Saturday, November 12, 2011

EXCERPT: A.J.'s Angel

Title: A.J.'s Angel
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Format(s): eBook


There are dozens of tattoo shops within a hundred mile radius of Seattle, and Luke Emerson chose to come waltzing through the front door of mine.

It was a damned good thing I wasn’t with a client right then. It was midday, midweek, so we weren’t all that busy, and when the bell above the door jingled over Jason’s buzzing tattoo needle, I had my feet on a desk and my nose in a trade magazine.

Fortunately, that meant I didn’t screw up a tattoo or injure someone when I nearly jumped out of my skin. Unfortunately, it also meant I was conspicuously not busy. Slimeball ex-boyfriend or not, he had to be treated like a potential client, particularly since there was another client present.

I set my magazine down and dropped my feet to the floor. On the way across the short expanse of space between us, I supposed I could have looked anywhere but right at him until I absolutely had to. But no, I used that time, those few steps, to force myself to get used to the sight of him. To drink in what I’d hoped never to see again.

Damn it, why did he still have to be so good-looking even after all these years? Time and again I’d wished on him a beer gut, a rapidly receding hairline, or at least a generous helping of gray hair. Preferably all three. Sure, it was petty and childish, but giving myself a laugh over it beat the hell out of hurting.

My wish wasn’t granted. Four years had chiseled away some of the youthful roundness of his features, leaving him with cheekbones nearly as sharp as his jaw. His dark hair was still thick and full without a strand of gray in sight. His sleeves, rolled to just below his elbows, revealed sculpted, lightly bronzed forearms. It would be just my luck that every last inch of him was equally toned and tanned.

Then there were his eyes. Those damned beautiful ice blue eyes. They hadn’t lost a bit of the intensity that had always made me weak in the knees, but I refused to allow them to have that effect on me now.

I wasn’t the only one doing a little drinking in. He made no effort to hide the slow down-up of his eyes, nor was he subtle about the pauses. Once at the tattoos making up my mostly finished right sleeve. Then at the long-since-completed left sleeve. My face. An upward flick to my eyes then a little higher. Wry amusement curled his lips, probably at the sight of my eyebrow ring. He’d always loved my penchant for ink and piercings. Too much of a self-described wimp to get any of his own, but he’d certainly been enamored of mine.

As he looked me over again, I wondered if he was trying to imagine what new ink work and jewelry I hid beneath my clothes. Several more tattoos and a pair of gold hoops, but he didn’t need to know that.

Our eyes met again, and an instant later, he dropped his gaze. Not out of shyness, though. Not even close, considering that dropped gaze went straight below my belt.

Subtle, Luke. Real subtle.

I cleared my throat and casually jammed a hand into the pocket of my jeans. “Long time no see.”

He looked up, not even a flicker of embarrassment in his expression. “Yeah, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

Not nearly long enough, I decided, but I forced myself to stay cordial. “So, what brings you into my shop?”

He grinned, making sure to flash his straight, gleaming teeth, every last one of which I wanted to knock out of his head. “I’m interested in getting a tattoo.”

Oh? “Open for Business” above your ass? Or “Village Bicycle” on your dick?

“Well, you’ve come to the right place.” I shifted my weight. “What did you have in mind?”

He took a breath, and I swear he set those broad shoulders back a little more. A gesture of arrogance? Nerves? I couldn’t be sure.

“I want…” He paused, dropping his gaze for a split second. “Um, it’ll be a custom design.”

“Oh.” I saw my escape, even if it was a lie, and jumped on it. “Well, that’s more Jason’s territory than mine, so—”


I blinked.

Luke shook his head. “I want you to design it. And put it on.”

I glanced at Jason and his client then lowered my voice and eyed Luke. “Why me?”

“Because I like your work.” He grinned again. “I always have, you know that.”

“I’m also not the only artist in town.” My eyes narrowed. “As you well know.”

He flinched and looked at the counter between us. “Sebastian, please. This one is important to me. I wouldn’t let anyone else do it.”

I clenched my jaw. A million barbs rested on the tip of my tongue, ready to demand to know why he thought I should give a flying fuck how important this tattoo was to him, or how much he respected my work, or any of that. But professionalism prevailed, if only because my business partner and a paying client were within earshot. That, and business had been slow lately. Jason and I needed every penny we could bring into this place right now.

I sighed and reached under the counter to get a sketchbook. “Okay, what is it?”

He dug a piece of folded paper out of his back pocket. He didn’t unfold it yet, but gestured with it as he said, “It’ll be something like this, but with a name above it.”

I managed to keep from flinching. Finally decided to settle down with someone? I thought bitterly. Or is this the first name in a guestbook? I barely kept myself from snickering at that thought in spite of the jealousy—no, bitterness. It was nothing but bitterness. It was anger that tightened my chest and turned my stomach. That, and maybe a little pity for whatever sorry bastard was being immortalized on Luke’s person.

No jealousy whatsoever.

I held out my hand for the piece of paper.

“Anything else?” I asked through gritted teeth, unfolding the paper and bracing myself for the inevitable gloating about his new man, his soul mate, or his flavor of the month. I wondered how appreciative he’d be if I mentioned I’d never actually drawn a douche bag on someone’s skin, but I’d be open to doing so if that—

My heart fell into my feet when I realized what the design was. An intricately drawn, elaborately shaded and stunningly beautiful…angel. Looking heavenward. Clutching a folded American flag to her chest.

Oh, crap.

“It’s, um…” He paused again. “A memorial tattoo.”

Inwardly, I cringed, wishing the ground would swallow me up for even thinking what I had. I cleared my throat. “I’m, uh, I’m sorry to hear it.” So many questions. So many things I probably didn’t want to know. I tapped my pen on the sketchbook. “Where do you want it?”

He gestured at his left upper arm, and I fought to keep from shivering. At least it wasn’t going on his shoulders. His arms were spectacular, but the man had the kind broad, powerful shoulders that almost made up for what a dick he was.

I muffled a cough. “Okay, so, this design…” I gestured at the piece of paper.

“Something close to it, anyway. Doesn’t have to be exactly the same.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Do you want it changed in any particular way?”

He looked at the picture for a moment. “No, not really. I mean, it’s fine as is, but, you know, if you want to do anything with it, be my guest.” He swallowed, and when he met my eyes again, any humor or taunting was gone. I wondered if it had been there at all, or if I’d superimposed them myself.

“And the name?” I asked.

“Just A.J. is fine,” he said quietly.

“Any preference for the writing? Font, anything like that?”

“No, not really.” He offered a smile that might have been genuine. “You’re the artist.”

“Do you want the years? Birth and…” I paused.

His eyebrows flicked upward. “Death?”

I nodded.

“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “Is that something I can add later?”

“Yeah, of course.” I made a few notes on my sketchpad. Then I gestured at the angel drawing. “Do you mind if I hang on to this, or do—”

“Go ahead. I have another copy.”

I slipped the drawing into my sketchpad. “I guess that’s all I need to know about the design, then.” I fought to keep my annoyance out of my voice. He was here to put money in my pocket, he’d obviously lost someone dear to him, but that didn’t change the fact that he’d put me through the wringer a few years ago. There was more to this. There had to be.

EXCERPT: Out of Focus

Title: Out of Focus
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Format(s): eBook, paperback


“You get a look at the brother of the bride?” I asked.

He whistled, sliding his hand over mine. “Oh God, yes. I got several looks at him.”

“You and me both.” I shook my head. “That man is liquid distraction.”

“No shit.” He ran his thumb back and forth along my wrist. “Imagine how I felt, trying to focus on the bride when I had that standing there being all gorgeous and entirely too dressed.”

“Too dressed?” I glanced in Jordan’s direction, then turned back to Angel. “He’s in a tux.”

“I know.” He shrugged. “He should be naked in our bed.”

I chuckled. “Pity he’s already got someone.”

“Seriously?” Angel released a sharp huff of breath. “The good ones always do, don’t they? It’s a crime, I’m telling you.” He clicked his tongue. “And his other half probably doesn’t share, either.”

“I don’t know; I didn’t ask. He was pissed enough that I interrupted their little lover’s quarrel.”

He blinked. “You did?”

“Well, I didn’t have much choice.” I turned my hand over under his. “I needed Jordan’s help with something.”

“Yeah,” he said, lacing our fingers together, “I’ll just bet you did.”

“Okay, so I didn’t.” I shrugged. “But things were getting a little heated between them, so…”

“Eh, I’d have done the same.”

That much was true. We had our subtle ways of separating people when tensions got too close to a breaking point. Situations like that, particularly with the way alcohol and grudges made frequent appearances at weddings, could too easily erupt into a screaming match or a fistfight. So, we’d long ago devised ways to casually intervene. Moderately intrusive? Yeah, probably. But if it kept a wedding from turning into a brawl—and that had been known to happen—then it was worth a little social faux pas.

The bride and groom were making the rounds, saying hello to guests while Troy’s and Phoebe’s cameras flashed. Normally I wouldn’t leave assistants to cover anything without at least one of us shooting as well, but these two kids were damned good. They were going to be some serious competition for us when they were out on their own. Assuming Troy ever got a decent pair of shoes, anyway.

So, we didn’t worry about them while they trailed the newlyweds and we took a break. Ah, it was good to be the boss.

As dinner wound down, the cake cutting and such were coming up. Almost time to get back to work. While I did a quick battery check and changed out my memory card, fabric rustled behind me.

“Enjoying yourselves?” Jennifer asked.

“Absolutely.” I started to turn around. “This food is—” The words stopped in my throat. That wasn’t the groom standing next to her.

She gestured at him, as if I hadn’t noticed his presence. “This is my brother, Jordan.”

I smiled. “Oh yes, we’ve met.”

“We haven’t.” Angel stood and extended his hand. “Ryan Morgan.”

Jordan shook his hand. “I—it’s…” He paused, moistening his lips as a hint of pink appeared on his cheeks. “It’s nice to meet you.”

To her brother, Jennifer said, “I need to go pretend to like my in-laws, so I’ll leave you alone with them.”

He chuckled. “Okay, thanks.” She picked up her skirt and headed back toward some of the other tables. After she’d gone, Jordan said, “I, uh, my sister said you guys do pretty much any kind of photography?”

I’m dreaming. I’m totally dreaming. Oh God, please tell me he wants

I cleared my throat. “What did you have in mind?”

“I breed and train horses,” he said. “And I’m campaigning a couple of stallions this year. I need a few more up-to-date photos for my website and some ads.” He raised his eyebrows. “Is that something you guys would be interested in doing?”

“Well, we’re always happy to help someone flaunt a stud,” Angel deadpanned.

Jordan blushed even more, dropping his gaze as he muffled a cough of laughter. “Right. Well. I haven’t had great luck with my last couple of photographers, so I’m very much in the market for someone new.” He paused, the color in his cheeks deepening slightly. “A new photographer, I mean.”

“Can you handle two?” Angel asked.

If the poor man’s cheeks got any redder…

“I’m sure we can help.” I shot Angel a glare, and he widened his eyes as if to say “What?” I rolled mine and looked at Jordan again. “We haven’t done any equestrian work in a few years, but show us some examples of what you have in mind and we should be able to give you what you want.”

A shy smile played at his lips. “Good. Then—”

His teeth snapped together as his significant other materialized and put a hand on his shoulder. Jordan’s hackles went up, his eyes narrowed, and judging by the way his cheek rippled, he must have been tightly clenching his jaw. The two men exchanged the coldest glare I’d seen at a wedding since the last time we put divorced parents into one picture, and the hand on his shoulder lifted away.

Then Jordan shook himself back to life and made a sharp gesture his companion. “Sorry, I’m being rude. This is Eli. My—”

“Just Eli is fine.” He didn’t offer a handshake or any other greeting, and neither of us made any attempt to do so either. Awkward silence descended, and I had a feeling Jordan was once again seconds away from lashing out at his…just Eli.

“Anyway, you were saying?” I asked Jordan. “About your photos?”

“Right.” Jordan cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’d like to sit down and discuss what I’m pricing, scheduling, all of that.”

“When would be a good time?” I asked. “If you’d like, you can come by the studio, and we’ll sort out the specifics.”

He nodded. “I can do that. During the week would be best. My weekends are usually shot.”

Angel pointed at his camera. “So are ours.”

Jordan laughed. “Yeah, I guess they would be.”

“Would Monday be good for you?” I turned to Angel. “We’re there all day this Monday, aren’t we?”

He nodded. “All in-studio shoots that day. Last one’s at four thirty, and we’re usually there until six or seven.”

“Why don’t I swing in around five, then?” Jordan asked.

“Five works,” I said.

Angel pulled out his wallet and took out a card. “That’s the address. Just give us a call if anything changes.” Jordan took the card, but jumped like Angel had shocked him. Knowing Angel, he’d made sure their fingers brushed, and Jordan’s blood pressure was probably all over the place now.

Jordan recovered quickly though, sliding the card in his back pocket as he said, “Will do.”

Eli shifted beside him. “Good, now why don’t we go grab a couple of drinks?”

“Okay, okay.” Jordan exhaled and added a muttered, “Like you need another fucking drink.”

“Hmm?” Eli asked.

“Nothing.” Jordan looked at us. “I’ll see you guys on Monday. Thanks.”

“Not a problem,” I said. “See you then.”

We watched the happy couple wander toward the bar with a good arm’s length of frosty distance between them.

“You know,” Angel said, “I take back what I said earlier about it being a crime that a man like that is taken.”


“Yeah.” He turned back toward the table and picked up his glass. “It’s a crime a man like that is taken by a douche bag like that.”


Title: Static
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Quill Press
Format(s): eBook, paperback


When my girlfriend’s cell phone went straight to voicemail for the fourth time in twenty-four hours, “worried” didn’t even begin to describe it.

I paced beside my kitchen table, eyeing my phone like it might suddenly spring to life with her ringtone the way I’d begged it to all day long. I hadn’t expected to hear from her last night. She’d had plans to have lunch with her estranged parents yesterday, and after those get-togethers, it wasn’t at all unusual for her to hole up in the house and block out the world for a while. It bothered me and worried me whenever she did that—the woman could drink like nobody’s business when she was upset—but the next morning always meant a text message saying she was okay. Hungover, probably depressed as hell, but okay.

This morning, that text didn’t come.

More than likely, things hadn’t gone well. They never did. I’d told myself all day long that she just needed some space, some time. I didn’t want to crowd her or smother her when she needed to be alone, but damn it, something about this raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

I looked at my watch. It was almost eight. Over thirty-six hours since she was supposed to meet them. Almost forty-eight since I’d heard from her at all. Something was wrong. It had to be.

Without another second thought, I grabbed my phone and keys. I hoped she’d be irritated with me showing up at her door. Annoyed by the intrusion, aggravated by me coming to her before she was ready to interact with the outside world again. At least that would mean she was home safe.

I pulled out of the driveway and ignored the posted speed limit. We lived about twenty minutes apart, and I was determined to get there in under fifteen. Ten if I could swing it.

I’d never met Alex’s family. She’d told me little about them, but just the way her hackles went up at the mere mention of her parents’ existence spoke volumes. It wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if they had abused her when she was young, and not just in the emotional, manipulative ways I assumed they still did. She was prone to unpredictable bouts of deep depression, which had been more frequent and more severe in the last six months or so. She went through phases—hours, days, weeks—when she’d balk at any suggestion of physical intimacy. Sometimes she didn’t mind an affectionate touch, but recoiled at the first hint of anything remotely sexual. An arm around her could make her melt against me or shrink away like a beaten dog, and I never knew when to give her space and when to give her a shoulder.

Then, almost overnight, she’d be insatiable in bed. Whenever I asked her about it, she clammed up. Apologized, avoided my eyes, changed the subject.

What did they do to you, baby?

I supposed it shouldn’t have surprised me that she’d refused to discuss the idea of getting married. After two years, I was more than ready to make this permanent, but she wasn’t. A couple of her worst depressive episodes were close on the heels of those conversations, so I’d let the subject drop. I just hoped she’d come around eventually. I’d wait. I wasn’t going anywhere.

Turning down Alex’s street, I took a few deep breaths and willed my pounding heart to slow down. She was fine. Probably drunk and upset, but no more worse for the wear than the last time she saw her mother and stepfather. I was overreacting. I was being too protective.

Or maybe I wasn’t.

I chewed my lip as her house came into view up ahead. Her car was parked in front of the garage, and the faint glow of a single lamp illuminated her living room window. There were no other cars in the driveway or on the street, so presumably she was alone. Assuming, of course, she was home. Someone else could have driven her somewhere, or she—

Easy, Damon. Don’t jump to conclusions yet.

Heart still pounding, I parked beside her car. On my way up to the porch, I hesitated, wondering for the hundredth time if she’d be upset with me showing up when she clearly didn’t want to see anyone. No, she’d understand. She might be pissed off at first, but when she calmed down, she had to understand why I was concerned.

After almost turning back twice, I made myself get all the way on to the front porch, and before I could find another reason to talk myself out of it, I knocked. Waited. I craned my neck a little, listening for movement on the other side of the door.


My heart beat faster. I knocked again, harder this time.

Still nothing.

I rocked back and forth from my heels to the balls of my feet, staring at the door and wondering if I should give it one more try or leave. In my coat pocket, my keys ground against each other as I ran my thumb back and forth over them. Her house key was on the ring. I could let myself in. Damn it, where was the line between intrusion and caution?

One more try, and if she doesn’t answer, I’ll go.

Knock. Knock. Knock. Silence.

I exhaled hard, a knot twisting in my gut. She wasn’t here. Or she wasn’t answering. Whatever the case, I wasn’t going to stand here all night, so I turned to go.

Movement inside the house stopped me in my tracks. I froze, listening, and the muffled sound of approaching footsteps sent a cool rush of relief through my veins.

The deadbolt turned. I exhaled.

Then the door opened, and that relief turned to something else. Something much colder.

“Who the—” My breath and voice stopped in my throat. Confusion and fury slithered through my veins as I stared at the man on the other side of the threshold. He leaned on the door and rested his arm on the doorframe. Vague surprise flickered across his expression and straightened his posture, but the heavy fatigue in his eyes kept his reaction subdued. I wondered if he was drunk. Or maybe he’d been asleep. In my girlfriend’s bed. That was all too likely, I realized: he was pale, sleepy-eyed, dressed only in a pair of grey sweatpants, and his short, dark hair was disheveled enough to imply far more than I ever wanted to know.

Alex, baby, tell me you didn’t…

I finally found my voice again. “Who the fuck are you?”

Barely whispering, barely even keeping his eyes open, he said, “You might want to sit down for this. Come in and—”

“Just tell me what the fuck is going on,” I snapped.

He flinched, closing his eyes. “I can explain.” His voice was quiet and slurred. “Please, just—”

“You can explain?” I snarled. “Yeah, please do, because—”

Flinching again, he put a hand up. “This isn’t what it looks like. Not even close.”

I laughed bitterly. “Oh, I’m sure it’s not.” With every word, the barely contained fury rose, as did the volume of my voice. “I suppose you’re just keeping her company? Where the fuck is she? Where—”


“You…you know who I am?”

He nodded slowly. “Yes, I do.”

The anger swelled in my chest. “But you’re still—”

“Please.” His hand went to his temple, and he grimaced as he whispered, “Don’t shout. You’re upset, I get it, I understand, but…” He winced. “Please. Don’t. Shout.”

I furrowed my brow. Anger made me want to grab his shoulders and show him the meaning of the word “shout,” but I held back. Quieter now, I said, “What’s going on?”

He stepped back and gestured for me to come in. I hesitated, but then followed him into Alex’s house. He closed the door and leaned against it, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. A low, pained sound escaped his throat. The light in here was dim, but not enough to hide just how pale he was.

“Are you—” I eyed him. “Are you all right?”

“No.” Lowering his hands, he rested his head against the door. Dark circles under his eyes and a dusting of five-o’clock shadow along his jaw only served to emphasize his alarming pallor. After a moment, he opened his eyes. He winced and brought his hands up again. “This is going to sound weird, but bear with me. I need to lie down.”


“Because when I stand, my head hurts so bad I can’t see straight.” With what looked like a hell of a lot of effort, he pushed himself off the door, paused when his balance wavered, then started toward the living room. I wasn’t sure if I should be impatient or concerned. At this point, the one thing I knew was that he was the only one who might know where Alex was, so I followed him.

With his back to me, a small white bandage was visible in the middle of his back. Perhaps two inches square, taped in place over his spine a few inches above his waistband. My own spine prickled with goose bumps. Contrasting sharply with his pale skin was a smear of something brownish-red. I thought it might be blood at first, but it looked too orange. Iodine, maybe? The remnants of something used to sterilize skin before a medical procedure?

Eyeing the bandage and the iodine and this stranger in my girlfriend’s house, I wasn’t sure this situation could get any weirder.

He eased himself onto Alex’s couch like he had every right to do so, and I took a seat in the recliner. For a long moment, he kept a hand over his eyes and didn’t speak. He took a few long, deep breaths, jaw clenched and cheek rippling as if trying to keep himself from getting sick. I might have suspected he was severely hungover or something had it not been for that bandage.

I waited. A million demands, accusations, and pleas for information were on the tip of my tongue, but I waited.

Without lifting his hand, he finally spoke in a quiet, vaguely slurred monotone. “None of this is going to be easy for you to hear, and I’m sorry I didn’t explain it a long time ago.”

I blinked. A long time ago? I’d never seen this guy in my life. Just how long had this been going on? Was he the reason she didn’t want to get married? I bit my tongue, though. Let him explain, then get pissed.

“Damon,” he whispered. “I’m a shifter.”

My heart stopped. “What?”

He swallowed. “I’m a shifter. This—” He gestured at himself with the hand that wasn’t shielding his eyes. “—is my male form.”

Confusion kept the pieces from falling to place for several long seconds. Then those pieces did fall into place, and all the air left my lungs in a single exhalation.

No way. No fucking way. But, how? She was…

I somehow managed to pull in another breath. I moistened my lips.

“Alex?” I whispered, almost choking on her name.

With a single, slow nod, he jerked the world out from under my feet.

EXCERPT: On The List

Title: On The List
(Book #3 in the Changing Plans series)
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Quill Press
Format(s): eBook, paperback


I’d thought it was exhausting hearing everything on Elliott’s mental list of preparations, but that had nothing on the actual execution. By halfway through my second day in town, my jet-lagged brain was screaming for a little downtime. It was all necessary, though, so I trudged through, especially because I didn’t want to stress Elliott out any more than he already was. Just waiting for the movers—who were twenty-three minutes late—had been enough for him to break out in a sweat.

Before I knew it, Wednesday had arrived, and we were on our way to my parents’ house for dinner with them and my siblings. At least that would be a low-key evening. Elliott and I were clearly the opposites of our families: I was the laidback extrovert among the tightly-wound and reserved, and he was the tightly-wound—though less so in the last year—and reserved one among a bunch of laidback extroverts.

Elliott pulled up in front of my parents’ house. My sister’s truck and my brother’s car were in the driveway, so he parked on the curb.

“Looks like the whole group is here,” I said.

“Good,” Elliott said. “Maybe they can finally RSVP so I can stop hyperventilating.”

I laughed and patted his leg. “I’d tell you to relax, but I know you too well. Don’t worry, I’ll get an answer out of them before we leave tonight.”

Thank you.”

We got out of the car and walked up the driveway. I was glad to see my siblings here; having them stationed near Mom and Dad made family visits so much easier. I hadn’t seen much of any of them on my last half dozen or so visits, but then again, my brother and I barely managed to see each other when he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. On my second trip to see Elliott, I’d introduced him to the family, but every time I’d come back since then, it was virtually impossible to line up everyone’s schedules and see anyone. Hell, my brother was the only one so far who’d met Elliott more than once.

But tonight, everyone was finally here.

I rang the doorbell, and a moment later, my mother opened the front door. She greeted us with a taut smile, and hugged me half-heartedly.

That’s odd, I thought as she let me go and avoided my eyes. My mother was reserved like the rest of the family, but any time she saw me, she hugged me so hard I joked she was trying to kill me. This time, she’d given me the kind of quick, loose embrace she might have offered to an acquaintance.

She didn’t offer Elliott so much as a handshake, which wasn’t that unusual. “Elliott,” she said with a smile that didn’t extend beyond her lips. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You, too,” Elliott said with a much more genuine smile.

“The family’s in here.” She gestured toward the living room, and turned to go before either of us could say a word.

Elliott looked at me, eyebrows up. I shrugged. Following my mother into the living room where the rest of the family relaxed, my gut twisted into knots. What was I missing?

Those knots twisted even tighter when everyone in the living room—Dad, Jamie and her husband Bill, and Kevin—simultaneously tensed when Elliott and I walked in. We exchanged stiff handshakes that lacked eye contact, and my sister embraced me with less enthusiasm than my mother had.

My family wasn’t the most outgoing, affectionate bunch, and maybe I just wasn’t used to that anymore. After spending the last two evenings with Elliott’s family, who were the polar opposites, my family’s reserved, aloof nature was more pronounced than usual.

But…something wasn’t right. The atmosphere was unusually chilly, and there was an odd undercurrent in the air that raised the hairs on the back of my neck. My family members exchanged disconcerted glances. My father’s ramrod straight posture was tenser than usual, his neck stiff and, whenever he wasn’t speaking, his jaw set.

Stranger still, we hadn’t been there ten minutes before my brother pulled Elliott aside. “You still playing Zombie Warfare 3?”

“I beat it a couple of months ago,” Elliott said. “Just counting down the days before the fourth one comes out.”

“You’ve beaten it? How the hell did you get past level nine?” He gestured down the hall. “I have my laptop here; would you mind showing me?”

Elliott looked at me. I shrugged, so he said to Kevin, “Yeah, sure, I can give you some pointers.”

“Cool. My computer’s in the back room.”

After Kevin and Elliott left the room, I turned back to my family again, and everyone was looking at me. The air hummed with tension. My heart beat faster as I looked from person to person, wondering what the hell I was missing.

I gulped. “What?”

EXCERPT: Infinity Pools

Title: Infinity Pools
(Book #2 in the Changing Plans series)
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Quill Press
Format(s): eBook, paperback


A gentle nudge roused me from a sound sleep.

I blinked a few times, trying to orient myself. My surroundings came into focus, and the moments before I’d fallen asleep came back to me. Getting on the plane. Taking a seat in the spacious business class area instead of the confines of coach. Sitting beside…

My heart skipped.


I turned to him, and he glanced up from putting his laptop in its case.

“Hated to wake you up,” he said. “But we’re getting ready to land.”


“Already?” Derek laughed and stood to put the case in the overhead bin. “You’ve been out for hours.”

I looked at my watch. Holy Christ, I’d slept away most of the six and a half hour flight. “Damn.” I tilted my head to work out some stiffness while I tried like hell to ignore the vague tightness in my gut, that first niggling worry that I was making a huge mistake by being here.

So this was real. I was doing this. I’d cancelled my reservations in Oahu. After we got off this plane, we were getting on another one to Maui. To spend two weeks together. At his place.

Two weeks with Derek. The fellow passenger I’d met yesterday after a snowstorm stranded us in the terminal. The man with whom I’d spent last night in a passionate, insatiable embrace. The man with whom I’d be spending the vacation that would have been my honeymoon if my fiancé hadn’t—

I rubbed my eyes. What the hell was I thinking?

My mind wandered back to last night. Just the memory of his kiss, never mind the sex that had kept us awake half the night, was enough to remind me why I’d thought this was a good idea. It didn’t make it a good idea, but I could sure remember what I’d been thinking. More sex like that? Hell yeah. But…crap, Elliott, this could be a total disaster.

He took his seat again and glanced at me as he reached for his seatbelt. “You all right?”

“Yeah.” I looked at him and forced a smile. “Still waking up.” And wondering what the hell I’m doing.

He cocked his head slightly. “You sure?”

I nodded.

He put his hand over mine on my armrest. “If you’re having second thoughts about this, it’s not too late to change your mind.”

Something deep down relaxed. That was one thing that had swung the pendulum in his favor from the get-go: no matter what he wanted, he was willing to back down and back off if I showed the slightest hesitation. Last night, when I got cold feet in the heat of the moment, he’d given me a few minutes and some breathing room. Didn’t push me at all, and in fact let me make the first move to get things started again.

I’d rather go to sleep frustrated,” he’d said, “than try to sleep knowing I’d pushed you into something you weren’t ready for.” If I was going to have some reckless rebound fun, I could do worse than committing myself to two weeks with someone like him.

I turned my hand over and slid my fingers between his. “I have second thoughts about everything.”

He offered a cautious smile. “Okay, but do you still want to go with me? You can always—”

“I do want to go.” That was no lie. I didn’t doubt for a second that I wanted to. He didn’t need to know about my internal debate over whether “want to” outweighed “shouldn’t.”

“Well, if you decide you’re not sure about staying at my place,” he said, “it won’t hurt my feelings if you want to get a hotel room.”

“You trying to kick me out before we even get there?”

Derek chuckled. “Not a chance.” His humor faded. “I just don’t want you thinking you’re obligated to stay with me.”

“If I do stay with you, does that mean you’re obligated to sleep with me?”

He trailed his fingers along the inside of my wrist. “Trust me,” he said, almost whispering, “obligation is a moot point where that is concerned.”

We exchanged grins.

As the plane descended, I yawned, partly to pop my ears and partly because, in spite of a few hours of sleep, I was still tired as hell.

“Man, now I’ll be all fucked up for sleep,” I said.

“You’ll be fine. I’ll make sure you’re tired enough tonight.”

I laughed. “I’m sure you will.”

“Trust me.” He winked.

I shivered. I had no doubt he’d keep his word. “What time is it, anyway? Local time, I mean.”

Derek looked at his watch. “Almost four-thirty in the afternoon.”

Four-thirty? Seriously? It felt like…like…not four-thirty. One flight across the ocean, and suddenly my internal clock was blinking 12:00.

“So how long does the jet lag usually take to wear off?”

“Not long. A day or so, tops. Going home, though?” He grimaced. “That’ll knock you on your ass.”


“Yeah. Hell if I know why. Just be glad you’re not crossing the Date Line. That time change is murder.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever traveled that far.”

He smiled. “You should. Jet lag aside, there’s a lot to see on that side of the world. I go to Australia every other year to go diving.”

“Worth the jet lag?”

“And then some.”

“Well, let’s see how I handle a floating U.S. state before I start living dangerously and heading off to other countries, shall we?”

He laughed and squeezed my hand. “Trust me, you’ll love it.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” I grinned. “Especially since I fully expect you to put your money where your mouth is and make sure I enjoy it.”

He put his other hand to his forehead in a mock salute. “On it.”

A few minutes later, the plane touched down. Once we’d taxied to the gate, shuffled off the plane with everyone else, and started down the concourse toward baggage claim, Derek pulled out his cell phone and speed-dialed someone.

“Kanani, aloha, it’s Derek, I’m—no, they didn’t kick me off the plane, you fucker.” He furrowed his brow, listening to the person on the other end. “We’re heading to baggage claim right now. You mind picking us up in the usual place?” Another pause. This time he rolled his eyes and chuckled. “You’re an idiot. We’ll see you in twenty.”

“Our limousine awaits?” I asked after he’d hung up.

“Yeah. Kanani’s the pilot, and since I let him use my Jeep on Maui whenever I’m out of town, he drives my ass around whenever we’re on Oahu.”

“Nice guy. Does he charge you to fly?”

Derek snickered. “Trust me, his company is price enough.” He paused. “Okay, seriously, he’s usually carting passengers back and forth, and lets me hitch a ride for free. If he has to make a special trip for me, I spot him for gas.”

“Is he making a special trip for us?” I asked.

He nodded. “No one else is flying out today.”

“Are you sure I don’t owe you for—”

“Don’t worry about it.” He made a dismissive gesture. “I’ve got this one.”

“Much appreciated.”

He just grinned, and we kept walking. It struck me that he didn’t bat an eye at paying for fuel. Something told me a tank of gas for a plane, even a small one, would make my wallet bleed. Then again, maybe it was cheaper than buying a ticket, so it might have been the lesser of two evils.

Once we’d picked up our suitcases at baggage claim, we went outside to wait for Kanani.

Neither the heat nor the humidity were as oppressive as I’d expected. My skin was instantly damp and the air was hot to say the least, but a light wind kept it all bearable. It was a damned good thing I’d remembered my sunglasses, too. Even the pavement was blinding.

While we waited, I stole a few glances at Derek. In the shade of a wind-rustled palm tree, he finally looked at home in his sandals, Hawaiian shirt, and khaki shorts. Amidst snowbound passengers in Seattle, he’d stood out, but here, his attire blended him in, as did his tan, sun-bleached sandy blond hair, and dark, wraparound sunglasses. That, and as he had since the moment I’d first laid eyes on him, he was completely calm and cool. One thumb was hooked in the pocket of his shorts while the other hand held the strap on his laptop case, which was slung over his shoulder. He rested his weight on one foot, and there wasn’t a hint of tension anywhere in his posture.

Something in the distance caught his eye, and he straightened. “There’s our ride.”

A battered white pickup pulled up to the curb and stopped. The driver left the engine idling and came around to greet us.

“Aloha, my friend.” He embraced Derek, then looked at me. To Derek, he said, “You brought home another souvenir?”

Another souvenir?” I raised an eyebrow. “You make a habit of this?”

“Yeah, something like that,” Derek muttered. He gestured at the two of us. “Kanani, this is Elliott. Elliott, Kanani.”

“Nice to meet you.” I shook Kanani’s hand.

“Same.” He gestured at Derek. “Can you believe this guy? I keep asking him to bring me home a pretty girl, but he never does.”

“Hey, I try.” Derek put up his hands. “Not my fault they run like hell when I show your picture.”

Kanani huffed. “They probably don’t believe a handsome man like me hangs around a creature like you, so they all think you’re scamming them.”

“I’ll have you know I’m a magnet for attractive men.” Derek nodded toward me. “Exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”

Kanani looked at me again, then shrugged. “Opposites attract.”

“Whatever. Let’s face it, Kan,” Derek said. “Even a born salesman like me can’t find a girl who’s desperate and gullible enough to want you, even if it includes a trip to Hawaii.”

“You want to swim to Maui?”

Derek shrugged. “Probably safer that way.”

“Hey, I’m the best pilot on this island.”

“Yep, best pilot on the ground.”

“Oh, fuck you, Windsor.”

“I’d love to, but—”

“God, shut up.” Kanani started toward the driver’s side of the truck.

“You know you want me.”

Just before he got in the truck, Kanani threw over his shoulder, “You’re a sick, sick fucker.”

Derek looked at me, offering an apologetic shrug. “I never said I hung around with gentlemen.”

“Birds of a feather, right?”

He shot me a playful glare. “Touché.”

“When you lovebirds are done,” Kanani called out the window, “how about putting all this crap in the truck so we can get out of here?”

“Service with a smile.” Derek hoisted his suitcase into the back of the truck. “That’s why I love you, Kan.”

“Shut up.”

We loaded everything into the bed, then got into the cab with Derek in the middle and me riding shotgun.

“So, we taking the limo or the fly this time?” Derek asked as we pulled away from the curb.

“Damn it, asshole, it’s not a fly,” Kanani said.

“I assume it does fly, though?” I asked.

“Yes, it does. Quite nicely. But this one”—Kanani elbowed Derek—“is obsessed with size.”

“I am not!” Derek glared at him. “I just prefer flying into the airport in something they’ll direct in for landing instead of trying to swat.”

“Well, tough shit,” Kanani said. “I don’t have any other passengers to pick up on Maui, and you two are the only ones crossing today. So unless we pick up some hitchhikers, we’re taking the little one.”

“Great,” Derek muttered.

“The fly” turned out to be a tiny red four-seater. Derek and I had both packed pretty light, and we still had to work at it to get all of our luggage to fit. I wasn’t so sure about these little planes, but this was our ride, and presumably it was safe, so it would have to do. That, and the price was right. I certainly couldn’t complain.

“Why don’t you sit up front?” Derek nodded toward the co-pilot’s seat. “More legroom, and a way better view.”

I didn’t know if I wanted a better view of all the land and water that would soon be that far below us, but what the hell?

Before I got in, I looked up at the plane and chewed the inside of my cheek. The thought of getting into it with Kanani and Derek was odd. I felt like I was getting into a car with a couple of strangers. That wasn’t far from the truth, I reminded myself. I knew at least half a dozen ways to make Derek’s breath catch and I knew exactly how to make him come, but beyond that? I didn’t know a damned thing about the guy.

He put a hand on my arm. “You all right?”

“Yeah, yeah.” I nodded at the plane. “Just trying to decide if I should get in or find a flyswatter.”

“Hey!” Kanani yelled from the other side. “I heard that.”

Derek laughed and clapped my shoulder. We exchanged grins, then boarded the plane.

“Not exactly business class,” I said, adopting the snobbiest tone I could muster.

“Oh, I know,” Derek groaned. “And the flight attendant’s a dick.”

“Keep it up, both of you,” Kanani said. “I swear to God I’ll make you swim.”

“You’ve been threatening to make me swim for years,” Derek said. “You’re full of shit. Now fly.”

Kanani muttered a string of something I didn’t understand. Hawaiian curses, maybe. I couldn’t tell. Then he fired up the engines, radioed the control tower, and started toward the runway.

“Derek and gentlemen,” he said. “Thank you for choosing Kanani Airlines. Please keep all hands, feet, and small animals inside the plane at all times, and if you see any aircraft tape attached to anything, please leave it alone.”

“Oops,” Derek said from the backseat.

Kanani glanced over his shoulder. “Man, you destroying my plane already? We’re not even in the air yet.”

“Shut up and fly.”

Kanani flipped him off, then started down the runway.

“Hey, Kan,” Derek said. “You ever replace that engine?”

“Which engine?” The plane picked up speed, careening down the runway.

“The one that caught on fire.”

“Oh.” More speed. “Shit. Forgot all about that.”

A second later, the ground dropped out from under us.

It wasn’t their banter that made me close my eyes and take a deep breath. It was the finality. I was doing this. There was no turning back. Oahu was behind me. Next stop, Maui.

“Doing okay over there?” Kanani asked.

I opened my eyes. “Yeah, I’m good.”

“Not getting airsick or anything, are you?” Derek asked.

“No, I’m not getting airsick.”

“If you do,” Kanani said, gesturing over his shoulder, “puke on him.”

Derek smacked the pilot’s arm, and all three of us laughed.

With my eyes open, I understood why Derek had insisted on me sitting up front: the view was unbelievable.

My computer’s screen resolution and the printers that had produced all the books and brochures I had didn’t even begin to do justice to the vivid deep blue laced with pale green. In the shallower water, even from up here, the reefs were visible, thick gray and brown meandering and coiling along the lighter colored sand. The opaque gray-green waters of Puget Sound would never look the same.

After we’d flown for a while, Kanani turned to me. “Want to drive?”

I stared at him. “Pardon?”

“Go on.” He gestured at the control stick in front of me. “Give it a try.”

“I’ve never flown a plane.”

“Flying’s easy.” He pointed back at Derek. “Even this idiot can fly.”


He nodded. “Hard part’s landing. All you gotta do up here is hold the control stick.”

“Go on,” Derek said. “He can take control in about two seconds if anything happens.”

I looked over my shoulder. “If anything happens? Such as?”

“Like if a train’s about to hit us.” Kanani leaned forward, scanning the horizon. “No trains out here today. All clear.”

“Very funny.” I laughed in spite of myself. “Okay, sure, I’ll give it a try.” I hesitated, but then put my hands on the control stick.

After flipping a couple of switches, Kanani released his own and folded his arms across his chest. “It’s all yours. Don’t scratch my plane.”

Jesus. Forty-eight hours ago, I was still in shock from my fiancé bailing on our wedding. Twenty-four hours ago, I was snowbound and stranded, wondering if I’d ever make it to Oahu. This morning, I was in bed with Derek.

And now?

Now this.