BLACK COLLAR BEGINNINGS: Manhattan Dry Part 3 by AN Latro

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AN Latro introduced us to the sexy and dangerous world of the Morgan crime family in Black Collar Empire and the novellas, Black Collar Beginnings: Cuba and Black Collar Beginnings: New York.

Now she returns with Black Collar Beginnings: Manhattan Dry a five part short story about New York’s favorite criminal royalty.

Everything in the Morgan syndicate is poised on the edge of change, and no one understands that more than Caleb. A senior in high school, he’s balanced between a false legitimate life and the deadly one as head of the family’s weapons division.

When an attack comes out of nowhere, the two sides of his world collide and the effects of that will touch everyone in the family…


Black Collar Beginnings: Manhattan Dry Part 3BCB MD Part 3


Empire State Building, New York City


Caleb and Seth stand staring through the crisscrossed railing that surrounds the top of the Empire State Building. The tours have ended for the day, but they’ve been bribing security to let them up there since Caleb was barely a teenager. The night is bright with the lights of Manhattan, yet there’s a hush this far up. Seth is drunk, and he didn’t want to go home. Caleb couldn’t help but agree. They will be in enough trouble. To bring his sixteen-year-old brother home drunk on moonshine would be a nail in his social life’s coffin. Never mind that he is also riding a pretty sweet buzz.

Seth has been quiet since they left the speakeasy. So Caleb has been quiet, too. In a world that’s increasingly defined by duality, society and crime, they can always share their silence. The high of the fight and the win is dissipating into the heavy night of the city. Seth has his hands hooked around the railing, and he’s staring down. The look on his face is so whimsical. That look so often stirs an anger in Caleb. Not really at Seth, but that he will eventually have to wake up to the reality of the lives into which they were born.

Caleb’s phone chimes in his pocket. It’s a welcome distraction; a text, from someone in his division. He stares at it for a long stretch, but it isn’t a pressing issue, and the distraction he thought he wanted proves to be a disappointment. All he keeps thinking is how he had just handled a high school problem like he would handle trafficking weapons. It can’t be good. He clicks the phone to sleep and shoves it back into his pocket.

“That was a pretty big deal, huh?” Seth asks, though he keeps his eyes on the spectacular scene that is their home. Their empire.

“Yeah,” Caleb answers with a warm laugh. The truth he speaks is heavy, but the ridiculously spoiled question Seth asks is too much. So he laughs his disbelief. He knows better than to think Seth had thought ahead, but still the naiveté of the question hits home for Caleb. “Yeah, it was a pretty big deal.”

“Well, what were we supposed to do?” Seth asks, the alcohol softening the edges of his words. “It doesn’t make sense to live one life one way, and the other life a different way.”

“Yes,” says Caleb. He doesn’t want to have this conversation, but there’s no avoiding it. “It makes perfect sense to do that. We’re not untouchable, Seth.”

“Aren’t we?” Seth asks, the brat prince showing his head.

“No,” Caleb spits with more force than he means to. “You’re so fucking sheltered. You know that Dad has to pay for the protection we have.”

Seth quiets in a way most wouldn’t believe possible. Caleb knows that Seth is just now taking in the magnitude of their actions. He also knows that that means that Seth is just now measuring the amount of hot water into which Caleb has willingly thrown himself.

“So what are we gonna do?” Seth wonders, finally tearing his eyes from the cityscape to pin a wide-eyed look on his brother. Caleb laughs again. This little prick is impossible.

“I think we’ve done enough for the time being.” He fishes the Marlboro Reds from his pocket, the contraband he is now legally allowed to have, even if he isn’t allowed to smoke them under his dad’s roof. He lights one, then says, “Now, we wait to see how the cards fall. If they rat on us, they’ll give themselves away that they were at Manhattan Dry, unless they lie about where they got jumped. And if they lie about where they were, we have an an alibi that says we were at the bar. Our best bet is to deny it happened until they provide proof that it was us.”

“Give me one of those cigarettes,” Seth says suddenly. He doesn’t smoke, but Caleb can tell that his little brother is feeling the pressure of their actions.

“Fuck you,” Caleb answers. Seth knows damn well that Caleb won’t give him one.

“You just gave me moonshine, for fuck’s sake,” Seth mumbles.

“No, I didn’t.”

Seth huffs, but he stops arguing. His buzz must be wearing off, because his expression has gathered in the beginnings of a scowl. Finally, he says, “You know I meant it when I said I’d take the heat.”

Even if Caleb wants to be mad at Seth’s innocence, he can’t find his anger in the wake of those words. A rueful smile tugs at his lips when he answers. “You know it won’t work that way with Dad.”

“Why did you do it, then?” Seth asks, and his questioning gaze finds its way back to Caleb, who finally meets his little brother’s eyes. Caleb’s face has hardened with his thoughts.

“You really have to ask me that? Really Seth? I did it because those mother-fuckers jumped me. Because they didn’t have the balls to make it fair.” He pulls hard on his cigarette, and when he exhales, he imagines that the smoke will cover all of Manhattan, and that every soul in the borough will feel his indignation. He isn’t looking at Seth when he says, “Revenge. That’s what we do. It’s survival.”

Seth rests his forehead against the metal of the rail, and his brow draws in even more. “But you just said we couldn’t live both lives like that.”

“We can’t!” Caleb says sharply. “Goddammit, keep up with me. What we just did was stupid, and dangerous. We shouldn’t have done it, and there’s going to be hell to pay. But just this once, I don’t give a fuck. I will be the one to take the backlash. And it was worth it to me, because I also won’t have any pansy-assed, white collar shitheads believing they’re better than me.”

Seth’s head is still against the railing, but he’s staring at Caleb. Seth has never understood the anger that drives Caleb. Seth never had to work for it. He is the golden son, charming his way out of a new snake pit every day. Caleb is not the type to be satisfied with what was given to him–he has always wanted more, and he flaunts that by buying street bikes, and hanging out with people who didn’t go to Irving. By getting his hands dirty in his division, embracing the darkest sides of their world.

Caleb flicks his cigarette and they both silently watch it get swallowed by the darkness. That’s me, thinks Caleb. That’s all of us.

“Excuse me, boys,” a gruff male voice sounds behind them. Both of them spin around, ready for a fight. It’s just the security guy. His eyes are wide, alarmed at their quick reaction. He says, “Uh, sorry, but we gotta close up.”

Both brothers relax instantly, and Caleb says, “Yeah, sure. Thanks, as always.”

The older man nods, and disappears back inside. Caleb takes a long breath, and waits for his adrenaline to calm. Seth is still tense, visibly shaken by the lost look in his eyes. As Seth moves to walk inside, Caleb grabs his arm as he had earlier, but gentler.

“The time when we can do shit like this is coming to an end. I’m the head of a division now, and you need to start learning how to be one. This high school shit, that’s the fake life. We do it because we have to. Please tell me you understand.”

“I get it,” Seth mumbles.

He doesn’t, Caleb knows it. But there’s nothing he can do, so he lets go of his brother’s arm, and begins to prepare himself for the trip home.


* * *

Gabriel is waiting for his sons when they come home. He’s sitting in the same spot he had been in when they left. Of course he heard them leave without telling him where they were going, or even saying goodbye. Now, he’s several scotches in. He pushed his reports aside some time ago, so that by the time Caleb and Seth return, Gabe has achieved a manageable level of zen quiet.

He hears the elevator ding, then the doors swish open. He waits just long enough for the boys to get into the hallway, just feet from their rooms, and he calls to them. His voice is controlled, but it carries its command to his sons. He can feel their pause, know they are exchanging “oh shit” looks. Moments later they amble into the dining area.

Caleb glances at the low lighting, and then the scotch. Of course he notices right away that his dad is no longer working. Seth is a ball of nerves. He tries his damnedest to be as casual as Caleb, but the strain in his eyes gives him away.

Every fucking time.

“Have a seat,” says Gabe, nodding toward the same two seats in front of him where they had been just hours previous.

Neither speak as they obey. Gabe is not the kind of man to scream at his kids. He is more the kind who deals with inner-familial issues the same way he deals with his syndicate and the corporation. That he is quiet is no indication either way whether they are in trouble already, or not.

Caleb is stoic, mirroring his father’s calm in an impressive blank expression. Seth just stares at the table. Gabe takes a drink and said, “You don’t even tell your father goodbye when you leave now?”

“I was mad. Sorry,” Caleb answers, meticulously measuring the tone.

“Where’ve you been?”

“I took him to Manhattan Dry,” says Caleb.

Gabe’s eyebrows hitch up a few notches, and Seth’s eyes fly wide. Gabriel says, “You took your sixteen-year-old brother to a speakeasy?”

“He’s been bugging me to see it –”

“It was my fault!” Seth blurts.

Caleb huffs and turned a scathing look on Seth. Why can’t he just keep his damn mouth shut? One goddamned time.

“It’s your fault?” Gabe asks. “Really? How is that?”

“He followed me,” Seth says. Then he clams up. He knows he’s already said too much. Gabe lets his youngest wallow in his own silence, and keeps his weighted stare on Caleb, who meets his father’s eyes. Anyone who doesn’t know Caleb wouldn’t be able to see the real emotion in his expression; indignation, rebellion, but not guilt. Gabe knows every single nuance. Caleb doesn’t give a shit about consequences just now.

Eventually, Seth’s guilty gaze wanders to his father, then to his brother. So much seems to pass between the two of them in moments like this, and Seth can’t begin to understand. Seth does know that Caleb was right. This isn’t something Seth can get them out of.

“Seth,” says Gabe, but he doesn’t look at him. “Go to bed, son.”

Seth glances between them again, blinks, then opens his mouth like he wants to say something. He freezes like that while Gabe slowly turns to him. Then he closes his mouth, and leaves the table.

As the door to Seth’s room closes, Gabe stands and goes to the hardwood mini-bar to refill his scotch. As he does, he pours a second shot. He puts a highball in front of his oldest, and takes his seat. Caleb stares down at the liquor. He tries to keep the disbelief from his expression, but can’t, and the resulting expression mixes with his anger. It makes him look mean. Sure, exacting revenge felt good, but he’s still pissed that they ganged up on him. In his world, they would die. And part of him still wants that.

“You did exactly what I told you not to do, didn’t you?” Gabe asks.

Caleb finds his courage, takes a sip of scotch. He doesn’t make a face, doesn’t pretend he’s not used to the burning taste. “Yes.”


“They humiliated me.”

Gabe sighs, finds solace in a sip. He is silent for an uncomfortable stretch, during which he stares into the dimness of the room. The top several buttons of his shirt are undone, and his tie is strung across the back of the chair beside him. He rubs his chin thoughtfully, then says, “Caleb, there’s a world of appearances that we must uphold -”

“I know,” says Caleb. “It won’t happen again.” And he takes a much larger drink.

Gabe is watching him, again with raised eyebrows. Usually he wouldn’t abide being interrupted, but his expression is curious. This is the man Caleb is becoming, everything a successful leader should be.

Gabe says, “My first instinct is to make you quit the team.”

Caleb’s eyes flash wide, and he looks like he really means the panic that shows in them.

“But,” his father continues, “Swimming is an excellent opportunity for you to get scholarships to prestigious schools, to go anywhere you want.”

Caleb’s brow furrows. “College? Really, Dad? Am I supposed to run a division from another state?”

“Listen to me, son, if you wanted to go to college, I could arrange it. I’ll do anything for you to make a legitimate life for yourself.”

The consternation turns to suspicion. Caleb narrows his eyes. “This is my life. Fuck college. I don’t want to go to some uppity school with a bunch of douchebag nerds. I want to do what we do. I am doing what we do.”

Gabe weighs Caleb’s response for a long time, in which he downs the rest of his scotch. Caleb does the same. At length, Gabe says, “Fine. From now until the end of the school year, every minute not spent on school will be spent with the syndicate. You’ll have no room to cause more trouble, and you will at least graduate. You don’t date, you don’t hang out after school, and you don’t sneak off to beat anyone up. One slip up and you will quit the swim team, and I will demote you to the ranks of your own division. You will be on very thin ice, and I leave you no margin for error. You want to act like a big boy, then you’ll own up to it. Understood?”

Caleb takes a thick swallow. The liquor burns in his cheeks and gut, but he holds the eye contact. He has vied for respect, and now he has to earn it. As he said he would, he silently vows to take his consequences humbly. He nods, expression solemn.

“Thank you, father,” he whispers.

Caleb’s expression remains a careful mask, but Gabe can see the tension ease from the boy. Not a boy anymore. A man, a tenacious and hungry head of the family’s weapons trafficking division – and a damn fine Morgan.

At length, Caleb quietly says, “Good night.” And he leaves the room without fanfare. Gabe watches him go, watches the silent and dangerous creature Caleb has become. And he smiles, because he is proud of his son.




Catch up on the series now!!


Black Collar Empire:

After two years away, Seth Morgan has returned to New York, desperate to honor his father’s dying wish Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00051]for a unified family. But the heir’s welcome is sadly lacking: his family’s criminal empire is divided, the woman he loves hates him, and his brother Caleb has become a cold stranger.

When a brotherly spat becomes a vicious misunderstanding that ends with Caleb dead, Seth is left reeling, and unsure who to trust.

Emma Morgan grew up while her closest cousin was away. She’s been sheltered her entire life from the realities of their family—something Seth has every intention of changing upon his return.

But not everyone in the syndicate is happy to have Seth home, and there are secrets surrounding Caleb’s murder. The deeper Seth and Emma dig, the clearer it becomes that not everyone shares their dream for the Morgan Syndicate, and not everyone wants the heir to ascend.

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Black Collar Beginnings: New York

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00051]Caleb Morgan is the black sheep of the family. Two years of his brother’s absence has left him cold and alone—except for Emma, the youngest Morgan. Because with Seth gone, there is no one else to teach—or protect—their innocent cousin. But teaching isn’t always pretty—not in family who peddles in crime. Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks








Black Collar Beginnings: Cuba

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00051]Alone in Cuba, Seth Morgan isn’t mafia royalty—he’s a thug with a gun, and everything to prove. When the shadowy kingpin behind the Cuban syndicate finally takes notice, nothing in Seth’s world will ever be the same.

Before the Empire, there was exile. A novella, set just before Black Collar Empire.

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Part 1—Monday, Nov 3rd.

One Guy’s Guide To Good Reads | Talk Books to Me | Vera is Reading | sarit | Just Booked | A Life Bound By Books | My Favorite Things | Reading Addict

Part 2—Tuesday, Nov 4

Home Is Where the Wine Is Book Blog | Can’t Talk, I’m Reading | Addicted Readers | Best Book Boyfriends | One Last Page Book Blog

Part 3—Wednesday, Nov 5

SnoopyDoo’s Book Reviews | mustreadbooksordie | Hooked On Books Forever | 101 Ways to Make Love to a Spoon | I Heart YA Books | Travels n Reads |Between The Lines

Part 4—Thursday, Nov 6

Red’s Book Blog | The Geekery Book Review | Rustys Reading | bookshelf dreaming | GenGen’s Book Blog |

Part 5—Friday, Nov 7

Obsessed by Books | Naughty Book Eden | Reading Is My Superpower | River Book Reviews | Whirlwindbooks | Collector of Book Boyfriends


Author Bio:

AN Latro loves good wine and the ocean, and prefers to write with both. She has a passion for bad boys in books, and stories that make you feel. She can most often be found along the Florida coast.

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Cover Reveal – HEARTSICK by Caitlin Sinead

We’re SO EXCITED to reveal the cover of HEARTSICK by Caitlin Sinead today! HEARTSICK releases from Carina Press in February 2015 and we can’t wait for everyone to get their hands on this fantastic book! In the meantime, check out the awesome cover below!


Heartsick-final cover


Quinn is looking forward to her senior year. She has big plans to hang out with her best friend Mandy, flirt with cute boy-genius Rashid, party at her favorite dive bar, and figure out what she’s going to do after graduation with her not-so-useful art major degree. But that is before she meets Luke, a hot townie who moves back home to help take care of his dying sister. And it is before the weird epidemic that starts sweeping campus in which people’s eyes mysteriously turn purple. Is it an odd side effect from a new party drug? Is it a rogue bacteria that was developed in a campus lab? Whatever it is, tensions are heating up as the town starts blaming the university, and the student religious group is convinced that it’s the mark of the devil. Quinn and Luke are caught in the middle, especially when Quinn learns that Luke isn’t just a happy-go-lucky, redneck boy-next-door—he is a detective—a fact that triggers Quinn’s phobia of guns and memories of her deceased uncle. In spite of herself and her desire to remain unattached and independent, Quinn finds herself falling for him. But when town and gown relations heat up even further, and Quinn’s friend Danny mysteriously falls to his death, Quinn vows to discover the truth behind the epidemic. As she searches for the people responsible, she realizes that sometimes to gain your independence, you have to be willing to give a little bit of it up.

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Preorder it now for just $3.79 – Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

Excerpt from HEARTSICK

“Did you go to college?”

His jaw is tight. “Yes.”

“Do you think I could guess your major?” I ask.

“Probably not,” he says.

I don’t like that I don’t even get a hint at what he did before or what he studied. I shrug, start on my second hotdog and then lean back, really aiming for a glint in my eye, if that’s possible to control. I’ll make this a game. “Well, do you think you can guess mine?”

He smiles. “Do I get something if I guess right?”

I hop up onto a stool and let the tip of my toe brush against his knee. When I make contact, he starts, before leaning in. “What do you want?”

“I want a lot of things…” He stares at me. “But for now, I’d settle for a second date.”

“Okay, if you can guess my major, on the first try—” I emphasize that bit with a pointed finger, “—then I’ll reluctantly agree to go out with you again.”

“I don’t like the reluctant part, but I’ll take what I can get. Now, let’s see…” He rubs his chin as though he’s an old-timey detective. He’s ready to pace back and forth across the room with a pipe and a deerstalker hat. “You like photography.”

Shit, he does know that. I start to hum the Jeopardy! theme song. Maybe if time is running out he’ll be more likely to guess quickly and get it wrong? Do I want him to get it wrong?

“Okay, I got it.” He rubs his hands together. “You’re an art major.” His cheeks swell with the weight of his smile.

“You got that just because I take pictures?” I rub my forehead.

“I know more than that.”

“Someone told you,” I say. “If this bet was rigged, it doesn’t count.”

He jerks back and shakes his head, frowning. “No, I wouldn’t do that,” he says. “I noticed you had some pottery on your coffee table, with initials on it, a Q. B.?”

I nod. He’s talking about the bowl I made last year. Initials usually go on the bottom, but I painted them big and proud in the middle. And the bowl is empty. Mandy and I haven’t decided what to put in it. We narrowed it down to fake fruit (lame), M&M’S (which we would devour) or Micro Machines. Clearly, we’re leaning toward Micro Machines.

Luke takes my hand. I think he’s trying to convey his earnestness, his respectability and seriousness of not tricking me into a bet. The pads of my fingers brush against his rough palms and I suppress a sigh. His thumb runs along my pointer finger, sliding to the fingernail. “You also have paint under your nails.” His victorious, smug smile is in full bloom.

I pull my hand away, embarrassed. “Yeah, it’s hard to get all the paint off.”

“I’m sure,” he says.

About Caitlin Sinead

Caitlin Sinead is represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger, Inc. and her debut novel, Heartsick, will be published by Carina Press in 2015. Her writing has earned accolades from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Glimmer Train, and Writers & Artists, and her stories have appeared in multiple publications, including The Alarmist, The Binnacle, Crunchable, Jersey Devil Press, and Northern Virginia Magazine. She earned a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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Great Getaway with WHEN WE MET anthology








Today’s premiere New Adult authors combine their talents to tell four original stories from inside one house. 

When four girls decide to live off campus together as juniors at a college in Michigan, they expect it to be their best year yet. Little do they know, it’s a year that will change the rest of their lives.

BEHIND HER EYES by A.L. Jackson 
Unable to live down her ex-boyfriend’s deception, Misha is determined to avoid betrayal. When, the new guy next door, Darryn starts to get under her skin, her defenses start to crumble. But trusting Darryn seems impossible, especially if he’s not sure he can trust himself.

SAVING ME by Molly McAdams 
On the outside, Indy is always ready for a party—but inside she’s breaking. Kier makes a weekly routine of saving the girl next door from herself on Saturday nights… but when will she be ready to remember him on Sunday morning?

FOULING OUT by Tiffany King 
Working at a sports bar, Courtney has become a pro at sidestepping propositions from arrogant jocks—which makes her a more elusive catch for campus basketball star Dalton than he expected. But when he falls for the saucy waitress, Dalton will have to rethink his game plan to prove he’s not the jerk Courtney expects.

In order to ace her fashion internship, Chloe must team up with local college dropout and set builder, Blake—much to her chagrin. But after some “hands-on” experience, Chloe will have to ask herself if Blake factors into her carefully laid plans…




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Fouling Out

By Tiffany King

From the upcoming New Adult anthology


The warmth inside the building was soothing after walking from the car outside. I felt mildly disappointed when Dalton dropped his arm from my shoulders, until he reached for my hand. As we strolled along, I became hyperaware of how something as innocent as handholding could become somewhat erotic while sipping wine together. Dalton slid his thumb across the top of my hand in slow methodical strokes before gently caressing my pulse point. The hairs on the back of my neck felt as if they were standing on end. Each sweep of his thumb was a sensual dance with my sensitive skin, making it tingle.

It was becoming apparent to me that it might have been a bad call on my part to skip lunch. Between the scent of Dalton’s cologne and the alcohol I was consuming, I was already feeling slightly intoxicated. I nibbled on a few cubes of cheese to attempt to alleviate the buzzing in my head. Dalton’s breath teased my neck, making me shiver in a good way. I should have put some distance between us so I could regain my bearings, but instead I snuggled closer to him, wishing we were somewhere else with a lot fewer people around.

All the air escaped my lungs as Dalton slowly captured a bead of wine from my bottom lip with his finger. I watched with bated breath as he moved the finger to his own mouth, sucking the drop of wine. It was all I could do not to moan as my insides turned to putty.

“You need to stop looking at me like that,” Dalton murmured in my ear.

“Like what?” I licked the rest of the wine off my lip with the tip of my tongue.

This time it was Dalton who groaned softly. Placing his hands on my hips, he slowly backed me into a dim corner, away from prying eyes. “Like you’re thinking how great it would feel if I hoisted you up on that wine barrel table over there with your legs wrapped around my waist.”

“Are you sure that’s not you thinking that?” My hips responded almost instinctively as he pulled me snugly against his body. I could feel him, rock hard, pressed to my stomach. The wanting desire I had been keeping at bay from the moment he showed up at my house looking practically delectable with low-riding jeans and a black V-neck sweater that accentuated his well-toned chest was threatening to explode.



I was super excited to see the authors in this anthology.  I couldn’t wait to see how the stories would connect.  I was not at all disappointed.  I loved the housemate connection and that we do see the characters in each story.

Each of the stories delivers on believable characters living real college lives.  My favorites were A.L. Jackson’s BEHIND HER EYES and Tiffany King’s FOULING OUT.   In BEHIND HER EYES, I couldn’t help but feel for Misha and want to see her trust Darryn.  I’m a sucker for a second chance or reunion story and that’s what we get with FOULING OUT.  I loved every bit of Courtney and Dalton’s story.  The childhood best friends that grew apart and are reunited in college for a chance at something more.  Tiffany King gives readers a strong character that isn’t willing to settle and knows her value in Courtney.  I loved that the star basketball player had to put work in to get the girl in this story.

WHEN WE MET is not to be missed for a reader looking for memorable characters by some awesome New Adult authors.


Synopsis & Chapter 1 Reveal – ENFORCE by Rachel Van Dyken

Enforce Smashwords Cover

There’s two
sides to every story…

And ours?
Isn’t pretty…
Then again,

what’s pretty about the mafia?

Trace Rooks, that’s what.

But she only wants one of us, and I’ll kill him before I let him have her.

The only problem?

We’re cousins.

And she may just be our long lost enemy.

Whoever said college was hard, clearly didn’t attend Eagle Elite University.

Welcome to hell also known as the Mafia where blood is thicker than life, and to keep

Well, keep your friends close, and your enemies?

Even closer…



I watched as the parade of cars made their way through the black iron gates, as if somehow those gates would protect them if the country went to war. Funny, they had no clue that the war—Lucifer himself, was already parading around inside, safe from the police- the feds- anyone who would be a threat.

Safe from everyone but me.

My eyes flickered to Phoenix on my right, he grinned as a new girl walked up to him and gave him a flirty wave.

I elbowed him hard in the ribs.

His grin turned sour as he glared at the girl and flipped her off.

Remember your place.

I’d said it once, twice, a million times to the guys, and they were still struggling with the idea that they weren’t here to go to school, they weren’t here to make friends. We weren’t at peace. We were in a freaking war zone.

And Phoenix’s family was our only key to redemption.

“That seems to be the last of them.” Chase’s cool gaze surveyed the main road that led into campus. It was easier on security to have one road in and one road out. Too bad life wasn’t that convenient.

If someone didn’t belong—it would take us minutes, scratch that, seconds to eliminate them, their family, all while making it look like a very unfortunate accident.

“Wait,” Tex squinted towards the iron gates, “I think there’s one more car.”

“The hell there is.” I muttered, “I counted the cars, I’ve looked at the lists, we aren’t missing anyone.”

Chase yanked the list out of my hand and started reading through the names of all the freshman enrollees. His grin made me about lose my shit as he lifted his head and handed back the paper.

“I hear Wyoming’s beautiful this time of year.”

“What?” I jerked the list away and started greedily reading through the names.

One stood out.

Trace Rooks, Female, 18, Casper, Wyoming.

“Great.” I dropped the list onto the ground and smirked, “A girl who probably smells like cow shit. What’s her background?”

Nobody answered.

I said it louder, this time grinding my teeth together.

Tex was the first to answer, “We couldn’t really find any.”

“Couldn’t. Really. Find. Any.” I repeated. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Look,” Tex shook his head, “We have Sergio on it, but the girl doesn’t really have a lot of information about her. Parents dead, Grandma dead, Grandpa her only living relative and somehow her social as well as her birth certificate were both lost.”

“Lost.” I licked my lips. I told my head not to go there, told my heart to stay in my damn chest and stop hoping as images flooded my mind. Dark hair, dark eyes, “Nixon, I’ll save you.”

“Dude, you okay?” Chase elbowed me.

“Let’s go welcome her to Eagle Elite.”

Nobody moved.

“I said,” I started marching towards the girls dorms, “Let’s go welcome her.”

“Why do I have a feeling this is a really bad idea?” Tex said under his breath.

“For once, Tex, keep your mouth shut and stay in the background, paste a shit eating grin on your face and let me and Chase deal with this. Do you think you can do that? Hmm?”

“Take a Xanax.” Phoenix grumbled.

I sent a seething glare in his direction.

He mumbled a curse and walked off with Tex to wait by the tree while we continued the next few feet to the girls dorms.

The car was a rental.

The grandpa was ancient.

The girl was…young.

And she had shit as belongings. Her suitcase was covered with stickers, her grandpa handed her a small box, and I could have sworn I saw a tear escape her eye and roll down her smooth cheek.

“Hell no.” I grumbled, “She’ll be destroyed here.”

“Won’t last five minutes.” Chase agreed.

“Tears.” I wiped my face with my hands, “Tell me I’m not seeing tears.”

“Girls don’t cry here.”

“They don’t.” I agreed.

“She isn’t like them.”


“We need Mo.”

I laughed at that, “We need a miracle.” With a curse, I quickly dialed the number for orientation and made arrangements for the New Girl to be moved to the United States room. Mo was supposed to be on that same floor. I figured she needed all the help she could get. No way would little Wyoming survive the year with anyone else, not that I was happy about it. I mean in hindsight that was probably my first mistake.

I’d officially invited her into my life—by way of my sister.

“New girls here.” I said loud enough for Tracey to turn around and gape. So squeaky clean and innocent. Like a little lamb, right, Chase?” I tilted my head and offered her a smirk.

The old man reached in his jacket. It was a move I knew well. Another clue. He wasn’t what he said he was. He wasn’t who he said he was. As if noticing my calculating glare, he removed his hand and offered a forced smile, “A welcoming committee? This place sure is nice.”

I had to respect his control. The way he protectively stood in front of Tracey as if he was the only thing standing in the way of my devouring her.

“Is there a problem?” He scratched his head, causing his shirt sleeve to fall, revealing a small tattoo. One I’d seen as a child but couldn’t place.

“Do I know you?” I blurted.

He laughed, “Know any farmers out in Wyoming?”

It was his tone that convinced me, the way his shook his head slightly, waiting for my challenge. It was the same look my Uncle gave me when he wanted me to stop pushing.

It was the look that my dad taught me when I was ten and witnessed my first torture.

The girl was still staring at us. Easy target. I’d leave the old man alone, he reminded me too much of mine. And I didn’t need that reminder, not now.

I lifted my arms and stretched lazily.

The girls eyes went wide as she stared at my body.

Chase hit me in the stomach.

I sauntered forward and tilted her chin towards me, closing her mouth in the process. “Much better,” I licked my lips and fought the urge to kiss her. Yeah, I was losing my shit. “We’d hate for our charity case to choke on an insect on her first day.” Her lips trembled as she looked from me to her Grandpa. I released her before she could do anything, and walked past, with Chase in tow.

I needed to talk to the girl at registration anyways. We disappeared behind the building, but I’d be back. I just needed the Grandpa to leave.

Within seconds the rental car was driving away. And the girl as all mine. My heart thudded against my chest, and for a second, I regretted what I was about to do.

But every possible outcome ended with either her death, or her in danger. And for some reason, I didn’t want someone like her at Eagle Elite. She didn’t belong in my world.

She deserved a picket fence.

A husband.

A good college experience without classmates who’d rather see her commit suicide then survive the next four years.

They would destroy her.

And she would make it so damn easy to do so.

The only way—was to beat them to it. To be the first, marking her as our target, our play-thing.

Nobody messed with what was mine.

And in the end, nobody would mess with her. They’d allow me to entertain them with her innocence. I’d dangle her in front of them like a carrot, and at the end of the day, she’d be untouchable.

I sighed as she looked up at the building gaping like someone who’d been homeschooled and never seen a sky scraper before.

She was too skinny.

I made a mental note to get her one of my access cards—she didn’t need to know how much they cost—or that every single student at EE would kill to have one. Mo would take care of the rest.

She’d eat with us.

She’d want for nothing.

It was the least I could do after what I was about to make her endure.

Licking my lips I approached her again, this time, damning myself to hell with each step I took. “Are you lost?”

“Nope.” She grinned, damn it made her prettier. “Apparently I live in the United States.” With a shrug she tried and failed to lift her heavy suitcase and nearly toppled over onto her cute ass.

I muffled a laugh, knowing that Chase was doing the exact same thing. Being mean to her would be like kicking a puppy. But the world was ugly. I just hated that I would be her tutor in the ways of reality—her prince of darkness.

Damn, I would have done anything to be the hero.

“I’m Nixon.” I stood directly in front of her, shifting my eyes from her poorly fitting clothes to her ugly shoes.

“Tracey, but everyone calls me Trace.” She held out her hand.

I itched to touch it.

To touch her skin.

Instead, I scowled, shook her hand, then wiped that same hand on my jeans as if she was diseased.


“What?” She took a step back.

Chase moved past me, “He’s right. As cute as you are, Farm Girl, someone needs to tell you the rules.”

Her gaze narrowed, “Can it be fast?”

Yeah, again, I almost lost my mind. Chase was probably ready to shit his pants. The last person that talked back to him was Phoenix and that ended with a few broken bones and a trip to the dentist.

“You hear that Chase?” I said amused, “She likes it fast.”

“Pity,” Chase took a step closer, nearly touching her with his body, “I’d like to give it to her slow.” His eyes raked her in, as if she was the first girl he’d ever seen in his entire existence. Jealousy surged through me. What he hell? She wasn’t’ his. Not that she was mine, but still. He was standing too close, too close.

“The rules.” He stepped back. My heart beat returned to normal, “No speaking to the Elect, unless you’ve been asked to speak to them.” He circled around her staring a little long at her ass before he continued.

“Who are the–“

“—Nope. You’ve already broken a rule. I’m speaking New Girl.” Chase smirked. “Geez, Nixon, this one’s going to be hard to break in.”

“They always are.” I said without taking my eyes from her, “But I think I’ll enjoy this one.” The first true thing I’d said. I would enjoy it too much. I’d enjoy her too much, because she reminded me of someone I used to know. Someone who offered to save me, when I was already past saving, someone who wiped my tears, and cried as if they were her own.

Chase continued with the rules. Making me sicker as her face continued to fall.

Finally she asked, “Is that all?”

“No.” Raw desire pulsed through me as I approached her, needing to touch her, needing to make sure she was real even though I knew I was acting like a complete and utter lunatic. Chase and I would have words later. He knew me better than I knew myself sometimes. I was going too far, pushing myself, pushing him.

My hand caressed her face, then moved down her smooth neck to her shoulder. I wanted to claim her, to possess her, to make her scream—but not with fear, with utter ecstasy. I had no idea who she was, but she made me want. And that was the problem.

For the first time in years. I wanted.

I wasn’t allowed to want.

I had to die to myself.

Because in the grand scheme of things? It wasn’t about me. It was about blood, family, protection. Blood in, blood out.

Her eyes dilated. Furious that she’d reacted so easily, upset with myself for making my own body suffer, I snapped.

“You feel this? Memorize it now, because as of this moment, you can’t touch us. We are untouchable. If you as much as sneeze in our direction, if you as much breathe the same air in my atmosphere. I will make your life hell. This touch, what you feel against your skin, will be the only time you feel another human being as powerful as me near you. So like I said, feel it, remember it, and maybe one day, your brain will do you the supreme favor of forgetting what it felt like to have someone like me touching you. Then, and only then, will you be able to be happy with some mediocre boyfriend and pathetic life.” Away from me. Away from it all. Safe.

A few more tears escaped down her cheek.

And I knew in that moment. It was the beginning of the end.

My end.

My downfall.

My demise.





Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances.  When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.

She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband and their snoring Boxer, Sir
Winston Churchill. She loves to hear from readers! You can follow her writing
journey at