Darker Than Love Excerpt

Darker Than Love

Once upon a cold, dark night, a Russian killer stole me from an alley.
I’m dangerous, but he is lethal.
I escaped once.
He won’t let me do it twice. 

The revenge is his. 
The betrayal is mine.
But so are the lies to protect the ones I love.

We’re cut from the same twisted cloth. Both merciless. Both damaged. 
In his embrace, I find hell and heaven, his cruelly tender touch destroying and uplifting me at once.

They say a cat has nine lives, but an assassin has just one.
And Yan Ivanov now owns mine.

Excerpt

“So, how long have you worked at the bar?” the guy with the skull tattoos—the seemingly kinder one—asks when I remove my winter jacket and we sit down in the living room. With its Soviet-style orange wallpaper and brown drapes, this place looks like it hasn’t been renovated since the eighties, but the ratty couch we’re sitting on is surprisingly comfortable. Maybe I will take him up on his offer to sleep here. That is, if they don’t kill me and dump my body in the river before sunrise.

I think my captor was just testing my language skills with that proposal, but I can’t be sure.

“Mina?” the man prompts, and I realize I zoned out instead of answering his question. Now that some of the adrenaline is fading, the extreme exhaustion is back, muddling my thoughts and slowing my reactions. I want nothing more than to stretch out on this couch and fall asleep, but I might not wake up if I do.

The Russians might decide that what I heard merits killing me rather than just keeping me captive overnight.

“I’ve worked there for a couple of years,” I answer, my voice shaking. It’s easy to sound terrified… because I am.

I’m with two men who may want to kill me, and I’m in no state to defend myself.

The only thing that gives me hope is that they haven’t already done so. They could’ve easily murdered me in the alley; they didn’t need to bring me here for that. Of course, there’s another possibility, one that every woman must consider.

They might be planning to rape me before killing me, in which case bringing me here makes perfect sense.

The thought makes my stomach churn, the old memories threatening to crowd in, but underneath the fear and disgust is something darker, infinitely more fucked up. The brief sizzle of arousal I’d experienced at the bar was nothing compared to how it had felt when the dangerous stranger caged me against the wall, caressing my face with that cruel gentleness. My body—the weak, ruined body I’ve spent the past year hating—had come to life with such force, it was as if fireworks had ignited under my skin, liquifying my core and burning away my inhibitions.

Was he able to sense it?

Did he know how badly I wanted him to keep touching me?

I think he did. And more than that, I think he wanted to. His eyes—a hard, gem-like green—had watched me with the dark intensity of a predator, taking in every twitch of my lashes, every hitch of my breath. If we’d been alone, he might’ve kissed me… or killed me on the spot.

It’s hard to tell with him.

“Do you like it? Working at the bar, I mean?” the tattooed man asks, bringing my attention back to him. Now he is easy to read. There’s unmistakable male interest in the way he looks at me, an obvious gleam in his green eyes.

Wait a sec. Green eyes?

“Are you two brothers?” I blurt out, then silently curse myself. I’m so tired I’m not thinking straight. The last thing I need is for these two to imagine I’m gathering information on them, or—

“We are.” A smile lights up his broad face, softening his harsh features. “Twins, in fact.”

Shit. I did not need to know that. The next thing I know, he’ll be telling me his—

“I’m Ilya, by the way,” he says, extending one big paw toward me. “And my brother’s name is Yan.”

Oh, fuck. I’m so screwed. They are going to kill me. “Nice to meet you,” I say weakly, shaking his hand on autopilot. My grip is as limp as my voice, but that’s okay. I’m playing a damsel in distress, and the more convincing I am, the better.

Too bad the act is mostly real these days.

Ilya squeezes my hand gingerly, as if afraid of inadvertently crushing my bones, and hope nibbles at me. He wouldn’t be so careful with me if they were planning to brutally rape and kill me, would he?

As if reading my thoughts, he gives me another smile, an even kinder one this time, and says gruffly, “I’m sorry about my brother. He’s used to seeing enemies around every corner. You will walk away from this unharmed, I promise you, malyshka. We need to keep you overnight as a precaution, that’s all.”

Strangely, I believe him. Or at least I believe that he intends me no harm. The jury is still out on his brother—who chooses that exact moment to walk in, carrying a cup of tea in one hand and two beers in the other.

My breath catches in my throat as he—Yan—sets the drinks on the coffee table in front of us and sits down between me and Ilya, unapologetically wedging himself into the too-small space. Instinctively, I scoot to the side, as far as the couch allows, but that’s only about six centimeters, and my leg ends up pressed against his, the heat of his body burning me even through the layers of our clothing.

He’s shed the suede winter jacket he was wearing earlier, and is now dressed like he was in the bar, in the stylish dress pants and button-up shirt. Except his sleeves are rolled up, exposing muscular forearms lightly dusted with dark hair.

He’s strong, this ruthless captor of mine. Strong and superbly fit, his body a deadly weapon under those perfectly tailored clothes.

“Tea,” he says in that smooth, deep voice of his, so different from his brother’s rougher tones. “As per the princess’s request.”

“Thank you,” I mumble, reaching for the cup. My hands are visibly shaking, my breathing is shallow, and I’m sweating—and none of it is an act. I can smell the clean, masculine scent of his cologne—something sensual and airy, like pepper and sandalwood—and his nearness unsettles me, making my insides riot with a confusing mixture of fear and desire. Even if he wasn’t danger personified, I’d be drawn to his magnetic good looks, but knowing what I know about him—about what he does and what he might do to me—I can’t control my helpless response to him.

Even my tiredness recedes, leaving me jittery and high, as if I’d downed two liters of espresso.

I’m acutely aware of his gaze on me as I bring the cup to my lips and take a sip, suppressing a hiss at the scalding temperature of the water. I’m trying not to look at him, to just focus on my tea, but I can’t help staring at his hands as he reaches over and grabs a beer, then twists off the cap with a practiced motion. His fingers are long and masculine, and though his nails are neatly groomed, the calluses on the edges of his thumbs belie the elegance of his appearance.

This is a man used to doing things with his hands.

Terrible, violent things.

A normal woman would be repulsed by the thought, but my heart hammers faster, and an aching pulse starts between my legs, my underwear dampening with liquid heat. The darkness in him calls to me, making me feel alive in a way I’ve never experienced before.

It’s as if like recognizes like, the wrongness in me craving the same in him.

Ilya picks up the remaining bottle, his hands thick and rough, with a few tattoos on the back. There’s no pretense in him, no attempt to hide what he is behind an elegant mask. “To new friends,” he says, clinking his bottle against his brother’s and then, more gently, against my cup of tea. I risk a glance at him, but catch Yan’s hard green gaze instead.

I quickly look away, but not before a betraying flush crawls up my neck and covers my face. “To new friends,” I repeat, staring into my cup as if I might see my fate written in the tea leaves. I’m not sure I want Yan to know about the effect he has on me—though he probably already does.

I’m not exactly at the top of my game tonight.

“Yes, to new friends,” Yan murmurs, his large hand landing on my knee and squeezing it lightly.

Startled, I look over at him and see him tipping back the beer, his strong throat working as he swallows. It’s a strangely sensual sight, and my insides clench as he lowers the bottle and meets my gaze, his eyes darkly intent as the hand on my knee moves a couple of inches up my thigh, closer to where I’m wet and aching.

Oh God.

He knows.

He definitely knows.

“Ilya,” he says quietly, still holding my gaze. “Make us a couple of sandwiches, will you? I think Mina here is hungry.”

“She is?” Ilya sounds confused as he stands up, and I look up to find him frowning at us—specifically, at my thigh, where Yan’s hand is resting so possessively. Slowly, tension permeates his big body, his hands flexing at his sides as his gaze swings to his brother’s face.

“I don’t think she’s hungry,” he bites out, his voice low and hard. His eyes cut to me. “Are you, Mina?”

I swallow thickly, unsure of what the right answer is. If I’m reading this right, Yan has just staked some sort of an exclusive claim on me, one that I would reinforce if I admitted to this made-up hunger.

Is that what I want?

To send away the brother who’s been nice to me, so I could be alone with the man who proposed dumping my body in the river?

“A… a sandwich would be nice.” The words don’t seem to belong to me, yet it’s my voice saying them, even as my brain scrambles to figure out the implications. “That is, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

Ilya’s mouth thins. “Fine. I’ll see what we have in the fridge.”

And turning around, he stalks off, leaving me on the couch with his brother.

Coming on 28 January 2020

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Catch Me Twice Excerpt

A standalone second-chance romance

“An amazingly written, heart-wrenching story of a man lost and the woman who helps him find himself—a second-chance romance unlike any other.” – Anna Zaires, New York Times bestselling author

If a man tells you he’s no good for you, best heed the warning. I learned the hard way. I had Jake Basson’s baby. He left to chase his dream. Now he’s back, demanding a second chance, but why should I give him anything after four years of nothing? No correspondence, no news. I finally have my life back on track. Jake has never been uncomplicated. He never follows the rules. I should’ve known he’d play dirty in his war to win me back. He caught me once. I’m not going to let him catch me twice.

(Disclosure: This book includes cheating. HEA guaranteed.)

Excerpt

Smoke fills the interior of the private club in Bur Dubai, the part where the brothels thrive, adding to the haze in my mind. The area is not called Sodom-sur-Mer for nothing. If everyone turns a blind eye to the sex trade, why shouldn’t I? The lights are low and red, a monotone picture in which everyone and everything looks the same. Candy or Cathy or whatever she’s called is draped over my lap. I push her off to cut another line. She shoots me an irritated look but doesn’t complain.

“Go fetch me a vodka and get under the table when you get back.” That’s what I pay her for.

My request doesn’t faze her. She swings her ass in her tight glitter dress as she saunters off to do as I’ve said. I roll a hundred and snort, waiting for the high to kick in and dull my thoughts. The whore on the other side of the table looks at the residue powder and licks her lips.

“Go on,” I say.

She doesn’t let me invite her twice. Licking her pinky finger, she scoops up my scraps and rubs it into her gums.

Candy-Cathy comes back with my drink. She places it in front of me with a sultry look and kneels between my legs. Her red nails walk a trail over my stomach to my belt. She undoes it, unzips my fly, and drags the tablecloth over her head with a grin. Spreading my arms out along the backrest of the bench, I lean my head against the wall. The first swipe of her fingers over my cock is always the best. As soon as her palm squeezes around my girth, my sense of touch is already desensitized. Not even the warmth or wetness of her tongue can bring me back to that first moment. The rest is just a race to shoot as fast and hard as possible. Release is always physical. The aftermath is as empty as fuck. No matter how many whores I pay or how deep I sink into any cunt, my ejaculation is always anti-climatic. I’m left wanting, and fuck if I can say what’s missing.

It’s not the women. They’re all kinds of pretty, whatever flavor I crave for the night. It’s me. I’m incapable of feeling. My life is a monotone layer of red. Whatever little there was inside me before, I snuffed out with my own two hands. I once had a shot at something, but I didn’t make it. Not professionally, and as sure as hell not personally. My life is one big waste. I’m known as the man who lost Yousef-al-Yasa millions in investment, a failure that still burns bitter in my gut.

“Come, baby,” the brunette on the floor mutters.

It’s taking too long. My mind isn’t on her tongue or her fingers. It’s on the disgust in my soul. I need more than a line and a mouth tonight. Shoving her away, I zip myself up and scan the bar until I see the one with the black wig who likes it rough.

C crawls out from under the table. “What’s wrong, baby?”

I slap a bill on the table for her effort and down my drink before striding to the bar.

“Private room,” I say to the woman with the wig.

She adjusts her bra and strides ahead of me up the stairs. We take the first room with a door that stands open.

“You want it rough?” she asks in her thick accent.

She knows I do. That’s what we always do. She lets me spank her pink and hammer her doggy style until her legs cave. 

“From where are you?”

“Told you already.” She smiles. “You don’t want to remember.”

I walk her backward to the wall until her body hits it with a thump. Adrenalin surges through my veins. My flaccid cock jumps to life. Something drifts to the surface of my feelings, something within my grasp but so damn untouchable. Every time I reach for it, it shifts a little farther into never. She’s pretty, even with her wig. I home in on her slanted eyes as I fold my fingers around her neck.

“Yes,” she gasps, lifting her chin to give me better access.

I tighten my grip marginally.

“Yes, baby,” she mewls. “Just like that. Do it harder.”

I give it to her, allowing her just enough air not to choke, but her eyes don’t dilate with anticipation or perverse excitement. Her facial expression is a practiced mask. It’s swooning and sugary and over the top. She doesn’t really want this. It’s a job. It’s just a show.

I let her go with a shove.

She takes two steps to the side. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I changed my mind.”

“That’s never happened to me before.”

“Sorry to be your first. Don’t take it personally.”

“You’ll still have to pay for the hour. What do you want me to do?”

Unfastening the top two buttons of my shirt, I sit down on the sofa, the only piece of furniture in the room. “Take a break. Hang around here. Do what the hell ever you want.”

She’s still contemplating my answer when the door opens and Ahmed enters with a box clutched under his arm. He looks from me to the wig.

“Leave us,” he says with a tilt of his head toward the door.

The wig doesn’t argue. Behind those round, nerdish glasses and slight body lies a lot of power. He’s Yousef-al-Yasa heir, one of the wealthiest men in Dubai, and fuck only knows why he still bothers with me. For all the flak I give him, he’s the only true friend I have.

He kicks the door shut. “When was the last time you’ve been home?”

“That depends on which day it is today.”

“It’s Sunday.”

“Then I guess two days.”

He turns over the box and dumps a pack of mail the size of an ant heap on my lap. “Try a week.”

I stare at the paper littering my softening dick. Mostly junk mail, holiday brochures, and a few bills. It’s no secret I have a regular room at the hotel that hosts the private club. I stay here when the colorful multi-layers of my fancy apartment, the one Ahmed pays for that I don’t deserve, get too much.

I pull a packet of cigarettes from my jacket pocket. “Thanks for emptying my mailbox.”

He swats the packet away. It flies from my hand and hits the floor. He stares at me with an expression I’m well familiar with. Disappointment.

“You’re married,” he reminds me, his gaze habitually slipping to my naked ring finger.

“It’s not a real marriage.”

“It’s legal. It’s real.”

I smirk. “It’s not wrong if I’m paying for it.” I hold up my hands. “No emotions involved.”

“Tell yourself that if it makes you feel better, but you don’t fool me with your I-don’t-care charade.”

“Is there a reason you’re here, other than delivering my mail?” No one can accuse me of not being self-destructive. I’m being a bastard, biting the hand that feeds me, but I don’t know how to stop.

He takes a white envelope from his inside jacket pocket and throws it on top of the pile in my lap. My gaze shifts down. The cursive handwriting makes me pause. Something flickers in my chest. It reminds me of my grandfather fiddling with the rusted wires of one or the other machine, eliciting a spark that never quite ignited. It’s been a year since a letter has arrived. I’m amazed she kept them coming for so long, seeing I never replied to one. I’m about to say I’ll add this one to the stash when I notice the broken seal. I flip it over. The flap is torn.

Anger is not a new emotion to me, but it’s mostly self-directed. The kind flowing through my veins right now makes me want to break the glasses of the last person on earth who gives a shit.

“You opened my fucking letter?”

“You should read it.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

“You should read it.”

“You obviously did. What the hell gives you the right?”

“Read the letter, Jake. Then go home and get your life in order. If you decide to come back, do it a free man you so can fuck these women without disrespecting another.”

Dropping the box on the sofa next to me, he walks from the room, gently closing the door behind him. It’s the last part that gets to me. A free man.

Alone, I don’t have a choice but to face myself. There’s no one to play the jerk for. There’s no Ahmed I can use as a punching bag by throwing his kindness back in his face. In the privacy of a fuck room smelling of sex, there’s no excuse to not admit the truth. My attempts at sabotaging Ahmed’s friendship is a way of avoiding my own disappointment, not his. One day he’ll realize like everyone else what a piece of shit I am, and that he’s wasting his time.

I flick the pristine envelope over and back, over and back. Alone in a room with only myself and my black soul, I slide out the thin sheet of paper and unfold it. No photo drops out. There’s no picture of a boy with strawberry curls and blue eyes. Not that I’ve ever seen a photo. I only felt the outline of the photograph through the paper, imagining what he looks like in my head. The pinch in the dead cavity of my chest is more than disappointment. It’s fear. I scan over the words, each letter neatly shaped like the handwriting of a schoolmistress, but I can’t make sense of the meaning. I read it again, and then all the red in my world turns black. Something I didn’t know I had, the last anchor tying me to a reason to exist, drifts away.

What reviewers say

“Unforgettable, totally captivating love.”

“This book shattered my heart yet glued it together at so many different places.”

“This won me over. Not an easy feat by any means.”

“Charmaine Pauls takes a premise that can be disastrous and turns it into absolute pure gold. It’s like reading Michelangelo’s David. And from a literary perspective, Charmaine produces exactly that high level of storytelling perfection.”

“It goes right to my favorites shelf and I know I will read it over and over again!”


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Catch Me Twice

A Second-Chance Romance (Standalone)

If a man tells you he’s no good for you, best heed the warning. I learned the hard way. I had Jake Basson’s baby. He left to chase his dream. Now he’s back, demanding a second chance, but why should I give him anything after four years of nothing? No correspondence, no news. I finally have my life back on track. Jake has never been uncomplicated. He never follows the rules. I should’ve known he’d play dirty in his war to win me back. He caught me once. I’m not going to let him catch me twice.

* This is a standalone novel. Includes cheating. HEA guaranteed.

Beauty in the Broken

An Arranged Marriage Dark Romance (Standalone)

Six years ago, Harold Dalton framed me for theft and sent me to jail to steal my diamond discovery. He gave his daughter to Jack Clarke in exchange for the excavation rights. Today, I’m walking free, and I’m coming for him with a vengeance. Six years of cruelty make beasts out of men. I’m going to take back what he stole from me, and more. I’m not interested in his properties or shares. I don’t want his small change. I want his biggest asset. Beautiful, mentally unstable, Angelina Dalton-Clarke.

Worth billions, she’s the wealthiest widow in the country, and also the craziest. Her self-harming tendencies had Jack declare her incompetent before he put a gun to his head and blew out his brains. Lina isn’t allowed to touch a cent of her riches. Her father manages her finances. He has all the signing power. As her husband, that chore will fall to me. But if she thinks I only want her for her money, she’s sadly mistaken.

The Winemaker

A sensual romance of the physical and spiritual senses with a surprising paranormal twist.

Dumped by her fiancé shortly after immigrating to Chile for their wedding, Zenna finds herself out of luck, money, a fiancé, and a job. When her path crosses with award-winning winemaker, Etán’s, he offers a solution to her financial dilemma and an attraction neither is prepared for. Their secrets can only complicate a love affair. When it comes to light that Zenna’s life is in danger, Etán engages in a battle not only to keep her safe, but also to keep his growing obsession with Zenna from destroying his brother’s happiness.

Between Fire & Ice

She’s the last fertile woman on earth, forced to marry a man to save the world.

Cy is heir to the powerful mining empire of his parents in South America. The survival of his family’s fortune depends on his ability to sire a son, a daunting prospect, as the human race is becoming infertile.

At thirty years of age, Cy’s parents commands him to marry Elena, who was artificially inseminated by their scientists and raised in secret for one purpose only – to have Cy’s baby. A woman Cy has never seen holds the key to his future, in ways he could never imagine. And maybe the prophesies of them saving mankind from extinction will come true … if only Cy can outrun the cruel fate that is thrown upon them by his parents’ cold-hearted experiment when they created Elena.

Between Yesterday & Tomorrow

If she can let go of the past, she’ll meet the person she’s destined to share her future with.

On the night Marlien Marais has a fight with her fiancé, he takes off in a rage and disappears from her life. For eight years Marlien has lived with questions, guilt and sorrow. Her survival mechanism is submerging herself in an emotionless existence.

When her estranged French grandmother passes away, Marlien inherits the family estate in Castries, France, and is forced to face her suppressed feelings when her uneventful life is turned upside down.

Not only does she uncover the secrets about a mother she never knew, but she is also challenged by her grandmother’s hostile second husband, charmed by the estate manager’s little boy who sees ghosts in the chateau, and courted by an enigmatic veterinarian and a free-spirited gypsy.

Finding the answers to her most haunting life questions, why her mother left her and what happened to her fiancé, changes Marlien’s future forever.

Second Best

When a hardened war journalist falls in love with a juvenile delinquent, the battle becomes a fight to redeem his soul, and to save hers.

The first time that Molly sees Malcolm is in Oudtshoorn, South Africa in 1978, when he jumps from the back of an army truck to challenge her through the school yard fence. Little did she know then, when she boldly gave him the middle finger, how their lives would become intertwined.

Surviving the secret horrors of an industrial school, juvenile delinquent Molly van Aswegen grows into a tough and troubled woman who has sworn never to love anyone enough to be vulnerable. When Malcolm McLeod, rebel journalist and soldier, comes home from the Angolan border war to save Molly from her institution, he starts fighting a different war – the battle for both of their souls.

Molly’s fight for survival and Malcolm’s moral struggle will expose them as anti-conformists, at risk of being branded and outcast from society during a politically turbulent time when South Africa is in the midst of a twenty-three year long war.

Second Best is a story about the scars of the human soul and the road that leads to healing.

The Astronomer

Loving someone madly, obsessively, to the point of addiction can be heaven … or hell.

The year is 2165. A new blood group has evolved, and biological pairing, called mating, has replaced the old-world marriage ritual. When a stranger saves astronomer Dr. Fraya Riber from drowning, her body goes into a strange state of arousal. Bound to be paired with another, Fraya frantically searches for the answers to the phenomenon that soon becomes an unwelcome addiction. Nothing has prepared her for this painful dependence, and nothing will prepare her for the cure, or the identity of her enigmatic savior.