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Don't judge a person, the saying goes, until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

As an author, it is kind of my "job" to walk in other people's shoes.

I concoct people out of the ether, assign them names, personalities, quirks, body types, jobs, and homes. I am all up in their heads, puppet-mastering their every move, much less tromping around in their shoes. 

Sometimes I get my feet so firmly attached to the shoes of my fictional  characters I have a difficult time tossing them aside. This time last year I remember well. It was about the moment I relinquished my hold on my reality and dropped into a black hole. That black hole became a novel, Good Faith. One I am very proud of, and have spent a lot of time and energy and money trying to convince people to buy it and try it. 

It was a difficult story, one full of people with a lot of quirks and problems, including dangerous addictions to substances and activities. It also ended badly for a few people, people I really liked, whose heads and shoes I have occupied for the better part of five years now.

And I am finally figuring out why I am so clogged up, so to speak, now that it is time to move on and find a few new stories to tell.

I'm still wearing those shoes, still thinking in their heads, imagining what they would do or say in particular situations. No wonder writers were considered among the craziest of society's participants. Maybe we still are.

 Despite this novel's drama-filled release period. Despite the fact that this 225,000 word novel took me about ten weeks to write, then another 3 months to edit/revise/edit. Despite the fact that its release day, like the previous nineteen or so release days I have experienced started with the sun coming up and ended with the sun going down, nothing more. Despite the fact that I've more or less been giving it away for a dollar for weeks now just to try and capture a few more readers with it.

Despite all that, this novel is one I will be the proudest of no matter what happens to me or my future books. 

However, I am only just now, a year since I sat down and wrote the opening scene, able to slowly start letting the characters go.  Don't get me wrong. These particular characters are in 9 different books. The last novel however, I wrote as a stand alone OR as a final installment of a popular series. One of the characters (Jack Gordon, arguably the Liz Crowe male counter-personality) even had a near 600 "liked" fan page but I deleted it altogether last month.

I'm not so ego-centric to think that "no one understands how I feel." Any author, no matter how big, small, great or awful, LOVES their creations. We all get butt hurt when we see readers talking or swooning over or recommending characters NOT ours. 

But as part of what I like to think of as the Liz Crowe Author Professional Arc of Experience, I'm at a low point right now. The best word I can think of to describe it is "fragile."

 A good word, Fragile. 

It denotes and connotes a lot of personality or physical issues. I'm fairly robust in my physical self (too much so, some would argue) but I am finally coming to terms with why I seem to be going through an I HATE WRITING phase.

As authors we are advised (and I give this advice a lot too, sort of in the realm of "physician heal thyself") not to let our fragility show online. Don't bitch about your hard work, your lack of sales, others' successes relative to your failures. Don't cry, moan or otherwise kvetch about your shitty life choice. You wanted to "be an author." 

You were warned that succeeding at it, really truly succeeding in the block buster, multi movie deal, pulitzer prize winning way you dreamed of was about as likely as you winning the Super Mega Zillions Lottery off of a one dollar ticket. Talent and hard work aside, there are just too many others out there who are wiling to perhaps work just…that…much…harder than you. Or whose Karma Fairy is just better connected. 

But yet, you, I, we chose it. So we are not allowed to complain about it. Suck it up. Make more goals. Walk away from the writing and just leave it. But no, once you write, you cannot stop, in most cases. 

I'm not stopping, but I am going to pause a few days, and ponder why I should continue it. We all have these moments if we are honest with ourselves. And right now, my perspective on this whole write/edit/release/promote/promote/pay/promote/promote/promote and watch others do the same or less yet leapfrog you, is …. fragile. 

 Feeling out of control of your destiny in a difficult field is THE most frustrating thing ever--and I know that no matter if you are big time pubbed, small pubbed, self pubbed or pre-pubbed, that "out of control" feeling is one that is a constant companion.

I have a ton of projects in my head. More every day. And perhaps it is my current frustration in other ares of my life that are also intervening. Oh, and undergoing the sort of editing process that is more like a Master Writing Class Beat Down (as in "great work. go rewrite it completely now") probably isn't helping. But, at the same time, I know it is. Or that it will be. Someday.

But don't mind me.

I'm just feeling fragile. And I'm just peri-menepausal enough not to want to hear about going on walks, eating chocolate or just "taking a break." I want this god-awful, teary, frustrated "I can't write I suck" feeling to be GONE from me, completely. 

I have new characters' shoes to inhabit. They are just over there, waiting in my wings….

So this is me, signing off, staring at my Goals Board and giving myself a pep talk by writing about my feelings….don't judge me. My shoes are pretty darned uncomfortable.


I am thrilled and honored to have 2 very special guests at my beer bar today. Professional model and super nice guy Scott Nova and his almost-too-good-to-be-true-but-actually-very-awesome significant other, Lesley. I met these 2 at the RomFest down in Tennessee last year and we had such an amazing time I declared Scott my Official Stand In for Hans, the Liz Muse. He even came by Ann Arbor for the release weekend of GOOD FAITH!

Without another second to keep you waiting, let's get started….

Liz: Welcome to my beer bar Scott and Lesley, what can I pour for each of you to start?
Lesley: We’re thrilled to be here, Liz, we don’t get out much so thanks for the invite!  Ok, if I must drink, I’m a wuss, give me something light.
Scott: Well, I really liked your Wolverine Dark Lager when I tried it in your hotel room ;)
Lesley: /sideways look….Oh wait, I was there too ;)
Liz: Well played kids.

Liz: We met as you might expect at a romance writer's convention. I know you do a ton conventions like it Scott so I gotta ask, how does it feel (really now, be honest) to be so objectified at those things?
Scott: At times, it’s a little much to take in...and some ladies get a little (sometimes a lot) handsie but I also know that a LOT of them really look up to their authors and the heroes that the authors depict on their covers. With that said, in the end, it’s pretty cool all at the same time. Especially for me, the ex-skinny kid who was bullied majorly in high school. I’m also a big softy at heart, so if I can make some fans happy by taking nice photos and conversation, then I’m all for it. It’s also incredibly ego boosting too. So you’ll never hear me complain lol

Liz: You guys are professional health nuts, right? I mean, it's all about the right foods and whatnot. Have you always been that way?
Lesley: Not in this capacity, no.  When Scott went into the fire academy six years ago he noticed the perks of being able to lift heavy things so he rededicate himself to the gym.  I was a dancer in my past life and was doing a Caberet in Columbus, Ohio three and a half years ago.  When I saw costumes, I decided I could stand to lose a few pounds.  Scott said I could come to the gym with him to lose some weight (cue romance spawned by the gym).  When you rush to the gym after work every day just to see your gym partner, it really pushes you to get into the gym!  Almost 4 years later, we’re still gym partners, or as it’s called in our circles, “swolemates”!
Scott:  HAHA yes, we are definitely swolemates….there’s no doubt there. We’ve gone to the gym on Valentine’s Day, and Christmas Eve before. The lifestyle we have is just that, a lifestyle. It’s not even a 2nd thought for us to know that we will be cooking over the weekend to make sure we have the proper foods, in the right quantities and all packed ready for the week. We don’t premake dinners, Lesley cooks those fresh each night and we sit down as a family and eat. Sometimes we have my son, Jacob, and so we all make sure we sit down and eat together. And no, I wasn’t always like this, I used to THINK I knew what was good eating for bodybuilding, but only in the last two years have I really learned. I’ve honed in my body, and made it as much a granite statue as I can.
Liz: Ponders "Granite Statue" for about a half second too long….

Liz: Scott did I dream this (sideways glance at the reader) or did I see that you have applied to be a firefighter? I thought the whole "IT geek with a smoking hot body" thing was working pretty well for you. Are you seeking this career change for a reason or is something you've always wanted to do?
Scott: Well, IT was great...for a time. But there quickly became a very large hole in my life. I don’t play well in the corporate world. I’m an alpha need to cover that up. Anyone who really knows me, will know that. It’s not little man syndrome, I’m not little. I just say it as it is, back up what I say, and stand behind what I’ve said and done. And that ISN’T how most companies or corporations work. It’s all about lying and being shady and I don’t do that. I also get looked down on BECAUSE of my lifestyle choices with bodybuliding and diet. More than once, I get accused of being anti-social because I didn’t go to lunch with the team. Not my fault those guys go to Five Guys Burgers three times a week. I also always felt something was missing...I was blessed with a mindset of not panicking whenever something happens. I MAKE results happen, I don’t wait for someone else to take charge. I also was blessed with very strong shoulders, and a strong back, and all things you need to be a good firefighter. So, nope, you were correct, I recently applied for a firefighter position and interviewed….Keeping the fingers crossed.
Liz: Oh, we will, make no mistake about THAT!

Liz: Whoops! empty glasses. What can I get for you next?
Lesley: What now?  A second round?  Good thing Scott is driving home.
Scott: Oh hell, why not...keep the Lager coming.
Liz: I'll get you kids trained up properly in no time….oh, sorry, watch that hand….

Liz: Lesley you are lucky that you are so nice because frankly, "bikini model with hot cover model fiance" is not usually a description that cries out "New Liz Friend." However, I have to tell you that you charmed the group at the convention just as much as the hunky guy over there. Do you usually attend those with him? Is it...weird to have all these writer ladies with active sex imaginations glomming all over your man? be honest....
Lesley:  Haha, I think that’s a compliment so I’ll take it!  I have gone to a day-con or two with him before; met a few authors, helped Scott with some swag.  But RomFest in Gatlinburg last year was the first time that I was able to really hang out with you authors and get to know you all as friends!  If and when it works into our schedules and makes sense for me to come, I enjoy the conventions just as much as the next girl.  I don’t find it weird at all!  First and foremost, I’m his number one fan (sorry ladies, think that you are all you want, but it’s me) so I have just as much fun watching him parade around as everyone else.  I just truly enjoy watching him in his element and having so much fun, because it’s true, he LOVES doing this.  Active imaginations you say?  I’m just a young pup, I’ll gladly take any pointers you women have!
Liz: Yes, you are his Number One Fan without a doubt. Because frankly, for most of us, we prefer not to wash his socks or any of that other mundane crap. We have enough of that in our lives. We'll just keep him tucked away in our fantasy corner….BUT, should you require advice my dear, well, I'm guessing we could arrange a lengthy demonstration.

Liz: Tell us a little about your journey into your current life as professional model. If I remember correctly it's a cool story. Is it how you guys met?
Scott: Well, I got interested in modeling in college...but didn’t do anything with it until Cindy Walker recruited me for the RT-LA for Mr. Romance and the rest is history. The rest of my modeling is up and coming because my body is getting bigger and more muscular and that IS what folks pay for.
Lesley: No, no, no, I am NOT a model.  I’ve been a prop for him once or twice, but that’s all.  You can see me on stage in a bikini, but you probably won’t see me in front of a lens!

Liz: Scott, what are your goals for Life as Cover Model? To be the next Fabio or that Jimmy whatshisname? (you're cuter, just saying--again that whole "nice guy, hot bod, lovely face, computer geek" thing is just titillating).  Tell us an embarrassing story about Life as Male Cover Model---come on, give it up. How about your favorite cover so far?
Scott: Well, I don’t want to copy another model that has been very successful, but I’ll kind of take cues from them and try to avoid some of the pitfalls that they have had at times.  Ultimately, I’m taking my own path. When those two guys were coming up the ranks, doing their thing, they had very little competition compared to today’s guys. With the internet and social media, every guy with a set of abs calls himself a cover model before even getting a cover; or maybe one cover that they “gave” away to an indie-author. So my goal is to be a very fun filled cover model that can help authors promote their products and also become a regular name when cover models are discussed. I know that I won’t be everyone's favorite, that’s impossible, so I try to make sure that I reach as many folks as I can. Embarrassing moment in cover modeling eh? Well, there was this one time that I had to wear a Hans outfit at this brewery...GAWD that was rough. LOL *wink* But no, really...embarrassing I don’t really have one. Really I don’t...I’m pretty easy going, and it takes a lot to embarrass me.  Plus, I generally know what I’m getting myself into in each situation.

Liz: Guys, it's getting late so let's share a nightcap...what can I get you do NOT say "water because our bodies are a temple that cannot be sullied" or I will be forced to smack your heads together.  One last question: when is the Big Day?
Lesley: Oh dear Lord, no more please!  I’m such a light weight!
Scott: Well, I DO have to drive tonight, so, maybe just a half glass!!

Lesley: Big day?  Err...umm….what day are you airing this interview?  Because we kind of sort of eloped on April 2nd :)
Scott: Yep, I put a ring on it, and then put another one on it on April 2nd.

Liz: woo hoo!!! Congrats! Ok, now he's really hitched ladies so sheathe your claws…..but he is "Hans" so I get to talk to (argue with) him daily!

Lesley:  Things came up, life throws you curveballs, and so, we took the day off work, we snuck off to the courthouse, just the two of us, and got hitched!

Liz: and if THAT is NOT the fodder for a novel, well, you guys are getting lazy out there….

Thanks for coming by Scott and Lesley. Enjoy married life…and remember, that skills demonstration is just a phone call away….

Before I go a step further in today's "reflection" post, let me make one thing perfectly, 100% clear:  

Yep. I'm one of those….
I'll admit it….

I mean, who doesn't, really?

This past week I had some time to read a bunch of posts people sent me, comparing "succeeding in the publishing world" to "March Madness." The general concept was that no matter how good the good teams are there is always room for Cinderella to crash the ball with her glass slipper and piss all the other girls off. 

I am fairly certain that all half dozen of the people who sent me the link to the same post were implying that we (that is to say I) as the "indie author" would be the Cinderella and should keep on plugging.

Because OMGeeee
Unless there are zombies involved. Then it is definitely a sprint.

I get this of course. We all do. 


But still…you know sometimes? It would be awesomely cool to get rewarded for all the moon-shooting, star landing and….marathoning.

But, as the Sweet 16 in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament proved, if nothing else, sometimes you will lose.
Be it a crucial game...
Or your mind as you try to navigate the roiling waters of "making a living as an author…" 

I'm not here being a negative Nancy (I hear you thinking that, so just stop). I am merely taking a moment to acknowledge that losing sucks. Pretending that it makes you stronger, at that moment, is a waste of your energy. Own the loss. Make it yours. When the looooooong email comes from your editor saying, in essence, "you have, like three sentences in this worth saving, now go and re-write it again" you should take a moment to get pissed, defensive, and scream at the computer screen. But once that moment is over…it is over. Time to get to work, damn it. Stop your sniveling. 
Go and shoot some free throws because you love the game. Go and write something else for a day, then come back to the email because you love that game.

This is not to claim that you won't be unhappy, nay--furious--when you see that the biggest douche nozzle in three states has just landed a nine and a half figure book deal based off a series of serialized snippets on his blog "WhyI'" If he can do it, you can.
As one of the author/bloggers I love to hate Chuck Wendig said just today:
Writers Write. Get the f%$# off the internet and stop whining. Go write"
(well, that is how I interpreted what he said, anyways.)

And as another blogger/inspiration Kirsten Lamb said recently: "I was white-knuckled-terrified of failure, of not knowing ALL the answers or being *gasp* WRONG. Every quiet moment was a montage in my mind of how I sucked, how I’d screwed up, how I should’ve could’ve would’ve…."

So which is it? 
Getting a grip on your inner perfectionist and hog-tying that bitch until she screams for mercy? (no, that is not your next plot bunny, stay with me here). 

Marathoning it day in and day out, blinkers on, blind to the successes of the random assholes, douchenozzles and Squee sisters?

Being the constant, consummate social networker, lifting everyone else up while humble-bragging about hitting your "likes" goal?

I guess, after the crushing, gut-wrenching basketball loss my team experienced on Friday night and spending the entire next day pouting (and recovering from a pretty nasty hangover) I can safely say that I'm guessing the players on the Louisville Cardinals team (National Champions 2013) are back on the floor or in the weight room because, you know, they love the game. 

…and there is always next year.

Hang in soul mates.  I hate marathons myself. But sometimes you gotta train like you're in one….because damn, I hate losing! 

And now: promo time!
If you are a blogger/reviewer/author with a great blog and want to earn some prizes (as opposed to all the "commenters" earning them) I am hosting a new-fangled sort of BOOK BLAST for the re-release of my novel ESSENCE OF TIME in May.
That's right. It's a #hashtag party!
$50-100 of Amazon bucks are up for grabs!
Please contact Stephanie@tridestinypublishing ASAP to get in on this unique opportunity. The Essence of Time book blast runs May 12-14, 2014.

Today, I welcome a very creative and fun fellow conference goer, Ciara Knight to the Beer Bar Series....hold you hear that?

Liz Goes SteamPunk!

Welcome to my beer bar Ciara! what can I pour for you to start? 

(...and don't point the gun at the Beer Wench dear, I can't be responsible for what my bar tenders might do...)

Hi, Liz! Thanks so much for having me here. It’s a pleasure to hang out with you again. 
Well, you ARE the Beer Wench. ;) What do you recommend? I read your fantastic book, Paradise Hops, so I am craving something original.
Speaking of Paradise Hops, OMG, I’m still aching for your characters. What a story!

AW shucks...thanks. I'm pretty proud of that one too. Ok, let's go with our seasonal "Snakes on a Shamrock, Irish Red Lager" .....
We met at "romance convention" yet your best selling books (at the moment) are not romance. Tell us about the Neumarian Chronicles series. How did you think of it? Will it continue?

The Neumarian Chronicles does have romantic elements, but the romance really kicks into high gear between Ryder and Semara in the second book of the series, Pendulum.

The original ‘concept’ came to me while watching the news. It was a report about civil unrest due to unmentionable brutality by a countries leader. I’d always wanted to write a series with more science fiction elements and bring light to a terrible situation. These two meshed to form The Neumarian Chronicles.
Each book is unique. The prequel, Weighted, goes back to a twelve-year-old girl, Raeth, who is tortured for information. This story is about childhood friendships that blossom into greatness. In Escapement, book I, we fast-forward four years to Semara’s sixteenth birthday where she is ordered to sacrifice a slave to take her place on the council. The slave is her childhood friend. This book focuses on the theme of the series, which is to be bold and brave in order to win freedom in life.
Book II, is where the romance heats up and our hero and heroine lead a rebellion against the Queen’s empire. Of course, that is no easy task. During the epic conclusion in book III, Balance, everything comes together in a startling conclusion.

I hear you have a new novel  IS a "contemporary romance." What is it about? Do you have other romance or sexy books that you've released under a different pen name?

I do have a sweet contemporary series out now, Sweetwater County. Winter in Sweetwater County released in January and will be followed by spring, summer and fall. These stories are differ from my normal science fiction/fantasy/paranormal books, but many readers are saying it still has that ‘Defy the Dark’ style.

whoops! empty glass. what can I get next for you.
Another one of your delicious brews, please!!

Let's try the Volitionist, our stout lager, in honor of your seasonal series!

So you went the self-publishing route with your series, correct? How did you arrive at the decision to do that (because don't you work with a small press as well?)

I do work as an acquisitions editor for a small press, and I LOVE it. Working with authors, guiding them toward publication is a joy. The ladies at the press house are so awesome. The reason I’m self-publishing at the moment is because I’m a little bit of a control freak. I did the agent thing, and might still go back to it someday, but I’m enjoying where I’m at right now. I’m not a fan of closed doors, I prefer to keep them all wide open.

You are a ton of fun to party with. I had never been to any writer's convention and when I met you (and Hilde, of course, that gal is the bomb) in Gatlinburg the first year I thought you were a blast and this past year we had a great time too. Do you attend a lot of writer conventions? Why or why not?

Oh my goodness, you are SO the fun one. I had a blast getting to know you that first year. It was a fantastic time.

I’ve attended several conferences, but with three boys at home my travel time is limited. I’m hitting Romantic Times this year, The Novel Experience and Alabama Phoenix Festival.

And what is your view on the "blog or not to blog" issue? Does it help you sell books or just provide a convenient venting outlet for you?

I actually shut down my blog recently due to taking on a more vigorous writing schedule. I miss my blogging friends and family, but there just isn’t enough time in the day to do it all. I do post news on the front page of my website, but my blog has been removed for now. Each other is unique, in my situation, I reach more readers via Facebook, Twitter and other social media than my blog.

Ok, nightcap time. What's your poison?
Night cap? Um…I can’t feel my feet right now. LOL, I’m such a light weight. Besides, your brew is too good to pass up. May I have one last one for the road?

I’ll let you ease on out of here with Bluewater Light, our new light lager (just 92 calories. Just saying).

Ciara Knight - Defy the Dark
YA Author
Visit me at: Blog, Facebook, Twitter, 

Goodreads , Amazon
 YA/NA Best-selling Series: The Neumarian Chronicles
Sweet Contemporary Romance: Sweetwater County


MY REVIEW of ESCAPEMENT (book 1 of the Neumerian Chronicles): 

I will state up front that I am not a fan (in general) of the "steampunk" sub genre but I was intrigued by the concept of this novel and since I was hosting Ciara on my Across the Beer Bar with Liz interview series I wanted to have a sense of where she was coming from with this series.

The story arc begins quickly and moves fast, faster and fastest, and the world starts building for the reader right away. It's chock full of alien creatures, a new language,odd (to me) machinations about body parts and all sorts of steampunk style elements. But at its heart the novel is about a brave young woman (Semara) who is finally able to look her evil mother in the eye (more or less) and say "Nope, this is not my life."

Of course, that sort of complicates things as the young woman in question is being used as a political pawn by her mother the Queen and is slated to be married off to a real nasty dude of a general.

That sets up a real thrill ride of an escape. Along with a girl she nearly killed once before AND the girl's hunky, conflicted, broody, arrogant older brother, Semara (the princess) gets knocked down literally and figuratively over and over again, only to leap back to her feet, ready for more. Things progress as you might expect between Semara and the hero but all around their slightly rushed romance is a ton of amazing adventure. With every page turn I encountered the sort of world-building creativity that I really admired.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys super (duper) fast-paced narrative in a sci-fi, steampunk or fantasy genre--and note that there is definitely an element of romance I expect that will be further explored in the next book.

One of my favorite things about this book is its gloriously rendered cover. It says a lot about how Semara is trapped within her life and her body, that has just begun to mature in the usual way but also in a scary, powerful other way. The subtle colors and light say so much about what is contained within it.

Well done Ms. Knight.

I gotta get me some of these: 

Welcome back….
Three words for you:
Who's playing whom?

catch up on our saga of international, sexy intrigue here with these click-able links:
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 

Part 4

Part 5

And now….in an entirely unsuitable for work new installment allow me to present...

Chapter 7

The following morning Alex stood, clutching her first cup of coffee, staring dumbfounded at the images unfolding on her computer screen. Jay had barged into her office without bothering to let her know he was coming within seconds of her regular, seven thirty arrival, startling her with the intensity in his gaze. “What?” She’d asked, once she’d gathered her wits back around her.
Did he know? Had he found the tracking device on his phone?
Lucas was on Jay’s heels, tablet in hand, hair still wet from a shower. Alex resisted to impulse to close her eyes at the sight of him, the memory of his lips on hers had haunted her entire, long day alone just yesterday. He was so…perfect. So perfectly young and so very much not for you good god get a grip.
Jay’s clipped words broke through her fog of unrequited, inappropriate lust.
“Turn on the news. Now.”
“Oh, um…” She glanced over his blue-suited shoulder and caught Lucas’ eye. He gave her a quick shake of his head, indicating that he didn’t know any more than she did. “Sure.” She fired up the huge screen and found the television news channel.
The talking heads looked worried. She made herself focus on them and what they were saying and not on how close Lucas stood to her—so close she could smell soap from his skin and hear his breathing, which for some reason made her feel calm.
“In a shocking move, the Turkish government has shut down a popular social networking site today, promising that it would remain inaccessible to those wishing to undermine their authority with anything resembling an “Arab Spring” style uprising.”
She frowned, trying to process what was not being said. A reporter appeared, standing in front of the Turkish parliamentary building in Ankara. She was surrounded by yelling protestors. “The Prime Minister is locked away, unwilling to answer media questions but one thing is certain, shutting down access to a major social networking site may have been a mistake, if the response on the street is any indication. Information provided by a non-governmental source hints that many American-based companies are being notified that their internal servers are also under scrutiny thanks to their close ties with the American military. Some of the companies in question include …”
But Alexa had stopped listening and had taken the tablet Lucas had handed her, which was already showing her private, highly encrypted set of passwords and server addresses. Tate Lincoln spent the GDP of a small country’s worth on privacy protection, thanks to their close relationships with the Air Force and she had put the entire thing in motion, once their lucrative contracts had been signed. She watched, eyes flickering down the always moving screen. Passwords were reset every seventeen minutes, twenty-fours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year. The sort of research being conducted in the four labs around the world were of the highest secrecy. It was her job to make sure they stayed that way.
Lucas pulled up another screen on her laptop that was open on her desk, clicking through emails until he found what he was looking for. Without a word, he took the tablet, then pulled out her chair so she could sit and read what he had pulled up on the screen below the large one still spouting alarming words about “international companies under government scrutiny.”
The message was from the highest authority possible, from her NGO contact in D.C.  “Based on the recent events in Turkey, we have initiated the following protocols.” It went on to list several steps she had to take to undertake a massive data dumping project that made her blow out a breath of air. Her temples started pounding as she scrolled down the list.
“Je-sus,” Lucas said near her ear. She turned, disconcerted by his proximity but realizing he knew exactly how much work they were staring at. Work that needed to begin now.
“So,” Jay said from across the desk.
Alex looked up at him, surprised to hear his voice. “Oh, sorry,” she said, running a shaking hand down her face. The convolutions were dizzying. He looked positively wigged out right then. She tried to parse his expression.
“So,” he said again. “Can you tell me how this is going to effect us, in real time?” He had his phone out and was looking down at it. Alex turned and caught Lucas’ gaze.
“Yes, well, according to the email from D.C. I have to starting dumping things off our servers, ASAP.”
“Things, like what, exactly?” Jay kept his eyes trained on his phone.
Alexa felt Lucas’ hand on her shoulder, pressing down, trying to tell her something.
“Like all communications with the Air Force for starters, plus the research data that we collect on the main servers downstairs. Then they want a full purge of the intracompany network—all of it. And we are to tell employees to dump their online profiles.”
He glanced up at her. “Wow,” he said before sticking his phone in his pocket. At that moment, Alexa glanced at her laptop screen on instinct. She saw the little stickie note Lucas must have put there in the last few seconds.
“Lean back into me. He needs to think we’re together,” it said.
She took a long breath and settled back into her seat, staring at Jay while Lucas’ hand rested on her shoulder in an entirely unprofessional, inappropriate way. Jay’s eyes narrowed at the sight in a way so utterly predictable it depressed her.
“Wow,” he repeated taking a step towards her desk, his alpha male feathers fully ruffled now. “I have my talking points. I’ll be making an intracompany video announcement in about twenty minutes, once the PR flaks get the speech ready. What I really want to know is this…” He settled onto the corner of her desk, staring them down. She felt Lucas’ hand press harder, calming her as if he realized she was about to leap up and put distance between them. She recognized the set of her boss’s jaw well, had seen it plenty of times.
“What,” she said, keeping her voice neutral. “What do you need to know?”
Jay stayed quiet, studying whatever bizarre tableau she and Lucas presented. At that moment, her office door opened, revealing Ebru clutching a tablet. Lucas took his hand off her shoulder at the sight. Jay raised an eyebrow. Alexa frowned. They froze like this, Alexa never more aware of the strange dynamic between the four of them.
“Excuse me,” Ebru said, breaking the moment. Alexa blinked. Jay stood back up and shot his cuffs. “I thought I should show you some of the stuff going on in the social media-sphere…sort of, relative to us?” Her huge eyes looked bigger behind the snazzy glasses. “Uh, sorry to interrupt?” Her voice raised in question. Alexa didn’t miss the way the other woman’s sharp gaze shot over her shoulder, then narrowed at the sight of Lucas standing so close to her chair.
“Well, I have to go deal with this,” Jay said, his eyes never leaving hers. “I’ll be in my office. Alex, can you join me in a few? We need to…reconvene.” And with that he was gone, leaving Ebru standing open-mouthed in the doorway and Alexa sitting, sweaty and confused at her desk.

Lucas stood in the hall, watching staff scurry around, everyone keeping their heads down. He took a long breath, squared his shoulders, smiled at a few of the women who shot him sidelong glances. He felt buzzy, addled by what he was trying to do combined with what the real world had decided to toss at them. His phone was blowing up with texts from Ebru.
After the strangeness of the morning’s news flash and encounter in Alexa’s office, he’d sensed how distinctly not happy she’d been. And that realization alone had freaked him out so much he’d hardly been able to focus on Alexa and the task they had at hand. He’d been a twitchy mess, truth be told, even through the last nearly ten hours of work to follow the U.S. military ordered data and info dump from their massive servers.
Since when was he so in tune to a woman’s vibe? Seriously. It confused him, kept him on edge and unable to fulfill the whole charade of being a couple with Alexa so as to tug the big boss into revealing his hand. He needed space. Hence, he was out here, taking long, deep breaths of air that he did not have to share with Alexa.
She’d been like a demon on a mission ever since the morning’s news, which had steadily progressed downward throughout the day. They’d done the required data purge which had taken the better part of three hours, given the amount of shit that resided on their server connected to the U.S. Air Force. About half way through that exercise, Lucas had leaned back in his seat and stretched his arms over his head. “Why are we doing this. I mean, why not the department of fifty or so flunkies you have just overhead?” he’d asked.
She’d looked up from her intent study of her computer screen and glared at him long enough to make him feel about three feet tall. “Because,” she’d said, then held up her empty coffee cup and resumed her work at the servers.
He’d gotten her more coffee as an excuse to be the hell away from her. The damn Turkish government had impeccable timing that much was sure. He needed to ramp up the “fool the CEO into thinking his fuck buddy CIO was screwing her assistant” farce. He needed answers in order to maintain the veracity of his job here.
But he couldn’t ignore the tenor of the messages he’d been getting all day from the mother ship back in Virginia.  Once foreign governments got involved, typically he’d be called home to roost. But he was not done here—for a lot of reasons and on a lot of levels.
 After a few minutes, he felt prepared to face Ebru so he took the elevator down to her floor, disembarked and walked into the glass enclosed supplier relations department that she ruled. After a few minutes staring around at the controlled chaos, he spotted her at the far end of the room near her private office, tearing some hapless dude several new assholes. He smiled at the sight.
Okay Cameron. Focus. This is not what you want. Alexa is…
But at that moment she turned and fixed her dark gaze on him. Lucas Cameron had never in his entire adult, sexually active life felt as he did at that moment—the week-kneed, utterly bizarre sensation that tore through him when she raised an eyebrow, then crooked her finger and jerked her chin towards her office door made a cold sweat break out on every inch of his skin. Thankful to the gods of good timing for an excuse to have his shirttail pulled out over the waistband of his dress trousers, he took a breath and made his way towards the open door she indicated.
Once inside, he turned, opened his mouth to say something innocuous and had to grip the back of a conveniently placed chair at the sight of her. She stood, back to the now closed office door, perfection on two legs. Her dark eyes snapped with what he assumed was lust, or jealousy. But the body he knew well was barely encased in a bright white blouse that dipped low enough to reveal her ample cleavage. The midnight blue skirt encircled her hips, caressing them, and ended well above her bare knees.
He sucked in a breath and knew in an instant that she was bare underneath.
“I don’t share.” Her voice was low, rough, sexy.  He closed his eyes and tried to deny the power in those three words.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He continued to white-knuckle the chair back.
 He heard the distinct sound of a lock shooting home. His vision started to fuzz over, then snapped into crystal clear focus as she strode over to him on her sky-high heels, the sway of her hips mesmerizing him even as he took steps away until his ass hit the ledge of a window.  She stopped, the tips of her breasts grazing his chest, her full, dark lips centimeters from his. When she touched the edge of his jaw with a fingertip he heard someone groan. By the time he realized it had come from him, he had her in his arms, had his tongue shoved into her mouth, was lifting her up, setting her on the desk.
“Yes,” she hissed, gripping his ass. “Now I think you understand.”
Alexa, his brain screamed at him. Get back to Alexa. Get on with this thing you’re doing. Help her.
“Fuck,” he mumbled as she yanked his zipper down and fisted his cock. “Ebru…I’m…oh Christ,” he moaned as she threaded her fingers in his hair and pulled hard. The hand gripping his dick tightened at the same time, sending a spiral of pain and fear up his spine to his brain, which intercepted it with a burst of pure, visceral pleasure. “You…can’t…”
She held him, stroked him, and when he was on the ragged edge, his every nerve ending singing with a confused muddle of pain and ecstasy at her manipulation of his most sensitive parts, she stopped. Breaking their frantic tongue tangling kiss, she let go of him and shoved him away so hard he stumbled back and had to sit, lest he fall.  So he sat, chest heaving, dick exposed, staring at her as she shifted, lifted her skirt to expose her bare pussy to his gaze.
She touched herself, never taking her eyes from his. He could hear the hustle and bustle of the office outside her door, felt his phone buzz in his pocket, registered the bleep and dings of incoming email and messages and whatever else. But none of it mattered. Nothing mattered but the sound of her voice at that moment.
He stayed seated, frozen, aching from head to toe, watching as she spread her legs, then beckoned for him again. “Come over here Lucas. I need you.”
He gulped, never hornier in his life, yet torn by the strange urge to zip up and bolt, to get the hell away from her. He glanced up at the ceiling. When a brittle bite of pain shot through him, he grunted and looked down to see her pinching him, holding his dick so tight it nearly brought tears to his eyes.  
“Did you not hear me? Lucas?” Her eyes shone as she leaned down to lick his lower lip then bite on it hard as she released his cock. He had to call on every reserve he had to not blow all over himself right then.
What in god’s name was going on here?
“I need you Lucas,” she said again, her lilting accent coiling around up in head, making him dizzy.  “Come over here.” And she stood, backed up and sat on the desk again.
He stood, then dropped to his knees and did as he was told, on a weird sort of auto pilot that kept him going, kept him licking, sucking and drawing orgasms out of her again and again until she yanked him to his feet.
 “Now,” she growled in his ear, yanking his hair and digging her fingernails into his ass. “Now. Fuck me.”
He did and when she finally allowed him to come he nearly passed out. Gasping, trying to collect himself, to get control, he pulled out of her body reluctantly and met her gaze. “Wow,” he said, lamely but unable to conjure anything more cogent. “I, um, well…”
She laughed low in her throat and grabbed tissues from a box on her desk. He zipped up, shaking so hard he had to sit again. He closed his eyes, trying to re-focus, to come to terms with what he’d just allowed to happen. When pain sliced through his thigh, he opened his eyes and saw her stiletto-heeled foot digging in, piercing the fabric of his trousers. Perversely, it made his lizard brain buzz with inexplicable, renewed horniness.  He stared at it, hypnotized, his body frozen, his mind spinning.
She pressed in harder. He touched her foot, slid his hand up her smooth, dark skinned calf and thigh, finding the moisture under her skirt, smelling her, smelling himself.  
“I don’t share,” she insisted, giving him a déjà vu moment. “Lucas.” Her voice dropped a bit. “You’re mine. Not hers.”
He nodded, and kept his hand moving until he cupped her bare, moist sex. She threaded her fingers in his hair again, making him wince from the pain she’d already bestowed there, her hips moving forward, encouraging him. Then, as soon as she’d pounced, she backed away, smiling, straightening her skirt and blouse. Lucas thought he very well might explode from lust.
“Go,” she said, waving to the door. “I’m done. But when I call or text, you’d better be quicker next time.” She leaned down and pressed a soft, gentle kiss to his lips. He grabbed for her, desperate and pissed off. She bit down on his lower lip again, this time hard enough to make him cry out. “Go, I said.” She stood and walked behind her desk, staring down at her computer screen.
He stared at her a full minute, confused, embarrassed and wanting nothing more than to lick his way up her shoes, her legs, her... He cleared his throat, hoping he could rally and act like a man and not a sniveling loser.
“I’ll call you soon,” she said. “Be ready.”
After a few minutes of silence, punctuated by her tap-tapping away at her keyboard, she looked up, glasses back in place. “Why are you still here, Lucas?”
The way she said his name—like a curse and a caress all at once—made him grip the chair arms. He rose, turned and unlocked her door. Just as he was making his wobbly way out, she spoke.
“You understand this, right? You are mine.”
He blinked, nodded and then left shutting the door behind him. His pocket buzzed for the millionth time. As he tugged his phone out and tried to calm his clanging brain, he had one, distinct thought—this was about to get way more complicated than he had expected. Because while he may have a crush on his boss, the lovely, elusive, mysterious, powerful Alexa, if he did not get to go back and service the enticing Ebru soon, he would be one very unhappy man.
He looked at the phone screen. “Where the hell are you?” Alexa had messaged him twice in the last hour while he was happily occupied. “Get back up here. Jay’s been in and out. We need our cover.”
He put a hand over his eyes and cursed himself, hearing Ebru’s voice, her words and commands. As he held the phone, it buzzed again. Glancing down he could barely repress a wicked smile at the text message from the woman who stood not five feet from him, just inside her office door.

“I have a set of nice, soft ropes with your name on them Lucas. I’m bringing them tonight. Make sure you are alone and have ice cold vodka and a bowl of strawberries ready for me.”