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Author : Claire Contreras

A CHAIR SCREECHED against the kitchen floor, and Amara knew Philip was finally leaving. Her hands shook as she stood, holding tightly to the table beside her. Tears began to pool in her eyes as she thought about what she’d overheard—about her mother... the gambling... life as she knew it.
Her entire body trembled as she walked back into the kitchen. “I’ll do it,” she said.
“Amara!” her father shouted.
Philip was gleeful, throwing his head back in laughter. When he straightened, he looked at her, and what she saw in his eyes was anything but humor. Amara’s stomach coiled in disgust—in fear.
“It’s done then,” he said. “I wille back for you.”
That was the first promise Philip Batiste made to her.
AMARA LET OUT a long sigh as she cleaned the last table. It had been a long workday at Anna’s, the little restaurant her uncle owned and had named after her mom. The days were long and her feet always hurt, but the pay was good, and it helped her stay independent. That was important to her—the independence. Her parents had a lot going on in their lives. She didn’t want to add to the burden, and she liked being able to pay for her own things. Paying for her own things meant that her parents wouldn’t meddle in her business, which they often did. She was an only child, only daughter, at that, and often felt like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Amara couldn’t even fathom what it would have been like to be a boy and an only child to her parents.
As it was, the idea of the only daughter of two wealthy individuals working at a restaurant was unheard of in theirmunity, as were a lot of other things, which was why all of her neighbors’ houses contained more secrets than a confessional. All...
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Author : M. Clarke

“You’re staring,” I said to Becky, who was sitting across from me.
“I can’t help it.” Becky continued to smile at a stranger, flirtatiously batting her eyelashes, pulling a strand of her light brown hair behind her ear. “He’s kind of cute, and he’s looking right at me.”
Oh…she is good. “But you think a lot of guys are cute,” I mumbled lightly.
“It’s probably the alcohol talking.” She took a drink of her martini.
Becky and I had been roommates since my senior year in college. Our living arrangement transferred after graduation, which was pretty cool considering the expenses that went with living in an apartment near the beach. I had to say, it was an added benefit having your best friend live with you…sometimes.
Though Becky and I lived together, at times it was difficult when our schedules got busy. Sometimes we hardly saw each other, so it was nice to go out to dinner together even though it was in the middle of the week. We were both tired, but our friendship meant more than a little rest.
Becky looked behind her, then turned back to face me. “Twelve o’clock on your time. You see him?”
Trying not to make it obvious, especially since he’d caught my eyes after Becky turned around, I took a quick peek again. “He’s okay.” I shrugged my shoulders.
“You have such high standards. It’s no wonder…wait a minute. I don’t get you. Not to be mean about it, but you know you can do so much better than what’s his face.”
“You’ve told me that like, millions of times.”
“Oh…is that all? And I still can’t get it through your thick skull,” she giggled.
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Author : Mia Sheridan

"Never fret, my love, the universe always balances the scales. Her ways may be mysterious, but they are always just."
Isabelle Dallaire, "Gram"
In a long history of bad days, this one was at the top of the list. And it was only nine a.m. Stepping out of my car, I took a deep breath of the balmy, late summer air and began walking toward Napa Valley Savings Bank. The sultry morning shimmered around me, the sweet scent of jasmine teasing my nose. I sighed as I pulled open the glass front door of the bank. The peaceful beauty seemed wrong somehow—the bleakness of my mood in direct contrast to the warm, sunshiny day. An arrogant idea, I supposed. As if the weather should express itself according to my mood.
"May I help you?" a cheery brunette asked as I approached her teller window.
"Yes," I said, withdrawing my ID and an old savings book from my purse. "I want to close this account." I slid both toward the teller. A corner of the savings book was folded back, revealing numbers my gram had entered when showing me how to keep track of our deposits. The memory tore at my heart, but I forced what I hoped was a cheerful-looking smile as the girl took the book, opened it, and began entering the account number.
I thought back to the day we'd opened the account. I'd been ten, and my gram had walked me here and I’d proudly deposited the fifty dollars she'd given me for helping with yard work throughout the summer. We'd made trips to this bank over the years when I'd stayed at her house in Napa. She'd taught me the true value of money—it was meant to be shared, used to help others, but also represented a type of freedom. The fact that I currently had little money, few options, and every material possession I owned was stuffed...
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Author : Georgia Le Carre

Blake Law Barrington
I rub my hand down my cheeks and chin, and return the shaver to its holder. In the mirror there is nothing but me. The way I came into this world. Naked. For an instant I frown at myself. Last night I dreamed again. Of that time when my hands were small and covered in blood. I try to recall the details, but the dream is gone.
No, not gone. Of course not. It never goes. It hides inside a faint net of tension.
I turn away from my reflection and that feeling that something inside is broken and awkward, and walk into the shower. I close the door and, standing out of the trajectory of the spray, turn the knob. Ites powerfully alive. I let the water heat up before I step into the hot cascade. It sluices over me. The water is sensuous and forgiving.
I close my eyes and the water washes away my sins.
There is a small knock on the door.
I turn around and open the door. For a moment we simply look at each other. Her hair is loose about her shoulders and tousled. There are faint lines on her upper arms made by the creases in the sheets. Otherwise she is perfect. She steps inside and I open my arms to envelop her.
God, I love this woman.
She pours liquid soap into the palm of her hand and smears the soap across her br**sts.
‘You’re asking for it,’ I tell her.
‘Since the day I met you,’ she says softly.
I smile.
She smiles back. In the clouds of steam around us, her eyes are dark. They move slowly down my body ande to rest on my cock. It is hard and ready for her.
I spin her around. She lands neatly on the frosted glass, on her hands and elbows. Her cheek presses into the glass and her hips tilt up to receive me. I plunge into her. She gasps. I love that involuntary sound. I always ram her harder than necessary just to hear that sound....
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Author : J.L. Berg

Twenty Years Ago
I stood on the large stage and quietly bent forward, smoothing the tiny wrinkles out of my pretty pink taffeta dress. The fabric glittered and shimmered as I moved under the bright spotlights. A simple satin bow sat high on top of my head, and dark ringlets curled down my back, reminding me of all the princesses Daddy would tell me about at bedtime.
Looking around at the crowded room and the large audience standing before us, I couldn’t help but smile.
I guessed I was kind of like a princess now.
“Stop fidgeting, Olivia,” my mother whispered next to me.
Her pale pink coat matched my dress, but it wasn’t nearly as pretty. It made her look old and stuffy. I liked it better when she used to dress in shorts and sandals, and she’d dance with me in the sprinklers when the weather got too hot and sticky to stay indoors.
I heard a tapping sound as a microphone came alive. My attention turned to the front of the stage as the crowd exploded in applause.
Smiling, I watched my daddy step out from behind the curtain, grinning and waving, as he passed by a sea of red, white, and blue. Signs bearing his picture and name were bobbing up and down amid the crowd, and I soon found myself covering my tiny ears to block out the thundering noise.
Slender polished fingers wrapped around mine and tugged my hands back down to my sides. I looked up to find my mother wiping tears from her eyes. She gave me a tight hug, and then she whisked away salty trails that had made their way down her cheeks.
“He’s no longer just ours anymore. Things are going to be different from this moment on,” she said.
I glanced back at my father, who was now standing at the wooden podium. After thanking everyone in the room, he turned around and motioned for the two of us toe forward....
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Author : Page Morgan

The quiet ached.
After all the crying and screaming, the pleas for Léon to stop!, silence crushed the dining room. Now Léon trembled on the rug beside the table, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees.
He wanted to shut his eyes, but terror froze them open. He wanted to clap his palms over his ears so he wouldn’t have to listen to the weak, muffled criesing from all around him—but his fingertips were still leaking.
Léon’s father was at the head of the table. Every inch of the man, from his thinning crown to his polished brogans, even the spindle-back chair upon which he sat, had been bound in a cocoon of thick white silk. The untouched plate of coq au vin still steamed in front of his father’s mummified figure. The scent of mushrooms and wine, a sauce his mother had spent the afternoon stirring at the stove as she hummed little songs, now turned Léon’s stomach.
Unblinking, Léon turned his head. The lacey trim of the tablecloth hung low, but not low enough to block the sight of his mother’s cocoon as it wriggled on the floor. And moaned.
Léon jumped to his feet and crashed back into his chair. A third, smaller silken cocoon, the one imprisoning his younger brother, had already gone still. The venom had worked its way through his sticklike limbs the quickest. Léon’s wriggling mother would stop moving next. But his father, whose meaty frame was fully upright in his chair, might remain conscious another few minutes. Five at the most.
Léon hadn’t wanted to hurt them. But he’d lost his temper when his father had started to shout the way he always did whenever Léon had done something wrong in their pâtisserie downstairs. He had thought he’d be immune to his father’s blustering, but lately, things had started...
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Author : Callie Croix

Navy Petty Officer First Class Reid Galvin hopped off the idling Black Hawk with three of his teammates and trudged across Bagram’s baking tarmac to the cinderblock building that loomed before him. The intense August sun beat down on his shoulders, but it did nothing to melt the ice inside him.
Shoving open the door with one arm, he didn’t look back at the others as they unloaded the body bags from the Chinook. Twenty-four of them. Five more bodies and other remains were still being recovered from the mangled wreckage at the crash site.
He’d done his job for the moment—secured the crash site and helped with the recovery effort. All of the victims had been in pieces, burned so badly they were beyond recognition. Each body part would have to be examined forensically to identify the charred remains in the bags.
In some ways, that was the hardest part to take. Knowing the family members would have to wait for the gruesome identifications to bepleted before funeral arrangements could be made stateside. This loss was a huge blow to the SPECOPSmunity. To the U.S. military as a whole, and its role in the War on Terror. And though they’d been hit the hardest, the SEALmunity didn’t have time to mourn its fallen brothers.
He’d nearly been one of them. He’d originally been slated to be on that mission in Wardak province the day that Chinook had been shot down. Instead he’d been reassigned at the last moment with a few of his teammates. Fate had a goddamn twisted sense of humor sometimes.
Compared to the arid heat outside, the interior of the building was chilly from the air conditioning, bathed in a bluish glow from the fluorescent lighting. Reid rubbed a weary hand over his face. He hadn’t slept in almost three days. Had...
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Author : Kaylee Ryan

I rest my sweaty palms against my thighs, trying like hell not to let it show that I’m nervous. I look across the room and see my two best friends huddled close. Liam has a death grip on Allison’s hand. I can’t help but envy what they have; they bring out the best in one another. I have to admit, at first, I was skeptical, but now, anyone can see how much they love each other. I try to catch a glimpse of Hailey from the corner of my eye. She’s sitting with me. She says it’s so she can avoid the “love fest” that is Liam and Allison. I think, just for today, I’ll pretend that she’s really here for me. That she’s my girl. I wish! As if she can read my mind, I feel Hailey place her hand over mine. She laces our fingers together and gives my hand a tight squeeze.
“You don’t have to sit with me you know,” I tell her as I nod my head towards Allison and Liam. Inside, I’m screaming at myself to shut the fuck up. I want her to stay right where she is.
Hailey smiles at me and I can feel my heart rate increase. “I’m good,” she says leaning her shoulder against mine as she winks.
Hailey is my best friend, Liam’s, little sister. I met her when she was a sophomore in high school. She is shortpared to my six foot three, but I would say she is about five foot seven. Her long black hair hangs past her shoulders. She has a body that can bring a man to his knees, and her striking blue eyes hold me captive. Her eyes are also a reminder that she is my best friend’s little sister. Liam and Hailey share the same eyes. It’s apparently a dominant trait in the MacCoy clan.
I’ve always found her attractive, but over the past year, my attraction to her has grown tenfold. I have fought it daily and continue to struggle with how much I want her....
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Author : Kaylee Ryan

“Gran, this is a bad idea.”
“Allie girl, how many times do I have to tell you I’ll be fine? You’re only going to be forty minutes away. You need to go, spread your wings, and live your life. I want that for you more than anything.”
“But, Gran! We need to stick together, we’re a team the two of us. I hate the thought of someone else taking care of you. That’s my job,” I whine. I know that I am being childish, but the thought of leaving Gran alone was breaking my heart. Yes, she will have a nurse daily for eight hours a day, but she will be alone at night. This scares me. Gran suffers from heart disease and diabetes, which makes it hard for her to get around and domon everyday things such as cook and clean. This has been my job until the day she told me I had to live at the dorms at UNC, and would not take no for an answer.
“My sweet, sweet girl. I love you for that, but you need this and Ace is there, he misses you. I need you to make a way in this world for yourself. Staying in the dorms is the right decision. You have a lifetime of new experiences waiting for you. The Emerson’s are just next door and the nurse will be here seven days a week.”
“But …”
“That’s enough. Allison, listen to me. You are going to stay in the dorms and live it up like all kids your age. I have watched you give up too many experiences for me and I will not stand for it. I love you with all my heart, but you need to do this, for both of us.”
“Fine, but I aming home every weekend to see you,” I grumble.
“Oh no you don’t, missy. You wille home no more than one weekend a month, and even that is not necessary. Put yourself first for once, Allison. Take chances, make mistakes, fall in love,” Gran replies...
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Author : Lexi Buchanan

Lily had looked stunning as she walked down the aisle towards my nervous as hell brother Michael.
Along with my brothers, I’d spent most of the day having fun at Michael’s expense, which probably hadn’t helped with Michael’s nerves any.
A grin spreads across my face as I watch the reception crowd. Thinking back to earlier in the day when the four of us were bugging Michael, his lips tight with frustration as we teased him about Lily getting cold feet and running.
Michael had gone white and dropped rather abruptly onto the chair behind him. Lucien had made for the exit before Michael decided to react to our teasing by asking him where he was going. Laughter had filled the room as Lucien replied, ‘to ask Lily to run off with me,’ and Michael’s face had changed from white to red.
Eventually, mom had appeared and clouted us all across the back of our heads like she used to do when we were kids. Her calming presence had put a stop to the teasing. Yeah, Mom still had it in her to keep us all in order, despite the fact that the five of us towered over her these days.
The fact was you only had to look at Lily with Michael to see how much she loved him. They were ‘it’ for each other, and with Lily being pregnant, well, that was an added bonus. One I was actually looking forward to – being an uncle.
Spotting Lily alone for the first time during the day, I walk over to her. “Hey, beautiful.” She really is beautiful, with her hair swept up, pearls in her ears and around her neck.
“Sebastian, you look handsome,” she replies, her arms wrapping around my waist as she gives me a quick hug.
Stepping back, she continues to look at me – and look at me some more...
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