Title: Return to Me
Author: Lilly Cain
Genre: Paranormal Erotic Romance
Cover Designer: Candice Phillips Gilmer, Flirtation Designs
I love living by the water. There’s peace here with the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean right outside my window. Some people think I must be crazy, or at least find it lonely, living in my grandmother’s old house in the dunes of Five Island Cove.
But I’m not always alone.
Each year, when the weather warms, the seals return, and so does Cael. He makes me feel wild, like an ocean storm. He’s a man with magic in his soul and I’ll never give that up, no matter what laws we break or who we have to fight.
* * *
I can’t forget Anna. Even though the waves sing to me the song of the selkie, urging me to move on with my people, with my pack, the thought of her and the memories of the way she feels and tastes draw me back. My brothers never remember their human summer lovers, never worry about them when our kin travel to other waters.
I can never stop.
The elders have been watching me though. What will they do when they discover us?
It’s time to take a mate, but I want only my Anna.
But I fear the tide is changing…
Warning: This paranormal romance sizzles! There’s no cold water here, only heat and lots of it. Be prepared to long for a magic selkie of your own and look at seals in a whole new way!
“What do you think, we go hit the tables after we get done here? Get some practice in?” Connor grinned at her. She couldn’t help but grin back. Her big brother never seemed to run out of enthusiasm when it came to poker. They’d been standing in line for ten minutes, which wasn’t bad, but there were at least a dozen people ahead, waiting to register at The Princess Resort, Las Vegas. She shifted her shoulder bag. The thing weighed a ton, but she wasn’t about to put it down with Connor right beside her. Knowing him, he’d pick it up for her and then demand what made it so blasted heavy.
One manuscript, 347 double-spaced pages of love, lust and happy ending. Her manuscript. The thought made her want to do a little dance, right here in the lobby. Jenn Riley, author.
The line shuffled forward. Although there were three clerks on the hotel registration desk, getting checked in was taking forever. The place was huge, and the signs of the two ongoing events everywhere—the poker tournament she was playing in with her brother and his two friends and the romance writers’ conference taking place in the larger ballrooms and meeting venues. The writers’ conference she planned to secretly attend.
Connor and his friends had no idea she’d agreed to come with them when their fourth had broken a leg at his job, only because she could get to the writers’ con from the poker tourney simply by crossing the hotel lobby. Her brother had teased her mercilessly about her love for romance novels when growing up, and if he heard she’d written one…
She shook her head.
Connor frowned. “What, you jetlagged?”
“Uh, a little. I think I might just chill a little, grab a swim and some time by the pool. Soak up some desert heat,” she murmured distractedly.
Connor sighed but accepted her plan and then rambled on about the tournament, who he thought might be there this year, how tough they were. Like they hadn’t gone over it at home. And at the airport. And on the plane. She stifled a sigh. The team competition worked on points, each player in their own division, and Connor had a hundred strategies, or more, since he had a female player on his team this time and could enter the new division. She liked poker, loved it, really. It was fun and she was good, thus the invite when Connor needed a fourth. But what she wouldn’t give to go over and say hello to the authors gathering near the bar. They had to be authors. All women, gathered in circles, getting glasses of wine and talking about…what? Their new plot? Who had what book coming out next? She wet her lips and shuffled ahead in line.
Minutes later they were registered into adjoining rooms, Jenn in one and Connor in the other. His poker-partner buddies were apparently already checked into their rooms on the floor above. Connor texted them as Jenn watched a large screen to the right of the registration table. Conference information scrolled over the panel. She chewed her lip when she read the registration times for both events. Damn. Nearly the same time for both, and on opposite sides of the hotel. She’d have to catch the late registration for the writers’ conference.
She walked with Connor to the elevator. The noise as they passed the bar was amazing, the place abuzz with what had to be a hundred women, all chatting and laughing, drinks in hand. She let a little wave of jealousy slide through her. If she’d had a little more money, she would have been here on her own instead of with her brother. She’d be in there with those women, meeting and greeting and rubbing shoulders with the authors she read every night. Soon though. After two years of playing with her book, it was done. Her career as a writer was about to begin and her life was about to change.
She dropped off her luggage in the room, nice enough for a hotel this size but she wouldn’t have much time to enjoy it. Then it was off to explore and maybe meet up with the one author she did know at the convention, Nancy Clarke, a seasoned veteran of these events who helped with online pitch classes. It would be nice to finally put a face with the name.
She had more than one plan for the weekend, after all. Excitement zipped through her as she headed back down the elevator and detoured toward the pool. She had to at least say she’d seen it.
This trip was all about changing her life. Starting her writing career, placing high enough in the tournament to win the cash she needed to have the freedom to start her next novel without working.
She watched an older lady in an elegant pantsuit chatting with two younger women in suits near a large pool tent marked with the convention logo. Was that who she thought it was? Her heart beat a little harder. Hello, fangirl moment.
No way was she missing this opportunity.
She strode toward her—the Nora—and almost bumped into a young woman carrying drinks toward the tent. Jenn swerved, fought for balance, lost. At the last second, she threw her bag to the safety of a nearby lounger. It was the least she could do for her literary baby before she ended up in the deep end.
Unfortunately, she never had learned to swim.
A large, warm hand grabbed her by the shoulders and dragged her to the surface. She struggled, a bit desperate to get out of the water, but more so not to drown in front of her idol. Seconds later she was unceremoniously dumped on the tiles beside the pool where she sputtered for a moment before she noticed the hands running over her body and moved to protest. Only she couldn’t quite catch her breath.
She looked up into a gorgeous set of big, blue eyes. Adrian D. Cooper. His serious, concerned expression heated her from cheeks to toes. As usual, he wore a baseball cap, and she fought the urge to flip it off and run her fingers through the dark brown curls underneath.
Dear Lord. Goal number three, alive and breathing. She’d wanted this man forever. Adrian had been her brother’s best friend since they were all kids, and he never seemed to look at her as anything other than little Jenny, the girl he’d hauled choking out of the pool when she’d gone under at age eight.
Some days she wondered if she’d ever really come back up. His blue eyes had sucked her in, and she’d caught herself drowning in them more than once. She’d fallen in love with him, and although he’d rescued her from the water, he’d never acknowledged the fact she needed more.
“I’m okay.” But she stopped trying to brush his hands aside. Maybe it wasn’t too late for CPR. A little mouth to mouth.
“You sure? Seems like we’ve been here before.”
“Well, we have. Sure we couldn’t have a little kiss like last time?” God. How did she let these things slip out of her mouth? But at least the flirtation had made him smile. So beautiful.
“I don’t think you need resuscitation this time. You seem pretty conscious to me.”
“Yeah.” His gentle put-off hurt a bit, like it always did, but there was a touch of heat in his eyes beyond the amusement. Maybe there was hope.
There was a crowd gathering. Why did this sort of thing always happen to her? When she tried to sit up, he backed off enough to let her. “Just a little surprise dip.”
“You don’t swim.” But he gave her a hand up. And when she shivered, he grabbed a towel from a shelving unit only a few steps away and wrapped her up, his hands gentle.
And if she leaned into him just a little… Was she so weak? Probably.
“Thanks.” Jenn glanced around. Nora was gone—thankfully—but her bag was safe at the side of the pool on the lounger, and she snatched it up. Thank God for small things.
He threw the towel around her shoulders and tried to take the heavy shoulder bag from her.
“I’ve got this, thanks,” she mumbled and hung onto her bag. He, of all people, wasn’t getting his hands on what was inside.
He tugged harder, pulling the weight from her for a moment—determined to be the gentleman, of course, a result of his Southern childhood and one of the things she’d always loved about him. She pulled back, and they wrestled for a moment over the heavy bag until Connor, who she hadn’t noticed standing nearby, broke out in huge guffaw. She and Adrian had had a casual rivalry for years, another topic Connor loved to tease her about. She gave the bag one more tug and settled it on her shoulder, throwing Jenn off balance and nearly knocking into a lady passing by. All she needed was another trip into the pool. Adrian gave her a look and took her elbow, then led her back inside the hotel. She did her best to follow without stumbling.
If he read even a page of her book, he’d know exactly who it was about. And more, he’d see those nights when they’d laid in the grass watching stars as teens in a whole other way. She didn’t want that, not exactly. She’d had years watching him and wanting him, but she wouldn’t change that sweet time a bit. She just wanted…more…now.
The elevator was as packed as the rest of the hotel. She squeezed close to his six-foot-three frame until she could feel the heat coming off him. The soft scent of his cologne, woodsy and masculine, caught her. He looked fantastic yet casual in his jeans and button-down shirt. She, of course, now looked like a drowned rat.
Great. How was she going to reach goal number three when she still reminded him of that eight-year-old girl?
* * *
Damn, she looked good. This was going to be a very long weekend. Her wet clothes clung to her like skin, showing every curve and even the tight points of her… God. He needed to keep his head down and zipper zipped and concentrate on the game. Jenn was not for him. Never mind that she’d somehow not only grown up over the last few years, but she was his type, perfectly. Five-foot-seven or so, and curvy. Straight, dark brown hair, brown eyes and full lips. Mmm, she had an ass he would like to take in his hands and--
“Ooof.” The elbow to his side caught him by surprise.
“Wake up, bud.” Connor laughed at him. “Long flight?”
“Ah, not bad.” The flight in from Nevada had been a lot shorter than theirs from Texas. Jenn had a pretty blush running down her cheeks and neck, across her collarbone. Why again had he promised himself not to touch her?
“Thanks for saving Jenn again. How’s your mom?” Connor’d had a fondness for Adrian’s mother since they’d all grown up on the same street and his mother’s cookies had saved the boys from near teenage starvation. Or at least imagined teenage starvation.
His mom. There was the reason he’d promised he’d keep his distance from Jenn. Right.
The elevator doors opened, and another couple somehow squished on, although they seemed to be headed down rather than up. Clearly they didn’t give a crap about the tight quarters, but a bead of sweat slipped down the back of his neck as Jenn was forced to press against him, the curves of her ass thankfully resting against his hipbone rather than the rapidly hardening length of his cock. Thank god for the towel between them. All he needed was wet pants, and he’d be right back in high school.
Yup, lots of cold showers ahead.
A moment later, and they were standing in front of her room. She opened her door and they trooped inside. Connor walked over to the adjoining room and opened it. The door to his side was already wide open and he strolled into his room.
“Hmm…?” He’d taken a seat on her bed, where her shoulder bag was making a dent in the thick duvet. What was in that thing, rocks?
“I said, would you mind giving me some alone time? I need to change my clothes and crash for a while.”
Adrian gave her a look. She didn’t look tired. But he never knew with Jenn what she might be up to next. Then again, she might need rest. She’d never tried to get rid of him before. God, had she seen his hard-on? There was a time when she’d wanted him, they’d even shared a kiss before she went off to university, but he’d known better than to act on any impulses around her, and he’d thought she’d understood why. His stomach pitched into his shoes. Her girlish crush had meant more to him than he’d ever let on, maybe even to himself. That she’d wanted him even when he had been a jerk teenage boy had always made him feel better when things were crap in his life at home. But a crush was different than the lust-fest he had going on in his pants. Time to man-up. “All right, if you’re sure you’re okay. But registration starts pretty soon. And Connor wants to get a few warm up rounds in, size up the competition.”
“I know. Not a problem.”
Adrian walked through the door separating the siblings’ rooms. Connor nodded at him. “Ready?”
“Jenn’s not going. She’s gonna rest for a bit.”
“Seriously?” Connor looked incredulous, echoing Adrian’s surprise. Connor shrugged. “Let’s get going, check out the tables.”
Adrian glanced back at Jenn. She’d grabbed her tote bag and was looking at something, not paying any attention to him. Her growing up was for the best. He shut the door and joined Connor in the hallway. They walked together to the elevator and caught a lift down to the lobby. Connor had been his friend for years, their tight bond formed when Adrian had moved with his mother to a house two doors down in the same small town in Texas. They’d needed a fresh start after his father had left them in Alabama with little more than the house mortgage, three months of unpaid bills, and a few hundred bucks in the checking account.
The friendship had lasted after Adrian moved to Nevada for work. Emails, calls and regular visits, plus the poker tourneys kept them from drifting apart like other childhood friends. That, and the fact that Adrian couldn’t help but fall a little in love with their perfect family – mom, dad, sister, brother, and God only knew how many aunts, uncles and cousins. It was only his mom and his younger brother on his family tree. No need to add a father whose family was apparently made of assholes.
The elevator dinged, and they stepped out to the lobby, still crowded with people. The poker tournament took place on the left side of the hotel, in conference rooms managed by the casino half of the business. As they headed in that direction, Connor’s steps grew faster. Adrian grinned. Cards had always been Connor’s thing, while Adrian preferred sports and video games. Jenn had gone for books when she wasn’t goading her brother and her brother’s friends. The girl liked to tease. But to give Connor credit, he’d never shut his sister out and Adrian had enjoyed the time they’d all spent together. With only two years difference in age, Jenn had done her best to keep up with them in sports, and Connor had brought her along on movie nights and to local street parties. She’d fit in, and Adrian had found out she was pretty fun—for a girl.
They headed down the corridor to a second open area with a small bar and coat check. The small foyer split to the left into the main casino with its crashing noise and flashing lights of a few hundred slot machines, or over to the right, where the concert and banquet rooms lay. Since this was their third time at this hotel for the tournament, they knew the way and headed to the tournament rooms to take a look before registering.
As usual, a number of players had arrived early, and impromptu games were set up at several tables. Other, older players stood casually around and studied the hands and faces of those they would soon play against. There was serious money involved; the tournament held pots to be won at several levels. By registering as a group, the four wouldn’t play against each other unless they made it into the final three games, but even if they didn’t get that far, they could win more than enough in various, min tournaments that happened at the same time. The multiple ways to win made the trip worthwhile.
For Adrian, it wasn’t about the money. He had enough, made plenty for his lifestyle and to send home to his mother. She’d never have to work three jobs supporting his brother as she had helping him through school with no help from their deadbeat dad. Now he had a role in a gaming company as a successful marketing advisor. So it wasn’t about the kitty. Adrian came to be with Connor and the other guys. Seeing Jenn was a bonus, even if it was a bit of a strain. He wanted her, but indulging in an affair was out of the question.
What had happened to his mother would never happen to Jenn. She needed more than a few stolen days.
“Check out Brad, over there with the blonde.”
Adrian scanned the room until he caught sight of their fourth group player. He sat at a table near the front of the room with two other players and a house dealer. He had his arm draped over a bored-looking blonde’s shoulder while he gestured with his cards. Brad was another old friend, but he really hadn’t managed to grow up much, from what Adrian could tell. He still chased every woman available.
Adrian laughed. “That’s Zoe Stratton he’s leaning all over. She’s going to wipe his ass with his cards and send him home to mommy.”
“The man has no clue. She’s a professional player, wonder why she bothered to sit in?”
Adrian shrugged. They looked over the crowd, finding a few more players they knew and some of the heavy hitters they’d be lucky to sit with. It was great to be back, talking the game with Connor. Connor lived for the cards, but it was about the game more than the gamble. No betting problems for him. There were more women walking about than usual, probably drawn in by the special women’s only tourney, an idea the casino supported heavily in an attempt to draw in video coverage from the major networks. More women meant more publicity. Jenn would fit right in and kick butt; she was more than a decent player and had beaten him a number of times.
“Shit. They’re opening up registration early. Let me text Jenn.” Connor pulled out his cell and tapped the screen.
“Sorry, sir, no phones in the tournament area.” A security officer had walked over the minute Connor had pulled his cell from his pocket. He grimaced and put the phone away.
Adrian shrugged. “I’ll go text her from the hall. She could be asleep though. She said she needed to crash.” He gave the guard a nod and walked out of the room. Players packed the hall and the small lobby, so he headed for the larger bar near the main lobby and entrance. Might as well kill two birds with one stone and get a couple of bottles of water while he was out.
He’d almost made it through the bar door when a flash of color caught his eye. A lady with a pink suit and a large brimmed hat with a long feather. A bit of overkill, there. But right beside her… He blinked and looked again. Yup, right beside her was the supposedly resting, too-tired-to-go-out Jenn.
Lilly Cain is a wild woman with a deep, throaty laugh and plunging necklines. She is a great lover of all things sensual—perfume, chocolate, silk! She never has to worry about finding a date or keeping a man in line. She keeps her blond hair long and curly, wears beautiful clothes and loves loud music. Lilly lives her private life in the pages of her books.
All of the above is a bit of silliness. :) Lilly lives in Atlantic Canada, although she spent eight years in Bermuda, enjoying the heat and the pink sands. She returned to her homeland so she could see the changing of the seasons once again. When not writing she paints, swills coffee and vodka (but not together) and fights her writing pals for chocolate (true story).
When not living up to her pen name, Lilly is a single mom who loves reading and writing, dabbling in art and loving and caring for her two daughters. She loves romance and the freedom erotic fantasy provides her imagination. She loves the chilling moments in her novels as much as the steaming hot interludes. Her stories are an escape and a release, and she hopes that they can give you that power, too.