The Reinvention of Jinx Howell, Book 5 Pine Bluff Novels

✦ The Pine Bluff Novels are interconnected but can be read as stand alone books.✦

Hiding behind her wigs and heavy makeup, Jinx Howell masks her insecurities—which even she doesn’t understand—with bravado, slashing through life with reckless abandon. Lonely, but unwilling to get close to anyone, she finds the ideal solution: a hook-up with the campus’s most notorious heartbreaker.

In similar fashion, Mark “Two-Time” MacGregor protects his heart and keeps himself unencumbered through a string of one-night stands. A chance meeting with the edgy Jinx in a dark alley seems like destiny. She claims to want sex with no ties, making her perfect. Like attracts like. But this girl with a switchblade has more hang-ups than he does, which is a hell of a lot.

When tragedy strikes, Mark’s hit-and-run lifestyle takes a backseat to his need to protect the broken girl whose secrets are unraveling. Along the way, both of them will find their truths unmasked. Can they forge a real relationship, or will they give up on their romance as jinxed?

Now available ➜

FREE READ! The Resurrection of Dylan McAthie


At seventeen, music legend Dylan McAthie ran away from his Alabama home to chase his dreams. Years later, he’s forced to return—coming full circle to escape the nightmare his life has become. Hounded by paparazzi and plagued by the aftermath of personal and professional loss, Dylan craves some quiet anonymity so he can regroup and sort out what lies ahead.

Hired by his estranged brother, Jennifer Adams knows exactly who Dylan is. She grew up next door to his family and has followed his career. But the surly, overbearing man she’s caring for as a private-duty nurse is far from the charming boy she remembers. Nevertheless, she’s determined to be professional, do a good job—and not fail at her first time getting away from home.

As her patient heals, his demeanor softens, and their interactions grow less antagonistic. Soon their chemistry is undeniable—and inappropriate—leaving the inexperienced Jennifer thoroughly confused. Adding to the turmoil, scandal finds Dylan once again, threatening all the progress he’s made and putting Jennifer at risk as collateral damage.

It’s up to Dylan to fix what his fame has so easily broken and find a way to move forward with his life. But will his resurrection mean the death of any relationship with Jennifer?




The Reinvention of Jinx Howell Cover Reveal

You met Mark and Jinx in Book 4… now you can read their story!

Hiding behind her wigs and heavy makeup, Jinx Howell masks her insecurities—which even she doesn’t understand—with bravado, slashing through life with reckless abandon. Lonely, but unwilling to get close to anyone, she finds the ideal solution: a hook-up with the campus’s most notorious heartbreaker.

In similar fashion, Mark “Two-Time” MacGregor protects his heart and keeps himself unencumbered through a string of one-night stands. A chance meeting with the edgy Jinx in a dark alley seems like destiny. She claims to want sex with no ties, making her perfect. Like attracts like. But this girl with a switchblade has more hang-ups than he does, which is a hell of a lot.

When tragedy strikes, Mark’s hit-and-run lifestyle takes a backseat to his need to protect the broken girl whose secrets are unraveling. Along the way, both of them will find their truths unmasked. Can they forge a real relationship, or will they give up on their romance as jinxed?

💋 Add to your TBR List here!

Kenzie’s Christmas Wish

Kenzie’s Christmas Wish

“Kenzie, it’s time for bed,” David said.

“No, Daddy. I’m busy.”

David sighed. “Busy doing what? Don’t you want to put the cookies we made today out for Santa?”

His daughter had her face pressed to the window. She was wearing her fairy wings.

“I’m waiting for Santa to bring me my present.”

“We’ve already talked about this, Kenz. It doesn’t work like that. Nothing will happen until after you go to sleep.”

“I want to wait on my present. It’s my Christmas wish. I asked Santa at the mall,” she stated matter-of-factly.

How does one argue with an almost five-year-old who believes in Santa?

“I know, but Santa can only pack so much in his sleigh.” It was a weak defense at best. David sighed, knowing he was going to be dealing with an impending disaster. Maybe he should call his mother and ask her what to do. Surely with two kids and two other grandchildren, she’d know how to handle this. How do you explain that Santa can’t perform miracles?

“But Daddy, tomorrow is my birthday, too. And I want my mama.”

David scrubbed his face, not wanting to dash her dreams.

“Come here, Kenzie.” David placed the cookies and milk on the coffee table and sat on the sofa. “Your mama loves you. But she can’t be here—”

Reluctantly, his daughter left the window and crawled into his lap. “You have to believe, Daddy.”

“I do, Kenz, but—”

“No buts, Daddy. She kissed him. “It will happen. Santa will bring me my mama.”

“Yes, but…” his voice trailed off. If he told her that her Christmas wish wasn’t going to come true, she’d go to bed upset. Feeling like a coward for not being straight up with her, he sighed and held her tight.

Christmas hymns played in the background and the Christmas tree lights blinked on and off. It was the season of hope and miracles, but he was also a realist. In the garage in a tote were the presents he’d place under the tree in a few hours. After that, he’d eat the cookies and drink the milk. He had all night to come up with a reasonable explanation why Kenzie didn’t get her birthday and Christmas wish. Parenting was so damn hard at times.

It was cold in the room and he pulled the afghan off the back of the couch and wrapped it around her. He’d wanted to build a fire, but she’d worried about Santa coming down the chimney.

“Tell me about when I was born Daddy,” Kenzie said with a yawn.

He’d told her the story a million times. The miracle of meeting her mother on Christmas Eve. But it was one of his favorite stories, too. So he told it to her again and her eyes grew heavy.

“She’ll be here…” she murmured, falling asleep.

He held his precious gift, not wanting to let go just yet. He closed his eyes, waiting for her to be sound asleep before he’d put her to bed…

“Merry Christmas.”

Warm lips kissed his and surprised, he opened his eyes and smiled. Underneath a red Santa hat, Emma’s hazel eyes stared at him full of love.

“Mama!” Kenzie squealed. David grunted when she stood on his crotch to lunge for her mother.

Emma laughed, hugging their daughter tight. “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Kenzie!”

“See Daddy? I told you Santa would bring her! And he ate the cookies and drank the milk!”

David stood up, rubbing his eyes. The packages were under the tree and the smell of coffee drifted from the kitchen. He glanced at the clock over the mantel. It was one in the morning. Christmas morning.

“How did you get here, Em? We were supposed to pick you up at the airport later this afternoon.”

Emma had flown to Washington to meet with legislators regarding human trafficking. Because of weather issues, her flight had been delayed until this afternoon.

“It’s a Christmas miracle,” she replied with a kiss that tasted of Christmas cookie sugar.

“I told you, Daddy. You have to believe. I knew Santa would bring Mama home.”

David hugged and kissed both of his girls. “Yes, you did.”

They opened presents and just before dawn, Kenzie crawled into her bed hugging her dog Mollie and her new Barbie doll. Emma tucked her in and kissed her forehead. “You have always been mine and Daddy’s favorite Christmas gift, Kenzie. Happy Birthday, my sweet girl Catch a nap. Your grandparents will be here this afternoon and we’ll have red velvet cake.”

Turning out the light, he and Emma retired to their bedroom. “I still don’t know how you did this,” he murmured, cupping her beautiful face in his hands.

Emma finger combed his hair. “After I called to tell you the flight had been cancelled, I couldn’t help it, I started crying.”

“Oh, honey. I tried to book you another flight. I even called Dylan to see if he could arrange something, but even his money couldn’t get you on a plane this late in the game,” David admitted. He’d hated asking Dylan but had put his pride aside for Kenzie’s sake. “So how did you do it?”

She smiled. “Santa.”

“No, really. Tell me.”

“I’m telling you, it was Santa.” Emma pulled her phone from her pocket. “I told him you wouldn’t believe me, so we took a picture.”

His mouth dropped when he looked at the picture of Emma with an older gentleman with a long white beard and hair. While he had on a red plaid flannel shirt, he also had on a red Santa hat. And it was obvious they were at an airport.

“Santa gave me his hat. And his ticket. Now do you believe?”

David laughed . “I believe I do. Merry Christmas, Emma.”

“Merry Christmas, David.”

©2018 Nancee Cain

Interested in reading how David Patterson met Emma Devine?


After the upheaval of being dumped by his girlfriend, David Patterson leads a quiet life as a high school teacher in the small Southern town of Pine Bluff, Alabama. Soon to enroll in seminary, his dreams are within his grasp.

But a chance encounter with Emma Devine changes everything. She’s on the run, desperate, and surviving by any means possible. His pastor’s heart longs to help her—and the rest of him is rather intrigued as well.

His random act of kindness brings them together, but Emma makes an unfathomable decision—one that threatens to destroy two lives, though her intention is to save one.

Four years later, Emma returns, seeking redemption. But can David—whose dreams took a very different course after their last meeting—forgive her and risk losing everything?


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The Redirection of Damien Sinclair

Title: The Redirection of Damien Sinclair
A Pine Bluff Novel, Book 4

Sometimes you get what you need.

Damien Sinclair has witnessed more than his share of love’s ugly aftermath—first as a child of quarreling parents and these days as an acclaimed divorce attorney. His solution? Control. From his immaculate, organized penthouse to his monochromatic wardrobe to his refusal to let anyone get too close, Damien is master of all he sees… Or so he thinks. Then an attempt on his life leaves him struggling with PTSD.

Free-spirited Harley Taylor, Damien’s childhood friend and a one-time fling, arrives on his doorstep, having appointed herself his caregiver. She’s his polar opposite and hell bent on redirecting his life. And if somehow that life might expand to include her for the long term, even better. Either way, the man needs to learn not to take himself so seriously. If that involves a prank or two, so be it.

Interacting for the first time in a decade, Harley and Damien find their attraction still smoldering. But to what end? Is Harley the shot of color Damien needs to disperse the black cloud that plagues him? Or are they destined to destroy each other all over again?

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The Resurrection of Dylan McAthie is 
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The Pine Bluff Novels SALE!

Have you started the Pine Bluff Novels? These are stand alone, small town contemporary romance stories. BUT, they are a lot more fun if read in order because characters interact in the other books! On Friday, 4/27/19 The Rehabilitation of Angel Sinclair releases.

¸.•´¸.•*´¨)✯ ¸.•♫¨)

After a near-death accident—not to mention the death of his musical career—Dylan McAthie finds himself in the care of a private-duty nurse. He’s hoping she’s the naughty kind, but his brother hired her, so she’s probably an old battleax. Turns out Jennifer Adams is neither; she’s the one who will rock his world.


✿¸.•´¸✿*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
Sometimes a chance encounter is Devine… One random act of kindness brings two people together under unusual circumstances. Four years later, Emma returns, seeking redemption. Can David forgive her and risk losing everything?


AND YOU CAN PRE-ORDER the next book!



Graffiti artist Angel Sinclair plans to hit Pine Bluff, make amends and move on… until he meets Maggie Robertson. The chemistry between them is as combustible as one of his cannons. Do age differences matter? Or does love conquer all¾if it’s written on the wall?


Relationship Tips from Three Very Different Angels

Remi: *lights a cigarette* Okay, so this is easy. Keep it real. Laugh a lot. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Grab life by the balls (even better if your girl does that) *laughs* and keep a pack of smokes for those times she annoys the fuck out of you, but always forgive and move on. Life’s too short not to give love your all.

Rafe: Tell her she’s beautiful, bring her flowers, stand by her no matter what and keep a sense of humor during the tough times. I think it’s important she knows through your actions that she’s the most important thing in the world to you. And protect her at all costs. *glares at Luc*

Luc: *Rolls eyes and shakes head* You two are losers. Sex, hot nasty, ear-piercing screaming sex. Let her think she’s in control, but know you are. Give her the world. More hot, nasty sex. Maybe a smack on her ass. And never, ever let her scream “Oh God” when she orgasms. That’s a downer, in more ways that one.

©Nancee Cain

Previously published here:

¸.•´¸.•*´¨)✯ ¸.•*¨)

She’s hell bent on ending her life; he’s heaven sent to save her. But, there’s a catch. God’s rogue angel must complete the task disguised as a priest. A forbidden passion ignites, love unfolds and meddlesome angels from above attempt to intervene. Will Remiel’s love save Evangeline or cause them both to be lost forever?


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Jo Sanford’s in love with her HOT boss, Luc DeVille. Her guardian angel, Rafe Goodman, is in love with her. Caught in the middle of a battle between good and evil, Jo finds the closer she gets to the fire, the hotter it burns. When love battles lust, Heaven and Hell collide and leads to one helluva love triangle.


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✮ (¸•´🔥 LOVING LILI 🔥

Fallen angel Luc DeVille shares a long history with Lili Nix. In the past, their lovemaking has been hot and dirty, their break ups nasty and epic. Being in this world, but not of this world, is a lonely business. Can two lost angels connect and make it last this time?


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Getting To Know Luc DeVille

I’m honored The Author Files recently did an “interview” with one of my characters.

I enter the office of Luc DeVille and it’s much different than I anticipated, given his reputation. The furniture is modern, with clean lines, and a bank of windows letting in the sun.

Mr. DeVille smirks. “Expecting a dungeon with sconces, whips and chains, love?”

TAF: “No, not at all.” How did he know?

I perch on the offered chair. Instead of sitting behind his massive desk, he leans his back against it, facing me. A typical power-play. I’d expect nothing less from this powerful man.

TAF: “I’m here to interview you for The Author Files. It says here you’re an astute businessman with immense power and influence over all of humankind.”

Boredom spreads across his handsome features and he glances at his watch. His piercing blue gaze meets mine, and I get the distinct idea I need to hurry.

TAF: “That seems kind of vague, but I have instructions that you won’t answer questions about the nature of your business. So, um, who is your favorite singer and song?”

Luc: “Which century?”

TAF: “Century?” I squeak.

Luc: “Robert Johnson, ‘Crossroad Blues.’”

TAF: “Oh, I didn’t expect that. Isn’t he the musician who supposedly sold his soul to the devil? Is it because of his influence on modern music?”

Mr. DeVille simply smiles, and drums the desk with his fingers.

TAF: “Favorite color?”

Luc: “Red.”

TAF: “Sign?”

Luc: “Yield.”

TAF: “Yield? That’s not a horoscope sign.”

Luc: “We’re not talking about sex?” He chuckles and winks.

TAF: “Have you ever had a favorite pet? Or currently own one?”

Luc: “Yes, an angelic girl with a fiery temper and quick wit.”

TAF: I choke. “You have a human as a pet?”

Luc: “Do I strike you as the type to have a warm fuzzy little animal?”

TAF: “N-no, sir, but a human?”

The corners of his perfect mouth lift.

Luc: “Did I say she was human? I guess an answer more in line with your boring question, is yes, I have a demon hound named Black Shuck.”

I blink, but move on.

TAF: “Who is your favorite superhero (or heroine)? It can be from a comic book, movie, novel, cartoon, video game or anywhere else heroes reign.”

Luc: “I find heroes boring. Loki is mildly amusing.”

TAF: “I like Loki, too. Um, you finally have an evening free to spend any way you want. Money is no object. Where do you go? What would you do?”

Luc: “That’s a ridiculous question. Nothing ever gets in the way of my pleasure because I have all the money in the world. I’m fond of warm places like Bora Bora. I’ll leave it to your imagination how I’d spend my time, but trust me, it won’t be alone.”

My mouth is as dry as cotton when I look into his eyes. Did flames just flicker there? I should’ve eaten before doing this interview.  I think my blood sugar must be tanking.

TAF: “What do you think your greatest weakness is?”

Luc laughs. “Weakness? Weakness is for do-gooders. I’m evil incarnate, love.”

TAF: “But everyone has a weakness.”

Mr. DeVille’s attention shifts for a split second to a photograph on his desk. In it is a beautiful red-headed woman standing on a beach wearing a red dress. But he remains silent.

TAF: “What do you think is your greatest attribute?”

Luc: “The ability to read through bullshit. So, tell me, what do you really want to ask me?”

TAF: “Well your business is off limits. Cut me some slack, I’m doing the best I can. Do you have any regrets in life? What are they?”

Luc: “Living with regrets is a waste of time.” Again, he shoots a pensive glance toward the picture. “However, this interview might turn in to one.”

TAF: “Who is she?” I blurt, going off script.

Mr. DeVille smiles. “Ah, the first genuine question of the day. She’s off topic. Next.”

TAF: “Why? What is she to you?”

Luc: “Do you have difficulty understanding English? Next,” he snaps, folding his arms.

The heat in the room has risen by at least ten degrees. My heart pounds and sweat trickles down my back. Danger now hangs thick in the air, but I bravely move on with the next question.

TAF: “What is something no one knows about you and why do you keep it a secret?”

Luc: “Do I look like the type to reveal secrets?”

I shake my head wondering if I should just stop the interview and leave.

Mr. DeVille sighs. “Okay. I’ll give you this one. I hate enclosed spaces.”

TAF: “What is your favorite possession and why?”

Luc: “Go back to the favorite pet question. Same answer.”

TAF: “Is that her? Is she your pet?” I point at the picture.

His demeanor is now glacial, and his eyes burn the color blue you find in a lit match. My gut tells me to back off, and I go back to my mapped-out questions.

TAF: “What is your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?”

Luc: “Stay in, stay dry and torture my partner with slow, intense love making until we lose count of our orgasms.”

That mental image makes me cross my legs. Focus! I return to my questions.

TAF: “Do you get along with your parents?”

Luc: Laughs. “The Boss? I respect Him but don’t necessarily like Him.”

TAF: “Do you have any bad habits?”

Luc: “There are those who say I am a bad habit.”

TAF: “Do you own your company? Is it your dream job?”

Luc laughs. “Yes, I have the dream job. I pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want to. And the perks are incredible. Let’s just say it’s owned by family.”

TAF: “If you could cure one disease. Which one would you cure?”

Luc: “Infertility.”

He leaps to his feet, straightening his cuffs, seeming uncomfortable with his answer. He walks around his desk and sits, signaling he wants this interview to end.

TAF: “That’s not a typical answer. Can you elaborate?”

Luc: “Our time is up; do you have one last question?”

TAF: “Do you exercise or are you a couch potato?”

Luc: “I exercise extreme patience when dealing with mundane questions.”

I sigh. This interview has totally bombed. I haven’t learned much that I didn’t already know before I arrived. I’m pretty sure the red-haired woman in the photo is the key. I’ll have to do some research on my own.

His phone rings and he answers with a clipped, “Hello.”

To my surprise, his face softens into the first genuine smile I’ve seen since I entered his office.

Luc: “Hold on. I’m concluding an interview and then I can give you my undivided attention.”

He looks pointedly at me and I pick up my things and nod a thank you. As I’m leaving, he returns to his conversation. I linger just a moment longer before closing the door behind me.

Luc: “Lili.”

He’s breathed her name as if it’s something sacred, divine, a prayer, even. “Miss me, darling? I was just thinking of you. It’s been a minute since we’ve had a vacation. Let’s go someplace warm where you can run around naked, with your long red hair loose…”

Who is she?

✮ (¸•´🔥 LOVING LILI 🔥

Their lovemaking is hot and dirty. Their break ups are nasty and epic.

Tired of taking the blame for every wicked thing that happens on earth, fallen angel Luc DeVille decides to write a tell-all-book exposing The Boss.

Sharing a long and passionate history, Luc is shocked when Lili Nix arrives to interview for the job as editor. Immediately the verbal sparring begins, but the sexual chemistry remains combustible. Fascinated by this heavenly creature, Luc changes his game plan. After all, she’s the only angel who has ever held his attention and understood his intentions.

Being in this world, but not of this world, is a lonely business. Can two lost angels connect and make it last this time?


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This story was previously published in the Haunted By Love anthology and is now available as a stand alone novella.


Burnt Toast, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, and Love

I recently visited Betty Bolte’s Musings and shared this post for her Tasty Tuesday Blog.

In my book, The Redemption of Emma Devine, Emma is not known for her culinary skills. As a matter of fact, burnt toast is her specialty and a grilled cheese sandwich highlights her inadequacies. Who among us hasn’t made a mess of the simplest thing? Enjoy!


Emma’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Place two pieces of toast in toaster.

Give in to the whining of the four-year-old who wants to help.

Caution her that the grater is sharp.

Push the button on the toaster.

Get sidetracked by a dog who needs to go outside to do her business.

Calm the hysterical four-year-old after she’s grated her finger along with the cheese while “helping.”

Throw the bloody cheese out, place a band-aid on the injured finger, kiss away the tears, thank the four-year-old for her help, and suggest she go find her father.

Mentally wonder if there is any beer in the fridge.

Remove the burnt toast from the toaster, ready to toss it in the garbage and start over.

Have second thoughts when the father yells from the living area, “Is supper ready?”

Place burnt toast on a plate teepee style and offer it to the father who has been oblivious to the chaos while he watches a ballgame.

David’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Send frazzled mom to take a warm bubble bath.

Let dog in and instruct four-year-old to feed the dog and pick up her mess to keep everyone out of the doghouse.

Heat heavy cast iron skillet.

Cut off crusts.

Thinly spread one side of each bread with butter.

Skip the grated cheese and unwrap the pre-made cheese slice.

Thinly spread the other side of the bread with mayo and place mayo side down in pan. Throw on the cheese and when it is halfway melted, flip the other piece of bread on top and press lightly.

Remove from heat and cut in four triangles to prevent fit from four-year-old.

Allow four-year-old to eat in the den watching TV, knowing the dog will eat half.

Take an ice-cold beer to the frazzled mom in the bathroom, offer to scrub her back and enjoy the rest of the evening.

© Nancee Cain, 2018


A Pine Bluff Novel

After the upheaval of being dumped by his girlfriend, David Patterson leads a quiet life as a high school teacher in the small Southern town of Pine Bluff, Alabama. Soon to enroll in seminary, his dreams are within his grasp.

But a chance encounter with Emma Devine changes everything. She’s on the run, desperate, and surviving by any means possible. His pastor’s heart longs to help her—and the rest of him is rather intrigued as well.

His random act of kindness brings them together, but Emma makes an unfathomable decision—one that threatens to destroy two lives, though her intention is to save one.

Four years later, Emma returns, seeking redemption. But can David—whose dreams took a very different course after their last meeting—forgive her and risk losing everything?



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*Video Trailers:


Jo’s Christmas Present, A Tempting Jo Bonus Scene (Prequel)


The office Christmas party is in full swing, complete with one drunken moron copying his butt on the copier. In the corner, I spot Tweedle Ditz and Tweedle Dumb hanging all over our boss like cheap tinsel on a Christmas tree. To my dismay, Mr. DeVille doesn’t seem to mind one bit. I catch him leering at the twins’ inappropriate, low-cut blouses. My mood darkens. Just once, I wish he’d look at me like that. At least I can add two plus two. Working together, I doubt the twins could count to fifteen. But with boobs like theirs, I guess they don’t need to. I’m not proud of my jealousy, but it is what it is.

For lack of anything else to do, I focus on removing Atticus’s white fur from my black, claw-picked sweater. I’m the only one not drinking and I fit in this party atmosphere like a preacher on Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras. Having grown up with an alcoholic father and pill-popping mother, I’m uncomfortable in situations like this.

Mr. DeVille approaches and I stand up straighter, my heart racing. His crooked Santa hat looks strangely out of place on my GQ-handsome boss. Resisting the urge to straighten it, instead, I bat my fake eyelashes and pray the toilet paper I stuffed into my bra doesn’t fall out.

“Something in your eye? Having fun, Friday? Need a drink?” He lifts his glass of champagne. I’m a mere minion to him, not worthy of him bothering to remember my name is Jolene. But, I bask in his attention anyway because I’m just a tad in lust with my boss.

“I’m good, sir.” I raise my punch glass, wishing he’d notice me when he’s not under the influence.

He turns and winks at one of the twins. Behind his back, I roll my eyes and sigh. Apparently, no amount of bra stuffing can compare to silicone. I plaster on a fake smile when he turns his attention back to me.

“What do you mean you’re good? That’s an adjective. Are you saying you’re an angel, or do you mean you feel well? Or, are you trying to articulate that you don’t require anything at this time?” He raises one eyebrow, waiting on my response.

While I’m relieved he hasn’t pointed out my poor grammar in front of my coworkers, it’s a tad annoying. If he weren’t a damnyankee he’d accept ‘I’m good’ the way it was meant. But then he flashes his panty-melting smile and my mind blanks.

“I’m teasing, Friday. Relax and have fun, it’s a party! Want to sit on my lap and tell me what you desire for Christmas? I bet you’ve been a very naughty, little girl.” He waggles his eyebrows and his grin widens.

I’d love to sit on his lap. But in my fantasies, we’re alone and naked. I cross my fingers behind my back, praying I didn’t just say that out loud.

Mr. DeVille’s head snaps up and his brows knit together. “Sonofabitch,” he hisses, snatching his Santa hat off his mussed, blond hair. Are those flames flickering in his blue eyes? I put my cup down, wondering if someone spiked my punch.

“What’s he doing here?” The venomous tone makes me shiver.

Who has him so riled?

Looking across the room, my mouth drops. My childhood friend, Rafe Goodman, strides through the party smiling and nodding at my co-workers, stopping to shake hands with a few. He has the easy gait of a man who’s comfortable in his own skin. I’ve always admired this quality about him. Tweedle Ditz and Tweedle Dumb practically trip over their tongues and I feel a strange sense of protectiveness.

“Dammit, I told him he could start Monday. Leave it to Mr. Holier-Than-Thou to show up and put a damper on the office party.” Mr. Deville drains his champagne and signals one of the twins to refill his glass.

“He’s going to work here?” I squeal and rush toward the best friend I’ve ever had. When I was a little girl, Rafe saved me. Literally. He found me lost in the woods after I’d run away from home. Even though he was a few years older, he took me under his wing and became my confidante and savior.

He grunts as I barrel into him. “Um, hello. Do I know you, Miss?” His familiar smirk widens into a grin.

“Rafe!” Embarrassment over my emotional display heats my cheeks. He laughs and pulls me into a bear hug. Although we haven’t been in touch for years, his presence brings an instant sense of peace and familiarity that I’ve missed. I’m reluctant to let go and my emotions clog my throat.

Still clutching his arms, I gaze up at him.  The premature gray at his temples and laugh lines beside his dark eyes make him more attractive than ever. Ten years ago, I developed a huge crush on him, but he left for college before anything came of it. His eyes widen.

“Yikes, is that a spider on your cheek?” He swats my fake eyelash to the ground and stomps on it.

I peel off my remaining eyelash. “So, what are you doing here? It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. Where have you been? It’s like you disappeared from the face of earth.” I pick a white feather off his jacket and needlessly smooth his lapel, not wanting to break contact. Having him here is such a surprise, I’m afraid I’m dreaming.

He grabs the feather from me and shoves it in his pockets, looking as embarrassed as I was with my eyelash fiasco. “Um, yeah, sorry about that. Correspondence isn’t my thing. I’ve been all over, working.” He pulls his gaze to mine and brushes a strand of my hair off my face. “It’s great to see you, too, Jo. You look great. Where’s the tomboy I left behind? Frankly, I’m relieved to see a familiar face. It’ll be nice having a friend in this den of hell.”

I nod. Just three hours ago these men were cutthroat sales rivals, vying for Mr. DeVille’s approval. Now they’re hanging on each other like frat brothers. One of them trips and grabs my ass.

“Well hullo there, Jody,” he slurs.

I roll my eyes. Doesn’t anyone know my name? I attempt to remove his hand from my bottom. It isn’t the first time he’s tried to cop a feel. I’m aware my butt provides a generous handle to hang on to, but I’m uncomfortable. I slap his hand away, but he only laughs. Rafe hauls the lech off me, jerking him by his tie and whispers something I can’t hear. The drunk backs away, hands up, and then flees like the place is on fire.

“Do you want to stay here or can we leave?” Rafe glares at the room in general and straightens his red tie. He sneers at Mr. DeVille and the animosity between them is palpable over the frivolity of everyone else.

“I’d love to, but it’s my job to clean up after the party.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday. Do it then, or are you going home for the holidays?”

“I am. I need to stay here and study, but I don’t want to disappoint my brother. He needs the company and has already planned the meal for when he gets off work…”

“You work and go to school? Jo, honey, everyone needs a break now and then. Why don’t you just relax? I’m sure Johnny Way would understand.”

His offer is so tempting I want to cry. The truth is, I’m dog-tired. “Maybe we could just grab a cup of coffee? I’m going to need the caffeine boost to clean this place.”

His smile broadens and it’s like witnessing the sun rising after a storm. I realize Rafe is no longer the boy I once knew; he’s a man, and devastatingly handsome. He could give Mr. DeVille a run for the money in the looks department. The females in the office who aren’t passed out at their desks openly ogle him.

For spite, I hook his arm and sidle closer. I kinda hope Mr. DeVille sees and experiences just a fraction of the jealousy I feel when he flirts with the twins. “Let’s expeditate our departure.”

Rafe laughs long and hard. “Say, what? Are we declawing Mr. Devil of his hooves?” We’re now the center of attention.

“No, I meant let’s leave fast, before anyone stops us–is the word extricate? Hey wait a minute, that wasn’t a very nice thing to say about our boss. Especially since you don’t even know him.” Aside from Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Ditz, I have to admit most of my co-workers would probably agree with him.

“He has thick skin; he can take it. Extricate is closer but I think you mean expedite.” He pulls me toward the door. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Do you know Mr. DeVille?”

“Our paths have crossed a few times.” Grabbing his coat, he wraps it around my shoulders, as if he knew I didn’t have one. Some things never change; he’s always seemed to know just what I needed. In the parking garage, I unlock the door next to the elevator. It’s the only perk of cleaning the office building; I get to live here rent-free.

“Welcome to my home. If it’s okay with you, can we just stay here? I have coffee.”

Rafe nods and loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar. “Fine with me. Being new to the area, I’m still getting my bearings.”

Now that I’m here my exhaustion takes hold. If I were honest, I’d tell Rafe I just want to curl up with my mean old cat and take a nap before tackling the office cleaning. But I don’t want to be rude. Instead, I warn, “Watch out for Atticus, he doesn’t like company.”

My cat glares at me, swishing his tail with typical feline disdain. Rafe scoops him up and my cranky pet purrs, making a liar out of me. Typical. I flip the coffeemaker on and kick off my shoes.

“Hey there, Atticus, you’re a good boy, aren’t you?” Rafe murmurs. The cat who hates everybody gives my friend a head-butt and his purring intensifies. Has hell just frozen over?

“I’m going to get comfy. Just make yourself at home. Coffee will be ready in a few.” I place Rafe’s coat on the lone chair in my studio apartment and slip into the bathroom. It just takes me a minute to change into my oversized sweatshirt and Wonder Woman lounge pants. When I return, I find Rafe propped on my bed, channel surfing. Beside him, Atticus gives me a smug look of ownership.

“What would you like to watch?” He moves Atticus to make room for me.

“I don’t care.” I grab my coffee and crawl beside him, smiling. A sense of peace surrounds us. There’s no need to chatter, there’s no awkwardness. It’s as if we’ve never been apart. He stops flipping the channels when he comes across Miracle on 34th Street.

“I love this movie!” Rafe grins and settles in, thumping his pillow.

I grimace. “Really? It’s so corny. When the kid doesn’t believe is the only realistic part of the movie.”

He nudges me. “Not so, miracles do exist. When did you become so cynical?”

“I don’t know, maybe when I grew up?” My yawn escapes despite my effort to suppress it. “Besides, if miracles existed, our hot boss would notice me as more than his efficient assistant,” I mutter, still annoyed Mr. DeVille spent more time with the twins.

Rafe’s smile fades and his brows pull together. “Oh, trust me. He’s noticed you, just not in a good way.”

“From your lips to God’s ears.” I pat his cheek, liking the way his designer scruff feels. I yawn, again. “I’m sorry I’m not better company.” I curl into his rock-hard chest. His presence has always comforted me. For some reason, now that he’s here, I can truly relax. My heavy eyelids drift close and I whisper, “I’m glad you’re here and going to be working with me…”

“I’ll always be here for you, Jo. That’s a promise. Now just rest.” He pulls a quilt over me and I sleepily wonder if he’s going to kiss me good night…


Jo’s coffee tips perilously close to my lap and I quickly move it. Pulling her closer, I impulsively kiss her forehead. The scent of summer roses takes me back in time. When her home life was unbearable, she’d escape to the small pond surrounded by wild roses. We’d fish or talk until it was safe for her to return.

She views me as a friend. I am, but so much more. I’m her guardian angel, and she needs my protection now more than ever. Jo doesn’t realize her boss is my fallen brother. And for whatever reason, he’s taken an interest in her. I vow to defend her no matter the cost.

Jo snuggles in closer and I wrap both arms around her, wishing we could stay like this forever. I don’t move, afraid of disturbing her, despite the cramp in my neck. The lavender circles surrounding her eyes are testament to her exhaustion. She needs to slow down and take care of herself.

“I’m sorry I’m not much company,” she murmurs, her eyes still closed. “Please don’t go, I want to catch up… I need to stay awake… I have to clean the office…”

“A nap won’t hurt you.” I watch her sleep; I’ve always loved watching her sleep. But she’s not the little girl I remember. She’s a woman. Her hair spreads across her pillow and I wrap a soft chestnut curl around my finger. Her cheek rests on her folded hands and a soft smile lingers as she slips deeper into sleep.

Switching off the lamp, I place another soft kiss on her forehead. “Sweet dreams, Jo. You’re safe now. I’m here.”

She rolls onto her back, eyes still closed, and whispers, “I’m always safe with you. You’re my knight in shining armor, my Superman.” Her hand grabs mine and she turns over, pulling me with her. I’m on top of the cover spooning her delicious butt and having un-guardian-angel-like thoughts.

And there isn’t a damn place I’d rather be.


I slowly wake from the best sleep I’ve had in ages. The pillow covering my head moves and morning breath assaults my nose. Irritated, I throw the pillow and glare at Atticus. “You need to go to the vet for a teeth cleaning.” I pluck a white feather from his mouth wondering where it came from. Unfazed by my disgust, he meows incessantly until I feed His Majesty.

Starting a fresh pot of coffee, the tiny apartment seems cavernous without Rafe’s big personality. Was it just a dream? The dent in the other pillow tells me otherwise. I miss him, but I don’t have time to dwell on why. It’s already six in the morning and I still need to clean the office before heading home.

I take my coffee with me to fortify me for the overwhelming task of cleaning up after drunks. I’m used to it. This was my job growing up. At least I get paid to do it now.

The elevator opens and I rub my eyes. Am I still sleeping? The place is spotless, the Christmas decorations gone. It looks like any normal business day. How did this happen? Did Mr. DeVille feel sorry for me and hire someone to do it? I giggle, knowing that’s about as likely as a snowball in hell. We didn’t even get a holiday bonus, just that lousy party. Or did my co-workers clean up after themselves? Again, highly unlikely.

I check all the offices and the break room and find no remnants of the party. On my desk is a vase with a single pink rose and a white feather and a sticky note.

Merry Christmas, Jo.

Always believe in miracles.

Yours forever, Rafe

I should’ve known Rafe was responsible. I angrily dash my tears away. I must still be tired. Why else would I be reacting like I’m in one of those corny holiday movies he loves? Scribbling a quick thank you note I leave it on his desk. I wish I’d asked him for his number. I’d not only thank him; I’d invite him to spend Christmas with Johnny Way and me.


It took a lot of coaxing, but I finally convinced my older sibling to let me put up a few decorations. Our empty stockings hang on the mantle, and a tiny, pre-decorated tree sits next to Lynn’s picture. There are no gifts, nor are any expected. I don’t have the money, and although Johnny Way is a good brother, he isn’t demonstrative or sentimental. I doubt a gift even crossed his mind. Lynn was the shopper and the one who orchestrated our Christmas celebrations. Even when she was sick, she’d order the perfect gift from a catalogue. This is our first holiday without her and it’s going to be hard. She was more like a mom than a sister-in-law, and I’m sure my brother volunteered for these extra shifts to bury his pain. I’m finished baking the sugar cookies, and the house smells divine.


But now that the work is done, I feel lost. Being alone can be miserable. Being alone on Christmas Eve is downright depressing. However, it beats the drunken brawls from my childhood. Since I don’t have a present, I decide to write a letter to Johnny Way telling him how much he means to me. He’ll think it ridiculously mushy and watching him squirm will be present enough for me.

An hour later, I push my books aside realizing studying is a lost cause. I don’t feel like watching sappy holiday movies, and I’m not in the mood for Christmas carols. I thumb through the playlists on my phone and put it on a generic playlist.

A log shifts in the fire and I curl up on the couch wishing I still believed in Santa. People wonder why I stay so busy. Deep down, I know why. I’m running from loneliness. Feeling sorry for myself, I wish Atticus was here to snuggle. The dumb cat hid behind the refrigerator this morning, and no amount of coaxing would get him to come out. As much as I hated doing it, I had to leave him home alone with plenty of food and water, and a new, catnip mouse.

The doorbell rings, interrupting my pity party. It’s almost midnight, who could it be? My father’s in prison and my mother went to visit him. Santa? I shake my head at my own whimsical thinking. I peek through the peephole and gasp when I see the corner of a red hat with white fur.

Cautiously, I open the door.

“Ho, ho, ho!”

“That’s what he said,” I quip, quoting The Office and laughing. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard Santa was skipping your house because you don’t believe in him, so I’m taking up the slack.”

I throw myself in Rafe’s arms and his fake white beard tickles my damp cheek.

“Hey, now. No crying, it’s Christmas. This was supposed to be a happy surprise.” He tosses two packages onto the coffee table and strokes my hair.

“I can’t help it I’m overwrought with emotion,” I sniffle.

Rafe chuckles. “I think the word overcome would work better.” A loud wail sounds from the doorstep and I duck under his arm.

“Atticus!” I pull my cat from his carrier and he begrudgingly tolerates my kisses. I look up at Rafe. “How did you get him?”

“I, uh, stopped by your place to see if you’d left yet and heard him crying.”

“But how did you get in my apartment?” I rise holding my purring cat and close the door with my hip.

“The magic of Christmas.” He winks and gives Atticus a scratch behind his ears.


“Okay, I broke in with my credit card. You really need a better lock.”

I laugh. “You do know my brother’s a sheriff, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s out of his jurisdiction and I didn’t leave any fingerprints.” He peels off his hat and fake beard, sniffing. “Do I smell cookies?”

I giggle. “I guess Santa deserves some milk and cookies. I’ll bring you some.”

When I return, he’s staring into the fire, lost in thought, the poker still in his hand.

I place his milk and cookies on the coffee table and rub his back. He jumps and spins to face me.

“Wow, Santa. You’re a little on edge. You okay?”

He smiles and brushes the back of his fingers down my cheek. “I’m fine, this Santa’s glad he didn’t come down the chimney, he’d be a crispy critter.” He glances back at the fire and shudders.

We sit and watch the flickering flames and the fiber optics on the tiny tree. Rafe finishes off his cookies and pours a bit of the milk on the empty plate for Atticus. Rafe pats his flat stomach and his eyes drift closed. Under the pretense of petting Atticus, I move the perfectly wrapped presents. The big one is squishy, the little one isn’t.

“Package pincher.” Rafe opens one eye. “Curiosity killed the cat.”

“But satisfaction brought it back,” I mutter taking the dishes into the kitchen.

I return and find Rafe wearing his Santa hat and holding the gifts.

“You look magnitudinous.”

Rafe throws his head back and in a pretty good impression of the jolly old elf, laughs long and hard. He pulls me to his lap and hands me the smaller present. “Here, open this one first.”

I shake it and pinch it, clueless to the contents. Feeling like a kid, I carefully unwrap the pretty angel paper, wanting to prolong the excitement. I pull out a Word-a-Day calendar and giggle.

He grins. “You like my magnanimous gesture? Although I’d never think of you as below me or as a rival.”

I laugh. “Yes, I do. I want to improve my vocabulary so people don’t think I’m an uneducated redneck.”

“Stop. You’re neither. You’re a hard-working, intelligent woman.” He searches my face, as if memorizing it. “And so beautiful, inside and out.”

His intensity is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. If only my boss would give me attention like this.

Rafe sighs and moves me off his lap. I feel awkward, it’s as if he read my mind, or something. At the very least, I feel like an ingrate when he hands me the large package.

“No, I can’t accept anything else. You cleaned the office and drove up here, and I’ll use the calendar…” My voice trails off as I stare at the gift. I want it, despite my protests. But I feel guilty, not having anything to give him in return.

“Just open it. It isn’t like I bought you a car or anything.”

Tempted, I squeeze the squishy package.

“Go on,” he encourages.

I slit the tape, once again savoring the experience. I gasp, pulling out the softest, prettiest pink sweater I’ve ever seen. “Thank you, I love it.” I rub it across my cheek and smile.

“I’m glad. It’s a color I always associate with you.”

I smile at my dearest friend. “You have no idea how happy I am you’re here. I was dreading Christmas, but you’ve made it special.” I take his hand in mine. “I feel bad not having anything to give you in return.”

Rafe stands and pulls me to my feet. “You’re my gift, Jo. Your friendship means more to me than you’ll ever know. And I promise, I’ll never take it for granted again. Having you back in my life makes even an ordinary day feel like Christmas.”

Before I can respond, he places a finger over my lips. “Dance with me,” he whispers.

I step into his arms and we slow dance in front of the fire to a song about words not being necessary. It’s perfect. We’ve always been in sync, even in silence, even when not together.

The calendar is useful, the sweater beautiful. But he’s right. The miracle of Christmas is reconnecting with someone you love.

As a friend…


© Nancee Cain


Forbidden love is hell…

Confident and quirky, Jo Sanford thinks her boss is God’s gift to women–and she couldn’t be further from the truth. Devilishly handsome, Luc DeVille will stop at nothing to lure his administrative assistant right into his arms–and bed.

Over Rafe Goodman’s dead body…

Rafe, refuses to sit by and watch as Luc tries to win the heart of the woman he’s always protected. After all, Rafe is her guardian angel.

But Jo’s infatuated with her HOT boss. Caught in the middle of a battle between good and evil, Jo finds the closer she gets to the fire, the hotter it burns.

When love battles lust, Heaven and Hell collide.




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