Charmed by You, an all-new must-read novella set in the Stark Security world from New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner and 1,001 Dark Nights is available now!
Former vigilante-for-hire Simon Barré has one steadfast rule: stay far away from celebrities. Too bad Simon’s first assignment at Stark Security is to protect A-list actress Francesca Muratti. He can’t even turn down the assignment, as that would be violating his second rule—never fail a woman. Now he finds himself up-close-and-personal with a high-maintenance diva whose flash and sass drives him crazy—but whose touch he undeniably craves.
The world might believe that Francesca Muratti leads a fairy tale life, but the truth is far darker. For years, she’s kept a horrible secret about her best friend’s death. Now someone is threatening to kill Francesca if she doesn’t reveal all. She needs protection, but there’s no way she’s going to tell the sexy Stark Security agent what she did or why she’s being threatened. Which means that in order to survive and protect her secrets, Francesca must pull off the biggest acting job of her career: she’s going to have to let Simon close, but not let him see her true heart.
**For fans of J. Kenner's Stark Security series, Charmed By You is book nine in that series.**
**Every 1001 Dark Nights novella is a standalone story. For new readers, it’s an introduction to an author’s world. And for fans, it’s a bonus book in the author’s series. We hope you'll enjoy each one as much as we do.**
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Keep reading for a look inside Charmed By You!
He didn’t want to like her.
He really, really, really didn’t want to like her.
She was a self-involved, conceited, money-hungry star who lived in a fantasy world and didn’t know a damn thing about real people or real problems. Just like every other actor in this fucked-up town.
He knew it. Was certain of it. He was familiar with the type, after all. Hadn’t they destroyed his childhood? Ripped away his fiancée?
Oh, yeah. He knew better than to like or trust this breed, and Francesca Muratti was no exception. She was just one more spoiled actress who’d caught the eye of a nut job with a grudge against spoiled actresses.
He bit back a grimace, hating that he had to acknowledge those two little words. And yet…
And yet this spoiled, insufferable star was willing to put her life on the line to keep her fans happy.
This self-involved woman who made a living play-acting actually understood that the only reason she could enjoy the privilege of the life she had built was because she’d been lifted onto her pedestal by those fans. More than that, she not only understood it, but she was willing to risk literally everything to offer her thanks to those fans the only way she knew how—by being there for them.
He didn’t have to like her. Hell, he didn’t like her.
But he damn well respected her.
“All right,” he said, hopping down from the buffet and moving to stand opposite her across the table. “We’ve settled that you’re going to the con.” He glanced around the room, making sure no one intended to keep up the argument. When all remained silent, he nodded. “Good. That means we’re to the final point on today’s agenda.” He met Francesca’s eyes. “Who sent the note? And what does he want you to reveal?”
He kept his attention locked on her, so there was no missing either the way her eyes widened just a hair or the slash of fury that cut across her undeniably beautiful face.
“Do I need to write you a song?” she snapped. “Do a tap dance? Or maybe you want me to tattoo the answer on my forehead. Some asshat wants me to say some magic words or else he’s going to kill me, and I. Do. Not. Know. What. They. Are.”
A tear snaked down her cheek, and she swiped it away, the gesture both angry and impatient.
“I can’t tell what I don’t know.” She spoke directly to him, and he took the challenge, moving closer until he was breathing her air and could smell the lilac in her perfume.
“That’s kind of my point, sweetheart,” he said, studying her expression. Every tiny tick, every movement of her eyes. “I think you do.”
“Excuse me?” She glared at him. The kind of look designed to melt a lesser man.
Too bad for her, he wasn’t a lesser man. “You heard me,” he repeated.
Sparks flew from her eyes. Not literally, but he could damn sure imagine them. He said nothing. Just looked back at her mildly, keeping his own temper in check. He was an expert at not showing his feelings, and that was a skill that would come in handy with Francesca Muratti. Probably more than his dead-on aim with a pistol.
With a huff, she turned to face Ryan, then Damien. “Assign another agent, or I’m firing the lot of you.”
“And here I thought you liked me. What with convincing them to let you go to the con.”
She whirled on him. “You insufferable prick. Don’t you dare—”
“Frannie. Calm down.” Damien’s voice was low. Reasonable. And Simon was absolutely positive that was the wrong approach to take.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Stark? The man just called me a liar to my face. I have no idea—zero theories—as to what’s going on, and he’s accusing me of…well, fuck him. Fuck all of you. Dammit.”
She blinked, her lips pressed tight together as she spun away, giving all of them her back. And for a moment—a very, very fleeting moment—Simon had the urge to put his hands on her shoulders and tell her that it would all work out.
“Frannie,” Damien said softly, “we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”
Her shoulders shook, and as much as she grated on him, he also knew that she was truly afraid. And because he was a damned idiot, his heart softened a little. At least until she spoke again.
“I don’t want him here.” The words were low. Barely audible. “He’s an arrogant prick, and I don’t want him in my home. For that matter,” she added, turning to look at Damien and Ryan in turn, “I don’t want anyone here. I got some stupid note, and I freaked, okay? But I shouldn’t have, because there’s nothing for me to tell. Nothing. Which means it’s a prank. A joke. I’m safe. So go. All of you.” She shifted, eyeing everyone in the room. “Go on,” she snapped, her voice rising. “Get out of my house.”
About J. Kenner
- Kenner (aka Julie Kenner) is the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and #1 International bestselling author of over one hundred novels, novellas and short stories in a variety of genres.
Though known primarily for her award-winning and international bestselling erotic romances (including the Stark and Most Wanted series) that have reached as high as #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, JK has been writing full time for over a decade in a variety of genres including paranormal and contemporary romance, “chicklit” suspense, urban fantasy, and paranormal mommy lit.
JK has been praised by Publishers Weekly as an author with a “flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations” and by RT Bookclub for having “cornered the market on sinfully attractive, dominant antiheroes and the women who swoon for them.” A six time finalist for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award, JK took home the first RITA trophy awarded in the category of erotic romance in 2014 for her novel, Claim Me (book 2 of her Stark Trilogy) and in 2017 for Wicked Dirty in the same category. Her Demon Hunting Soccer Mom series (as Julie Kenner) is currently in development as a television show.
Her books have sold over three million copies and are published in over twenty languages.
In her previous career as an attorney, JK worked as a clerk on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and practiced primarily civil, entertainment and First Amendment litigation in Los Angeles and Irvine, California, as well as in Austin, Texas. She currently lives in Central Texas, with her husband, two daughters, and two rather spastic cats.
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Waiting on Forever, an all-new standalone romance full of steam and angst in The Walker Brothers Series from New York Times bestselling author Claudia Connor is available now!
Dallas Walker is haunted. He won’t ever forget the horrors he witnessed while working undercover to bust a human trafficking ring, but he has a plan to start a new life. Coming home to his family is step one. Getting to know his alluring new neighbor could be step two. If only she’d give him a chance…
Maggie Ellis just wants to be left alone. She’d rather spend her days spinning clay into art and feel nothing than open herself up to another devastating loss. But her sexy new neighbor with a lonely look in his eyes isn’t giving up. And he makes her question everything…
Together, Dallas and Maggie might have a shot at happily ever after. But only if they can let go of the past and hold on to each other when it matters most.
Fall in love today!
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Her motion activated lights cast faint shadows near the house, but the light didn’t nearly reach the back of the yard. She searched the dense brush along the back, saw movement and fired a warning shot into the air, then another.
She heard the rustling of an animal scurrying away then the sound of leaves crunching and twigs breaking behind her and to her left. She swung around, gun raised.
“Nope, just me.”
Dallas stood just a few yards away, stock still, chest bare, in a dark shade of boxer briefs and his hands up in surrender.
“That’s a good way to get shot.” She lowered the weapon. “Sorry.”
He took a step forward toward the faint light she stood in. “I thought you were getting shot. What the hell are you doing?”
“Scaring away whatever was snooping around the chicken coop. Raccoon maybe, or a fox.”
“I guess you know how to use that?”
“I do.” Her lips twitched. “I have a permit and everything, officer.” She lifted the butt a few inches off the ground.
Still looking distressed, he rubbed the heel of his hand up his forehead and into his hair.
“I’m sorry if I scared you. And woke you up.” Obviously, because again, he was standing there in his boxers and…yeah. Just boxers.
“You didn’t wake me. I was outside. With my popcorn.”
“Do you always come outside in your underwear to eat popcorn?”
“I burned it.”
“Ahh.” She grimaced. “That’s a bad smell. Guess you weren’t kidding when you said you couldn’t cook.”
“Mmm. Is this a usual thing?” he asked with a nod to the gun, closing the distance between them even more. “Scaring away predators?”
“Oh. Every now and then. I lost one last year.” She kept talking, kept looking at the man. Her gaze skimmed over a muscled chest, sculpted arms, over a tattoo on his upper right bicep that she couldn’t make out.
“Holly’s not much of a guard dog,” she went on. “But her hearing’s still good, so when her ears perk up I know something’s amiss. Were you coming to save me?”
“I didn’t know what I was coming to do, but I heard gunshots and—”
“And you came bounding over. I hope you didn’t um…scratch anything.”
Dallas glanced down, winced, then looked back up. “Nah. I’m good.”
Uh, huh. Well. She forced her attention up to his face and not on the dark boxers that hugged his thighs…annnnd… she was staring. How could she not?
But when her eyes finally met his she saw he was staring too. And it dawned on her that she was also barefooted and in her underwear. She tugged the tank top she slept in, stretching it until it covered the juncture between her thighs.
A cool breeze rippled over her and she shivered. Or maybe that was the man now just a couple of feet away giving her chills. What had she been about to say?
And when had he gotten so close? Or had she? Just an arm’s length apart now and she found herself imagining all kinds of things. Like what would she do if he moved closer? If he touched her?
The feeling changed like a coin flipping from heads to tails and even with the cool wind she felt hot. It was uncomfortable and also layered with a ripple of nervous excitement. Standing in her backyard at night with a man—this man. And both of them barely dressed.
When Holly barked from inside the back door, she glanced toward the house. When she looked back, the moment was gone. “Guess I should go back in. Holly’s probably worried.” She shifted the gun hanging at her side.
“Probably so,” he said. “I’ll get myself back. Finish airing out the house.”
“Yeah. Maybe try another bag. Listen for the popping. More than a second between pops and it’s done.”
He still wasn’t moving and she swallowed hard. Had a ludicrous thought of asking him in. To make popcorn. To watch Downton Abbey?
He nodded toward her house. “I’ll wait until you’re inside.”
“Oh. Right. Thank you.” She turned, went inside, locking the door behind her. It’d been a long time since she’d been in the position for someone to care about her getting safely inside. She had to admit it didn’t totally suck.
Claudia Connor is an award winning New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Contemporary Romance, including the beloved McKinney Brothers series. Claudia writes, warm, heartfelt romances with a bit of steam, a lot of family and always a happily ever after.
Claudia attended Auburn University, where she received her undergraduate and masters degrees in early childhood education, and completed her studies in Sawbridgeworth, England. When she's not writing, she enjoys movies, reading, and travel, with a heavy dose of daydreaming during all three. Claudia lives near Memphis, Tennessee, with her husband and three daughters.
Connect with Claudia
“A unique and fresh plot with twists you won’t see coming. I sacrificed so much sleep to devour this novel. You won’t be able to put it down once you start it.”
—Shanora Williams, New York Times bestselling author of The Wife Before
Girls Without Tears, an all-new fast paced and thrilling dark mystery from T.L. Finlay, is out now!
A missing child, a distraught mother, and a killer on the loose set the stage for a brutal bloodbath in the Florida Everglades in this thrilling read, perfect for fans of Wendy Walker and Megan Goldin.
When six-year-old Skye disappears from Everglades City, Noa is hesitant to return to her hometown to help with the search effort. Skye is the daughter of Noa’s ex, Zack, and Taylor, the girl he dumped her for. Going home also means facing the townspeople who have always misunderstood Noa’s medical condition, Congenital Insensitivity to Pain, and dealing with more of their ignorant comments.
But returning home is just the beginning of Noa's painful journey. When her childhood friend, Jamie, is assaulted by a vagrant, Noa intervenes in a violent counterattack—and the man’s fingerprints are found near Skye’s DNA. As Noa gets closer to the truth of who kidnapped Skye, she starts to uncover secrets about her hometown that she didn’t expect.
Nothing and no one are what they seem in this small Florida backwater—and any good friend can quickly become a deadly enemy.
Grab your copy today!
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Keep reading for a look inside Girls Without Tears!
It should have been the perfect, most romantic experience ever. Until Zack sat up right in the middle of it all and pointed in horror at my arm. “Oh, god—Noa! Look at your arm!”
It was purple and swollen, the skin stretched to a shiny bubble. Two large dots oozed with blood and pus. “Now that’s weird,” I commented.
Zack was already off me and scrambling into his shirt. “It’s not weird, you were bitten by a spider! Noa, they’re venomous!”
In the end, I was given an antivenin from the hospital and a lecture from my parents. I could’ve died, they’d said. And they were disappointed in me for sneaking out of the house (of course, we left out the sex part). My mother cried that I was backsliding, until my father told her to shut up and sent me to my room.
Zack was on restriction for a week. Not only did you sneak out of the house, but you put Noa in danger! You know you can’t put her in those positions, Zachary! She’s not an average girl!
I knew his mother didn’t mean anything bad by that, but it still bothered me. Would he have gotten in so much trouble if it were someone else? Someone who could feel pain? Would he only have been scolded then? I found myself wishing I had actually felt the venomous spider bite.
Things fell quiet after that until a year later, with the arrival of Taylor Spells. Taylor moved to Chokoloskee from Tampa when her father’s contracting company began building condominiums in Naples, which happened to be the second week of our senior year. She was a junior, and she took our tiny coastal town by storm. Taylor was beautiful, confident, and rebellious. She hated the town and her parents for making her move there. The one thing she loved in that place was Zack.
For the first time in my life, I cried because the pain was unbearable. Words that never made sense to me were suddenly sparking with recognition behind my eyes— ache, burn, throb, sting—they filled my heart, screamed through my veins, festered in my mind and soul.
“It’s just been . . . really hard,” he’d said the night he shattered my life. “These last few years—I love you, Noa, but I can’t anymore. Always with the fear in my mind that something could be wrong with you and it’d be my fault if you didn’t catch it in time. I’m always checking to make sure you’re not bleeding, not limping, always having to monitor how hard you’re scratching your arm or rubbing your eyes—”
“I never asked you to do those things, Zack!”
“—making sure you’re going to the bathroom and eating every few hours.”
“Is this about Taylor?”
He said no, but it obviously was. They were dating by Thanksgiving.
Hurricane Taylor destroyed my heart and my senior year.
I went to the University of Miami and never looked back. The day I received my bachelor’s in communications was the day he proposed to Taylor, and I told my parents I wouldn’t be returning to Everglades City. I moved from the college dorms in Coral Gables to my lofty apartment on South Beach, got a great job working for a public relations company contracted by the Florida Department of Transportation, and posted selfies on the beach to showcase my perfect life.
It’s been ten years in the making, but I’m happy. I take clients to lunch at Houston’s, get drinks with my coworkers at Prime 112, and take dates to Mary Brickell Village, Lincoln Road, and Wynwood. I’m an independent big-city gal with a career and a social life.
I skip watching Netflix tonight and return my father’s call. He doesn’t answer, but my mother does.
“Zack’s daughter has been kidnapped,” is what she says in lieu of a greeting or an explanation of why she’s answered his phone.
“I saw. I had a missed call from Dad.”
“He’s with Zack and the family right now. He left his phone at home, you know him. But I know he wants you to come home, Noa. We both do. We’re all—everyone is so scared.”
The muscles in my neck tense, hands fisting. “Come home? Why?”
I wait as she blows her nose unabashedly. “We need you. We need all the help we can get.”
I hesitate. “But you know nothing has changed. I’ve never been ‘needed’ in that town. You know I haven’t spoken to Zack Flynn since high school, and now I’m just supposed to show up during the worst time of his life?”
My mother, on the other hand, doesn’t hesitate. “That’s exactly what you should do. This is bigger than a breakup, Noa. There is a child missing. And it’s not just Zack and Taylor you’d be helping. This is a community in crisis.”
“Mom,” I say softly before things start to escalate, “this community is also quite dramatic. You know as well as I do how they don’t connect with me. I would simply be a distraction. Number two on the list of things to gossip about besides the missing child.”
A child is missing, my mother repeats. Six years old. Her name is Skye, and she loves kittens and rollerblading. She has brown hair and beautiful eyes, just like mine. She said if she didn’t know any better, she would think Zack had a baby with me and not with Taylor.
Meet T.L. Finlay
I love fiction. I love reading it, writing it, talking about it, and pretending to be it and that is all.
I tried writing my first book at the age of eleven, when I penned a story (seriously, a pen and spiral notebook) about a girl in the 1800s who stole a horse and ran away from home. I stopped because I got scared when the characters started taking over—I didn’t understand how powerful the magic of writing was at that age. So I stuck with poetry for the remainder of my childhood.
I also enjoyed reading books and judging them. Why would the author use that word? Who taught her how to spell? I hate this character! I loved that! What does that have to do with anything? Oh, so that’s why he did it that way. I soon discovered that I read with an editor’s eye—both a blessing and a curse.
I graduated college with a Bachelor in Communication Arts and a minor in English. Somehow, no matter what job I held after that, I always ended up being transferred to the writing/editing department. *shrugs* I don’t really know what to think of that.
I’ve edited eight hundred gazillion manuscripts of all genres for various authors. I do love editing, but my heart lies in writing psychological thrillers. I published my first, The Rules of Burken, in April of 2019. My second, The Falling of Stars, will be released in late summer of 2019.
I’ve been married since 2004 to the love of my life, and we have two athletic boys who have to be driven everywhere. This means that I’m their chauffer, their sports agent, and they don’t even like reading. *sighs* The cherry on top of this family dynamic is my little dog, Scout, who is so ugly it’s comical. But her brains, wit, and smart mouth make up for it.
**This has been edited to add our rescue pup, Goliath, who is as wimpy as he is massive. But he has a heart of gold and the face of a cherub. I can’t, with these dogs…
Connect with T.L. Finlay
Facebook page: https://bit.ly/3QokgZL