This is my favorite scene from Alethea’s Redemption because it’s where Marc Stone saw past Alethea’s bravado and began to understand her. It was where he changed, for me, from a hot hero to a man I fell in love with as I wrote him. In this scene I realized why Marc and Alethea were meant for each other: more than anyone else ever has or probably ever will, he understands her. She’s flawed, as is he, but he wants he wants.
On his terms.
Having her so close and not being able to touch her was torture, sweet torture. Thank God I didn’t promise not to look. Watching her beautifully toned arms slice through the water, and the glimpse of her breasts just beneath the water, had him painfully aroused. He gave up trying to pretend, swam to the edge, and propped himself up with an arm on either side to savor the view.
If mermaids look anything like her, no wonder sailors dive to their doom.
Her delightful bare ass arched above the waterline each time she reached the end of the fake river and dove to turn. As she swam by him, he saw what looked like a half smile on her face and chuckled. She knows exactly what she’s doing to me and she’s waiting for me to give in and chase her. That’s what she’s used to.
The man chases.
She gives only what she wants to.
I could let her win, agree to her terms, and the reward would be a night between those sweet thighs. One night of sex would be no different than any hookup I’ve ever had.
And that’s the problem. I don’t want just one night. I want to know what scares a woman the FBI considers more of a liability than an asset. Someone to hire when they need her, but not someone they want on their payroll.
Someone so good at what she does that, like NASCAR, people watch in fascination, waiting to see her crash, even as they cheer her on. Like Dominic, she made more enemies than she did friends.
He had to admit that he’d spent more than a few evenings imagining how good it would feel to humble her a bit. Her bold, take-no-prisoners and win-at-all-costs attitude elicited a strong emotion in many people.
And I’m only human.
The more time he spent with her, however, the more he saw that she didn’t want to win—she needed to. She wasn’t driven by fame; in fact, even in the midst of intense public scrutiny of those near her, she’d managed to stay under the radar. Keenly intelligent with the ability to read most people, she was a master manipulator.
But to what end?
Money didn’t impress her.
She could have parlayed her connections into a position of power, but she hadn’t.
Every once in a while, if he looked closely enough, he glimpsed, what he’d bet his life on, was fear. Not the I’ve-had-my-heart-broken surface shit, but the wake-up-terrified-and-sweaty kind of mental scar that comes from being brutally thrown into hell and then deposited back on earth. A scar you hide, even from those you love, because some things are too ugly to share.
He understood scars, internal as well as external.
Watching Alethea tirelessly swim back and forth before him gave him time to come to a decision. Sometimes you have to tear something down before you can build it up stronger.
She shot him another look as she swam by. Their eyes met and fire sprang between them.
What is your favorite scene from Maid for the Billionaire?
This is mine.
(You don’t have to quote it, just share it. Dominic always puts a smile on my face.)
Her attraction to him hadn’t been in his imagination. She’d enjoyed that kiss as much as he had. First hot, then cold. Was it all a game? If so, it was one that he had no intention of losing.
He knew one way to find out her real motivation.
“Would you stay for ten thousand dollars?” he asked.
He felt a stab of disappointment when she stopped before opening the door and turned back to face him. “Do you think I’m for sale?”
He hoped not.
“How about a hundred thousand?” He forced the words out.
“Is it because I’m a maid that you think you can talk to me this way?” Her hands were back on her hips, eyes flashing with fury, which only made her more beautiful.
The final test. “You’re a shrewd bargainer. A million. I’ve never met a woman who was worth that amount of money, but I suspect I won’t regret tonight.”
She opened the door with one hand and said, “You’re a pig, an egotistical pig. If you even have a million dollars, I suggest you roll it up and stick it up your—” the last word was lost beneath the sound of the door slamming behind her.
He had a pretty good idea where she’d suggested he put it.
His chuckle blossomed into a full, hearty laugh until he was wiping wetness from around his eyes. The release of tension felt good.
Damn, that is one incredible woman. Looking back over the evening, he gave into more laughter as he settled back onto one of the cushions by the coffee table and filled his plate with fried rice.
I fall in love with each of my heroes as I write them, but Andrew Barrington, from Let It Burn, holds a special place in my heart. It could be because he’s so damaged at the beginning of the book. I cried as I wrote that scene.
No, it’s more than that. I knew Andrew would be a character who always stayed with me when my husband, a retired Marine, read the opening over my shoulder then sat down beside me. It’s not unusual for my husband to read my stories and make suggestions, but the opening moved him enough that he started sharing stories of men he’d known who came back in the same heartbreaking condition.
It was important to my husband that Andrew was portrayed in a way that honored the real struggle veterans often face when they come home. If you read a scene and tear up, know that my husband and I wrote it with tears in our eyes. If you feel yourself cheering for him to make it, know that we cheered for him, too. He became real to us.
This is a photo of my husband who retired after serving for twenty-two years. He’s not afraid to come to someone’s defense, but is also an incredibly kind and supportive soul.
I wrote a wild adventure for Andrew and, Helene Franklin, the woman he falls in love with. My husband and I spent about as much time laughing our butts off as we did wiping tears from our eyes. Helene is a quirky virgin with a strong sense of self, and exactly what Andrew needs. His questions will put her in danger. Her love will set him free.
Come fall in love with my favorite Barrington brother, Andrew.
Billionaire Andrew Barrington walked away from the lavish lifestyle he was raised in to serve as a Marine. Until recently, he would have said he’d made the right choice. A tragic set of events, however, has him not reenlisting and emotionally hitting rock bottom.
Helene Franklin is visiting her uncle as part of an extended vacation in Aruba. She trades her bikini for an office job when he says there is trouble brewing at his clinic and asks her to keep an eye out for anything unusual.
Every Marine needs a mission. To appease his family, Andrew heads to Aruba to track down what he believes is a wild goose chase. Expecting to discover nothing, he meets a quirky, irresistible virgin who is just about to turn his whole world upside down.
His questions will put her in danger.
Her love will set him free.
What will they gain and what will they lose when they both decide to. . .let it burn?
Available for pre-order now!
Release Date: Jan 17, 2016
A month earlier
A repeating loud noise in the distance pierced through Andrew Barrington’s dreamless sleep, pulling him grudgingly back from the only part of the day he found comfort in. Lately, sleep required a substantial combination of alcohol and sleep aids. It was a dangerous game of chemical Russian roulette, and one he was beginning to think he’d rather lose.
He threw an arm out to see if he was alone. Christy, or maybe her name was Christine, had attached herself to him a couple weeks ago after they’d hooked up at a bar. She said he was not only gorgeous, but fucked up just enough for her. He didn’t ask and she didn’t say if she was a prostitute. In the last month, she’d tracked him down several times to spend the night with him. The next day there was always money missing from his wallet, but she was a good fuck who didn’t ask questions so he hid his credit cards and padded his wallet with extra bills for her. He couldn’t remember if she’d come home with him the night before or not. The days had begun to blur into each other.
Realizing the loud noise was someone knocking on his door had him cursing. “Whoever you are, go the fuck away,” he snarled.
The door crashed open and a man walked across the room toward him.
What the fuck?
He closed the now damaged door behind him. “The name is Emmitt Kalling. I was hired to find you.”
Andrew sat up slowly, hating how the room spun almost as much as he hated the stranger before him. “By my family?” Only they would resort to something this dramatic. “I’ll pay you double what they paid if you say you couldn’t find me.”
Emmitt looked around the room at the trash and piles of clothing. He kicked a pair of women’s underwear out of his way as he stepped farther into the room. “How long have you been like this?”
After rubbing a hand over his throbbing temple, Andrew swung his feet around and stood with a groan. He left Emmitt standing in the middle of his hotel room while he took a much-needed piss then caught his reflection in the mirror and curled his lip in disgust. It hadn’t taken long for his outside to reflect how he felt on the inside. He leaned on his hands and looked into his bloodshot eyes. Did I finish the Jack Daniels last night? I could use it now.
Emmitt spoke from the doorway of the bathroom. “What the fuck happened to you?”
A flash of a memory pierced through Andrew, and he clutched the sink counter. Her smile. Her fucking smile. He couldn’t get it out of his head. Lofton’s seven-year-old, pretty-as-ever, chocolate-eyed daughter had run to him when she’d seen him, assuming her father was one step behind him. Her bright smile had filled his mouth with the taste of his own vomit. “Is your mother here, Giniya?”
“She’s in the bathroom and told me not to answer the door, but I saw you in the window.” She’d looked past him, not asking, but she didn’t have to.
Gabrielle Lofton was quickly at her daughter’s heels, but her reaction to him was much different. When she saw he was alone, she knew. Fear. Shock. Horror. Her eyes had pleaded for Andrew to deny the reason he was there. “Gini, go get a bottle of water for Uncle Andrew. I bet he’s real thirsty.”
“You run along and get it, Gini. And before you come back, clean your plate from your snack.”
“Go Gini, now,” Gabrielle had cried, and the smile had faded from her daughter’s face.
Pulling himself back from the memory, Andrew used the palms of his hands to roughly wipe at his eyes. Fuck. “How much is it going to take?”
Emmitt leaned on the doorjamb and shook his head. “I’m not leaving.”
The anger that held him in a dark grip found an outlet. He rose to his full height. “Yes, you are.”
With a shake of his head, Emmitt pushed himself off the doorframe. “Calm down, man. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I’m not the one you should worry about.” Andrew turned and stepped toward Emmitt without a clear plan; all he knew was that Emmitt was leaving, one way or another. Unfortunately, the speed in which he’d turned undermined his balance and the floor came up quickly to meet him. He broke his fall with his arm and was on his knees in front of the other man, failing at first to get back to his feet. “Enjoying the show?” he growled.
“Get the fuck out of here.” No one needs to see this. Not him. Not my family.
Emmitt crouched down in front of Andrew. “You don’t need to tell me what happened, but I’m not going anywhere. I’ve been where you are in here.” He tapped his own temple. “I’ve done things and seen things no man or woman ever should. There are days when I think I don’t deserve to be the one who came home, but then I remember that my miserable life, insignificant as it sometimes seems to me, matters to my family. You matter to yours.”
Andrew sat back on his haunches. “Was it my father? Did he send you?”
“No, Dax Marshall hired me.”
“My sister’s husband?”
“Why the hell would he? I’ve never met him.” I didn’t even bother to go back for their wedding.
Emmitt sighed. “He loves your sister and, by default, you. Those were his words, not mine.”
Andrew closed his eyes. He’s good to her. She’s always leaving me messages about how happy she is with him. “My whole family is so fucking happy lately.” They’re all getting married, having kids . . .
“And you’re here.”
Andrew pushed himself back to his feet. “Exactly.” He met Emmitt’s eyes and said harshly, “Go back and tell them whatever will make them stop looking for me. I’ve got some things to work out before I can see them.”
“Your brother Lance was afraid he got you killed. He was beating himself up over telling you about Aruba.”
“He asked you to look into something he’d discovered over there.”
Nodding tiredly, Andrew pushed past Emmitt and began to search for whatever alcohol might be left in the room. “Oh, yes, his conspiracy theory. Doctors dying. People missing. All during the same time my brother and sister were born there, twenty-nine years ago. Who gives a shit about anything that happened back then?”
“Apparently Lance does. He thinks it might have been tied to the stillborn death of Kent. Negligence that was covered up.”
Andrew scored a half-full bottle of Scotch from beneath a pizza box, opened it, and took a long drink. “What does he want to do? Sue the hospital if he finds they were at fault?” As if my family needs more money?
Emmitt folded his arms across his chest. “He wants answers. Consider finding them for him.”
After taking another long drink, Andrew wiped his mouth with his forearm. “Why would I do that?”
“Because men like you need a mission. You stay here, you’ll kill yourself slowly or choose a quicker way out. You know it, and I know it. You don’t want to see your family, but do you love them?”
The bottle shook in Andrew’s hand. “Of course I do.”
“If you give up now you pass your pain along to them. Is that what you want to do?”
His eyes filled with tears again. “No.”
“Then put down that fucking drink and let me help you.”
Helene Franklin brushed sand from the bottom of her bare feet before stepping into the guesthouse of her uncle’s Aruba home. She laid her beach bag beside the door and smiled as she closed the door. Another day in paradise.
Looking back, she couldn’t believe she’d originally resisted making a trip to meet her mother’s brother into a vacation. Until now, she’d only known Uncle Clarence through phone calls and the presents he sent for her birthday and the holidays. Meeting him hadn’t felt as important as continuing to do what she’d always done: help her parents maintain their large exotic animal rescue in Florida.
She took a moment to send her parents a mental thanks for pushing her to go. Her uncle, much like the island he’d made his home, was a million times more amazing than she had ever imagined. He ran a large private clinic on Aruba and his generosity with community programs had made him a celebrity of sorts. When people found out who she was, they always had something good to say about him. He’d touched the lives of many in the small island community. Some referred to him by his local Dutch nickname, Weldoener. Translation: Benefactor. It fit him perfectly. He’d devoted his life and finances to improving the health of the people of Aruba. No one was ever turned away from his clinic. She had no idea how he continually made a profit while giving so much money away, but there wasn’t any part of his story she didn’t love.
The phone on the hallway wall rang. She glanced at the clock on the table and rushed to answer it. “On my way. I’ll take the world’s quickest shower and be right over.”
“Did you even leave the beach today?” he asked in amusement.
“I didn’t,” she admitted without guilt. Her parents had called this her long-overdue vacation, and her uncle had told her that her presence brought him joy. Pending life decisions had been temporarily pushed to the background as she’d indulged in a few weeks of heaven.
“Don’t rush. I’ll have the cook keep it warm until you’re ready. Call when you’re walking over.”
Always understanding, her uncle was simply the nicest man she’d ever met, and she hoped one day she could do something to repay his kindness. “Twenty minutes tops, I promise. I feel awful that you’re waiting on me.”
He chuckled. “Always so serious. You remind me of your mother. I wish she’d been able to come with you.”
“Me, too. You know how she is about the rescue, though.”
“Yes. I’m the same about my clinic, so I have little room to judge her. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about going to see her, but there’s always something here that needs my attention.”
“And you think I’m the one who sounds like my mother?”
He chuckled again. “Take your time, little one. I have calls to answer that will keep me occupied.”
Helene stopped halfway through promising again that she’d rush, laughed at herself, and hung up. He was right; she took everything too seriously. She’d heard as much from her friends her whole life. They’d usually been referring to how she chose to go home right after school each day to clean out cages and work with the animals. She’d never fully convinced them that rehabilitating animals that had frequently been illegally captured and working with organizations to return them to the wild brought her more joy than shopping, movie theaters, or school dances ever could.
After sprinting up the stairs, Helene sang her way through a quick shower and was still humming as she chose a light summer dress for dinner. She caught her reflection in the mirror and smiled. Her cheeks had a pleasant honey-tanned glow. She usually wore her hair pulled back in a practical ponytail, but here on the island she left it mostly down and thought it made her look younger.
I’m not old, but I’m definitely looking better since I’ve been here.
She applied a light amount of makeup, not for the benefit of her uncle, but because she felt beautiful for the first time in her life. She sniffed the material of her dress. Maybe because I don’t smell like someone who just cleaned up rhino dung?
Not that I mind the smell. She grimaced. I can see, though, how it might have contributed to my limited dating experience.
Her smile faded somewhat as she remembered one of the conversations that had led to her agreeing to this trip. Her mother and father had requested a “family meeting.” Her stomach had churned nervously as she’d waited for them to tell her why. The last family meeting had been when she was eighteen. Her parents had announced a loss of funding that had made it necessary for them to let go of the few employees they had. Helene had already been accepted to the University of Florida and had been excited to start classes to become a veterinarian. That dream had come to a skidding halt when her parents had explained they couldn’t afford to run the rescue without her help.
Save animals in the short-run or save them in the long-run. It hadn’t been an easy choice to make, but she hadn’t regretted deciding to stay with her parents. Every animal they sent back, every release day photo Helene received, was a reminder that she’d made the right choice. As she’d waited for her parents to speak, she’d prayed she wouldn’t hear that the future of the rescue was in danger again.
Her mother had taken her father’s hand in hers, and she knew that look. The one that wondered why she wasn’t out dating, why she was still single. Here we go. “Your father and I are worried about you.”
“You’re twenty-six, Lenny, and . . . well, we’ve never seen you with a man,” her father said, looking as if it was as awkward for him to say as it was for her to hear.
Her mother added gently, “We want you to know that we love however God made you.”
“I don’t understand.”
Her father had cleared his throat. “Whatever your lifestyle is, you don’t have to hide it from us.”
“I don’t have a lifestyle,” Helene had said slowly, then her eyes had rounded as she’d realized what her parents thought. “I don’t have a lifestyle.”
Her parents had exchanged a look. “I told you,” her mother said.
Her father had frowned. “Pairing up is a natural part of life, Lenny. Do you have any questions about how it happens?”
There were few moments in Helene’s life that could rival how mortifying being offered the sex talk at twenty-six had been. “Please. This is not necessary. I know how it works. I mean, I’ve been watching animals procreate since I was in diapers.” That had sounded strange even to her own ears so she added, “Not that I watch. I just mean that I’ve accidentally come across animals—” She stopped there. “I don’t want to have this conversation.”
Her mother had shot her father a sad look. “Honey, your dad and I think you need to go out into the world for a little while. This rescue was our dream, not yours.”
“I love it here,” Helene had protested.
Her father had shaken his head. “You can’t know that until you’ve compared it to somewhere else. We were selfish. We shouldn’t have let you choose keeping our dream over your dream for college. Your friends have moved on. They travel. Some are married. Nothing has changed for you except your phone rings less and less.”
“I’m happy here.”
“No,” her mother said quietly, “you feel safe here, but Lenny, there’s a whole big world out there you’ve never seen. I’ve spoken to my brother in Aruba, and he said he has a guesthouse you could stay in for a while. You’ve never taken a real vacation, and he knows a lot of people. Worst case, you come back with a beautiful tan and are able to tell me all about how my brother is doing. Best case, you discover your dream.”
“This is my dream,” Helene had insisted. “And you need me.”
“We’re doing well enough to hire a couple people. Go, Lenny. Find yourself.”
“I’m not lost.”
“You’re going,” her father had said.
It had taken a while for her to adjust to the idea of leaving the rescue, but once she had, the trip had begun to feel like an adventure rather than a shove out the door. I am the luckiest daughter in the world to have parents like them. Helene turned away from the mirror and practically skipped down the stairs. I needed this. She couldn’t imagine a lifetime of doing nothing, but her weeks on the island had been good for her. At first she’d missed her parents and the rescue so much she’d been unable to enjoy herself, but that feeling had been replaced with euphoria. I can go back to school and get my degree if I want. I can finally become a veterinarian. My parents were right, it’s time to find myself.
Helene knocked twice on the door of her uncle’s mansion before letting herself in, beating the staff. They smiled at her indulgently.
Her uncle’s home office door opened, and he gave her the same look. “You didn’t call.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Oh, my God, I forgot. I’m so sorry. I was thinking about how grateful I am to be here, and everything else fell right out of my head.”
He gave her a brief hug. “I suppose that’s as good of an excuse as any. Come, let’s eat.”
They sat across from each other at one end of a table long enough to seat twenty people. As it always did, a bounty of food and beverages appeared, delivered discretely by staff who seemed to magically disappear when not needed. Her uncle asked her about her day and listened with a smile as she described the absolute joy of hours on his private beach.
“Stop before you make me feel guilty for asking you for a favor.”
“Are you kidding, Uncle Clarence? If there is some way I can repay you for three of the best weeks of my life, just say it. I’ll do anything.”
He gave her hand a gentle pat. “You’re a good girl, Helene.”
The expression in his eyes had Helene asking, “Is something wrong?”
“Nothing too serious.” He took a sip of his wine. “I’ve been having trouble with something at the clinic.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“It’s a small island and my clinic competes with the main hospital. Competition in a market like this is not always appreciated.”
Helene’s mouth rounded, and she leaned forward to grip his hand. “Count me in for whatever you need.”
His smile returned. “Shouldn’t you wait until you know what I need?”
“Uncle Clarence, you do so much for other people—you’ve done so much for me—it would be my honor to help.”
“Politics, especially here, can be tricky to navigate. Someone is trying to dig up any mistake anyone at my clinic has ever made to try to smear my reputation. They’ve gone as far as to bribe people in my records department. They didn’t find anything.”
“Because there’s nothing to find,” Helene said adamantly.
He pressed his lips together briefly then said, “When someone wants to find dirt, they’ll keep digging until they either find some or find something they can twist into what they want. I need someone in my records office that I trust. Someone who can’t be bought.”
“And that’s what you want me to do? Run your records office?” The idea of clerical work when all of her experience had been manual in nature was daunting, but she knew she was up to the challenge. “What I don’t know how to do, I’m sure I can learn.”
“You would simply be my eyes and ears; how well you file is irrelevant. Do what you can while you’re there, and who knows, maybe you’ll decide you like working in an office.”
She rushed around the table to give him a hug. He could dress it up however he wanted, but she didn’t believe he actually needed her at the clinic. Like her parents, he was nudging her on her way. It wouldn’t hurt to put some time in at the clinic before getting back on the path toward animal medicine. Who knows? I may end up wanting to treat people. Sure I’m starting late, but my uncle’s career took off later in his life. He is living proof that anything is possible.
“When do I start?” she asked, giving him a tight squeeze.
He laughed and gave her shoulder a pat. “How about tomorrow?”
“Perfect,” she said with a huge grin and returned to her seat.
And it was perfect. Not only was she in paradise, but she’d found a way to repay the person who’d made it possible for her to be there. What was better than that?
When Hunter Brannigan loses his father and is sent a map, he doesn’t know what to think. Is it a joke? Was the old man going senile at the end? The attorney sending the map assures him the piece of paper was definitely from his father and he must follow the clues to find himself.
Hunter has been running from anything even remotely resembling responsibility for a very long time. He’s a world renowned Photo Journalist, traveling the seven continents in pursuit of the next great shot. He’s been in the heart of the trauma during war time, natural disasters, and life-altering moments, always on the other side of the lens, never getting emotionally involved. His father’s last wish for him is to put himself within the pictures he’s famous for.
Deciding to humor his father’s last request, he stumbles upon Rebekah Kingsley III, an uptight History Professor who desperately needs to let her hair down. Though he has his doubts she can get dirty long enough to help him, something about her won’t let him walk so easily this time. Will she be enough to make him settle down, or will he leave her with nothing but a picture of what could have been.
Seven weeks, seven authors, means seven weeks of great prizes! We are in week three, and there are fantastic prizes ahead. Each week we’ll be announcing a new prize, and at the end of the giveaway one person will win their very own iPad Mini!
Meet the Brannigan brothers—seven sexy brothers who bring the heart and the heat! From bestselling authors Barbara Freethy, Ruth Cardello, Melody Anne, Christie Ridgway, Lynn Raye Harris, Roxanne St. Claire and JoAnn Ross comes a brand new contemporary romance family series: 7 Brides for 7 Brothers. You won’t want to miss a single one!
Gabe Brannigan is a Californian real estate mogul who is used to seeing property in terms of dollar signs. When his father dies unexpectedly and leaves him the family ranch, he’s annoyed rather than grateful. The conditions of his inheritance include living on the ranch before being able to sell it.
He’s ready to walk away from the deal until he meets the sexy, motorcycle-riding ranch caretaker. She’s brash and outspoken, rough around the edges. Definitely not his style, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting her.
Throwing all caution aside and deciding to have her.
Josephine Ashby has found the perfect place to hide until Mr. Sexy Eyes shows up and announces he is moving in.
A man who doesn’t believe in anything, finds himself believing in her.
At the sound she spun around with a wrench held high in one hand. Her gaze raked over him, narrowing with displeasure. It was a response he wasn’t used to in a woman. “This is private property,” she said in a firm voice, still holding the wrench as if she might crack him in the head with it if he stepped closer.
“Is it?” All better retorts were lost as he took in her full, glistening beauty. She looked like she was in her mid-twenties. Long brown hair was swept up in a loose ponytail, allowing dark tendrils to fall and frame her face. One of her arms was tattooed with the face of a dragon, which normally would have been a turnoff, but he was intrigued by it. Dark brown eyes glared at him, while her chest heaved up and down beneath a thin, white tank top and bra that did nothing to conceal her response to his perusal. A half smile curled his lips. He was old enough to know that sexual chemistry didn’t require context nor did it always respect personal preferences. Sometimes it was simply there and this time it was—stronger than he remembered feeling with anyone for a very long time. The five-hour drive might not have been a waste of time after all.
“Yes, so you can’t be here. Leave your name, though, and I’ll tell the owners you came by.”
Who the hell is this beauty? “I’d rather have your name.”
Her raised arm shook. “Mine?”
Her stall increased his curiosity, and he stepped closer. He lowered his voice. “Yes, yours.”
She glanced quickly to the left then the right and swore. “Listen, I don’t want to hurt you, but you need to leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He inched closer, and his breathing deepened like a hunter sensing his prey was about to bolt. He was mid-step when she struck, and with a swift move he recognized from his kick-boxing days, she hooked his ankle with hers and pulled his foot out from beneath him. He fell forward, but righted himself before he hit the ground.
She used the advantage of surprise to race out of his reach. He turned in time to see her retrieve a 9mm Beretta from her toolbox. In a stance proving she was no novice, she pointed the gun directly at him. “Yes, you are. I don’t want to shoot you, but I will if I have to.” She clicked the safety off.
Her eyes glittered, her dark hair blew in the wind behind her, and she went from a ten on his hotness scale to an unbelievable fifteen. Damn. He’d never been into bondage or thought giving control over to a woman could be sexy, but he was willing to experiment with it for a taste of her. He kept that thought to himself because she didn’t look like she was thinking the same. He referenced his suit and Stefano Bemer loafers. “Easy, tiger. Do I look like someone you need to run off with a gun?”
She assessed him over from head to toe again. “Yes.”
It was so easy to give in to her hunger and kiss him back with equal passion. She told herself that everything wrong with her life would be waiting for her, but it didn’t need to deprive her of this moment. No one gets hurt as long as I don’t let it go too far. His hands dug into her hair, cradling her as he deepened the kiss. She slid her hands up his bare chest, knowing she should push him away, but unable to force herself to. His skin was warm and smooth. His muscles flexed beneath her touch. She fisted her hands against his chest. Desire and duty. Guilt and loneliness. Kissing him felt incredible and gut-wrenchingly painful at the same time.
Nothing about her was easy, and that was part of what he found exciting. “I won’t have to restrain you.” He let her go. “You’ll stay on your own volition.”
She took a step back, looking like she was gauging if she could make it inside the house before him. “And why would I do that?”
He confidently pocketed his hands. Unlike her, he had nothing to lose. “Run and I’ll tell the police everything. There’ll be nowhere you can hide after that.”
She searched his face. “But you won’t tell them if I stay?” A blush spread up her neck and across her cheeks. “If you think I’ll sleep with you in exchange for your silence—”
“Whether or not you’d sleep with me has already been answered, but that’s not what I’m offering you.” Yes, not calling the police allowed for the possibility that he’d end up locked in the trunk of his car wondering why the hell he’d let his dick take the lead in this decision. His gut told him it was worth the risk, and he was rarely wrong. Except the time he broke his arm. Hunter had convinced him that being deposited on top of a mountain and having to ski back to civilization was better than staying at a resort. And when Hunter had talked him into going shark fishing. So, my instincts are fine; it’s Hunter’s that will get me killed. “You want someone to believe you’re innocent? Convince me.”
This week I released TAKING CHARGE, the final, climactic book in the Lone Star Burn Series. I have loved and laughed my way through writing this series, and I hope you have loved the journey as much as I have. Thank you again for all your amazing support, and even though this series is coming to a close, I have many, many more stories for you.
TAKING CHARGE is also available in audio! If you already bought the book (I love you), you can also get the additional audio version for a big discounted price! Just log into your account on Amazon and look up the title of the book.
This week, the supremely talented bestselling author, Barbara Freethy, released the first book in the series, LUKE. You’ll meet the Brannigan brothers—seven sexy brothers who bring the heart and the heat!
She met his eyes, and for a moment her resolve wavered. He had the kindest eyes she’d ever looked into. What would we be to each other if we’d known each other before all this? If I wasn’t already a tangled mess on the inside?
Why ask myself what might have been, when all I have is here and now?
“Keeping this ranch is my priority now. My only priority. I know how ungrateful that sounds, but I asked you not to come. I warned you. Good-bye, David.”
He bent closer again, so close Lucy’s resolve began to dissolve. “I’m not leaving until I’m sure you’re safe, Lucy. Wyatt hired me to help look after the outbuildings, and I agreed to bring some of my horses over to give work to some of the men who were here today. Wyatt seems to think they’ll need it.”
The room spun. “Wyatt can’t hire you. This is my ranch.”
David caressed the side of Lucy’s face, running the back of his fingers down one side of her neck. “Wyatt’s worried about you. He thinks you need someone to watch over you. I agree.”
The pleasure of his touch confused Lucy. She felt vibrantly alive, and her miserable morning was too easy to forget. No. No. No. She pushed his hand away. “I don’t care what Wyatt thinks, and I don’t care what you do, either. I’m telling you to leave. I don’t want you here.”
“Then why do you look like you want to kiss me so damn much?” he asked.
Lucy turned away from him. She wrapped her arms around herself. She could lie to him and say he was wrong, but they’d both know it wasn’t true. “You say you want to help me, David, but you don’t listen to me. I will save this ranch, and I will do it myself.” She turned back to face him. “Haven’t you ever needed to prove something to yourself so badly that an easier way of doing something was impossible to consider?”
David nodded. “And that was usually right before I fell on my face.”
She sputtered angrily and was about to tell him off when he raised his hand to caress her cheek again. “We’re at a standoff, you and I. My daddy always said the secret to solving a disagreement was finding a compromise both could live with. Wyatt needs help outside, the men who were here today need jobs, and I need to know you’re okay.”
He ran a mesmerizing thumb across her parted lips. “You need to save the ranch on your own. What if I promise I won’t step in to help again unless you ask me to, and in return you let me pay for the use of your barns and fields to train my horses.”
“You can’t pay me. I owe you money.”
“Then charge me and deduct as we go. I’ll pay you a fair rate for the lease of your facility.” “Why would you do that?” Besides to sleep with me, because that can’t happen.
As if he heard her, he dropped his hand and stepped back. The sadness she felt at the absence of his touch was as confusing as fighting the pleasure from it had been. “I’ve been thinking about getting my own place for a while. This would be a way to test how I like it. Working with Tony has been good for me, but like you, it’s time for me to see what I can do on my own.”
“You can’t stay in the main house.” Lucy blushed right after she blurted her thought out.
A slow smile spread across his face. “Wyatt suggested I stay in the old workers’ quarters. None of the men who were here today will be looking to stay there. It’ll be perfect.”
Am I honestly considering this? “If I say yes, it doesn’t mean I’m agreeing to anything else. I
want to be clear about that.”
A twinkle lit his eyes. “Why, Miss Lucy, what else might I think you were agreeing to?”
Lucy walked back to the box and picked up the largest toy inside. It was the velvet base with the exchangeable mechanical dildo on top. She placed it on her desk, laid out the variety of attachable pieces in front of it, and sat down. She rested her chin on one hand and looked at it sternly.
You don’t scare me, you know.
You’re just a bunch of wires and silicone molds.
She glanced at the directions, then attached one of the dildos to the top. It had a tickler on its end that reminded Lucy of a mop of hair.
Not even sexy. More like something from outer space.
She absently ran her finger over the complicated arrangements of buttons on the front. And seriously, how much does something like you need to do?
As she brushed too hard against one of the buttons, the dildo started to spin. “Shit.” She tried to turn it off, but the button she’d pressed had sent the base into a vibration mode so powerful, the thing was hopping on her desk. She made a grab for it, pressed another button, and the dildo flew forward, slapping her across the face. She swore and lost her grip, and it hopped itself off her desk and crashed to the floor.
She scrambled onto her knees, trying to grab the damn thing. It eluded her first attempt, but she finally caught it. Despite how it wiggled for its freedom, she righted it and located the “Off” button. Swearing, she sat back on her heels and wiped a hand across her now sweaty brow. It was only then that she noticed David standing at the door.
There are moments in life that test a man. The sight of Lucy chasing a hopping machine with a dick waving from the top of it like a flag was probably the funniest thing David had ever seen. The expression on her face warned him not to laugh. He told himself she was probably embarrassed, and he shouldn’t have opened the door without knocking.
Then, because he was only human, he grinned and asked, “Tough day at work?”