by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Hello Lady Smutters! Happy Monday and Happy First of the Month of August, the best month of the year! And that’s not only because it’s my birth month…okay, yes, it’s solely because it’s my birth month. I’m good with that.
Currently, I’m in deadline hell finishing up the first draft on SEALed WITH A TWIST (coming in October!), which, unfortunately, leaves little time for blog writing. Some fantastic fellow writers will be guest posting in my place this August while I get my writing ducks in a row. Quack, quack.
Since I’m loathe to leave you empty handed, keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from my debut romantic suspense novel WILD ON THE ROCKS, one never before posted outside of publication. I hope you enjoy this taste of Jasper and Quinn. Thanks for being phenomenal readers. And remember to follow Lady Smut to stay on top of all the smexiness.
Alcohol gives you infinite patience for stupidity.
—Sammy Davis, Jr.
Quinn pulled into the parking spot in front of the Hibiscus Court Apartments, closed the SUV’s moon roof, and set the brake. She shut the car down, reached for the door latch and then stopped.
Nope, not even enough energy left for something as small as pulling the door handle.
Her head dropped to rest on top of the steering wheel. God, she’d forgotten how much it took out of her to work such a long day. Once business for In the Mix had taken off, her usual gigs became blocks of structured time and targeted hours, maybe four or five max for a large event. That didn’t account for planning and research and booking, all of which consumed time, but all done with her ass in a chair, not hours on her feet in heeled boots. Not since San Diego had she put in a full shift with overtime, which was what the 12 hours she’d spent working the Thornquist rehearsal dinner and after party felt, and that didn’t include her early start to meet with the wedding planners that morning.
Damn, but those rich politicos could pound ’em back.
But it wasn’t only the work that’d left her drained tonight. She was full up on emotional overload thanks to one stubborn Navy SEAL.
Jasper bloody McQueen had knocked her straight off her axis but good.
She’d been too busy to keep track of the security guys and their rotations on the off chance Jasper was reassigned to the bar. She did catch glimpses of Jasper’s friend Twist throughout the rest of the event. Around midnight, shouts and raucous screams from the pool area had sent nearly everyone running for the patio. Quinn mopped up the spills they’d left behind and kept an eye on the drinks to be sure none of the lingerers doctored any, but she heard enough to figure someone had gone in. A guess that got confirmed when a dripping wet Twist carried in an equally soaked and seriously smashed party girl who was screaming with glee and clinging to Twist almost as tightly as her now transparent cocktail dress clung to her breasts.
Given the shit-eating grin that spread across Twist’s face as he dripped his way through the bar with the woman in his arms, he didn’t much mind.
Later, after she’d finished closing down the bar, Quinn had counted her blessings on avoiding another confrontation and scurried out of the resort. Despite his promise, Jasper had remained a no show. All that did was ensure he dominated her thoughts all night.
And she had not one clue what to do about it.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. What she wanted was to find out where he was staying, slip into his bed, and follow up on that kiss he hit her with. Sure, she’d probably get a gun to her head for the effort—sneaking up on a SEAL was a baaaaaad idea any day of the week. And that was before she figured in the foreknowledge that Jasper slept with his weapon close to hand, much less the level of anger he clearly bore for her. But the kind of sex she’d had with Jasper back in the day was worth more than a little risk for a repeat.
Quinn huffed out a breath that fogged up her window. Truthfully, appealing as it always was, even the idea of climbing Jasper like a tree was too exhausting to move beyond thought.
He could do all the work.
Mmm. Jasper definitely redefined the benefits of lying back and taking it. Good things happened when he did all the work. Amazing things.
She rolled her head sideways and stared out the fogged-over window.
That was the exhaustion talking. And the year-long loneliness. And, yeah, the fear. Fear she’d managed to compartmentalize and ignore while she was working and with Jasper to occupy her neuroses. If she were honest with herself—and she always tried to be—she’d admit what she really wanted was to crawl into Jasper, pull him around her like a shield, and let all the crap aimed her way land on his formidable shoulders.
But that was weakness that left you vulnerable, and she’d been vulnerable enough for two lifetimes. She wasn’t a woman who relied on others to solve her problems. She’d walked away from everyone she’d ever known in order to claim her independence. She’d be damned to surrender it now, not even to Jasper, who she’d once loved beyond reason. No, she’d handle her own crises as she had since the day she’d left the commune—and for a long time before then too.
For a place that’d professed to be all about unity and sharing and togetherness, in reality, her parent’s home was a place where everyone followed one man’s dictates. And if you went up against him, well, then you were truly on you own.
Which was just fine by Quinn.
Pushing aside troubling memories, Quinn lifted her head to glance out the windshield and up. What possessed her to take a third-floor rental? Now she had to muster the strength to get up three flights of stairs. What were the chances anyone was still awake to notice if she crawled her way up the steps instead? More importantly, did she care?
She did not. “But there is something to be said for dignity,” she mumbled as she bumped open the car door. Bracing, she climbed out, dragging her bag over the console from the passenger seat. She caught her breath when pain shot up her weary legs before resolutely setting her boots toward the open stairwell that was only mildly shaded by an emaciated palm tree.
The full moon was tinted red. “Hunter’s moon,” she whispered, shuffling toward the stairwell with her neck craned back to take it in. Exhausted as she was, she forced herself to take a walk along the water’s edge after closing down the bar in an effort to phase out some clutter from her mind. It hadn’t worked, but given her life expectancy at the moment, it seemed wise not to pass on such luxuries as a moonlight walk on the beach. Even if she took that walk alone.
Even if the moon was blood red.
It bled out into the dark sprawl of the night’s sky. If Quinn were of a more fanciful bent, she might’ve taken it as a bloody warning of things to come.
If bloody things were to come, she supposed Hibiscus Court Apartments were as likely as place to find them as any. True to his word, Clancy had handed her a phone number yesterday, and Quinn found her way into a vacancy. It wasn’t as convenient to the resort as the Fourway in the center of town, but she preferred it that way. Less questions to dodge and no nosy relative of that harridan, Charity, to put her on the gossip rack.
Despite the many demands on her time and attention and the importance of the Thornquist wedding to her burgeoning business, Willow had insisted on helping Quinn get settled in at Hibiscus Court. She’d tag-teamed her partners, too, so that there were few moments when Quinn was left to herself and thus (or so Quinn figured Willow to have silently reasoned) have the chance to rethink her offer to bail out the Barefoot Brides partners from their mixologist quandary. Willow needn’t have worried. Quinn wasn’t about to repay her kindness by mucking things up for them at the last minute.
Though if the Russian mob showed up, all bets were off.
Quinn had met Willow’s partners, Gussie and Ariel, when she’d swung by their office for a very early morning meeting. She’d been instantly struck by the bond between the three women who ran Barefoot Brides Destination Weddings. And that was before each lady had taken time throughout the myriad last-minute crises leading up to the rehearsal dinner to help get Quinn settled into temporary life on Mimosa Key and set up with whatever she needed to work her magic at the bar for the festivities. A day before, the shock of Jasper’s arrival would’ve sent her running for her SUV and fleeing for the next Key.
She knew from experience that he wouldn’t come after her.
But the ladies had made her feel unusually welcomed and wanted. She couldn’t betray that by leaving them in another lurch. There’d be plenty of chances for her to go after the wedding. She’d have to keep clear of him in the meantime, no matter her urges.
Quinn climbed the first flight of stairs and rounded the second-floor landing for the next one up. Jasper had probably been set up in one those gorgeous villas she’d caught glimpse of along the beach. No sketchy apartment complex for the defender of the American way.
What had Twist meant by “enforced leave”?
She’d only partly been joking when she’d told Jasper he looked like a poster boy. She was certain there was no more committed a soldier than him in the entire armed forces.
He’d set his team even above his wife in priority. That might seem admirable to an outsider, but as the woman who came in second place, Quinn could tell whoever asked it was a sucktastic place to wind up.
If he’d been put on enforced leave, something terrible must have happened.
It would kill Jasper not to be in the Navy anymore. His whole identity was wrapped up in being a SEAL. What could possibly have happened to jeopardize that?
Quinn took firm hold of her troublesome curiosity. Not her problem anymore, not Jasper’s career, not his trouble, and for certain, not Jasper himself.
Strange though how he’d been haunting her since she’d squeezed into that dress in Atlantic City, popping up in her thoughts while she sparred with Charity until she’d found herself using her married name. A big mistake, she now realized, one that gave advantage to Jasper, something he’d been quick to catch on to, as usual. Jasper made a living out of capitalizing on the smallest opportunities. There was power in a name and she’d given him that power by taking back his and along with it, a claim he’d made clear he was more than happy to reassert. A claim that brought with it the responsibility to get Quinn out of this mess.
I can get myself outta this mess.
But the truth was having Jasper involved would make her life a helluva lot easier.
And he was there now, mere miles away, as though she’d conjured him like some badass genie. Jasper McQueen at her service. Orgasms are here, here, here, here, and here.
God, it was tempting. He was so tempting.
She hit the second landing and paused to catch a breath before starting up the final flight.
Why did he have to kiss her? She’d been holding her own, holding him off, until he’d laid hands and mouth on her. She huffed out another breath. Lord love a duck, but she loved Jasper’s mouth. The man knew what he was doing, it had to be said. She loved the taste of it, always had and she’d bet always would, and leapt at the chance to have it again.
She’d certainly leapt on him. She shook her head with self-admonishment. Couldn’t do that again. Give Jasper the smallest foothold, and he’d take the whole mountain. It was how he’d been trained. It was how he’d been bred. And Quinn knew her long sexual dry spell gave him one hell of a foothold.
Topping the last flight, she headed to her apartment at the end of the walkway.
He’d been so pissed at her tonight. She’d seen him angry before but never like that, and never at her. Yeah, okay, so maybe he had cause, but she did too. It wasn’t like he hadn’t given her more than enough reason to go. His deployments left her on her own all the time. If she was going to be alone, then she wanted to do it on the road, moving onward, heading toward a new gig, a new place, a new adventure, not locked up in a condo and a steady job. Even now, the thought of it made her skin crawl. She’d felt as trapped in that condo as she had at the commune and hopeless without Jasper there to remind her why she’d given so much of herself up to be with him. Learning he hadn’t updated the Navy to the fact that he’d been married had been the last blow. She’d trapped herself in staid civilian life for his benefit, and he couldn’t even be bothered to update his marital status!
It didn’t strike her until much later how out-of-character this was for a man like Jasper, a man for whom dotting Is and crossing Ts was a matter of pride and honor. Jasper got things right or people died, and that kind of pressure stretch into his off-duty life as well when he’d head out at a moment’s notice if one of his teammates needed him.
She only wished she mattered to him half as much as the Navy and his men did.
Quinn keyed open the door and let herself into the small apartment she’d call home for the next few days. With a rec from Clancy and his implied promise that she’d passed his security check, the manager hadn’t pressed Quinn for more than her ID and a cash deposit. That hit had hurt her weakening finances. She’d have to find some way to access her bank account or pray the wedding tips were better than anticipated, especially if she had to bail on Barefoot Bay right after the wedding.
Hibiscus Court did its best to live up to its name in the décor, if the saturation of flowers theme was anything to go on. Quinn’s apartment featured hot house plants. Like the overstuffed armchair, the couch sported a pattern of blooming jasmine with a print on the wall behind it of an African violet in full bloom.
Quinn didn’t consider herself a flowery kind of woman, but she wouldn’t deny being drawn to some of the more colorful blooms. The deep purple of African violets made them one of her favorites, so the print cinched her decision.
She locked the deadbolt behind her—the first major selling point for the rental, by the way—and moved through the living area without turning on the overhead. Not like the apartment was so big she needed light to navigate it, and overheads tended to give her headaches anyway. She’d left on the light over the oven, and its soft illumination was enough that she could skirt the cheap coffee table and armchair to get to the short hallway leading to the bed and bathroom.
She eyed the bathroom, but was too tired to do the whole remove-makeup-and-wash-face thing. Her pores would have to take one for the team. Quinn stumbled into the bedroom, tossing her bag blindly to land next to the nightstand on the near side of the queen-sized bed and was seconds from dropping onto the mattress when a low voice came at her through the dark.
“Did you really expect to escape so easily?”
Instant terror rushed through Quinn, eradicating her exhaustion with a tremendous surge of flight or fight.
They found her.
She flung herself back from the bed, tripping over her own feet as she groped blindly for the door in the dark. She could feel a large body pursue her through the small room. A vibe of menace crawled along her skin. She screamed, high and shrill, when his hand gripped her arm so tight, she thought it’d come off right then and there.
Her knee thrust up, but he expertly dodged and yanked her back to the bed with a wordless growl. “Leave! Go!” she yelled, hoping, praying, someone in the sleepy, quiet apartment complex would hear and call the cops, call anyone for fuck’s everlasting sake, before this guy killed her or knocked her out and stashed her in a trunk for the long trip back to Jersey for worse.
He tossed her on the bed with ease, a move that would’ve made her marvel if she wasn’t so afraid, and promptly climbed on top of her. Immediately, she bucked, so pumped up on adrenaline, she managed to bounce them both up in the bed.
“Stop it,” he ordered as they struggled, gruff and seemingly unruffled by her efforts, efforts that were quickly draining her of strength.
“Get off!” she screamed into his shadowed face. He pinned her hands to either side of her head. She felt his hips shift between her legs and new shoots of panic sprung up inside her gut.
Oh God, oh God, she couldn’t shift him. She wasn’t strong enough to get free.
She wasn’t strong enough for this.
“Please don’t kill me,” she pleaded, tears streaking down her cheeks. “I didn’t see anything, I swear. I won’t say a word. Please, please don’t hurt me.”
The full weight of him pressed into her as his hands moved to cradle her head. “Quinn, it’s all right. It’s me. You’re safe.”
“Please don’t kill me,” she begged again.
A strangled sound of frustration escaped his throat. “I’m not gonna kill you, honey. Take a breath. You’re okay. I’m gonna make it all okay.”
Slowly, the familiarity of his form and voice finally penetrated her fear. “Jasper?” she breathed.
“Yeah, babe. I’m here.”
Jasper was here.
Thank God, Jasper was here.
The rush of relief was nearly as debilitating as the terror that’d preceded it. Which had to be why she grabbed his wrists in an unholy vise and blurted out, “They’re going to kill me, Jasp.”
He eased up slightly and leaned his forehead against hers so that, even in the dark, she could see the intense gleam of conviction in his eyes. “Nobody’s going to hurt you, sweetheart. I promise.”
His words settled deep within her, spurring her arms to circle his shoulders as she burrowed her face in his throat. He shifted them on their sides, slid a leg between her thighs, linking them together, and pulled her into him as Quinn trembled with full body shivers.
She was taking this. She needed this. She could pull up her bitch pants and lace up her shit-stomping boots later. Right now, she was hiding out in Jasper’s strong and more than capable arms.
God, she loved his arms.
She could barely believe he was here.
Hang on. Jasper was here.
She reared back and smacked his shoulder. “Are you crazy?!”
His resigned exhale feathered her hair. “Knew that was too good to last.”
“What in the world made you think it was a good idea to break into my apartment and lie in wait for me?! Wait, scratch that. What in the holy hell are you doing here?!”
His hold on her tightened, something she hadn’t thought possible. “I told you we weren’t finished.”
She smacked him again. “You scared the shit out of me!”
“Don’t you ‘Quinn’ me in that tone of voice, Jasper McQueen! I am not one of your soldiers. I do not jump when you say so and ask how high on the way up.”
“We’re sailors, not soldiers. And no, you jump into my arms the second I touch you.”
“I do not.”
“You practically burrowed under me.”
She snorted. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Don’t have to when you do shit like that.”
Quinn gasped when he grinded his rock hard thigh between her legs.
“Yeah, but you like me that way.” Wry amusement tinted his voice.
“I can’t believe you’re getting off on this.” She pushed to get free, and when that didn’t budge him, reached back to pry his hands off. He snatched hers up and gave them a squeeze.
“Baby, I got you squirming under me, no training in the world is gonna keep me soft.”
“I thought you were here to kill me!”
His jaw hardened. Any hint of amusement was gone when he replied, “Yeah, let’s talk about that.”
Like that was going to happen. “Not on your life,” she vowed.
“It’s your life I’m worried about. And don’t bother bullshitting me. You’re as worried as I am, and I know this because you told me.”
Dammit, that was true. She’d been so relieved it was Jasper in her room and not Thug One or Thug Two (or someone worse), she’d nearly told him everything.
Score one for subconscious self-preservation.
“Let me go,” she demanded.
“You gave that to me,” Jasper reminded her unnecessarily, ignoring her demand. “And I don’t care if you were scared outta your mind when you did. Finally, you’re telling me some truth, and now you’re going to give me the rest of it.”
That raised her hackles again. “Why? Because you say so?”
“Yes!” he roared, ratcheting from zero to sixty in a scorching hot minute. “I have some fucking significant experience with this shit, Quinn. Maybe, for a change, you could follow my goddamn lead!”
“I’ve followed enough for one lifetime and have been doing fine without you since I stopped doing that.” That was more of a lie than she’d like to admit, but she sure as hell wasn’t adding that to her list of confessions.
“Sure. You did so fine without me, how come, a second ago, you were begging me not to kill you?”
Crap, he had her there too. “We’ve been through this already. It’s none of your business.”
“Yeah, we’ve been through this already, but you don’t seem to be getting a clue.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?”
He shook her by the shoulders and didn’t bother to be gentle about it. “Who are you so afraid of, Quinn?”
The moment her eyeballs settled back in their sockets, Quinn reared up into his face and carefully enunciated, “It’s none. Of. Your. Business.”
“God damn it,” he growled and then his mouth was on hers, and her tongue was against his, and she sank back into his heat and the flavor that was only ever Jasper. Her fingers dug into his shirt where it pulled across his back. The leather straps of his holster dragged against the tops of her breasts. She whimpered as her nipples raised up against the friction.
Quinn lifted her outside leg and hooked it over his hip. She dug her heel into the small of his back and used it as leverage to push up and get even closer, so close, his eyelashes brushed her nose when he lifted up and repositioned his mouth to take hers again, rough and deep and wet and, God, it was Jasper, and she couldn’t get enough, she would never get enough of him.
His fingers plunged into her hair to drag her head back as though he couldn’t stop their kiss under his own power. “Fine,” he said in a gravelly voice that shot vibrations through her sex. “Keep your secrets. I only came here to fuck you.”
And like that, all her desire for him went poof, as though she’d been doused in cold water. Jasper never spoke to her that way—he never spoke to anyone that way, at least not when she’d been around to hear. Shock locked up her frame. “Wha—?” she barely managed. “What did you say to me?”
“You heard me.” He bent to kiss her again; she shoved a blocking hand between their mouths.
“You are out of your mind if you think you can say that and expect me to keep on keeping on. How dare you!”
His grip on her hair bordered on uncomfortable. “I dare, Quinn. I’ll dare anything until you tell me what I want to know. If that means I have to fuck it outta you—” He shrugged. “I’ve done far worse to get intel.”
She didn’t want to think about what that “worse” might entail. “You are such a son of a bitch,” she hissed. “Get off me!”
Instead he rolled them so he was on top again, which Quinn felt was a clear enough, if unacceptable, answer. “Don’t bother pretending I’m alone in this. A year apart hasn’t done jack to weaken what’s between us. If anything, it’s made it stronger.
“You might not want me here, and you might not want to admit you need my help,” and here his hand dipped from her back to slide over her hardened nipple. “But you sure as hell want me in your body, and baby, you don’t have to ask twice.”
“I didn’t ask at all! You jumped me when I walked in the door!”
“I waited for you! Again! Jesus, so fucking stupid, I waited for you, again. Once McBain cut us loose for the night, I headed back to Junonia to talk to you, just talk, Quinn, because I can’t stand that I haven’t known where you’ve been for a whole fucking year. And then, suddenly, you’re here the same goddamn weekend I am, and scared to death someone is coming to kill you and you still—won’t—fucking—talk to me!”
He lurched off her and was at the door before she caught up. The instinct to go after him was too strong to question, even after what he’d said and done. He couldn’t leave, not like this. Not after what she’d seen in his face.
Quinn wrapped her arms around his waist, knowing there was no way she could hold him back if he was set on going, only sure that there was something very, very important here that she would lose forever if he walked out that door.
She wouldn’t be able to bear that. Not again.
He jerked once in her hold, his hands coming to hers to set them aside.
“Jasper,” she whispered.
His head slumped forward, chin to chest, but at least he’d stopped moving.
“The bar was dark when I got there,” he continued as though he’d never stopped. “And you were gone a-fucking-gain. So I interrupted McBain gettin’ it on with his wife, and once he was done deciding whether or not to kill me for it, he explained who I was to his wife. She told me you’d shacked up here at Hibiscus Court.” His hands tightened on hers, silently communicating how he felt about her new digs. “I hotwired one of the resort’s cars and shot over here, and when your car wasn’t in the lot, I broke in to wait for you. Again.”
Quinn rested her forehead in the groove between his shoulder blades. “You did all that so you could fuck me?”
“Jesus, Quinn, no.” He spun around, so quick, always so swift and able, that now her forehead rested on his cut pec. His arms slid back around her waist, and she couldn’t stop the soul deep sigh that escaped her lips. They’d always fit together like this, as if the detailed grooves and hard planes of his body were made expressly to accommodate the soft curves and lush valleys of hers, and she’d been so empty without him all year.
“I did it all to find you.” He titled her head up and kissed her with a painful tenderness. “I’ve missed you, babe,” he admitted, mouth hovering over hers, so close she could taste the words. His lips coasted up and over the curve of her cheek to buss her temple. “More than you could ever know.”
Her heart shattered and its pieces crackled in her voice when she murmured, “Honey,” and gripped the sides of his neck to pull him back down to her. “I missed you too.”
Writer, singer editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her debut romantic suspense novel Wild on the Rocks is now available. Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.