Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books! – The Home of the Romance Novel
What happens when a carefree, disreputable, stone-broke bachelor is forced to find a wife in a hurry? He hires a matchmaker, of course. What happens when the matchmaker doesn’t want to help him? Well, that’s when the fun begins…
Nicholas Stirling, Marquess of Trubridge, loves his life just as it is: dissolute, scandalous, and deuced good fun. His father, the Duke of Landsdowne is not amused, and when he cuts off Nicholas’ trust fund, the fun-loving marquess is forced to find an alternate source of income—in other words, he has to marry an heiress.
Every new-money American heiress knows Lady Belinda Featherstone is the key to social acceptance. Once a new-money nobody herself, Belinda discovered first-hand how heartbreaking the game of love and matrimony could be after a reprobate British earl married her for her money. Now a respectable widow, Belinda has become England’s most successful matchmaker, guiding young American heiresses through the hazards of the London season and helping them to find husbands worthy of them. To her mind, the Marquess of Trubridge is nothing but a fortune-hunting scoundrel and she has no intention of allowing him to charm his way into any American girl’s heart, including her own.
Why do you need to read this book? I LOVE this story! Nicholas, the Marquess of Trubridge is just simply delightful!! Belinda, Lady Featherstone – equally delightful. I loved their love story – full of simple pearls of wisdom. A Must Read!
When the Marquess Met His Match is available from Amazon
* * *
Excerpt (from the author’s website):
Nicholas’ first thought upon seeing Belinda Featherstone was to curse both her husband and her father for their penchant for heavy gambling. If John Featherstone hadn’t loved cards and racehorses to an obsessive degree, and if Jeremiah Hamilton hadn’t staked and lost his entire fortune on America’s Wall Street, the solution to Nicholas’ problems might have been standing right in front of him, for Belinda Featherstone was one of the loveliest women he’d ever seen.
He hadn’t expected that.
He’d been twenty years old when he’d attended her wedding breakfast, a decade had passed since then, and he remembered little of the event. He had only glimpsed the bride from across the room, and his recollection of her was vague—a painfully thin girl too young for Featherstone and swathed in too many yards of silk illusion and too many strands of diamonds. He hadn’t seen her since, for he spent little time in England, and when he was here, he had never happened to run across her. Lady Featherstone’s social circle had always been too staid for his taste and too respectable to welcome his company.
In deciding to bring his matrimonial situation to her, Nicholas hadn’t given much thought to what her appearance would be like now, but he’d probably have envisioned merely an older version of the unremarkable bride he’d glimpsed ten years ago. And he’d have been dead wrong, for time had transformed the gawky girl of his memory into a beautiful woman, a fact about her that Jack had somehow failed to mention during the past decade.
Large eyes in a heart-shaped face stared back at him, eyes of clear, sky blue surrounded by a thick fringe of sooty lashes. Irish eyes. Another thing about her he hadn’t expected.
Once again, Nicholas’ mind flashed backward, nine years instead of ten, to a different dark-haired, blue-eyed girl, and a summer in County Kildare. His heart twisted, just a bit, in his chest, and for a moment, he felt as if he was twenty-one again, filled with dreams and ideals, and all the other claptrap that only young love could inspire.
He shoved the feeling aside at once. This was no Irish hillside, he was no longer a callow youth, and his dreams and ideals, like his love, had turned to dust a long time ago.
This woman’s black hair was not a riot of corkscrew curls blowing loose in the wind off the Irish Sea. Instead, it was sleek and straight and caught back in an elegant, complicated chignon that had clearly been fashioned by a lady’s maid.
Belinda Featherstone might have the same coloring as the girl he’d once loved, but the similarity in their looks ended there. And besides, from all he knew of Lady Featherstone, she was brimming with scruples and rectitude, two qualities Kathleen Shaughnessy had never possessed.
In fact, Lady Featherstone possessed one of the most pristine reputations in London, and though that fact would definitely benefit him in his quest, it nonetheless seemed a pity. Her mouth was dark pink and eminently kissable with a tiny mole at one corner. There was an unmistakable sensuality there, a quality that must have been there even when she was a young bride, but it was clearly something her philandering husband had clearly not appreciated. It was also another thing about her Jack had failed to mention.
He took a glance down her figure, noting that the stick-thin frame of the girl swathed in tulle had given way to a figure of much more luscious proportions. Even her loosely-fitted tea gown of ice blue silk could not hide the round fullness of her breasts and the undulating curve of her hips. No, he decided, as his gaze traveled slowly back up her body, there was nothing gawky about Lady Featherstone anymore.
He paused at her throat, appreciating the bare skin exposed by the open, lace-edged vee of her gown for a moment before he returned his gaze to her face, and when he looked again into her eyes, heat flooded through his body, the unmistakable heat of desire. For him to be aroused by a woman certainly wasn’t an uncommon thing, and black hair and blue eyes were a combination to which he was particularly susceptible, but given the reason he was here, any desire he might feel for Belinda Featherstone was damned inconvenient.
Not that his feelings seemed to matter much anyway, he thought in amusement, watching as those stunning eyes narrowed. It was clear the stirrings in his body had been perceived, and were not reciprocated, nor even welcomed.
Ah, well, he supposed that was for the best. There were widows happy to set aside the propriety that had been required of them during marriage, but to his knowledge, Lady Featherstone had never been one of those. Her reputation as a widow was as untarnished as the one she’d possessed as a wife. Besides, he knew from Jack that the late Earl of Featherstone had spent every penny of his wife’s dowry prior to his death, and her father had lost his entire fortune in the American crash of ’73, so these days, Belinda Featherstone was a woman of modest means. Nicolas—alas—could no longer afford to become entangled with women who didn’t have money.
“This is a most unexpected surprise, Lord Trubridge.”
Her voice brought him out of his reverie, and with regret, he put aside any lustful thoughts about Lady Featherstone. “A surprise perhaps, but a pleasant one, I hope?”
She made no reply beyond an insincere little smile that made him regret he’d asked the question. Despite her admission of surprise at his presence here, her face displayed no curiosity, and as silence once again fell between them, Nicholas appreciated that this wasn’t going to be an easy interview.
He supposed a woman like her was bound to disapprove of a man like him, but such animosity from the fair sex. Perhaps it was conceited of him to expect more favorable reactions than this, but if so, he was being duly punished for his conceit. The disdain that emanated from her was palpable, and made him feel deuced awkward.
His rather cavalier way of gaining entrance to her drawing room had probably not helped matters, but he’d seen no other way to manage an interview after her initial refusal to see him. It wasn’t as if they were invited to the same parties.
He waited for her to say something, anything, but as the silence lengthened, with the only sound the tick of the clock on the wall, it became clear he would have to take the lead. He gave a slight cough. “Might we sit down?”
“If we must.”
Not at all an encouraging reply, but the best he was going to get, it seemed. He gestured to the celadon green settee behind her with an inquiring glance. She hesitated, as if trying to find a way to avoid settling in for a conversation, but at last, she resumed her seat.
“Lady Featherstone,” he began as he took the chintz chair opposite her, “my thirtieth birthday was four days ago.”
The dryness of that perfunctory reply was not lost on him, but he persevered. “When he turns thirty, a man is often forced to consider his future in ways he would not have done earlier in life. I am at that crossroads.”
“I see.” She cast a pointed glance at the clock on the wall and began drumming her fingers against her knee.
“Hence my decision,” he continued valiantly, “that it is time for me to marry.”
She leaned back, folding her arms, eyeing him with skepticism. “From what I hear, you are not the marrying sort.”
“Jack told you that, I suppose.”
“No, but it would hardly be necessary for him to do so. Your reputation precedes you, sir.”
Having spent a great deal of time and effort cultivating that reputation for reasons of his own, he couldn’t find cause to regret it now. Still, though a few days ago Nicholas would have been happy for a matchmaker to deem him as an unsuitable candidate for matrimony, everything was different now.
“I have not been inclined to marriage, that is true,” he said, “but I have come to a change of heart on the subject.”
“Indeed?” One delicate black brow arched upward. “A mere birthday and a bit of circumspection have been sufficient to motivate this…change of heart?”
Nicholas threw tact to the winds. “Lady Featherstone, I realize custom dictates delicacy in discussions such as this, but I’ve never been much good at beating about the bush. Might we speak frankly?”
Without waiting for an answer, he spread his arms and admitted the truth. “Four days ago, my father, the Duke of Landsdowne, cut off my trust fund, and I am forced to the marriage state by circumstance.”
“And on your birthday, too,” she murmured with what he feared was wholly false sympathy. “How dreadful for you.”
“It’s more than dreadful, madam. It’s damnable. To my mind, no one should be forced to marry for material reasons. But I have no choice. The income from my trust was bequeathed to me by my mother before her death, but my father managed to force…” He paused, trying to think of a more delicate way of phrasing things, but there was none. “He managed to force my mother on her deathbed to make him sole trustee of my inheritance. I had no idea of his power over my income until he cut me off.”
“So it is a change in your pocketbook, not a change in your heart that has brought about these reflections of your future?”
He stirred in chair, feeling suddenly defensive. “The former has induced the latter,” he said. “Bachelorhood is no longer an option for me, which is why I have come to you.”
She frowned. “I’m not certain I comprehend your meaning. What have I to do with whom you marry?”
“Lady Featherstone, everyone in society knows you arrange these things.”
She unfolded her arms and leaned forward, and her gaze skewered him like an icicle. “By ‘arranging things’, what you mean is that you want me to find you a wife rich enough to provide you with the income your father has cut off?”
Nicholas studied her hostile countenance, and he wondered how this woman could possibly make a living as a marriage broker when she seemed so resentful of the concept. “Well, that is what you do, isn’t it?” he asked. “You bring wealthy girls of no background over here from America and pair them with eligible peers in need of money.”
She stiffened, seeming to take offense at this assessment of her profession.
“You needn’t poker up so, Lady Featherstone. You have carved out for yourself an ingenious role in society, and a very necessary one in light of our beastly agricultural depression. I would imagine many a peerage has been rescued from disaster due to your efforts.”
She lifted her chin a notch. “I facilitate the introduction of various American acquaintances into British society, hoping that in my small way, I can help to smooth their path. Whether or not such introductions have the happy result of matrimony is not within my control.”
He couldn’t help grinning at that. “Is matrimony ever a happy result?” he quipped without thinking, but the moment the words were out of his mouth, her cool gaze became absolutely frosty and Nicholas reminded himself that making light of marriage to a marriage broker was probably not a good idea. “I must marry. I have no other choice if I am to have an income.”
“I don’t suppose you could try earning it?”
“Careful, Lady Featherstone. You’re showing your American blood when you say things like that. You know the son of a duke doesn’t earn his living. It’s not done.”
“And you care so much what people think of you.”
He smiled in the face of her sarcasm. “Actually, I don’t give a tinker’s damn,” he confessed with cheer. “But I’m open to suggestions.”
She shrugged. “You have an estate.”
“You know full well land rents are not enough to cover the costs of running an estate these days. Between the sale of the barley, wheat and hops grown at Honeywood, the land rents and the lease of the house, I am able to pay the operating expenses, but there is nothing left over for me to live on.
She shrugged, seeming wholly unsympathetic. “Get a job.”
“Doing what, madam?” He forced a laugh. “What on earth would anyone hire a man like me to do?”
She tilted her head, studying him. “I can’t think of a thing.”
Strangely, that hurt. He didn’t even know her, and yet, her words bruised him deep down in the place where his dreams had once been. But a lifetime of training in how not to show hurt kept his smile in place. “Quite so,” he said. “And even if I were able to obtain some sort of job, it would hardly be one sufficient to support me.”
“Given your hedonistic lifestyle, I should imagine not.”
She made him sound quite depraved. “Lady Featherstone, I realize that my past is somewhat…checkered, but surely that does not make me a wholly undesirable parti. I am a marquess, after all, and the only son of a duke.”
“And do you not think persuading your father to reinstate your income would be a more practical course?”
He gave a laugh. “I doubt it, since my father and I have—by mutual choice—not exchanged a word in person for nearly a decade.”
“But it would be a less unsavory way of obtaining an income than marrying for money.”
“I’m not the first person to seek marriage for that reason, madam,” he shot back, nettled, defensive and genuinely bewildered by her attitude. Shouldn’t a matchmaker with an eligible bachelor in front of her be more amenable? “As for my father, I would crawl to the devil before I would ask Landsdowne for a brass farthing. I realize that a marriage based on material considerations is not ideal, but as I said, I have little choice. I can live off of my credit for a short while, but after that, I am destitute. In the normal course of events, coming to a marriage broker is not how I would go about finding a wife, but I have few options. There—”
“How would you go about it?” she interrupted. “Finding a wife, I mean? In the normal course of events?”
“Not society’s way.” Before she could probe further, he went on, “And I fail to see how that matters at this stage. As I said, I must marry, and as quickly as possible. I haven’t the time, nor—I must confess—the inclination to engage in society’s tedious rituals of proper courtship.”
“And you believe that coming to me enables you to avoid those rituals?” She stared at him as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You think it’s as simple as that?”
“Isn’t it?” Nicholas frowned, truly becoming baffled by her attitude. “You are a marriage broker. I am the son of a duke. I wish to engage you in the task of finding me a suitable wife—that is, one who is rich, preferably pretty, and willing to part with some of her wealth in order to obtain a higher place in society, and later, a duchess’s coronet. I will, of course, pay you a handsome commission out of the marriage portion. This seems to me a straightforward business arrangement, and something you have facilitated many times before. Call me thick, but I fail to see what is complicated about it.”
She made a sound of derision. “You, sir, are nothing but a fortune hunter.”
“At least I am prepared to be an honest one,” he countered. “I am willing to lay bare my situation for my future bride. If you can manage to find me one who is also prepared to be honest about her motives, there should be no cause for concern. It’s not as if you’ve shown any compunction about arranging material marriages in the past. The Duke and Duchess of Margrave, for example, or—”
“The duke and duchess made no material arrangement! And neither have any of the other couples I have brought together.”
“Surely you don’t believe that,” he said, but she was glaring daggers at him, and he gave an incredulous laugh. “By God, perhaps you do believe it. Lady Featherstone, how can you have lived in England this long, arranged matches for countless peers, and still believe that that marriage on this side of the pond is anything but a material arrangement? It’s certainly not an affair of the heart. Believe me,” he added, unable to stop the bitter edge that entered his voice, “I know.”
“I, too, know all about marriage on this side of the pond, sir. I do not need you to explain it to me. And let me assure you that I am not in the least romantic. I am practical. I fully recognize that money plays a certain part in British matrimony, but my friends and the men they married formed unions based on far more than material considerations. These couples had affection—”
“Affection?” he interrupted, diverted and a bit amused by her choice of words. “Well, I daresay affection would impel any man to the altar.”
She set her jaw. “Laugh if you like.”
He was trying hard not to. “No, no, your approach sounds very logical. But you do make me wonder…” He paused and his gaze slid to her gorgeous mouth. “What of passion?”
A rosy tint washed into her cheeks, showing that he’d rattled her cool complacency at last. “Passion is not really relevant to matrimony.”
This time, he did laugh. Her comment was so absurd, he couldn’t help it. “Since most British peers marry in the hope of producing an heir, I think passion is highly relevant.”
Her expression hardened again into indifferent implacability. “Passion does not last. Therefore, it makes an inadequate basis for matrimony. To those who honor me by seeking my advice, I recommend they base marriage on a solid foundation of sincere affection, shared interests and like minds.”
“As I said, I am prepared to be honest with any potential bride about my circumstances and my reasons for marriage. She is then free to make an informed choice about whether or not to accept me. If one is honest from the start, what is the difficulty?”
She sniffed, unimpressed by his assurances of honesty, and he gave it up. The only person with whom he needed to discuss his motives was his future bride, and it wasn’t Lady Featherstone’s business to judge either him or the woman he married. It was only her business to bring them together.
“Can we at least agree that marriage should be approached sensibly?” he asked. “From that standpoint, surely you would be able to arrange several suitable introductions.”
“I think not.” She rose to her feet. “I do not assist fortune hunters, even supposedly honest ones. I cannot help you, Lord Trubridge.”
Nicholas tilted his head back to look up at her, and he considered what his chances might be of changing her mind by further discussion. About nil, he decided. Still, her decision didn’t alter his course. Lady Featherstone could have smoothed his way back into British society and helped him bring this problem to a quick resolution, but it wasn’t to be. He’d have to find his wife another way.
“Very well,” he said and stood up. “I shall have to conduct my search without your assistance.”
“Terrible of me to expect you to find your own wife, I know,” she said, her voice taking on the dulcet sweetness of sarcasm. “I fear you shall now be forced to endure those tedious, proper courtship rituals, despite your contempt for them. I must confess I shall quite enjoy observing your attempts, Lord Trubridge.”
“I shall endeavor to be as entertaining as possible for you.”
“Do.” Now she chose to smile, and it was a smile of satisfaction, as if she’d won some sort of victory. “But I feel compelled to warn you that I shan’t make your quest an easy one.”
“So, if I take your meaning, you are not only refusing to help me, you intend to block my efforts?”
Her smile widened. “In every way possible.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said and meant it. Lady Featherstone had a great deal of influence in society, particularly among the Americans, and he preferred a American wife, partly because he liked Americans, partly because most of the girls were remarkably pretty, and partly—it must be confessed—because the prospect of an American as the next Duchess of Landsdowne was certain to offend his father’s snobbish, class-conscious sensibilities.
Belinda Featherstone could have been of great assistance to him, and in choosing to work against him, she could very well make things much more difficult. But if she hoped her words would intimidate him into giving up his quest, she was mistaken. “Are you threatening me, Lady Featherstone?” he asked, smiling back at her.
“Take it any way you like.”
“Very well then, I shall take it as a challenge. And I have never been able to resist a challenge. But I’m not sure what you can do to stop me,” he added, baiting her, hoping she would reveal her strategy so he would know just what he would be up against. “I appreciate that you are disinclined to help me, but I fail to see what you could do to prevent me from finding a wife by my own efforts?”
Her smile vanished, and her eyes flashed like cool, polished steel. “I shall make sure that any young lady you are considering knows just what sort of man you are, of your scandalous past, the dishonorable reasons for your courtship, the mercenary quality of your intentions, and just what a horrible husband you would make.”
“You must do as your honor dictates, of course,” he said in his most amiable fashion, “but now that the gauntlet has been thrown, let me say that I don’t think your mission will prove quite as successful as you imagine.”
“No. You are assuming I will follow society’s customary courtship rituals, but I have no intention of doing so.”
“What do you mean?”
“I will not be conducting a proper courtship at all. In fact,” he added, his smile widening as he relished her shocked face, “I believe I shall conduct one that is as improper as possible. It’s more fun that way.”
“Oh, you are a devil,” she breathed, her hands clenching into fists at her sides, her expression one of barely controlled outrage. “A wicked, black-hearted rake.”
“No point in denying that,” he said with a shrug. “Most people came to that conclusion about my character long ago, including you, it seems.”
“With good reason, sir!”
She knew nothing about the circumstances that had led to the tarnishing of his reputation nor his reasons for allowing the rumors to stand, and he damned well wasn’t going to launch into explanations now. “Either way, it won’t make a particle of difference. Women love a rake that’s willing to reform. Especially,” he added before she could interrupt, “if he can also evoke her passion.” His gaze slid to her mouth. “Mutual affection, like minds, and shared interests be damned.”
She sputtered, but he gave her no chance to fire off a reply. “Thank you for your time, madam,” he said with a bow. “I wish you good day.”
He turned, but her voice followed him as he started toward the door. “I’ll stop you any way I can.”
“I’m sure you’ll try,” he countered and left the drawing room.
She might choose to work against him, but she couldn’t change the fact that many American girls wanted titled British husbands and were willing to pay for them. So let her do her damnedest. Her challenge only strengthened his resolve.
As he went down the stairs, he contemplated pitting his wits against those of Lady Featherstone, and he found, much to his surprise, that he was savoring the battle ahead. As he’d told her, he never could resist a challenge.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Mission: Seduce the woman who saved him. But does he have the right one?
A breathtaking island resort is perfect for Rafe McCawley to relax, recover…and enjoy the woman whose emails kept him sane during his previous tour. But instead, Rafe is greeted by her stunning sister, Kelly Callahan—pro surfer, resort owner and (God help him) hot enough to set the ocean itself ablaze….
But Rafe doesn’t know the whole truth. Kelly had been the one behind the emails. And she’ll tell him…as soon as she can get her libido under control!
The heat between them is immediate. It’s red-hot. And wrong or right, it won’t be denied….
The Few. The Proud. The Sexy as Hell.
Why do you need to read this book? I love these Uniformly Hot books! This one was great – Rafe needs to come to terms with the fact that the woman he thought he was writing to when he was injured is not who he thought he was writing to.
Mission: Seduction is available on Amazon
The bullet zinged past marine lieutenant Rafe McCaw-ley’s ear. Instantly, he went into defense mode. “Jeep!” he yelled to the doctor and the ambassador as he shoved them toward the vehicle.
“Sniper,” he told his men, but he knew they were already on it. As part of the rescue mission, they’d been trained for moments like this.
Buck and Meyers fired toward the hills.
Murphy had the car door open and helped the civilians in as fast as he could. Rafe used himself as a human shield.
Fire tore into his hip. He’d been hit.
He didn’t falter.
He was the only thing between the sniper and the civilians, and it was his duty.
Pain scorched his right arm. Another bullet. He was a sitting duck, but it didn’t matter. He had to get these people to safety.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion then. A series of bullets pounded his back. His vest kept them from penetrating. The force knocked the breath from his lungs. He lunged forward in a final effort to protect the ambassador, half throwing the man into the vehicle so that Murphy could shut the door. As he did, blood stained Murphy’s neck.
Rafe placed his hand at the wound to stop the blood flow, but he was losing blood, too, and he could feel himself getting weaker.
“Man down. Man down,” Rafe heard himself utter as he slid into the darkness.
“Mister! Hey, mister! Wake up. Bad dreams, man. Bad dreams.”
A groggy Rafe tried to open his eyes. It was as if someone had pulled him up out of quicksand.
“Mister, you okay? Wake up already.”
Blinking his eyes open, Rafe took in his surroundings. A taxi. The driver, who had deeply tanned skin and a thatch of bright white hair, stared worriedly at him in the rearview mirror.
Rafe was in Fiji. Safe.
“Thanks,” Rafe said to the driver. “Sorry for falling asleep.” He must have passed out in the cab. The flight to Fiji had been brutal on his still-healing body, and he hadn’t gotten much rest. Rafe scrubbed his face with his hand.
He was finally here.
Sun. Sea. And a woman.
Rafe figured that was all any man ever needed to heal wounds of the physical or mental variety. While he’d been in recovery for the injuries he’d suffered he’d thought of little else. The letters from Mimi were what kept him going through the intense therapy. Her sweet encouragement and kind words were the elixir his soul used to heal. And were exactly what his mind needed to help forget. Now he would see her in the next ten minutes.
The long hours on the plane here had been torture. His hip, arm and shoulder, which had suffered the brunt of the bullets in the firefight, were still sore. Even with his pain meds he couldn’t get comfortable on the plane. He’d been awake for almost forty-eight hours straight. But he hadn’t grumbled or even worried about it. The only thing in his mind was the image of the gorgeous five-eleven dark-haired beauty he was about to see. It had been eighteen months. He’d kicked himself for not kissing her at the end of their one and only date.
They met at a New York fashion show where Rafe had been duped into modeling some jeans that put him in hot water with the Marines. But it had been worth it to meet Mimi. After the fashion show, she’d taken him to a party with a lot of famous people. At the end of the evening, he’d walked her to her apartment but refused to go up. He was a gentleman, which seemed to surprise her. They hugged, and he left. The next day she flew out of town for a gig in London, and he hadn’t seen her since.
She began writing to him six months ago. That first letter from her was a surprise. He’d written to her six months prior to that and when she hadn’t answered, he thought that despite a great night she had moved on. In her first letter she told him that she traveled so much his letter must have slipped through the cracks.
They wrote back and forth frequently. He tried to get her on Skype or the phone, but things never appeared to work for Mimi when it came to electronics. She said it was one of her many faults. A few days before he’d been shot, he’d received a letter from her saying that as soon as he was free they should meet at her sister’s new yoga and surf camp in Fiji. The time he was ordered to take off for rehab gave him the perfect excuse to accept her offer.
“Almost there,” the taxi driver said as he swerved to miss a cyclist. Rafe’s shoulder hit the side of the car and he winced. He was beginning to wonder if he’d ever be back to 100 percent. Every day he worked his muscles hard to make sure they didn’t atrophy, but nothing moved quite as well as it should. And yet he needed to be ready for anything if he were to return to active duty one day.
The farther they drove away from the airport, the greener and more lush the surroundings. The cab’s open windows allowed the smell of exotic flowers to permeate the air. The car stopped in front of iron gates covered with vegetation.
This was it.
The past year had been hell, and Rafe had to admit hanging out in paradise for a few weeks didn’t sound too bad. Sure beat the hospital and his last three tours.
The driver pushed a button on the console at the side of the gate and the gate swung open.
The what-ifs plagued him. What if Mimi didn’t recognize him? What if she was merely doing this to be nice?
For months he’d imagined swinging her in his arms and kissing her senseless when he saw her again to make up for the lost opportunity on their date.
Play it cool. Get a read on the situation.
He took a deep breath, then another.
The taxi stopped on the circular driveway in front of the resort. Well, it was more like a mansion than a hotel. Mimi said that her sister had worked hard to make it feel like a home away from home.
He grinned. It wasn’t like any home he’d ever lived in. Mimi promised this was a great place to relax and rejuvenate and that was exactly what he needed.
As he glanced up, he realized there were several thatched dwellings along the beach on both sides of the house. They were probably the private bungalows Mimi mentioned. She was setting him up in one, all expenses paid.
He’d been hesitant about that, but she’d insisted, relaying to him that her sister had given her a great discount, since it was for a friend.
Grateful to stretch his legs again, he stepped out of the cab and was assaulted by the salty air coming off the sea. Surrounded by brilliant green foliage, it looked and sounded like a jungle. Birds chirped and there was even a monkey swinging in a nearby tree.
Yes, this was total bliss.
He turned and was expecting to see Mimi, but this woman didn’t look anything like her. She was about the same height, but her hair was long and blond. And Mimi had looked as if she’d never been in the sun, whereas this woman was the color of golden honey.
She had a California girl-next-door quality that would normally be very appealing to him, but he was here to see Mimi.
He cleared his throat. “Yes, I’m Rafe. Are you a friend of Mimi’s?”
She frowned and looked down at her toes for a second before glancing at him. “I’m her sister, Kelly. She’s actually been delayed a few days. She had a shoot in Canada of all places, and she asked me to look after you.”
Rafe’s heart sank. He knew it was silly to be so disappointed, but he’d been looking forward to seeing her.
“Oh. Hi.” He wasn’t sure what to say to this woman. “Uh…should I find someplace else to stay until she gets here?” He could probably find another hotel on the island. His friends told him the lodging and food in Fiji was usually pretty cheap, except at some of the larger, fancier hotels.
“No, no. How can I look after you if you stay somewhere else? No, I have you set up in the Blue Bungalow. Everything is done by color here. Your surfboard is blue, the instructions and times for your classes are in blue. Even the room is decorated in blue.”
She paused and then gave him a worried glance. “You don’t mind the color blue, do you?”
He chuckled. “No. It happens to be my favorite color, but I don’t want to put you to any trouble. And what do you mean by classes?”
The taxi driver cleared his throat, and Rafe pulled out his wallet. “Sorry, man. Here you go.” He gave the driver the money for the fare plus a generous tip. Then he picked up his pack and followed Kelly down a path.
“You asked about the classes,” she said as they tracked along another path, clearly leading to the bungalows on the beach. “There are yoga and surfing classes. I also have Pilates, ballet bar, regular and Bikram yoga classes. They’re popular with our usual clientele here at Last Resort.”
From the looks of the surroundings that usual clientele must be pretty highend. While it had a wild feel to it, the bungalows and the mansion or main building, which had to be at least ten thousand square feet, were very well maintained.
“I don’t do any of those things,” he said.
“I kn— Uh, right. Mimi said that she didn’t think you’d go for it, but I also know that you are getting over some injuries. Surfing might be a little rough on you right now, but yoga could do you some good. And Pilates would help lengthen those muscles and relieve your pain.”
He felt like a jerk for being so blunt. “You know what, I’m here. I might as well try whatever you have.”
Turning, she smiled at him, her blue eyes shining with happiness.
Rafe’s breath caught, and his lower regions responded so strongly he had to position his pack in front of him.
What is wrong with me?
She’s a beautiful woman, but you are dating her sister.
Well, technically they weren’t dating. But he’d flown halfway around the world to see her and that counted for something.
“I’m glad that you’re so open-minded. I find that most women who come here are ready to try new things, but a lot of men are sometimes worried about looking ridiculous. And that’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it. Tons of athletes from football players to track stars do yoga and Pilates. It’s great for stress relief and it helps to clear your mind. We had a hockey team here about a month after I took over. Those guys were up for anything.” Laughter colored her voice.
Clearing the mind was something Rafe needed desperately. The more Kelly talked, the more entranced he became with her. She was like a beacon of light and he was the ship in need of safe harbor. He snorted.
What you need is some sleep.
That was it. He was punch-drunk and slightly delirious. With his defenses down, he didn’t have a chance when it came to Kelly, with her charm and beauty.
“So here we are.” She waved a hand at the bungalow before him. The doors stood wide open, allowing the breeze to cool the large room, which was done in shades of light blue and white. Calming. It was nicer than any place he’d ever stayed. As a marine, he learned to fall asleep anywhere, and when he traveled he usually picked cheap motels. All he usually needed was a bed.
“Are you sure you don’t mind me staying here?” Rafe asked as he ditched his shoes at the door and followed her inside.
The floor was cork or close enough by the soft feel of it. His aching joints relaxed their protest three steps into the place. There was a king-size bed on the left. To the right was a seating area with a huge flat-screen TV on the wall in the center, which could be viewed from both the bed and the sofa.
“Of course I don’t mind. I wanted you to come, when, uh, Mimi told me what you’d been through. I mean, not to make a big deal out of it—your bravery—well, you’re so darn heroic,” she said, and ducked her head as if she were embarrassed. “Sorry. It’s just that Mimi has told me so much about you that I feel like I know you. I’m normally kind of shy, which is why it’s weird that I can’t seem to stop talking around you.”
She grinned sheepishly. “I’m going to stop talking now.”
Rafe couldn’t help but smile at her nervousness.
“Hey, you don’t have to worry about that with me. I spend most of my time with men who only communicate by grunting. It’s nice to hear a friendly voice that isn’t barking orders.”
Her soft chuckle was like a gentle caress. They stared at each other expectantly for a few seconds before he quickly peered at the ocean as though he was interested in the view.
“I bet you’re exhausted,” she said. “The bath is through there. There are robes and a selection of swim trunks if you need them. Dinner is at seven, but there are snacks in your fridge, which is under the television console. You have a butler, whom you can contact by pressing two on the phone. If you need maid service, that’s number three. If you’d rather dine here instead of at the main house, you push four and they’ll deliver the meal for you.
“So, that should be it. If you need me, push six and then seven, seven. We have several guests arriving, but practically everyone who comes to Last Resort is looking for solitude and waves to ride. It’ll be quiet around here for you.”
“Thanks,” Rafe said. “I mean, really. This is way more than I expected.”
The hopeful look in her eyes confused him. It was almost as if she’d worried he wouldn’t like it here. How could he not? The place was mind-blowing.
“Right. If you need help unpacking, you can call the butler. I’ll get out of your hair.”
She sprinted from the bungalow.
He watched as she tripped slightly on the path and then carried on as if nothing had happened.
The two sisters couldn’t be any more different. Mimi never had a hair out of place, and the night they went to the party she had dressed in pricey heels and a fancy dress that barely covered her thighs.
But if he were honest, he much preferred Kelly’s casual white shorts and bikini top.
“You aren’t going there,” he murmured to himself. “Mimi. You’re here for Mimi.”
Right. What’s it to be, then—a cold shower or a nap?
Rafe glanced at the ocean and went in search of his board shorts.
A good hard swim would help ease his tension and get his mind off one very pretty resort owner.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
A high-flying maneuver…with tantalizing perks!
Being stationed at a naval base on Whidbey Island is a dream come true for Navy pilot Jack Callahan. But when a late-night encounter on a beach with a stunning woman turns scorchin’ hot, Jack’s dream starts resembling an X-rated fantasy….
Three weeks in her hometown is nothing short of torture for photographer Maggie Copeland. The town hasn’t forgotten she was dumped at the altar by an aviator, and neither has she—until her naughty rendezvous with the oh-so-scrumptious stranger! But then Maggie learns that Jack is a pilot. Can she resist the force of their sexual chemistry…or will she find herself falling for another flyboy?
Why do you need to read this book? I loved the real feeling of this book. Not a rose-colored glasses romance, but a real one with real people – at least my impression. I enjoyed this book!
Free Fall is available from Amazon
There was simply no other word to describe him.
“Oh, man, you are so freaking gorgeous,” Maggie Copeland breathed in appreciation. “So strong and sleek. C’mon, show me what you’ve got…give it to me, baby.”
It had been years since she’d seen a male specimen as thrilling as this one, and she’d almost forgotten how the sight could make her heart race and her blood sing. As if sensing he had an eager audience, the orca breached, lifting his entire body out of the water and twisting upward in a glorious show of strength and grace, before falling back into the waves. Maggie gasped in admiration. Shamu had nothing on this beauty.
Her fingers worked quickly on the shutter release, snapping pictures in rapid succession. High overhead, she could barely hear the traffic on the twin bridges that spanned the narrow strait known as Deception Pass and connected Whidbey Island to the mainland. But she knew if she looked up, she would see the tiny shapes of hundreds of tourists who had pulled off the road to glimpse the killer whale as he frolicked in the frigid waters below the bridge.
Maggie almost hadn’t bothered to stop, but her curiosity had gotten the best of her. Well, that and the fact that she’d been looking for any excuse to delay reaching her destination. After pulling over, she’d attached a telephoto lens to her camera and had made her way along the pedestrian walkway of the soaring bridge. Her first peek over the edge had made her head swim, and she’d pulled quickly back, her heart racing. The drop was dizzying, and it had taken several moments before she’d had the courage to take a second look, telling herself she wasn’t afraid of heights. But when she’d glimpsed the orca some two hundred feet below, she’d forgotten everything except her desire to capture the magnificent animal on film.
She’d been a teenager the last time she’d navigated the steep, rocky trail that twisted its way beneath the bridge to the water’s edge. Even then, with her brother beside her, she’d been terrified of falling, but tonight she’d managed the descent effortlessly, despite the fading light and the weight of the heavy lens bumping against her hip. The fragrant scent of crushed pine needles underfoot, combined with the salty ocean air, had been so familiar that for a brief moment she’d felt a wave of nostalgia. She hadn’t been back to the Pacific Northwest in almost ten years, and she’d forgotten how good the Puget Sound air smelled. Now she crouched on a high rock overlooking the turbulent waters of Deception Pass, with an unobstructed view of the orca. If only she had more daylight!
Lowering the camera, she glanced toward the horizon, where the sun was rapidly slipping away beneath a breathtaking display of purple-andorange-streaked sky. In another minute, it would disappear completely. The few people who had joined her on the rocky shoreline were already making their way back up to the road, leaving her alone. If she didn’t start back to her car now, she’d have a difficult time negotiating the trail in the dark. She might not be anxious to return to her childhood home in the tiny community of Rocks Village, but neither did she relish the thought of spending the night on a deserted beach.
With a last, longing look at the orca, almost invisible now except for the tall, black fin that sliced through the water, Maggie secured her camera over one shoulder and carefully began working her way to the ground. Almost immediately, her fear of heights returned and she realized that getting down from the boulder was not going to be as easy as climbing up had been. What had earlier seemed a manageable height now seemed like a frightening drop to the rocky beach.
In an instant, she was fifteen years old again, excited that her brother and his friends had allowed her to come with them to Whistle Lake on neighboring Ana-cortes Island. The twenty-foot cliffs were popular with the local kids as a place to prove their bravery and cool off during the warm summer months. But Eric and his friends had craved bigger thrills, and had instead hiked to where the cliffs towered fifty to sixty feet high over the lake. One by one, they had leapt from the rocks into the deep water, and then taunted Maggie when she’d refused to join them.
Nothing could have induced her to leave the security of that rock, but she hadn’t seen Eric’s friend, who had climbed out of the water, make his way stealthily back to where she stood. With a cry of triumph, he had rushed at her. Although later he claimed that he’d only meant to give her a scare, he’d barreled into her, plunging them both over the edge. Maggie knew she’d been fortunate to have only broken a leg, and the boys had been lucky that her mother hadn’t killed them. Maggie had never been back to Whistle Lake and avoided heights whenever she could.
Now, working her fingers into a crack in the surface of the stone, she clung to the side and searched for her next foothold, but there was none. Peering down, she wondered if she could jump, but quickly decided against it. The rocks made the option too dangerous, and she didn’t want to risk breaking an ankle or, worse, damaging her precious camera.
Wishing she was wearing jeans and not a pair of shorts, Maggie stretched her leg downward, feeling blindly for a place to set her foot, and scraped her bare knee against the rough surface of the stone. Swearing softly, she finally succeeded in finding a small sliver of ledge. With her weight now balanced, she groped for a new handhold, dismayed when her camera strap slid from her shoulder and down the length of her arm to her wrist. Nudged off balance by the weight of the heavy lens, she made a grab for it, but it slipped free of her fingers. Instinctively, she stuck her foot out and snagged the strap with her foot. Maggie winced as the camera dangled precariously from the toe of her sneaker, and the telephoto lens bounced sickeningly against the hard stone.
Crap. Now what? She clung to the rock with both hands, balanced on an outcropping no wider than her thumb, with one leg stuck out at a precarious angle and her expensive camera swinging from her foot.
“Do you need a hand?”
Startled, Maggie nearly lost her footing. The voice was deep, masculine and unless she was mistaken, amused. She hadn’t heard anyone approaching, and now she carefully craned her head to get a look at the newcomer. A man stood directly below her with his arms raised as if to catch her. Even from her height, she could see he was young and good-looking, and his voice had a quality that caused something to resonate deep inside her. “Uh…okay.”
He stepped forward, and this time she heard the crunch of rocks beneath his feet. “Here, let me take your camera, and then I can help you down.”
Uncertainty washed over Maggie. She’d spent a small fortune on the camera, and even more on the telephoto lens. These two pieces of equipment were all she had brought with her from Chicago, yet they constituted the foundation of her photography business. If this guy decided to do a grab-and-run, she’d be completely screwed. But the decision was taken out of her hands when he reached up and removed the camera strap from her foot and casually slid it over one shoulder.
“Careful,” she admonished, keeping a sharp eye on him in case he should decide to bolt.
“No worries,” he said easily. “Now it’s your turn.”
To Maggie’s horror and astonishment, he reached up and put his hands on the back of her bare calves, gripping them firmly. Part of her realized that he was only trying to help, but his touch seemed to scorch her skin, and it was all she could do not to jerk away.
“Okay, thank you,” she replied, and her voice sounded high and breathless. “I can manage from here.”
“There’s another ledge about eight inches below you,” he said, ignoring her words. “I’ll help you find it.”
With one hand wrapped around her leg, he eased it slowly downward until Maggie found the small toehold. “Great, I’ve got this,” she assured him, not at all sure that she did. “Thanks.”
“Are you experienced at bouldering?” Now there was no mistaking the amusement in his voice.
“At what?” she asked, momentarily distracted.
“Never mind, I can see that you’re not.” Instead of stepping back, the man slid his big hands up to her hips. “You’ve run out of toeholds, sweetheart. Let go. I’ve got you.”
With both hands gripping her hips, he plucked her from the side of the rock as if she weighed no more than a child. Maggie gave a small cry of surprise as she found herself in his arms, her hands clutching at his broad shoulders. Immediately, she was swamped with sensation.
He felt solid beneath her fingers, and he smelled incredible, like clean laundry and something spicy. Heat poured off of him, and she could feel it even through the layers of their clothing. She had an almost overwhelming urge to curl herself around him and absorb his warmth. He didn’t immediately release her, and it didn’t occur to Maggie to protest. Even in the darkness, she could feel the intensity of his stare. Was it her imagination, or did his arms tighten fractionally around her?
“I’ve got you,” he repeated, and his voice sounded a little husky.
Suddenly, she became aware of the intimacy of their position. Her arms were still looped around his neck, and their faces were so close that she could feel his warm breath against her cheek. Something tightened inside her, making her feel unsettled and short of breath and, despite the cool breeze coming in off the ocean, much too warm. To her relief, he loosened his hold, allowing her to slide the length of his body until her feet touched the ground.
“Thank you,” she gasped, stepping back. Her equilibrium was off, and she swayed. He put a hand out to steady her.
“Are you okay?”
Maggie nodded as she gaped up at him. He was tall, probably a few inches over six feet, and leanly muscled. He wore a white shirt with the sleeves rolled carelessly back over his forearms and a pair of cargo shorts. His hair was cut short, and there was no mistaking the humor in his expression.
“I’m fine,” she assured him. “Just feeling a little foolish.”
“Why? It could have happened to anyone,” he assured her.
“But not to you,” she guessed, smiling.
“Nope,” he agreed, grinning shamelessly. “Not to me.” He slid the strap from his shoulder and handed the camera to her, using one hand to support the telephoto lens. Once she had it back in her hands, she relaxed fractionally.
“Thank you. I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t come along when you did.”
And now that she was no longer in danger of being trapped on the boulder, or lying injured at the base of it, she realized they were alone on the narrow strip of beach, and the earlier glow of the sunset was deepening into the violet of nightfall. Waves washed against the rocky beach, sucking and dragging the stones back into the surf with a loose rattling sound. Maggie knew she should be nervous, but instead she felt oddly safe. Call her crazy, but there was something vaguely familiar about the man, although she was certain they had never met before. If anything, he kept a deliberate distance between them, as if sensing her apprehension.
“Did you get some good pictures?” he asked.
“Of the orca? Yes, I think so.”
“I saw them briefly, from up above,” he continued conversationally, “but by the time I got down here, they were gone.”
“They? “ she asked in surprise, momentarily forgetting her caution.
“Didn’t you see? There were two of them: a male and a female. The first was here, in the strait. The female was headed toward the open sea.”
“What makes you think it was a male and a female?”
He smiled, his teeth white in the darkness. “From the shape of the dorsal fin. The female has a smaller, curved fin. The male’s fin is tall and straight.”
Maggie knew enough about orcas to know he was right. A male and a female. How had she missed the female? Of course, she’d only been scanning the waters of the pass itself, and hadn’t been looking toward the ocean. If a second killer whale had been swimming just beyond the headland, it was no wonder she hadn’t spotted it.
She couldn’t blame the female; faced with the choice of following the male into the narrow bay behind Whidbey Island or making a run for the open sea and freedom, she’d choose the latter, too.
She had chosen freedom, too, she reminded herself.
She’d left Whidbey Island, located north of Seattle in Puget Sound, nearly ten years ago, and she hadn’t looked back. Chicago represented freedom to her, and everything she’d never had growing up on an island in the Pacific Northwest. More importantly, it offered an escape from the humiliating memories of what had happened ten years ago. So why didn’t she feel like she belonged in Chicago? She’d tried to convince herself that the city was where her future lay, but it was times like this that she understood what she’d given up; there would be no killer whale sightings in Chicago, or the scent of salt-tinged air, or the breathtaking beauty of Deception Pass with the sun sinking behind the horizon. With an irritated sigh, she pushed her nostalgia aside, reminding herself that she was only here for three weeks. No way would she allow herself to be drawn back by the local charm and beauty of the area. So maybe Chicago wasn’t where she belonged, but neither was Whidbey Island.
“Well, thanks for your help,” she said politely, and indicated the trailhead that led back to the road. “I’m going to head back up.”
He fell into step beside her, putting one hand beneath her elbow as the terrain grew steep. “You wouldn’t want to fall,” he said in explanation as she looked at him in surprise. “Not with that camera. Of course, I could carry it for you.”
Even with the strap around her neck, Maggie kept one hand on the lens to prevent it from swinging. The result was that her balance was a little off. She considered him for a moment. He seemed sincere enough, and he had helped her. After a moment, she removed the strap from around her neck and handed the camera to him.
“If you’re sure you don’t mind…”
“I’m sure.” He positioned the strap over his body, steadied the lens in one hand and indicated she should precede him up the trail. “After you.”
Maggie clambered gracelessly up the steep path, acutely conscious of the man behind her. Was he checking out her butt? Could he even see her butt? Honestly, it was so dark she had trouble seeing the path. As they climbed higher, the pine trees around them grew thicker, and soon they were in dense woods and visibility was close to zero.
“Hold up a minute,” he called from behind her.
Maggie paused and glanced over her shoulder. He was closer than she realized, and while her breathing was already labored from exertion, he wasn’t even winded.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Legend has it making out under the MacPherson Castle arch guarantees you will find love. But author Nell MacPherson has a better plan, which is fueling the plot of her next book—tapping into the arch’s magic to locate the last piece of a missing family heirloom. And since every book needs a sexy subplot, she’ll save some of that magic for hot one-on-one time with her childhood crush….
Secret Service agent Reid Sutherland is determined to protect Nell from the recent threats aimed at her and her family. Which means no fooling around. But damned if the arch isn’t doing its thing, because suddenly he and Nell can’t keep their hands off each other. With every touch and late-night liaison, they’re heading for big trouble…and this time, Nell won’t be able to write her way out of it!
No Desire Denied is available for purchase at Amazon
Washington, D.C., present day
“I loved your book.”
Those words were music to any writer’s ears, and Nell MacPherson never tired of hearing them. She beamed a smile at the little girl standing in front of her table. “I’m so glad you did.”
She took the copy of It’s All Good the little girl held out to her and opened it to the title page. Her reading and signing at Pages, the bookstore—down the street from her sister Piper’s Georgetown apartment—had run overtime. At one point, the line had spilled out into the street. The store’s manager was thrilled, but Piper—who’d taken an extended morning break to attend—had glanced at her watch twice in the past fifteen minutes. She probably needed to head back to the office.
“What’s your name?” Nell asked the little girl.
“Lissa. But I wish it was Ellie like the character in your book. Mommy says I look like her, but you do, too.”
Lissa was right on both counts, Nell thought. They both had Eleanor Campbell MacPherson’s long blond hair and blue eyes.
“Mommy and I did some research. You’re Ellie’s great-great-great…” Lissa trailed off to glance up at her mother. “I forgot how many greats.”
“Way too many,” Nell said as she autographed the book. “I always say I’m Ellie and Angus’s several-times-great-granddaughter.”
“Did Ellie really draw all the pretty pictures for your story?”
“Yes. She was a talented artist. Every one of the illustrations came from her sketchbooks.”
“And you live in her castle in New York,” Lissa said.
“I grew up there, and I’m going back for a while to finish up another book.” That hadn’t been her original plan. The federal grant had given her a taste of what it was like to be totally independent, allowing her to travel across the country giving writing workshops to young children in inner city schools. For someone who’d been hovered over by a loving and overprotective family all her life, the past year had been a heady experience—one that she intended to build on.
But her sisters’ recent adventures on the castle grounds—leading to the discovery of part of Eleanor Campbell’s long-missing dowry—had caused Nell to question her plan of finding an apartment in New York City and finishing her second book there. Each of her siblings had discovered one of Eleanor’s sapphire earrings. So wasn’t it Nell’s turn to find the necklace? Not that anyone in her family had suggested it. They had assumed she was returning home to settle in and take the teaching job that nearby Huntleigh College had offered her. But a week ago an anonymous letter had been delivered to her while she was teaching her last set of workshops in Louisville. The sender had used those exact words: It’s your turn. Nell had known then that she had to return to the castle and find the rest of Eleanor’s sapphires.
“Are you going to fall in love and kiss him beneath the stone arch that Angus built for Ellie?”
Nell reined in her thoughts.
“Lissa.” The pretty woman standing behind the little girl put a hand on her shoulder and sent Nell an apologetic smile. “Thank Ms. MacPherson for signing your book.”
“Thank you, Ms. MacPherson.”
“Thank you for coming today, Lissa.” Nell leaned a little closer. “Lots of people have kissed their true loves beneath that stone arch. My eldest sister, Adair, has recently become engaged to a man she kissed there. Cam Sutherland, a CIA agent. He’s very handsome. And my aunt Vi is going to marry Cam’s boss.” Then she pointed to Piper who was standing near the door. “See that pretty woman over there?”
“That’s my other sister, Piper. She’s a defense attorney here in D.C., and she just kissed her true love, FBI agent Duncan Sutherland, beneath the stone arch two weeks ago.”
Lissa’s eyes went wide. “And now they’ll all live happily ever after, right?”
“That’s the plan. In the meantime, my sister Adair and my aunt Vi are turning Castle MacPherson into a very popular place to fall in love and then have a wedding.” She winked at the little girl. “When you’re older and you find your true love, you might want to bring him up there.”
“Can I, Mommy?” Lissa asked, a thrill in her voice.
“I don’t see why not. But I can’t see that happening for quite a while.”
Lissa turned back to Nell. “What about you? Aren’t you going to kiss your true love under the stones?”
“Someday,” Nell said. But while her older sisters and her aunt might be ready for happy-ever-afters, Nell had much more she wanted to accomplish first. Finding Eleanor’s sapphire necklace and finishing her second book were at the top of her list.
The instant Lissa’s mother steered her daughter toward the checkout line, Piper crossed to Nell’s table. “The Bronwell trial starts on Monday, and my boss is holding a press conference at five o’clock.” Piper glanced at her watch. “I can treat you to a quick cup of coffee.”
“No problem.” Nell grabbed her purse and waved at the manager.
“You’re great with the kids,” Piper said. “They love talking to you about Eleanor and Angus.”
She and Piper had nearly reached the door of the shop when a man rode his bike up over the curb and jumped off. A sense of deja vu gripped Nell even before he had entered the store and she had read Instant Delivery on the insignia over his shirt pocket. The anonymous letter she’d received in Louisville had also been hand delivered.
“I have a letter for Nell MacPherson. Is she still here?” He spoke in a loud voice, his gaze sweeping the room.
“I’m Nell MacPherson.”
The relief on his face was instantaneous. “Glad I didn’t miss you. I was supposed to get here half an hour ago. The traffic today is worse than usual. If you’ll just sign here.”
As she signed, Nell’s mind raced ahead. She hadn’t told anyone in her family about the first letter. They would have wanted her to come home to the castle immediately so they could protect her. Worse still, now that her two sisters were involved with agents from the CIA and the FBI, they would have sent someone to hover over her. And the number one person they would have in mind would be Reid Sutherland.
Nell intended to avoid that at all cost. She also intended to avert their expectation that she and Reid live happily ever after. Just because her two sisters would soon wed Reid’s two brothers didn’t mean she had to marry the last triplet. No way was she ready for that fairy-tale ending.
This whole year had been about demonstrating to them that she could take care of herself. She took a quick look at the envelope held out to her. It was one of those standard-letter-sized ones used for overnight deliveries. The only return address was for the Instant Delivery office. She accepted it and tucked it under her arm.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Piper asked as they moved out onto the street.
“It’s probably from my editor.”
“Why would she send something to the bookstore? She’d simply call you, right? I think you should open it.”
Curiosity and determination. Those were Piper’s most outstanding qualities, and they served her well in her career. She wouldn’t rest until she knew what was in the letter.
Nell pulled the tab. Inside was one page and the first four sentences matched the message in the first letter.
Your mission is to find the sapphire necklace that Eleanor Campbell stole from our family. Your sisters knew where to find the earrings. Now, it’s your turn. I’ll contact you and tell you how you can return the Stuart sapphires to their rightful owners.
Nell’s gaze dropped to the last sentence. It was new, and an icy sliver of fear shot up her spine.
If you choose again to ignore your mission, someone in your family will die.
“One for the road,” Lance Cabot said with a grin as he assumed the ancient fighting position, arms bent at the elbows and hands flexed.
Setting aside the file he was working on, Reid Sutherland stepped out from behind his desk and mirrored his adversary’s stance. For seconds they moved in a small circle like dancers, retaking each other’s measure.
“I can teach you the move,” Reid offered as he had countless times before. Growing up as the oldest of triplet boys, he’d taken up martial arts as soon as his mother had allowed it. And he’d created the move by using his brothers for practice.
“Where’s the fun in that? I think I’ve finally figured it out.”
Reid blocked the kick aimed at his groin. “Maybe not.”
They were evenly matched in height and weight, and Reid knew from experience that the baggy sweatshirt the man was wearing hid well-honed muscles. Reid was five years younger, so that gave him one advantage. And while four years at West Point and assignments in Bosnia and Iraq had kept his opponent fit, they hadn’t provided the training in hand-to-hand combat that the Secret Service required of its agents. Another advantage for Reid. Plus Cabot’s four-year stint in the United States Senate, not to mention a wife and two kids, could slow a man down.
A well-aimed foot grazed Reid’s hip bone, making it sing. He feinted to the right, but the move didn’t fool Cabot, and Reid had to dodge another kick. He blocked the next blow but felt it reverberate from his forearm to his shoulder. For two sweaty minutes, Cabot continued to attack, and Reid continued to defend himself.
Cabot had one major advantage. He was the vice president of the United States, and Reid’s job was to protect him. Therefore, Reid kept his moves defensive. His office was not designed for hand-to-hand combat, but over the past year, that had meant squat to the VP. Thank God.
Reid feinted, ducked low and for the first time completely avoided Cabot’s foot. The maneuver should have caused his opponent to stumble, but Lance Cabot merely shifted his weight and resumed his stance. “I like your moves.”
“Ditto,” Reid said as they continued their circular dance. He loved his job. Two things had drawn him to the Secret Service. First, the agency filled a need he’d had from an early age to protect those he cared about, and it allowed him to fulfill that need in a way that challenged him intellectually as well as physically.
Reid blocked a kick and danced to his right. Both of them liked a good fight, and neither wanted it to end yet. That was only one of the things that the two men shared. Like the VP, Reid knew what it was to balance family responsibility against that desire to push the envelope. He’d lived with it all of his life, and protecting the vice president had allowed him to push that envelope in ever new and exciting ways.
Keeping Cabot safe was first and foremost a mind game. It required the ability to foresee all possible scenarios in a given situation. Making sure that the VP could enjoy a Wednesday-night dinner with his wife in Georgetown posed almost as much of a challenge as his recent visit to the troops in Afghanistan. Plus the job offered the added bonus of protecting someone who was addicted to risk taking. Reid’s boss had handpicked him to head up Cabot’s Secret Service detail so that the VP’s daredevil streak could be indulged—safely.
To date, those indulgences had included race-car driving, rock climbing and most recently skydiving. For Reid, it was the job of his dreams. And he’d learned that indulging the VP’s danger addiction made him easier to manage when the threat might be all too real.
“We’ve been sparring like this for over a year. Are you ever going to show me your A game?” Cabot asked.
“Someday.” Reid gave the man points: he wasn’t even breathing heavily. “When it’s no longer my job to protect you from serious injury, I’ll be happy to oblige. Are you ever going to show me what you think my secret move is?”
“Soon,” Cabot promised.
Unfortunately the clock was ticking down. Last night Reid had officially gone on vacation. Jenna Stanwick, an up-and-coming agent he’d been personally training for the past month, was heading up the protection unit in his place. She would keep watch over the VP and his family for the next two weeks while they vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard. The Cabots were due to leave within the hour.
As if he too was aware that time was running out, Lance Cabot, quick as a cat, made his move, coming in low to grab Reid’s arm. Reid countered it by pivoting, before he snaked his other arm around Cabot’s neck and tossed him over his head. One of the chairs in front of his desk overturned and a paperweight clattered to the floor.
The door to the office shot open, and Jenna Stanwick strode into the room, gun drawn. With one sweeping glance she assessed the situation and reholstered her weapon. “Having fun, boys?”
“You didn’t see this,” Lance Cabot said as he got to his feet.
“See what?” Jenna asked.
Lance turned to Reid. “Maybe she will work out as your temporary replacement.”
Shooting Jenna a look of approval, Reid said, “She will. She has four brothers. Plus I taught her my secret move. She’ll teach it to you, if you want.”
“Not on your life.” But he studied Jenna with new interest. “How about if I practice on you, and you can tell me when I’m close?”
Jenna smiled at him. “I’d love to, but you’ll have to check the schedule your wife has mapped out. It looks pretty full to me.”
Once Jenna had stepped out and closed the door, Reid righted the overturned chair and offered it to Cabot. “You are going to have a good time with your wife and sons. Even if none of the planned activities offer much of an adrenaline rush.”
Cabot grinned at him. “Oh, there’ll be adrenaline rushes—they’ll just be different. Isn’t it time you explored the adventures you can have once you marry and have children?”
Reid raised both hands in mock surrender. “No thanks. I’m not cut out for family responsibilities.” He’d decided that a long time ago, during the slew of repercussions that had followed his father’s arrest for embezzlement.
With a grin, Cabot sank into the chair. “You just need the right woman to change your mind.” He waved a hand at the photos displayed on the credenza beside Reid’s desk. “Or maybe your brothers could do the job, seeing as they’ve both found that special woman in the past few months.” He dropped his gaze to the duffel bag at the foot of Reid’s desk. “For a man who’s dead set on avoiding the whole marriage-and-family thing, aren’t you running a huge risk spending your vacation up at that castle with those magic stones?”
Reid narrowed his eyes. “Who says I’m going to Castle MacPherson?”
Cabot’s grin widened. “Elementary. Really elementary. I don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out you’re headed there. Not with the publicity your brothers have received lately. Each of them has been involved in the discovery of part of the long-missing Stuart sapphires. But the necklace is still lost. My bet is that sibling rivalry alone is pulling at you. I’m surprised that some enterprising reporter hasn’t sought you out for an interview.”
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Jonah Wallace knows what it’s like to grow up without love. Despite having more money than the Queen of England, his childhood was cold and stale as he grew up in boarding schools. He’s dedicated his life to helping homeless and displaced children find the love and support they need by creating the Haven House Foundation, work that resulted in him being Knighted by the Queen.
Now that he’s living in America, his work is going along just fine…until his grandfather gives fate a little nudge by insisting he take a wife before he can inherit.
Coffee shop owner, Maggie Bonelli, is pregnant and the baby’s dad has gone AWOL. She knows too well the pain of growing up without a daddy. So when Jonah Wallace comes into her shop proposing marriage for a year, she takes him up on his offer, even if it’s only for a year. Live in a mansion and give her baby a name and a daddy to call his/her own. But can they keep their perfect arraignment strictly business…or will fate’s helping hand bring them love at last?
Why do you need to read this book? This is a Cinderella-ish story – my favorite kind! The Knight – Jonah is determined to marry for all the wrong reasons. Maggie is determined to provide a father for her baby – for all the wrong reasons. They both teach each other what is important….and it isn’t money I loved how this book seemed to be predictable at the beginning, but it was anything but. Loved this story!
The Knight and Maggie’s Baby is available on Amazon
* * *
“Forty-five minutes tops,” she blurted out. “Are you out of your mind?”
Her tone was incredulous. And he really didn’t blame Maggie if she thought he was nuts. He felt nuts. Desperate, too. But he found himself defending his proposal.
“Quite possibly. But you see, that’s exactly my point. I have a bit of a time-crunch here, and it seems as though–”
Maggie folded her arms across her chest. “How silly of me. Here I thought you were sweeping me off my feet.”
He shook his head with a chuckle. “I do sound mad, don’t I?”
“Recognition is the first step toward recovery.”
Something rumbled up from deep inside him. Jonah laughed at himself, this disastrous day, and the absurd situation he’d been forced into by his grandfather. It felt good to laugh. That in itself was incredibly surprising, considering he hadn’t managed to do much laughing at all since he’d learned of the impending plans for Wiltshire.
He peered at Maggie through moisture filled eyes. She wasn’t laughing. But she was incredibly beautiful. Her sapphire eyes sparkled when she teased him. There were small freckles sprinkled across her nose that looked adorable with the sun shining on her creamy skin.
When she looked at him the way she was right now, it didn’t seem like such a crazy idea to marry her. At least not for the reasons he was proposing. He hadn’t given it a second thought. And yet, now he realized just how ridiculous he looked from her eyes.
“I’m not making a pass at you. Truly, I’m not.”
“You just asked me to marry you.”
“I’m asking for your help.”
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Garrick LeBlanc never intended to fall in love with two people, but he has, and now he has to figure out what to do about it. He wants to make them happy, but is afraid he’s doing just the opposite. To make matters worse, he’s trapped in New Brunswick until the end of the hockey season, while his lovers are both in Boston.
Savannah Morrison has no one but herself to blame for practically shoving her lover into the arms of another man. After all, it was her idea that Garrick take a lover while they are separated for the season. She loves Garrick with all her heart, but how the hell is she going to share him with Rhian?
Rhian Savage used to have such a simple life. Now he’s in love, his dreams of skating on an NHL team are coming true, and he keeps spotting a strangely familiar face in the crowds. To top it all off, he has to see Savannah every day. He knows she’s Garrick’s real future, but he doesn’t have the balls to do the right thing for all of them and end it—until his life goes sideways. As usual.
Now Rhian is alone, Garrick is heartbroken, and Savannah—the one person Rhian figured would celebrate his departure—is beating down his door. What the hell is up with that?
Why do you need to read this book? This book is the conclusion of an absolutely outstanding trilogy. Rhian, Garrick and Savannah are characters that I just fell in love with. So well written! I highly recommend this book and the whole trilogy in fact. Pick up the ebooks and enjoy!
End Game is available on Amazon
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Rhian Savage is working his way up the ranks of professional hockey, with the dream of making it to the NHL getting closer every day. He’s doing it alone—no family, no friends—and that’s the way he likes it. Then he arrives in New Brunswick, and meets the Moncton Ice Cats. Suddenly, he’s got friends—and even something that might be an honest-to-god crush.
Garrick LeBlanc is lonely and counting the days until his last season with the Ice Cats is over and he can move to Boston. When his girlfriend suggests he take a lover—as long as that lover is a man and he tells her all about it—Garrick laughs it off. But damned if his friend Rhian doesn’t suddenly take on the starring role in his fantasies. Good thing Rhian is way too young—and straight—for what Garrick has in mind.
Rhian takes a chance when Garrick’s increasingly confusing signals start making sense, and soon discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Sex with strangers is simple. Sex with his best friend?
Why do you need to read this book? Frankly, I’m not a fan of MM erotic romance, but after getting to the end of book 1 of this series, I was determined to continue on with this story and find out where it would go. Like the first, this book has amazing characters – yes it is steamy, but the characters of Rhian, Garrick and Savannah are OUTSTANDING! Must read!
Two Man Advantage is available on Amazon
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Savannah Morrison is the new athletic trainer for the Moncton Ice Cats, a professional hockey team in the wilds of New Brunswick. It’s a good thing she’s got plenty of knowledge and grit, because as the only female trainer in the league, she has to work twice as hard to win the players’ respect. The last thing on earth she would do is date one of them.
Twelve-year hockey veteran Garrick LeBlanc isn’t ready to hang up his skates, particularly since he hasn’t figured out what the hell he’s planning to do next. He needs the new trainer to keep him fit to play, and she’s got the skills to do it. Too bad he lost his mind and hit on her the day they met. Now she hates his guts and he’s made an art of ignoring her.
When the team is put up for sale, Garrick and Savannah have to work together to save their jobs and their team. Somewhere along the way, they discover Garrick isn’t just a hockey player, Savannah isn’t only passionate about her work, and just maybe they’ve got more in common than they thought.
Why do you need to read this book? This book is the first of a trilogy – although I really didn’t have any intention of reading more than this one at first. Often erotic romances lack decent plot and character development – maybe as a trade off for the steaminess of the book. This book quickly grabbed my attention and kept me reading to the end. Once there I went searching for the next two in the series. I love Ms Wayland’s writing style and I love what she does with characters. I’m on to book #2!
Fair Play is available on Amazon
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Lily Frazer would do anything to save the Frazer Center for the Arts—even take on the infamous billionaire Calder Cunningham. When Lily breaks onto the Cunningham estate, she only wants to find and reason with Calder. (All right, all right, she wants to punch him in the face, too, but that’s Plan B.) As it turns out, the arrogant billionaire is willing to give her the money he promised, but there’s a catch: she must win it from him.
And the games he has in mind aren’t exactly… innocent.
Lily isn’t about to give up the money without a fight (or let some haughty bastard seduce her), but she quickly discovers that there might be more to the brooding Calder than she initially perceived. As their games of cat and mouse become increasingly sexual in nature, she suddenly finds herself confused by her own emotions. Can she deny her attraction long enough to win the money she needs?
A contemporary, steamy take on Beauty and the Beast, His Wicked Games is a tale of devilish deeds, wild passions, and wicked romance.
Why do you need to read this book? I loved the interaction between Calder and Lily. They simply sparked off of one another!
His Wicked Games can be purchased from Amazon
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
It’s time to announce a change here at Sugarbeat’s Books. I’ve decided that I won’t be accepting anymore outside submissions for my blog. I won’t be accepting books from authors in exchange for a review, I won’t be doing any other features by request.
To be honest, I haven’t been accepting reviews requests in some time. I found it upsetting to have to tell an author I didn’t like their book. Frankly, I don’t want to finish a book that I’m not enjoying. I have lots of books in the house so I would rather just move on to the next one in my TBR pile.
In August 2010 when I first started this blog, it never really occurred to me that anyone would read what I had to say. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and honored to have met some wonderful fellow readers via my blog. I remember reading a post early on about a blogger getting free books and was amazed. It never occurred to me to start blogging to get free books – I just wanted the technological challenge of creating a blog, and the freedom to express my thoughts on the books that I loved.
The free books started coming. With them were authors who wanted someone to talk about their book. Someone to like their book and to help them promote it.
Isn’t the expression, “There isn’t any free lunch”?
With free books comes not only a responsibility, but it also turns a hobby into work. Along with the increased visibility of a blog comes an increase in the requests from authors. I get hundreds of requests each month. There’s only me. I don’t have a staff of reviewers. I quickly found the requests overwhelming. In fact 6 months ago, I figured out that I was spending about 10 hours each week simply responding to emails. 10 hours that I could be reading. So I started only responding to emails for the books that I was interested in.
Stories periodically bubble to surface on social media about authors responding poorly to what in some cases aren’t even bad reviews. That made me even more nervous about accepting requests from authors that I didn’t know in some fashion.
The latest fervor to hit social media was an author stalking a reviewer for comments about a book that frankly weren’t as bad as others that were posted. This situation was recently discussed at a conference that I attended. The blogger that was giving the talk stated that she had contingency plans in place to protect her kids and her family if she was threatened. My mind came to a screeching halt. The fact that my hobby would put my family in danger was appalling to me.
At that point I knew that I needed to put my family’s safety ahead of my hobby.
From now on, I’ll be posting my thoughts about books that I like, that I’ve acquired from the used bookstore or the library – just like I did when I was first starting out. I won’t be taking any outside requests. Going back to the way I started!
It pains me to be writing this post, but the world that existed when I first started blogging all those years ago isn’t the world that exists now. I hope that my readers will continue to enjoy my thoughts on the books that I’ve read, and share their thoughts with me. I also hope that authors understand the position that I have been forced to take.