Today’s Pocket Star-E Spotlight is on CRACKS IN THE ARMOR by Helena Hunting and HOLLOW by Ava Conway
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CRACKS IN THE ARMOR by Helena Hunting
Chris, a sexy tattoo artist, tries to win the heart of Sarah, a grad student with little interest in him, in this second e-short and follow-up to Helena Hunting’s gripping love story, Clipped Wings—“twisted, dark, incredibly erotic…a love story like no other” (USA TODAY bestselling author Alice Clayton).
Part owner of the Chicago tattoo shop Inked Armor, Chris Zelter is a talented artist who decorates skin with gorgeous designs. He might look the part of the typical jacked-up, inked-up bad-boy, but underneath is a fiercely loyal, complicated man. Kicked out at sixteen, Chris has had to fend for himself for the last twelve years, making his Inked Armor crew as much family as they are business partners. For him, it’s enough—until he meets Sarah Adamson.
A grad student waitressing at the local strip club, Sarah is used to propositions and crude comments. The job is a means to an end—finish her MBA, pay off the tuition loans, and get a good job. Then she won’t have to rely on anyone to take care of her. So when brawny, tatted up Chris begins hanging out at the club, she rebuffs his advances. At first. But Chris isn’t like her usual clientele: despite his hard exterior, he’s almost…sweet.
Sometimes, the people with the roughest edges have the biggest hearts.
At the end of my shift I changed out of my slut attire and back into my jeans and T-shirt, then headed out the back door. The security guard had changed. He was one of the ones I didn’t know. Or trust.
He gave me a sidelong glance. “You want me to walk you to your car?”
“I’m right there.” I pointed to my Tercel.
His eyes narrowed. “That’s your ride?”
It wasn’t much of a ride, compared to some of the flashy cars parked out here. The girls who performed the best also got the best perks, leased cars being one of them. I was perfectly happy not to be among the privileged few. “Yeah. Have a good night.”
“I think I should walk you over.”
I was parked under one of the lights. If he was looking for a little end-of-night action, it wasn’t the most covert place to have it happen. He must have read the skepticism in my expression.
“One of the guys on camera detail warned me that some dude was out here fucking around by the cars. It was during shift change, so there wasn’t anyone here. I’d feel better if you let me check things out.”
I glanced nervously at my car and shrugged. “Yeah. Okay.”
I trailed behind him as he stalked across the lot. He walked around the vehicle, looking for . . . signs of forced entry maybe? When he didn’t find anything sinister, I pulled on the handle to find that it was locked.
“Huh, that’s odd.”
His shoulders rolled back and his eyes shot around the dark lot. “What?” His hand went behind him, as if he was getting ready to go for a piece. It wasn’t the first time I suspected the security was armed with more than brass knuckles and walkies.
“I don’t lock my doors.”
“What?” He looked at me like I was crazy.
“Do you see this?” I gestured to the Tercel and then motioned around the lot. “Of all the cars here, who would choose mine to steal?” I peered into the backseat. All the doors had been locked. Only one person would do that.
I rummaged around in my purse until I found my keys. After unlocking the door, I bent down and felt around under the front seat until my fingers closed around a keychain. I bit my lip to stop the stupid grin from breaking out. Though it would be more convenient to have my own key, there was satisfaction in knowing he’d drop one off for me because he wanted to see me. “It’s cool. My b— friend was just leaving me a key.” I almost stumbled over the word.
“Next time, tell your friend to leave it with one of us instead of sneaking around back here. We’ll get it to you.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”
Chris would never leave his key with one of these beefcakes. I slid into the driver’s seat and let the bouncer shut my door. He waited until I pulled out of the spot before he ambled back to his post. He was a lot nicer than some of the other guys who worked for Xander, surprisingly.
I checked my phone at the first red light. There were several texts from Chris—the most recent were admonishments for not locking my doors. The ones before and after contained an invitation to stay the night and a message about the key he left under the driver’s seat. Tonight hadn’t been bad, so I wasn’t about to pass up the offer. I was glad I’d packed an overnight bag, as I always did.
I pulled into the parking spot reserved for Chris’s bike. He’d angled it at the top of the space so there would be enough room for my car. He was always thoughtful like that. It made me feel like a bitch for not inviting him over to my place more often, where parking wasn’t an issue.
It had been too long since I’d spent any real time with him. I didn’t like how much that bothered me, or how excited I’d been about the text and key. That I constantly packed a bag in advance was a red flag I chose to ignore.
I was quiet as I made the trek up the stairs to his apartment and unlocked the door. The light above the ancient, avocado-green stove was on, casting a pale glow over the dated kitchen. There was a note propped up on the counter with my name written across the front in Chris’s elegant cursive. I always teased him that he wrote like a girl.
I set my bag down quietly, though a bomb could go off and Chris would sleep right through it. I left my shoes on, because Chris insisted I never walk barefoot around his place, and crossed over to the counter. There were little doodles in the corners of the note he left me. Designs that reminded me of the tattoos he put on other people. Ones he refused to put on me.
I hope you had a decent night. There are fresh towels in the
bathroom and a sandwich in the fridge. Give me a kiss before you
I folded it and put it carefully inside my bag. I had a little box of notes like these from him in my bedroom. I kept every single one. Read More
HOLLOW by Ava Conway
Girl, Interrupted meet Beautiful Disaster in this thrilling and sexy debut novel, in which a college student learns her perfect life is a lie and finds new love where she least expects it—a mental institution.
Freaks, misfits, and psychopaths. Those are the kinds of people found at Newton Heights Psychiatric Hospital, and high-society girl Lucy White’s new home.
Freaks, misfits, and Jayden McCray. Jayden has his own set of rules for life at Newton Heights, and in this enigma, Lucy finds a way to live with the events that left her cheating boyfriend and best friend dead—and Lucy in the middle of the investigation into their demise.
The problem? Jayden makes her want things she’s not supposed to have, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality and making Lucy feel more at home in Newton Heights than she ever did at home. But this isn’t how her life is supposed to be…
“AFTER I PRESSED the accelerator, things get a little fuzzy,” I said.
“Hmm . . .” The lawyer twirled his monogrammed pen between his fingers and scribbled something into his notebook. “The same thing’s written in the police report.”
I tried to move my hands, but remembered they were strapped to the bed. After I ripped all the lifesaving tubes out of my arms last night, the hospital staff wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything so stupid again.
“Does it look as bad as the papers are suggesting?” My father pushed his fingers through his hair, which had turned more salt than pepper since I had gone to college.
The lawyer slapped his notebook shut and slid it into his leather briefcase. “You know the media will exaggerate anything to get a story. Although I have to admit, an attempted suicide one week after the accident won’t help her defense.” He clicked the briefcase shut with a loud, purposeful snap and smoothed his designer suit. “The jury will think she has a guilty conscience.”
“Come on, honey. Think.” My mother drew her neatly trimmed brows together, bringing attention to her large, round eyes. Normally my mother’s baby blues were her best feature, but the clumpy mascara and bronze eye shadow she’d chosen that morning made her look tired and worn out.
“There must be something else you remember. Some little bit of information that could help the police drop the charges.” She took my hand with her long, manicured fingers. People said that we looked alike, but besides the raven-colored hair and blue eyes, I didn’t see very much in common. It was almost as if we came from two different worlds. Hers was stoic and orderly. Mine was a neurotic mess.
I shook my head and turned to the lawyer. “There’s nothing more.” My voice sounded hoarse and strained.
Probably because of all the tubes they had to jam down my throat while trying to keep me alive.
My father swore and started pacing the hospital room. Even tired he looked magnificent, like some great stallion in an Armani suit. His angular features, tanned skin and outgoing personality drew people to him and made him an outstanding lobbyist. It was a damn shame that it was for show. Only my mom and I knew that the charismatic lobbyist waged an inner war with himself every night, armed with his trusty bottle of bourbon and a Cuban cigar.
“Your friend was right. You shouldn’t have been driving that night.” The lawyer leaned against the bottom of the bed and arched his brow. “None of you should have.” The highhanded tone grated on my nerves. All my life I had been trying to live up to my parents’ impossibly high standards.
The last thing I needed was this greasy-looking rent-a-lawyer talking to me in such a condescending tone. I opened my mouth to tell him this, but was cut off by my father.
“They can’t prove she was driving,” he said. “The car flipped over and no one was wearing a seat belt.”
“He’s right.” My mother dropped my hand and stood. “The other two were thrown from the car.”
“I know, and that’s why there’s still a chance of overturning the manslaughter charges.” The lawyer studied me for a long moment with his beady, green eyes. From day one, I didn’t like this guy. It wasn’t just that he was conceited or condescending, it was how he always seemed to be calculating his next step, as if life was this massive board game and he was playing to win. While I had no doubt that his decisions were the best for him and his law practice, I wondered if they were the best for me.
My mother certainly seemed to think so. She hung on his every word.
“What if we send her away to live with extended family for a while?” she asked. “It will keep her out of the press until things calm down.”
“No,” my father said. “We can’t send her out of state while she’s facing charges.”
“You have no relatives close by?” the lawyer asked.
“We moved away from them to be closer to work,” my mother explained.
I didn’t like how these people were discussing my future as if I wasn’t in the room. “I don’t need to hide from the press.”
“Don’t be silly, Lucy,” my mother said. “You know we can’t afford the negative publicity right now. If you stay with us, then reporters will set up tents on our lawn, waiting for
some crumb of information that they could use to tear us down.”
“She’s right, unfortunately,” my father said. “We have to find a way to keep her in state, but out of the public eye until this all blows over.”
“I’m twenty-two. I can handle myself.”
“Of course you can, dear,” my mother soothed. “Now hush, we’re thinking.”
The lawyer studied my face. Uneasiness crawled over my skin as his beady eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “I’ve got it.”
“What?” my parents both asked at the same time.
The lawyer’s gaze never left mine as he addressed my parents. “Is there any history of mental illness in the family?”
“Of what?” My mother stiffened and exchanged glances with my father.
“Of mental illness,” the lawyer repeated, turning toward her. “If there is, I could talk to her doctor about arranging an evaluation while we wait for a court date.” He straightened away from the bed railing and began to pace. “If we can prove she’s mentally unstable, it would help with the defense.” He drummed his fingers together as he walked, as if closing a steel trap.
“You want to put my daughter in a loony bin?” My mother swayed and grabbed the bed railing.
“Not a loony bin—a mental hospital. And only if she needs it.” The lawyer cracked his knuckles. The loud noise reminded me of how both of Bethany’s legs had been broken in the crash. “Yes, putting her in an upscale institution like Newton Heights until the investigation is over will help gain sympathy for our cause.”
“Newton Heights. That’s where that celebrity went last year when she announced she was being treated for depression, isn’t it?” my father asked.
“Yes, but . . .” My mother waved her hand in the air, as if struggling to find the right words.
“It’s expensive, but for those who can afford the high costs, it offers a sanctuary from the outside world.” The lawyer waved his hands to the sides and flashed his slick smile. “There’s also a teaching hospital on site, so if she should need physical treatment . . .” The implication was clear. If I was ever to try to kill myself again, emergency personnel would be on site to save my life.
Fear sliced through me at the thought of going to Newton Heights. I didn’t want to be locked away with all of the crazy people, like some reject in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I wasn’t sure what they did to patients at Newton Heights, but if it was anything like that movie, I wanted no part of it.
“I’m not going.” My voice sounded small and weak to my ears.
“You might not have a choice in the matter, kid,” the lawyer said. “Not if you want to beat these charges.”
My father bowed his head and ran his hand over his face. “I can’t believe this is happening to us again . . .”
My father lowered his arm and nodded to me. “She’s turning out just like him.”
“Who?” I asked.
The air became thick with tension. I switched my focus from my father to my mother, but neither was willing to expand on my father’s mutterings. Instead they stood there, staring at each other, and I couldn’t help but think that some silent war was being waged in front of me.
“Mom, what’s Dad talking about? I’m turning out like who?” Hair fell into my eyes. I shook my head, trying to remove the offending strands from my field of vision.
“Whom,” my mother corrected, her gaze still fixed on my father.
“I was so convinced Lucy would turn out differently . . .”
The vein in my father’s temple pulsed, but otherwise his face remained an expressionless mask.
My mother let go of the bed railing and put her hand on my father’s arm. “Clark, she is different—”
“Would someone tell me what’s going on?” I raised my voice, desperate for some answers.
“We can’t keep up appearances under so much scrutiny.”
My father unfolded his arms and placed his hand over hers. “No.”
I tried to sit up, but the restraints forced me back on the pillows. “Mom, what’s he talking about?”
My mother moved to my side. “Not now, Lucy.” She swiped the hair from my face and smiled reassuringly. “To answer your question, Mr. Jameson, yes, there’s a history of mental illness in the family, but I will die before that information is leaked to the press.” Her voice was a sharp contrast to the gentleness of her touch.
“There’s no need to tell the press,” the lawyer reassured her. “Just the doctor. All we need is an evaluation.” He glanced at me. “Since she’s technically not a minor, we’ll also need her signature.”
“Leave that to me,” my father said.
A disoriented feeling settled into my core as I mentally flipped through all of my extended family members. “Who was mentally unstable?” I whispered to my mother. “Was it
Aunt Heather? Cousin Paul?”
“Not now, Lucy.” My mother turned to the lawyer. Her face became a cool, expressionless mask. “Will that be all, Mr. Jameson?”
The lawyer shifted his gaze between the three of us, as if weighing his options. “For now, yes. The police are still going through evidence at the crime scene. They’ll probably want to question her again at some point.”
“What happens if Lucy’s found guilty?” my father asked.
“Vehicular manslaughter is a serious crime. It would most likely involve prison time.”
My mouth went dry. Prison? Read More
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