The Complete Series

Book Cover: Hauberk Protection: The Complete Series Bundle
Editions:ePub: $ 8.99
ISBN: 978-0-9959429-4-3
Pages: 850
Kindle: $ 8.99
ISBN: 978-0-9959429-4-3
Pages: 850

All six Hauberk stories will soon be available in one digital bundle.

From FIRST NIGHT a spicy short story of how security specialist Jodi Tyler and her boss Mark Rodriguez started their no-strings affair.

PRIVATE PROPERTY introduces Sam Watson, the owner of the HAUBERK PROTECTION Group as he helps his best friend Mark see the light about his relationship with Jodi.

Sam is the center of PERSONAL PROTECTION when his team at Hauberk Protection try to protect him from a stalker. By assigning him his own bodyguard--kick ass Rosalinda Ramos.

DELIBERATE DECEPTIONS has Sam's second-in-command Chad facing down his ex-wife Lauren as they avoid a killer out to get revenge.

HIDDEN HEAT follows Sam's assistant Sandy as she explores Troy McPherson's dual career-personality as both a good guy and an assassin.

And PERFECT PROPOSAL returns to Sam attempting to propose to Rosie. Except things don't go exactly as he'd hoped. Naturally.

 

Excerpt:

Thirty minutes later, a rhythmic noise had her peeking around the door. Wearing only a pair of shorts, Sam was working out on a rowing machine. His shoulder muscles rippled and his thighs bulged as he hauled on the pulley. Rosie stood in the doorway, entranced by a bead of sweat as it rolled down his forehead and slid down his neck.

The play of his muscles as he worked out made her imagine his chest flexing as he positioned himself over her, his arms planted either side of her head. She’d dig her fingers into those broad shoulders, feel his strength as he held himself above her. When he drove into her, she’d wrap her legs about his, feel the power of his thighs flexing as he whipped her into an orgasmic frenzy.

He’s your boss, her conscience hissed. She fled to the safety of the living room, wondering if she was fleeing Sam, or the strength of her desire.

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You’re just horny, she reminded herself. It’s been almost a year since you’ve been with a guy and now you’ve got the man of your dreams at your fingertips. You’ve been on a starvation diet and he’s a delicious hunk of cherry chocolate cheesecake.

Forty minutes later the sounds changed and the whir of the treadmill started, followed by a regular thumping that gradually sped up as his feet pounded on the belt. An hour more had passed when she heard the shower turn on in his bathroom.

She found herself prowling along the floor-to-ceiling windows like a panther trapped in a cage. He’d be naked, those four showerheads in his expansive bathroom were pounding his back with steady pulses of hot water. Water that would cascade over his chest, sluice down his belly and over his cock. A cock she wanted to—STOP IT!

When the water shut off, she turned her back to the room and pretended to focus on the lights of the city. But once he stepped into the room, the lights faded and all she could see was the reflection of Sam. Wearing only a pair of navy sweats and a towel wrapped around his neck, he prowled across the room to stand directly behind her. The broad expanse of his chest was still visible in his reflection for the top of her head barely cleared the base of his sternum.

“The view is beautiful, isn’t it?” he said softly. Except he wasn’t looking at the panorama of the city, he was looking at her reflection.

“Y-yes.” It took every ounce of her willpower to continue facing the windows, not to turn into the chest that formed a wall at her back, not to touch the scar down the middle of his chest, or the star-shaped bullet wound just to the left and ask him about it. She’d once asked, but no one, not even Chad, would tell her about the story of who’d put it there. She closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe slowly.

Closing her eyes only made her awareness of him worse. It let her focus on the warmth that flowed from him, enveloping her in a comforting blanket. While he hadn’t put on any more of that wonderful cologne he wore, she was aware of a scent underneath the smell of the soap he’d used. Every man she ever met from now on would be compared to the man standing directly behind her.

Her breath left her in a whoosh when he placed his hands lightly on her shoulders.

“You look like you’ve had a tough day, Ms. Ramos. You need to relax.”

Heck he didn’t even have to touch her, his voice alone could melt her bones and turn her into a puddle of goo at his feet. When his fingers massaged her shoulders, she couldn’t help but lean into his touch.

“That’s it, Rosie. Just relax.”

Her breasts felt heavier, warmer, the fabric of her blouse tightened over her nipples longing to be touched by the fingers that caressed her neck.

And then her cellphone rang, a unique ring she’d assigned to Chad’s number. Crap! How had she forgotten that she was not only Sam’s employee but his bodyguard?

Employee, not lover. Remember his type. Tall, lithe and beautiful. And if she added the news clippings and photos of his last girlfriend to the equation, rich.

She straightened her shoulders as she removed her Berry then, without looking at Sam’s reflection, took a half step sideways and fled to the kitchen.

 

COLLAPSE
Reviews:on RT Book Reviews:

(On HIDDEN HEAT) ...almost too hot to touch

Shannon on The Romance Studio wrote:

HIDDEN HEAT: Nominated as “Best Romantic Suspense of 2012” by the reviewers at The Romance Studio for their annual Cupid and Psyche Awards (CAPA)

(On HIDDEN HEAT) The sexuality, sensuality, passion and suspense blend together perfectly into a wonderfully engaging and entertaining story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.

Miranda on Joyfully Reviewed wrote:

DELIBERATE DECEPTIONS is wrought with heady emotions and explosive sex…a gorgeous love story that will break your heart and mend it all over again… a stand-out in the contemporary erotic genre.

Shannon on The Romance Studio wrote:

Nominated as “Best Contemporary Romance of 2011″ by the reviewers of The Romance Studio”

(On DELIBERATE DECEPTIONS) Once again author Leah Braemel infuses her pleasurably sensual love stories with compelling characters, depth of emotion, delights of passion and the joy of love that equals a treat for the reader.

Shannon on The Romance Studio wrote:

(On PRIVATE PROPERTY) …a wickedly delicious and daring story taken directly from most women’s fantasies…a raw sensuality that holds the reader captive from the first page..a luscious, fast paced adventure that is sure to please readers who enjoy an edgy and intense erotic romance…a refreshingly touching twist to the menage theme…

NOMINATED AS BEST EROTIC ROMANCE, and Leah for BEST EROTIC ROMANCE AUTHOR by the Romance Studio reviewers for the Cupid and Psyche Romance Awards

Lea on Blackraven's Reviews wrote:

Recommended Read! If you read Private Property when it was first released, it is time for a re-read. If you somehow missed this book, get it now. You won’t be disappointed.


Available August 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9959429-4-3

Length: 850 pages

Nominated as Best Contemporary Romance by The Romance Studio reviewers
Nominated as Best Contemporary Romance by The Romance Studio reviewers

Nominated for Best Contemporary Romance of 2011 by the reviewers of The Romance Studio

Nominated for Best Erotic Contemporary Romance 2009

Book Cover: Perfect Proposal
Editions:Trade Paperback: $ 9.99
Size: 5.50 x 8.50 in
Pages: 212
ePub: $ 0.99

Sometimes the best laid plans go every which way but the one you want…

Sam Watson wants to propose to the love of his life, Rosie Ramos, but all his previous attempts have been thwarted. Every. Single. Time. This time he’s determined that nothing, and no one, will get in his way. No interruptions. No exceptions. Not from work, not by family busybodies, not even if the roses crucial to his plans are lost. Nothing will stop him.

If only someone had let Rosie in on his plans…

Warning: Contains misguided intentions, a hunky hero with more than just a ring burning a hole in his pocket, and a spitfire girlfriend who counters with her own proposal. The romance may be sweet but the sex is explicitly hot, hot, hot.

Published:
Publisher: Somerlane Publishing
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Excerpt:

Copyright © 2012 Leah Braemel
All rights reserved

You must be 18 years of age or older to read this.

Sunlight glinted off the solitaire diamond engagement ring and fractured into a thousand rainbows that danced over the walls and ceiling. Heedless of the display, Sam Watson juggled the hotel phone between his ear and shoulder. “What do you mean, the roses haven’t arrived? I ordered them last month.”

“We’re looking into the situation now, Mr. Watson,” the concierge responded. “We’re working with the florist to locate them and they’ll be in your room by the time you return tonight.”

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, mentally running through his checklist. What else could go wrong? “You understand I want everything to be perfect tonight, right? It’s not just about the roses. I want the champagne chilling in the ice bucket, the music cued up, candles ready to be lit. It’s gotta be perfect, you hear me?”

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Unlike the last three times he’d planned to propose, only to have his plans go awry. Rosie deserved perfect and if it killed him, he’d give her the perfect memory. The perfect proposal.

“Yes, sir. I’ll personally ensure everything is exactly as you’ve requested, even if I have to go out and purchase the roses myself.”

“Make sure they’re red roses. Not pink. Not white. Red.” To match his favorite shade of her lipstick.

“Yes, sir. All I need from you now is an approximate time you’ll be returning so we can be set up and out of your way.”

Now there was a problem. Every member of the Ramos family could talk the ears off a concrete elephant. A regular dinner generally lasted two hours—a birthday dinner might last until dawn. The way his luck was running lately, he hedged his bet. “Set it up before six.” Dinner shouldn’t be cooked and eaten before then, he doubted. “That way we won’t walk in on your staff and ruin the surprise. And call me if you can’t get the damned roses.”

After another assurance from the concierge that all would be done according to plan, he hung up the phone. Good thing too, because at some point during the call the shower had shut off. He closed the small blue box and slipped it back into his coat pocket moments before Rosie emerged. As it did every time she walked into a room, his whole body went on alert, needing to claim her.

A drop of water slid from the tip of one dark curl and over the curve of her breast before disappearing into the towel she’d tucked into her cleavage. Damned lucky towel.

Some of their clients had thought her natural sensuality, along with petite stature, made her less effective as a bodyguard. At least until he explained that those qualities made her less likely to scare the bejesus out of a client’s kids or pass undetected by anyone expecting to see a six-foot-six behemoth like himself. After that, he’d have Rosie give them a demonstration by taking him down with a quick-and-dirty leg sweep, or show them the results of her last shooting competition.

A second, then a third droplet followed the path of the first. He skimmed a finger over her skin, tracing the path the water droplets had taken to the edge of the towel.

“Well, were you?”

“Was I what?” Was the towel slipping? If it wasn’t, it should. A slight tug should be enough to—

The single finger tilting his chin until he met her eyes made him focus, as did the impatient tapping of her tiny foot. “Saa-am…”

Uh-oh, she was getting that tone in her voice. She’d said something, but damned if he knew what. “Sorry. I got distracted. What did you ask?”

She clamped a hand across her bosom, which only served to press the soft mounds until a hint of cinnamon nipple peeked over the terry. With her free hand she made a V with her fingers and aimed them at her face in an unspoken “eyes up here, buddy” command.

After a brief internal struggle he managed to wrench his gaze back to her face. Her narrowed eyes told him she knew exactly what had distracted him.

“I asked—”she enunciated every syllable, drawing his gaze to her lips, still swollen from their earlier kisses, “—if you were talking to me while I was in the shower.”

Shoot, he’d figured between her singing and the running water she wouldn’t hear him talking. “Nope. I was—”Keep your eyes up, Watson, stop thinking about getting her naked, “—checking in with Chad.”

“I know it’s a blow to your ego, but Chad doesn’t need you to micromanage things. He’s perfectly capable of running the office himself. And you took a couple of days off to relax.” She poked her index finger into the middle of his chest. “So relax already.”

“Hey, he contacted me first.” He didn’t have to mention that his second-in-command had reached him by text message, which is how he’d replied. “It’s not my fault the guy’s OCD about details.” Which was what made Chad so good at his job.

Her expression softened. “I worry about you, Sam. You’ve been working so hard lately. You deserve this vacation. Chad can handle any issues that come up back in D.C.”

“I know, but—“

“No buts. Now promise me you won’t be checking your email or texting him all day. Give yourself some time for fun.”

The scent of her shampoo—a light fragrance of ginger and some other spice—filled his lungs. Damn, she smelled good enough to eat. A quick check over his shoulder at the hotel room clock showed he had time to do a little taste test of the smorgasbord known as Rosalinda Ramos. Taste test, hell! Count him in for a whole sit-down dinner with her laid out as the main meal. He gave in to temptation and tugged at the terry tucked into her cleavage. “Well, lookie here, your towel’s come loose.”

Damned if she didn’t thwart him by pressing her whole body against him to hold it in place. “I know I said you should have fun but we’re due at my parents’ in less than an hour. We don’t have time for sex right now.”

He raised his eyebrows and drew himself up to his full six foot six to stare down at her. “There’s always time for sex.”

She slapped at his chest with little heat. “I still have to dry my hair—”

With her tight curls, drying meant using a boatload of hair products to help keep her hair straight and tame, which took her at least forty-five minutes.

“—and do my make-up.”

Shoot, he could have waited an hour or more to get dressed up in this monkey suit. At least he could loosen his tie while he waited. And maybe his fly. He always got a hard-on watching her apply her makeup—especially her lipstick, while he imagined the particular shade on her lips as they closed around his cock the way they had earlier.

“Then I have to get dressed.” The conviction in her voice faded as she nuzzled her face against his chest.

Yeah, they were definitely going to be late, thanks to the erection painfully constrained by his briefs.

“We can blame traffic if we’re late.” He slipped his hands beneath the terrycloth and palmed her bare ass. Drowning in Rosie’s sensuality, he gave in and allowed his carnal side to take over.

Rosie gasped when he lifted her until they were nose-to-nose, her bare feet dangling a foot off the floor. Though she teased him about lugging her around like she was a suitcase, she found his penchant for picking her up as though she weighed nothing incredibly romantic.

With a shake of her head in mock dismay, she locked her hands around his neck and hooked her legs around his hips. “You’re incorrigible, you payaso.”

“Even a clown would get hard watching you parade around in nothin’ but a towel, Rosebud.” As proof of the truth of his statement, he pressed his erect cloth-covered shaft against her mound.

She should have anticipated this when he’d ogled her cleavage instead of listening to her. Oh heck, she’d seen the look he’d given her when she’d headed into the shower, and quite frankly she’d been surprised he hadn’t joined her. The fact that they’d already made love before breakfast never slowed Sam Watson down.

“Have I told you I love you this morning?” he asked.

He had. Numerous times, in English, Spanish, French and what she thought might be German—once he’d discovered she got turned on by foreign languages, he’d exploited her weakness without a qualm.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Dawn on Day Dreaming Book Reviews wrote:

… all the twists, turns, spills, and misunderstandings just make for all the more fun and anticipation in this story. So…if you’re a fan of the Hauberk Protection series this is a must read! And, if you haven’t read this series—Get To It—you’re missing out! Lots of danger, lust, excitement, and super-hot sex.


For readers of the series: Perfect Proposal is a follow-up, an epilogue if you want to call it that, to Personal Protection. I loved Sam and Rosie so much I wanted them to finally have their HEA, but I didn’t want to divert attention from the heroes and heroines in the other books to revisit them. Which all means that you won’t have to have read Perfect Proposal to understand Hidden Heat or any future stories.


PERFECT PROPOSAL is included in the print copy of DELIBERATE DECEPTIONS.

 

Deliberate Deceptions, book 3 of the Hauberk Protection series
Editions:Trade Paperback - First Edition: $ 9.99
ISBN: 978-0-9959429-1-2
Size: 5.50 x 8.50 in
Pages: 200
ePub: $ 2.99
ISBN: 978-0-9959429-1-2

She’s guarding his body. He’s guarding his heart.

Hostage negotiator Lauren Miller is used to staring danger in the face. Now a vengeful former team member is targeting her and anyone she cares about, including her ex-husband. Although hiding them both in the same remote safehouse is risky, the plan could provide her with the perfect opportunity to make amends with the one man who has her heart.

Building Hauberk Protection into a success is the only thing that’s kept Chad sane since his marriage ended. He loved Lauren more than life itself and losing her left a hole that haunts him still. When he unexpectedly finds himself trapped with her, Chad can think of only one up-side—he can finally learn why she walked away without an explanation.

Except the heat that burns between them is turning their defenses to ash. As their passion rekindles, Lauren struggles to keep her focus. Especially when she learns that Chad wasn’t the only one being deceived. And those deliberate deceptions put both their lives in jeopardy.

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Publisher: Somerlane Publishing
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Copyright © 2011 Leah Braemel
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication

Lauren stepped from the Brigade’s jet onto the tarmac, glad to be standing on firm earth after being in the air for almost ten hours. The smog-shrouded Washington Monument across the Potomac drew her attention, a calming beacon saluting her return. Would its people be as welcoming?

A sleek, black stretch limo sat with its engine running less than thirty feet away. The driver got out, his windbreaker unbuttoned to allow easy access to the weapon he always wore. After a quick check of the area, he opened the back door, allowing the devil himself to step out.

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Cooper Davis straightened his French cuffs and smoothed his perfectly pressed Armani suit before nodding to his driver. Anyone meeting him for the first time might buy his cover as an unassuming businessman, intent only on making a killing on Wall Street; she knew better. He strolled across the pavement with confidence and nonchalance, as if he were about to greet an old lover. Something he’d once suggested. To this day she hadn’t decided if it had been a test or a sincere proposition.

She turned her face when he bent down to kiss her so his lips brushed her cheek. One dark eyebrow quirked up at her evasion. “Welcome back, Lauren.”

“I’m done, Cooper. I want out.” Saying the words both soothed the jumbled thoughts in her brain while setting free the butterflies in her stomach.

“I figured you’d say that.” He gestured toward the Humvee. “Let’s sit inside while we discuss your future, shall we?”

She followed him to the limo, taking a seat facing him so she could read his facial expressions. As soon as the door closed behind them, sealing them into Cooper’s bulletproof, soundproof world, he leaned forward. “There’s a problem you should know about before you start planning on retiring.”

Problem to Cooper could mean anything from a paperwork snafu to the start of the next world war. From the way every cell in her body went on alert, it was probably more the latter than the former. “I was right, wasn’t I? Someone in the Brigade was behind those attacks.”

“Yes.” He stared out the window, his eyes narrowed. “Frank Harris.”

She sucked in her breath. Of all the Brigade’s operatives, Harris was both their best marksman and their best tracker. He was also currently the most unstable.

“From what we can gather, he discovered it was you who filed the complaint. He’s declared war on you, Lauren.”

“I need to leave then. Find a bolt hole. New York. L.A. San Francisco. Somewhere I can get lost in a crowd.”

Cooper nodded slowly. “It might work. But it’s also possible that Harris will try to get at you through people you care about, Lauren. What’ll you do then?”

People she cared about? She’d long been estranged from her only sister and her mother had died a decade ago. Which left… “Chad?”

“It’s a distinct possibility.”

No. It couldn’t be. Hadn’t she screwed up Chad’s life enough without making him the target of a vengeful ex-CIA operative? “But we’re divorced. We’ve been divorced for almost seven years now.”

“Harris was there when you and Thalia had that blow-up a couple months ago. He knows you didn’t want the divorce, and he knows you still love Chad. It’s possible he’ll use Chad as a way to control you or hurt you.”

“I never said I love Chad.” She’d never admitted it in words but… She thought back, desperate to remember exactly what had been said that day. Was the fight itself enough to tell Harris—and everyone else who’d overheard—how she felt?

“Maybe not in so many words that day, but you did discuss it with Doc Brewer at your last assessment, didn’t you?”

“Those files are private.” Her eyes widened at his implication. “Harris read them?”

He nodded. “We just discovered someone accessed them last month. We can only assume it was Harris.”

“You’ve read them too,” she whispered.

“I’m in charge of the unit, Lauren. I read everyone’s reports. But I didn’t need a report to tell me you still had strong feelings for Chad.” He chuckled darkly. “Luckily for you, the way you insisted on not being stationed back here in the States led everyone else to assume it was out of hatred for Chad, not love.”

“I didn’t want to come back because I wanted to avoid Thalia.” Not to mention avoiding the park where she used to take Emily for walks. The hospital where she was born. The Mall where Chad had proposed on the steps of the Lincoln Monument. The condo they had worked so hard to buy that had later become their prison thanks to the media frenzy after Chad had defied Bureau protocol.

“I didn’t know what Thalia had done until you two had that fight, Lauren,” Cooper said quietly. “If I had, I would have said something sooner.”

“Do you know what she did?” She blew out her breath in a slow stream, forcing her shoulders down.

“I know that she was the one who recommended you to Sir Ian when he was running the Brigade and arranged for you to stay out of the country. And I know she hired the solicitor in London so it would look to Chad as if you were seeking the divorce, not him.” He tilted his head as he observed her. “Am I right in assuming she’s the one who recommended you stay at Tranquil Pastures?”

“Yes. Damn it, I should have flown back here and talked to him face-to-face instead of believing her or that damned lawyer. I had no idea she hated me that much.”

“It’s not that she hated you, it’s that she loves her brother over everything else. And why wouldn’t you believe her? What reason would you have had to suspect she was lying when she told you Chad was with someone else, that they were living together?”

Not to mention how he’d never replied to any of the letters she’d sent him that first year or the ones from Dr. Maudsley either. Had Thalia found some way to prevent Chad from getting them? Did it matter anymore?

She closed her eyes in an effort to calm the maelstrom raging inside. At her anger at Thalia for interfering. Her disgust at not discovering the deception for all these years burned with glowing embers of long-simmering resentment. Her rage against Harris burned brightly, its flames licking hungrily at her patience

“Maybe she wasn’t lying. Maybe she just saw the inevitable. We were already in counseling. Neither of us handled Emily’s death well. With Chad facing the inquiry and all that press…he was better off without having me distracting him.” She settled back in her seat.

She’d mourned the loss of her marriage as much as she’d mourned her daughter.

“So you’re not interested in resolving any issues between you and Chad? Seeing if there’s still a chance of having a relationship with him?”

God, don’t give her hope. It would only be torn from her the way it had been before. She couldn’t take losing Chad again. “Just how would we do that after all this time?”

Cooper laid out his plans quickly and succinctly, hope rising in her soul with each step he revealed. The hopes mingled with the thought that he was crazy. Or brilliant. Maybe both. His plan would keep her safe, as well as Chad. Plus, it would let her finally see Chad again, to find out if he hated her for being so weak that she’d walked away when he’d needed her most. No, not walked. She’d run away with her tail tucked between her legs. Cooper was right—she needed to see Chad face-to-face one last time. If for no other reason, to apologize. And explain.

Icy fingers of fear doused the flames. What if Cooper’s plan didn’t work?

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Miranda on Joyfully Reviewed wrote:

Deliberate Deceptions is wrought with heady emotions and explosive sex…a gorgeous love story that will break your heart and mend it all over again… a stand-out in the contemporary erotic genre.

Dawn on daydrmzzz blog wrote:

GREAT LOVE STORY…Great sex and lots of emotion…

Slick Reads on Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews wrote:

...it made me teary eyed…has me on the edge of my seat waiting for the next book.

Shannon on The Romance Studio wrote:

Nominated as “Best Contemporary Romance of 2011″ by the reviewers of The Romance Studio”

Once again author Leah Braemel infuses her pleasurably sensual love stories with compelling characters, depth of emotion, delights of passion and the joy of love that equals a treat for the reader.


The 2017 print version of DELIBERATE DECEPTIONS contains a bonus story, the first time-ever-in-print PERFECT PROPOSAL!


Nominated for Best Contemporary Romance of 2011 by the reviewers of The Romance Studio

 


This book was originally published in 2011 by Samhain Publishing. The 2017 version has been re-edited and given a new cover, but remains substantially the same.

Book Cover: Personal Protection
Editions:Trade Paperback - Second Edition: $ 12.99
ISBN: 978-0-9879304-7-7
Size: 5.50 x 8.50 in
Pages: 331

Despite owning a security business, Sam Watson refuses protection for himself, even after receiving threats from a stalker. His second-in-command, however, isn’t willing to take no for an answer, and assigns Sam a security detail headed by none other than Rosalinda Ramos—Sam’s secret object of lust. As an employee, she’s strictly hands-off. Though, working so closely together, Sam isn’t sure how long he can resist.

A female in a male-dominated industry, Rosie has enough on her plate just proving her worth, so she keeps her attraction to Sam firmly in check. Until she learns he co-owns an exclusive club. While investigating the club as a possible source of the threat, Rosie discovers her own interest in certain sexual proclivities. Before long, it’s all bets off, and all hands-on, for Sam and Rosie.

But the couple will soon discover the real threat to Sam is much, much closer to home…and something from which Rosie may not be able to save him.

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Copyright © 2009 Leah Braemel
All rights reserved — a Somerlane Publishing publication

Thirty minutes later, a rhythmic noise had her peeking around the door. Wearing only a pair of shorts, Sam was working out on a rowing machine. His shoulder muscles rippled and his thighs bulged as he hauled on the pulley. Rosie stood in the doorway, entranced by a bead of sweat as it rolled down his forehead and slid down his neck.

The play of his muscles as he worked out made her imagine his chest flexing as he positioned himself over her, his arms planted either side of her head. She’d dig her fingers into those broad shoulders, feel his strength as he held himself above her. When he drove into her, she’d wrap her legs about his, feel the power of his thighs flexing as he whipped her into an orgasmic frenzy.

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He’s your boss, her conscience hissed. She fled to the safety of the living room, wondering if she was fleeing Sam, or the strength of her desire.

You’re just horny, she reminded herself. It’s been almost a year since you’ve been with a guy and now you’ve got the man of your dreams at your fingertips. You’ve been on a starvation diet and he’s a delicious hunk of cherry chocolate cheesecake.

Forty minutes later the sounds changed and the whir of the treadmill started, followed by a regular thumping that gradually sped up as his feet pounded on the belt. An hour more had passed when she heard the shower turn on in his bathroom.

She found herself prowling along the floor-to-ceiling windows like a panther trapped in a cage. He’d be naked, those four showerheads in his expansive bathroom were pounding his back with steady pulses of hot water. Water that would cascade over his chest, sluice down his belly and over his cock. A cock she wanted to—STOP IT!

 

When the water shut off, she turned her back to the room and pretended to focus on the lights of the city. But once he stepped into the room, the lights faded and all she could see was the reflection of Sam. Wearing only a pair of navy sweats and a towel wrapped around his neck, he prowled across the room to stand directly behind her. The broad expanse of his chest was still visible in his reflection for the top of her head barely cleared the base of his sternum.

“The view is beautiful, isn’t it?” he said softly. Except he wasn’t looking at the panorama of the city, he was looking at her reflection.

“Y-yes.” It took every ounce of her willpower to continue facing the windows, not to turn into the chest that formed a wall at her back, not to touch the scar down the middle of his chest, or the star-shaped bullet wound just to the left and ask him about it. She’d once asked, but no one, not even Chad, would tell her about the story of who’d put it there. She closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe slowly.

Closing her eyes only made her awareness of him worse. It let her focus on the warmth that flowed from him, enveloping her in a comforting blanket. While he hadn’t put on any more of that wonderful cologne he wore, she was aware of a scent underneath the smell of the soap he’d used. Every man she ever met from now on would be compared to the man standing directly behind her.

Her breath left her in a whoosh when he placed his hands lightly on her shoulders.

“You look like you’ve had a tough day, Ms. Ramos. You need to relax.”

Heck he didn’t even have to touch her, his voice alone could melt her bones and turn her into a puddle of goo at his feet. When his fingers massaged her shoulders, she couldn’t help but lean into his touch.

“That’s it, Rosie. Just relax.”

Her breasts felt heavier, warmer, the fabric of her blouse tightened over her nipples longing to be touched by the fingers that caressed her neck.

And then her cellphone rang, a unique ring she’d assigned to Chad’s number. Crap! How had she forgotten that she was not only Sam’s employee but his bodyguard?

Employee, not lover. Remember his type. Tall, lithe and beautiful. And if she added the news clippings and photos of his last girlfriend to the equation, rich.

She straightened her shoulders as she removed her Berry then, without looking at Sam’s reflection, took a half step sideways and fled to the kitchen.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Shannon on The Romance Studio wrote:

…a vibrantly refreshing story that sizzles with a burning sensuality

Slick Reads on Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews wrote:

“The action, dialog, characters, and plot were all so well written that I found myself completely immersed.”

Fern on Long and Short of It Reviews wrote:

“This is a story that has it all–incredible characters that are not only well developed, but absolutely hilarious, an intriguing whodunit plot that will keep you guessing, and a whole lot of mind blowing sex…”


Personal Protection was originally released in 2009 by Samhain Publishing. While some of the technology has been updated in the new version, and it has been proofread and minor changes made, the bulk of the new version remains the same.

Book Cover: Private Property

Security specialist Jodi Tyler has a great job and a great relationship with her boss, Mark Rodriguez—in the office and in the bedroom. Their casual arrangement is all she wants, and she’d thought it was all Mark wanted too. Right up until she’s busted while testing the security of a Lake Arlington mansion. To her surprise, and with the help of the mansion’s owner, Sam Watson, Jodi’s no-strings affair with Mark is about to become a little more…binding.

Sharing Jodi with his best friend Sam was supposed to be fun. But as the intimate evening progresses, certain feelings come to light, feelings Mark didn’t know he had.  Feelings he doesn’t know what to do about. But Sam does. And he knows exactly what to do about them.

By evening’s end, the decisions Mark is forced to make will change everyone’s lives. He will either disappoint them all—or claim Jodi as his own private property.

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Copyright © 2009 Leah Braemel
Somerlane Publishing
All rights reserved

A deep reverberating thrum filled Jodi Tyler’s chest and stroked the back of her throat with its raw promise of latent power. The unmistakable growl of a Harley. The sound bounced off the highwalled estate hugging the shores of Lake Arlington, then abruptly stopped.

She lifted the night vision binoculars and peered through the tinted windows of the surveillance van. Nothing. Deciding there was no threat from the road, she swiveled her chair back to the monitors. Her fingers flicked the switches controlling the surveillance cameras aimed at the estate. Images flashed across the monitor in rapid succession. They all showed the same thing. Nothing.

So where had the motorcycle gone?

“Must’ve turned off,” she muttered to herself. She grabbed the black T-shirt she’d discarded earlier and blotted the sweat trickling down her neck.

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Maybe the pimply teenager three doors up drove a Harley. More likely his mid-life-crisis-aged father, she thought, wiping the perspiration pooled between her breasts. Being stuck in a stifling black van in Dallas during a heat wave was not her idea of excitement. Especially on her birthday. Which Mark had forgotten.

Or ignored.

After hinting for weeks about how she wanted to spend the night, starting with a romantic dinner at their favorite restaurant, after teasing him about the sexy negligee she’d bought, even after that stupid list of all the sexual fantasies she’d written for him, he’d still gone ahead and arranged for her to penetrate the estate tonight. Tonight!

“If he expects me to be in any sort of romantic mood when I get home, he’s got rocks in his head.” She plopped down in the chair with a huff. “He can sleep in his own bed tonight. Alone.”

She switched the monitor back to the camera aimed at the Lexus parked in front of the five-car garage. If the assistant kept to her regular schedule—and that woman was punctual to a fault—the car would soon be cruising up the drive. Which meant Jodi’d be out of this Easy-Bake Oven and into the air-conditioned estate to finish this assignment. Then she could go home and shower. Alone.

An insidious thought slithered into her mind, puncturing her self-confidence with an icy-cold needle. That’s what he’s planned all along—he’s trying to dump you without actually having to say anything.

No, she thought, shaking her head. Mark doesn’t play games like that.

How do you know? the voice whispered. Why else would he arrange for the estate to be penetrated today of all days? He’s easing his way out of the affair by pissing you off, hoping you’ll dump him first. And don’t forget how he insisted either one of you could walk away at any point.

She leaned back in the chair, her arms folded across her chest. Easing out of a relationship had to be better than being dumped by text message the way Todd had done. “Let’s just be friends.”

Friends, my ass.

Would it hurt less than it had when she’d found another woman’s bra under Danny’s bed and been forced to endure his long, stumbling explanation? “She’s softer, less demanding, you know?”

Yeah, she knew.

Permanent scars etched her heart after Jace’s less-than-flattering comments about her lack of femininity when she’d graduated from the police academy. More fool her, she’d actually quit the force trying to please that asshole and he’d still dumped her.

Maybe Mark’s way of easing out of a relationship was better. Maybe it would hurt less. She rubbed the heel of her hand over the ache in her heart. Who was she kidding? Despite agreeing with Mark that the affair wouldn’t be long term, she’d fallen in love with him anyway. If he was breaking up with her, she was soon going to feel like her skin had been stripped off layer by layer.

When a branch snapped behind the van, interrupting her pity fest, she grabbed her gun from the console and headed to the driver’s seat. There was no way she was going to sit here as a witless target.

“Jodi? Open up, babe, it’s me,” Mark whispered through the back panel.

Excitement flared in her chest at the sound of his voice. When she realized her heart was racing just from hearing his voice, she silently cursed herself for acting like a bookworm with a serious crush on the quarterback.

“Jodi?” Mark said, a little louder this time. “You okay in there?”

She thumbed on the safety of the Glock and, after taking a deep breath, opened the door. A glance around showed no sign of his Humvee—he must have parked it farther down the road and walked up.

“You could have phoned to say you were coming in. I might have shot you.” In the groin.

The van dipped when he stepped up into it. His six-foot-two-inch frame filling the narrow confines, he gently closed the door so it wouldn’t give away their position. The dragon tattoo on his biceps flexed as he placed a knapsack on the console beside the surveillance equipment. Muscles rippled beneath the Celada Security logo emblazoned across the chest of his black T-shirt. Muscles she’d felt flex beneath her palms the night before.

Her fingers itched to run themselves through the thick crop of black hair in his Marine high-and-tight. Normally she didn’t go for guys with short hair, but that glistening four-inch-wide pelt reminded her of a mink coat she wanted wrapped around her body. Between her legs.

Get over that desire real fast, she told her fingers. “You’re late.”

“Got stuck at the lawyers’. There—” He stopped as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, reminding her of what she was—or rather, wasn’t—wearing.

Every cell in her body went on high alert, trembled with need and expectation as if he’d touched her wherever he looked.

His grin widened and his chocolate brown eyes glinted. “Is a sports bra and thong the latest fashion for surveillance?”

Jodi flipped him the bird while she searched for the T-shirt she’d discarded.

“It was hot. I stripped down. So bite me,” she said, though without the rancor she’d intended.

“Anything you say, babe.” He pulled her against him and nipped at her earlobe. “But I fully approve of your outfit. Think I should make it part of the dress code.”

“Yeah, that’ll go over real well.” She attempted to maintain her anger. And failed. “Everyone’s been dying to see Hector’s fat ass in a thong.”

When his hands cupped her breasts, Jodi melted into his touch. Magic fingers, she thought, as his thumbs brushed her taut nipples. Was this the last time he’d touch her like this? Or was it just her insecurity making her paranoid?

“Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?” he said, his breath hot on her neck.

The citrus fragrance of his aftershave, and the lack of his usual dark five-o’clock shadow told her he’d recently shaved. His fresh scent reminded her how grungy she felt having been cooped up in over one hundred degree heat all day. It took a charming—or incredibly obtuse—man to tell a woman whose hair clung in damp strands to her neck and probably smelled like the inside of a stable that she was beautiful.

Surely a man planning on dumping her wouldn’t be acting like this. Or was he overcompensating?

“The assistant leave yet?” His tongue brushed over her earlobe, sending a shiver down her spine.

“Um…” She struggled to think under the onslaught of sensation. His tongue trailed down her neck, teeth nipped at that spot that made her need him inside her. What was it about him that made her knees turn to jelly and her insides to liquid heat?

“Babe? Did Ms. Janssen leave?”

She barely heard him repeat the question when his hand released her breast and moved lower. She forced one eye open and peered over his shoulder at the monitor, verifying the car hadn’t moved.

“No, not yet. If she keeps to her usual schedule she should leave in ten minutes. I thought I heard an engine a few moments ago. You see anything on the way in?”

“Nope.” He turned her away from the monitor and pushed aside the thin strip of her thong. His fingers—those broad, callused, talented fingers—stroked her vulva, sending streaks of pleasure deep inside.

She struggled to maintain focus the way he could. “Must have been… Oh, Mark, yes, right there.”

Her legs opened wider under his murmured instructions, while her hands fumbled with the zipper in his blue jeans. Fingers were all very well, but when there was a cock willing and eager to penetrate her—and from the rock-hard erection beneath her palm, he was more than ready—there was no contest. She heard the rustle of canvas when he reached behind her, and she wondered what was in the knapsack that he needed at this precise moment.

“Got a present for you.” His mouth covered hers, swallowing her squeak of surprise when something hard and cold touched her labia and pressed inward. “Something to keep you on your toes.”

A moan left her when the object started vibrating inside her. He had to be kidding!

She reached down to remove the vibrating egg, only to have her wrist circled by his fingers, pulling her hand away.

“Oh no you don’t. Leave it in until I take it out myself.” An intense look filled his dark eyes, replacing the earlier amusement. He stepped back, all business, and picked up her black twill pants. “Better put these on. The assistant will be leaving soon. Don’t forget you have to get through the gate right after she leaves.”

“I know the plan.” She tugged on her pants, doing her best to ignore the overwhelming need the device was creating. “Do you seriously expect me to break into the house and crack a safe with this damned thing vibrating inside me?”

He flashed a six-megawatt grin. “Yup, I do.”

Jodi stuck her tongue out at him. Okay, it was childish, but she hated that he’d got her so hot and bothered and then wouldn’t let her come. Until she noticed the bulge in his pants. Proving that despite Mark’s business-like demeanor, he was just as horny.

“We’ve got a few minutes before Ms. Janssen leaves.” She trailed a finger down his chest, slid her hand between them and rubbed his erection, intent on torturing him and silencing her insecurities. “You must be aching as bad as I am. No use both of us being unfulfilled all night.”

His grin fading, Mark flipped a switch on the remote. The vibrations ceased within her, leaving her with a completely unsatisfied pussy. Damn it, she needed to finish what he’d started.

“Look, babe, I know you wanted to celebrate, but the owner insisted it be today. And since you’re our best at infiltration…” He tucked the remote into his shirt pocket then lifted her hands in his.

At least he’d remembered her birthday.

When he pressed his lips against her knuckles, her insecurity crawled back under its rock. Hopefully forever.

“I’d still rather have you inside me than this vibrator.”

He chuckled and kissed her fingers again. “I know. So would I. But we don’t have time.”

“So why are you insisting I keep it in?”

He let her hands drop and cradled her head to his shoulder briefly. “Just for fun. Besides, you’re always practicing cracking those safes wearing headphones, listening to loud music and street sounds. So think of my present as just another distraction, something to add to the challenge.”

She relented. A little. There were worse ways to be distracted—like having firecrackers or guns aimed at you—both of which had been done to her in the past. His professionalism had attracted her to him in the first place; it wasn’t right that she snark about it now, she supposed. Besides, what could be more exciting than breaking into a house, knowing you could get caught, a vibrator your lover had placed deep inside arousing every fiber of your being? By night’s end, she’d be so horny, so desperate for him, he could fuck her in the middle of Dealey Plaza at high noon and she wouldn’t deny him.

She bent over to pick up her T-shirt, making sure Mark had a really good look at her butt. Might as well give him something to think about while she was away.

“You got the letter I’m supposed to leave in the safe?” The shirt muffled her voice as she pulled it over her head.

He held up a sealed envelope. “Right here.”

She grabbed the envelope and shoved it in her pocket. “You sure the owner hasn’t upgraded the system? Or tipped the current security company off?”

“Nah, I have his word that if you crack the safe tonight, I’ll have a signature on a contract at our lunch tomorrow. And then I can concentrate on the merger.” Mark perched on the edge of the console and folded his arms. A smug look on his face told her he expected her to encounter no problems.

Yet for all his confidence in her, the envelope weighed a ton in her pocket. “Mark, are you sure you want to sell out? You’ve worked so hard making Celada the top security firm in Texas—you can’t just hand over the reins to some stranger, even if he was your old college buddy. You love running your own company too much to see it gobbled up by Hauberk Security.”

He grabbed her hand and tugged until she stood between his legs. “It’s just a merger, babe, not a complete takeover. I’ve told you I’ll continue to run ops this side of the Mississippi, and Sam will manage everything to the east from D.C. We’ll both have to agree on any major decision, each with an equal say.”

“And if you can’t agree?”

“It’ll work out. Trust me.” His hand cupped her buttock and squeezed as he glanced at the monitor behind her. “Time to move, babe. Ms. Janssen is driving toward the gate.”
He couldn’t have staged a better way to avoid the subject if he’d planned it.

After pulling on a pair of surgical gloves, Jodi picked up the two-way headset and tucked it around her ear. “Give me a sound check, will you?”

Mark flipped on the microphone to the radio, and whispered something in Spanish.

Shivers flared down her spine and sent a bolt of heat into her core. “One of these days I’m going to take Spanish lessons. What did you say this time?”

“I promised to tie your hands behind your back and make you get on your knees. Then I said I’m going to put my dick in your mouth until I spew come down your throat.”

Grabbing the back-door latch, Jodi pressed her knees together as her pussy clamped around the egg lodged high inside. “If you’d let Javier do this job the way I’d suggested, I’d be on my knees in a heartbeat. But since you didn’t, I guess you’ll have to keep dreaming.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” He winked and tossed her a black knit cap. “Forget something?”

With a muttered curse about wool caps and Texas heat, Jodi tucked her hair beneath the cap’s edges. Once Mark had flicked off the van’s dome light, she eased the door open. As she squeezed through the narrow opening, branches scraped against the door’s paint job and tugged at her thin black cotton shirt.

Headlights slanted up the curving driveway, backlighting the ornate wrought-iron gates that creaked as they swung open.

“Right on time. Someone needs to teach you there’s safety in unpredictability, lady,” she murmured.

The sleek dark blue Lexus drove through the gates and turned right.

“Show time, babe,” Mark said over the headset.

Heart thumping, Jodi slid in through the gates as the motor whirred, jumping only slightly when the gate clicked shut behind her.

Keeping to the shadows cast by the half-moon, Jodi crept down the long driveway toward the sprawling three-story Tudor mansion. She skirted the massive garage, then followed the path around back and stopped by the first French door. Whatever security expert designed the current system hadn’t insisted that a deadbolt be installed on this one. Or the installers had missed it. And that was the reason she—no, she reminded herself, Mark’s company—was going to prove they were the best security firm in Texas.

She pulled out the thin strip of plastic she had tucked in the pouch on her belt and shoved it between the jamb and the latch. Seconds later, she straightened and opened door.
As she’d expected, a red light flashed in the security panel beside the door. She punched in the number she’d memorized and breathed a sigh of relief when the light turned a steady green. They hadn’t changed the security code since she’d reconnoitered. Another point for her report.

“I’m in,” she whispered, knowing Mark was listening in the van. She wiped the sweat from the back of her neck, angling her head to catch the cool breeze rushing through the air-conditioning vent.

“You never told me how you got the security code,” she heard Mark say in the earpiece as she headed through the empty room toward the center hallway.

“I have my secrets,” she taunted. That weekend she’d bribed to call in sick so she could fill in had paid off—even if it meant she’d had to scrub toilets. The work hadn’t really been hard—the new owner had only furnished four rooms so far, so there’d not been much to clean.

A smile tugging at her lips, Jodi paused at the door to the office, ensuring it was empty. Moonlight streamed between the heavy curtains that flanked the French doors and across the floor in a rectangular pattern, slanting up the bookcases lining the walls. The red power light on the cordless phone reflected in the brass base of the banker’s lamp on the desk. Assured she was alone, she walked confidently toward the desk.

“The safe’s in the floor behind the desk,” Mark reminded her. “Figure you’ve got less than an hour to crack the safe, leave the envelope and get out before the next patrol cruises by.”

She rolled her eyes. Cruise was right—that’s all the minimum-wage cop wannabees currently providing security did for their visual inspection. Her van had been parked in the area for a week now and they hadn’t slowed down enough to read her license plate or check why she was there.

She pushed the leather office chair aside and knelt on the hardwood floor, inhaling a whiff of lemon furniture polish. The very same polish she’d applied on the weekend. Reaching beneath the desk, her fingers found the latch that would free the panel hiding the safe. Her breath left her with a whoosh when she heard the audible click.

“Got it!” she whispered, pumping her fist in the air. Now the real fun began.

Still on her knees, she reached down and swung open the square section of floor concealing the safe. A chuckle escaped her. She’d never bothered to tell Mark that during her stint as a replacement maid, she’d been assigned to dust this room. Or that she’d discovered the safe’s combination on the flip side of the leather blotter.

“Hey, Mark, start the timer—I’ll bet I can have this baby cracked in under three minutes.”

Mark’s low chuckle reverberated in her ear. “Two. Loser gets tied up and spanked.”
Jodi’s butt tightened. Spanking usually meant Mark was in the mood for ass play. Maybe she should deliberately take four minutes. No, she thought with wicked delight as she glanced at her latex covered fingers, it was time Mark got a taste of his own medicine.

“Then drop your pants, big boy, and show me your sweet ass, ’cause you’re going to get a whoopin’ tonight.”

Clenching her penlight between her teeth, she leaned over the dial of the old-fashioned safe. Then jumped when the egg started to vibrate deep inside her.
Sonuvabitch. She stopped herself from screeching. She’d completely forgotten the damned thing. Her nipples hardened into swollen buds rubbing against her cotton T-shirt while her pussy throbbed in time with the vibrations.

No way was she going to let Mark win this bet. Ignoring the vibrator as best she could, she carefully turned the dial clockwise to the first number. Heard the click as the mechanism released. One-and-a-half-turns counterclockwise. Another click. Clockwise again. Click. Grinning, she checked her watch.

“Mark, your ass is going to be sore tomorrow,” she whispered.

A quick tug on the handle opened the safe. Her penlight’s thin beam of light illuminated a thick rope of gold with a massive ruby pendant resting upon a black velvet-covered board. A set of dangly earrings that matched the pendant and several diamond-encrusted bracelets winked back at her. A fortune in easily fenced gems and the idiot had left the combination to the safe where anyone could find it.

Shaking her head at the owner’s stupidity, she pulled out the envelope. Then froze when the sliver of light from the French door lengthened, slid beneath the desk and over the safe.

She peered beneath the knee space under the desk. The moonlight outlined the shape of a dark figure shutting the doors.

“Under two minutes, Mark, I win,” she announced as she crawled from beneath the desk. She straightened and smiled, expecting Mark to flash that sexy smile of his. She was so ready to fuck him, to have him ram his cock deep into her.

But her smile froze when the intruder took a step into the room and the moonlight gleamed off his head. His shaved head.

Not Mark.

“Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Shannon on The Romance Studio wrote:

…a wickedly delicious and daring story taken directly from most women’s fantasies…a raw sensuality that holds the reader captive from the first page..a luscious, fast paced adventure that is sure to please readers who enjoy an edgy and intense erotic romance…a refreshingly touching twist to the menage theme…

NOMINATED AS BEST EROTIC ROMANCE, and Leah for BEST EROTIC ROMANCE AUTHOR by the Romance Studio reviewers for the Cupid and Psyche Romance Awards

Chrissy on Romance Junkies wrote:

Leah Braemel’s PRIVATE PROPERTY delves into all of one woman’s naughty fantasies and promises to leave readers hot and sweaty. … All of these characters will touch your heart in one way or another. …

Lea on Blackraven's Reviews wrote:

Recommended Read! If you read Private Property when it was first released, it is time for a re-read. If you somehow missed this book, get it now. You won’t be disappointed.


  Nominated for Best Erotic Contemporary Romance 2009

by the reviewers of The Romance Studio


This book was originally published in 2009 by Samhain Publishing, but has been given a new cover and re-released in 2016 by Somerlane Publishing.  Other than some minor editing to update the technology, the contents remain unchanged.

Book Cover: First Night
Editions:Trade Paperback: $ 9.99
ISBN: 978-0-9879304-9-1
Size: 8.50 x 5.50 in
Pages: 200
Kindle
ISBN: 978-0-9879304-3-9
Pages: 36
ePub
ISBN: 978-0-9879304-3-9
Pages: 36

When it comes to her love life, security specialist Jodi Tyler has hit a dry spell the size of the Sahara. Not to mention her track record for choosing guys who aren’t threatened by a strong woman isn’t the best. When a friend at her company’s New Year’s Eve party issues a challenge to seduce their boss, the uber sexy Mark Rodriguez, Jodi accepts.

The last thing Mark Rodriguez needs right now is another distraction. His company is under attack and he’s desperately trying to hold it together. When the blonde bombshell he hired as his second-in-command struts into the room and straddles his lap, who is he to turn her down? Especially with her offer of a no-strings-attached affair.

But when the clock strikes midnight, and the ball drops on Times Square, has Jodi won the bet or lost her heart?

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Copyright © 2008, 2014 Leah Braemel

It might have been the two glasses of champagne that drove Jodi Tyler to consider her friend Terri’s dare. Or maybe, she told herself for the fifth time, she really was concerned her boss was working himself too hard.

Though her mouth was moving, Jodi could barely hear a word of Terri’s explanation over Hector’s attempts at singing and the amps blasting full-power. The music itself wasn’t bad—Juan and Tyrell both played a mean guitar—but Hector needed to be muzzled for mangling U2’s New Year’s Day so badly.

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Champagne sloshing over the side of her wine glass, Terri gestured toward their boss, who stood in the farthest corner, his cell phone pressed to one ear and a hand covering the other. The suit jacket Mark Rodriguez had worn earlier was nowhere in sight. His tie had disappeared too, leaving the top two buttons of his shirt splayed open. What was it about that peek-a-boo V that she found so attractive? He twisted to allow a waiter to pass, which caused his shirt sleeve to pull taut. Damn, the man must work out five hours a day to maintain those shoulder muscles.

Though he had an excellent physique his recently-earned MBA spoke to his intelligence, a trait Jodi found just as sexy as his kick-ass body.

From the deep furrow in his forehead, whoever he was talking to was pissing him off. Bingo, there was his tell of running his hand over his head, something he only did when he was trying to keep his cool. Normally he kept his dark hair trimmed in a Marine’s high and tight, but he’d been so harried lately, he’d let the top part grow longer. Long enough that every time she’d seen him, she’d been tempted to run her fingers through it.

Poor guy. Celada Security had the best rep in the Metroplex, yet the damned competition kept swiping clients by undercutting their rates. It wasn’t that Mark was doing anything wrong—the man had a flair for keeping both his clients and his employees happy—but he didn’t have the type of money their competition did. Which meant this might be the last party they’d all celebrate together. Unless he pulled off whatever Hail Mary pass he’d hinted at during today’s staff meeting.

Terri put her mouth to Jodi’s ear and repeated, “Come on, Jodi. Mark brought his laptop to the party, and when he’s not working on it, he’s been on that damned phone. You need to get him to loosen up.”

Jodi rolled her eyes. “And just how do you propose I do that?”

Terri flattened her free hand over her stomach and wiggled her hips. “There’s no better way to start a New Year than with some hot monkey sex.”

“Terri!” Laughing at her friend’s antics, Jodi shoved Terri’s shoulder.

“Jodi.” Terri mimicked Jodi’s exasperation. “He’s not seeing anyone, and neither are you since you finally saw the light about Jace and kicked him to the curb. Sex is the perfect way to relax and, honey, you both need to relax. Besides, I’ve seen the way you eye Mark when you think no one’s looking. You’re dying to get him naked.”

“I am not!” Yes, I am. I want to pull his shirt off and run my fingers—hell my tongue—down his pecs, over his abs. To trace that line of dark hair from his navel to where it hides beneath his fly.

“It’s time you get back up on the horse and Mark’s the perfect stallion to ride.” Terri grabbed a champagne flute from a passing waiter and pressed it into Jodi’s hand. “Here. Give him this. Tell him there’s a private party and he’s invited. I bet he’ll have you seeing fireworks before the ball drops in Times Square.”

As Jodi argued internally about whether it was a good idea to have sex with the boss—which she knew wasn’t smart at the best of times—Terri fumbled in her purse, withdrew a package and shoved it in Jodi’s bag. Jodi peered inside to see what her friend had given her. “Holy crap, you brought a box of condoms to the party? What the fuck were you expecting? An orgy?”

“No. But it never hurts for a girl to be prepared.”

With an entire box? Terri obviously had far more to her beneath that standard Celada uniform than she let on.

“You know you’ve been fantasizing about him for months. It’s time you go hook up with him and ride that man into the sunset.” Terri shoved her in Mark’s direction. “Or let him ride you.”

What the heck am I doing? Jodi asked herself, as she maneuvered her way through the crowded room.

Taking responsibility for your own happiness, that’s what.

COLLAPSE

FIRST NIGHT is also available in print as a bonus in the PRIVATE PROPERTY paperback.