Monday, August 8, 2016

Entangled Carnival: Otherworld Fortune Teller


Welcome to the Otherworld Fortune Teller Booth! Otherworld is all about sci-fi, fantasy, and the paranormal, and we are talking about the one question we have always wanted to ask a fortune teller. Nina Croft, Lisa Kessler, Jess Anastasi, and Jody Wallace are here to share their questions, and we would love to hear some of yours. So be sure to leave a comment, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway below!
I know a lot of people go to see fortune tellers to ask about their love life, but it's one thing I would never ask about. Of course I'd like to hear that I'm going to find (or have found) Mr. Right and we're going to live Happily Ever After for ever and ever... but what if that's not what the fortune teller told you? What if the fortune teller told you that you'll meet Mr. Right, but then he'll walk off a bridge while playing Pokemon Go and you'll spend the rest of your life alone except for a monkey you trained to fetch snacks from the fridge and walk your pet iguana, Frank? I mean, having a trained monkey would actually be kind of cool, but I don't know the first thing about having a pet iguana!







First I'd check to see if the fortune teller had monkey paws. I've heard things about asking questions or getting wishes granted by monkey paws. Then I'd probably ask for the easiest three ways to stop the apocalypse. If there's no apocalypse on the way, maybe the fortune teller will have to give me another chance. Kind of like when you order the dark chocolate cocobits milkshake and they're out of dark chocolate cocobits so you get regular chocolate instead. The tricky thing would be if there's more than one apocalypse on the way, or if the easiest solution to the apocalypse is, “Get rid of all the humans.” Which is why I'd ask for three ways! No, not a three way, I'm happily married person, three WAYS, in case one of them involves more death and destruction than the apocalypse itself.

Fortune tellers are so tricky!


I’ve never been to a fortune teller. I suspect carnivals are more of an American thing than British, but I probably would have steered clear of fortune tellers anyway, because I really don’t want to know my future. But maybe one question I would like to know is…will we encounter intelligent aliens in my lifetime? I’d love to meet aliens, find out that there are other sentient beings out there in the universe. And if they’re stunningly gorgeous, straight-out-of-a-sci-fi-romance, totally ripped aliens, all the better. 


If it hadn't been for a fortune teller, I might not have ever published a book! I never planned on being a writer until I met a palm reader in New Orleans! I was in town for a trade show for work and while wandering around the French Quarter I decided to get my palm read. After the reading as she walked me to the door she said, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”
“Are you a writer?”

“No.” I shrugged. “I write, but just for fun.”

She smiled and told me, “You’re going to be a famous writer someday.”


I left with my head spinning. While I waited for my plane in New Orleans, I jotted down plot ideas for NIGHT WALKER on cocktail napkins and six months later I had the first draft of NIGHT WALKER written!



GIVEAWAY
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Atrophy by Jess Anastasi, on sale for just 99¢!


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Angeli by Jody Wallace, on sale for just 99¢!


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The Descartes Legacy by Nina Croft


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Moonlight by Lisa Kessler


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And be sure to stop by the other carnival booths for more fun and giveaways and each day stop by the Facebook event page to chat with the authors.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Entangled Carnival: Ignite and Select Suspense Shooting Gallery


Welcome to the Ignite and Select Suspense Shooting Gallery Booth! Authors Mari Manning, Christina Elle, Avery Flynn, and Julie Castle each wrote an original scene featuring new or existing characters at the shooting gallery at a summer carnival. We hope you enjoy them, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway and grab your copies of the books below!

Shooting Blue-Eyed Ducks


“Go again, McCaffrey?”
Thomasina Lind turned to the man standing next to her at the Shoot ‘Em Up booth. The Zapata Texas County Fair surrounded them with sounds of laughter and tinny music, and the smells of popcorn and hot dogs. The evening air was thick and humid.
Jake McCaffrey looked down at her, and a half-smile—a friendly, but far from intimate half-smile—tugged at his mouth. “Until we have a winner,” he said. “Course, we already know who that will be.”
“You are every kind of fool if you believe that.” She tried to smile past the squeeze of her heart.
He tilted his head and frowned. “You just swallow a horsefly?”
“What?” Jeez.  
“You heard me.”
“No.” She lifted her long, thick hair off her neck. “I’m just a little hot.”
For a split second his gaze dropped from her face, sweeping down her body, then it was back. “There’s hot, then there’s hot.”
Was that an interested look? “What?”
“That horsefly must’ve bit your tongue.”
She opened her mouth, then shut it when she realized she was about to say ‘what?’ again.
This was not going well. Not well at all. Jake McCaffrey was her best friend. They’d been part of a group of friends in college, and when they ended up in the same town, well, it seemed natural to hang out together. Except Jake had grown on her until every time she saw him, her mouth would sort of water, and she couldn’t keep her eyes off his wide mouth and baby blues, his mile-wide shoulders, his—
“Seriously, Tommie. Are you okay?”
“No. I mean, yes. I’m okay. I just, uh, I just wanted to tell you something.”
“Shoot.” He grinned at his bad pun.
She glanced around. The old geezer in the booth stared at her, and the two girls behind Jake giggled. “Not right here.”
“What is going on? Are you sick?” He leaned into her.
The warmth of his body and woodsy scent of his aftershave filled her with a sweet-sad feeling because she wanted him and he wasn’t hers. Maybe he never would be. But there was only one way to find out. The hard way.
She wanted to holler at him, “Look at me, Jake McCaffrey. Really look at me. I’m a goddamn woman.” Just get it all out. The bottled-up feelings, the tingling desire to touch his skin, the need to be in his arms. But she lost her nerve. Instead she said, “Sometimes I feel like we’re more than friends.” Her heart was banging in her chest, and she almost gagged on the word ‘more’.
Surprise flashed in his eyes, then the light changed to recognition. He knew what she was saying. He tugged on his Stetson, and his handsome face fell into shadow. “Let’s see what you got.”
She couldn’t help herself. “What?”
He lifted his gun. “Best shot gets to ask any question he—or she—wants, and the loser has to tell the truth. Straight up. Deal?”
Confused, she sought his gaze, but in the shade of his hat, his eyes appeared dark and unfamiliar. She turned away and lifted her gun. What choice did she have? She’d gone this far. Their friendship was already damaged because he knew.  
“Ladies first.”
“Thanks.” She slid the word between them, cutting the tension with sharp sarcasm. And sounding normal. Almost.
A Texas girl born and bred. She’d been shooting since she was eight. She lifted her gun. It felt familiar, and her nerves settled. The red and yellow ducks paraded across the target. A blue-eyed yellow duck emerged. Bang. Duck one. This was fun. She waited for another blue-eyed duck. Followed it in her sites. Bang. Duck two.
One more to go. Should she send a message? Just because I want you doesn’t mean you can mess with me. Yeah. Definitely. She waited. Three brown-eyed ducks, one green, then the blue was back. She felt full of life and optimism. She pulled the trigger. Bang. Duck three—gone.
She looked up at Jake and shrugged.
“Seems like you got something going for those poor blue-eyed critters.” The half-smiled tugged at his lips, and she wanted to lasso the world for him.
“Seems like I do. Your turn.”
He lifted his gun. “Maybe I should take out the brown-eyed ones.”
Well, at least he’d noticed the color of her eyes. “Shouldn’t be hard. There’s more of them.”
He chuckled, then shot a blue-eyed duck. “Dang.” But he didn’t sound sorry. He tightened his stance and shot again. Another blue-eyed duck went down.
One more. Whether he hit the next duck or the contest went on for a few more rounds, truth time was close. Sweat dampened her shirt, and dust dried in her throat. She was sorry she started this. They were friends. It was better than nothing, wasn’t it?
“If it’s a draw, let’s just leave it,” she said. “Besides the show is starting soon.”
He didn’t even look at her. “Bullshit.” Then he shot. A red duck dropped.
So did her jaw. He lost. Jake lost.
He set down his gun and turned to her. “Ask me anything.”
Stunned, she backed up a step. She’d expected to do the explaining. But now. It was yes or no, and he got to decide.
His hand slid over her arm, and he guided her around the side of the booth. Beside her, the ping, ping, ping of the shooting gallery seemed like it was a million miles away. She glanced up expecting sympathy or uncertainty. But his expression was closed.
“I don’t know if you’ve…I mean I wondered if…Have you ever considered…” Her cheeks began to burn.
He shifted. “That’s what I thought you meant.” Then he bent and cupped her face, tilting her mouth up to his. His baby blues shone softly.
One long, slow, sweet kiss later, he said, “Yes.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Samantha Harper gazed at Ash Cooper with defiant blue eyes and a hand planted firmly on her hip. He’d grown accustomed to that look in the short time they’d known each other. It meant that an argument was on its way.
“When you said let’s practice, I didn’t realize you meant with guns that don’t shoot bullets.”
Well, yeah. With her aim and accuracy, the no bullets part was the biggest appeal.
They stood in the middle of St. Stanislaus Church parking lot, where a carnival had been erected to help raise money for a mission trip to Honduras. There wasn’t much wind in the middle of July in Baltimore, which added to the muggy and stifling air quality. A shocking amount of people turned out given the high temperature and humidity. It was the kind of day that when you stepped outside you walked through a wall of moisture.
A thick sheen of sweat soaked the back of Ash’s grey T-shirt, his boxer briefs were suctioned against his skin, and his flip-flops squeaked when he walked. If he was going to be this hot and sweaty, he’d much rather it be for a more physical and private reason.
But he’d promised to help her get better at shooting so she could pass the police entrance exam, and that’s what he was going to do.
Without bullets.
“You need help handling a gun,” he said, gesturing to the Shoot ‘Em Up booth. “And this is the best way to do that without all the pressure of a real weapon.”
She opened her mouth, most likely to rebut since that was one of the only things she did know how to do, but must have agreed with his logic because she snapped it closed.
“Well, yeah,” she said, “but where’s the sense of danger in shooting water into a clown’s mouth?” She pointed to the painted face with open mouth about ten feet away that had seen better days.
Again. Kinda the point. If she missed with these guns he’d only go home slightly wetter than he was right now. But with the other kind of gun? He shuddered thinking about the damage to his favorite organs.
There was enough distraction today because of her attire. No need to add anymore with the use of real ammo.
Sam was in one of her tank tops with thin straps. The kind that did wonders at warming his already heated blood. The damn woman was a nuisance and a burden on his common sense. The top of her shirt danced on the cusp of showing just enough cleavage to tease him without taunting him, but tight enough to show off her small, perky breasts. It was one of the reasons he’d suggested they get out of the house in the first place. His row home, which was next door to hers off 19th Street, was much too small with her staring at him in that thin fabric.
They’d been arguing again about her insistence to help him and his DEA teammates find a dangerous drug lord. He’d told her to stay the hell away. She’d told him to go to hell. He was ready to either strangle her or screw her senseless. Since his DEA Regional Director wouldn’t approve of either option, the only alternative was getting out and being around other people.
Still didn’t extinguish his desire. In fact, it heightened it. He kept glancing around the carnival and fantasizing about all the dark places they could sneak into for a few hot interludes together.
He shook his head and reminded himself that he’d brought her here with a purpose that didn’t include getting the two of them off.
They’d spent the first hour at the carnival enjoying the robust scenery of people, eating funnel cake and corndogs, and riding some of the more tame rides.
He could see another argument bubbling inside her right now. The tense turn of her bony shoulders. The firm set of her jaw. The challenge in her wide-set eyes. She was gearing up to dispute his logic of practicing her shooting skills at the carnival.
Stubborn woman.
“This used to be one of my favorite games as a kid,” he said, trying to distract not only her tenacious attitude but his lust too.
“Really?” she asked.
He gave a small smile in response, remembering the hours he’d spent every summer sneaking away from his paper route to shoot a couple of rounds. Then, how he’d had to slip the stuffed animals he’d won through the back door of their two-bedroom house before his dad would see them.
Ash picked up the gun next to hers and yanked upward to loosen the hose connected at the butt of the weapon. A familiar sensation coasted through him. The feel of metal in his hand. The rush of water shooting out the barrel. The pure joy he felt being stellar at something.
He rested his elbows on the counter and closed one eye to look down the imaginary sight. He aimed at one of the clown’s vacant eyes, which was a dingy white orb where the pupil should have been. Then he moved the barrel to the clown’s mouth where red paint had chipped away, revealing spatters of white plaster below. He lowered his attention. The target in the back of the clown’s throat was MIA and his green and white polka dot bowtie was cracked in half. The rest of his friends in the lineup were just as bad off. They looked more like something out of Stephen King’s IT, than a fun, family-friendly carnival game.
Setting the gun on the counter, Ash turned to her. “You made me ride on those slow-ass sissy rides. Now we’re gonna do something I wanna do.” He crossed his arms, readying for her verbal attack. “Besides, shooting is shooting. Whether it’s water or bullets, you still have to hold the gun, aim, and fire. All things we both have witnessed are issues for you.”
The intensity in her eyes died and hurt crept in, making him feel like a dick. But he didn’t apologize. It was the truth, and no one climbed great walls by sugarcoating the vast desert they had to cross to get there.
She glanced at the face across from them that wore a faded blue newsboy hat, round red nose, and a deflated yellow balloon protruding from the top of his skull, and bit her lip.
“Afraid you might lose?” he asked, knowing that would pull her out of her hesitation. If there was one thing Samantha loved, it was a healthy dose of competition.
So did Ash. He reveled the push and pull against a worthy opponent who wouldn’t give up or give in. And he knew for damn sure that Sam didn’t ever give in. On anything. Which was what made sex with her so appealing. She wasn’t one to be dominated, two things that Ash craved. He dominated everything. So to have a woman give back just as much as he was putting out. Well, let’s just say he wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to ignore their attraction.
As expected, she snapped her head in his direction, a line forming between her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” He propped his hip against the counter, placing one foot over the other. “I’m gonna whoop your ass. Is that why you don’t want to give it a try? You afraid to lose?” Ash picked up the water gun, glancing at her, and pointed it toward his clown. “Understandable. I mean, I am an excellent shot.”
“Oh, please,” she said, her posture growing more confident with each second. Straightening her spine, her shoulders went back and her neck elongated.
Goddamn she looked amazing when she got all worked up. It took everything he had not to tug her against him and crash his lips onto hers.
“No, no, it’s fine,” he said, standing and setting the gun down. “Most people can’t compete. I don’t want you to feel bad after I pop my balloon before you even have a chance to blow yours up.”
She lifted onto her toes to make up the difference in their height, intruding on his personal space, so he dipped his chin to meet her halfway. Her blue eyes blazed and her lip snarled slightly.
It was a hot fucking sight. One he wanted to see in a much different situation. One where he could really push her limits and feel the full intensity of her wrath.
His mouth curled. Go ahead. Take it out on me. I’ll take everything you got, and then some, sweetheart.
“You think you have this in the bag?” she asked, her cheeks growing pink. “You think I can’t do it? I can’t beat you?”
“I know you can’t,” he said, loving the way her eyes widened in barely contained fury. His fists curled at his sides so he wouldn’t reach out for her. “There’s no way you’ll beat me.”
Still on her tiptoes, she narrowed her eyes. “Oh, yeah?”
He lowered even more, nearly resting his nose on hers. “Yeah.”
She swallowed hard. “Want to bet on it?”
“What do you have in mind?”
Sam dropped to her normal height and glanced past him. “Hmm,” she mused. “I don’t know yet. But I want it to be really, really good. So how about we just say that I reserve the right to pick once I win?”
“But you’re not going to win,” he said.
Hand on her hip again. “How can you be this confident?”
He returned the gesture. Just for fun. “Which one of the two of us can shoot their target perfectly with one hand behind their back and their eyes closed?” He lifted his eyebrows at her.
Instead of the embarrassed expression he expected, she gave him a self-satisfied smirk. “Guess which one of us just upped the ante.”
“The what?” he asked. “What do you mean?”
“Since you have the advantage, you’ll be shooting with one hand behind your back and your eyes closed.”
“Now, wait just a second. How the hell am I supposed to see the target?”
She shrugged. “You tell me, Dirty Harry. You’re the genius who bragged about your abilities. Figure it out.”
“This is bull,” he said. “There’s no way I’ll be able to fill my balloon in time. It takes precision. I need to be able to gauge the water’s trajectory.”
She crossed her arms and quirked one eyebrow. “Now who’s afraid to lose?”
He wasn’t going to lose. That couldn’t effing happen.
Not with his training and experience.
“Wanna back out, chicken?” she asked, still grinning. She even clucked. Clucked!
“Hell no,” he said. No way.
“Then let’s do this,” she said, slapping a dollar bill on the counter.
An older woman around fifty years old with short light blonde hair came from the dunking booth next door and greeted them. “Ready to play?” ‘
“Yes, we are,” Sam said. “Aren’t we, Ash?”
“Sure,” he grumbled, pulling out another two dollars. “Best two out of three though.” He wasn’t taking any chances on a fluke.
The older woman nodded and flicked a switch on the side of the booth.
“Have fun,” she said, smiling as she walked away.
Sam turned to him. “So how do we do this? Just count one, two, three, go?”
Not answering, Ash picked up his gun, rested his elbows on the counter as he’d done before and tried to concentrate on the target before she made him closed his eyes.
Sam didn’t change her posture. Just picked up the gun and pointed with one hand in the direction of the clowns.
“Don’t forget,” she said, staring ahead, “eyes closed when I get to three.”
“Yeah, yeah. Start counting.” He kept his absolute attention on the open mouth of the clown in front of him. That’s all that mattered right now. Eye on the prize.
“Fine,” she said. “One…Two…”
A steady stream of water shot from her gun and landed perfectly in the open mouth of her clown.
“What the fu—!” He caught sight of the older woman to their right, giggling, and stopped himself from finishing the curse. He pressed the trigger on his gun as hard as he could, not bothering to close his eyes. He watched as Sam’s balloon filled up twice as fast as his. “Cheater.”
She didn’t turn, but he knew she heard him because she let out a loud bark of laughter. “What? I needed some sort of advantage.”
Within seconds, her balloon popped first.
She turned with a triumphant grin. “That’s one. One more to go.”
“Next round you won’t get so lucky.”
“Actually, I probably will,” she said. “I’ve got a new balloon.” She nudged her chin in the direction of the older woman strapping a pink balloon on Sam’s clown. “Yours is all stretched out. It’ll hold more water before it pops. Mine has tighter resistance, so it should pop first.” She flashed him all teeth, and he actually had to remind himself to breath. Almost had to beat on his chest to get his damn ticker to restart too.
Ash blinked, bringing himself back to reality and the importance of winning this damn game. “Let’s just get this over with. I’m counting this time.”
Sam shrugged, unconcerned. “Have at it.”
He readied himself on his elbows again, focusing on nothing but that small, open hole. “One…Two…” He snuck a peek at her. She had one eye closed and her tongue half out of her mouth in concentration. “Two and a half…”
Sam let out a small chuckle. “Come on, or I’m going to shoot right now.”
“Three.”
Both of their guns fired at the same time. His stream hit his target immediately. Hers waivered. She muttered a brief, “shit,” before she righted her aim. His balloon filled up much faster this time, and she must have sensed that the trophy was drifting farther out of her reach, because she quickly raised her other hand to hold on more firmly to the gun.
His balloon kept filling.
And filling.
And fucking filling.
Hers was half the size of his when it popped.
Damn it.
Despite holding onto the trigger like it was his lifeline, the water drained and he had to set the gun down.
“I want a rematch,” he said. “That was rigged.”
She turned with a broad, triumphant smile and threw her arms around his neck. “I won!” she shouted through laughter. “I freaking won! I beat you! I can’t believe it, but I beat you!”
Before he had a chance to react or understand what was happening, she pulled his face down to hers and she planted a quick, chaste kiss on him that rendered him speechless.
“Admit it,” she said, arms still around his neck. “I won. Not quite fair and square, but I still won.”
He wasn’t concerned with the score anymore. “If I agree with you, will you kiss me again?”
A small smile played on her lips. “Why don’t you try and see what happens.”
“You wo—”
She yanked his face down again, and this time when she placed her lips on his, it wasn’t quick and it sure as hell wasn’t chaste. It scorched every piece of him, burning through his entire body until he felt nothing but the desire to carry her back to his place and show her just how much she really had won.
One…two…three kisses at a time.


Bad Boy on Tap by Avery Flynn

Aurora Calvert was twenty bucks in and no closer to a fuzzy unicorn the size of Rhode Island than she’d been when she’d stepped up to the Fantasy Shoot ‘Em Up booth. The ten year old behind her was getting restless. Her trigger finger was sweaty. The hot guy manning the booth was looking at her like she’d lost it. Maybe she had.
In her defense, setting foot back in Salvation, Virginia had the tendency to make a person go nuts. Fast. But when her shithead of a cousin, Myron, had bet there was no way a girl who’d spent the last five years in the city could still do the Salvation County Fair Ride and Shoot Challenge, she wasn’t about to back down. All she had to do was hit one measly target—easier said than done after six back-to-back turns on The Hammer of Death.
“You’re not giving up are you?” Myron asked, as full of himself as he was of a six pack of Sweet Salvation Brewery’s finest.
“Just suckering you in.” Oh yeah, and buying some time for her double vision to chill the fuck out. “Care to raise the bet?”
“A thousand,” he sneered.
She gulped. “Fine.”
“Are you sure you wanna do this?” the carny asked.
Even seeing two of him thanks to the way her brain had been shaken and stirred while she’d been spun around and around in the Hammer’s metal cage before plunging almost to the ground, she had to admit that the dude was hot. Tall with broad shoulders and a tight butt, he had tattoos climbing up both thick, muscular forearms. His aviator shades didn’t give anything away, but she’d bet her agent’s share of her last TV hosting gig that his eyes were dark, brooding and more than a little bit wild. Just when her stomach had finally settled, the hot carny had the butterflies doing the tango.
She blinked hard. “I’m good.”
One dark eyebrow arched high enough to be seen over the rim of his shades as he handed her the freshly loaded BB gun. “Do you ever back down from a challenge, honey?”
She raised her chin an inch higher. “Never and I’m not your honey.”
She lined up her shot, focused on the clown’s nose in the middle and—
“DON’T MISS!” Myron shouted in her ear right as she pulled the trigger.
She jerked the BB gun in surprise. The shot went wild, ricocheted off hot carny’s very large and very ornate belt buckle and hit the middle clown square in the nose, knocking it down.
“Oh my God, are you okay?” Aurora put the gun down before she gave into the temptation to shoot Myron’s boney little ass with it as he ran away.
The carny rubbed a calloused thumb over the BB-sized dent in his belt buckle. “A few inches south and I’d be giving my answer in a higher octave.”
“I’m so sorry.” Embarrassment heat her cheeks to face-of-the-sun temperatures. “I’m usually a much better shot.”
“Don’t worry, honey, I’ll let you make it up to me with dinner.”
Aurora was in Salvation for a week to prep for the next season of her newest show for House and Garden TV, dinner with anyone—let alone a totally hot stranger who spent his life traveling from town to town—was not on the menu. She’d learned her lesson about bad boys and wanderers. It wasn’t one she ever needed to repeat.
“I don’t think so.” She softened the refusal with her best sweet smile. It was the one she used when the design swap contestant obviously hated their house makeover.
He took a step closer so that only the edge of the booth separated them. “It’s not a request.”
“Say again?” She took a defensive step back.
He slipped off the sunglasses, revealing eyes so blue the summer sky in June could take a few pointers from him. She knew those eyes. Adrenaline shot through her veins hot as rocket fuel and just as fast. Beau McCullum. See bad boys exhibits A through ZZ. He wasn’t just the lesson. He’d been her master class in poor decisions and lifetime regrets.
“What’s wrong?” Beau turned on enough sex appeal and dangerous charm to give her a sunburn. “Don’t you recognize your own first love?”
She hadn’t fainted from riding The Hammer of Death. She hadn’t lost her nerve when it came time to get on The Dragon’s Tail for the third time. But faced with the man who’d broken her heart and nearly ruined her life? Oh yeah, her knees got more than a little wobbly.
“I thought you were in prison.” It came out breathy and weak. How in the hell had she missed his release?
“Not any more, honey.” All the heat disappeared from his eyes, replaced by cold, black ice—-the kind that you never noticed until it was too late. “And you have a lot of explaining to do about how I ended up there while you got off scot-free.”
Shooting Stars
It was bad enough that she was roaming Chicago’s Navy Pier at midnight when she should still be partying at the Hyatt with her fellow new Delta Star Grads, but even worse Cassandra McLean didn’t exactly know what the blazes she was doing here. A cryptic note left in her evening bag had told her to come to the Shooting Gallery for her first assignment. It was highly unusual, to get a posting this way, even for an agency that flew under the covers like Delta Star did. At the same time this was too big an opportunity, and too intriguing to pass up.
Especially for someone like her who’d barely scraped by in training, almost getting drummed out of the agency when she stuck up for an instructor who’d been tarnished by false accusations. Dylan Fox might be a lot of things but dirty wasn’t one of them. Cool, untouchable, a legendary secret agent yes, but dirty no. You’d think Director Frost would be pleased when she defended Fox at the top of her lungs. He hadn’t made the drug buy he’d been accused of. She’d been in the gym at the time the buy had allegedly gone down. It had never happened. Instead of thanking her for trying to exonerate one of his agents the Director had been quietly pissed; even Fox himself had given her the cold shoulder before he left.
Shaking in her spike heels, she cursed the fact that she’d let her roommate talk her into wearing high heels to the party, as she took in the mixed crowd that jostled for position around the Shooting  Gallery. The park would be closing for the evening in about ten minutes and it seemed everyone wanted to get in their last shot. Not that she could blame them, even if these games were rigged. A slick businessman in a tailored suit was mowing down tin ducks like they owed him money. Sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Station, pristine in their crackerjack uniforms that always made her smile were missing more than they were hitting, teenagers were placing bets and showing off for their girlfriends, and the girls pretending they couldn’t shoot. At least she didn’t have that problem, no romantic entanglements for her. Yikes how could she find her assignment amidst the crowd?
Blending in was impossible given that she was in evening clothes, but then whoever’d sent her the note had to know that. The sea parted as the teenagers walked away. She walked up to the concession booth and froze. Dylan... was dirty alright! From the stubble on his chisled face to the tats covering his toned arms bared in the black wife beater tank top he sported, and non-regulation longish hair she wanted to rake her hands though, he was all kinds of dissreptuable.
What on earth! Had this all been a cheap trick on his part to ruin her graduation party? He was leaning on a half wall chatting up a couple of giggling twentysomethings who ought to know better, flirting with a carnie. He winked at them as they walked away and Cassie fumed. What was he trying to pull? He said something to the older woman stocking the prize wall beside him and she smiled and walked away.
So he could be nice when he wanted to, not that he’d ever extended that courtesy to her. And now he’d ruined what should have been one of the happiest nights of her life, the dirty, rotten, SOB. She stood frozen as he turned to gather the shooting gallery rifles and saw her standing there. The shock of recognition in his whiskey brown eyes made her freeze, even as it made her heart race. Then his lambent gaze swept over her from her spiked heels, to her silver party dress, the skirt billowing around her bare legs in the summer breeze off Lake Michigan, to the body hugging camisole top containing her breasts that crazily tingled and budded as he looked at them, to her dark hair upswept in a French twist.
She’d tried to look sophisticated for the party tonight and not like the wrong side of the tracks tomboy she was. She’d even let her roommate talk her into trying heels. Apparently she’d succeeded going by the smile on his face as he gazed at her. Heart slamming against her ribs she couldn’t have run even if she wanted to. Besides she suddenly didn’t want to and he had some explaining to do, didn’t he? She had to at least get that out of him.
“You’ve grown up little Cassie.”
“I’m not little,” she replied annoyed. She hated when he used that little condescending tone, like when he’d taught a class on counter terrorism, before he’d been disgraced and fired on trumped up charges.
He smiled. “Believe me, Precious, I know.”
Was that a crack about her weight. Tall, and built along somewhat Amazonian lines she’d always been a bit sensitive about that. But no his sultry gaze lingered in the vicinity of her breasts. The hussies that they were, they swelled as his gaze lingered on them longer than was polite.
He appeared to realize it too as he shook his head and looked down. “So, Precious, what are you doing here, slumming?”
~
Dylan Fox did his level best to ignore the beauty before him, trying to think. What the hell was going on? Come on think stupid this is what they pay you the combat pay for. Sexy little Cassie McLean didn’t just casually come down here by chance. Something was rotten with this set up. He’d known it from the start. Things had almost been jinxed from the beginning when the little firebrand had vocally defended him at Delta Star, almost ending his mission before it started. She had more guts than many he could name which is why he’d convinced the Director to keep her on when he’d been inclined to fire her for insubordination. No harm, no foul, and it had been a novel experiance to have someone try to save him. And now she was here in the middle of this clusterflop.
He really didn’t give a shit about himself but he would not lose her to not so friendly fire. Okay, so the sailor boys were pounding beers and missing the targets. The slick in the suit was aiming like he was a sniper, and soccer mom looked like she wanted to kick a wall. Nothing looked wrong but his gut told him it was. He always listened to his gut. Hell maybe she’d tracked him down because she wanted to see him. Yeah, and pigs would fly soon. He finally met her gaze. It was the look in her emerald green eyes that got to him the most, sharp as hell, incisive, and hurt. Great now he wanted to kick a wall. Instead he put the shooting gallery guns back in their holders on the counter, buying himself some time. Cassie was glaring at him, practically vibrating with outrage. So her looking for him for a quickie was off the menu he told himself with a smirk trying to keep it light. All he had to do was move her along try to figure this out.
~
Cassie seethed as he all but ignored her. What a jerk and to think she’d stuck up for him. Obviously the Director had him bang to rights. But no, that drug buy had never happened and she always told the truth. Lies only festered and caused pain, life had taught her that lesson. So what kind of lies was he telling? Damn it all he could at least pay attention to her. And what was with that slumming crack of his? He was so not going to get away with blaming this debacle on her. It was a good thing the park was starting to empty because she was going to tell him exactly what she thought of him. “As if you didn’t know,” she hissed. “What the hell are you trying to pull, luring me down here just to make fun of me?” She saw the startled look in his eyes at her words, saw him scan the crowd behind her again, as if they just washed off his back. “You could at least be polite and look at me when I’m yelling at you.”
~
Dylans’s gut clenched at her confirmation that someone had sent her down here. He sure as hell hadn’t done it. Her class of Delta Star Grads were whooping it up at the Hyatt, which explained the gown she was wearing. He was used to seeing her in uniform or sweats at the gym, notihing like this glamorous getup. Maybe that was why he’d been a little slow on the uptake. Yeah and maybe your losing your edge after one too many missions. But all that was meaningless now. She’d had his back at the academy and he had to have hers now. He looked past her to assess the situation. He scanned the crowd, his focus mainly on the slick in the suit, the wanna be rambo. The guy finished his shots, set the toy rifle down, and reached into his jacket. Shit, Dylan automatically drew his weapon, training kicking in along with adrenalin. He kept his weapon in the shadows  hidden along his thigh while Cassie glared at him clearly not picking up the source of his tension. “Five bucks lady,” he said gruffly reaching down to pull a rifle out from under the counter. No way he would keep her undefended if they took him out.
~
She actually gaped at him when he thrust the rifle into her hands her outrage tipping over into hurt feelings territory. What now, was he just trying to make a buck off her? She opened her mouth to accuse him of just that when the weight of the rifle broke through her fog of outrage. Cold, heavy, long barrel. Oh shit! She glanced down to confirm what she’d instinctively sensed and gulped when she saw the sniper rifle in her hands. She’d aced that class, graduating as a sharpshooter. That’s when she saw the Glock in Dylan’s hand. He was keeping it out of sight but it was there. Okay time to stop going on hurt feelings, start acting like an agent, and get a flipping clue. No he, and the Director, hadn’t sent her on this assignment but it had found her just the same. She looked up at Dylan and saw the resolution and worry in his eyes and nodded. He didn’t send the note. She’d been the Jonah leading his enemies to him. Distracting him and letting someone get the drop on him. Around her she saw movement. Sailors laughing, the businessman shooting, others strolling by.
“Any advice?”
~
Dylan sighed when he watched the slick in the suit drop a tip in the jar and start to walk away. He noticed Cassie following his lead and felt a little better. At least she had good instincts, it might give them a chance. He didn’t drop his guard watching the suit walk away.
“What’s going on,” she said softly.
“Can’t you feel it,” he said making sure that the suit was really moving away.
“Oh,” she shivering.
Yeah it was like a laser beam was hitting him between the shoulder blades. Okay time to get her out of sight and the line of fire. “Get your ass back here McLean,” he said opening the gate. She started to move toward him when a motion to the right caught his gaze. She froze at the same time and he knew they were in sync.  “About that advice. The rifle pulls  a little to the left.” he said and spun toward the sailor with the gun in his hand.
~
Cassie didn’t need any other warning. Her early warning your about to be shot instincts going red hot she feinted a little to the right a second before the back of the booth was shot to peiced right where her head had been. Spinning she caught one of the Sailors with a round house making let out an oof and jump to the side, catching him off guard. The sneaky SOB had almost got the drop on her. He retaliated by b backhanding her seeing her reeling into the booth. She saw stars and fell to the floor just as Dylan swear and saw him leap over the booth losing his cool completley. Couldn’t be she thought as darkness claimed her he never got mad, he never cared about anything.
“Come on Precious, wake up,” Dylan said.
She felt his hand brushing her hair out of her face, smelled his singular sandalwood, leather, and man scent as he held her and opened her eyes. Now she knew she was dreaming. The relief in Dylan’s whiskey brown eyes stunned her. “What happened?”
“Welcome to the war on terror, partner,” he said gravely.
“Holy cats playing canasta,” she said looking up at him.
He smirked, “Indeed.”
“Did you say partner?” she asked stunned. Vaguely aware of what looked like Delta Star EMS carting away the Sailors and working in the background.
He nodded, bending closer shutting out the world. “How about we seal it with a kiss?”
Then Dylan’s mouth claimed hers and she groaned kissing him back, knowing this was just the beginning.

The End

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