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Finders Keepers by PG Forte

Finders Keepers

by PG Forte

Loose Id

eBook ISBN: 978-1-62300-089-9

This holiday season, chance will bring them together and give them an opportunity to help one another find what they each want most. But every gift comes with a price. And keeping what they’ve found once they’ve found it? Yeah, that’s gonna be the hard part.

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Chapter One

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Sea Change
Oberon Series
by PG Forte

SynergEbooks

eBook ISBN: 0744315352

Love alone was not enough to help Cara and Liam overcome the trauma in her past. Now, it’s time to get creative. Will a romantic New Year’s Eve cruise provide the sea change they’re both hoping for? Or is their star-crossed relationship doomed to end in disaster?

Chapter One

Bodies have memories, and hers remembered every touch; even the ones her mind could not recall. Especially those. And that, Cara thought, as she stared out the car window at the swiftly passing landscape, was precisely the problem.
“You’re awfully quiet this morning,” her boyfriend Liam observed, taking his eyes from the road long enough to shoot her a worried glance. “Is everything okay?”
“Mm-hm,” Cara lied. She smiled at him reassuringly. “I was just thinking.” Certainly, everything should be okay. After all, they were on their way to LA where later today they’d board a cruise ship for their first vacation together since they’d started dating, six months earlier. The prospect of the trip––four days at sea with stops in Catalina and Ensenada, culminating in a New Year’s celebration aboard ship––should be making her ecstatic. But her happiness was marred by one small problem: Her body. And those goddamned memories.
“What’re you thinking about?”
“Just trying to remember if I packed everything.” Another lie. She knew full well she had everything with her she’d need for the trip. She’d made sure of it.
“It’ll be fun,” Liam insisted. “You’ll see. We’re gonna have a good time.”
Cara nodded and flashed another bright smile in his direction. Their vacation was likely to be a lot of things—memorable, challenging, life altering, a turning point. Fun wasn’t one of them. But for Liam’s sake she’d keep up the pretense as long as she could. Given everything he had done for her, that was the least she could do in return.
****
The nervous tension rolling off Cara was so thick it should have impaired his vision. Liam tightened his hands on the wheel and stared out the window, pretending not to notice. But, oh, he noticed, all right. It didn’t matter how many smiles she threw his way, he could feel the tension she was generating. It roiled in his gut. Hell, even if he hadn’t been an empath and able to sense, all too clearly, the emotions of those around him, he knew her well enough, after all these months, to know when she was lying. The question was, what was she lying about this time?
As she lapsed back into a brooding silence he let his own mind drift back in time, remembering the night they’d first met and all the days and weeks that followed.
Cara had been a brainwashed member-in-good-standing of the phony, New-Age, pseudo-religious cult he’d gone undercover to infiltrate, when Liam first set eyes on her. At the time, she’d seemed perfectly happy in her role as girlfriend to the cult’s sadistic leader, Gregg. It had taken Liam a little too long to realize she’d been lying then, too.
He’d often thought that if he and Cara could have somehow gotten together then, right at the start, maybe things would have turned out differently. But, no. It was only months later, after she’d been brutalized—beaten, raped, almost killed––that they’d finally confessed their feelings for each other. But maybe by then it was too late. Although her physical wounds were mostly healed now, the psychological scars were another matter entirely. Those, it seemed, might never go away.
****
Despite the workday traffic crowding the 405 Freeway, they made it to Long Beach with hours to spare before their ship was due to leave port. Checking in proved far easier than Liam had expected—all thanks to Cara’s boss, Sinead, who used to work for the cruise line and who’d called in some favors and pulled a few strings.
Whoa. Make that a lot of strings, Liam thought as he gazed around their cabin. He had to admit he was impressed. Though the room was still almost claustrophobically small, they’d been upgraded several times resulting in an outside cabin on an upper deck with an actual window and a large gift basket welcoming them aboard.
Still, mindful of the fact that Cara might need a little time to adjust to the close quarters, he pasted on his own phony smile and turned to her. “Listen, why don’t you take a few minutes to get settled in? I’m just going to pop upstairs and make a couple of phone calls while we’re still in port, all right?”
Her eyes vague, Cara smiled and nodded. But as he turned to leave the room her gaze returned to the narrow bunk she’d been contemplating. The look of faint consternation on her face had him wondering whether the whole five days wouldn’t be too short a time for her to adjust. Maybe he’d end up spending the next few nights sacked out on the deck.
And wouldn’t that be something to look forward to?
****
“So? How is it?” Sinead asked when Liam got her on the phone. The eagerness in her voice did nothing to mask the underlying yearning; and the fact that a big part of her still missed her former life was painfully obvious to Liam’s heightened senses. “Isn’t it a beautiful ship? Everyone treating you okay? You having fun yet?”
“Everything’s great,” he replied, leaning on the deck rail, looking down at the port of Long Beach, at the line of people still waiting to embark. “But, we just checked in, so it’s a little early for fun yet. I just wanted to call and thank you for everything—the upgrades, the basket. It was really nice of you to go to so much trouble for us.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Liam. I was happy to do it—it was no trouble at all. You just make sure our girl has a good time ‘kay?”
A good time? How much did Sinead know, he wondered, about the aftermath of Cara’s ordeal?
Liam had been shocked, when they’d first started dating, to learn that Cara couldn’t bear to be touched; that the gentlest stroke of a finger along her cheek was enough, at times, to start her shivering––and not in a good way. Almost a month had passed before he could get her to hold hands with him, another before she’d allow him to put his arms around her when they kissed, and a month more before she’d consent to being hugged. Things had moved pretty quickly after that and for a while Liam had reason to hope Cara would soon be back to normal; back to being the smart, sexy-as-hell, vivacious young woman he’d first fallen in love with. But everything dead-ended just after Halloween, when the anniversary of her abduction rolled around, and there’d been no real progress since.
If it were simply a matter of patience, there’d be no problem. He was willing to wait as long as she needed him to. But lately he’d begun to wonder if there wasn’t more to the problem than time alone could heal. Which is why, when Sinead suggested this trip to him, he’d jumped at the chance.
And now? “I’ll do my best,” he promised.
“I know you will. And, Liam? You have a good time, too.”
“Absolutely,” he said as he rang off. “See you when we get back.”
A good time. Well, that was the plan, wasn’t it? Too bad his nerves were already fried thanks to the tension in the car on the way down. At this point, making sure either of them had a good time might be well beyond his capabilities.
****
It didn’t take Cara any time at all to unpack the larger of her two suitcases. The smaller one…well, she was leaving that one alone, for now. But, Liam hadn’t returned by the time she’d finished and the unfamiliar surroundings, the constant cacophony of distant, subterranean sounding noises that seemed to echo through the walls, was starting to make her a little bit nuts. She stared out the big, square window, at the ocean glinting platinum and pearl in the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun. She’d never felt farther from home in her life.
Gee, maybe because I’ve never before been so far from home, she thought, disgusted with herself. Lighten up, stupid. This is supposed to be fun, remember? Too bad she knew better than to believe that kind of feel-good fantasy.
Desperate for anything that would make her feel even a little bit less lost, she grabbed her cell phone and punched in a familiar number. Seth picked up on the third ring.
“What’s the matter?”
“What do you mean, ‘what’s the matter’?” she demanded. “What kind of a way is that to answer a phone? What makes you think something’s wrong?”
“’Cause it’s you calling,” he answered and Cara would have sworn she could hear the sound of a smirk in his voice. “C’mon, Cara, you just left for vacation this morning. If everything’s so great why’re you calling me, huh?”
“I dunno.” Why am I calling him, she wondered. But she knew the answer to that, didn’t she? ‘Cause I’m a loser and I’m alone in a strange place and I’m scared. And because, other than Liam, Seth was her best friend in the whole world and if he couldn’t make her feel better, nobody could. “What are you doing?”
“What am I doing,” Seth repeated after her. “Hmm, let me think. What do I usually do on Monday afternoons? I’m working, Cara. You remember work, right? That’s what people who aren’t on vacation do. So, what’s the matter, is the cop acting like a dick?”
Cara sighed. “You know, this is why you and I can never be more than friends. Because we never seem to like the same people.” Not that Seth didn’t have some grounds for being annoyed with Liam. When he was still a rookie, Liam had been assigned the task of hassling Seth over some trumped up bullshit. He’d apologized since then, but Seth had always had a hard time letting go of grudges.
“Oh, is that what it is?” Seth asked dryly. “And here I thought it was because I’m in love with someone else. But, I think you mean we don’t dislike the same people, don’t you? ‘Cause the whole ‘not liking the same people’ thing is pretty much a given, considering neither of us is gay. So, let me guess, you sprang your big surprise on Captain Courageous and he freaked out. Is that what happened?”
“No.” Cara frowned at the phone, it always annoyed her not to be taken seriously. “Would you stop it? Of course that’s not what happened. We just got to the ship a few minutes ago. I haven’t had a chance to tell him about…anything.”
“Oh. Well, good thinking. I’d definitely wait until you’re out at sea before you show him all that stuff you and Dee picked up at the sex shop. That way, if he tries to run, he’ll have no place to go but overboard.”
“Se-eth! Cut it out. You do think it’s a good idea, don’t you?”
“No.” Seth snorted. “I think it’s twisted as shit. I told you that when you first brought it up. And, you know what? If it turns out I’m wrong and it does work—I don’t want the details.”
“You know, I called you up so you could make me feel better,” Cara told him. “And, so far, it’s not working.” She should have known better. He had told her it was a lousy idea, come to think of it. When he could talk, that is. First, he’d laughed his ass off and nearly fell off the couch he’d been sitting on. And all the while his girlfriend, her mouth hanging open, her eyes all but popping out of her head, had stared at Cara like she was from another planet.
“They sell stuff like that in Oberon?” Dee asked, once she’d gotten her mouth closed. For a supposedly urban chick, she had a naive streak that was truly pitiful. “I’ll go with you to pick it out, if you want,” she offered, surprising Cara and totally surprising Seth who’d sobered up instantly, and turned to stare at her.
“You will?” he asked, suddenly appearing a whole lot more interested in the idea than he had a moment earlier…
“Well, if it’s not that,” Seth asked now, quietly, “What did happen?”
Cara sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just…well, the ship is just…so big. And there’s people everywhere and I…I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Of course, you can,” Seth insisted. “C’mon, Cara, this is me you’re talking to. When’s the last time you ever gave up on something you wanted, huh?”
When I gave up on you, she thought, but that was water under a very old bridge. “Hey, how’d you like the massage candles Dee got you?” she asked instead.
“They’re um, nice,” Seth said after a moment. “Real nice, actually. Was that your idea?”
“Nope.” Cara smiled, remembering the embarrassed look on Deirdre’s face as she studied the label on the chocolate scented body candle she’d picked up.
“Do you think Seth would like something like this?” she’d asked, her nose scrunching up a little as she sniffed gingerly.
Given your tastes, maybe you should give the vanilla ones a try, Cara thought, trying hard not to smirk. “Sure, he’ll love it,” she answered—and then caught sight of the sneaky, sideways glance Dee had trained on her. Uh-oh. “I mean, I have no idea if Seth likes any of this stuff. But, probably, right? I mean, what’s not to like?”
How weird was it that she knew so much about Seth’s likes and dislikes in bed and nothing at all about Liam’s? Really weird. And very, very sad.
“So, what are you really worried about?” Seth asked.
Of never being good enough for anyone. Of never being loved. “What if I freak out over the crowd, or something, and I embarrass him and he decides he doesn’t want to be with someone so lame?”
“Then he’s a jerk. Screw him.”
“Easy for you to say.”
Seth sighed. “Look, Cara…he cares about you, all right? And he’s good to you. I’m not even around him all that much and I can see that. Why can’t you?”
“I see it, Seth. But—”
“Then there’s no problem,” Seth said firmly. “Right?”
“Right,” she said, lying once again. Because, yes, there was a problem, thank you. And a really big one too.
For six months Liam had been there for her. Patient. Supportive. Understanding. Maybe too understanding. It only made her love him more, it only made disappointing him that much harder to bear. But six months was long enough for him to have to suffer. That’s why she’d made up her mind to give it one more try, one last attempt, one final week. This week. This trip would either mark a new beginning for the two of them, or the end of all her hopes and dreams.
She was slipping her cell phone back into her pocket when the cabin door swung open.
“Hey,” Liam said smiling as he came toward her, looking so good it hurt. Cara felt the ache all the way down to the bottom of her soul. “Everything okay in here?”
I’m going to miss you so much, Cara thought, smiling back at him. “Yep. Everything’s great.”
“Okay, well, it looks like they’ve got some kind of buffet going on upstairs. Wanna go check it out with me?”
“Sure,” she said, still smiling. “Sure, let’s go. It sounds like fun.”

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Edge of Heaven
by PG Forte

Loose Id

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60737-822-8

Welcome to the afterlife, where men are men and the angels are fallen.

Edge is an unlikely angel. Unable to atone for the sins he committed while human, he’s resigned to spending the rest of eternity in Limbo. Until he meets a miracle named Mattie.

Chapter One

Hands down, Matteo Matinucci has to be the sorriest-looking angel I’ve ever seen. And if there’s one thing I’ve seen my fair share of during my stay here in limbo, it’s disenchanted newbie angels in training. More than my fair share, if you really want to know, ’cause ever since I screwed the pooch with the special angel in charge of assignments, helping the new recruits settle in is the only work I ever seem to get.
The rookie du jour is standing on a pier at sunset, looking out over a lake, when I arrive for our meet and greet, and since it’s nowhere I’ve ever been before, I have to assume this is someplace he’s remembering. Of course, everything here is basically an illusion anyway. This isn’t really a pier, just like that’s not really the sun out there, disappearing behind the pine trees, but that’s not what’s important right now. Real or imagined, the echo of my footfalls, loud against the old wooden planks, drifts out over the still water as I amble along the boardwalk. He turns at the sound. The minute our eyes lock I know I’m in trouble.
Are those tears I’m seeing? Yep, I’m pretty sure they are, and the thought of playing damp shoulder to one of the newly departed does not improve my mood by one iota.
He shakes his hair back from his face and blinks once or twice like a man waking up from a very deep dream. A faint flush mounts his cheeks. Those glistening eyes narrow slightly. Other than that, his puppy-dog gaze never wavers as I shorten the distance between us. My steps finally falter under the weight of that unsmiling amber stare. The smile I’d plastered on my own face falls away. I clear my throat but still have trouble getting the words out with anything like my usual cool nonchalance. “Hey there. You must be Matteo.”
I’m used to my new charges looking lost and alone, used to them looking scared or confused, but this one… Damned if it doesn’t look like he’s discovered a whole new subbasement level to gut-wrenchingly distraught. The pain and longing in his expression hit me like a fist. A big part of me wants nothing more than to fold my arms around him and promise things’ll get better. Never mind that the saner parts think popping him one instead — demanding he man up and stop sniveling — would be a far better way to play this. I mean, what call’s he got to look so damned depressed? Sure, he’s dead, and I know that disappoints a lot of people, but it’s still no cause for the abject despair he’s radiating.
He’s not in hell, all right? Things could be worse.
Determined to try again. I paste my smile back in place, extend my hand. “So, Matteo, right? Or do you prefer Matt?”
“Call me Mattie,” he says, relief painting his features as he finally comes unstuck. His hair swings forward again as he lunges enthusiastically for my hand. I feel a shock of recognition when strong fingers wrap mine. He folds my hand up with both of his and hangs on for dear life. Once again our gazes collide, and I find myself staring, unable to look away.
Mostly I’m hung up on the name thing. Call him Mattie? Like hell. That’s a kid’s name. The kind of name any self-respecting guy should have outgrown by the time he turned eight. There’s a tense sensation in the pit of my belly, a spreading tightness in my chest, a sudden snugness in my jeans, and I can’t account for any of it — until the press of his fingers on mine finally registers in my brain.
Oh, holy shit. We’re holding hands? Still? Not cool.
I pry myself free and take a step back, feeling instantly a whole lot better now that I’ve put some distance between us. I shove my hands in my pockets — just to keep them out of harm’s way — take a deep breath, and try again. “Good to meet you, Matt. I’m Edge. I’m the angel assigned to help you settle in.”
Matteo looks me up and down with altogether too much warmth, igniting an interest I do not want to feel.
“You’re an angel?” There’s a fair amount of skepticism in his tone, but at least he appears to be perking up a bit. I figure that’s a good thing. “And your name is Edge? Seriously? What kind of name is that? Is it short for something?”
Can you believe this shit? I’m getting crap about my name from a guy with a handle I wouldn’t give my pet Pekingese. Not that I’d ever be caught dead with a Pekingese. No pun intended. “It’s not short for anything, all right, pal? It’s just my name.” And speaking of names, he is damned well going to have to get used to being called something other than Mattie. At least while he’s under my wing.
His eyes glimmer. A smile starts licking at the corners of his mouth. The look he’s giving me creeps me out. It’s a little too knowledgeable, a little too understanding, and far too wise for his years, which I’d put at around mid to late twenties or roughly the same age I was when I’d kicked it. The big difference between us being I’ve been stuck here on the astral for far too long. I’ve earned all of my wisdom and understanding. The hard way.
But never mind that. What I really want to know is what’s with the smile? What the hell does he have to smile about all of a sudden? And why like that?
“There’s gotta be more to it, right?” Matteo says teasingly. “So is Edge your first name? Your last name? What’s the rest of it? Come on, you can tell me. It’s not a secret, is it?”
He powers up the wattage on that damn smile until he’s wearing a look that’s 100 percent pure wickedness. It puts an unholy twinkle in his eyes. It brings his dimples out of hiding and makes it that much harder to look away.
Oh, fuck me. Is he flirting with me? Not cool at all. My chest is so constricted I can hardly get my next words out. “The name’s Edge.” I want to cringe at the sound of my own voice: husky, rasping, gravelly, thick. “Just Edge.”
The dimples deepen; so does his voice. “Edge. Just Edge,” he repeats in an uncanny imitation of my own gruff tones. “Oh, man, how double-oh adorable is that? Okay, handsome, I’ll bite. What do I have to do to get you to tell me the rest of it?”
“There is no rest of it.” Edge had been my surname in life — you can blame my great-grandfather and the good folks at Ellis Island for that one. In death… Let’s just say it’s the only name I care to use. “Let’s change the subject, shall we? You’ve probably already figured out I’m here to teach you the ropes, right?”
“Ooh, ropes.” Matteo’s eyes light up. He smiles eagerly. “Sounds kinky. Are we talking Shibari or straight-up bondage?”
“What did you say?”
“Sorry, Master Edge. Yes, please, sir, teach me about ropes.”
“All right, that’s enough.” I know it’s my own fault. I just had to go and mention ropes, didn’t I? But all the same… Shit, I cannot believe he went there. For a moment, I’m lost in the imagery his words have conjured. My face starts to flame. My guts get so twisted up with shame I think I’m gonna puke. “You cut the crap right now. You hear me, kid? Just shut the fuck up.”
Matteo’s head snaps back, and I don’t think he’d look any more surprised if I slapped him in the face with a dead fish. His smile dissolves. The tears reappear. “Sorry,” he mutters, glancing away, gazing out over the water again.
He’s looking and sounding just as miserably unhappy as he was when I first showed up, and I’m ready to put my fist through a wall. Crap. I rake my fingers through my hair, stare at him in frustrated silence. I’m unable to think of a single thing to say. Which is more than I can say for Mr. Sunshine here. Figures the guy would be a talker.
“Oh, hey, look, man, I’m sorry, all right? I-I didn’t mean anything by it, I swear. I just thought maybe… Oh, shit. This is real. Isn’t it? I mean, it’s really happening? It’s not a dream? I was hoping –”
“Yeah, it’s real, all right.” As his words register, my fists unclench. He thought he was dreaming? Well, that explains a few things, doesn’t it? It’s an understandable mistake. Apparently, it feels like that for a lot of us at first. It seems no one’s ever happy to get the news their lives have ended, but their issues remain.
So okay. No reason to freak out. Guy was simply in denial for a minute there. I guess I’m cool with that. That’s something I can deal with, something I can understand. Something I have a much more than passing acquaintance with myself, if you really want to know. And now that we’ve gotten that straightened out, maybe we can get ourselves back on track and get down to business.
It’s kind of a compliment, you know? I should probably be feeling all sorts of flattered that he’d accepted me so readily as part of his horny fantasy, his own personal dream angel. I smile to show him there’s no hard feelings. “Baby, this here is about as real as it gets.”
Baby? The word hangs in the ether between us. Now who needs a punch in the mouth, huh? Just where in the hell did that come from?
Matteo seems not to have noticed the endearment. “I just… I can’t believe I’m dead,” he says, his voice a sad little whisper. “I didn’t really get a chance to do…anything. And now it’s over. It’s really, truly over?”
There’s a question mark at the end of his last sentence — I can hear it — and I know we’re not quite out of the denial woods yet. Reaching over, I pat his shoulder consolingly, ignoring the urge to really, truly pull him in for a quick hug instead. “Sucks, don’t it? But don’t you worry. It’s gonna be okay, you know? We’ll put you straight in no time.”
“Straight?” Matteo gives me a watery smile. “Never really thought of that as an option.”
“That’s not… Shit. I didn’t mean…”
“I know. I was just kidding.” But there’s no amusement in his gaze. I feel my throat begin to close up again. “Thank you…Edge.”
“Not necessary,” I answer quickly — while I can still speak. “I’m just doing my job.”

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