Rape Culture is all over our Romance novels!

bb6b6d26598636d0a1d018378798bdc6Now, I’m not a prude or anything – I mean, have you READ my books?  But, I still have some very strong opinions on what makes something romantic, and our job as authors to influence people (another blog post all its own).  I think the one thing that bothers me the most in “romance” stories of any length/genre is that NO should always mean NO!

No shouldn’t mean “Throw me against the wall and tear my clothes off until I submit.”  See, in today’s world, that’s called rape.  Granted, it can be pretty hot to have a man who wants the woman so bad he can’t help himself, but work around it!  Make him seduce, taunt, hold her there, drive her crazy without ever touching her… because no means… no.

This has nothing to do with non-con erotica.  That’s a specific genre that has its own rules, and I’m fine with that.  What I’m not fine with is getting hooked on a book, making it to chapter 3 in seconds – and then my heroine gets raped while the author struggles to make it sound “sexy”.  Things like, “she couldn’t understand why she liked it so much.”  No.  Just no.  Tease, taunt, seduce, add in some sexual tension, give your heroines a little respect.

I love me a good romance book.  It’s taken me a long time to figure out why this genre has a cloud of disrespect hanging over it, and I think this is it.  We women publically are wanting respect, equality, and such crazy things as the right to vote, but turn around and write a fantasy where we have none of that, where some man makes all of our decisions for us.  Seriously.  Do what?

Now, I’m a strong-willed woman, and I love the idea of dominant men in the bedroom, but I honestly believe that respect doesn’t need to be tossed out the window.  I mean, it’s tropish for the hero to keep a secret and the heroine to leave him when she finds out.  But if he rapes her, she’ll fall in love?  Problem?  Anyone besides me seeing this?

And I don’t know how anyone else feels, but as soon as a man starts degrading the heroine – physically, verbally, emotionally, or any other -ly – I’m out.  If you want to sell me on a hate to love story, then you’d better be a master at showing the shifting emotions.  If the woman isn’t pissed as hell when the guy treats her like crap, I just closed your book.

I love authors who can write a hot male who respects his girl.  Diemme Black’s book Rocking Me is a great example.  She takes a normal, everyday girl (with normal everyday problems and looks) and has a rockstar who worships her.  A guy who refuses to accept when others call her fat, or anything else.  Oh yeah.  Using his fame and power to protect his girl?  HOT!  And that’s just one example in that book.  (Seriously, if you like Romance, I recommend Diemme Black’s stuff).

d24dc932a6c2b9598b7bdb82769a3fe5I’m just saying that as authors, we need to realize that some fantasies have to be tweaked before they make a great story.  Commanders should never use their rank and/or physical strength to abuse subordinates.  Dominants do not degrade their submissives, they protect them.  Now, the specific details of the moment might be hard to define, but it’s the situations that lead up to naked time that make all the difference.  If the military guy gets off on having his girl call him sir?  Sure, I can go with that.  If the dom spanks his sub?  Duh!  But if the commander GETS the girl by saying “screw me or your career is over” or the Dom grabs a girl from the grocery store and chains her in his basement until she relents?  People, that’s terrifying.  That’s a horror novel, not romance.

Again, non-con doesn’t count.  That’s a specific genre where we expect these sorts of things, and thus have already let our natural disbelief go.  It’s no different than accepting that dragons can fly in a fantasy novel.  We don’t work out the physics of the wingspan to body mass.  We say, “ok, I’m gonna go with this.”  But a love story?  Not so much.

And Romance should be love stories.  This is the genre for falling in love.  It’s not about the sex (that’s erotica).  Romance is where we follow a couple’s struggles to find their place in a happy relationship that works for them where they can live happily ever after.  By trying to convince me that this medieval women’s torture is hot or sexy, you’re basically saying that men have an innate right to a woman’s body.  To MY body.  And I call bullshit.

You see, these draconian ideas are so entrenched in our heads that it takes a major news story to snap us out of it – and we’re perpetuating them!  We’re teaching our pre-teen boys that this is what women want.  Every young man who reads these books gets the impression that this behavior is acceptable.  Every woman who grows up on these is struggling to find a man who will be like her favorite book boyfriend.  If we want rape culture to go away, we have got to stop romanticizing them.  We have got to stop portraying the idea that men have any inherent right to us as women.  We have got to stop believing it ourselves.

Now, if anyone has some suggestions for romance novels that break this mold?  I’m shopping for a good book to read!  Please leave it in the comments below, or on my facebook page.

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Writing Love Stories

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It doesn’t matter what genre the story is in, Love Stories are compelling.  Women love them.  Men do, too.  Not everyone will admit it, but we’re biologically wired to want love.  Notice I said love, not sex.

The problem is being true to the characters.  Oh sure, hot and steamy sells really well – to a subset of the market.  Not everyone wants penises thrusting into places.  Dripping and moist can get awkward fast.  But that has nothing to do with a love story.  LOVE can be so much more.  Maybe it’s finding a best friend, saving a pet, or meeting a person who makes you feel complete.  All of these things can be done without all the heavy breathing, but they move the story forward.

In Romance, however, it’s a bit more complicated.  I’m currently working on the Eternal Combat series.  These are contemporary romances based around strong women who’ve had the world try to break them.  No matter how many times they get knocked down, these girls manage to convince themselves to get back up… and fall in love.  They learn that no one can do everything on their own.  They find out that it’s ok to be a part of something bigger.  The problem?  Each of them is very different from the others.

For those who’ve read FLAWED and Challenge Accepted, you know that Riley and Dez share some traits, but not all.  Dez is broken, Riley is a bulldozer.  Dez wants to disappear, Riley wants to make the entire world see her, not what they think she should be.  Well, the woman in the next book?  Her name is Kate, and she’s nothing like either of them.

Kate is older.  She’s been there, done that, and learned how to play well in the real world.  She’s sensible but lacks confidence in herself.  That doesn’t mean she’ll give up.  She just tackles her problems differently.  While these are all the same series, and all share a common theme, writing Kate’s romance is very different from writing the other two.  Kate is cautious.  She’s more likely to run than take a foolish risk.  I can’t just throw her in the same situations and expect to get a book out of it.  She just looks at me and says, “Nah, I’m good.  I’m doing just fine as a single girl.  When the right guy comes around, I’ll know it.”

girls-344334And that’s the problem.  The shortcuts to romance don’t always work.  Sometimes our characters refuse to accept the common tropes.  I gave Kate a super sexy man, and she shrugged, reminding me that the pretty ones are the most self-centered.  I proved that he has a heart of gold, and she sneered, pointing out how easy it is to lie about those things.  So I am going to pull out the only trick I have left.  I’m going to make this guy prove it and show Kate that life really is better if she doesn’t have to slog through it alone.

Yes, yes.  I know.  I talk about my characters as if they have their own opinions – but they do!  No matter how many times I try to plot out every nuance of my books, my characters won’t let me.  I like to think it’s because I’ve made them too real.  To me, they’re like friends.  I can guess how they would react to things, and trying to bend them out of shape just reads as false.  It makes the story cheap and transparent.  Instead, when I give them the reins and let them take over, I find connections that I never expected.

Just look at Sal and Zep in the iliri series.  Zep wasn’t supposed to be her best friend and big brother.  He was supposed to be a smart ass and an arrogant jerk.  Ok, well he kinda is, but he’s so much more than just that.  The more I let them do their own thing, the deeper the characters become, and the more rewarding the stories get.

But complex people don’t often have simple and easy romances.  Whether that’s a friendship bond or a romantic one, the emotional storyline that goes along with the people meeting and finding that they fit together needs to be true to itself.  Some people jump in the sack without a care.  Others want so much more.  Still others are dying for the kind of person who they can trust like a sibling, and the chemistry just isn’t there.  I can’t force it, I can only write what the characters need.

Even if that means I need to delete half of this awesome plot I just devised.  My book will be better for it in the end.

Writing across genres or deal with a pseudonym?

photo-1433785567155-bf5530cab72cThe world has expectations.  Readers do, too.  As an author, I’m supposed to provide the type of books they expect from me.  There’s only one problem… What do they expect?

In a world filled with so many rules, authors are people who prefer to break them.  We test the boundaries of things in our stories, just to see how they will play out.  We make the oddball into the hero.  Our job is to embrace all the things that society is trying to quash.  We’re the orange window frame in a black and white world.

So what happens when the romance author publishes a science fiction novel?  What about when the horror author puts out a sweet young adult fantasy book?  Their fanbase freaks out.

And that’s what I worry about.  I write books about hope.  Romance, fantasy, science fiction, cross-genre blends… I really don’t care.  I write the story in the setting it needs to get where I want to go.  Granted, I also touch on some very dark and disturbing subjects – but in a way that makes them a stepping stone, not an anchor dragging the hero(ine) under.

So what happens when I stray?  What happens when I write something truly dark?  I love dystopian (the old school style).  I have a weakness for endings that are bittersweet.  I adore pushing my own limits, and that means I’ll eventually finish a book that doesn’t quite match up with the rest of my published work.  Do I put it out under a pseudonym, then suffer the loss of time in trying to market two different personas?  Do I warn my fan base and release it as myself?  Is there some line that should not be crossed, while others are more of a suggestion and meant to be ignored at will?

I honestly don’t know.  So, I’ve come to a decision.  Because many of my currently released books deal with very adult topics (cancer, abuse, um.. sex!) I’m going to divide my work by age appropriate subjects.  You see, I have a secret store of YA books.  I’ve always loved the genre (and its diversity) so naturally, I write it.  My problem is that a book marketed to sixteen-year-olds should not be sold beside a story about survival after tragedy.  A story about high school bullying does not need to go beside gamer geeks going at it.  I think that the line should be PG-13 vs R.  Those books that are rated X will need yet another name to grace the cover.

But I don’t want to hide who I am.  I just want to make sure that no accidental book readings happen.  Most likely, I will publish under my initials and last name, or possibly my married name, but I can’t help but be daunted by the work that is involved with something so “easy”.  The hours of publicity, the money invested into marketing, the attempts to steer readers where they need to be to get what they want.  I’m just one person.

So I sit here and wonder: does it really matter to the reader what stories we write, so long as we make it clear what the novel is about?  Are you more likely to cross over to a new genre if it’s by an author you love?

What’s in the works?

book-1291164With the release of FLAWED, it’s time to start moving forward again.  So what’s in the plans?

First off, the third book in “Rise of the Iliri” should come out this month.  Defiance is right on track.

Then there’s the next book in the Eternal Combat series.  “Virtual Reality” shows a new side to IceMan that many fans wouldn’t have expected.  Then again, most of those geeky boys aren’t at all what you’d think.  They never are.

And When We Were Crowned is still going.  Unfortunately, the realities of a day job have put me behind schedule.  I was honestly hoping to have the book out by August, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.  I’d rather be late and give the fans of this series a GOOD book than be on time with a piece of garbage.

That’s why my focus will be on the backlist that I’ve already completed.  While my home renovations are in full swing, my writing time has become a precious commodity.  It seems that there are just never enough hours, but editing is a lot easier.  Getting interrupted in the middle doesn’t harm the story, it just gives me an excuse to go over the previous chapter again.

bench-1289528I am still writing, though.  Both When We Were Crowned and Two of a Kind are moving ahead, just not as fast as I’d like.  They are such different books, which works well for me.  I’m always in the “mood” to work on one or the other, it seems.  My team tries to remind me that most authors release a book a year, maybe two.  But I just can’t.  I want to write.  I want to lose myself in those worlds.  I want to publish the entire series!  It’s addictive seeing my work enjoyed by so many strangers – and have so many of them send me emails or tweets about the books.  I also hate that I put a time frame on WWWC and I’m falling behind.

But come this winter, after my twelfth book has been released, I’m going to take a couple of months off.  Nope, I won’t stop writing.  Instead, I plan to update the website, make it easier to buy paperback copies directly from aurynhadley.com, and put in a few more cool things for my fans.  While all of this is going on, I hope to finish another series and schedule it all for release back to back.

And yep, we’ve barely brushed the surface of the books I’ve already written.  I have 3 YA series, 4 more fantasy, 2 more romance, 2 science fiction, a sci-fi/fantasy mashup, and a dystopian.  After those are the notes for at least five more books.  While I never dreamed of being an author, it seemed that my mind had been busy dreaming up things without me.  I hope my readers are as excited as I am.

 

 

Self Published Books SUCK!

books-447466.jpgAt least, that is a lingering thought held by so many readers.  Personally, I think it’s a holdover from the days of vanity publishing – when rejected authors poured their own money into printing their books, then tried to sell them any way possible.

Today, “self-publishing” and “independent-publishing” are mostly the same thing.  The group contains both authors who struggled to control the production of their own product as well as those believe that once their great masterpiece hits the shelves they’ll be drowning in riches.

First, let me assure you that almost no author gets rich on a single book.  Even the ones with breakout debuts published by the big traditional publishing houses didn’t!  They signed deals for series.  (Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, Harry Potter?  All were a series of books.)  Being a successful author relies on two main things.  You can produce enough books to satisfy your fan base and those books are good quality.

Which leads me to the point of this blog.  People think self-published books suck because WE, the people making them, let them suck.  I’m not talking about that other guy’s books.  I’m talking about yours.  You, the person reading this who thinks he or she can publish his or her own book.  The vast majority of us are going to say some version of “not bad for doing it on my own” at some point in the process.  And THAT is where we go wrong!

It’s YOUR fault

books-608984.jpgAs a reader, I don’t care if you did it on your own.  I can only see that it’s a good book or a piece of poop.  Either there is a lovely cover or a hideous one.  You have a talent for putting words together, or you were too cheap to pay an editor.

And right there, is the rub.  In no other small business can you get started with so LITTLE investment.  I don’t care if putting out your books is just a hobby.  I don’t care if you’re broke.  If you don’t think the book is worth investing in, then why the hell should I pay you for it?  I don’t OWE you.  I don’t have to read your book.  You must SELL it to me.  You should prove to me that this is a story I need to survive.  If you can’t do that?  Then your book isn’t ready.

It doesn’t have to be perfect – but when it’s not, a good indie author is going to fix that problem.  She’s going to buy a new cover, write a better blurb, or send it to another editor, then update the novel to be the best it can be.  If you toss your book out to the wolves and it doesn’t sell, then it’s not the market.  It’s not the subject.  It’s you, the author, who has produced something that isn’t good enough.  Maybe you don’t know why, but you can still make some attempt to change it.  You can try out a new cover, a new blurb (the description of the book on most sites), or you can correct the writing inside.  Those are the top three reasons a book doesn’t sell.  Usually, it’s the first two.

You will not get rich writing crap

mistake-876597.jpgAs an independent author, we have to do it all ourselves.  If you didn’t want that responsibility, then you shouldn’t have published on your own.  There are a zillion small presses and publishing coops that will help you – for a share of the money.  But guess what?  If you’re doing it on your own, you wouldn’t keep that money anyway!  You’d be paying an editor, cover designer, formatter, and other professionals to do… exactly what that publishing house is taking from your royalties.  It’s a wash.  If you thought all that extra moolah was just going to line your pockets?  You were wrong.  People will not flock to the interwebs to buy your cheaply made piece of poop.

Now, if you’re one of those people who thinks, “I just want to share this with the world,” then stop.  Just stop.  Do you really want to share your typos, repetitive words, and improper paragraph structure with complete strangers who won’t be able to see the story for the grammar mistakes?  Do you REALLY want people to grab your free ebook and think, “wow, this author is clueless.”  Is your goal to have people laugh about you behind your back?  No?  Then why aren’t you willing to put some EFFORT into your own masterpiece?

And no, being ignorant is not an excuse.  I hear this all too often.  “I don’t know how to format in Word.”  “No one told me book covers are that size.”  “How was I supposed to know that’s annoying in an ebook?”

You see, no one told me, either.  I took responsibility and decided I want to be a master of my craft.  I didn’t want to be spoonfed.  I’m not some entitled prick who thinks that someone else should do it for me.  I have no doubts in my mind that when I pay for something, I want to get MY money’s worth, so assume that my readers feel the same.  I do not – EVER – think I am entitled to using some excuse to explain away my failure.  I just buckle down and learn how to do it better.

This is a business – and most will fail

entrepreneur-593360.jpgWe authors are selling a product.  We conceptualize it, design it, craft it, market it, and so much more.  It’s no different from making widgets.  This is exactly what our high school teachers tried to explain in that economics class.  The whole magic of book marketing depends on Supply and Demand.

Most small businesses crash and burn in the first year.  Some hang on for a second – then follow suit.  It’s rare for a small business to succeed the first time out.  Why?  People think that it’s going to be easy.  It’s not.  If you want to become profitable with your books, then you’re going to have to work at it.  If you “love” your novel/story as much as you claim, then why wouldn’t you WANT to?  So many people spent years crafting this piece of art.  To just toss it in the gutter like trash doesn’t make sense.  Then to get pissed off when someone believes your OWN assessment of it?

If you want your book to be seen as a masterpiece, then you must present it as one.  You must show it off in its best light.  You must do everything for that book – or accept that you are not an independent author.  You’re just some schlep who wrote some words on a page, did half the job, then wanted all the credit.  Basically, you’re like all the other “self-published” authors out there giving the public a bad impression.  Your business WILL fail.

But it doesn’t have to be like that

fountain-pen-442066.jpgThe only way independent books will get accepted by the public is if the authors dare to prove them wrong.  If we produce books that are as good, if not better than the Big 5 publishers.  We have to take responsibility.

Sure, we’ll never be able to stop the crap from showing up on the lists.  We don’t have to.  Just look at Shake Weights.  What a joke, right?  But no one honestly thinks that ALL small businesses are that silly.  We assume it’s an outlier because most small businesses offer something good.  Even in an industry where the majority fail, we naturally believe that a small business is worthwhile until proven wrong.

As more independent and self-published authors put effort into their books, things are changing.  Just look at your own kindle list.  How many of those books are traditionally published?  How many are small or independent presses?  How many are self-published?  More than you thought, I bet.  You, as a reader, never stopped to check (in most cases) because the book was presented professionally.  It didn’t look like a piece of crap, so you assumed it wasn’t.

And reviews help.  We – especially authors – need to start reviewing books honestly.  Stop worrying about hurting someone’s feelings and start giving them tools to become better.  If you’ve ever given a five star rating to a book with a typo (raises my hand) then you’re a part of the problem.  Five stars should mean perfection.  Personally, I have a simple breakdown that I use:

  • Five star  – this book is perfect.  I wouldn’t change a thing.
  • Four star – this book is worth reading, but has a few acceptable/understandable mistakes
  • Three star – Something about this is good (story or writing) but the other aspect needs work.
  • Two star – I see a glimmer of hope.  There’s a kernel that made me willing to keep reading, but it was not at all ready to be published.
  • One star – Every aspect of this book had a problem.  From cover design through plot and characterization, including grammar and punctuation, the author needs to learn a lot before they try again.  The best option for this book is to take it down and start over.  Consider a full re-write.

Is that harsh?  Yep.  But it also helps.  Oh sure, the author will rant, rage, possibly bawl his eyes out, but in the end, critique is the only way to get better.  We’re all blind to our own flaws.  That’s why we need the help of others.

I also think that if someone is so easily thwarted that they would “just give up and never write again” (something that is said all too often on message boards) then they aren’t really an author.

You see, instead of gatekeepers, rules, and elitist clubs, the best way to make sure that indie and self-published books don’t suck?  Police ourselves.  Rate ourselves honestly.  Take care of our OWN work first, and produce the best books we can.  We are a community of brilliant minds and magnificent dreamers.  The stigma against what we do is already fading.  If we work just a little bit harder, we’ll prove that artists don’t need to sign a contract with a pre-fab corporation to be, well, artists.

 

 

 

The Art of Perfection

padlock-406986_1920Recently, I have been struggling with the balance between grammar and flow.  I want both, but I’m never going to get it.  Never mind that when writing novels, there’s a level of leniency that is expected. A lot.

(See what I did there?)

I would love to be one of those rare individuals who can write a nearly perfect manuscript.  I’m not.  Commas pepper my work like germs in a hospital.  I constantly fight to keep them at bay, use the good ones when I can, and purge the rest with the strongest cleanser I can find – the delete key!  With every book I write, I get a bit better.  I’m still not great about avoiding the automated pinky swipe that plops another little mark on the page.

Then there’s the habit typing.  Chance/change.  Now/not.  Thing/thong (which can get very awkward in some books).  My fingers just do their thing, and I trust that pretty little red line to let me know when I’ve made a horrible mistake.  It doesn’t always happen.  Not even my litany of proofing software can beat all the human errors I slide into my work.

That’s why I have an editor.  And yet, while she does a great job, there comes a balance.  There are times when I have to say, “Nope, not changing that,” because it is too vital to the story.  Sometimes it’s verbal ticks of a character.  Others, it’s the harsh sentence fragment used for effect (see “A lot” above).

The point of a book isn’t to be grammatically correct.  I mean, let’s be honest – how many readers will see half the flaws that make my skin crawl?  Readers aren’t writers (usually).  They are investing their time and money into the story, not the nuances between a semicolon and a period.  They could care less if I use an en dash or an em dash.  What they want is to experience the journey, complete with the emotional rollercoaster of a damned good book.   I want to give it to them.

And so, I continue to learn.  I struggle with every note my editor sends back.  Now that I’m discarding as many grammar changes as I’m keeping, I feel nervous.  Part of me knows it’s due to growing up as a writer, but part still has an insatiable urge to “make it perfect”.  Sadly, such a thing will never exist.  Someone will always miss the point I try to make.  Someone will always think that a different way of doing it will be better.  It’s my job to make the decision about what my book needs.

It makes me nervous and insecure.  I’m not yet good enough to ignore the opinions of others.  I probably never will be.  I’m blind to the flaws in my own work, as every artist is.  But I’ve grown just enough that I am wondering if sometimes I’m more right than wrong.  It’s a balancing act, but right now, I’m not worried about falling.

Ask me again tomorrow.

Flawed: Chapter 5

FlawedRelease date: June 30, 2016.  Read the Prologue HERE.  Chapter 1 HERE.  Chapter 2 HERE.  Chapter 3 Here. or Chapter 4 HERE.

I hope you enjoy the first chapter.  I will be releasing a chapter each day until release, so check back for the next installment.  And of course, feel free to pre-order the book on amazon!

(Content warning: contains graphic language and situations, may be triggering for some.)

 

Chapter 5

Over the next week, Chance and Dez settled into a predictable routine. He went out most nights, leaving her alone in the building to do her thing. When he returned, he was always obvious about it, turning on the warehouse lights before he tried to find her. Most of the time, he just headed up to shower. She could always tell when he’d been out with some girl because he couldn’t do anything until he showered. Not like it was any of her business, but it was one tiny sign that he might not be perfect.

They also worked out a comfortable sleeping schedule until her room was usable. He passed out around four in the morning, and she typically stole his bed as soon as he left. That left her plenty of time alone to get things done at night.

Already, the warehouse had changed so much. It now resembled a computer company. All it needed was a couple coats of paint and a group of developers. Those were supposed to start showing up in the next day or so.

She was covered in dust from the crawl space under the floor when dawn broke. The wires were all in place, and she’d brought up half the computers. All she needed now was to put all the hardware together. In theory it should work, but computers didn’t really like theories. They needed a little love and pampering, and she was ready to give it. Naturally, that’s when Chance decided to head down the stairs. It was way too early for him to be awake, yet the shudder of the apartment door announced him clearly.

She glanced up. In the light of day, he was even more appealing to the eye. He moseyed down the stairs, his jeans hanging low enough to prove that the trail down his belly was made of fire, and he cradled a cup of coffee. He’d managed to forget the need for a shirt, and every muscle in his well-formed chest begged her to look, but what was the point when she couldn’t touch?

“So what am I calling you?” he asked, leaning his forearms across the desk.

“I dunno.” She tightened the screw holding down the hard drive.

“Dezeray? Dezire?” He sipped at the coffee. “I’m getting kinda used to calling you Dez, and it’s not exactly a common way to shorten Destiny.”

“Just Dez, then?” she suggested.

He nodded. “That works. Nice and androgynous, too. Next big question. You do coffee, or does that fuck up your high? I can’t even think of whiskey until after lunch.”

She gestured for him to pass over his cup. When he did, she took one sip, thinking about it before giving it back. “Think it’d go with my downers?”

“Well, I was gonna offer you a cup.” He smiled at her a little too sweetly. “Anything else you want?”

Dez was high. She was always high, but her pills were running at peak performance. That, and she was actually enjoying what she was doing. It was all she needed to gesture at the thin red hair riding just above his jeans. “That really as soft as it looks?”

Casually, he shrugged, lifting his cup to his lips as he leaned back against the desk, exposing the exact line she’d asked about. “I dunno. How soft does it look?”

She laughed. “Oh? And what would you do if I reached over there and checked?”

He carefully set the cup beside his hip and met her eyes. “Not move a damned muscle. If you ever decide you want to touch me, Dez, you’re welcome to.”

For a moment, her heart forgot to beat. When it remembered, it ran in double time, trying to make up for the lost second. “And you won’t touch back?”

“Not unless you want me to.”

Her eyes flicked to the short red hair, and she couldn’t pull them away. Chance slowly moved his palms to the desk, watching her but saying nothing. With a nervous lick of her lips, Dez dared to reach out, the tips of her fingers barely caressing the trail of hair just below his navel. His skin tensed, the movement involuntary, and she took a breath, then pressed just a bit harder. Her hand moved lower, stopping well above the line of his jeans.

“I can’t believe I did that.”

He picked up his cup and lifted it to his mouth, completely at ease with the strange situation. “Pretty big compliment, kid. Thanks.”

“That you have red hair?” She shook her head, dismissing that.

He leaned over, looking in her eyes. “Nah, I meant the trust. Just don’t tell me you hate gingers.”

She huffed a breath at that, not even giving it a full laugh. “Chance, I don’t exactly think like that.”

“Did you use to?”

“I think so.”

“And?”

She bit at her lips and concentrated on the hardware that still needed to go into this case. “I can’t recall ever having an opinion on men with red hair.” She settled the video card into an open bay. “I do think that you look like some Irish fire god.”

“I’ll take it. So is it soft?”

If anyone else had asked that, she’d be in a panic, but it was Chance. She lifted her eyes then looked back at the task at hand but felt safe enough to answer. “Nope. Short and curly, but nicely manscaped.”

“You should see the rest.” He took a long sip of coffee. The upward angle of his mouth warned her that he was about to give her a hard time. “The hair on my legs? Like rabbit fur. I’m tellin’ ya.”

“You’re so full of shit.”

He grinned. “Maybe you can touch that tomorrow. Anyways, I’m heading out for a bit. Got you a phone last night.” He set it on the desk between them revealing a large screen and black protective case. “Number’s on the splash screen. Have some guys coming by around lunch. You decide which of those rooms you want to turn into your new home?”

“And I was enjoying your bed so much.” Dez kept her face completely serious, but Chance wasn’t fooled at all. “Can I have the one closest to this side? That way I’m right by the smoking section.”

“Sure. You know you can smoke in there if you want?”

She just shook her head. “Nah. It’s not good for the equipment and will cause problems when you try to convert the rooms later.”

“K. Well, there’s food up there. Eat something today? And get a little sleep?”

She nodded. “Can do, boss.” She finished installing the video card and straightened, bending backward to stretch tired muscles. “I’m probably going to pass out soon. If you get a date, text? I’ll make myself scarce.”

He looked at her for a long moment. “You’re ok with that?”

“Sure. So long as your bitches don’t touch me, I don’t care where you stick your dick. Figure you get to see me high, I get to see you, well, whatever.”

“Swear you’ll tell me if I cross the line?”

“Promise. I also don’t really expect you to give a shit.” She tilted her head, showing that she wasn’t really worried, and moved to the next empty case. “I need you to have that stuff delivered.” She pointed to the wall she’d converted into a whiteboard. “I’ll be stuck in a few hours until I get it.”

“Can do. And the contractors that are coming by? They don’t need you around. Feel free to head upstairs and lock the door.”

She nodded then took a deep breath, bracing for the next hurdle. “I’m gonna need a ride into town tonight or tomorrow.”

His brow wrinkled. “Why?”

She fiddled with the piercing in her nose, adjusting it so that the ends of the curved barbell hung level. “Gotta get a prescription filled.”

“Yeah. Where do I need to take you?”

“Wal-Mart?”

He looked at her for a long moment, his steely eyes measuring her brown. “Pretty sure that script isn’t legal, kid.”

“Pretty sure I won’t get caught, Dad.”

He blinked. “How many you got left?”

“Bout twelve. I can make it until tomorrow.”

Chance sighed. “Let’s get dressed. I’m not letting you drive stoned, but I can swing past there and drop you back off.”

Dez patted the computer case lightly, then moved around him for the stairs. He followed, but it no longer made her want to scream. He kept a polite distance – well, polite from her point of view, which meant he stayed out of reach.

When she headed for her trunk, he stopped her, pointing out the bags beside the bed with a grin. While he pulled on another body sculpted t-shirt, she looked, finding them filled with new clothes that he’d bought for her. She half expected something clean-cut and proper looking, but she should have known better. Chance had found the kind of clothes she’d feel comfortable in: black, black, and more black. Some pieces had a touch of color, but most were dark. He’d thought of everything, from socks to panties, and the bras were even cute.

“Buying me lingerie?” she teased, holding up a little red bra. “Isn’t that like serious?”

“Yep.” Chance shrugged, dropping onto the edge of the bed to pull on a pair of shoes. “Super cute panties that match. Never know, you might even model for me.”

With the distance of the bed separating them, she grew brave. In one motion she pulled the tank over her head, revealing the lack of anything underneath, then dropped the pants, standing in his bedroom completely naked. He tilted his head, not even hiding that his eyes roamed across her.

“Nice tatts.”

She ignored him, pulling on the matching set of undies. It wasn’t like she had tits to entice him. Hell, she didn’t even have curves. She’d given those up for Vicodin. Food didn’t settle and alcohol took care of the rest. She figured if the high didn’t kill her, then wasting away just might. It wasn’t like she had any pride left to hide.

When he made no move toward her, Dez began to relax. His face was cool and controlled, no different than it would probably be when he looked at another guy. A tiny piece of her mind wished that he’d look at her, not the freak in his room, but she shoved that away. Chance Hunter probably got his fill of perfect bodies and ample curves.

“Do me a favor?” he asked, lifting his chin.

She tucked the shirt into the loose pants. “Sure?”

“Don’t do that in front of the devs?” He pushed himself off the bed, having waited until she was completely covered. “Can’t stand the idea of them jacking off to it.”

With that, he snatched his keys from the end of the dresser and walked out. Dez took his place, lacing on her boots. It took a bit, and when she made her way back into the living room, he leaned over the kitchen sink, finishing a glass of water. Everything he did was a little too casual, and for the first time in her life, she couldn’t predict what a man was thinking.

“You said you wanted a show,” she grumbled.

He set the glass in the sink and gestured to the door. “I also didn’t say I minded the show. Ready?”

“Then why do you seem pissed?” She beat him to the door, heading down the stairs before he could answer.

Chance followed, waiting until he was safely behind the driver’s seat of his truck. “Here’s the thing, Dez.” He paused to start it and didn’t speak until he moved the truck onto the road, heading into the heart of town. “There’s one thing in this world I want. That’s to get Silk online and bringing in awards. That’s it. I’d sell my damned mother to make it happen. This shit is my baby.” He glanced over to check her reaction, but Dez just waited for the rest. “It’s been a damned long and lonely road. Thing is, for a moment there, I kinda found something else to want to take care of.”

“Oh, you see some tits and think that means something?”

He tapped his thumb on the wheel. “Yeah,” he said wistfully. “I’m betting it’s been a long fucking time since you let anyone see those tattoos, let alone reached out intentionally to touch anyone.” The light before him turned red and the truck slowed to a stop, then Chance looked over. “Hits me right in the feels when you trust me, ok? I also saw the scars in the art. I’m pissed because I’m pretty sure you got them to hide the damage. Can’t stand the idea of someone hurting my friend.”

She pulled her knees up against her chest, her shoes pressing into the expensive leather seats. She knew about Chance Hunter. She knew exactly how ruthless he was. She’d read all the complaints about how he’d built up Deviant Games. She expected him to be a complete dick. What she hadn’t expected was to find a kindred soul.

“Don’t really know how to do friends,” she admitted.

He chuckled once, nodding at her words. “The way I see it, seems pretty easy. You watch my back and I’ll watch yours. We both respect the damned imaginary lines that we draw in the sand.”

“I can do that.” She chewed at her lower lip, unable to look at him.

He smiled at the road. “Yeah, me too.”

They fell into silence, but it was a comfortable one. Dez wasn’t really sure what had just happened, but she thought she liked it. It felt like they’d reached an agreement. She wouldn’t judge him, he wouldn’t judge her, and neither of them had to hide behind the expectations of society. Not only that, but every little comment he made helped her understand the man who’d taken a huge risk on her.

All he wanted was to protect his baby. He’d do it no matter what it took. Lie, cheat, steal – they were all acceptable if it meant his dream got the chance to fly. As they headed into Wal-Mart, she made him a silent promise. She’d trade this quiet feeling of safety for his success. She’d also let him take all the credit. He’d hired her to take care of the LAN and the software to make the whole thing work. Well, the game was nothing but software, so it fell under that title, right?

Crossing the parking lot, she unconsciously moved to his side, her sleeve nearly brushing his. Chance looked down, a soft glint in his eyes, but said nothing. He didn’t need to. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d stood this close to anyone.

Inside, he pulled out a cart, the wheel wobbling like they always did, and pushed it at her. Dez grabbed the handle and aimed for the prescription desk. Without a word, he fell in behind her, letting her lead the way and watching her back. She really did hate these stores. People were everywhere, thinking nothing of brushing their bodies against hers or shoving an arm over her shoulder. At least the prescription counter was empty.

The pharmacist took the script, looking it over carefully. She took a deep breath, sized up Dez, then looked over at Chance. “You know this stuff’s addictive?”

“Yep,” he agreed, sounding less than amused. “They warned me all about it. No alcohol, long-term use is discouraged, and all that, but after the accident, Tylenol just isn’t cutting it.”

The woman nodded. “Ok. It’s going to be about thirty minutes.”

“Can do. C’mon, kid. Let’s get some shopping done. Just hang onto that cart.”

Dez said nothing until they were well away. “Covering for me?”

“Just watching your back, but it comes at a price. Why does a punk like you not have on ten layers of eyeliner?”

“Broke.”

He smiled deviously. “Turn right.” She did and found herself in the middle of the cosmetics section. Chance reached over and grabbed a tube of lipstick, pulling off the top to spin the color up. “So, you’d better start picking, or I’m gonna buy a lovely selection of pink, and then make you wear it.”

“Shit’s not cheap.”

He tossed the tube back in the rack. “And I’m not paying you. Take it while I’ve still got it.”

That was all the encouragement she needed. Leaving the cart behind, Dez moved through the two aisles, choosing everything in black. Except the lipstick. That was the only color she tossed in – red, deep purple, and of course a little black. Chance had been paying attention, though. Choosing the same brands she had, he found a selection of colors, from eyeliner to eyeshadow, and added them.

“What?” he asked. “I don’t get to buy this shit normally. Think of it as formalwear for the release.”

“Six months away?”

He shrugged a little too innocently. “Or for the first day the devs come to the office. Or whatever. Who knows, maybe you’ll go out on a date?”

“Fuck that,” she muttered.

“I didn’t say you’d touch him.”

Dez rolled her eyes. “Right. Can it be a date without touching? Chance, the only person that seems ok with my little issue is you.”

He leaned closer. “You get real pissy when you’re coming down.”

“I’m tired. Remember, one of us worked all night.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “I know they’re in your pocket. Take a pair.”

She looked up into his face and realized that he’d positioned himself perfectly to block her from the people around them. Their eyes met in understanding, and he bowed his head, waiting. It was the last excuse she needed. Fumbling in her pocket, she extracted two pills from the bottle without pulling it out and somehow managed to get the top back on. When she slipped them into her mouth, his eyes followed her fingers.

“When we pick up your prescription, just act like you hurt all over. Don’t say anything, and I’ll take care of the rest.”

She licked her lips, refusing to back away. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because whatever happened to you hurt really bad. Just making sure you get the meds to ease the pain.”

“Hey.” She let her eyes drop, unable to hold his gaze. “Thanks.”

He nodded, leaning away from her. “It’s cool, Dez. You’re not the only person in the world that’s flawed.”

“Pretty sure they call your problems ‘successful.’”

He checked his watch. “They do when they’re over eighteen. Fucked up once, but the bimbo thought I was just some dick from tech support.”

“You like them younger?”

He shrugged. “I don’t give a shit. You got a problem with touching. I got one with not. Same shit, just backwards.”

She thought about that for a moment. He was right. His goal was to convince someone to let him touch. Hers was to convince them not to. Slowly she raised her eyes back to his and smiled.

“Flawed. I like it. Makes it sound almost normal.”

“You’re probably the most normal person I’ve ever met,” he said softly, turning the cart. “And when we get Game of the Year, we’ll start work on the next.” He stepped back and let her claim the handle, then leaned toward her shoulder. “We’ll call it Flawed, and if you’re not around to help, I’m putting your name in the credits.”

FLAWED available June 30th.  Pre-order now on Amazon