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Monday, October 12, 2015

Coming Soon!!! Into The Fire by E.L. Todd


MATURE READERS 18+



COMING SOON!! JAN. 30, 2016!!
Ash

Despite everything I've done for my parents, I'll never be good enough for them. Instead of seeing a man to be proud of, they just see an embarrassment. I served four tours in Afghanistan but that doesn't mean anything to them. They only see the ink, the party life, and my short stint in jail. 

And nothing else.

When they were in trouble, I handed over my life savings. I didn't think twice about it because they're my family, my blood. They raised me to be my own man and gave me everything I needed. It didn't matter that it was every penny I had. It didn't matter that the money was set aside for my future. My dreams. 

Because they needed me.

But now they refuse to pay me back until I become the man they think I should be. 

Alessandra

I have an unusual professional. 

I escort men, acting as their date to family functions or work parties. It's my job to act deeply in love with my client. And I always nail it.

But it's not what you think.

I'm not a prostitute.
I'm not a call girl.
I'm an actress. 
Get it right.

There are strict rules when it comes to my profession. There is no touching, kissing, or anything but hand-holding. Those who choose not to comply will get a swift kick in the nuts.

But all this goes to hell when Ash walks into my life.

PREORDER LINKS COMING SOON!!





Chapter One

Ash



I sat across from the banker in the office with glass doors. He was a typical suit who hated his job. His voice was always full of boredom, and his desk lacked any personality at all. It was a typical corporation, void of life.

“Just give me the loan,” I barked. “How are small businesses supposed to start up if you don’t give them a chance?” I wasn’t asking for a kidney transplant or something.

“I’m sorry.” He seemed bored out of his mind. “You don’t have the right credit.”

“My credit isn’t even that bad.”

He eyed his computer again. “Sir, you need to get it up and then we can talk again.”

Dammit, why did I buy that motorcycle? “Fine. I’ll just go somewhere else.”

“And they’re going to tell you the same thing.”

I wanted to growl but I managed not to. “How about some free ink? I’m the best in the business.”

He gave me a stoic expression. “Thanks for the offer, but no thanks.”

“Whatever.” I stood and didn’t bother shaking his hand. “I’ll just get the loan from someone else.”

“Good luck, sir.”

***

“How’d it go?” Sawyer asked across the table from me. He was eating a burger covered in BBQ sauce.

“How do you think it went?” I barely touched my food because I was so irritated. Normally, I ate anything I could get my hands on. But now every sensation in my body was numb.

“Sorry, man. Just get your credit up.”

“You say that like it’s so simple. It could take years for that to happen.”

He shook his head. “I told you not to buy that bike.”

I glared at him. “Now isn’t the time to say I told you so.”

He shrugged. “I’m just saying…”

I threw a fry at him. “Well, don’t.”

It bounced off his face and landed on the plate. “Are you five?”

“Sometimes.” I grabbed the fry and ate it.

“Dude, that just touched my face.”

“So?” I drank my soda and washed it down. “It’s food. Who cares?”
He rolled his eyes then wiped his fingers with a napkin. “Now what?”

“I don’t have a fucking clue. I don’t mind working at Ascension but I’m getting bored there. I want my own shop. I want to make my own rules.”

“Maybe you can do it out of your apartment until you get enough cash.”

“That’s not creepy…”

“It was just a suggestion, smart ass. It’s better than all your ideas.”
I didn’t have any ideas. “Maybe I should just go back in the army.”
He stopped eating. “Not funny, man.”

“It might piss off my parents enough that they’ll give me back the money they owe me.”

“They’re assholes,” Sawyer said. “They’re going to hold this over your head as long as possible.”

I had a feeling he was right.

“And you would really go through that again?” he asked incredulously. “Back to Afghanistan?”

“It wasn’t the worst thing in the world…” I’d seen a lot of things I wouldn’t share with anyone else. If people shuttered at violent movies, they wouldn’t be able to handle all the things I’d seen. Their stomachs couldn’t keep their lunch down.

“I don’t want you to go,” Sawyer said. “You came back this time but who knows if you’d come back again.”

It was a depressing thought. “Anyway, I’m seeing my parents tonight so I’ll bring it up again.”

“Good luck with that.”

“But I’ll keep playing the Lotto. I have a better chance of winning that than getting my savings back.”

“Why did you give it to them to begin with?”

Because I was stupid. “My dad was going to lose his company if I didn’t. He’d already extended his credit line as far as possible, and they would take the house if he didn’t get the money. My parents would have lost everything, including their reputation.”

“I’m surprised they took your money. My parents would never take anything from me.”

“I knew it was a gamble at the time. If my dad’s prototype wasn’t a success, they would have lost everything, including my money.”
He shook his head. “I can’t believe they’re holding it over your head like this.”

“They claim they don’t have the money but I’m not buying it.”
He leaned back in his booth and sighed. “Maybe you should go back in the military and give your parents a heart attack.”
It was tempting.
***
I walked into my parents' house in Connecticut. “Yo. Your baby is home.”

“Is that Ash?” Mom said quietly.

Dad whispered back. “Who else would barge in like that?”

I entered the kitchen and saw them having tea while reading the newspaper. “Your day just got brighter. What’s up, Mom and Pop?”
Mom gave me a curt smile but it looked forced. “Hey, honey. How are you?”

“I’ve been better.” I gave her a quick hug then raised my hand to high-five Dad.

He eyed it awkwardly before he completed the embrace. “What’s up, Son?”

I sat in the seat then snatched a cookie. “Dude, these are the best.” I ate five of them in three seconds. Crumbs got on the table and on my fingertips.

Mom eyed me with disapproval.

Dad was more laid back than Mom. “How was your day?”

“Pretty shitty.”

“Don’t cuss,” Mom barked.

“Pretty lame,” I said. “The bank denied my loan application again.”

I watched their reaction to my news.

Mom eyed Dad then quickly looked down.

Dad felt his teacup but didn’t say anything.

It got awkward fast. “I’m not trying to be one of those annoying suits, but I could really use the money I loaned you. It’s been four years and I’ve put off opening my shop for too long.”

Mom sighed like she was irritated. She sipped her tea without looking at me.

Dad continued to eye his glass.

Why was it always so awkward when I brought up this subject? “Look, I know the business has been doing well. Surely, you have the money by now.” I didn’t want to stick my nose in their business but I didn’t know what else to do.

“Sorry, we don’t,” Dad said quietly.

“Seriously?” I blurted without thinking. “You just bought a new Audi. How can you not have the money?” I didn’t want to accuse my parents of lying but nothing was adding up.

“We got a loan,” Mom explained.

“Why are you buying things you can’t afford?” I snapped. “Period.”

Dad glared at me. “Don’t talk to your mother like that.”

“I’m not,” I barked. “I’m talking to you like that.”

The tension escalated.

“Look, you don’t have to give me all of it. Just give me what you have. If I lessen the amount I need to borrow, the bank might help me out.”

Mom and Dad stared at each other.

Seriously, what was I missing? “You must have some money to loan me. You’re making your mortgage somehow and you just hired more employees.”

Mom fixed her hair like she was flustered.

Dad adjusted his glasses like he didn’t know what else to do.

“Okay, cut the shit,” I said. “What’s up?”

Mom cleared her throat. “Ash, your father and I love you very much…”

Oh no. Here we go.

“But we want you to turn your life around. Opening a shop is just going to put you further down this path.”

“What path?” I asked. “I’m happy. Don’t you want me to be happy?”
Dad took over. “We think you could be happier if you changed some things.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“How about you come to the company and work there?” Mom asked. “You could move up and eventually take it over.”

“But I don’t care about software,” I answered. “I never have.”
Mom fidgeted with the fancy bracelet on her wrist. “And owning a tattoo shop is something you care about?”

“Yeah.” What was the big deal? “I like inking. I enjoy it. I always have.”

Mom eyed the ink on my arms with disdain. “You need to make better choices in your life. Owning a tattoo shop isn’t a good way to start.”

“And doing a job I hate will be?” I asked incredulously. “Don’t you want me to do what I love?” I never understood them.

“Of course we do,” Dad said. “But we don’t think this is the best way to go about it.”

My anger was starting to bubble and I was struggling to keep it back. I gripped the table because I wanted to flip it over. “It’s not my problem you don’t agree with my life choices. This is who I am and I’m never going to change.”

Silence fell in the room. Mom eyed Dad, and he eyed her back.
“We’re tired of having to explain your behavior to other people,” Mom said.

“Then don’t,” I said. “Who cares what they think?”

“It hurts our image,” Dad said. “It would be much easier for us if you—”

“Easier for you?” I asked. “It would be much easier for me if I didn’t have to deal with this bullshit all the time. Just pay back the loan I gave you and we can stop having this conversation.”

Mom pushed her tea away like she might throw it at me. “We’re still taking the heat from when you went to jail.”

I rolled my eyes. Not this again. “Look, I got a little out of control and—”

“You had sex with some woman in an alleyway,” Dad snapped. “People still bring it up.”

“I didn’t know that cop was there, okay?” I said. “I didn’t want to go to jail or get a public indecency misdemeanor.”

“This is what we’re talking about,” Mom said. “You make bad decisions and don’t think about anyone but yourself.”

“You should try it,” I said coldly. “You’d be a lot happier that way.”

Mom threw her arms down. “Ash, we aren’t giving you that money until you clean up your act.”

Shit just got real. “You’re joking, right? I gave you that money so you wouldn’t lose your house. I didn’t have to help you but I did because you’re my parents. And now you aren’t going to give it back to me until you can control me like a damn puppet?”

“Don’t cuss,” Mom ordered.

“This is fucking unbelievable. How do you sleep at night?”

“We will give you back the money,” Dad said. “We just want you to clean up a little bit.”

“Clean up how?” I demanded. “I’m not on drugs.”

“You’re almost thirty years old and you’ve never brought a girl around,” Mom said. “Why don’t you focus on settling down and finding a family?”

“Maybe because I don’t want to.” I wasn’t boyfriend material and knew I never would be. “My personal life is totally irrelevant to this conversation. Just give me back the money I loaned you. If I could get a loan, I wouldn’t bother with you. But I don’t have a choice.”

“Exactly,” Mom said. “This is a blessing. Now you can finally get your act together.”

I wanted to scream. “I served three tours in Afghanistan. If that doesn’t make you proud, I don’t know what will.”

They both had guilty looks on their faces.

“You only did that to spite us,” Mom said.

“And you think I won’t do it again?” I challenged.

“That’s not funny,” Dad said.

“I wasn’t trying to be.”

Mom changed the subject. “This is how it’s going to be. Make a few changes and we’ll pay back the loan.”

I couldn’t believe I was at their mercy like this. I felt emasculated and weak. I never put up with someone’s bullshit but I didn’t have any other option. As soon as I got my money, I wouldn’t have to deal with their shit anymore. And I would never help them again, even if they asked. “Like what?” I ground my teeth together as I spoke.

“Find a nice girl and settle down.”

“What the hell is that going to do?” I demanded. “What does it matter if I have sex with one girl or twenty?”

Mom cringed at my crude words. “Because when you find the right girl, you’ll grow up.”

“You think if I get a girlfriend, I’ll suddenly change my mind about the shop?”

“Yes,” Mom said seriously. “You’ll realize you can’t raise a family with that kind of reputation. You’ll open your eyes and grow up. And you’ll thank us for it.”

“So, if I get a girlfriend, you’ll pay back the loan?” That wasn’t adding up. “As soon as I get the money, I’ll open the shop anyway.”
“When we see you fall in love with her, we’ll hand over the money,” Mom said. “And then you can do whatever the hell you want—and we know you won’t open that shop.”

I was already anti-girlfriend but I definitely wouldn’t be with someone who didn’t accept me for who I was. So, their plan was stupid. But I didn’t see any way around it. If I just did as they asked, I’d get their money and pursue my dream. Then I wouldn’t be at their mercy like this. I could finally do what I wanted.

“Fine,” I said. “We have a deal.”

Dad visibly relaxed now that the fight was over.

“And it better be a nice girl,” Mom said. “No one with ink and that crap.”

God, my parents were judgmental. “Fine. Whatever. But you need to give me your word that you’ll return my money.” I leaned forward and looked her in the eye. “I’m not agreeing to this unless you do.”
She nodded. “I promise, Ash.”

I turned to my dad and waited for his pledge.

“Yes, Son. We’ll keep our word.”
***
“How’d it go?” Sawyer asked when I walked into his apartment.

“I’ll give you the short version of the long version,” I said as I grabbed a beer from the fridge. “If I get a serious girlfriend, they’ll give me the money.”

He was sitting on the couch watching TV. The game faded to the background as he turned to me. “Wait…what? What does that have to do with anything?”

“They know they can’t get me to change so they think a serious girlfriend might have some magic up her sleeve.”

“Dude, your parents are lame.” He took a drink of his beer.

“My parents are shitheads. They already disliked me when I started inking, but they really started hating me after I was in jail for three days. In their eyes, I can’t do anything right. Honestly, I wouldn’t give a damn if they didn’t have my money.”

“Well, getting a girlfriend should be easy enough for you.”

My eyebrows furrowed as I sat on the couch. “How do you figure? I’ve never had a girlfriend before.”

“But it won’t be hard to get one.” He eyed his watch. “You could get one before midnight if you really wanted to.”

“Well, I know that,” I said before I took a drink. “But I don’t want one. What do you do with them anyway?”

He shrugged. “Talk to them?”

“See, I don’t like to talk.”

“Take them out to dinner?”

“But then I’d have to talk to them for an entire meal. Shit, I don’t have that much to talk about.”

“Have sex with them?”

“Well, I’m down with that. But I can’t have sex with the same person more than a few times. It grows stale like bread that’s been left out too long.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

I shrugged. “I’m not going to waste some girl’s time by pretending to actually like her. That would be fucked up. And how could I get a girl to go along with it unless there was something in it for her?” I searched my brain for an answer but was drawing a blank.
Sawyer did the same.

He sipped his beer and watched the game. Then he snapped his fingers as an idea came to him. “Hire someone.”

I shot him a glare. “I’m not paying a prostitute.” I’m not a judgmental person. People could do whatever they wanted. But I wasn’t resorting to that.

“No, hire an escort.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?”

“No. A buddy of mine did it because his ex went to the same wedding as he did. He just paid some chick to be his date and she played the part. Apparently, his ex was super jealous…something like that.”

That was an interesting idea. “So, you just pay them to be there?”

“Yep.”

“And that’s it?” It sounded too good to be true.

“Well, they have rules and stuff…I don’t know the specifics.”

“How do I find this place? Do you have the number?”

“I’ll ask him for it.” He pulled out his phone and sent a text. “Oh, and the chick was really hot. At least that’s what he said.”

“Like, how hot?”

“Like, he beat off to her in the shower hot.”

I nodded with an awed look on my face. “Damn, that is hot.”

“I know. I kinda want to rent one just for fun.”

“Do they…do other things?” Not that I would ever pay for sex.

“I’m not sure but I think they don’t. But they’re expensive, a lot more expensive than a whore.”

“Interesting…”

His phone lit up with a response. “It’s called Beautiful Entourage.”

He handed me the phone. “There’s the number.”

“Thanks.” I typed it in my phone.

“Are you really going to do it?” he asked. “It’s pretty lame if you have to pay for a date.”

“But it would be worse if I used a girl like that. Women can get so clingy sometimes. It’s fucking annoying. If this is a business transaction, there shouldn’t be any issues.”

“Good way to think about it.”

I put the phone in my pocket. “I’ll call tomorrow.”

“Good luck.”
***
Beautiful Entourage was damn hard to find. There was a Chinese place near the sidewalk, and the smell of chow mein made me hungry. A part of me wished the place was inside the restaurant so I could get some lunch.

When I finally realized the place was in the rear, I walked inside and stared at the hardwood floors, gray walls with white trimming, and the elegant white furniture of the lobby.

Damn, this place was nice.

“Can I help you?” A girl was playing solitaire on her desk.
I walked further inside. “This is Beautiful Entourage, right?”
“You found the right place.” Her eyes dilated when she looked me up and down, clearly liking what she saw.

Yeah, yeah, I’m hot. I know. “Great. So…how does this work?”

“I’m more than happy to explain.” She cleared her desk of the cards then pulled out some paperwork. “We assist clients with dates for various reasons. But you need to understand this isn’t a dating service, and it’s not a hookup service. Our only job is to play a part for you.”

“Okay.” So far so good.

“We have very strict rules, and if you choose to break them, you’ll be terminated from our contract and we’ll also pursue legal action. This is not a joke.”

“Okay…” Pursue legal action for what?

“Now to the fun part.” She turned to her computer and started clicking with her mouse. “What’s your type?”

“I prefer my coffee black.”

She smiled. “No, your type of woman. Blonde? Brunette?”

“Oh.” Whoops. “I don’t care.”

“Tall or short?”

I was six foot three so I doubted a girl would be taller than me. “Don’t care.”

“What about—”

“Sweetheart, let me save you some time. I don’t care.”

“You’re easy…” She kept working on her computer before she printed something out. “Payment is due up front and there are no refunds. You’ll meet with Alessandra on Friday at the coffee shop just on the corner.”

“Alessandra?”

“She will be your escort.”

“Is that her real name?” I asked. “Because that’s hot.”

She grinned. “You can ask her yourself.” She handed the papers over. “I just need you to sign here and here.”

I grabbed the pen and added my signatures.

“The meeting at the coffee shop is complimentary so don’t worry about that.”

“A coffee date with a hot chick named Alessandra? Sweet deal.”
She chuckled. “Have a good time. I can promise you’ll like her.”
I bet I would.

Chapter Two


Alessandra



I got to the coffee shop early and sipped my coffee. I had so many of these meetings that they blurred together. It was easy to forget names and faces. I knew this guy’s name was Ash, and apparently he was hot.

Lucky me.

My clients were hardly ever cute. If they were, what would they need my services for? But I did enjoy my job because it was fulfilling. I helped people get through difficult times. I was even friends with some of them.

The door opened and a tall man walked inside. He wore dark jeans that hung low on his hips and a dark green t-shirt. He had wide shoulders that reminded me of a soldier, and his chest looked broad and powerful. He was more than just fit. He looked extremely athletic, like a marine or something.

He had dark brown hair and fair skin. His eyes were blue like the ocean, and they were endless in their depth.

Damn, he was hot.

His arms were covered in sleeves of tattoos. Instead of being all black ink, there were various colors. Green, orange, and blue were prominent colors, and they were highlighted under the fluorescent lights.

There was no way he was my client. That would be a dream come true.

He looked around the shop like he was searching for something—or someone.

I opened the folder and flipped through the pages until I found a copy of his driver’s license.

Shit, it was him.

There was no way he was straight. He must need me to pose as his girlfriend to his family or something. I’d done gigs like that before.

I stood up and gave him a quick wave. “Ash?”

His gaze focused on me, and those blue eyes seemed even brighter. Approval was in his look as he approached me. He carried himself like he owned the room and everyone in it. His appearance was intimidating. I’d never seen someone so beautiful in my life. The tattoos just made him a million times sexier.

Get a grip.

He approached me and extended his hand. “Ash.”

“Alessandra.” I took it, and my hand felt petite in comparison to his. The skin was warm but calloused like he used his hands all the time.

“That’s a hot name.”

“Thanks…” I’d never gotten a compliment like that so I was a little flustered. “Ash is cool too.” God, why did I say that?

He sat down, and his torso completely blocked the chair.

I was normally the confident one but now I was a little shaky. This guy was too beautiful to be true. He had to be gay. The hot ones were always gay. “So…how can I help you?”

He shrugged. “I need a girlfriend so my parents will get off my ass. That’s where you come in.”

“Are you gay?” Ugh, why did I ask it like that? It was so abrupt and harsh.

“No…” He narrowed his eyes on my face. “How the hell did I give you that impression? I checked out your rack the second I walked in the door. And when you turn around, I’m going to check out your ass.”

He did? I didn’t even notice. And a comment like that would normally result in a slap across the face. But he somehow pulled it off without sounding like a perverted sleazebag. “I just…” Think of something intelligent to say. “Guys like you don’t normally need to pay for a date…unless they’re gay and need a fake girlfriend.”

“Oh, I get it.” He leaned back in the chair and rested one hand on the table. “Nope. I’m definitely straight.” His eyes moved down to my chest before he looked me in the eye again. Then he winked.
I should feel violated but I didn’t.

“Okay…what do you need me to do?”

“Just act like my girlfriend when I’m around my family. That’s it. Nothing complicated.”

“But why do you need me?”

He rolled his eyes like the question irritated him. “It’s a really long story, but basically my parents owe me money but they won’t give it to me unless I have a serious girlfriend.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I couldn’t agree more, sweetheart.”

“Why do they owe you money?”

“They have a software company and it took a bad turn when this competitor got big. My parents needed the cash for a prototype so I lent it to them. Five years later, I still haven’t gotten it back even though their company is making bank. They don’t approve of my lifestyle and my interests. I need the money to open up my own shop, but I can’t get a loan because my credit is terrible. So, I have to play by their rules or kiss my dream goodbye.”

That sounded complicated. “What kind of shop?”

He presented both of his arms. “Tattoo shop.” Every inch of his skin was covered with ink. There were different images, like a ladder that led to nowhere, song lyrics, and a Hawaiian flower. “My parents think I’m a worthless loser. And perhaps they’re right. But I don’t care. I need to get this shop open. I’m tired of working for someone else.”

I replayed his story in my head. “That’s just wrong.”

“What?” He returned his arms to his sides. “My ink?”

“No, that your parents are controlling. You helped them out when you didn’t have to and this is how they treat you?” I’d struggle to smile in their presence.

He rolled his eyes. “They’re lame. I know.”

“Why don’t you sue them?”

He chuckled. “That would cause more headaches. And money. They could afford a much better lawyer than I could. If I just play their stupid game, I’ll get my money. Then they can kiss my ass.”

“I’m still a little confused…how does a girlfriend change any of this?”

“They think if I have a serious woman in my life, it’ll change me. Because nothing they have said or done has made a difference, maybe a wife will.” He rolled his eyes dramatically. “I don’t understand their thought process. But whatever. The sooner I get this shit over with, the sooner I can move on.”

I’d had a lot of unusual clients but this seemed to be the strangest one. “Well, I can do that for you.”

“Great.” He drummed his fingers on the table like he was playing a song. He could hardly sit still and he talked a lot. It was like he had ADD. “So, we’ll go out to dinner with them and begin this stupid charade.”

“Whoa, hold on.”

He stopped drumming. “What?”

“You can’t just show up with a girlfriend that quickly.”

“Why not?” he asked. “Let’s get the ball rolling.” He did a quick drum solo with his fingers.

“Don’t you think that would look suspicious to have a girlfriend twenty-four hours later? You’re going to need to wait at least a few weeks.”

He groaned then covered his face like he wanted to scream. “A few weeks? I don’t have a few weeks. Sweetheart, I got shit to do.”
“Well, it’s just not believable. You’ll have to be patient.”

He lowered his hands and sighed like I was right. “Maybe I should just hire a hit man. I’d get a much higher return on my investment that way.”

I knew he was joking. Well…I hoped he was joking. “There’re a few rules I want to go over before we do this.”

“Yeah, me too.” He stopped drumming and leaned forward across the table. “Look, I know this is a business transaction and you’re just doing your job, but nothing is going to happen between us. I’m not the boyfriend type and I never will be. I don’t want you to get your hopes up just to be disappointed.”

What?

“Girls always think I’ll change for them and I’ll fall so madly in love that I won’t be able to live without them. That’s not the case. I’m set in my ways and I won’t change for anybody. So, don’t expect anything. I really don’t want to break your heart like I did to all the others.”

What the hell is he talking about?

“And since this is a business relationship, I’m not going to hook up with you either. I just want a professional—”

“Do you ever stop talking?”

He halted in midsentence and shut his mouth.

Man, I’d never met someone so cocky in my life. “I’m not sure what I did to give you the impression that I want to jump your bones, but I don’t. You’re my client and I will give you whatever you need to reach your goals. I’m not looking for a hookup or a boyfriend, especially from a client. Don’t make assumptions.”

“I’m not making an assumption,” he said. “I’m just warning you.”

“Warning me?” I asked. “You aren’t my type so we have nothing to worry about.”

“I just like to be honest with my intentions. In the past, women have misinterpreted my actions and it always leads to them crying their eyes out. And they always say, ‘You are the one. Let’s get married. I can’t live without you. Blah blah.’ and it’s super annoying.”

“Damn, you’re a dick.”

“What?” A blank expression came over his face. “I’m just being honest.”

“Well, stop talking. Now, can I say what I need to say?”

He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “The floor is yours.”

He was such a beautiful man, but he was such a dick underneath that pretty package. I should have known there was something wrong with him. “This is a strictly professional interaction. There will only be handholding and waist touching. No kissing, no feelings, and no sex.”

“That’s fine.”

“If you ever cross the line, our arrangement is terminated.”
“Fair enough.”

“This is not a dating service—”

He rolled his eyes.

“Sorry, am I boring you?” I snapped.

“Shelly already told me all of this. I know the rules.”
“Well, people choose to break them anyway and I need to make sure you won’t.”

“Believe me, I can control myself. You’re smoking hot and have a perfect body, and you’re nice too, but I’m not some weird creeper that’s going to stick my tongue down your throat just because my dick is hard.”

He could be really sweet, but he was an arrogant jerk at the same time. At least he was thoughtful and nice some of the time. “Well, I’m glad we got that out of the way.”

“It sounds like we understand each other,” he said. “So, this should be no problem for either of us.”

“Why didn’t you just get a real girl to do this?” I asked. “I’m not cheap.”

“And use her then toss her aside when I’m done with her?” he asked incredulously.

I assumed that was something he did on a regular basis.
“No, that’s not my style. Hiring someone is much easier.” He rose from the seat. “I’ll call the office when I need you.”

“Uh…where are you going?”

“They’re having a sale on acoustics at Guitar Center. I was going to check it out.”

He was such a scatterbrain. “Well, we aren’t done here.”

“We aren’t?” He sat down again. “What else do you want to talk about? The weather?”

“I need to get to know you so I know how to behave in front of your parents. If I know nothing about you, they’re going to know it’s all an act.”

He released an irritated sigh. “I’m not that interesting.”
“Then it shouldn’t take long.”

He drummed his fingers again as he tried to think of something to share. His hair was slightly messy like he ran his fingers through it often. On him, it looked sexy. He had such nice features he could get away with pretty much anything. Even in t-shirt and jeans, he was a nice piece of eye candy.

I took the reins since he was taking so long. “You play guitar?”
“Yeah, I’ve been playing for a long time. I’m pretty good.”

“Do you play the drums?” I could only assume so since he kept drumming the table.

“Yeah. And I play the keyboard but that’s my least favorite instrument.”

“You like Led Zeppelin?”

His eyes narrowed. “How did you know that?”

“You were drumming it on the table.”

“You recognized the song?” His eyes lit up in interest.

“Yes.”

“Wow, that’s cool. Most girls I know listen to Taylor Swift and shit.”

“I listen to Taylor Swift.” I rested my hands on the table. “I listen to everything.”

“Taylor Swift isn’t music. That’s just some girl whining about every boyfriend she’s ever had.”

“How would you know?” I asked. “Have you actually listened to her? Because she writes about other things besides that.”

“Like what?”

“Like being happy. Being alone. Stuff like that.”

He didn’t seem convinced.

“Anyway, yes, I listen to Led Zeppelin.”

“What else do you listen to?” he asked.

“Aren’t we here to talk about you and not me?”

“Just answer the damn question.” He held my gaze without flinching.

“I really like folksy stuff like Mumford and Sons.”

“I prefer rock music but they’re good,” Ash said. “I’ll give them that.”

“I’m glad you approve.” My voice was full of sarcasm. “I also like the classics like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Doors.”

He winked. “Excellent taste, sweetheart.”

“Could you stop calling me that?”

“What?” he asked innocently.

“Sweetheart. I have a name.”

“I’m afraid to use it,” he said. “It’s too sexy.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s just a name.”

“Alessandra…” He shivered visibly. “See, it makes my spine wiggle.”

I continued on like he hadn’t said anything. “And I like modern stuff too, like Katy Perry—”

“No!” He covered his ears like he was in pain. “That’s not music. That’s just noise.”

“Well, I like her and I don’t care what you think.”

“Thank god, you have some good taste. Shit like that poisons people’s minds.”

“Just because I have different taste than you doesn’t make your preferences superior to mine.”

He seemed to realize his mistake. “You’re right. I’m being snooty.”
“You’re being a dick, actually.”

He smiled slightly. “I have a bad habit of doing that. I’m surprised my parents didn’t name me Dick instead of Ash.”

“You can always go down to the courthouse and change it.”

He chuckled. “Discreetly insulting me…nice.”

“So, back to you. You like guitar?”

“Yep. It’s my favorite instrument.”

“What do you care more about?” I asked. “Music or inking?”

He cringed. “Baby, don’t make me choose.”

“Don’t call me baby. It’s Alessandra.”

He growled quietly. “Fine. I can’t choose. It’s too difficult.”

“Why do you like inking?”

“What kind of question is that?” he asked. “Why does an artist like to paint? He just does. Inking is artwork and I love it. I create something that stays on someone’s skin forever. What’s cooler than that?”

“It is interesting.”

“Do you have ink?”

“No.” I’d thought about it a few times but never had the courage to go through with it.

“Good.” He released a sigh.

“Why is that good?” I assumed he would want me to have ink.

“My parents don’t approve of tattoos. It’s better if you don’t have any.”

That made sense. “When did you get your first tattoo?”

“On my eighteenth birthday. I would have done it sooner but my parents wouldn’t sign the permission papers.”

“Is there any particular taste you have in ink?”

He rubbed the back of his neck as he shrugged. “Whatever looks cool.”

“Do you have any piercings?”

He stuck out his tongue. A black metallic ball sat in the center of his tongue. He retracted it and shut his mouth.

I’d never known a guy with a tongue piercing so I never had an opinion about it before, but Ash made it look sexy. He was oblivious to other people’s feelings and he was full of himself, but he was still hot. “Did that hurt?”

“No.”

He seemed like the type of guy who would lie about it just to be macho. “Any other piercings?”

He grinned in a wicked way. “I would show you but that would endanger the professionalism of our relationship.”

My neck and cheeks suddenly felt warm. “Now that had to hurt.”

“A little,” he said. “The healing part of it hurt the most.”
“Why?”

“Because I couldn’t have sex for three months until it healed. I couldn’t even jerk off. It totally sucked.”

“TMI…”

“Hey, you asked.”

I’d never known a guy with a dick piercing either. Was it uncomfortable for the girl?

“And I doubt my parents are going to ask you about it since they have no idea.”

“Why did you pierce it?”

“Girls like it.”

“They do?”

That arrogant smile came back. “You obviously haven’t tried it. I highly recommend it.”

“Doesn’t it tear through the condom?”

“Not if you know what you’re doing.”

Talking about him having sex with a dick piercing was giving me ideas I shouldn’t think about. “Anything else I should know about you?”

“You’re blushing.” He kept grinning and wouldn’t stop.

“I’m not blushing.” I lowered my face in the hope that would help.

“I’ll show you if you’re interested.”

“Let’s change the subject,” I said quickly.

“Whatever you want, Alessandra.” He said my name slowly and rolled the R.

I ignored him.

“I was in the army for four years. They’ll expect you to know that.”
“Really?” I blurted. I didn’t expect that from him.

“Don’t think I’m honorable,” he said quickly. “I enlisted to piss off my parents. I would have enjoyed it more if I could have actually seen them pissed off more often. I was overseas for fifteen months.”

“Why would that piss them off?”

“They kept telling me they wanted me to be a better person so I decided to pledge my life to keep my country safe. But I risked my life in the process so I made them eat their own words.”

“Wow…that’s a big deal.”

He shrugged. “I don’t regret it. It gave me a lot of perspective. Now my tolerance for bullshit is even lower. When my parents bitch about my immaturity and stupid life goals, I think about all the men in my tour that never came home. They spend so much time caring about something so stupid instead of just letting me be who I am. Maybe they should go over there so they can grow the fuck up.” He shook his head then looked out the window.

Ash was more complex than he seemed. He was an asshole sometimes, but there was a lot more to him than what he projected. “What did you do over there?”

“Grunt. When I took the exam, I had really high scores. They wanted to put me in other areas of the field that wouldn’t land me on the ground. But I told them I wanted to be a soldier.”

“You’re so brave.”

Instead of saying something cocky or arrogant, he didn’t say anything at all.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life. I can sit here and pretend like there weren’t times when I thought I wouldn’t make it back home, but that would be a lie. I’m not ashamed to admit that.”

I held his gaze and felt my heart ache. “You wouldn’t be brave if you also weren’t scared. That’s the whole definition of it.”
“And the scariest part of all is something you’d least expect.”

I didn’t ask what it was.

“Coming home. After being over there for so long, I was constantly on my guard. Anytime I heard an unusual sound, I grabbed for my gun. I had nightmares for a long time about the things I’ve seen. I dreamt of the faces of my dead comrades. It took me a long time to finally integrate back into society. My parents never understood that. The second I was on American soil, they tried to get me to change my life and take a better path than I was on before.” He removed his gaze and looked out the window. “I’m sorry…I’m rambling.”

“I asked. And I’m very interested.”

He turned back to me. “I don’t want you to think I’m a broken soul or something. I hardly think about my time over there. I never let myself think about it.”

“Well, thank you for your sacrifice.” I meant what I said and wasn’t just giving him empty words. “I love having my freedom.”

He smiled slightly. “You’re very welcome.”

I stared down at my hands because I couldn’t hold his gaze any longer.
“Anyway…they’ll expect you to know that about me.”

“I’m surprised you can’t get a VA loan.”

“I destroyed my credit when I bought a bike.” He shook his head. “I bought it even though I couldn’t afford it and then I crashed it. It was right when I came back from the military and I was a little reckless.”

“Were you injured?”

“In the military?”

“I meant in the bike accident…” But I wouldn’t mind hearing the answer to that question too.

“Oh, no,” he said quickly. “Just a few bruises and no one else was hurt. But I was shot in Afghanistan.”

My eyes widened. “Oh my god…are you okay?” It was a stupid thing to ask since he was obviously fine.

He touched the left side of his torso. “A bullet grazed me from the side. It didn’t hit any organs so I recovered quickly. But I had a really bad scar there.”

“Had?”

“I inked over it. I ink all my scars so you can’t see them.”

“Oh…” He had more than one?

“I had a cut on my forearm but I covered that.” He pointed to the area where a tattoo of a dog tag sat. But his name wasn’t on the metal. “That’s my buddy’s name. He died over there.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“He was a good guy. Had a wife and everything.”

“That’s terrible…”

“She’s really nice,” he said. “I’ve been paying her rent for a while now. That’s also why I don’t have much cash right now.”

“You pay her rent?” It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.

“She didn’t have a job when her husband died and she had no way to get by. If I had a wife and I died, I know he would have done the same for me. And she’s a really sweet person. She has a job now but it doesn’t pay much. She’s looking for something better.”

I didn’t know what to say. His layers were endless. “That’s really sweet of you.”
He shrugged and looked out the window again.

Maybe I got a bad first impression of him. There was obviously more to him than his arrogance. “Is there anything else?”

“Like I said, I’m not that interesting.”

“Do you have siblings?”

“Only child.”

“I’m surprised you aren’t spoiled rotten.”

“I used to be when I was younger. But when I started listening to rock music and playing my guitar, my parents assumed I was on the way to drugs.”

“Have you ever done drugs?”

“Hell no. My parents are just paranoid people.”

I hadn’t even met his parents but I didn’t like them. They had a wonderful son who was just rough around the edges. Underneath all of that, he was a great person. “You deserve better.”

“There are times when I wish I had different parents, but they did raise me and put a roof over my head. It wasn’t always bad like this. I do my best to get along with them, but sometimes I feel like they aren’t giving me that same effort. In the end, I do love them—even when I want to murder them.”

“They’re lucky to have you.”

“I don’t know about that…I was a handful. They deserve a medal for raising me.”
I chuckled. “I’m sure you’re exaggerating.”

“I wish I were.” He crossed his arms over his large chest. “So, anything else you want to know?”

“I assume you didn’t go to college?”

He just stared at me.

“That’s a no…”

“I’m not college material.”

“I’m sure you could do anything you put your mind to.” I made a few notes in my notebook.

“What’s your story?” he asked. “Why are you an escort?”

I spun the pen in my fingers. “We’re here to talk about you, not me.”

“We can’t be friends?” he asked. “Don’t I have to know something about you before I bring you home to my parents?”

“Well, I need to create an alias. What do you think your parents would like?”
“A goodie goodie. Someone well mannered and educated. Something boring.”

“Okay,” I said. “How about I say I attended NYU for literature and then started running a flower shop in Brooklyn? Where do your parents live?”

“Connecticut.”

“So, they probably don’t know all the flower shops in New York?”
“Doubtful. That works. You look like you’d work in a flower shop anyway.”

“Thanks…or are you calling me boring?”

“No.” He gave me a smile. “Actually, that’d be really cute. I’d totally make a pass at you if I saw you priming roses in the window of a shop.”

My cheeks felt warm again. “Thanks…I guess I’ll have to research different flowers and what not.”

“My parents aren’t going to interrogate you that much.”

“I’d rather be prepared,” I said. “It’s what you’re paying me for.”

“I feel like all my money was spent on your beauty.” He said it with a straight face. “Are you a model and just do this on the side for money?”

It was the biggest compliment I’d ever gotten. “Uh, no. This is my only job.”

“Really?” he asked in surprise. “You fooled me.”

“It’s good money and I have control over my hours.”

“Do what you like and don’t give a shit what anyone else says,” he said bluntly. “I’m just surprised you don’t get tired of men gawking at you all the time.”

“They don’t,” I said. “Some do but not all.”

“Maybe I should get into this business.” He winked at me.

“You would get fired so fast.”

“Why?” he asked defensively.

“Because you’d sleep with all the clients.”

“So?” he asked. “What’s wrong with that?”

I rolled my eyes. “The second you sleep with them, you’re breaking the law.”
“How so?” He was totally clueless.

“Because it’s prostitution.”

“Oh…” His eyebrows furrowed. “I didn’t think about it that way.”

“So, you’d never be able to work here.”

“That’s a shame,” he said. “I’d bring you a lot of business.”

“We bought the company from a group of guys a few years ago. Now we’re just a group of women running it.”

“This seems like a good gig. Why give it up?”

“They settled down. They didn’t want to moonlight as other people’s boyfriends anymore.”

“I guess that would be a conflict. If I ever had a wife, I wouldn’t let anyone touch her.”

“You think about getting married?” Earlier he said he didn’t do the girlfriend thing so I was a little confused.

“No. That’s why I said if and not when. Relationships aren’t for me. I get what I need and then move on. And I’m happy that way.”

“Sounds lonely to me.”

He gave me a dark look. “I didn’t ask for your opinion and you have no right to judge me.”

“I wasn’t judging you.”

“It seemed like it.”

“I would just feel empty going from person to person forever. It would be nice for a while but one day I’d want a single person to share my life with. I’d want kids and stuff…”

“I don’t want kids.” He said it bluntly. “I’m not meant to be a father.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You haven’t figured it out in the hour you’ve been talking to me?” he asked incredulously. “I’m an ex-military tattoo artist that can’t even open his own shop. I’m not exactly a role model.”

“I don’t see what the problem is with any of those things. All a parent needs to do is love their child unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living.”

He stared at me with his lips pressed tightly together.

I looked down at my notes because his stare was becoming too intense. “Is there anything else I should know? Like an ex-girlfriend or something?”

“You’re the only one.”

Even though he meant that in a specific context, I felt my heart skip a beat. “Well, it looks like I have everything I need…”

“Good. I’ve got to get to Guitar Center. There’s this beauty…in the window. I must have her.”

I tried not to laugh. “I hope you get her.”

He stood up and looked down at me. “You know what I’m going to name her?”
“Hmm?”

“Alessandra.”




Ash and Alessandra...combust and consume.

Too many drinks later, and I wasn’t even sure what was going on. Tom leaned close to me, his lips near my ear. “I was just about to walk over to you when you walked to me. What are the odds?”

“You tell me.” I grabbed his beer and took a drink. I’d had enough for the night but I couldn’t stop myself.

“You’re looking really fine in that dress.” He leaned close to me, the scruff from his chin noticeable even in the dim lighting of the bar.

“Why, thank you.” I chuckled even though I wasn’t sure why. Tom was nice enough and he was cute. But I felt like our conversation was forced. The flirting didn’t go right and the chemistry wasn’t natural.

Not like Ash and I.

“How about we head to my place?” he asked. “I live close by.”

Now that I put myself out there and landed a guy, I realized I didn’t want it. I wasn’t a prude, but hooking up with some guy I hardly knew just wasn’t me. I didn’t need their life story but I needed something… “Tom, I really need to go. I’m just not feeling it tonight.”

Disappointment moved across his face. “Come on, baby. Don’t be like that.”

I grabbed my clutch. “I’m sorry. You really are cute.” I kissed his cheek before I walked away. Shelly left an hour earlier, so I walked out of the bar alone. I was glad I didn’t slip and fall with my heels. It wouldn’t be my first time.

When I made it to the sidewalk, I stopped and pulled out my phone. I had Ash’s number even though he didn’t have mine. My thumb inexplicably wanted to hit the send button. It had a mind of its own, and for some reason, I didn’t think it was a bad idea.

“Yo.” Ash’s deep voice came over the phone. “Ash speaking—sexiest man alive.”

“You really are the sexiest man alive.” I would never be able to say that unless I was drunk off my ass.

“I’m glad you agree,” he said with a flirty voice. “I’ve turned People Magazine down a few times. I’m just not ready to share my beauty with the world.”

I leaned against a telephone pole. “You want to share it with me?”

“Absolutely, sweetheart. But first, who is this? I don’t recognize the number.”

“You really can’t figure it out?” I made my voice sexy. I hoped it was coming off that way. In my head it was, but who knew what reality sounded like.

Ash was quiet for a moment. “Alessandra?”

“Bingo. You win a prize.”

“I almost didn’t recognize you.” His flirty attitude dropped and now he was serious. “You drunk?”

“On you.” I giggled at my own line.

“Yep…you’re drunk.”

“I want to take you up on that offer.”

“What offer?”

“Fuck me until I scream.” I would never have the balls to say something like that if I were sober.

“Damn, how much have you had to drink?”

“Not nearly enough.”

“Where are you?” he asked. “I’ll come get you.”

“Let’s just meet at my apartment.”

“No, your ass better stay there. Now where are you?”

“Uh…” I looked around. “I’m outside of Ruby. It’s a bar.”

“Okay. I’m coming to get you. Don’t move.”

“I’ll be waiting.” I hung up and giggled again.

***
Ash crossed the street then came my way.

I whistled loudly. “Damn…look at that hunky man.”

When he was close to me, he grinned. “You know, I like you better when you’re drunk.”

“I like you better when I’m drunk too.” I stood on my tiptoes and wrapped my arms around his neck. “You smell good.” I leaned in and gave him a kiss on the lips. The touch only lasted a second but it was good. His lips were full and soft.

“Whoa…you cut right to the chase, huh?” Ash pulled away but his arms were still around my waist.

“Which is closer? Your place or mine?”

“Let’s just go to yours.” He kept one arm around my waist as he walked me up the sidewalk.

“So, I’ve been thinking about the clit piercing…”

“Yeah?” He leaned close to me and placed his face near mine.

“You would do it for me?”

“Definitely,” he said. “And I would do it right.”

“Would you blow on it for me?”

His eyes darkened in interest. “I’d blow on it until you couldn’t come anymore.”

“Ooh…I like that.”

He chuckled. “Seriously, be drunk all the time. You’re way more fun this way.”

“Maybe we can arrange something… I met this guy tonight. He was cute and everything but…all I could think about was you.”

“Yeah?” he asked with intrigue. “And what did you think about exactly?”

“That I would much rather spend the night with you than him.”

“Good call.” When we reached my building, he opened the door for me and escorted me inside. He stopped in front of the stairs. “Are you going to be able to handle this?”

“Probably not.” I wobbled on my heels.

“Alright.” He scooped me into his arms effortlessly then carried me up the stairs.

“You’re so strong. I want to see you with your shirt off.”

“We can arrange that.” He grinned as he carried me up the flight of stairs.

“And I want to see your cock piercing…”

“I knew it.” He reached my floor then approached my door.

“And I want to feel it too…”

“Shit.” He adjusted his jeans with one hand. “You need to knock it off. I’ve had a hard-on the whole way here.”

“Ooh…let me see.”

He chuckled. “You need to drink more often.” He got the keys out of my clutch then opened the door. He carried me inside then kicked the door closed behind him. Then he took me into my bedroom and set me on my bed.

I lay back and kicked my feet up. “These heels are killing me.”

Ash pulled them off without looking up my dress. “They’re five inches. I’m not surprised.”

I sat up then ran my hands up his chest. “You want to know a secret?”

“Always.”

“You’re the sexiest man I’ve ever seen.”

“Well, that’s not a secret, sweetheart.”

“Ugh, you’re so cocky but you’re still hot.”

“I know.”

My hands went to his jeans and I unbuttoned them then pulled down the zipper.

Ash watched me with dark eyes.

I got his jeans off then saw his long definition in his boxers. It was thick and moved all the way down to his thigh. “Wow…”

“I get that a lot.”

I pressed my lips to this tip through the material and gave him a gentle kiss.

Ash’s eyes widened and he released a deep moan. “Whoa…sweetheart.”

I grabbed his boxers and tugged them down.

He gripped the top and kept them up. “As horny and flattered as I am, not tonight.”

I pouted my lips. “Why the hell not?”

“Because I’m not going to take advantage of you.”

“Take advantage?” I asked. “I’m giving it to you.”

“Even so, last week you told me no. I know you’re only saying yes now because you’re drunk. That’s not how I do things.”

I growled. “Come on, don’t be such a pussy.”

He chuckled. “Excellent way to get into a man’s pants.”

I growled again.

“I’ll tell you what.” He kneeled at the foot of the bed with his torso between my legs. “If you still want to when you wake up in the morning, I’ll rock you so hard your bed will break. How about that?”

“But I want it now…” My hands moved down his chest.

“I’m sorry.” One hand moved through my hair. “Take it as a compliment.”

“You’re rejecting me. How is that a compliment?”

“I’m rejecting you because I care about you. I want to know you want me, not just because you had too much to drink. And I don’t want to be something you regret.” He tucked my hair behind my ear. “Even drunk, you can understand that, right?”

I nodded.

“Good.” He stood up then pulled his t-shirt off.

Oh my lord.

Ash was a solid slab of muscle. Prominent lines of muscle divided the different areas of his body. His torso was flanked with power and strength, and the muscle of his ribs looked like lines of sand in the desert. His stomach contained an eight pack, full of grooves and valleys. And his chest was wide and expansive. Both of my hands couldn’t take up half the area. “I usually sleep in the nude but I’ll sleep in my boxers tonight.”

“I want you to be comfortable…don’t mind me.”

He chuckled then pulled the covers back. “Come on. Get into bed.”

“With you?” Seriously?

“What does it look like?”

“Are you trying to torture me?”

That stupid grin was on his face. “Change and let’s go to bed.”

I eyed his t-shirt on the floor then snatched it. I pulled it over my dress then removed my dress from underneath.

“That’s pretty impressive.”

His shirt reached past my thighs and made me feel smaller than I already was. I crawled up the bed then lay in the sheets beside him. “Your shirt smells good.”

“It’s my natural scent so I’m not surprised.” He turned on his side and faced me. Then he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me close to him. “For what it’s worth, I’m going to be hard all night.”

“We can fix that…”

He chuckled. “I would love to—in the morning.”

“I thought you were a dick?”

“I am.”

“Then why are you being so sensitive right now?”

“I’m a dick because I sleep around and tell women they aren’t getting shit from me. But I’m not an ass. I don’t lie and act like I’m something I’m not. No woman ever has to wonder where our relationship is going. And I don’t take advantage of women. A little buzzed is fine, but totally drunk like this isn’t right. And I don’t need to get a girl drunk to get her into bed. Besides, I’m your friend. What kind of friend would I be if I totally used you when you were most vulnerable? That shit is fucked up.”

Now I felt like an idiot. I put myself out there and got rejected—coldly.

“Hey.” His voice came out gentle. “Saying no wasn’t easy. You know how attracted I am to you. I sincerely hope you still want it in the morning. Because my morning wood is going to be bigger than usual.” He leaned in and gave me a gentle kiss on the lips. His mouth was soft and delicate. Even though the touch was innocent, it somehow made me melt. “Good night, sweetheart.”

“Good night.”

Release Date: 01-30-2016


E. L. Todd was raised in California where she attended California State University, Stanislaus and received her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, then continued onto her master’s degree in education. While science is interesting and a hobby, her passion is writing. After writing novels as a small child, her craft grew until she found the confidence to show her closest friends—which is how the Soul Saga began. When she isn’t reading or writing, she is listening to indie rock music. Her current favorite artist is Mumford and Sons, whom she credits most of her inspiration for her novels. She also enjoys running and swimming, as well as working as a high school teacher. She has an unusual obsession with dogs, even though she doesn’t own one, and her favorite vacation spot is Disneyland, which she visits several times a year. The most important aspect of her life is her friends, whom contributed so much time and energy into all of her novels. According to E. L. Todd, “Without them, the Soul Saga never would have come to fruition. I am theirs forever.”

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