- This is where you will find excerpts from my books as they come available. I hope you enjoy reading them.
SHOW NO WEAKNESS
“By the time I turned sixteen, I was pregnant. I became a child bride at seventeen, married to an adult-sized infant with chest hair, with a real live baby doll to take care of, as well. That marriage was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. Before I hit twenty-one, it was over.” She heard the bitterness in her voice and stopped talking.
“That had to be rough, but isn’t it time to stop beating yourself up about it? At least you had enough sense to get out.”
The compassion, the offer of understanding in his voice almost overwhelmed Joely. She wondered if he’d be as sympathetic if he knew she had left her precious little boy with her alcoholic husband while she worked. And it took four years and a serious injury before she clued in to the fact her toddler didn’t get all his bruises from being overactive and clumsy.
No, Cole had it wrong; she didn’t have a whole lot of sense when she was younger.
He pushed his coffee cup aside and leaned forward in his chair to stare sharply at her. She realized he must be very good at his investigative work. Those dark penetrating eyes would intimidate anyone into telling the truth when they flashed as fiercely as they were right now.
“You’re upset. I didn’t mean to do that,” he apologized. “I wanted to make you feel better.”
“Oh no, hey, I’m not upset with you. I actually appreciate your effort. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with a man who cared how I felt about myself. Men are usually much more concerned about how I feel about them.”
“You already told me you didn’t like me.” He smiled brilliantly, his eyes crinkling. “Whaddaya say to giving me a chance to change your mind?”
For just a moment, Joely saw beneath the laughing, self-confident grin to the flicker of loneliness in his eyes. He was new to the area, she remembered. He probably didn’t know many people, and here she was monopolizing the conversation. She ignored his question and posed one of her own.
“Why did you choose law enforcement for your career?”
His gaze unexpectedly turned cold. His features revealed no emotion, nothing to indicate why he suddenly shut down. The pause grew a little too long, giving Joely the impression he preferred not to answer.
“I take a lot of satisfaction out of my job, especially working with the kids,” he eventually replied, his voice back to that aggravatingly polite, neutral tone. “But it wasn’t a matter of choice so much as of doing what was expected.”
“Your parents said you had to become a cop?” Joely wanted to keep her mouth shut and let him do the talking, but stunned disbelief made her blurt it out before she could stop herself.
Cole smiled tightly. “My grandfather was a cop, same with my father. As far as they were concerned, there was no other suitable job for a Dennison, and they presumed I’d follow their lead. My mom didn’t get a say; she died when I was five.”
Joely let out an involuntary gasp of sympathy. “Oh, I’m sorry. How sad for you to grow up without a mother.” Not having a father had left a gaping hole in her childhood and even though her mom would’ve never won mother-of-the-year, she’d always given freely of her hugs and kisses. She was important to Joely, and Joely couldn’t imagine growing up without her.
Cole lifted a shoulder casually. “I survived. You don’t miss what you never really had.”
“Yes, you do,” she replied fiercely. “You miss it and you want it terribly. At least I did. I wanted a father more than I wanted anything else. It was the defining reality of my childhood. How can you say you didn’t miss your mother?”
Something hard and acrid flashed in his eyes, and he didn’t acknowledge her words. He pushed out of his chair abruptly. “We should get back to the detachment. Your son’s waited long enough.”
She straightened her spine and cleared her throat. “About yesterday, Jess, I never meant to insult you and I apologize if I did. I believe your offer of friendship was genuine and I appreciate it. I don’t know many people yet, here in LA, and I could use a friend. You really are a warm and decent person, and I think you’ll make a great friend. So how about it?”
Say something, Jesse, please say anything, she thought wretchedly as she scanned his guarded expression for any sign of forgiveness.
He rubbed his chin with a knuckle. “Warm and decent, huh? That’s so sweet, it kinda makes my teeth ache.” He lowered his hand to his side and did a three-finger tattoo on the edge of the desk while gazing steadily at her, then he seemed to make an effort to shake off his mood. “Define friends.”
“Friends, you know, buddies. People who hang out, do things together. Who get along—maybe even like each other a bit. But no sexual innuendo, no kissing or inappropriate touching. Just friends.”
He grimaced, but his eyes told her he didn’t mean it. “Don’t you know when a woman labels a dude her ‘friend’ she’s giving him the kiss of death?”
“Hey, you’re the one who suggested we become friends and it’s the only kiss you’ll be getting, so take it or leave it.”
His brow relaxed and he smiled, his mouth taking up the humor that lurked in his eyes. “And what do you propose we do about the, uh, you know, physical attraction?”
His voice held a note of challenge. Instead of rising to it, she shot him a withering glance, while her heart pounded an erratic rhythm. What would they do about the physical attraction? That was the one part about this whole friends scenario she hadn’t thought through. This man with his teasing eyes and playful words could reduce her to jelly without even trying. And oh mama, could he rock her world when he tried.
She didn’t pretend not to know what he meant, deciding it might be fun to tease him the way he so often teased her. “I don’t foresee a problem, myself, but if you think it’s going to be difficult for you, I suggest you take matters into your own capable hands, if you get my drift.”
His eyes widened and he burst out laughing. “Okay, you win.” He shrugged in mock resignation. “Friends, it is.”
She planted her hands on her hips and lifted her chin, narrowing her eyes skeptically. “And you accept all the terms? No more lame come-ons?”
“Lame—” He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever. Does that mean we can go out for dinner?”
“I have something quite different in mind, actually. I have a favor to ask you.” When he didn’t respond, Drey carried on briskly. “There’s going to be a marathon in February to raise money for charity. I thought the two of us could enter. We could train together and who knows, maybe it’d be fun. Registration is five hundred dollars, but it’s for a good cause.”
He stuck a finger in his ear and rubbed it, his expression thoughtful. “Let me get this straight. You want me to pay several hundred bucks for the privilege of running in a race where I’m likely to either puke or pass out? Why would I want to humiliate myself?”
“It won’t be that bad. It’s only a half-marathon, a twenty-one K.”
Jesse’s eyebrows rose in comic disbelief. “K as in kilometers? What’s that in miles? Like, thirteen?”
“About. That’s not so far, and we could run together every day to build our stamina. So what do you say?”
“I say I’d rather go out for dinner. Maybe a movie or the pub…”
“Aw, come on, Jesse. You aren’t even going to give this thing a chance? It’s for charity.” She paused, then changed gears, deciding to go after every man’s weak spot—his ego. “And here I thought despite the pretty face, you were a macho guy. Come on, Jesse, I challenge you. If I can do it, you can too.”
Her conscience protested that small deception but she pushed away the guilt. She couldn’t admit, just yet, that she was an experienced marathon runner. If he wasn’t keen on trying this now, no way would he go for it if he knew doing a half-marathon would be easier for her than most of her warm-up runs. And she figured making it a competition would be the best way to get him to agree.
His grin turned boyish, touched with self-mockery. “Even though it’s not how I imagined it, how could I possibly turn down the opportunity to work up a good sweat with you?”
DARE TO RISK ALL
“Morning, Tessa,” Ben and Travis chorused as she came down the hallway toward them the next morning.
She had arrived at least twenty minutes early, so why was Ben already at work? Sharing small talk and coffee with Travis in the hall outside their office. Brownnoser. And he’d effectively stolen the advantage of being the first to settle into the new office.
Ben’s gaze moved coolly, shamelessly, over her body in a deliberately appreciative manner. His sensuous mouth curved into a smile that made her legs go rubbery and had her wishing she’d chosen a pantsuit instead of the curve-clinging wool dress.
Not that she had any actual curves worth clinging to.
“Morning.” She smiled pleasantly at Travis first, then nodded briefly in Ben’s direction and turned her back on him, hoping he wouldn’t follow her into the office.
He did. And he closed the door behind him.
She went to her desk, using it as a barrier between them to help cope with his presence. Her temper tended to subside as quickly as it flared, and yesterday’s outburst already shamed her. After careful consideration, she realized she’d behaved unreasonably toward Ben. Because he was right—he had offered to stop before they’d made love, and she had been the one to convince him otherwise.
Despite not feeling very logical right now, common sense told her she shared in the responsibility for what had happened between them. She needed to put aside her personal feelings and concentrate on work. Because there was no room for personal feelings at the office. Not irritation, or resentment, and definitely not regret or any residual and unwanted desire.
She’d never be oblivious to the attraction of Ben’s sea-deep green eyes and flashing smile, but as far as she was concerned, that would be the extent of it. What had happened on the cruise was attributable to the circumstances, the romantic setting. Nothing more. Trying to continue with that type of behavior here at the workplace would be a recipe for disaster, or at the very least, she’d run the risk of losing her job. She’d always managed to keep her career goals clearly in sight. Now should be no different.
Ben shrugged out of his suit jacket and hung it across the back of his desk chair. He paced restlessly around the room, then moved to the window and stood in front of it with his hands in his pants pockets. Tessa surreptitiously watched his every move, enjoying and appreciating his casual grace and masculine beauty. As she grew aware of the direction her thoughts had headed, she irritably stopped herself and focused on her desktop instead. The photo of her and Lauren lay face down in the middle of her desk, and she placed it in its usual spot at the far left corner.
“The fellow who moved your desk and filing cabinet said something about hooking up your computer later this morning.”
“That’ll be fine,” Tessa muttered as she reached out and nudged the picture frame a fraction of an inch to the right.
Ben crossed the room to the computer table. From where she sat, Tessa caught a whiff of a sensuous blend of spice and citrus as he passed her desk. She swallowed. Hard.
“I take it this was Ed Hardy’s computer and now it’s for my use?” he asked after a moment.
“I guess,” Tessa agreed. Needing to concentrate on something other than how sexy Ben smelled, she dug in her drawer for her appointment book to see what she had on her schedule for the day. Morris wanted her to clean up any outstanding work by the end of the week, leaving her free to focus on new accounts with Ben. She had been developing some ideas to pitch for spec work, which were almost in the final stages and wouldn’t take long to finish once her computer was back up and running.
Ben walked over to her desk, folded both arms across his chest and gazed down at her. “Ya know, this polite stranger thing is getting pretty old.” When she looked up, he braced his arms on the edge of the desk and leaned in. “Are we talking to one another or what?”
Tessa dropped the book and flattened into her chair. That now familiar breathless feeling constricted her throat. His stance, his closeness, gave her an exhilarated, restless sensation. Her body reacted to the message she read in his eyes, little jolts of desire mingling with spurts of resentment. The treacherous way her body responded to him embarrassed her, and if she read his smug expression correctly, he knew exactly what effect he had on her.
No matter what or how she actually felt, her pride demanded that she prove this impertinent man wrong.
“This morning, I happened to walk past that really prestigious art gallery on Granville Island, you know the one?” Maggie went over to the chair where she’d set her jacket and purse, and pawed through her purse until she came up with a business card she triumphantly waved in front of him. “I decided to go in and speak to the proprietor about you.”
Tom winced. Yeah, that’s what he’d got from her first excited outburst, when she arrived at his studio with those turquoise eyes of hers looking as if they were cooking up trouble. He scratched irritably at the back of his head. “Why exactly would you do that?”
She looked genuinely puzzled. “Why not? I asked if he knew of your work and he said he did. He said you’d been part of a show at his gallery a couple of years ago. He told me your work really impressed him, but you hadn’t responded to his overtures about selling your paintings through his gallery and he’d eventually dropped contact with you.”
“And why the devil would he tell you all this?”
Maggie wrinkled her nose and gave a small shrug. “Well, he somehow got the mistaken impression I worked for you and I didn’t bother to correct him.”
Tom rolled his eyes and sighed. “Bloody hell. Can this get any worse?”
“I don’t get why you’re upset. I thought you’d be excited. This guy, this—” she glanced at the card in her hand “—Horst Langquest is interested in your paintings. He’s more than willing to sell them through his art gallery. That’s a big gallery, with lots of people going through it. Just think of the exposure your work would get.”
Tom did take a moment to consider it. The Langquest Art Gallery was highly reputable and the show Tom had done with them had been a sell-out. But to have Maggie go on his behalf to seek out representation, that was too much.
“What makes you think I want or need to sell my pieces in his gallery?”
“Because, excuse me if I’m wrong, but I had the impression you could use a little financial help at the moment.” The sympathetic look in her eyes made him squirm. No bloody way did he want her wasting any sympathy on him.
“The offer of support is nice, but seriously, my professional life, at least, is doing fine. You don’t have to fix it for me.” Which was the honest, if optimistic, truth. Business was passably good. It could always be better, but it wasn’t on life support yet and he sure didn’t need Maggie out there drumming up customers for him.
She threw a hand up. “Look, maybe I’m interfering and you didn’t ask for help, but,” she hurried on, gaining speed as she went, “I spoke to this man with the best of intentions. You have lawyer fees and counseling fees, and heaven only knows what else with this court case. They can start to add up—”
“Okay, just stop. You’re making my head hurt.” He folded his arms across his chest. He had no intention of discussing his precarious financial situation with Maggie. “This conversation is over.”
Her eyes sparkled with the love of combat. “Not if I keep talking, it isn’t.”
He glared at her, clearly letting her know he didn’t appreciate her interference. She met his accusing gaze without flinching.
“Know what your problem is?” she asked after an uncomfortably long stare-down.
“I only have one?”
She reached out and clutched at his hand, those long slender, talon-tipped fingers curling themselves around his, distracting him for a moment. Then she started yapping again, effectively killing the moment.
“You put on a good show and sometimes I think you even believe it yourself, but you’re not invincible. You can use a helping hand once in a while.”
He shook his hand free and swung away from her, pacing off his frustration. “Contrary to what you believe, I’m not a charity case requiring someone to rescue me. I’ve always maintained if you’re looking for a helping hand, check the end of your own wrist first. I don’t need your pity.”
She moved in front of him, forcing him to stop, returning his impatient glare with an impressively irate one of her own. “It’s not pity, damn it. And it’s not charity. It’s a practical solution to your financial situation. Excuse me for caring.” Both arms flew up into the air. “Excuse me for trying to help you out. For going out of my way to come up with some creative ideas for you to increase your income. This is a winning proposition for you, one that can pay dividends for years to come. Why are you so stubbornly adverse?”
Her logic was infuriating and it fueled his temper that he didn’t have a reasonable comeback.
“Please, just shut up already.”
“Come on. We both know I can’t do that.”
He threw his head back and laughed, more out of exasperation than amusement. “You really can’t, can you?”
“I was only trying to help.” Her tone contained a pout, but her expression was fierce.
“I don’t want your help. I didn’t ask for your help. Anyone ever tell you how maddening you can be, Maggie Lapage?”
The force of his words didn’t make her retreat. She stood her ground in front of him and poked a finger into his chest. “And you’re the most pig-headed man I’ve ever met.”
He smiled. “Thank you.”
“That was not a compliment.”
“Sure it was.” Even though he was still pissed off, it wasn’t hard to let the smile stretch into a smirk. She looked so damn exasperated, and for some perverse reason he found that amusing.
“You’re infuriating!” she yelled and wheeled away from him, flailing her arms in the air again. “Why can’t you see my intentions were good?”
He let his smile twist cynically. “Have you heard about the road to hell?”
“I…give…up,” she said, emphasizing the words by drawing them out slowly.
“Wish I could believe that.”