Stone Cliff – Cathryn Fox
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Stone Cliff Series

Book Cover: Stone Cliff Series

First three books!

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Crashing Down: When reckless meets responsible.
Straight A student Kathryn Lane is all work and no play. She's determined to keep her scholarship, and that means no distractions...until she takes a summer internship at Stone Cliff Resort and meets bad boy Noah Ryan. She knows she should keep her distance—after all he’s not the kind of guy she can bring home to daddy—but his disarming smile and dangerous ways are entirely too tempting.

Wasted Summer: When Broken meets Beautiful.
Melody Spencer has a plan: work hard, stay focused and save enough money to get out of Stone Cliff and the rumors that surround her. Wounded and distrustful, she’s learned the hard way that if a guy is nice to her, it means he’s only after one thing. Until Ryeland Montgomery cruises back into her resort town, beautifully protective as he insists they get to know each other better.

Love Lessons: When doubtful meets determined.
When Cartoonist, Grace Bennett is given the mandate to take her comic strip from the satirical side of dating to the magical moments between a couple in love, she knows she’s in big trouble. Having never experienced that fleeting emotion, how can she possibly write about it? What she needs is a miracle. Enter best friend and neighbor, Nate Wright, a man with a reputation for falling in love every other weekend. When Nate offers to give her some lessons in love, Gracie has no choice but to accept. One kiss later has Grace doubting the wisdom in bringing her friend into the mix, while Nate is more determined than ever to show Gracie that with love, anything is possible.

Wrapped Up – Fall 2015

Book Cover: Wrapped Up - Fall 2015

Stone Cliff Series, Book 4

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‘Tis the season—for a little holiday magic.

Business deal behind him, attorney Carter Reed can’t wait to put Stone Cliff Resort and the festive town of Deerfield in his rearview mirror. Once upon a time, he believed in Christmas, but that was before Santa had permanently placed him on the naughty list.

When snowy roads and a stray dog send his car into a spin, foiling his attempt to get to the airport, a woman comes to his rescue. Suddenly, he can think of all kinds of ways to pass the time, but when she tells him he hit a magical wolf and he’s soon to get everything he needs, he’s more determined than ever to get out of town. He doesn’t believe in magic, and the last thing he needs is more false hopes and empty promises.

Biologist Josie Walker takes one look at Carter and can’t help but wonder if her Christmas wish has been granted. She’d like nothing better than to take him home and unwrap him, but Scrooge is determined to get out of town. When his every attempt to flee is thwarted, Josie knows the wolf is keeping him there, because sometimes what you think you want isn’t necessarily what you need.

Carter soon finds himself caught up in Josie’s spirit of Christmas. Making new memories with her has him wanting to ask for things—a family of his own, someone to love—things Santa had refused him as a child. But when the storm abates and he’s finally free to leave, will he get on the plane and turn his back on the one girl who has thawed his frozen heart or find the courage to break his rules and ask for everything he’s always needed?

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Carter Reed stuffed a stack of legal papers into a manila folder and tried to ignore the distress on Mayor Walker’s face as he glared from the other side of the boardroom. Turning sideways, Carter snapped his briefcase shut with a little more force than necessary. At least the loud clicking sound gave him something other than Walker’s anger to focus on.

“Carter—” Walker began, clearly refusing to let it go.

“The deal is done,” Carter said. “You signed the final agreement yesterday. The contract is legal and binding.”

“That was before I found out the buyer wanted to turn the church into a casino,” the older man retaliated. Walker ran his hands through graying hair, and Carter studied the letters emblazed on his briefcase to avoid the concern in his opponent’s dark eyes. It was not his concern. “There must be something you can do,” Walker continued.

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From his peripheral vision, Carter caught the mayor shifting his gaze. Carter didn’t need to turn to know Walker was scanning the ski vacationers through the boardroom’s glass walls as they bustled around the lobby at Stone Cliff resort. “This is a small community, Carter, and the resort caters to those wanting to get away from it all, not those wanting to gamble. We don’t need that kind of trouble around these parts.”

“What my client does with the property after purchasing it is not my business.” Carter grabbed his wool coat from the rack near the door and picked up his suitcase. He’d check out of his room earlier that day and brought his bags to the meeting, wanting to put Stone Cliff Resort and the festive town of Deerfield in his rear view mirror, sooner rather than later. All the Christmas music, carolers, lights and parades were giving him a damn headache. “I’m just here to see that the legal work gets taken care of. Any problems you have from here on out will have to be taken up with the purchaser.”

Mayor Walker rested his elbows on the table and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Come on. It’s Christmas and that church is currently being used as a food bank. Right at this moment, the space is filled with volunteers preparing meals for those less fortunate. We can’t just close up in the dead of the winter, especially since we’ve yet to find another location to set up a kitchen. When we started this deal, your client said he wouldn’t be touching the property until spring and we would continue to use it.”

“Things change.” Carter wrapped his gray woolen scarf around his neck and pulled up his collar.

“Right, so then why can’t the deal? Let’s face it. If we had known things were going to go down—”

Carter held his hand up. “The law is the law, Mayor.” He really didn’t have time to keep rehashing the same argument. He was going to be late for his flight. “I don’t make the rules, I just abide by them.” Besides, even if Carter could reverse the sale—and there was no way he could—he wasn’t going to blow his first job out of law school.

He’d worked his ass off to get where he was, and in fifteen years, he’d never asked anyone for anything. There were times he had even held down two jobs between classes. He was here to prove himself to the law firm that hired him straight out of university. The last thing he was about to do was go soft and dig for some loophole in the contract. Someday, he’d like to make partner at McMillian and Stratton. Failing to return east with a binding contract in hand because the town decided they didn’t want a casino wasn’t in his best interests. Carter had learned the hard way that survival and getting what he wanted meant he needed to play life like a game of chess—each move careful and calculated. Sure, the deal could very well hurt the town, but emotions played no part in this job. Or in life. Another lesson he’d learned the hard way.

Walker’s dark eyes moved over Carter’s face. His brow furrowed, and in an almost sad voice, he asked, “You’re still young, Carter. Is this the guy you really want to be?”

This is the guy I have to be.

“Just doing my job,” Carter countered.

“But it’s Christmas…” Walker said, like that meant something to Carter.

It didn’t. Not anymore anyway. There was a time he believed in the magic of Christmas. Believed that someday Santa would give a scared and lonely boy the only thing he’d always longed for when he was being tossed around from foster home to foster home. He could only assume Santa had permanently placed him on the naughty list because he never did get that family he’d wished for year after year. And really, can anyone blame a kid for acting up when the real kids in the home woke up to a tree full of gifts, and the puppy Carter had asked for was nowhere to be found?

He hardened himself as he thought back to that Christmas some fifteen years ago. He’d spent that whole month of December being extra good, making his bed, studying every night, and doing additional chores around the foster house. All he wanted was for the nice family he was temporary living with to keep him forever, to love him like he was one of their own, and, because everything had been going so well, for Santa to give him the puppy he’d dared to ask for.

Except that cold December morning had changed everything for him. That was the day he realized three things: no one gave a shit about the kid who’d been tossed away when he was a toddler; if he wanted something, he’d damn well have to get it on his own; and being nice never, ever paid off.

The mayor stood, and the sound of his chair scraping across the polished tile floor pulled Carter’s thoughts back to the present. Walker crossed around the table and came up to Carter. The two stood nose to nose, and as he took in the fine lines bracketing the man’s eyes and the worry pulling down his face, Carter squared his shoulders, expecting another round of backlash. What the man did instead confused Carter and hit like a sucker punch.

In a nurturing manner, Mayor Walker tightened the wool scarf around Carter’s neck. “It’s cold out there, son,” he said. “And be careful on the roads, the forecast is calling for more snow, and the hills around here are pretty tricky for those who aren’t used to them.”

Disconcerted, Carter stood there for a moment longer, staring mutely at the man who had bundled him up with fatherly concern. What the hell? He sucked in air and took a distancing step back as something inside his chest tightened, making it almost difficult to breathe. As the boardroom walls seemed to close in on him, he turned to leave, needing—almost desperately—to get out of there, but when Mayor Walker said, “Merry Christmas, Carter,” he stopped mid-stride and forced down the lump climbing into his throat.

Shifting his briefcase from one hand to the other and then cracking his knuckles to disguise his emotions, he took a quick moment to compose himself. He let his breath out slowly to expel the unwelcome things he was feeling and pulled the boardroom door open, ready to get out of the festive town that was making him…feel.

Without turning back, he said, “Yeah, you too.”

COLLAPSE

Love Lessons

Book Cover: Love Lessons

Stone Cliff Series, Book 3
Available January 29, 2015

When doubtful meets determined.

When Cartoonist, Grace Bennett is given the mandate to take her comic strip from the satirical side of dating to the magical moments between a couple in love, she knows she's in big trouble. Having never experienced that fleeting emotion, how can she possibly write about it? What she needs is a miracle. Enter best friend and neighbor, Nate Wright, a man with a reputation for falling in love every other weekend. When Nate offers to share his extensive knowledge in matters of the heart and give her some lessons in love, Gracie has no choice but to accept.

Nate can't believe his luck. He's been crazy about Gracie since the moment he laid eyes on her, but she's kept him firmly in the friend zone. Helping her out with her comic strip gives him the perfect opportunity to get closer, show her what real romance is all about-what it could be like with him. The hard part is keeping his ulterior motive under wraps. If Gracie doesn't share his feelings, he risks losing her friendship forever.

One kiss later has Grace doubting the wisdom in bringing her friend into the mix, while Nate is more determined than ever to show Gracie that with love, anything is possible.

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He went quiet for a moment, thoughtful, the familiar sexy grin on his gorgeous mouth gone. "I could show you what love looks like," he said softly.

She dropped her paper and was about to burst out laughing when she caught the seriousness in his eyes. Oh, God. Serious Nate was ten times sexier! Confused, she set her coffee down and held her hands out at her sides. "How can you possibly teach me anything about love or what it looks like?"

He glanced at the scribbling she'd jotted down moments ago, and made a face that suggested she was in a whole lot of trouble. He lifted it from her desk, took a closer look, then shook his head.

"Well if you think some guy handing a girl half a box of candy and dead flowers on Valentine's is what love looks like, you need more help than I thought."

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She snatched the sheet from him and wadded it up into a tight ball. Honestly, how could she know what love looked like? Her mind went back to her upbringing. Her father had left when she was only two, and her mother had been alone ever since, burying herself in her job, and paying little attention to the girl that needed her love, affection and guidance so badly. For as long as Grace could remember, she had done everything on her own, and had always taken care of herself. Cripes, no wonder she was so jaded. Without a good role model, or personal experiences of love to draw on, she honestly had no idea how to recognize it when she saw it.

"Jesus Nate, you don't have to be so…so honest." She drew back her arm and lobbed the wad of paper toward the trash can, the force behind the toss knocking several more out of the can.

He laughed and gave an easy roll of one shoulder. "Sorry," he said. "But I call it as I see it."

"Well the way I see it, is I'm going to be out of a job if I don't figure this out soon."

"Which means you should take me up on my offer, and put yourself in my hands, because you obviously need me more than you realize."

Oh, I realize just how much I need you, thank you very much. As far as putting myself in your hands, well…

She pushed back in her chair, and folded her arms, ready to hear him out, purely out of curiosity. Right, a little voice in the back of her head taunted. "So tell me exactly how you plan to teach me about love?"

His sexy grin returned, and she crossed her legs to stop herself from handing him her panties.

"Why don't you leave that up to me," he said.

She arched a brow. "I want to know what you have in mind Nate."

Naked Nate. Naked Nate on a plate.

Good God, she really needed to grow up, or get laid. Or fall in love.

"You give me one week and I'll teach you all about love," he paused and pointed at her comic strip. "So your Kate will know it when she sees it."

"You know Kate's not real, right?" she said. Then again, who was she kidding? Nate of all people likely knew the character in her strip was based on her pathetic love life. And Kate just happened to be her middle name.

His eyes bore into hers, then crinkled at the corners. "Yeah whatever you say, Gracie. Now do you want my help or not?"

She gave him a skeptical look, wondering how he could possibly help her. "Are you serious?"

"Yes." He paused and angled his head, his gaze moving over her face. "You do trust me right?"

"Of course," she answered without hesitation. Nate was the one man-the only man-she'd ever trusted.

"Okay, then. Leave it up to me. You know I'll take good care of you."

She nodded, and even though she had no idea what he was up to, if she wanted to learn about love and keep her job, she had no choice but to put herself in his hands.

And let him take care of her, with his hands. And maybe even his tongue.

Oh, God.

He leaned in, so close she could feel his breath against her ear and whispered, "We'll start tonight. I'll message you the details."

As a fine shiver moved through her, she couldn't help but consider what she was getting herself into, and more importantly if it involved Nate getting naked.

COLLAPSE

Wasted Summer

Book Cover: Wasted Summer

Stone Cliff Series, Book 2

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When Broken meets Beautiful.

Melody Spencer has a plan: work hard, stay focused and save enough money to get out of Stone Cliff and the rumors that surround her. Wounded and distrustful, she's learned the hard way that if a guy is nice to her, it means he's only after one thing.

Until Ryeland Montgomery cruises back into her resort town, beautifully protective as he insists they get to know each other better.

Ryeland's future is in the palm of his hands. Problem is it's the future his hard-nosed father has chosen for him, not the one he wants. Warned by his folks to steer clear of the local girls who will do whatever it takes to escape the sleepy mountain town, he's always played the good son and kept his distance.

Until he sees Melody, sweet yet tough, standing on the road side, drenched and furious—a girl he knows he has to have.

Soon this unlikely pair find themselves lost in each other, and after a whirlwind summer of passion and pleasure, he vows to protect her from everything and everyone. But when secrets unfold, Melody is forced to make the toughest decision of her life and Ryeland must determine whether he's wasted the summer on nothing more than a beautiful lie, or if they can move past the deceipt and rebuild the wreckage that has become their lives.

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He raked his hands through thick, dark hair, his glance moving over her face before settling on her eyes. "You're soaked."

"Way to state the obvious," she huffed out. "I guess you really are as smart as they say."

The corner of his mouth twitched. "Uh, did I do something to piss you off?"

"Look, I was already running late for work when your friends thought they'd get their kicks by soaking me, so I don't have time for this, okay?"

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Something dark moved over his face, but she wasn't about to take the time to examine it, not when the clock was ticking and her job was on the line. Instead, she pushed past him but he touched her arm to spin her back around. She flinched, and every muscle in her body tensed, ready to put her self-defense classes to work. Shifting her stance, she prepared to fight, recalling the last man who'd tried to touch her without her permission. She had been only thirteen at the time, and well… Her stomach clenched as painful memories intruded.

Forget it, Mel…just forget it.

Ryeland stepped back. "Whoa, sorry."

"What do you want?"

Looking confused, he shifted back and forth in his designer sneakers, his pale blue polo shirt rasping over his broad shoulders. Silence lingered for a moment, and his forehead creased, probably because he was trying to figure out why she wasn't falling all over him like every other girl he'd gifted with his presence. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, and when she was about to turn back around and hike up the hill, he finally spoke.

"I'm sorry my friends are such assholes, but all I'm trying to do here is give you a ride to make up for it. You don't have to go all Karate Kid on me." He dipped his head and his voice was soft when he said, "I'm trying to help."

Surprised, Mel narrowed her eyes to really look at him. Was he for real? He wanted to help her? Surely there had to be something in it for him. Maybe he was tired of the rich, Barbie doll blondes falling all over him and thought he'd go slumming this summer.

"Why would you want to help me?" she asked bluntly, her back straight, shoulders squared, still on the defense.

He stared at her for a moment, an equal mixture of confusion and intrigue backlighting those fascinating pewter eyes of his. "Why wouldn't I?"

While she could stand there and list a dozen reasons, mainly how those from his social circle didn't associate with girls from the wrong side of the tracks-except to sleep with them-she knew she had to get a move on it.

She backed up an inch. "You know what, I don't know you and you don't know me, so let's just both be on our way. Besides, I'm sure your friends are wondering where you are."

"You're wrong, you know."

"Wrong? What am I wrong about?"

His thick bicep muscles flexed as he drove his hands into his pockets, pushing his jeans a little lower on his hips. While she tried not to glance down-some unknown force pulled her gaze to the flash of tanned skin between his shirt and pants-he took a small step forward, moving into her personal space. He was close, too close, and while she knew she should turn and hightail it out of there, her stupid legs took that moment to betray her. Unable to drag herself away, she exhaled slowly and wondered what the heck was going on with her.

"I know you," he said, his voice so low, so incredibly soft, it momentarily caught her off guard.

She held his gaze, and when warmth moved over his handsome face, softening the hard angles, a strange, unfamiliar sensation mushroomed inside her belly. What the hell?

Despite the fact that she wanted to end this conversation, she blurted out, "How do you know me?"

He gave a lazy roll of one shoulder. "Everyone does."

"Right." She shook her head and berated herself for momentarily letting down her guard. Good God, she never let down her guard. Ever. Otherwise the things people said behind her back might get to her. Things like "slut", "town whore", "no good drunken mother", and "deadbeat dad".

Oh yeah, everyone knew Mel Spencer. Or at least they thought they did. Although she had to admit, some of the rumors were true. She mentally kicked herself for thinking he might actually be different, that he might actually know something other than the stories people spread behind her back. But how could he? She never let anyone get too close. Not anymore anyway. And truthfully, why did she even care what Ryeland Montgomery thought? He meant nothing to her, and his opinion mattered about as much as her broken nail.

"I'm Ryeland."

"I know," she answered and turned to go.

"So you know me, then?"

She caught a pebble in her flip-flop, stopped to shake it out, and moved on. "No," she lied, tossing the words over her shoulder. "I don't know you."

He jogged ahead and stepped in front of her, once again blocking her path.

Mel planted one hand on her hip and tilted her head to meet his gaze straight on. "Do you mind?"

His white teeth flashed in a smile and instead of answering he said, "You know my name and you said I was as smart as everyone says."

"And…?"

He stepped closer, closing the gap between them. Holy hell, did this guy know nothing about personal space? He dipped his head, and as she became the sole object of his focus, an unexpected curl of heat wound through her, chasing the chill from her body.

"And…that kind of tells me you do know me," he explained.

"You're kind of legendary around here. But I don't know you."

She folded her arms but when he slanted his head, the boyish, totally sexy way he looked at her weakened her knees. God, no wonder everyone was crazy about him.

Her gave her a lopsided grin that set off a chain of events inside her body, none of which she welcomed. "You think I'm legendary?"

She was about to put an end to this conversation when the skies opened up and did it for her. Cold hard rain pelted them, but Ryeland didn't race to his Jeep like the pretty boy son of a rich lawyer who couldn't look less than one hundred percent put together. Instead he stood there, like he had all the time in the world to annoy the hell out of her.

Rain plastered his thick hair to his head, pushing his bangs into his eyes. She nodded toward his vehicle. "You'd better get in your car before your gel runs."

His grin widened and, despite herself, she couldn't help but smile back. Score one for the townie.

"I'm not going without you." Undeterred, he rooted his feet and folded his arms.

She tightened her grip on her paper bag, ready to tell him for the last time she wasn't going anywhere with him. But before she could voice those words her box of tampons pushed through the wet brown paper and fell into a puddle with an undignified splash.

Ryeland's gaze dropped to the ground and he scrubbed his hand over his jaw like he was trying not to laugh. She groaned low in her throat as embarrassment raced through her. Dear God, could this day get any worse?

Another rumble serrated the heavy air and Mel looked skyward, willing the next electrical bolt to hit her. Right between the eyes.

COLLAPSE

Crashing Down

Book Cover: Crashing Down

Stone Cliff Series, Book 1
Available July 7, 2014

When reckless meets responsible...

Straight A student Kathryn Lane is all work and no play. She's determined to keep her scholarship, and that means no distractions...until she takes a summer internship at Stone Cliff Resort and meets bad boy Noah Ryan. She knows she should keep her distance—after all he's not the kind of guy she can bring home to daddy—but his disarming smile and dangerous ways are entirely too tempting.

College dropout, Noah Ryan takes one look at Kathryn and instantly knows her type—ambitious, driven and determined, just like he used to be, before the accident that derailed his life and left him an emotional wreck. He vows to avoid her, but when a co-worker backs him into a bet he can't refuse, everything he's been running from is challenged and he's forced to confront his demons.

Soon, Kathryn and Noah are lost to everything except each other. As their lives become entwined, their passion is reckless, their heat all-consuming but when hurtful truths spill out, can Noah prove himself worthy of the one girl who can heal his wounded heart, or will the fire they ignited turn to ash when it all comes crashing down?

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"You reek of sex."

Noah Ryan grinned at his buddy Jared, a guy he'd gotten to know over the last couple of years while living and working at Stone Cliff Resort in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Taking his friend's ribbing in stride, Noah scrubbed his hands through his disheveled hair, and sank down onto the driftwood next to him, setting his motorcycle helmet at his feet. He let his glance surf over the crowd gathered around the nightly, beachside bonfire. He zeroed in on a cute blonde with big tits and gave Jared a wry smirk. "Not yet I don't."

Jared reached into the cooler, pulled out a cold brew and handed it to Noah. "Yeah, well that's a matter of opinion."

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"Fuck you." Noah laughed and twisted off the cap, the taste of weed and smoke scratching his dry throat like coarse sandpaper. "How the hell can I reek of sex when I just crawled out of bed, alone?"

Jared shrugged. "Well your bed smells like sex, then."

Okay, so that was probably true. His bed likely did smell like sex. Sometimes a hard, mindless fuck chased away the chills that had taken up residency inside him since the accident a little over three years ago. Then again, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes the demons managed to tunnel their way past the wall he'd built despite the warm body next to him.

Noah took a long pull from the bottle, and washed the grit from his throat. Too bad the alcohol did little to drown the pain that blackened his soul. Then again, did he really deserve for it too?

He worked to push all dark thoughts aside, and tried to keep things light. He nudged his friend with his elbow. "Ah, come on, Jared. Don't be jealous 'cause I'm getting all the play and you're not."

Jared waved to Ryan and Bobbie, a couple of locals who just rolled in, before he flicked his beer cap at Noah. "Yeah, well fuck you. I get all the play I need, or I would be if you weren't always hovering around." Two well-built dark haired hotties moved in front of them, smiling flirtatiously at Noah. "Christ, Noah, what the hell is it about you?" He clucked his lips and added, "You're like nectar to the honey bee, my man."

Laughing, Noah took another swig from the bottle as the cute blonde he'd been eying glanced his way. He caught the mischief in her gaze and pegged her as a local, a rich townie who'd just returned home from university. He knew her type all too well. She'd spend her days lounging on the water with her friends and her nights here at the beach, otherwise known as the Cave, where many of the resort staff and locals alike gathered for a little action. Not that he was judging her. He wasn't. After all, unlike him she was getting an education and going places.

With exhaustion pulling at him, Noah stretched his arms over his head and stifled a yawn. He hadn't planned on hanging out with Jared tonight, but since he couldn't take staring at his ceiling for one more minute, he decided if he couldn't sleep, he might as well get laid. The little townie gave him a look that said, come get some and his cock twitched, but before he made his move on the blonde, he shifted closer to his friend. He pulled an envelope from his back pocket and slipped it to him, wanting to do this exchange off resort and away from their manager's, Donald Brake's, watchful eye.

"Noah..." Jared looked down at the envelope and shook his head. "Shit." He stole a quick glance around before he shoved the bills into his pocket. "But you were saving...you can't afford-"

"And you can't afford not to." He looked pointedly at the swelling beneath Jared's bruised eye. Even though he claimed the injury had happened when he fell off the raft during yesterday's rough, white-water ride down Canyon Run, Noah knew better. Noah pitched his voice low, his words for Jared's ears only. "You keep fucking with these guys and you'll lose more than just your job. You know that right?"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Jared said gravely, dark eyes cast downward in worry as he rubbed his temples with his thumbs. "Christ I had a straight flush. I never thought I could lose." He fisted his short-cropped hair and gave a tug. "I mean come on, what are the fucking odds that the other guy beat me with a royal flush?"

"A trillion to one," Noah said. He didn't to do the mental math that came so easily to him as he finished off his beer and reached for another, handing one to Jared as well. Even though Jared was as big of a fuck up as he was, the guy was a damn hard worker, and in a few short years had climbed his way up from bellboy to concierge. That job was his life, and Noah wasn't about to stand around and see that get taken from him.

With his pulse on the action, it was Jared's job to get to know the guests and see that their needs were being met. What he wasn't supposed to do was socialize with those guests, or get himself invited to the after hour's poker game that the resort's management turned a blind eye to. The high-rolling businessmen, who came to town for the annual weeklong event, weren't the kind of guys who took kindly to getting stiffed. You owed them money, you paid your debt. One way or another.

Noah's glance shot to the blonde. Then again who was he too lecture about rules, considering he was about to break one himself. Even when off duty the staff wasn't supposed to do anything to bring negative attention to the resort, which meant picking up a local for a quick fuck on the rocks was pretty much all kind of wrong.

"I'll pay you back," Jared said.

The blonde gave Noah a once over and a satisfied grin. "You just keep yourself out of trouble."

Jared followed the direction of Noah's gaze, and when he glimpsed the girl Noah had his sights set on, he shook his head. "You're one to talk. That girl has trouble written all over her."

"Good," Noah said smirking.

"She's got a boyfriend, Noah," Jared warned. "And he's a big bastard."

"I think you're mistaken." Ignoring Jared's warning, Noah stood and shoved one hand into his pocket, pulling his worn and faded jean lower on his hips, a not so subtle invitation that brought the blonde's attention right where he wanted it. "I think she's looking for a little play."

Jared gave him a look that suggested he was either crazy, or had a death wish, or possibly both. Maybe he was right.

"Yeah? What makes you say that?" Jared asked.

"She wouldn't be wearing a shirt that showed off her tits if she didn't want me to look."

While Jared cursed under his breath, Noah moved through the throng of people. Seconds before he reached blondie some douche bag stepped in front of him to block his path. Noah nudged him with his shoulder, shoving him out of the way. With single-minded determination he moved past him, but when the guy said, "Is there a problem here, pal?" it stopped Noah dead in his tracks.

He turned and sized up the steroid induced mouth breather and shrugged. "Listen dude," Noah began. "As far as I can tell the only problem here is that you're standing between me," he paused to poke his finger in the direction of the girl watching him with big curious eyes, "and her."

The guy grabbed Noah's arm, his nostrils flaring as he yanked Noah closer. Even at six feet, Noah had to lift his chin to meet the guy's eyes. The ogre gripped him tighter, his sausage fingers digging into Noah's biceps.

Like a wire stretched tight, Noah snapped. "Get the fuck off me." His skin came alive as he jerked his arm free. Christ, he didn't like to be touched. Touching made him feel...well, it made him feel.

As old blood-soaked memories clawed their way to the surface, visions of his best friend clutching his arm like it was his lifeline swamped him. But Noah hadn't been Jonny's lifeline. Oh no, not at all. Noah was a fuck up, and the sole reason Jonny was dead.

"...Noah,"

He heard Jared saying something, pleading with him, but the words were lost in the foggy haze clouding his mind, riding circles around his brain on the pain that came with remembering.

"Maybe you should listen to your boyfriend," the ogre said.

Noah laughed in his face. "Maybe you should suck my dick."

The mouth breather fisted his hands and drew his arm back. Heart racing, Noah stood there, his body braced as he prepared for the pain. Welcomed it.

Deserved it.

Like a hard fuck, sometimes a good punch in the face sent the demons scurrying. For a little while, anyway.

The hit came sure and swift, and Noah's teeth clashed as he flew backwards toward the water. The damp sandy shore padded his fall, but the cold waves crashing over his body snapped his groggy senses back to life faster than a broken condom. He jumped to his feet and spit a mouth full of blood onto the sand as the primate came at him again, his knuckles practically dragging on the ground.

"Stop it, Alex," a shrill voice cried out and Noah's heart sank as the girl he'd been stalking halted the fight. Jesus, he'd wanted that next blow. Craved it. Noah wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as blondie pounded her fists into Alex's chest.

Fuck if Jared hadn't been right. Blondie did have a boyfriend, and the big bastard's name was Alex.

Alex grabbed the girl's hands, and pinned them to her sides. She squirmed and fought against him, the back of her shirt lifting to show a tramp stamp that Noah was certain her good folks knew nothing about. Damned if she wasn't just the girl he needed tonight.

"Stay out of this, Dara," the ape named Alex warned.

Noah took a threatening step toward Alex. "Take your fucking hands off her."

"Noah," Jared warned again as the crowd gathered around them. The bonfire burned bright, the fiery embers sparking like angry fireflies in the dark night sky, casting a flickering spotlight on the scene playing out before them. "You start this shit again, and Donald won't give you any more chances," he bit out harshly, but Noah was too far gone, too far down the road filled with blood and bad memories to walk away.

"I didn't start it." He swiped his tongue over his swollen lip and jutted his chin toward Alex. "He did. I'm just going to finish it."

COLLAPSE