The familiar, raspy voice coming from across the room makes me smile immediately. I drag my attention from my computer screen. “Gavin? What the heck are you doing here?”

“It’s been a while, sweets,” he says, pitching me his infamous lazy grin.

I recline in my chair and cross my arms, convinced he’s up to something. I see it written all over his face. “Okay. We all know you’re ‘shmexy,’ but don’t forget that I created you, buddy. Your swoon might work on Emily and the readers, but I’m basically your mother.”

“Damn,” he says, his blue eyes wide, “you haven’t changed at all.”

I shrug. “I’m an Italian Scorpio. What’s up, Blake?”

Crossing his arms, he sits on the corner of my desk as his grin widens. “Look, I get that you’re knee deep in writing about a few other ‘book boyfriends’—who will never hold a candle to me—but you do realize that it’s almost Collide’s first birthday, right?”

Ryder pops into the room. “Who the fuck says I won’t hold a candle to you?” His cocky smile, aimed at Gavin, is nothing short of a challenge. “Dude, seriously? I can do better than bottle caps.”

Gavin slowly rises from my desk. His shmexy face twists into a frightening scowl, and his jaw tightens as he loosens his tie.

Christ. The alpha tension in my office is the worst I’ve ever witnessed.

Continuing his taunt, Ryder throws his hand over his heart. “‘Here’s to bottle caps’—real men kick back with a bottle of tequila—‘the Yankees’—who suck ass—‘and birds’—who suck even bigger ass…” A chuckle barrels from his chest. “Give me a break, bro. If they liked you, I’ll rock their fucking minds. They’re gonna need their mechanical devices to get through my scenes. When Amber to Ashes releases, divorce rates all over the country are gonna skyrocket. Bet on that, Mr. Tall, Dark, ‘I drive a Minivan’ Blake.”

“This is a joke, right?” Gavin’s attention darts between me and Ryder. “Did Douche-Cock Dillon hire Ashton Kutcher and his Punk’d crew to fuck with me?” Rubbing his jaw, Gavin steps in front of Ryder. “Wait. My wife put you up to this, didn’t she? Her pregnancy hormones are all over the place; I wouldn’t put it past her. Emily gets off on shit like this.”

“No. It’s not a joke.” Shaking my head, I stand and, hoping to defuse the situation, wedge myself between my two warped creations. “Gavin, this is Ryder Ashcroft. He’s one of Amber to Ashes’ main characters.”

“That’s right.” Ryder sniffs haughtily, his dark brow drawn up. “One of her newest main characters. You’re old news, bro. Let our boss get back to writing about me and my girl. She’s on a tight deadline, and you’re just getting in the way of her creativity.”

Gavin flicks his eyes to me then back to Ryder. His undiluted amusement twitches his lips into a wicked smirk. “She went from writing a character like me to a little boy like you?”

Their roles completely reversed, it’s Gavin who chuckles as Ryder scowls at him from over my shoulder.

I need back up, and I need it now.

Sobering, Gavin tilts his head, his eyes narrowed. “Let me tell you something, kid. No amount of mechanical devices or rereads of you will ever get the ladies going the way I did. You keep that fresh in your young head while you’re trying to imitate me with your every word and action.” Gavin shrugs, his smirk all kinds of intimidating. “I’m just trying to save you the embarrassment. It’s nothing personal, just a simple warning. You couldn’t come close to the same amount of wet panties I did in two books if our boss gave you ten. Bet. On. That.”

Right about the same time I hear both men crack their knuckles, my husband, Joe, comes downstairs. His presence should save Ryder’s ass from getting kicked from one end of my office to the next. Or maybe Gavin’s ass. At this point, I can’t be too sure. The only thing I know, other than the fact that I’ve created two pretty hot asses, is that they look as though they’re about to murder each other.

“I couldn’t help but overhear what was going on.” My husband shakes his head, laughing at the tense scene. “Gavin and Ryder about to throw down. This should be interesting.”

“I’m happy you find this amusing,” I huff, rolling my eyes. I’m about to un-write both Gavin and Ryder. Shit, I’m about to file for divorce. I can jet off to some island in the Bahamas and do nothing but eat chocolate and lose myself in some other author’s book boyfriend.

Gavin steps aside and shakes my husband’s hand. “Hey, Mr. McHugh. I apologize for this debacle. Though I love her to death, your wife has created a…nuisance instead of a real man.”

“Yo, Blake,” Ryder pipes up, “I’m about to shove a bottle cap straight up your ass.”

Gavin’s smirk is back, this one cockier than its predecessor. “You’d like that, wouldn’t ya, little boy? Yes. Of course you would, considering you have no idea how to handle a woman.”

“He looks like he knows exactly how to handle a woman,” Olivia purrs, making her way down the stairs.

“The joke’s on me, right?” I toss up my arms and look around for a hidden camera crew. They’re all in on it. Every single one of my characters. Falling into my chair, I’m close to done. If Emily, Dillon, Trevor, or Fallon show up, I’m gonna go HAM. “Olivia, what are you doing here?”


“Olivia!” I throw an empty plastic cup at her head.

“What? What did I do?” she squeaks, trying to pull her ogling eyes from Ryder.

Turning on the charm I’ve blessed him with, Ryder juts out his chin and tosses her a wink.

With a roll of his eyes, Gavin sits on the couch. “Really, Olivia? He looks like he’s twelve years old.”

“I think he looks good,” Olivia appraises, biting her lip.

“Twenty-three,” Ryder says, flipping Gavin the bird.

Acting like he’s shaking, Gavin holds up his hands. “Oh God, he gave me the finger. Boss, I’m feeling a little threatened here. Help,” he says flatly, “someone call the cops.”

Yeah, I’m officially going HAM. “If one more person chuckles, laughs, rolls or narrows their eyes, winks, smirks, grins, scowls, sneers, bites or twitches their lip, shakes their head, flips a bird, or even as much as speaks, I will show up at the house of every reader who bought Collide and Pulse, and I will smash their e-reader or burn their paperbacks!”

Ryder chuckles.

Exorcist style, I whip my head around, my eyes narrowed. “I won’t even write you.”

Ryder stops chuckling.

“Joe,” I grit out, looking at my husband.

“Babe?” He appears somewhat scared.

“Take Ryder outta here, and get dinner started.”

Like a true wiseass, he salutes me and drags the soon-to-be infamous Ryder Ashcroft upstairs. I could be wrong, but I swear I hear both of them chuckle.

I turn to Olivia. “Sit.”

Like an obedient dog, she obeys, her face devoid of emotion as she plops onto the couch.

Taking a long, cleansing, what-the-hell-just-happened breath, I rest my elbows on my desk and attempt to compose myself. “Why are you two here?”

“Ca-can we actually speak?” Olivia stutters, seeming genuinely afraid to do so.

I nod, trying to contain a…chuckle. Shit. Maybe my bite is as loud as my bark, or whatever that saying is. I have no idea. My brain’s fried. Toast. I mean, if you’ve read this far, surely you can understand why. If not, I have no idea why you’ve read anything I’ve ever written.

Gavin clears his throat. “January nineteenth marks one year since you published us. We all decided that you should write some kind of special clip to give the readers a little insight into what’s been going on in our lives.”

You all decided?” I scoff. “I’m the boss. You can’t just decide that for me.”

“Very true, very true.” A smirk crests his mouth. “But we own all of your thoughts. Every single one of them. We’re pretty sure we can make you feel like you have to write something.”

“You know, Gavin, Emily was right.” I narrow my eyes. “You are a wiseass.”

“As true as they come, but hey, I owe all of my fine attributes to you.” He wiggles his brows. “What do they call you? Evil Author Lady? Genius. Pure, fucking genius.”

Olivia doesn’t even try to hide her giggle as she pats Gavin on the back. I’ve officially decided I must’ve been high the day I started writing this gang. Still, I can’t deny that I miss them.

I tent my fingers under my chin. “Less than a thousand words.”

“Five thousand,” Olivia counters, excitement jumping across her face. “There’s so much to tell. Gavin and Emily enjoying married life. My beautiful godson and what he thinks about being an older brother soon. Me and Jude and our, um, painting obsession. Oh! We think you should also have a giveaway for one signed set of Atria’s new galley covers.” She shrugs. “We still love the old covers, but readers might think it’s cool to have a copy of the new ones before they’re available in stores.”

“Word count is my choice, and I’ll make it two signed galley copies.” Why am I negotiating with my own brain? Lack of sleep from writing about Ryder has caused delirium. Yes. That’s what it is.

Coffee. I need coffee.

Crossing his arms, Gavin leans back. His expression shows that he’s pondering my counter-offer. “Two thousand words, three signed galley copies, and some of that swag shit the readers love.”

“You’ve lost your mind,” I huff, rocked by the conversation I’m having.

“No, Boss, technically you’ve lost your mind.” Gavin chuckles. “But we’re always happy to be part of the breakdown.”

“Deal!” I blurt. He’s correct. Or I’m correct. Christ, we’re all correct! “Two thousand words, three signed galley copies, and some swag shit on the nineteenth of January.”

Mentally shot to shit, I walk over to the couch. Olivia and Gavin rise, all smiles. Exhausted, I mirror their smiles and pull them in for a hug. As I step back, I feel a tap on my shoulder…


I jerk my head up from my desk, wiping a hand over my tired eyes. “What?”

“You fell asleep in front of the computer.”

Dazed, I stare at my husband. He sets a cup of coffee next to me, kisses the top of my head, and makes his way back upstairs. I’m left alone in my writing cave. I take a sip of the much needed ‘wake me up’ and open a new doc. Determined to get started on a little story, I start to tap out a couple of words for a few friends I’ve been missing.

(Check back on the 19th for a signed giveaway, some swag, and a little insight into what’s been happening with the old crew. Thanks for reading.)