Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Jax Garren’s Jolie, Hauk and Brayden from How Beauty Met the Beast.
Scarred. Damaged. Living with a terrible secret. Agent of the Underlight Wesley “Hauk” Haukon has nothing left but the fight for liberty against the oppressive Order of Ananke. He’s starting to lose hope…and then he sees her.
Despite her night job as a burlesque dancer, Grad student Jolie Benoit has always played the mostly good girl. That all changes following a scorching sexual encounter with a stranger whose face she doesn’t see. After she’s kidnapped by thugs, and rescued by a man with a familiar voice, Jolie becomes a pawn in a struggle she never knew existed.
Hauk knows he cannot have her, and resolves to protect his heart and his secrets. But as they work together and grow closer, he finds a new reason to keep fighting. Dare he risk hope in a new life, one where Jolie can see past his ravaged face and where their friendship can grow into something more?
How the Beast Survived an Afternoon at the Mall
Blinking lights, scrolling images and animatronic reindeer crowded every shop window. Pop stars, autotuned to in-key perfection, crooned about goodwill and tinsel over scratching speakers. The mall was packed with aggressive shoppers vying for their factory-pressed plastic or poly-blend garment of choice.
Ex-Staff Sargent Wesley Haukon pulled his gray hoodie further over his burn-scarred face as he leaned over the second floor railing and hoped for a glimpse of long red hair. “I can’t believe you got me into a mall two days before Christmas. No mission is worth this.”
His best friend Brayden winked at some pretty boy across the gap as he opened his laptop. “Yeah, my retinas are burning, too. I swear, the world gets brighter, blinky-er and bleaker every year.”
“That’s not what I meant.” As a wanted felon, Hauk rarely got out into public; his wrecked face and six-seven frame made it impossible to lay low. And he freaked people out. Despite the mall’s manic vibe, he didn’t want to ruin someone’s day.
Brayden’s eyes stayed on the screen as his fingers raced across the keyboard. “I know. Convincing you was shockingly easy, though. I said, ‘mumble mumble Jolie Benoit,’ and you followed me.”
Hauk shifted irritably. Brayden had said a little more than that. They were here so his hacker buddy could use the mall’s intranet to break into a computer. He didn’t remember why that was important, but at least half the time Brayden hacked into something he had a morally legit reason. Hopefully this was one of those times.
Like usual, Hauk had come to make sure his friend didn’t get his scrawny ass whooped. Unlike usual, they weren’t hanging in the shadows. Hauk should’ve listened better, but he had, indeed, been distracted by—
There. Red curls bounced with her laughter as Jolie and two other members of her burlesque company wound through the crowd. Like each time he’d seen her, Hauk’s breath caught. He’d been head over boots for the woman since he first saw her perform a couple weeks ago. It hadn’t been the lack of clothing that had hooked him—though that had been a treat for the eyes. No, it was the strength in her voice, her joy when she danced and the confidence she exuded.
Her face tilted up, scanning the level where he and Brayden were camped.
“Jolie knows we’re here, right?”
“I told her exactly where we’d be.”
Her gaze caught Hauk’s. He couldn’t see the color of her eyes from his vantage, but he knew they were vivid green. He also knew her pale skin was dotted with light freckles. And her figure… even her bulky coat couldn’t hide that slim but curvy perfection.
He made sure his mouth was closed and gave her a lazy salute.
A smile burst across her face bright enough to outshine the holiday lights surrounding them. Among all the reasons to like Jolie, his favorite was that even from the beginning, she never looked at him like he was a monster. They were friends, and he was okay with things remaining that way. Mostly okay. But he’d sure like to find ways to spend more time with his new friend of the glorious smile and smoking-hot ass.
She said something to her companions and jogged toward the staircase. He clenched the railing. Joining him in an illegal and potentially dangerous situation was not a way they should spend more time together. He smacked Brayden’s shoulder. “Did you tell her we were pulling a job?”
“Ow. And yes.”
“Then why’s she coming this way?”
He shrugged. “I think she likes you.”
“But we’re on a job.”
Brayden looked up enough to smile past Hauk’s hip. “Afternoon, Red Hots!” he called.
“Red Hots?” Hauk mouthed.
Brayden lowered his voice. “It’s just a nickname. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. She’s all yours.”
Hauk could only wish. He forced a smile (little good it did his ugly carcass) and turned to see her approach. She ruffled Brayden’s hair.
“Watch the do,” he joked, already back to his computer.
She snorted a laugh and turned to Hauk. “Stop me now if you don’t want a hug.” Her arms opened, questioning. When he didn’t immediately protest, she wrapped them around his torso.
His spine went rigid. Most people kept their distance, and he’d gotten used to having a wide bubble. That was okay with him. After the fire had ravaged his skin—not just his face, eighty-two percent of his body had been affected—touching felt different.
But Jolie had always treated him just like she did everybody else, poking fingers, flirtatious speech and now hugging. Strange and uncomfortable as it was, he found he liked being just like everyone else. At least with her.
He patted her softly on the back, unsure anymore what was appropriate, but loving the warm softness of her body pressed against his. She pulled away too quickly and yet not soon enough for his strung-out nerves.
“Good to see you out and about,” she teased.
He slid his gaze to Brayden’s laptop. “I’m not usually quite so…”
“Public?” she filled in.
“As soon as Brayden told me, I had to come see for myself.” She scrunched her face up. Damn, it was cute. “I haven’t been in a mall since high school. I don’t remember them being quite this…” She searched for the right word.
“Loud and annoying?” he supplied.
She nodded. “God-awfully so.”
The back of his neck tingled a warning. Bad intentions were in the vicinity. And Jolie was right here. He pivoted, putting her between him and the railing where he could keep her safe.
But nothing was heading their way.
“Um, thanks for looking out for me,” Brayden said, still typing away. Hauk ignored him. He could watch out for the both of them from his position.
“What’s wrong?” Jolie asked. She didn’t look afraid, but he could hear the tension in her voice. His little band of anarchists had enemies a plenty, many of them deadly. He’d met Jolie when she’d gotten into a nasty tangle with some of them.
“You’re safe with me,” he assured her, still scanning for the trouble.
“Purse snatcher,” she said, pointing.
Petty theft? Such mundane crime hadn’t dawned on him. But sure enough, a kid in a hoodie a lot like his own was honing in on a group of women. Hauk didn’t want to hurt an adolescent, but he couldn’t let a purse-snatching happen right in front of him. He marched over and yanked on the back of the kid’s jacket.
Without looking, the idiot turned and swung.
Hauk grabbed the wildly off-target fist. The kid’s eyes were dilated; he was high on something. When he got a load of Hauk’s face his aggression morphed into terror. Hauk leaned in and growled, “You want a piece of me, kid? I don’t think so. Go home and sleep it off.” He let go with a little shove.
The kid ran.
“Look at you, Mr. Heroic,” Jolie teased in that sultry voice of hers.
Pride might’ve put a little swagger in his step as he turned back to her, but he shrugged, feigning unconcern. “Scaring people off is my forte.”
She frowned, her smooth brow furrowing in thought.
“You’re really good at fighting, though. When you have to.”
“Yeah,” he said warily. Not everybody approved of the ability to dish out violence, even when the situation called for it.
“I’d like to learn. Would you consider teaching me?”
He took a breath, surprised. “I’m not sure—”
She put a hand up to stop his protest. “Two and a half weeks ago I got attacked. You saved me, and I can’t express how grateful I am. But I’d like to be able to defend myself. I shouldn’t be too hard to teach. I’m athletic. I can move.”
Having seen her dance, he well knew that. The woman had the strength to do a muscle-up on an unstable object and a high kick that brushed her cheek. She’d be a downright pleasure to teach for those reasons alone. And then there was his stupid crush. Besides, everyone—especially every woman—could benefit from basic self-defense skills. He was in.
“I’d pay you, of course,” she continued. “But I’d like to learn quickly. How many times a week could you meet? If you’re interested, I mean.”
“Every day.” The words left his mouth before he realized how over-eager they might sound. She probably didn’t mean that often. He cleared his throat. “I mean, like I told you before, I have a pretty flexible schedule. So whatever works best for you I can probably work around.” By “probably” he meant, “you say when and where and I’ll get my ass there.”
Gods, he had it bad.
“Thanks! That would be awesome. I can do Monday through Friday in the mornings. I’ll bring coffee.” She clapped her hands together once, getting into the idea.
The one which involved them hanging out a lot. Anticipation, unaccustomed and cheerful, stuttered through him.
“How much do I owe you per week?”
She was loaded and could afford whatever he said, but he waved his hand in dismissal. “Nah. It’s cool. I don’t want your money.” If she wasn’t paying, it was just them working out together, friendly-like.
“Oh, no. I can’t let you do that.”
He crossed his arms. “Then you can find somebody else. You’re not paying me.” He was taking a risk that she’d turn him down, so he grinned and added, “Besides, I don’t pay for your shows.” Her troupe performed in an old electric company with lots of places to hide, and the company manager was a friend of his.
His statement got the laugh he wanted. “Okay. But as soon as you realize you’re being horribly taken advantage of, you let me know and I’ll include back pay.”
Brayden slapped his laptop closed, signaling that the job was done. They’d be leaving soon.
Jolie looked over the railing at her waiting friends. “I should probably get back. We’re heading to rehearsal soon.” She poked Hauk on the shoulder, teasing him again. This time his usual flinch was easy to curb. “I take it you’ll be at Friday’s show?”
“Yup.” His grin widened. “You got the costume I requested?”
More laughter. Gods, he loved that sound. “You’ll have to be there to find out. Shall we start our workouts tomorrow? Or do you need time to rearrange—”
“Tomorrow’s great.” He’d just interrupted her. Whoops. But she didn’t look offended. They agreed on a time and place, and with a wink she sauntered toward the stairs.
He couldn’t help watching her perfectly muscled ass sway with each step. It was even harder not to think of how much physical contact a self-defense class involved. He tugged his hoodie tighter around his face. It would be a lot of touching that he wasn’t used to.
Impersonal, professional touching exclusively for the purpose of instruction. He could and would keep it that way. It was still a huge deal, and not just because it would be with Jolie Benoit.
“Ready to go?” Brayden asked as he stood, laptop bag already slung over his shoulder.
Hauk nodded, lost in thought, and wondered what he’d gotten himself into. On the floor below, Jolie disappeared back into the crush of people. But now he didn’t have to wonder when he’d see her again. He straightened his spine, determined to ignore the frightened and curious stares as they left. There was someone out there who could face him every day. Who could touch him without fear. Who liked him for who he was and what he could do. It was enough.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was a beginning.
Meet Jax Garren!
Jax Garren is descended from Valkyries and Vikings (she’s part Swedish) but was raised a small town girl in the Texas Hill Country. She graduated from The University of Texas with a degree in English and a minor in Latin then found her own Happily Ever After with a handsome engineer who is saving the world through clean energy technology. Jax loves meeting new people, so if you see her out and about say hello! She’s always happy to raise a glass with her readers (or anyone else) to toast courage, adventure and love.
Want to purchase Jax’s novels?
The Tales of the Underlight
- How Beauty Met the Beast
- How Beauty Saved the Beast (February 11, 2013)
- How Beauty Loved the Beast (May 2013)
Please help spread the word: Tweet: Celebrate the madness with 32 authors while #giveaways ensue during #BlackFriday (Nov23-Dec24) http://tinyurl.com/LEBlackFriday2012 #paranormal #fantasy
Thank you Jax for taking part in Literary Escapism’s Black Friday!
Jax is giving away an ecopy of How Beauty Met the Beast or How Beauty Saved the Beast – winner’s choice! To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: What do you think Brayden was up to? Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered.
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
All Black Friday contests will remain open until December 31st at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have. Have you checked out the other Black Friday contests yet? Check out the Master List to see all the Black Friday giveaways
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.