Surprise! New book alert. I’m sneaking out a quick and steamy, brother’s-best-friend, forced proximity, pining jackasses romance because it’s what we all deserve. And I’m posting the first couple of chapters here because, well, who doesn’t want to taste before they commit?
But first, let’s cover some details. This new book? It’s called Guarding Temptation, and a much shorter version of it was previously published in the Rogue Nights anthology. This new novella is revised, edited, and expanded to almost double its previous length. So this is kind of a rerelease, but also kind of not.
If you’ve already experienced Nina and James, this version has extra delicious content for you to enjoy – plus, some fun cameos from characters you’ll recognise!
And if you haven’t, here’s a glimpse at what you’re getting into with their story…
Protective. Obsessive. And rough around the edges.
James Foster knows the rules: you don’t fall for your best friend’s little sister. Nina is too young, too reckless, and too busy saving the world to be tied down by the commitment he craves.
If he was smart, he’d stop wanting her. But she’s the one thing on earth James just can’t quit.
Fierce. Principled. And impossible to resist.
Political campaigner Nina Chapman is sick of one-time things. She wants forever, and she wants it with her brother’s best friend—but James still sees her as a child to be coddled.
So when a controversial article lands Nina in hot water, she finds herself under his protection and under his roof. It’s a shame James doesn’t want her in his bed, too.
…Or does he?
Warning: this red-hot novella contains one radical leftist heroine, one over-protective hero, one annoying childhood nickname, and a shared apartment with only one bed. Also, Brexit. But not too much, I promise.
“We shouldn’t have done it.”
Nina wanted to tell herself that she’d misheard. That James Foster, her brother’s best friend and her actual dream guy, hadn’t just said those words thirty seconds after making her come on his sofa. But he was sitting with his elbows resting on his knees, his massive shoulders slumped and his shaven head bowed—which was universal body language for Wow, I have so many regrets right now.
So, she definitely hadn’t misheard. Shit.
Her heart dropped, hit the floor, and cracked right in two. She probably should’ve stayed silent, should’ve maintained some sort of dignity—but Nina Chapman had been born mouthy, and her twenty-three years of life had only exacerbated the issue. So she leapt to her feet and demanded, “Are you serious?”
James’s head snapped up, surprise written all over his handsome face. “You disagree?”
What the fuck was that supposed to mean? Like it should be painfully obvious that she was a bad idea, right after he’d licked her to orgasm? Face burning, Nina snatched her jeans up off the floor—where he’d dropped them. “At least let me get my clothes on before you start complaining.”
“Nina.” Now he had the audacity to look upset, his full mouth pressed into a severe line, deep furrows marking his brow. God, he was irritating. And worse, when he stood, she saw the hard-on tenting his suit trousers.
Only James would be wearing suit trousers and a crisp, blue shirt on a Sunday morning. Only James would get rid of a woman—after doing that filthy thing he’d done with his tongue while wearing said suit trousers!—and seem surprised when she didn’t want to leave. As if he honestly had no idea how attractive he was.
And only James could make her think fond thoughts about him even when she wanted to punch him in the face.
Yes, Nina definitely wanted to punch him in the face. Because not only had he made her come, he’d apparently—physically—enjoyed it. Yet even unfulfilled desire wasn’t enough for him to actually fuck her.
Honestly, it was becoming painfully clear that nothing would be enough to make him fuck her. She’d gone all out with this silly seduction plan, hoping he’d finally see her as Nina instead of the kid she’d been back when they first met. Hoping he’d stop treating her like a little sister or a best friend and start treating her like a grown woman. Well, he’d treated her like a woman alright, and look what it got her: battered pride and pitying looks.
At least, she thought that was pity in his eyes. It was something bleak and awful, anyway.
“I’m sorry Cupcake,” he said, and the childhood nickname just made everything worse.
“Don’t apologise to the woman you just slept with, James. It’s very déclassé.”
He winced. “We didn’t—”
“I recommend you shut the fuck up before I throw you out the window, okay?” It was an empty threat, of course, and not just because she’d never hurt him. Nina wasn’t exactly a lightweight, but he had at least a hundred pounds on her. There was no way on God’s green earth she could ever throw James fucking Foster out of a window. He knew that, and yet he nodded solemnly and kept quiet.
That was the kicker, you see. She didn’t just want to sleep with James. If she did, this rejection wouldn’t have bothered her. There were plenty of guys she could sleep with, plenty of guys she did sleep with. But none of those men were sweet and serious and generous and open and determined and protective and James. None of those men had gone from being her brother’s best friend, just part of the furniture, to someone she might actually—nauseatingly—love.
Maybe this whole thing had been doomed from the start, anyway. Nina knew very little about love, which was why her reaction to it had been a mortifying attempt at seduction rather than, say, a heart-to-heart.
She’d take this romantic failure as a sign, she decided. Clearly, this wasn’t meant to be.
Her expression grim, she shoved on her boots and patted her pockets, making sure her phone and keys were there.
“Don’t go,” James said. As always, his deep voice held a tone of command. Which, as always, made her determined to ignore him. “I need to talk to you, Nina. We—” He broke off, which was odd enough to make her pause. James usually spoke like a statesman. He did not hesitate and he did not stutter. But he recovered quickly, and she was too pissed to wonder about it. “We need to talk,” he finished, kind of redundantly.
“Don’t worry,” she gritted out. “I won’t tell my brother.”
He actually flinched at the last word. Then he shut his eyes and ran a hand over his jaw and sighed, “Ah, shit. Markus.”
Well holy fucksticks in a bleeding blue canoe. He hadn’t even thought about her brother. He hadn’t pulled the brakes because of anything to do with Mark’s protective instincts, or some weird, bro-code, don’t-sleep-with-my-little-sister thing, or because years ago, when Mark joined the Royal Air Force, he’d asked James to “look after” her.
James really just straight-up didn’t want her. At all.
She strode out of the room.
“Nina, sweetheart, you’re so fucking wet, let me taste you, I need to taste you…”
She pushed the painfully fresh memory—the lie—away and practically ran through the flat. He followed her, of course. He’d never let her disappear when she was upset. He was way too fucking nice for that.
God, she hated nice.
She wrenched open James’s front door, then turned to face him. The sight of him was like a slap. Somehow, despite the fact that his actions had made her all cold and hard inside, he didn’t look different at all. He was still gorgeous, with his gentle eyes and strong jaw and full lips—God, those lips—and his soft, bear-like bulk that she wanted to sink into…
But wouldn’t, ever again.
“Nina,” he said, “I’m not explaining this very well. I’m sorry.”
The apology tore through her flesh like a blade. She blinked, her eyes stinging with something hot and prickly that surely couldn’t be tears. Surely. God, she couldn’t let him see that she was on the edge of crying. The only thing more embarrassing than what had just happened? Would be James knowing how deeply it hurt.
He could never, ever know how deeply it hurt.
Her words rapid and desperate, her nails carving into the palms of her hands, she lashed out. “If you really don’t want to upset me, James, then don’t talk to me. Ever. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to hear from you. Unless my brother’s home and we have to play nice, stay the fuck away from me. Please.”
He stared at her with a sort of devastated horror, his umber skin taking on a greyish tinge. He looked so unhappy, she actually had to fight the instinct to comfort him—which was ridiculous. He was a grown man, for one thing, seven years older than she was. And anyway, what the fuck did he have to be upset about?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Message delivered, she stepped out into the hall and slammed the door shut in his face.
Chapter One – Six Weeks Later
“Heads up,” Benny grinned. “Shadow’s here.”
James tensed, staring blankly at the carburettor in front of him. Shadow was his technician’s nickname for Nina. But she hadn’t been James’s shadow for a long while, now.
Actually, it had been just over a month since he’d ruined everything between them. But somehow, it felt like forever.
He bent deeper under the hood of the Morris Miner he was working on and ignored Benny’s bullshit. The guy was notorious for his ‘practical jokes’; no doubt James’s employees wanted to see how pathetically eager he’d become if he thought Nina was around. Well, he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. It was obvious to anyone who knew him that he was miserable without her. They didn’t need to know any more than that.
“Big man,” Benny called. “You hear me?”
Unfortunately. James gritted his teeth and attacked a rusted-on bolt. The classic car had been… neglected, and now even penetrating oil didn’t seem to be helping. He didn’t mind though. In fact, he’d taken on this job as a favour for his dad’s old mate because the force it required was an excellent distraction. He threw himself into the task, letting physical exertion pull him away from his near-constant thoughts of Nina.
Then an achingly familiar voice hit him, harsh and flat and music to his fucking ears. “You busy or what?”
He straightened up so fast, he smacked his head on the Moggy’s bonnet. “Shit.” Holding a hand to his now-throbbing skull, James emerged from under the hood with a scowl. But the expression melted away when he realised his ears hadn’t deceived him—and neither had Benny. Nina was here. Standing just three feet away, in fact, and glaring at him like he’d eaten her firstborn.
Her hair was shoved on top of her head in a knot, her heavy-lidded eyes were shadowed, and her jaw was tight. Her clothes were oversized, fraying, and entirely black. She looked like heaven. And if things were different—if he weren’t such a thick-headed dick—he could be throwing an arm over her shoulders and taking her to lunch right about now. James wiped his oily hands off on his coveralls and lowered the hood. Calm. He would stay calm. He was always calm.
Only she ever threatened his peace. Only she could ever make him wild.
“I’m never too busy for you,” he said.
She huffed out something too bitter to be a laugh, turned on her heel, and stomped off in the direction of his office.
Things were rarely easy with Nina. But they were always worth it.
“I’m getting death threats,” she said.
James blinked. His mind, usually so smooth and methodical, ground to an abrupt halt. He used the lull in mental activity to stare at her—to devour her, in fact, all the tiny details he’d missed so fucking much. She was bold and beautiful in the grimy little afterthought that was his private office, sitting in her uncomfortable, spindly seat as if it were a throne. Around her, everything was exactly as it should be. His old, wooden desk had a huge, chipped dent in it where he’d once dropped a wrench. The paperwork strewn about was stained with engine oil he hadn’t quite wiped off his palms. The tiny, black-and-white CCTV monitor in the corner was playing crackly footage. There was nothing to suggest that he’d recently fallen into another dimension or that he was currently experiencing a mild stroke.
Which meant that he’d heard her correctly.
“Death threats,” James repeated, his mind lurching back to life.
“Yes,” she said, utterly expressionless. “Death threats. Definition: a typically anonymous threat made by a person or group of people regarding the planned murder of another person or group of people, usually—”
“Nina, stop it.” He ran a rough hand over his jaw, barely feeling the rasp of his own stubble. Barely feeling anything. His pulse raced as the implications sank in. Death threats? Nina? Who the fuck…? But losing his temper wouldn’t help. She hadn’t come to him because she needed a big strong man to punch a hole through the nearest wall; she’d come to him, presumably, for help. So James shoved down the volcanic explosion inside him and tried to stay focused. Detached. Logical. Even though his primary instinct, right now, was to wrap her in his arms and never let go.
That is not an option. Move on.
“Alright,” James said briskly, thinking fast. “I’m assuming this has something to do with the site?”
Nina was the anonymous founder and editor of Reality Check UK, an independent political news site dedicated to explaining current events, human rights, and British law in a manner that average citizens could understand. Her work… upset certain people. To say the least. Nina was, supposedly, a radical. But most of the things she believed seemed like common sense to James.
“My article about Brexit’s Leave campaign breaking electoral law went viral,” she said. “Millions of hits. The Sun called me a black rights extremist.”
He frowned. “…What does the Leave campaign have to do with—?”
Nina rolled her eyes, waving a hand tipped with chipped, black nails. “Don’t try to make it make sense. It’s The Sun.”
Fair point. James’s temper rose again at the thought of Nina targeted by that rag. She’d had minor issues before, angry commenters and fascist trolls, but this… A thought, a glimmer of memory, struck him, cutting through the anger. “Wait. You published that Leave article, what, a month back?”
For the first time all day, her face betrayed a fragment of emotion, barely enough for most people to decode. But he’d met Nina when she was a permanently disgusted teenager heavy into her Goth phase; she couldn’t hide from him. He understood the slight flicker of her lashes, the way her direct gaze darted away for a moment. She was shocked. Apparently, she hadn’t expected him to keep up with her work while they weren’t speaking.
He had no idea why. They’d gone from texting constantly and talking every day to absolute fucking silence; he’d read more of her website in the past six weeks than he had over the last two years, just because he wanted to feel like he was with her. Which was probably pathetic. But not as pathetic as the fact that he’d been driving by her house every night just to check she was okay.
Her brother had asked James to keep an eye on her, after all. Though Mark probably wouldn’t approve of just how hard James had been looking, recently.
“I published the piece a while ago,” Nina hedged, which was a non-answer if he’d ever heard one.
He took a deep breath, because he had a feeling he’d need to concentrate on staying calm during this conversation. “And the death threats started when?”
“A few weeks back,” she mumbled.
So much for staying calm. James stood up so fast, his chair hit the floor with a harsh clang. She jumped slightly, but he couldn’t even bring himself to care. He was too busy trying not to breathe fire, the sudden fury in his chest burned so hot and bright. “Weeks, Nina? Are you serious?”
She folded her arms, glaring up at him. “Sit down. You look like a bloody brick wall.”
He ignored her, planting his hands flat on the desk and leaning forwards. “You’ve been getting death threats for weeks, and I’m hearing about this now?”
Her cheeks hollowed, which meant she was biting down on the insides. Hard.
Little hurts. She was always hurting herself. He hated it. But he’d hurt her too, hadn’t he? He’d made a decision he wasn’t ready to deal with, touching her, and when it all got too real and he came to his senses he’d pushed her away.
Funnily enough, women didn’t like to be pushed away during sex. Maybe if he hadn’t been dizzy with forbidden horniness at the time, he would’ve remembered that and been more tactful.
Or refused to touch her in the first place, genius.
“It’s not like I could tell you before,” she said, dragging him out of depressingly familiar thoughts.
His blood became ice. “You mean you kept this to yourself just because we aren’t talking?”
“I mean why the fuck would I tell you anything when we aren’t friends anymore?” she shot back. Every word was like a bullet, slamming into him and tearing him apart. “We aren’t friends anymore.” Is that what she thought? Is that what this was? He’d told himself that if he gave her space, things would all work out in the end. But what if he’d been wrong? He’d also told himself that she’d spoken in anger on that awful day, but Nina was never carried away by emotion like he was.
What if she’d meant every fucking word?
The fire in him burnt out, leaving nothing but cold, charred insides behind. James felt suddenly disorientated, as if the world had shifted around him. But he couldn’t waste time with self-indulgent worries about his place in Nina’s life when that life was apparently in danger.
And you weren’t there for her. She’s been dealing with this alone for weeks, all because you were weak.
He squashed the guilt. It could haunt him later.
“If you weren’t planning on coming to me,” he said quietly, “what changed? Did something happen?”
Her silence was even more damning than her suddenly shifty gaze.
“Nina,” he gritted out. “What. Happened?”
She exhaled sharply, slumping down in her seat. One booted foot came up to rest against his desk, and she fiddled with the rip in her jeans. “I thought—I mean, I was wrong, I’m sure I was wrong—but I thought I heard somebody trying to get into the house last night.”
His lungs seized. “Explain.”
“Well, now it’s daylight, I think I was just paranoid. But I got a few weird tweets yesterday, cryptic comments about figuring out my identity, you know? Like someone knew who I was. And then, last night, I heard the front door rattling. It was probably the wind, but—”
“What?” he choked out. A cocktail of anger and fear held his muscles in its tight, clawed grip. “Why didn’t you call me?”
Her mulish stare was, apparently, all the answer she was prepared to give.
“Did you at least call someone?” he demanded.
“Like who? Flynn? Jasmine? Hey, babes, come over and make sure I’m not murdered, would you? Bring Jelly Babies. Xoxo, Nina.”
“Like the police,” he gritted out.
“Hmmm… home alone with a stalker, or home alone with the police. What an exciting game of chance.”
James closed his eyes and took yet another deep breath. He knew Nina distrusted the police more than most, thanks to her past experiences with them. It was interesting, how often peaceful protests ended with her behind bars. And how frequently whatever charge they’d dragged her in on later proved to be absolute bullshit.
“Fine,” James allowed, opening his eyes again. “Fine. Okay. But you do realise that we need to report this, right?”
She gave him a dark look.
“Yes,” she said flatly. “I realise that.”
“Good. Okay. We’ll do it together. I’ll take you to the station.”
“Not right now,” she said.
He stared. “I… really think we should deal with this as quickly as possible.”
Her tongue snaked out to wet her lips. She turned her head to stare at the CCTV screen. He followed her gaze and found nothing unusual. So, she wasn’t distracted; she was deflecting. Which, combined with her uncharacteristic meekness, added up to one thing: Nina was nervous.
“Alright,” he said. “Not yet. Tomorrow. We’ll spend today focusing on… other things.” Things that would make her feel better, safer, more like herself. “Starting with taking down the website.”
She jerked back to face him. “Get fucked.”
“So am I. They want me to shut the site down, James. That’s why they’re doing this, and it would be an easy out, but I can’t. I can’t give them that kind of power and I can’t forfeit my principles. I won’t be silenced.”
The speech pissed him off, but at least she was starting to sound like her usual self: loud, uncontainable, generally annoyed at the world. He liked her passion. He loved her passion. But he’d wished, more than once, that she’d put herself before the good of ‘society’.
“Nina, I know your work is important—”
“Do you?” she demanded, lifting her chin.
“Yes,” he insisted. “I do. But it’s not more important than your safety. If whoever’s threatening you wants you to take the site down—”
“I comply?” she interrupted softly. “You know how I feel about compliance, James.”
He did. In fact, he usually agreed with her. He was struggling now, caught between his own beliefs, the promise he’d made to her brother, and the way he felt about her.
On the one hand, he knew that the world would be a shitstorm if people like them sat back and did as they were told. On the other hand, his best friend had asked James to watch over Nina while he was off engineering Her Majesty’s sodding death-planes with the RAF. And since she’d been nineteen at the time, James had agreed. But Nina wasn’t a kid anymore, and somehow, he’d started to see her differently. Very differently.
Which brought him to the metaphorical third hand: he would rather gnaw off his own arm than ever see Nina hurt—or even unhappy. If he had a choice between saving the planet from alien invasion and saving her… Well, he should choose saving the planet. He knew that. But he also knew that he would definitely, 100%, without remorse, choose her.
Which probably wasn’t healthy, and definitely wasn’t an attitude conducive to his Stop-being-in-love-with-Nina plan.
So he forced himself to say, “Fine. You’re right. The site stays—for now.”
She arched her brows slightly, a sharp almost-smile curving her lips. It didn’t mean she was happy. It meant she was basking in her own dominance, or some such Nina-like bullshit. But the sight of any expression on her face made his heart swell with hope, because blankness was her defence mechanism. If she wasn’t blank, she was letting him in. Whether she realised it or not.
Fighting a smile of his own, James started to pace. “Next up: living arrangements. You can’t go home.”
“Believe me,” she said dryly, “I have no desire to.”
If things were the way they used to be, he’d touch her right now. He’d take her hand for a moment, ease her clenched fist open to reveal her ink-stained palm. He’d trace her life line up to her wrist, then run a finger over her racing pulse until it calmed. Once it did, he’d pull her into a hug, and she’d let herself be afraid. She’d whisper her feelings into his ear like they were dirty secrets, and he’d protect them for her like precious stones.
But things weren’t the way they used to be, and he was beginning to think that the line they’d crossed six weeks ago was something they could never undo. Things had changed, and he needed to figure out what that meant—but one thing was for certain. Whether she liked him or not, whether she wanted to hug him or kick him in the nuts, Nina was his to protect. So, despite the confused mess of his thoughts, he spoke without hesitation. “You’ll stay with me.”
“Like fuck,” she snorted.
James sighed. He wasn’t in the habit of telling Nina what to do, but he could, and he would. “I know you like to argue—”
“Now you’re just trying to piss me off.”
“—but this really isn’t up for debate.”
She twirled a stray curl around her finger and batted her eyelashes. “Is this the part where I say ‘Yes, Daddy,’ and do as I’m told?”
James ignored the many layers of sarcasm in that sentence. He also ignored the entirely disturbing way it made his dick jump. This was his usual tactic when it came to Nina’s teasing and Nina’s strength and Nina’s beautiful fucking face: ignoring it.
Instead of throwing her over his shoulder and dragging her, kicking and screaming, to the safety of his flat—which was what he wanted to do—he took a deep breath, walked around the desk, and leaned against it, facing her. He met her flinty gaze and held it, letting her see his worry, his outright fear.
And then, when the hard set of her jaw softened and her scowl faded slightly, he said, “How would you feel, Nina? If I wasn’t safe in my own home?”
She huffed out a sigh and rolled her eyes haughtily, and he knew she was cracking. “Don’t ask me emotional questions. We aren’t friends.”
He didn’t flinch, focused on his goal. “Who’s going to keep you safer than me?”
She tutted. “Because you’re a tank who spent years learning to beat the shit out of people, you mean?”
Despite everything, James managed to huff out a laugh at her phrasing. “I assume you’re talking about my kickboxing days.” Not that he’d exactly given up his sport; he’d just stopped bothering to compete. Didn’t matter. His father had made him start lessons years ago because A boy needs something to do, and men our size need to understand and respect our own strength.
And now James was going to understand and respect his own strength into someone’s skull, if they fucked with Nina and made it necessary. Simple.
“Whatever,” she sighed. “It’s not your job to keep me safe.”
“But I’m going to do it anyway. No need to thank me.” Trying not to smile at her outraged expression, James stood and strode towards the door. “We’ll get your stuff after I close up.”
“What are you going to do?” she growled. “Kidnap me?”
“If necessary, Cupcake.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
She wasn’t seriously arguing anymore; he could tell. She knew he was right, and she’d already given in. Still, he responded honestly. “For you, I’d dare a lot.”
Loving James and Nina? You can order their red-hot romance here.