Michelle is a woman starting over after a really bad relationship, only the ex doesn’t want to let her go. He takes stalking to a new level and begins to haunt her after he commits suicide. This is when she meets the oh-so-yummy Sinjin… Sin is a protector and the perfect match for Michelle. I really love their interactions together, both in and out of the sheets! Michelle needs Sin’s help, but I loved the fact that she ends up saving him as well during a very creepy scene. Susan’s writing style is fast-paced, witty and highly entertaining.
 

On Jason’s Watch: Book 2
 
 

 Jazz Masters is a werewolf who yearns to be normal. When a pack of vicious werewolves discover her secret, Jazz turns to Paladin Protection for help. Security Specialist Jason Waters is more than willing to protect Jazz, but he wants more from her than gratitude. He wants her heart.

 BUY LINK

 REVIEW
 
I absolutely loved this book! Jason has been my favorite character of the series so far and I was not disappointed with his book. Jazz is a woman hiding a secret life. Changed into a werewolf, she struggles with what she is and fears her inner wolf. When a rogue pack of werewolves hunts her down, Jazz knows she needs help and finds herself in the arms of one hot, humorous flyboy. Jase might have a carefree, playboy-like manner – but when the bad boy falls, he falls hard! He and Jazz make a fantastic couple and I love the way that Jase ‘gets’ Jazz. Jase trusts her, knowing that she isn’t the monster she has named herself and helps her realize that her wolf isn't something to be feared. Their love story was the perfect mix of humor, sweetness and spice. I am definitely a fan of this series. I truly love the men and women of the Paladin Protection Agency series!

 
Guarding Valentina: Book 3

 

Valentina Farro is used to being the hunter, not the hunted, but when a vampire marks her for death, everything changes. Aedan Doyle has spent his life killing vampires, but meeting Val makes him wonder if there’s more to life than the hunt. Now he wants a real life, and he wants it with Valentina.
 
BUY LINK
 

REVIEW
 
Move over Buffy, Val is taking over! In Guarding Valentina a vengeful vampire has set his sights on killing Valentina Farro, one of the kick-ass members of the Paladin Protection Agency. Aedan Doyle, a member of the Brethren, is a vampire hunter who is tracking the nasty vampire. When Aedan and Val meet, sparks instantly fly and things quickly heat up between them. Aedan is pure Alpha male, yet he is still sweet when it comes to Val. The chemistry between Val and Aedan is scorching…and they are certainly not shy about it either! I love the concept of two solitary individuals coming together and learning to trust one another. This story has it all...action, a little bit of horror and a lot of spice! Once again, Susan Hayes had made me love the members of the Paladin Protection Agency. I love her fast-paced, witty writing style and can’t wait for the next book in this series!
 

 Go stalk Susan on the web at:
Website, Facebook,  and of course, Twitter
 

Monday, February 18, 2013

~ Guest: Joseph Cacciotti ~

For all you poetry fans....I have a special guest post today - my fellow writer and poet, Joseph Cacciotti!

I started writing poetry when I was seventeen years old and still in high school; I found out that when you put your thoughts into words something magic happens. I'm not talking about genies popping out of a bottle or anything like that, but in how I see things clearer and how beautiful this world truly is.

I found out later in life how much easier it was to find a date in high school. I used to try and talk to girls and found out sometimes I'd get a little gun shy and pass up my chance. Then one day, I wrote a poem for this girl I had my eye on. I walked up to her and handed her the poem and then walked away. Later she approached me and we went out on a date. I found the magic potion to breaking the ice (so to speak) was a piece of paper and a writing pen.

I learned how to put my thoughts down on a piece of paper, which later I put into a blank book that would write my poems in. After I was told by at least fifty or so people that I should share these poems to others, I sat down and sorted out the poems I thought could touch your heart the best. I hope my poems are inspirational enough to help you create your own work.



Poems for the Heart: Joe started writing poetry back when he was seventeen years old, and after entering many contests and winning many awards for his heart felt poems. After almost thirty years later, he was coaxed into writing his first poetry book. Poems for the Heart won an award for being one of the top five inspirational books of 2011, by the American Poetry Society.



 Poems for the Heart Volume II: After receiving an award for his work in 2011, Joe decided to come back with another Heart filled book in Poems for the Heart Volume II. Joe has been awarded several pin awards for poet of the month with his currant work, Joe has recently won a first place award, with the Lone Star Magazine Contest which was held in Texas.   He is currently working on his third poetry book, no title has been picked as of yet.


BUY LINKS
 

Friday, February 15, 2013

~ Coming Soon! ~

The fist book in the new Arcadian series, coming in April!

What happens when a woman gets transported to world where males are born into trios who are searching for the perfect mate to share…
 
 
INTO THE DREAM
 
Book 1 of the Arcadian series

 
Allison Summers is having the mother of all bad days. As a surgeon, Allie is a strong woman who has led a difficult life. She is fighting to make the best of her situation, but everything changes when she is struck by lightning and finds herself transported to another world.

Arcadian Princes Tynan, Cael and Ryder Dracor have been looking for the woman who will complete their souls. Born in a world with a shortage of females, they fear that day will never come. When a goddess suddenly appears they are shocked, but know they want her as their mate. Allie wants to go home but now that they’ve found her, they don’t want to let her go…

When wills clash and legacies are unveiled, it seems as though Allie was destined to become part of this world. But as she struggles with her new life can she find a way to truly be happy and embrace being an Arcadian?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

~ Happy Valentine's Day! ~


On this day we celebrate love, I would like to say a special thank you to all of my readers! Your comments, emails and reviews truly mean the world to me. Nothing makes an author want to write more than someone telling them their work is good…so thank you again. I hope today is filled with love and laughter for all of you!

 
If you decide to keep it low key, cuddle up with my new release One Shot and lose yourself in Tara and Julian’s story of intrigue, excitement and love.
 

Lots of Love,

Laurie Roma

~ Awesome New Review: Reviewing Vixens ~


Check out the fabulous new FIVE STAR review the Reviewing Vixens have written about One Shot! http://reviewingvixens.webs.com/apps/blog/show/23610891-one-shot-by-laurie-roma



Book Title: One Shot

Written by Laurie Roma

Publisher: Siren-Bookstrand Publishing

Reviewer: Holly

Star Rating: 5

Review:

Julian is as alpha as any alpha male can get. He's rich, sexy and damn he's good with the ladies. He's such an amazing character and when Tara walked into his life it was like a freaking tornado in a closed environment - grins! - This book was fast paced, it was a total page turner and I love how the characters interact. Even though Tara is tough as nails, Julian is able to get past her defenses and she his. I laughed in parts of the books, snickered in others, and fanned myself more than once. Great read and I totally recommend it!

 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

~ Giveaway Winner! ~

Woo Hoo! My new release One Shot is now available on Siren Bookstrand!
http://www.bookstrand.com/one-shot

Congrats to JEANETTE PLATT, the winner of my e-book giveaway! If you love the book you can always gift back by writing a kick-ass review for it!!! If you don't like it...well you can bitch to me on private email. ;)

Don't you wish you would have joined in? If you didn't win, have no fear...check me out on Sam Crescent's blog where I will be doing another giveaway starting tomorrow! http://samcrescent.wordpress.com/

Lots of Love,
Laurie Roma

Friday, February 1, 2013

~ Special Giveaway ~

In honor of my new release coming out, I am doing an e-book giveaway of ONE SHOT! Simply leave a comment to this post with your email addy for a chance to win! The winner will be anounced here next Tuesday, February 5th, the day the book is released!

Scroll down to read the entire first chapter of the new book!

ONE SHOT
2nd Book of the IAD Agency Series
Tara Toshi is a woman on the edge. Code name 'T-rex', Tara is one of the elite agents of the IAD Agency, modern day warriors tasked with taking down terrorists and keeping the world safe. She doesn’t believe that happily ever after exists for her, until her world collides with corporate tycoon Julian King…
Julian King is the owner of a multi-million dollar hotel empire and personally runs the Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He is a man who rules his kingdom with an iron grip and knows that the house always win. But when he meets agent Tara Toshi all bets are off. As a terrorist plot threatens his city, Julian realizes that he is also jeopardy of losing his heart.
 
Passion explodes every time Tara and Julian come together, but can she risk taking this one shot at finding happiness and give her heart to a man she barely knows?
 
The IAD Agency series novels are all stand-alone stories, but it is highly recommended to read them in order to get the most enjoyment from the series!


Chapter One


Chicago, Illinois
 

Someone needed to shoot her.

If her friends didn’t stop talking about flowers, color schemes, and, oh god, bridesmaid dresses soon she was going to scream.

Or more likely, she would hurt one of them…badly.

Tara Toshi was seated with her friends Bella, Liz, and Mikayla around the large antique table in Bella’s dining room in the penthouse suite of their building. A light fall of snow obstructed the view of the Chicago skyline that was usually seen out of the large windows, making Tara feel even more closed in. Just back from South Africa, Tara now found herself precariously at the mercy of her girlfriends and their excruciating wedding planning.

Tara didn’t give a shit about weddings. Just tell her where and when to show up and that was all she needed to know. Sighing, she tried to shake the glazed look off her face, to focus back on the conversation going on around her, but the truth was she would rather be fighting a group of hostile terrorists than sitting here with her three friends dealing with the current conversation.

In just under three weeks Bella Moretti was marrying the man of her dreams, Jason MacBain, who also happened to be Tara’s boss.

Almost a year ago Bella had been terrorized by a crazy stalker, Victor Dane, who had snapped and tried to kill her. Although she had survived the attack, Bella had been badly injured and traumatized from what he had done to her. Once she was released from the hospital Bella had moved back to Chicago, where she was closer to her family.

A few months back Bella had decided not to let what happened to her control the rest of her life. She couldn’t let one monster keep her from living. It was while she had been attending a charity event, one of her first public appearances since the attack, that she met Jason MacBain. From the way Tara heard it, it had only taken one look and they had fallen madly in love.

Shortly after, a picture of Bella and Liz had appeared in an article about the benefit. Even though Bella’s name had not been mentioned, the picture had allowed anyone with access to the Internet to know where Bella was currently living. That was when Victor Dane had come out of hiding. Victor made one final attempt on Bella’s life but Jason had killed the madman, ending the threat to Bella for good.

Now Bella had her life back and everything she had ever wanted was falling into place. She was also planning on opening a restaurant in the city with one of her best friends, world famous chef extraordinaire Giovanni Cossi. Both Bella and Gio were brilliant chefs, and with the help of Bella’s teaching assistant, Jenna Markham, coming on as their pastry chef, Bella Gio’s would be one of the hottest restaurants in the city.

But first, there was the wedding.

Jason hadn’t been happy about waiting to get married. If it were up to him, they would have gotten married months ago. He had all but begged her to elope the very day he had killed Victor and freed her from her past. But Bella wanted a big Christmas wedding and anything Bella wanted, Jason would give her. He would move heaven and earth if he could just to make her happy, but he put his foot down at waiting any longer than a few months for the wedding, especially now since they were expecting a baby. They were building a family together. A future.

Jason and Bella both exuded a contentment and happiness that few people actually achieved. It was almost difficult to remain in a room with them as it seemed practically voyeuristic when Jason was anywhere near Bella. Tara was happy for them, truly, deeply happy for the love they had found together, although it somehow made the loneliness she felt even more pronounced.

Tara wasn’t like her girlfriends. She had no idea how to be the type of female that men wanted to be with long term. Hell, who was she kidding, she didn’t know how to be in a real relationship at all. She had tried, really she did, but every time the subject of commitment came up she got…itchy.

Among her friends Tara was known as a man-eater. Her colleagues had named her T-rex, a name she was amused by most of the time, but what no one knew was that she secretly wanted the kind of love that Bella and Jason had found. To have a man who loved her as completely as she loved him.

A real partner.

Tara knew better, though. Her life was not the stuff of fairy tales and she was so far from anyone’s idea of a princess that it was laughable. Sadly to say, settling down just didn’t seem to be in the cards for her, so she told herself she was better off alone.

Half Japanese and half Italian, Tara was an exotically beautiful woman. She was petite and almost delicate looking. Her deep, dark-brown eyes held secrets and gave little away as to what she was thinking or feeling. Most people didn’t know the lethal strength that her small frame held until it was too late. She wore her straight, shoulder-length black hair in a razor cut with unique angles around her face. Tara had a way of wearing her hair in funky styles, but still made it look elegant.

But despite her beautiful features, Tara was a warrior.

Growing up in a volatile home, Tara learned at a very young age to protect herself. She was an army brat, always moving from base to base when her father had been restationed. Life had been better when he was away on a mission or when he was on tour. Her father had been abusive when he had been home and her mother had been no help. She was a meek, quiet woman who had lost her will to live years ago.

Looking back, Tara could never understand why her mother had stayed with him. Her mother always made excuses for her father’s behavior, even taking the blame for his actions and over the years Tara had learned to resent her almost as much as her father. When he had started to hit Tara, it had been casual slaps. Back then it seemed like he enjoyed the challenge of her defiance, but Tara had refused to be like her mother, letting him hit her and apologizing for him. As she got older, he got less tolerant of her refusal to conform to his rules. And so she began to live in terror of her father’s fists.

Until the day he tried to kill her.

It wasn’t anything particular that set him off that night long ago. In fact, with a man like that, it never took much to ignite his madness. He had come home drunk, like he did so often, and started in on her mother for not cleaning the house. He yelled and belittled her, throwing things around the room. When he stumbled upon some of the debris, he flew into a rage and started to hit her mother. Tara jumped in and tried to stop him, earning a beating so bad that it had almost killed her.

Her mother had turned a blind eye, meekly following Tara’s father into their bedroom while Tara had been left on the floor, so bloody and bruised she could barely move. Barely able to see out of her eyes, Tara watched them leave the room together, and felt the last scrap of feelings she had for the two people who had created her die.

And it was on that day she learned how to hate.

It took her precious minutes to try and drag her broken body up off the floor and to make it to the front door. Once she got herself upright she walked with no direction in mind, the pain so overwhelming she could barely think. Thankfully a few military police officers saw her limping on the road, took one look at her bruised, bleeding body and immediately took her to the hospital. When the doctor asked what happened, Tara never hesitated. She told them everything. The military police immediately went after her father, but they came back with the shocking news that he had killed her mother and then shot himself.

Tara had been nine years old.

That was the day Tara Russo died and Tara Toshi had been born. When she healed enough to be released from the hospital, Tara moved in with her only living relatives, her aunt and uncle in Chicago. But they had taken her in out of necessity, not desire. Her relatives were cold, barely speaking to her or acknowledging her presence. They made it clear that she wasn’t wanted. Her uncle was her mother’s brother who had shunned her years ago for marrying a white man, and Tara reminded him of everything he had turned away from. He blamed her for her mother’s death and made sure she knew it every second of every day.

Thankfully Tara’s luck changed when she met Bella and Liz shortly after moving in with her relatives. Her new friends had allowed her the escape from the icy disdain of her guardians whenever she needed it. She tried to remain aloof but Bella and Liz had decided to befriend her and wouldn’t leave her alone until she finally gave in. Bella and Liz became the sisters she never had and Bella’s three older brothers had nagged and watched out for her as only older brothers could. For the first time Tara felt close to people and learned how life was supposed to be, even though deep down she still held herself apart from the others.

It was safer that way.

When they grew older, Bella had gone off to culinary school in France and Tara left for college. Always a bright student, Tara’s photographic memory allowed her the opportunity to go anywhere she wanted. She had chosen California to get as far away from her relatives as possible and it was there that she had been recruited by the CIA.

To someone like Tara, spy craft came easy. She had focused all of her rage and aggression into her training to become one of the best agents the Company had ever seen. Determined never to be a victim again, Tara had excelled in martial arts all her life, and within the Company, she had honed her skills to become a lethal fighting machine. She was also an expert with codes and with her small, nimble fingers could dismantle almost any bomb with time to spare.

She believed in what she did, but hated the bureaucracy that went along with the job. Tara had no problem killing a man who was planning a terrorist attack on a city or someone who sold guns to profit from war. She slept just fine. It was the men who sat in their comfy offices and sent soldiers into harm’s way without regard for their safety that were her problem.

Burnt out from the bullshit life of bureaucratic espionage, Tara sought something else. Leaving the Company for the private sector, Tara now worked for a company that specialized in security. Mac Securities provided defense assistance and installed security systems in high-risk facilities around the world using the latest technology and military precision.

Mac Securities was the top in the field. Part of that was because Jason MacBain only hired the best and brightest for his company. The other part was due to the fact that Mac Securities was also a front for IAD, a specialized intelligence agency and counterterrorist taskforce that very few people even knew existed. The International Alliance of Defense was an extremely covert branch in the intelligence community, more like a transnational agency.

They were the ultimate warriors of global warfare with agents stationed all over the world. The members of NATO had formed IAD with a policy of “get it done, no matter the cost.’” IAD handled their own problems and discourses internally, and that was just the way they liked it. They were the elite and only the best were chosen to serve.

For the highly skilled select members of IAD it was a dream come true, since most of the agents had been disillusioned with the rules, regulations, and red tape of the regular intelligence branches. Only the highest, most qualified candidates were chosen for IAD, given a kind of worldwide immunity for their actions. Government agencies around the world looked at the members of IAD with awe, not to mention a great amount of envy. Not that it didn’t piss off other agencies when they had to defer to IAD agents if the situation called for it.

When Jason had offered Tara a position with IAD and Mac Securities she had jumped at the chance, never once regretting her decision. Tara was one of them now and she was one of the best. Finally she had found the place where she belonged.

Now if only she could be as lucky in her personal life…

Bella and Jason lived in the top floor of the luxury apartment complex that housed most of the members of IAD and Mac Securities. Tara lived on the third floor in the building. She was happy that she lived so close to her friends, not that she was home much. Tara kept herself out on assignment, keeping busy because that’s the way she liked it. But now that she was back in Chicago where she made her home, she still couldn’t find a sense of peace. One of her greatest strengths she’d always depended on was how she could finish the job then leave it behind, but lately, lately it wasn’t working.

The restless feeling she sought to keep at bay just wouldn’t go away. She had been on several back-to-back missions, volunteering for the most dangerous assignments.

But inside she still felt numb, disassociated from everything.

Tara knew she was worrying people, but she simply couldn’t make herself care. No, it wasn’t that she didn’t care, she just didn’t know what to do about it. When she was out on a mission it was the only time she felt anything anymore, but doing what she did and seeing the things she’d seen had a price…

Shaking off her disgustingly pitiful mood, Tara looked around and saw all four of her friends staring at her expectantly.

“What?”

“Well, what do you think?” Bella asked, trying to hide a smile.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Bella, it’s your wedding. Pick whatever you want.” Damn. Tara immediately felt sorry for her outburst.

What the hell is wrong with me?

Not insulted in the least, Bella shook her head and laughed out loud. “The wedding is pretty much planned. Less than three weeks to go. You don’t even know what we were talking about, do you?”

Tara’s blank face made all the women laugh.

“We were talking about bachelorette parties,” Liz explained. “Obviously you weren’t listening to us.”

Okay, now that she could get into.

Feeling slightly guilty, Tara tried to relax. “Look, Bella, I’m just not good at this planning stuff. Your bachelorette party I can do, I can plan that for you no problem. All this other stuff…I’m sorry, I’ll try to pay attention. I know this is important to you.”

She pressed her fingertips to her temple to try to relieve the pressure lurking there. Her recent excursion to Cape Town had been a tough one. Although the debriefing was finished, memories of the mission stayed with her like a bad hangover. Christ, she needed a vacation. Only, people like her didn’t take vacations. Perhaps she just needed to stay busy and go on another assignment, pronto.

“Sorry, I’m just tired,” Tara murmured absently.

A look of concern crossed Bella’s face as she reached a hand out to touch Tara’s arm. “Are you okay? I’m sorry, sweetie. You just got back from god knows where, and here I am forcing you to deal with my wedding crap. You should be in bed getting some sleep or relaxing.”

That was one of the perks of having your best friends know your darkest secret. Tara didn’t have to hide from them, or lie about what she did. On the other hand, having people care was a bitch.

Tara didn’t want anyone’s freaking sympathy.

She was a counterterrorist agent for Christ’s sake, she could damn well handle some wedding plans. Son of a bitch, she needed to be alone when she was in this kind of mood. Not fit for human consumption on any level, she needed something to keep her busy. Something hard, something dangerous. She needed to get away from her friends who were looking at her with all that compassion in their eyes before she screamed.

Tara waved a hand dismissively. “I’m fine, Bell. Don’t worry about me.” She managed a smile for her friends. “You know, just had a little too much fun in the sun and all that. Gotta love South Africa. I must be depressed being back here with all this snow.”

“Is that where you were?” Liz asked, truly intrigued. “I always wanted to go cage diving with the great white sharks down there, but I don’t think I have enough courage to do it in reality.” Although Bella knew about IAD, Liz still thought they were all agents of Mac Securities, still a dangerous job, but nothing compared to the truth. They tried to keep any information as vague as possible, but Tara wondered how much Liz actually knew.

Tara held her easygoing expression by force of sheer will and determination. Deep down she was screaming inside. At the very mention of sharks her blood froze. She had been part of a task force working in conjunction with CIA operatives to retrieve three canisters of stolen biological agents in Cape Town. During the joint operation, the team had been forced to find cover in the water before the charges they had placed up on a bluff blew them all to high hell.

Local authorities had screwed with their case big-time and the situation had gone FUBAR pretty damn quick. They had been able to recover two of the canisters, but the surviving Tango had been able to get away with one. Needing immediate extraction and unable to wait for airtranspo, Tara’s team had been forced to swim miles to safety amidst the hazardous rocks falling from above. With a few of the agents wounded, that was never a good situation and Tara had watched in horror as sharks drawn to the scent of blood in the water had ripped two members of their team to pieces.

No words could describe what that had been like.

Tara tried to be flippant and winked at Liz. “Yeah, it’s been snowing here for weeks now and I thought a little sun might cheer me up.”

Bella and Liz had quickly learned that the trips that all of them took were never just for fun but they smiled just as Tara had intended. They didn’t know what happened and, by god, she would keep it that way. No one should have to deal with that shit, but Mikayla as a fellow agent knew better.

Tara wasn’t fooling her.

As a sniper, Mikayla “Lynx” Lincoln had been on her own share of dangerous missions. She had eyes like a hawk and never missed what she was aiming at. Mikayla had read the brief on the mission and knew exactly what Tara had been doing in South Africa. The sympathy in her striking violet eyes was almost more than Tara could bear at the moment.

Unable to stand the conversation any longer, Tara tried diversionary tactics. “What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the bachelorette party.”

“I’m not having one.”

Tara gasped. “Not having a bachelorette party? Well, crap…that’s the only fun part about a wedding!”

Bella laughed at her friend. “Jason and I decided not to follow that little tradition. He doesn’t want to go out and see a bunch of strippers and I don’t want him killing whatever poor soul you would hire to dance for us.”

“Hmm.”

Tara took a moment to think about that one. Yeah, Jason would kill any other man Bella saw naked, but she still had to pout a little. “I guess you’re right. Damn it, I was looking forward to that part, though.”

The women all laughed.

Mikayla looked out of the apartment window with a grimace. “If it keeps snowing like this, you’re sure going to get that winter white wedding you wanted.”

Bella gave a happy sigh of contentment. “I know.”

“I think it’s so romantic that you’re getting married on Christmas Day,” Liz sighed.

“At least Jason won’t ever forget your anniversary,” Tara added.

Like he ever would. Jason MacBain would forget his own name before he forgot something as important as the day he married the woman he loved.

Tara’s phone pinged an incoming text, cutting off further conversation. Mikayla’s phone issued a similar sound. They quickly read their messages and Mikayla rose from her chair, smiling in apology.

“Work calls.”

“Sorry, B.” Tara tried for a look of reticence but knew she failed as Bella laughed.

“No, you’re not but that’s okay.” Bella giggled. “I’m not trying to torture you and believe me I know this is torture for you. Go ahead. Come back up for dinner if you can.”

“Are you cooking?” Tara asked hopefully.

Bella laughed. “You know it.”

“Then hell yeah, we’ll be back. Thanks. See you guys later.” Tara squeezed Bella’s shoulder as she passed by her chair. As she and Mikayla made their way out of the apartment, Tara hoped that no one heard the sigh of relief that escaped.