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Heyyyy!! Welcome to your sneaky peek of the first two chapters of THE SPY WHO KISSED ME from our new anthology RECKLESS! Enjoy! There’s a purchase link at the end in case you were holding out and now just can’t help yourself. 😉
She’s too hard to like.
Harder to love.
Her fucking job comes before everything else.
Her ass is too fucking big.
She says fuck too much.
That about covered Ava’s conversation with her boyf—her ex-boyfriend, David, last Thursday in the LAX departure terminal curbside check-in. Conversation being a loose term for him yelling the above sins/faults/flaws at her while she stood there with her carry-on and laptop straps still tangled around her neck, the poor luggage steward looking on like he just wished he could climb into one of those bags and go anywhere but there.
It all started with coffee. A week ago, today.
Damn, she would have been coming home tomorrow, all rested and tan from a week in Barbados, her stress and tightly braided neck muscles relaxed and happily untied, glowing and sated from sex on the beach and post-vacay bliss.
Except that because of coffee, and that lovely list up there, her carry-on bag was still riding around in her back seat, she was still ruefully untanned and unsexed, and David’s luggage had gone on to reside somewhere in Barbados or to parts unknown, independent of him. Of course, that was Ava’s fault, too, showing up so late to the airport that when all hell broke loose in the breakup of the century, it was too late to pull his stupidly fancy designer suitcase.
Someone had to be getting a real charge out of his vast manly personal products and black soap body wash.
Again, she blamed the coffee. Not the fact that she was working late (not new) to wrap everything up before leaving for a week’s vacation (very new) and stressing out because she was leaving right as all the powers that be were deciding her fate. Her work fate, not like her life, but honestly there really wasn’t much difference. Hence, she rolled through a Starbucks drive-through—even though, yes, she was already pushing the time continuum to meet David at the airport—grabbing an iced latte to calm her nerves.
Because it does. And it did.
Then, you know, all those verbal arrows started flying, and well, she was sure they had their fifteen minutes of fame on someone’s Facebook feed.
But it was okay. If all had gone as planned, then Ava wouldn’t have had the week to do more stage-setting, ass-kissing, and work her aforementioned overly endowed ass off to prepare for today.
A good day.
It was going to be a good day.
A day that would make everything worthwhile and put all those barbed, poisonous words that David-the-asshat had thrown at her up on a high shelf in a tucked-away closet. She’d deal with them later. After she finally made partner.
A really good day.
Those words chanted on a long loop in her head, landing rhythmically with every click of her heels. They might have also been written in steam on her bathroom mirror earlier. Whispered almost reverently over her coffee cup a little before that.
Did the white and gray marble entryway to Burns & Brown glow a little brighter today, picking up the California sunlight through the giant plate glass windows? Was it a sign?
It fucking—effing had to be.
“Stupid fucking word,” she said under her breath as she entered the first available shiny, silver elevator. “I’ll stop saying it when I hear the magic sentence,” she said to her reflection in the wall-to-ceiling mirrored interior. It had to be a bitch to keep that so clean. “Something like—Congratulations, Ava James! You made partner after five hundred and fifty-six years!”
“You made partner?”
It was Jeff, the legal assistant down the hall, running in before the doors closed with a cardboard tray of coffees for the paralegals in his group. Poor Jeff always looked like he dressed in the dark—while still in bed asleep.
“Not yet,” she said, crossing the fingers on both hands and forcing a smile. “But I’m thinking positive.”
Actually, she was thinking panicked. Two showers and four outfit changes kind of panicked. It would be a good day. It would. But she’d be lying if that back closet in her head with the shit words didn’t keep pushing the door ajar.
“Don’t cross both fingers,” Jeff said, frowning. “That’s bad luck.”
Ava dropped her right hand as if it were on fire.
Not that she bought into that mumbo jumbo. She believed people made their own luck, and certainly not the superstitious kind, but today wasn’t the day to take any chances. It wasn’t her first rodeo. She’d been through this process twice and knew exactly what no felt like. Actually, the words were always we don’t feel like you’re ready at this time. She knew them backward and forward, saw them in her sleep, and felt them every time she looked her boss in the eye.
Ava counted through all the years of sacrifice with each beep of a passing floor. Every missed family holiday. Every vacation day she refused to take. Every late night, working weekend, declined happy hour, waning friends, and failed relationship in her thirty-six years. Every moment of life and love she’d given up for this fuc—this effing job.
The elevator slowed to a stop at the top, on floor twenty-five, and she backed up a step, realizing her fingers had curled tightly into her palms. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. No more negative thoughts. David, be damned. It was all up from here.
“Good luck,” Jeff said over his shoulder as he rushed out.
“Thanks—” she said, her word clipped short by her gasp as a blur of black shirt and a geyser of light-brown liquid filled her vision.
“Oh, shit!” Jeff exclaimed, his hands like a slow-motion replay, as he and the perpetrator attempted in vain to reclaim the tray and three plastic cups hurtling toward her.
Ava had a split-second moment of fear for her epidermis, as lids left the equation, coffee propelling up, sideways, and forward. Strong hands gripped her upper arms and the black shirt had solid mass behind it, as if he was trying to protect her after the fact. She didn’t have time to process that. All she could think of was to throw her hands up in front of her face. Scalding liquid, and all that.
She didn’t consider ice.
Piercing cold java, accompanied by five thousand ice cubes, soaked her entire front, from her face down to her left ankle. Ava sucked in a breath that sounded like she was inhaling her tongue.
“Fuck!” she shrieked.
Hey, it was warranted.
“Oh my God, Ava, I’m sorry!” Jeff began.
“Sorry,” echoed the man in a stilted British accent. Ava’s eyes were shut, but she felt the word vibrate through the chest she was grasping. It was a good chest. The second she blinked her eyes open, however, he let go, backing away in a rush toward the stairs, the bill of his cap pulled down over part of his face. “Emergency, sorry! Hope you’re all right, ma’am.”
“Sir, it’s—” Jeff called out. But the guy was gone, through the stairwell door. “Twenty-five floors down.”
All she saw was a black shirt and pants over a really nice ass, and ball cap over really dark hair, as she stood there dripping with her arms held outward.
“What the living hell?” she said, looking wide-eyed up at a bewildered Jeff, who didn’t seem to notice yet that he didn’t fare much better.
He looked her up and down, raising an eyebrow. “Damn, Ava, you’re—”
“Really glad you went with iced?” She nodded. “Yeah. Me too. Who was that idiot?”
“No idea,” he said. “Must have been a new runner, I’ve never seen him. Nice accent. But I would swear those were stripper pants he had on.”
Ava felt her eyebrows rise, momentarily distracted from her dilemma. “Say again?”
“Hey, I’ve been to my share of shows,” Jeff said with an brow lift of his own. “I know how the Velcro works.”
“Well, if that was a stripper,” she said, slinging more coffee from her fingers, “then he lacks some serious skills.”
Still had a nice ass. And chest. Jeff was right, the accent didn’t hurt.
Jeff sighed as he looked at the empty cardboard tray. “And he ruined my morning coffee.” He pointed discreetly. “You—might want to, um…”
Ava met his gaze, following it down to her white silk blouse. Her favorite sweet-yet-I’ll-fool-you-kick-ass attorney blouse she usually saved for court, that was now drenched and clinging to her equally soaked lacy bra. Which, in turn, was clinging to a couple of very pronounced, highlighted nipples now that they were on ice parade.
“Yep,” she whispered, pulling the ruined fabric away from her skin. “Why don’t I go do that?”
“I’ve got this,” Jeff called from behind her as she dripped down the hallway. “Good luck!”
“Luck,” she whispered, smiling at the double takes and polite smiles that passed her with no offers to help. “Yeah. That’s starting out well.”
Ava had never kept extra clothes at work like some of the other attorneys, which was something she would be remedying soon. Some of the partners never even went home during heavy caseloads or court, just showered at the first-floor gym and kept going.
That would be her. It could be her.
If she could just pull this off.
Hold your head up. Smile. Laugh this off. Act like a people person. Like a professional.
Don’t be hard to like.
Her steps faltered for half a second before pushing onward.
“Get the hell out of my head.”
“Wouldn’t dream of going in there,” said a familiar voice as he sauntered out of his office, empty coffee cup in hand.
“Morning, Dan,” she said, ignoring his retort as he fell into step beside her. Ava forced herself to slow her roll. Peopling and all that.
“What the hell happened to you?” he asked, eyeing her up, down, and up again.
“I’m going for a new look,” she quipped, crossing her arms over the peep show. “Latte-dipped. All the cool kids are doing it.”
He leaned in, sniffing. “Aromatic.”
Dan laughed, leaning even closer. “No kidding. I could just about get my caffeine fix just breathing you in.”
Ava gave him a sideways glance and her three seconds of being socially on started to fade. Creep. He was up for partner as well, although she didn’t expect him to be a strong candidate. He did a good job, but he was slimy and underhanded. Not someone you wanted representing the firm.
“A British stripper getting on the elevator ran me over,” she said. “Abused three cups of coffee in the process.” She gestured toward his cup. “You know, you could just put a coffee maker in your office and never have to mingle with the masses.”
She said that with a chuckle, like nudge nudge, look at us making partner jokes, but Dan just shrugged.
“Then I’d never get to mingle with the masses,” he said, suddenly looking at her. “Did you say there was a stripper up here?”
“Not your brand,” she said.
“What, British?” he snorted.
“Ah. Well,” Dan said, pausing as he veered right down the hall to the breakroom. “Good luck today. I heard they voted last night. I got Burns a bottle of that Scotch he likes. Hope that stripper wasn’t your contribution, don’t think he swings that way.”
He pointed and made a little clicking sound with his tongue as he chuckled at his own wittiness, then disappeared into the breakroom doorway, but Ava’s progression froze.
What the hell did that mean? Was it done? There was another panel hearing on her calendar today before the final vote. Did Dan already have his?
What did that mean?
Ava could hear her breathing in her ears like rolling waves. Or maybe that was the blood rushing through her head at warp speed. Maybe she was about to stroke out, and none of it would matter anyway. It was, she realized, the scariest, most vulnerable moment she’d ever experienced. That was probably sad.
She made it to her office without memory of getting there, sinking into her chair. Pulling out a small towel from her bottom drawer, left from one of the maybe three times she utilized the basement gym, Ava absently blotted herself, scrubbing at her blouse as her brain self-destructed.
Was this normal? Did they always secretly vote before the partner hearings and no one knew? Why was Dan so confident? Was he just blowing smoke? Did someone in the know really tell him, and was that good or bad that no one told her? If it was about her—that could be a huge compliment that it was a no-brainer. An easy landslide early vote. Or…or it could be bad. Detrimentally, astronomically, soul-crushingly bad.
Swiveling slowly in her chair, she took in the modest furnishings, the tasteful muted prints, the minimalistic décor. The simple, pretty, little miniature Zen garden on her back credenza. No photos of kids or family. No friends or significant other. Slimy Dan had vacation snapshots in his office of ski trips and cruises with lots of smiling people. Granted, he could have just paid them to smile, but she didn’t even have fake friend pictures. Or vacation pictures.
Because she didn’t do vacations. Or people. No one offered to help her in the hallway, because no one really knew her. Ava kept to herself and kept her eye on the prize. She didn’t waste time on office drama or politics, therefore, she didn’t have any friends there. Or anywhere, really, now that David-the-asshat wasn’t in the scenario anymore. People sucked. Socially acceptable ones did, anyway. All they cared about were themselves. Ava saw through the bullshit and had no patience for it. That’s why she was a beast in court. It’s also why she was sitting there alone in an office with no pictures.
Ava liked the special ones. The weirdos. The ones that didn’t fit in or fall into a social norm. She had an especially secret soft spot for the homeless that made their temporary homes in the neighborhoods around the block from there. Now they were real. Yes, some were off their rocker a little, but some just couldn’t catch a break, or got over their heads into something. That could be her one day. It could be anyone. So, she always put a little cash aside for the breakfast run. She may not be able to do anything momentous, but she could pass out breakfast burritos on her walk from the parking garage to the office, hitting up a good ten people if she went the long way around.
A few of them she actually kind of got to know. Until they moved on, or…well, just disappeared, like a few she gotten close to. One in particular, a guy called Em that always made her laugh and gave her a boost, when he looked like he was the one needing boosting. She assumed his name was Emeril or Emmanuel or something, but it didn’t matter. He was nice. He asked about her day, wanting stories from the office. She always looked forward to his smile, until one day a few years ago he wasn’t there, and the others never talked. She’d learned that about them. Survival meant that you kept your mouth shut, and simply filled in the holes when one came open. Some of the best, most genuine people she’d ever met, even if half of them were high most of the time.
Hell, she didn’t even have a dog. Even goofy, rumpled Jeff had a couple of photos of his golden retriever on his desk. Jeff, however, didn’t work until nine every night, she was betting. Dogs didn’t generally keep their legs crossed that long. She could get a fish. She could put cute fish pics in her partner office.
Jen, an associate at the other end of the hall, did a lot of pro bono and charity cases, her walls full of snapshots of the clients she helped. Ava could take pictures of her homeless friends, but most would never let her and that seemed exploitive, anyway. Walking into Jen’s office, though, was like going to a health spa, it was so powerfully positive with good deed vibes. She didn’t even want to be partner or high-level one day, because she loved what she did.
Ava envied her. Jen represented so much of who she used to be when she first started out. All wide-eyed and wanting to change the world. Ava couldn’t tell anyone that, of course, because she was supposed to look all ambitious and partner-hungry now, which she was. She took her mission to gain partner status very seriously, working ruthlessly to get there. Every time she was around Jen for five minutes, however, she felt the pings. It reminded her of when she wanted to be one of those lawyers. Before she wasn’t.
“Ohhh,” Ava sighed into her hands, dropping her head. “My life is not normal.”
“Sorry to hear that, Ava.”
She swiveled back and stood so quickly that her chair toppled backward, taking the Zen garden with it. She was pretty sure there was an f-bomb or three involved, too.
“Are you okay?” Damien asked, resting a hand in his front pocket as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
He didn’t. Damien Burns was a walking powerhouse attorney in two-thousand-dollar shoes. He wanted for nothing. Money, clout, power, women. He was pushing fifty and always eating sushi and kale and knocking back green smoothies, so he might need a burger, but overall, he appeared to be one of the most powerful, fortunate assholes currently breathing air in California.
“I’m fine,” she said, smoothing her skirt, trying not to grimace at the wetness. “Sorry about that. I was concentrating on something—one of the couriers just dumped iced coffee all over me and—”
He held up the hand not in his pocket, and half of her celebrated the fact that it shut her up. The other fifty percent went on alert.
“I just got out of a meeting, and I have another one in five. Can you come down to my office?” he asked, already halfway out the door.
Her heart slammed around like a ping-pong ball.
He turned halfway back. “Is there a problem?”
“No!” she said quickly. “I’m on my way.”
Holy hell, no, there wasn’t a problem. Maybe this was it! The moment! The very good day. Ava took a deep breath to savor the seconds, smoothed her dark wavy locks, and followed him out.
Dominic never thought stripper pants would come in so damn handy.
By the time he’d run/vaulted/slid down twenty-five fucking floors to the basement gym, there was no way he would have been able to ditch the all-black stuck-to-him get-up on the fly. Not without ripping his nuts off and landing on his face. He was head-to-toe sweat, and yanking that Velcro in one move while landing at ground zero saved him probably a good minute of struggle. Struggle he’d never had in his twenties. Or even thirties.
As Dominic’s best friend still loved to tell him every chance she got, forty is where old starts. His version of forty, especially. Why? Because it was wrapped around a job requiring split-second decisions like this shit. Traversing twenty-five flights of stairs so the woman he’d baptized in iced coffee on the elevator at Burns & Brown didn’t get a closer look.
He’d been out of the game for too long. The old him would have never been that sloppy.
He’d dressed like a courier so that he would blend in, but that shouldn’t have even been a possibility. As it was now, not only did two employees see him cause a commotion and then duck down the stairway like a lunatic instead of staying to help like a normal person, but he was pretty sure the woman saw his face.
Dominic sure as hell saw hers. Up close and personal.
“Damn it,” he muttered, stuffing the black clothes, glasses, and cap into the duffel bag he’d hidden near the gym.
It was supposed to be an easy drop. No one notices the couriers, the guys in black they contract out at minimum wage to be their minions and deliver things all over town. Dressed like that, he got past security and walked the halls at will, right into Damien Burns’ office (because his possibly illegal wiretap told him that he and his secretary were both at a meeting), and planted the tracking device deep within the portfolio clearly labeled MMT, all without a hitch.
Of course, it couldn’t be that easy. It had been two years since he’d walked away from the agency, and in spy years that was like fifteen. All the hard stuff went smoothly, while getting on an elevator went south.
Of all the damn people at this firm, it had to be her. The one person there he almost gave a shit about. Almost didn’t want her to lose her job and possibly any credibility in the future over working for a criminally connected organization. Almost. She was vying for the next partner position, his little electronic ears had told him, so maybe that made her just as liable after all.
Dominic made the block, feeling like an idiot in the workout clothes he had layered under the black. Not his thing. Not even before he was old. Back then, he ate everything in sight whenever he wanted, but there was the military and the job and a hell of a lot of sex keeping him in shape. Now… Now, he just had to eat decently so he could still get the sex, because he wasn’t about to darken the doors of some loud, gyrating gym.
The peace of his truck soaked into his skin when he got in. It was his happy place, if there was such a thing. All black with dark windows, it always gave him half a wood to still feel like he could disappear. Reaching over into the back seat for his laptop, he plugged in a thumb drive to sync the tracker to his phone like Sam had shown him. If he was still on the job, he would have a whole room of computer gurus to hand it off to and magically have it appear on his phone.
Now he had himself.
The click of the back passenger door opening also had his .40 Glock in hand, cocked, and pointed.
“Put it back in your pants, Dom,” said a smoking-hot blonde in very little clothing as she slid in and crossed her legs.
The dick twitch that sight should have given him had nothing on the adrenaline rush he had to tamp down. He laid his gun down. “Jesus, Sam.” He ran a hand over his face to regroup. “You realize you just showed me your nipples—and are you not wearing anything under that miniskirt?”
“You wish,” she said, leaning forward to thump him on the head. “It’s my gun you see up there, Dom, not my hoo-hah.”
Dominic laughed and shook his head. “Why didn’t you dress like that back in the day?”
“Well, for one,” she said, adjusting her tits in her—whatever that was that was really just a scarf thing worn on her boobs. “It wouldn’t have matched the camo. And two—I wasn’t under as a stripper.” She grabbed a bag of chips from a grocery bag and opened it, cramming three in her mouth.
“Help yourself,” he said.
“I’m starving,” she said. “These chicks live on a Vienna sausage and a cheerio. It’s sick. And three, by the way?” she continued. “You couldn’t have handled it.”
“You’re probably right,” he said absently, clicking buttons.
Samantha Daring had been on Dominic’s team when they were in the Marines, and they’d had each other’s back since day one. When he got out and joined the CIA, Sam went the FBI route, but that buddy system never wavered. She was always there. That friendship was more important than any hot lay.
When his brother was killed on the job in an undercover drug raid gone bad and Dominic went into a downward spiral, Sam was the one to kick his ass and bring him back to the living. He quit the agency, but she supported everything he’d done since. Sort of.
She wasn’t crazy about his last six months’ activity, for instance.
“Okay,” Sam said with a resigned sigh, grabbing the laptop from him and balancing it on her knees. “Tell me what today’s crazy involves. What are you doing?”
He gave her a side-eye. “How long do you have?”
She gestured to her attire. “I’m on my lunch break.”
Dominic gave her the low-down on what he’d just done while he checked his phone, ignoring the increasing what-the-fucks shooting from her eyes. He left out the part about who he dumped the coffee on and his ridiculous reaction and exit. That was a longer story he wasn’t in the mood to get into.
“Have you lost your damn mind?”
“Many years ago,” he said in the awful British accent, adding a wink he knew would piss her off. “But the Cockney came out to visit, and the pants were awesome. You definitely saved my ass with those. No pun intended.”
She wasn’t amused.
“You did that with no backup, West. That’s fucking idiotic and stupid.”
Ooh, the last name. Proof that she was truly tweaked.
“Anything else?” he asked, back in his very American self, holding his phone up like a hint.
Sam yanked her hair back. “Moronic. Narcissistic. Foolish. Fucking stupid.”
“You’re repeating yourself now.”
“Yeah, well, you deserved that one twice,” she said. “Damn it, Dom. You have to stop this renegade shit. You were trained better than that.”
“What did it get me?” he snapped, meeting her hard gaze until she blinked. “Where were they when Mason got strung out and lost inside his own deep cover? Where were they when I begged them to pull him out?”
Dominic’s insides burned as the anger he kept just under the surface twenty-four seven spread itself wide. It wasn’t Sam’s fault. He had to dial it back. But he knew all the things she was about to say, and he wasn’t in the mood to hear them. That Mason was a grown man. That he’d gone into the DEA with his eyes wide open, taking the same deep cover kinds of jobs he, himself, had often taken, and was responsible for his actions. That he got himself hooked on the product and was too weak to get out or accept help. Too weak in the end to even protect his cover, and it got him shot between the eyes.
Sam didn’t say any of those things, however. Not this time. She just sat there letting him brew. Which was worse, because she was right. He may not be a spook on the books anymore, but protocol was protocol, and he knew while the shit was happening earlier that he was being sloppy. At the least, he should have let Sam know the full plan, not just that he’d be surveilling. She’d covered his ass too many times already.
“I’m sorry,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You don’t deserve that.”
“We’re good,” she said, nudging him with an elbow. “We’re always good. But doing all this on your own to bring them down is suicide, Dom. You can’t single-handedly take down the Honduran drug cartel.”
Dominic heard the rustle come over the speaker and held the phone closer to his ear.
“Maybe not, but they’re sure not doing anything.”
“Dom, you know they—”
“It’s been two years,” he said.
“You could have grabbed that file yourself and handed it to me,” she said. “And we’d have him.”
“For a whole twenty-four hours,” he said. “You know that. His lawyers would have skipped him out.” Dominic shook his head. “No, I want him to go down. I want to cut the head off of one of the beasts that feeds—” The voices that spoke over his phone made him want to slam his hand in a door. Or one of them did. “Son of a bitch.”
“What?” Sam asked, her eyes going on alert.
Dominic closed his eyes as Ava James spoke, switching the audio to his truck speaker. Her voice came across in stereo, filling the space. He flashed on the split second he realized who he was holding in that elevator. Who had her hands splayed across his chest, drowned in coffee, shrieking obscenities, and about to look up at him.
He’d bolted like his ass was on fire. Why? No damn idea. Ava didn’t know who he was. There was no reason to show his hand like that.
What the fuck was wrong with him?
“Wait, is that—?”
He opened his eyes and met hers.
“I might need your help, Sam.”
🙂 Do you love? Want more of Dominic and Ava? I can help with that!
Click HERE to one-click your way to happiness! 🙂
Why, I’ll be in Katy, Texas with the amazing and hilariously delightful Christie Craig, on September 1st, signing books and instigating shenanigans!
Click HERE to go to the Facebook link for the event at Katy Budget Books, and I hope to see you there!
Did you hear me squealing a few weeks ago? You must have. My dogs hid under the bed.
LUCKY CHARMED, book 2 in the Charmed in Texas series and Sully and Carmen’s second chance love story, was named a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® awards!! This is like the Oscars of the romance writing community, with a big dress up fancy ceremony at the National conference in July.
So exciting!! Go, LUCKY CHARMED!!!
In case you haven’t checked it out yet and want to see what all the fuss is about, click HERE to go to the book page and catch up on Carmen and Sully! 🙂
IT’S HERE!! And Happy Birthday to meeeeeee!!! 🙂
BEFORE AND EVER SINCE is now available! I get lots of questions asking me what it’s about.
Basically, the main character, Emily Lockwood has alot on her plate. She is successful in her own right, with a solid real estate career, but has a headstrong daughter, a mother who marches to her own drummer, and an ex-husband who needs sex therapy. Enter into this picture a house with an agenda, and the return of her first love, rocking a tool belt and a paintbrush and dark eyes full of secrets, and Emily just flat out has things to get through and get over. I call them the “Emily Lockwood Life Lessons”.
We can all learn things from Emily. 🙂
Life Lesson #5 from Emily in BEFORE AND EVER SINCE…
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS AN INNOCENT KISS WHEN IT’S WITH A NOT-SO-INNOCENT MAN.
…an excerpt from the book…
Ben took a deep breath and rubbed his face and then his hair, making it stick up in little spikes. “Me and you? I have no desire to go backwards and reopen old wounds. I’d rather focus on now.”
I was about to ask what old wounds he had to draw on regarding me, when he lifted my chin and kissed my lips. Even through my shock, I felt the energy ripple between us, and his breathing quicken.
“Starting with there.”
He turned and walked out, leaving me to stand there like a goon, just as Bernie and my mother walked in. My mom turned to glance behind her after she looked at me—probably because I looked like I’d been shot and dragged through the mud with all my crying.
“You okay?” she asked.
“He really just did that,” I mumbled.
“Just did what?” Aunt Bernie asked as she came in and looked around. “Girl, you still have a lot to do in here.”
“Yeah,” I said, annoyed that they had horned in on my moment. I shook my head free of the fog that accompanied Ben’s lips, and then got annoyed again that there was even fog. Or a moment. “Um—yeah,” I repeated, looking around. “Still a lot to do.”
I grabbed a box from the closet and left the room, leaving them behind me. I’d just start loading up my car with crap and then I wouldn’t have to come back every day. Although that was a joke since I knew I would.
I got increasingly irate at his audacity as I lugged an unfortunately heavy box down the stairs. I put it down to open the door, and then cursed my remote for not opening my trunk.
“Need some help?” Ben called from the garage.
I pinned the box against the car with my body and ignored him as I opened it with the key.
“Hey,” he said, walking up, a folded sheet of plastic under his arm.
“I’ve got it,” I said.
“Oh, I see that,” he said, laughter in his voice.
I got the box in the trunk and whirled around. “Where do you get off just kissing me like that?”
His eyes widened in humorous surprise. “Was it hideous?”
He knew it wasn’t. He knew it had curled my toes.
“You don’t want to face anything heavy,” I said. “Answer any tough questions, just skip off into the future—”
“I’m pretty sure I never mentioned skipping.”
“Like I’m supposed to trust you now,” I continued, ignoring him. “And then you lay that kiss on me.”
He laughed, which just lit me up more. “I didn’t tackle you, Em.”
“How would you feel if I just walked up and—did this.” Before I knew it, I had his face in my hands and my mouth was on his. What was intended to be aggressive immediately turned soft. Searching.
Shaking, I let go and stepped back, not knowing what the hell I was doing. His eyes were heavy and his breathing was fast.
“How would you—what would you do?” I asked weakly, though I managed to keep my head up as I turned to walk away.
I felt his hand on my arm as he spun me back around and backed me against the car. His hands came up to my face and his mouth and body landed against mine at the same time. All the air left me as I expected something fiery and got soft and deliciously slow instead. When he dove deeper, I defied all my own defenses and pulled him in, winding my arms around him. Just when I began to lose myself in his kiss, he stopped and backed away slowly.
His fingers trailed down my cheeks as he met my eyes with an expression so full of heat it could have self-ignited.
“Probably something like that,” he breathed, sounding a little ragged.
* * *
…because what better birthday present than a hot kiss excerpt? 🙂
Stay with me on my Facebook page today, for more teasers and more Hot Tool Guys inspired by Ben! 🙂
One more day!
BEFORE AND EVER SINCE is almost here!
Check out Life Lesson #4 from Emily in BEFORE AND EVER SINCE…
#4 – PAINT IS HOT.
…an excerpt from the book…
I went out through the garage, where Ben was leaned over a five gallon bucket of paint, stirring it with a flat piece of wood. Next to him on a makeshift table, were two other small cans of paint with little wooden stir sticks poking out.
“Why do you do that?” I asked.
“What?” he responded, not looking up.
“Bait him like that,” I said, picking my way carefully around the random tools and pieces of discarded wood on the floor. “Is it on purpose, or does he just bring out the twelve year old in you?”
I felt, rather than saw the smile. “Little of both, probably.”
“Why?” I repeated as I got closer, my three-inch heels playing hell with all the power cords.
“Because he’s the same condescending asshole now that he was then.”
I was about to tell him that I agreed with him and he didn’t need to bait Kevin anymore. But then I remembered that there wouldn’t be a reason anyway since he’d left me and made all those petty arguments between them go away. The thoughts jumped over each other, distracting me long enough to step on a block of wood that turned under my foot.
“Oh–shi–” I exclaimed as I lurched sideways and the spike of my heel snapped off.
My left hand flailed out for support, met with one of the little stir sticks instead, and flipped it out of the can and across Ben’s face. The paint splattered across his left cheek and nose, and slung streaks into my hair as I continued my sideways direction right into his arms.
“Whoa!” he said, as I landed hard against him. “Are you okay?”
I gasped and then looked up just inches from his face, suddenly recalling the last time I was held so tightly against his body. I even was acutely aware of where his hands were and one of them was fairly south. Not that that had been by his choice. But then the sight of the paint across his face and in his eyebrows broke the moment and I clamped my lips shut as the laughter shook me.
“I’m–” I laughed again, trying to stop. “I’m so sorry.”
He let go with one hand to wipe a blob off his nose, and while I tried to stem the funny that just kept bubbling up in me, he smeared it along my cheek.
“Oh!” I said laughing. “Not cool!”
I looked down at my clothes as he set me back on my feet, but he didn’t back up for more space. Instead he picked a dripping clump of paint from my hair and smiled slowly, while we were still so close I could feel him breathe. His expression was playful and achingly reminiscent of the old days.
“Now you look really good,” he said, slowly backing up. He pushed a piece of hair from my face, the unexpected brush of his fingers against my temple causing me to catch my breath. His eyes met mine as I did that, and showed a flicker of something old.
“You were about to get paint in your eyes,” he said softly.
* * *
Are you enjoying the lessons? 🙂 Let’s see what Emily has to teach us today.
Emily Life Lesson #3… Assuming your ex has gotten smarter in your absence is a fail.
“So, what’s up?” I asked after a pause. “I don’t know if Cass has done anything with that paperwork, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
He shook his head minimally, still looking at the pictures, and the little warning bells went off in my head. Kevin was nothing, if not opinionated and in your face. For him to come to my house and then not come look me in the eye—told me it wasn’t going to be his normal rant.
I decided to abandon my dinner for the moment, and pour myself a glass of wine. I poured two on instinct, and offered him one as I sat at the table.
“You aren’t going to eat?” he asked, glancing back at the stove as he sat down.
“It can wait, what’s going on?”
He met my eyes and chuckled. “Is something going on with you and Landry?”
My whole body relaxed. “Jesus, Kevin, is that what you came over to ask me?”
“No, I’m just wondering.”
“Well, quit,” I said, getting back up to revisit dinner.
“Sherry wants to get married,” he blurted out.
I looked back at him, at the genuine worry and anxiety in his face, and sat back down.
“O—kay. I’m guessing you don’t?”
He toyed with his glass. “I should. I mean, yeah, I guess I do. I just—”
“You’ve been together long enough to know.”
“I know,” he said, pushing back his chair and rubbing at his eyes. For the first time, I noticed the perfection was waning. There were the little lines around his eyes, and some gray in his eyebrows. “And in that respect, I do.” He blew out a breath. “She’s perfect for me. We have a great relationship.”
“You have a great relationship?” I leaned across the table toward him. “You sound like you’re describing a dog. Or a car. Or an insurance agent. Do you love her?”
He met my eyes. “I loved you.”
That backed me up a good foot. I sat up and blinked at him. “Wh—What—”
“I loved you with all I had, Emily. Since junior high, I was in love with you. And look what I did with that. I still had to screw it up. I couldn’t be happy with what I had, I still needed what I didn’t have.”
I didn’t want to go down that road. I scooped my hair up and tried to look patient, but reminders of what the whole town knew my husband was doing behind my back was not my idea of memory lane.
“So you’re saying you might do it again?”
He scoffed and looked away. “I’ve already done it again. And again. That’s my point.”
I dropped my hair and stared at him. “Seriously?”
“I do love her, Em. She’s amazing.” He got up and pushed his chair in, lining it up with the others. “But clearly, that’s not enough to keep me faithful. Should I let her marry into that?”
I wanted to shake him. “No!” I got up and left my chair out on purpose. “Kevin, grow the hell up. You’re not special. Everybody has temptations—hell, I could have had three different flings while we were married, but I never gave it a second thought. I made the choice. You have that ability too. Get help if you need to, or let her go.” I walked up to him and put my finger on his chest. “But if you love Sherry like you say you do, be a man. Don’t fuck her over.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Who could you have had flings with?”
I turned around and headed back to my cooling dinner. “Really? That’s all you heard?”
He followed me. “I’m sorry.”
I looked at him, annoyed. “For what?”
“Cheating on you. Messing things up.”
His voice was soft. Sincere. Probably for the first time in all the apologies he’d made.
“I know,” I said, and then looked back down at my chicken that wasn’t looking so good. “Things happen as they’re supposed to, Kevin. Maybe Sherry’s the one for you.”
“Maybe.” He started to leave, then turned around. “Thanks for talking to me.” He shrugged. “I didn’t have anybody else.”
I gave him a small smile. “Any time.”
“So is Landry the one for you?”
I closed my eyes. “Bye, Kevin.”
He chuckled, and left. But I knew he’d registered the fact that I hadn’t said no.
You gotta love Kevin. 🙂
Okay, so what did you think of yesterday’s lesson? Ever had that happen to you? Lord knows I have. And what did you think of our first Hot Tool Guy? 🙂 Suddenly have a project that needs fixing? LOL
Now to hear from BEFORE AND EVER SINCE’s Emily on Lesson number 2…
Emily Life Lesson #2… The most likely time to be found is when you’re trying to hide.
“Where are you?” Cassidy asked.
“The grocery store.”
“Again? Didn’t you just go there?”
I cursed my bad lying. “Oh, I forgot a few things.” I pushed my cart faster, wanting to get done and get home. “So, anyway, that’s fine if you want to do th—” I choked back the last word as I rounded an aisle into the produce, and there stood Ben. Fondling peaches.
“What’s the matter?” Cassidy asked.
“Nothing,” I said under my breath into the phone, jumping backward and tugging my cart with me.
I dead-ended at the meat section, thinking I could stay there, then had a panicked thought that he was a man and would probably buy meat.
“Shit,” I said under my breath, forgetting Cassidy was still chattering.
She stopped. “What?”
“Oh nothing, baby, I just—can’t find the sea salt.”
I darted across the end caps till I found what was sure to be a safe aisle, and jumped in there with the tampons and sanitary pads. And then flattened myself as best I could to all the pink packaging, just in case he tended to look down each aisle. We said our goodbyes and I strongly considered stalking the registers from afar to make sure he left. Then again, if I’d just hurried up I would have been gone by then.
As if on cue, he passed my aisle, slowly pushing his cart as he studied a piece of paper in his hand. I stopped and froze in place, holding my breath, not blinking or breathing till he passed. Then I ran for the registers like the chicken shit I was, not caring that I’d only grabbed four of my thirty-something needed items. They’d be there tomorrow.
I quick-scanned the registers for the fastest choice, and picked one with an elderly man with only a pack of toilet paper and a box of candy under his arm. I’d be out of there in minutes, as compared to all the other lines sporting three and four people each, with mountains overflowing their carts.
I did a little shuffle move, waiting for my turn, looking behind me every five seconds. Why the hell was I so paranoid? Why was I hiding in my grocery store, in my town? He should be hiding from me. And no sooner had that thought crossed my brain, when he rounded the corner, and I ducked.
Pretending to closely inspect the latest celebrity gossip on the rack, I silently begged the checker to hurry the hell up.
“Price check on four!” she called into a microphone, holding up the box of candy.
“It’s five-ninety-nine,” the elderly man said.
“I have to check sir,” the pink-cheeked checker said, pulling out a reference card to prove it.
Great. I picked a newbie with anal retention.
“I actually saw it too, and it was five-ninety-five,” I said, nodding from my bent over stance.
The girl looked at me with giant eyes. “He said five-ninety-nine.”
I blinked. “That’s what I said.”
“No, you said five-ninety-five,” the man said.
“That’s why we check it,” the girl said, nodding.
“For four pennies? Seriously?” I said. I really actually kind of hissed it. “Don’t y’all scan everything now, anyway?”
The girl scowled at me. “The scanners are down,” she said.
The man just kind of shrugged, and I gave him a weary look. Of course the old man didn’t care. All he had planned for the day was to sit on the toilet and eat chocolate caramels.
Finally, a greasy-haired stock boy ambled up, holding a hand out for the box. The old man looked almost physically pained to watch it leave with the boy, as if he’d taken great measures to select that very box and didn’t trust the boy not to switch it.
I was still very much bent over, when legs stopped behind me. Somehow I knew who they belonged to before I ever looked up.
“You okay?” Ben asked, not sounding particularly sincere.
I slowly lowered my stoop to a crouch, pretending fascination with a tabloid.
“I’m fine, how are you?” I asked, hoping I sounded as uninterested as he did.
He reached over me and plucked the tabloid out of the rack, giving off an aroma of warm soap when he did so.
“The end of the world, huh?” he read off the headline. “Nostradamus’s prediction keep you up at night?”
I saw the humor in his eyes, but I refused to play.
“Lots of things keep me up at night.”
Who’s been there? *raising my hand*
Stay tuned to Facebook again today for the next Hot Tool Guy of the Day!
Today, we see the very first Life Lesson from Emily in BEFORE AND EVER SINCE!
This is the first of five great life lessons you’ll learn from Emily’s experiences in BEFORE AND EVER SINCE, with a great excerpt to back it up… 🙂 You see, Emily Lockwood has alot on her plate. She is successful in her own right, with a solid real estate career, but has a headstrong daughter, a mother who marches to her own drummer, and an ex-husband who needs sex therapy. Enter into this picture a house with an agenda, and the return of her first love, rocking a tool belt and a paintbrush and dark eyes full of secrets, and Emily just flat out has things to get through and get over. I call them the “Emily Lockwood Life Lessons”. 🙂
Emily Life Lesson #1… Never assume it’s safe to drop by Mom’s house looking like Swamp Girl.
Oh no. No, no, no, no. Goosebumps ran the length of my body and back again. Ben Landry. As I stared into that face, I felt the old hurt I thought I’d forgotten seep through my bones right down through my feet, rooting me to the floor.
“You’re back,” I said, hearing the words and how my voice suddenly went all croaky and hating how stupid that was.
But I was painfully aware that I had only thrown on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and otherwise still looked like I’d just crawled out of bed. Additionally, after twenty-one years, I was looking at probably the only person on the planet that ever really knew me. And could turn my life upside down.
“Yes I am,” he said, his voice quiet.
“Mr. Landry,” my mother said from behind me as she moved me over from where I’d dropped anchor in the doorway. “Come on in.”
“Just Ben, ma’am,” he said, shaking her hand and then gesturing toward where I stood with my heart slamming against my ribs. His dark eyes warmed with memory. My stomach threatened to send me back my four cups of coffee as I recalled the last time I’d seen him.
“Emily and I are old friends.”
Ben was the boy that put snakes in the teacher’s lounge and snuck into the girls’ bathroom. That popped all the girls’ training bras and spent at least two days each week in detention. That wore an old black jacket with chains on it when he rode his bike, so he’d look like a bad ass. He was the boy that lured me under my house when we were seven for my first kiss, and into a closet in the eighth grade for another one. He was the mysterious, dangerous looking dark-eyed guy in high school who could part a room like The Red Sea when he entered it, who always sat with his back to the wall and never let his guard down. Except with me.
“I don’t remember seeing you around here,” Mom said.
Ben grinned, an endearing expression that transformed him back into the twenty-one year old I’d last seen him as. Time may have dulled some of the edges, but it worked for him, God help me.
“Well, I’m sure we met at some point,” he said, smoothly moving the conversation on as his eyes slowly took in the walls and beams and ceiling. It was as if he were already seeing the possibilities. “So, tell me what your ideas are for this place.”
He followed her as she talked about the paneling that needed to go, the ceiling that needed sheetrock, the insulation that was probably rotten, and the gaping cracks around the windows. Just for starters.
Fortunately for me, it gave me the opportunity I needed to release the breath I’d been holding and suck in a few more.
“Jesus Christ, Ben Landry,” I muttered under my breath on a sprint to the bathroom. What I saw when I got there made me want to hurl. My hair was still straight on one side, kinked up and tangled on the other, and a zit waved from one pale cheek. “Shit.”
I dug in Mom’s drawers for a brush and a ponytail band, and managed to find an old cover-up stick for the zit. I couldn’t find any powder or mascara or blush, but at least I’d moved up a notch from scary to just plain unappealing. I couldn’t remember if I’d put on deodorant, but I saw a bottle of cologne and spritzed my neck.
“Oh God!” I groaned.
It smelled like old woman. Not old woman like my mom, because she was fairly young at heart and active. Old like the women with the beehive hairdos and the stripe of blue eye shadow reaching to their eyebrows.
I found a box of wet wipes under the sink, and attacked my neck with one, but I was pretty sure the smell was still there along with the aroma of aloe.
“Damn it, just shoot me now,” I said to my reflection.
Well, come back tomorrow for Lesson #2!
Also, check out my Facebook page later today for the Hot Tool Guy of the Day, courtesy of sexy carpenter Ben. 😉
Thus starts the pre-launch week of craziness! 🙂
And five very important life lessons via Emily Lockwood of BEFORE AND EVER SINCE… Below are all five lessons you’ll learn between now and March 14th, and each one will come with its own very pertinent exclusive excerpt from the book.
Sit back and enjoy! And follow me on Facebook to get the daily “Hot Tool Guy of the Day”, courtesy of sexy carpenter Ben from BEFORE AND EVER SINCE. Those will be worth the wait.
…just because. 🙂
EMILY LOCKWOOD’S LIFE LESSONS…
#1 Never assume it’s safe to drop by Mom’s house looking like Swamp Girl.
#2 The most likely time to be found is when you’re trying to hide.
#3 Assuming your ex has gotten smarter in your absence is a fail.
#4 Paint can be hot.
#5 There’s no such thing as an innocent kiss when it’s with a not-so-innocent man.
Come back Saturday to start lesson #1…. It’s worth your time!
That’s right, BEFORE AND EVER SINCE is having its turn at the rerelease plate, hitting ereaders on March 14th! My birthday!! (yayyyyy!) I adore these characters so much with their push-pull awkward/sexy/fumbling/falling into each other second chance romance moments. And as if that wasn’t enough stress for Emily, her mom’s house keeps sending her on little trips into the past. Because, yanno… that’s normal. LOL!
Super fun to write, and I’m loving rereading it for quotes! I’ll be sharing some of “Emily’s Life Lessons” excerpts here over the next few days before release day, so keep an eye on it!
THE REASON IS YOU is back and ready to slide into your ereader today! (Squee!!) That’s right, Dani and Jason and that incredibly hot ghost, Alex are back to heat up your ereader on Tuesday, Feb 27th, with a sexy new cover and a snazzy new digital price of just $3.99!
Click here to order!
To celebrate the return of the digital version of THE REASON IS YOU, I’m giving away a Kindle Fire AND a $25 Amazon gift card to feed it with to one lucky winner! 🙂
All you have to do to win is either hop over to my Facebook fan page HERE and look for my giveaway post to comment, or comment below on this post! Extra points if you tell me a funny ghost story. 🙂 Have fun and good luck!
THE REASON IS YOU is back! (Squee!!)
That’s right, Dani and Jason and that incredibly hot ghost, Alex are back to heat up your ereader on Tuesday, Feb 27th, with a sexy new cover and a snazzy new digital price of just $3.99!
If you’ve never read it, only have it in print, or heck, just want to buy the hot new version—here’s your chance! Preorder links are below!
Google Play: http://bit.ly/2EX42Wi
ONCE A CHARMER is live and ready for you to devour Bash and Allie’s story!
By day, Allie Greene stays busy with her family diner, and keeping tabs on her teenage daughter. What’s really exhausting Allie, however, are the nights. Not that she minds Bash Anderson unbuttoning her naughty desires—if only in her dreams. But what was he doing there at all? He’s her best friend, and a father figure to her girl. Talk about awkward. Talk about OMG-heat-and-fireworks that are flipping fifteen years of normal upside down. And now, when Allie needs him as a friend more than ever, logic doesn’t stand a chance against his lips and irresistible deep-blue eyes . . .
Sure, Bash has fantasized about Allie, but there’s no way he’d act on it. She and her daughter are the closest thing to family he’s ever known. With the exception of one drunken moment fifteen years ago, he and Allie have stayed on this side of the line—until that impulsive kiss of hers knocked him on his butt. That’s just one hurdle. Not only does Allie need Bash’s help to save her diner, but his apiary is in trouble, too. To stir the pot further, they’ve been roped into vying for the town’s Honey King and Queen contest—a sweet event that’s making them closer than ever. Something’s bound to come undone. Bash just hopes it’s not the friendship he’s worked so hard to hold on to.
Do you have it yet? 🙂 Click here to get it!
If you preordered it, it’s sitting in your ereader right now all fat and happy and ready to be opened! If you haven’t yet, here are the links you can find it! I love this book, this town, and these characters so much, and I hope you will love them as much as I do. 🙂 Enjoy, and please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think when you’re done!