“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” – Lawrence Clark Powell
I apologize for my hit or miss blogging of late. In truth, I’ve never been very good at it, but lately…well, it seems as if it’s nonexistent. I could offer you a whole list of all the things keeping me from stopping by here to chat, but you don’t need a grocery list of my busy life. We’re all busy, right? At the moment, I’m in peak season between end-of-the-school year stuff, writing deadline and the RT convention next week. If you live in the Dallas area, I hope you’ll consider stopping by the Giant Book signing on Saturday, May 16. I’d love to meet you! Next week will be my first time in Texas and I’m really excited about it!
Today, I thought I’d do a “one-stop” shopping blog just to catch you up to speed on everything that’s going on with my books. It occurred to me this morning that while I’m thrilled by all the fun stuff going on, I’ve failed to tell y’all about any of it! lol. So I’ll try to correct that on this lovely Sunday.
1. BLANK CANVAS is now a FREE read. I’m not sure if will always be free (I haven’t decided yet), so let’s just say for the time-being you can pick it up for the low, low price of nothing. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the Big Easy series, I hope this will encourage you to give it a look. The reason I’ve put it on sale is because of item #2.
2. I’ve moved up the release date of TRIPLE BEAT. It was originally set to come out on June 1, but the book was finished and uploaded and I thought why not! Let’s let that baby fly. So it will now release on May 11. It’s a menage romance (m/f/m) involving foster sister, Dani. I’ve really come to love the Lewis family and it was awesome to see runaway Dani reunited with her beloved foster family. I will warn you now, there is a brief, but pretty intense scene of abuse between Dani and her father. I know there are readers who really don’t like that and I don’t want anyone to be blindsided by it. It is available for preorder pretty much everywhere right now.
3. ELEMENTAL PLEASURE is now .99 cents. Lila and I have completed the fifth book in the Trinity Masters series, HIDDEN DEVOTION, and once again, we want to encourage you to give us a look. I think sometimes it’s daunting for new readers to hop into a series that has several books out. By offering the savings, we’re hoping you’ll be willing to take a chance in case you decide that you want more!
4. HIDDEN DEVOTION releases on May 26! It’s been a long time between book 4 and this new story, but Lila was super busy making a beautiful baby girl, so we hope you’ll forgive us the extra time. The Trinity Masters are now under the leadership of a new Grand Master…and a woman! There’s intrigue, suspense and as always, those very sexy, arranged menage marriages! It’s a new chapter in the series and Lila and I are thrilled with the twists and turns. Hang on because it’s going to be quite a ride! We hope to have preorder links up for this within the next week or so.
5. SWEET SEDUCTION is out now. It came out on Friday. All proceeds for the sale of this box set goes to diabetes research. None of the authors are making a penny. This is a cause we all feel VERY strongly about and I hope you’ll consider purchasing the set. It’s only $9.99, so in addition to donating $10 bucks to the cause, you’ll receive 13 brand new stories by some amazing authors (like my dear, talented friends Lexi Blake and Lauren Hawkeye!). My story in the set, WAITING FOR YOU, is part of a new series I’m starting called Sparks in Texas. It revolves around the family business, Sparks Barbeque, and all the cousins who run it.
6. In case you missed it, SAY SOMETHING, the final book in the Second Chances series has a release date. It will come out on July 14. That crazy Georgie finally finds her happy ending!
7. And finally, the SCOUNDRELS series is available in a box set. The entire collection is only $5.99 and it includes Black Jack, White Knight and all three Scoundrels short stories. This is probably one of my all-time favorite series, so if you haven’t had a chance to read them, I hope you’ll consider picking up the box set.
Okay…I think that’s it for now. Crazy, right? At the moment, I’m working on the next Sparks in Texas book, Something Sparked (tentative title–do you like that? I’ll admit I’m on the fence). It’s an m/m/f menage between two firefighters and the shy Sparks cousin, Jeannette. After that, I’m working on the next Boys of Fall book with Cari Quinn and Erin Nicholas. The next trio of stories from Quinn, Texas will roll out on September 1. Mine is titled Red Zone and it will be a menage. Man…it occurs to me I’m menage-mad these days!
OH! One more thing. If you’re sitting around the computer today around 3 p.m. EST, I’m participating in a Facebook party with the Sweet Seduction authors. Lots of prizes, excerpts, and fun! Here’s the link.
Yesterday I announced the release of the Sweet Seduction box set. Today I wanted to share an excerpt of Waiting for You, my contribution to the set. Waiting for you is the second story in my brand-new series, Sparks in Texas. The first Sparks story, Spark Fly released last summer. It was a short story and my original intent was it would just be its own sweet, little standalone book. Not sure if you’ve read Sparks Fly, but if you haven’t it’s a story about a married couple who are struggling to conceive. However, during the writing of the story, a family restaurant appeared…and then a cousin. The place and the family connections stuck, so when Brenda Novak approached me to write a story for this special box set, I knew I wanted to go back to Spark Barbeque and Maris, Texas. While developing the story, more cousins and aunts and uncles and a bakery appeared! And even as I write this blog, I’m working on the third book in the series, Something Sparked, coming in Oct. Something Sparked is a m/m/f menage with firefighters! I’m loving every second of the writing.
In Waiting for You, Sydney Sparks is welcoming home her best friend, Chas, who’s spent the past 12 years serving as a Marine overseas. They had been high school sweethearts, but they’d both put those feelings away as they moved into adulthood. Apparently putting them away was not the same thing as moving on. When Chas returns, the flame that burned between them reignites. The problem is Chas is a different man from the sweet boy who left her all those years ago. He’s seen violence and death and it’s left a mark on him. He suffers from PTSD and he tries to hide it, ashamed that he isn’t strong enough to fight back the demons. Can love conquer such a painful past?
Waiting for You will be part of Sweet Seduction for the next two months (all proceeds raised from the sales of that set will go to diabetes research). At that point, it will be available for sale individually (releasing July 1). Thought I’d show you the pretty cover for the individual story.
How do you protect the woman you love…when the greatest danger is sleeping in her bed?
Sydney Sparks can’t remember a time when Chas wasn’t part of her life—from childhood playmates, to high-school sweethearts, to long-distance friends. Now, after twelve long years, Chas is leaving the Marines and coming home. Sydney’s thrilled to have him back on American soil, safe and sound, even if his return is doing funny things to her heart.
The second he stepped off the plane and locked gazes with Sydney, Chas refused to waste a minute more on their “just friends” status quo. Together again, it feels as if they were never apart, the love they’d shared as innocent teens now vastly more intense as adults—with a sexual hunger to match.
However, despite his newfound happiness, Chas can’t seem to shake the memories of his tours in the Middle East, of the firefights, the killing…the deaths of his friends. When the flashbacks grow stronger, Chas struggles to hide his increasing lack of control, terrified of losing everything he’d just regained—including Sydney.
Sydney stood next to Gran, who was flanked by Julian on the right. The three of them were standing at the international arrivals gate, grinning like fools as they held the banner Sydney had made. Chas’ flight had landed and her heart was racing a million miles an hour. She’d seen him just a few months earlier over the holidays. They’d exchanged small gifts and consumed a bottle of eggnog together. Chas had even told her a little bit about two friends he’d lost in combat, the story breaking her heart.
Chas had ended up sleeping on her couch that night, while she’d tossed and turned in her bedroom, fighting the urge to go out and comfort him. However, there had been something in his eyes—some dark, unfamiliar sadness—that had stopped her, that had told her to keep her distance.
Several more people walked through the gate. Sydney watched as relatives reunited with hugs, laughter and sometimes tears. She loved coming to the airport, loved the energy and the atmosphere, the hustle and bustle. It was a hotbed of emotions unlike any other place.
Gran captured her attention with a nudge of the elbow. “There he is.”
Chas strolled through the doors in jeans and a t-shirt. It would seem so weird to see him dressed in civilian clothing rather than his fatigues from now on, and she wondered if he’d give up the crew cut he’d kept for so many years and return to the longer style of his youth. He looked around the area, searching for them. Sydney smiled and waved when his eyes met hers.
Chas walked faster then, laughing when he read their banner. Sydney took it from Julian and Gran, stepping back so that Chas could greet his family.
She was shocked when he bypassed both of them and walked right up to her. He tugged the banner out of her hands and dropped it to the floor a split second before he grabbed her in his embrace and kissed her.
His mouth was demanding, forcing her lips apart so he could stroke her tongue with his. Sydney fought off a wave of dizziness and disbelief. Even a bit of embarrassment when she recalled his grandmother was standing less than five feet away from them. She put her hands on his shoulders, intent on pushing him away, but Chas only gripped her tighter, one of his hands rising to cup the back of her neck, his fingers lightly stroking the sensitive skin there.
She was a goner. Sydney stopped giving a shit who was there and what they were seeing. Chas was home. And he was kissing her.
Twelve years melted away into a haze of nothingness. He was home. Finally.
Pick up your copy now!
Have I told you about the new fundraising initiative I’m involved in this year? I’ve contributed a BRAND NEW story called WAITING FOR YOU to SWEET SEDUCTION, a limited edition digital-only boxed set curated by Brenda Novak for the benefit of diabetes research. It includes nine other never-before-published novels and novellas and costs only $9.99 (that’s less than $1/story).
Who else is in the set? Fellow New York Times Bestselling Authors Lexi Blake, JS Cooper, Nicole Edwards, Karen Erickson, Megan Hart, Julia Kent, Lauren Hawkeye, Nina Lane, Roni Loren, author J. Kenner, Elisabeth Grace and Avery Aster are all participating in this effort, too. And there’s a foreword and free bonus story from New York Times Bestselling Author Lisa Renee Jones. Buy this set now (wherever ebooks are sold)!
SWEET SEDUCTION will only be available through June 30th. All proceeds will go to The Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami (they are doing some amazing cure-focused work). Our goal is to raise $300,000 and, with your help, we should be able to do it.
Please note that Brenda has also curated a thriller box set as well as a contemporary romance box set, so check those out, too. You can find more information at http://brendanovakforthecure.org
Pick up your copy now!
“Live for today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Just today.” -Jerry Spinelli
“One day spent with someone you love can change everything.” -Mitch Albom
“If you’re having fun, it really doesn’t matter what people are thinking of you.” -Neil Patrick Harris
“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.” – John Keats
We’re up to day three in the Foreign Affairs showcase. Today, I’m sharing the first chapter of Master (previously titled Misplaced Lesson). I think the new title is much hotter (as is the cover) and it fits the story better. Don’t forget, you can buy all four book independently (Princess is free) OR you can get all four books for the price of two in a brand new box set simply called Foreign Affairs.
Foreign Affairs, Book Three
Fantasizing about forced sex with a stranger is one thing—waking up to find a scruffy man binding you to a bed is quite another. Amy fights him, until she realizes her friend Harper must have set up the sexy scenario. They’ve swapped lives, with Harper flying to Australia and lending her Chicago home to Amy. While she’s surprised Harper would go to such lengths to help her fulfill a fantasy, Amy figures…why not?
After days of nonstop travel, Andrew arrives at the home he shares with his sister, Harper, with sleep on his mind—until he finds a naked intruder sleeping in his bed. Subduing and binding the beauty, he assumes she’s the blind date his pal Mike had tried to set him up with. But would Mike actually sneak the woman into Andrew’s house? Seems so. And he’s not one to turn down such a gift.
By the time each has learned the other’s true identity, Amy and Andrew have shared the most intense sexual experience of their lives. And they certainly don’t want to stop now.
Amelia Wesson—Amy to her friends—wandered around Harper Shaw’s house in Chicago and resisted the urge to pinch herself…again. She was in America. She was really here.
For most of her life, she’d dreamed of traveling abroad, seeing foreign countries, experiencing different cultures.
Hazel Sullivan, the matriarch of Farpoint Creek Cattle Station in Australia, told Amy she had a case of wanderlust, and according to Hazel, she had it bad.
Her boss didn’t have to tell her that. Amy’s best friend, Josephine, had wallpapered every square inch of her room with pictures of Daniel Johns and Silverchair when they were growing up, but Amy had opted to display the photos of foreign places she’d torn out of old calendars. She’d spend hours looking at the pictures and imagining herself walking the city streets of New York or London, Rome or L.A.
And now she was here, in Chicago, in the United States of America. Yep. Definitely a pinch-worthy moment. Meeting Harper online had probably been the best stroke of luck Amy had ever had in a life full of nothing special.
Her mobile phone rang. Speak of the devil, she thought as she glanced at the screen.
“Hey. How you going?” Amy asked.
Harper chuckled. “You’re going to have to start working on your American lingo, Amy, if you want to fit in. I’m doing just fine. Sitting in Sydney Airport waiting for the connecting flight to Cobar. Your friends better be there to pick me up so I can take over your life. Figure I’ve only got two weeks to completely wreck the impressionable minds of your students. I’m anxious to start.”
Amy felt a twinge of homesickness as she thought about the life she’d so willingly traded away for this adventure. She was the teacher on Farpoint Creek Cattle Station, and her charges—children of the jackaroos and families who worked on the station—ranged from kindy to year six. Once her students entered their seventh year, they finished their education via School of the Air.
Amy’s mastery of Algebra and the upper maths courses was shaky at best. Two plus two—no problem. Add in a bunch of wonky symbols and things took a bad turn.
“I’ve seen your lesson plans, mate, and I know you’re a great teacher. I’m not worried about you messing up anything. Besides, the kids are so excited about meeting you and hearing all about their American pen pals firsthand, I don’t think you’ll have time to teach them much of anything. They have a list of questions as long as the Murray River.”
Amy had come up with the idea of starting an international pen pal program a year ago and had gone searching on several educational blogs for an American teacher willing to join forces. Through some long, meandering series of clicks—she could get lost on the internet for days—she’d come across Harper Shaw, a fourth grade teacher who was also hoping to find pen pals for her students. They’d begun emailing, making quick introductions and exploring their ideas for the letter-writing lesson. Then the emails turned to IMs, in which they shared work war stories and lesson plans. Finally, about nine months ago, they’d started Skyping, chatting for hours each weekend about anything and everything. Though they’d never met face-to-face, Amy considered Harper one of her best friends.
“So what do you think of the house? You’re there, right?” Harper asked.
“I got in about half an hour ago. It’s gorgeous. You made a mistake offering this life swap. I’m squatting here permanently.”
She heard a voice announce the departure of a flight to London through the phone. Amy could imagine exactly where Harper was sitting as she waited to begin the next leg of her journey. She’d be sitting in that same place in a couple weeks as she returned home.
Please don’t let the fortnight go by too fast.
Harper scoffed. “The way I remember it, it was you who came up with this Freaky Friday idea of switching lives.”
They’d been Skyping one Saturday morning in March—actually it had been a.m. in Oz, Friday night in Chicago—and Amy mentioned a movie she’d watched the night before. She couldn’t recall the name of the film, but in it, two women had decided to swap houses, one woman traveling to America as the other took off for England. Amy had remarked that it was a great idea and probably the only way she’d ever be able to afford a big trip to America.
“I merely mentioned the movie. You were the one who said we should try it.”
“I’m glad we did. Jesus. I can’t believe I’m sitting in an airport in Australia. I’m bone-tired from seven hundred years on that international flight, but so freaking excited I feel like pinching myself.”
She and Harper were destined to be friends for life. “I know the feeling, believe me. I’ve been so busy the past few days, getting everything settled at home, and then packing that I don’t think it had time to sink in. Now that I’m standing here, it’s just…bloody hell, it’s incredible.”
Amy had jumped at the chance to see Chicago, accepting Harper’s unexpected offer before her friend could change her mind. For days they’d tried to find a time that would work best for both of them. They’d settled on Harper’s spring break from work. Though the actual school holiday was only a week long, Harper had a week’s worth of vacation days she was willing to tack on as well. Rather than push the trip off until summer—neither of them had wanted to wait that long—they’d booked flights for April.
“I guess you managed to find the key?” Harper asked.
“Yep. Right where you said you’d leave it. Under the third flowerpot from the left on the front porch. The house is so beautiful. I’m afraid this trade isn’t exactly fair. I live in a tiny cottage twenty minutes from the station’s main homestead. Nothing fancy.”
Amy had rushed through every room of Harper’s home when she’d first arrived. Harper and her brother, Andrew, had inherited the large house from their father upon his death nearly a decade earlier. While Andrew still kept a room there, the house primarily belonged to Harper.
As she and Harper spoke, Amy wandered upstairs once more, thrilled to bits with the idea that this gorgeous place would be her home for two whole weeks.
She returned to Harper’s bedroom at the top of the stairs. The classic décor and understated elegance reflected Harper’s love of simple beauty. Her friend was lovely in an unassuming way. She didn’t need makeup to enhance her natural healthy good looks. The room, though humble, echoed its owner.
The walls were mint green and that color was pulled out in the leaves of the soft floral doona covering Harper’s queen-sized bed. There was a chaise lounge next to a bay window that looked out onto a well-kept garden bursting with flowers that screamed of spring. There was a dressing table with a chair and mirror—the sort of set Amy had always wanted when she was a young girl. The hardwood floor was covered with a soft off-white rug. Amy sucked in a deep breath and caught what she assumed was a whiff of Harper’s perfume. The fresh, clean scent matched the room and the person who lived here.
Amy sank down on the bed. “I love your bedroom. It’s so comfy and inviting.”
“It’s just a room. I cleaned the hell out of it right before I left. You’re seeing it on a good day. Usually it’s a disaster area.”
“I did the same thing to my house. Scrubbed it from top to bottom. Of course, Thomo and Blue helped, so it wasn’t too bad.”
“Thomo and Blue?”
“Those are Keith and Marc’s nicknames. You’ll probably hear them called by those more than their given names. Listen, if you need anything, just find one of them. They’ve promised me they’ll look after you. I reckon life on a cattle station is way different than what you experience in Chicago. Everyone at Farpoint is nice, but there are a couple blokes you want to look out for. Marc and Keith will make sure no one comes on too strong.”
Amy had grown up on Farpoint Creek, and while there were plenty of women on the station, her closest friends were Marc and Keith. She grinned when she recalled the bon voyage party they’d thrown for her three nights ago. Amy rubbed her temple. She could still feel a bit of the hangover.
Her two mates knew what this trip meant to her. They’d even given her a going-away present—one hundred American dollars to spend on whatever the hell she wanted. Well, with one caveat. Marc had pulled her aside later to beg her to buy him a souvenir. As if she wouldn’t. Her friendship with the two men was the only thing that made life on the cattle station bearable. Although she loved her home and her friends, she constantly longed to be somewhere—anywhere—else.
“I wish I could offer you the same protection, but I sort of purposely timed this vacation so that Andrew would be out of the country the whole time I’m away.”
Amy shook her head. “I still can’t believe you didn’t tell your brother about your trip. Given his line of work, I’m sure he would have told you to go and have fun.”
Andrew was host of a big cable show, Off the Beaten Path on the Travel Channel, and his job kept him constantly on the move. Amy continually pumped Harper for details about Andrew’s adventures. The man was living her dream, traveling all over the world, exploring different customs, religions, foods, and she couldn’t imagine a more spectacular life.
“You don’t know Andrew. What’s good for him is not good for his baby sister. He takes overprotectiveness to new extremes. If I’d told him what I was planning to do, he would have invited himself along to keep an eye on me. It’s kind of hard to do something impulsive and spontaneous with your overbearing, older brother hovering.”
“I’m sure he’s not that bad.”
Harper laughed. “Trust me, I’m painting him in the best possible light. He’s actually a lot worse than that. As far as Andrew knows, I’m spending my spring break at an educational conference and I’ll be too busy to call. Figure that’ll buy me at least one week of vacation free and clear before he starts his daily checking-in routine. It’s going to be tricky catching his calls the second week, what with the time change.”
“You know, I think it’s kind of sweet that he calls to talk to you every day.” Amy was one of three girls, but she and her sisters argued more than coddled. Harper had become the sister of her heart, the one she reached out to in times of need.
“Yeah. Truth is I love him more than the White Sox, despite his caveman tactics. But even so, I’m glad for the respite.”
“Well, I hate to break it to you, but you may have traded one bossy brother for two. Blue and Thomo can be just as domineering. They gave me an ear-bashing for days before I left about how I shouldn’t do this or to be careful of that. We may not share the same blood, but those buggers have appointed themselves the role of my keepers. I’m afraid you might be facing more of the same.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Crap, I took a Dramamine to keep from getting motion sickness on this next puddle jumper, but it’s starting to make me drowsy. I hate flying in shoeboxes. Hope I didn’t take it too early.”
Amy looked at her watch. She’d adjusted the time as soon as she landed at O’Hare Airport. Mentally, she did the maths. Australia was fifteen hours ahead of Chicago. “It won’t be long now. The connecting flight to Cobar is going to feel like an up and down one compared to the long-arse flight you just did. Keith and Marc will be there to get you. If I know Hazel, she probably pushed them out so bright and early it was still dark, just so they wouldn’t make you wait. She’s as excited to meet you as Thomo and Blue.”
“I hope she likes me. It was really cool of her to let a stranger come to teach. No way that would happen in the States.”
“Hazel will love you. Promise.”
The Sullivan family owned Farpoint Creek. It was Hazel Sullivan who’d convinced Amy to go to Chicago and agreed to Harper taking over her position as teacher for two weeks. Hazel said letting her take the extended holiday was the least she could do, since it was probably her sons’ fault that Amy was so unhappy on the station.
Dylan and Hunter had found American girlfriends in the past year. Actually, Dylan had married his artist, Monet, and was currently on his honeymoon. Monet and Hunter’s girlfriend, Annie, had taken up residence on Farpoint and Amy spent countless hours talking to them about their lives in New York, as well as their travels to other amazing places.
“I guess I should get off here. It looks like they’re about to start calling for passengers for this flight,” Harper said. “Then I’m off to see your cowboys.”
“They’re not cowboys, Harper. Marc’s a jackaroo, cause he’s only in his early twenties and Keith is a stockman cause he’s an old bastard of twenty-eight. You might want to brush up on your Aussie vocab too.”
“Jackaroo, stockman. Got it. Oh hey. Before I forget, there are some staples in the fridge to keep you going until you get to the store—milk, eggs, stuff like that. The fresh towels are in the closet at the top of the stairs and the keys to my car, if you’re brave enough to attempt driving in America, are on the hook by the foyer table. Just remember, we drive on the right side. You crazy fools drive on the wrong side.”
“Bloody hell. I’m fine taking taxis or the train. Dying to try those things anyway. There’s no way I’d risk my life trying to tackle your roads. I reckon I’d have a heart attack every time I had to make a right turn, fearing I’d smash into somebody. Those car keys will stay on the hook.”
“Chicken shit. Fine. I planned a big surprise for you too. It’s something you’ve always wanted.”
Amy perked up. She loved pressies. “What is it?”
“If I tell you, it won’t be a surprise.”
“Where is it?”
Harper laughed. “It’s not in the house…yet. So don’t bother looking for it. And you won’t know when it’s arriving, but be ready. It’ll knock your socks off! Promise.”
“Crap. I hate surprises. Will you give me a hint at least?”
Harper refused. “Nope. Just remember to keep an open mind.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“You’ll see.” Harper yawned loudly. “Damn, they better start loading this plane soon or I’m likely to fall asleep in this chair.”
“Okay. See you later, Harper.”
Amy pressed End on her phone and sighed. If there was one part of the trip she regretted, it was that she wouldn’t get to meet Harper face-to-face.
She wondered what the surprise could be. The two of them had shared so many secrets in the past few months, Amy couldn’t even guess what Harper had planned for her.
A couple weeks ago they’d gotten drunk together via Skype, and Amy had told Harper things she’d never admitted to another living soul. Amy had been feeling sorry for herself for spending another weekend dateless and stuck at home, so she’d consumed a bottle of wine. On a whim, she’d drunk-Skyped Harper, surprised to find her friend also off her face.
Harper had been treating herself to early-morning birthday Bloody Marys, indulging in the same pity party. As usual, they’d turned to each other for company and spent nearly two hours laughing and sharing their dirtiest sex fantasies. Amy still blushed when she recalled the detail she’d gone into as she told Harper all about her sex-with-a-stranger dream. Of course, considering Harper’s fantasy was to participate in a ménage, maybe they were even in the red-hot-fantasy category.
She glanced around Harper’s room once more. She’d done it, found her way to America. Amy had spent hours on the internet planning her Chicago itinerary, making a list of everything she absolutely had to see before returning home.
She reached into her back pocket and pulled out her passport. Grinning at her foolishness, she lifted Harper’s mattress and stashed it as Hazel’s voice came back to her. “Don’t leave that passport out in plain sight. Someone might steal it.” Amy had asked who the blazes would want her passport, but Hazel told her to hide it just the same, so she didn’t lose it. Truth be told that was probably her boss’s biggest concern. She often lamented about Amy losing her head if it wasn’t attached. So, for Hazel’s sake, she’d keep her passport safe.
Rising from the bed, she continued exploring the upstairs rooms, walking farther down the hall and peeking into what appeared to be a catchall room. A treadmill covered with clothes sat next to boxes filled with Christmas ornaments, then there was a desk and a filing cabinet. Amy’s own elliptical back in Farpoint served the same purpose—used less for workout and more as a clothesline.
She ventured on to the guest room where she’d left her luggage. Though Harper would be sleeping in Amy’s bedroom—it was the only room available in her tiny cottage—Amy didn’t feel right taking over her friend’s space with such a warm and welcoming guest room down the hall. She stared at her open suitcase. She should unpack, but exhaustion was kicking in. Between layovers, flights and the taxi ride from O’Hare, she’d been traveling nonstop for nearly twenty-seven hours. Adrenaline could only take her so far. She was buggered.
She was about to collapse on the bed when a closed door at the end of the hallway caught her eye. She’d missed it on her first rushed tour of the house. Curiosity defeated tiredness.
The door was unlocked. Opening it, she stepped into the large room—and sucked in a deep breath.
The walls seemed to mimic her bedroom back home.
The stark white paint was covered with breathtaking color photos of some of the most beautiful places on earth. Several of the landscapes she recognized immediately from the pictures she’d torn out of travel magazines over the years. However, there were just as many places she’d never laid eyes on. The familiar ache in her chest returned as she realized how much of the world there really was to see.
This had to be Andrew’s room. No doubt he’d taken the color shots himself, a photographic reminder of all the incredible places he’d journeyed to.
“Lucky bastard,” she muttered jealously. The rest of the room was equally inviting. Andrew had a king-sized bed that looked soft as a cloud. Walking over, she ran her hand along the comforter, then the pillowcase. Silk sheets. Holy shit. She’d always wanted to sleep in a bed with silk sheets.
The room seemed less lived in than Harper’s. The top of the dresser was devoid of knickknacks. The books on the shelf were organized a little too perfectly. Even the laundry basket in the corner was empty. If Amy didn’t know Andrew lived here, she’d think this room was a second guest room. Of course, given the fact, the man traveled most of the year and kept an apartment in Los Angeles as well, it made sense that his room would look neater, less inhabited.
She considered returning to the guest room then changed her mind. According to Harper, Andrew was out of the country, spending the next three weeks on location in the South Pacific. Amy toed off her shoes then tugged off her blouse, jeans and panties. Stripping off her bra, she added it to the pile of clothes beside the bed and pulled down the sheets.
One night. She’d give herself one night between the silk sheets in the huge bed. Tomorrow, she’d move into the guest room.
* * * * *
Andrew Shaw pulled onto the road that led to the home he shared with his sister and released a long sigh. He was fucking wiped out. The last three days had been an experiment in torture when his shoot was cancelled due to a monsoon expected to hit the island he’d intended to be make number eight on his Best Kept Secrets show. He’d been in perpetual motion, hopping from boat to plane to boat and then another plane before his producer called to say they were scrapping the visit.
His phone rang, jerking him from his misery. “Fuck.” One glance at the screen told him he wasn’t going to enjoy this phone call.
“What?” Andrew said by way of greeting.
His best friend, Mike, chuckled. “Welcome home. Is it too soon to say I told you so?” Mike, a meteorologist, had been watching the progression of the storm and had told him not to bother getting on the plane in the first place.
“Yeah. It’s too soon. Besides, you assholes are never right. How did you know I was back?”
“Tom called a few hours ago. Gave me the flight times. I just dropped Mars off at his house and now I’m headed home.”
Mike served as dog sitter for his cameraman Tom’s mutt. Given the amount of time Andrew and Tom were out of the country, it was probably safer to say he and Mike were co-owners of the gigantic dog. Not that either man seemed to mind sharing.
“From the sound of your voice, I assume it was a shitty trip.”
Andrew switched on the windshield wipers and bit back a curse. All this rain was starting to piss him off. “It sucked. Did you call just to rub salt in the wound or did you want something?”
They had been friends too long for Mike to take offense at his sharp tone. “You on your way home?”
“Of course I am. Where else would I go?”
“Thought you might blow off some steam at the club. Wondered if you wanted company.”
Andrew had considered heading to Velvet Chains as soon as he got off the plane at O’Hare. In the past, it wouldn’t have even been a question. The private sex club was usually his and Tom’s first stop after a long trip. It helped ground Andrew, relax him.
Mike had introduced him to the BDSM scene shortly after Andrew’s twenty-first birthday. Mike’s father and uncle co-owned Velvet Chains, so his friend had grown up around the lifestyle. Andrew had not. His first trip had been an eye-opening, life-altering experience. Mike jokingly insisted he’d known about Andrew’s Dom tendencies since their freshmen year in high school, but he figured it was best to wait until Andrew was old enough to handle the news.
Lately, however, he’d found himself becoming bored with the action at the club. While the subs were quite pretty and more than eager to please, he struggled to find the same pleasure, the same sense of adventure he’d experienced in the early days.
“Thought you’d given up the club scene since settling down with Joanne. Married life already chafing, Mike?”
Andrew could imagine the goofy grin on his friend’s face at hearing the name of his wife. Since getting married, Mike had adopted the annoying theory that Andrew needed to take a walk down the aisle too if he ever planned to be happy.
“I’d just be going for a drink. Joanne trusts me. Although knowing my sexy girl, she’d probably insist on coming with me.”
Mike had met Joanne at Velvet Chains. There’d been no doubt the moment the two laid eyes on each other they were meant to be together. Though Andrew felt twinges of jealousy over his friend’s newfound contentment, there was no way he’d admit it.
Andrew released a weary sigh. “I’m not going out tonight.”
Mike was silent for just a moment. “Good.”
Andrew felt his temper spike again. Mike had subjected him to too many lectures about his bachelor status, insisting it was time Andrew gave up his one-night stands with strangers and started looking for a serious girlfriend. Mike could be relentless when he got an idea in his head. As it was, he’d tried to set Andrew up no less than a dozen times the past few months with friends of Joanne’s who would be “perfect for him”. So far Andrew had refused every date.
“Don’t start,” Andrew warned, well aware of where the conversation was going. He’d rather hear what a fool he’d been to hop on a flight headed straight for a monsoon than be subjected to more haranguing about settling down.
“Hear me out. There’s this friend of Joanne’s we’d like you to meet.”
Andrew gritted his teeth. “Mike—” he started.
“Before you start making excuses, I really think you should agree to a blind date with Amy. She’s exactly your type. Pretty, submissive, sexy as sin. You’ll love her.”
Mike released a long, slow breath.
If there was one thing Andrew and his friend were perfectly matched in, it was stubbornness.
“Fine.” Mike’s tone told Andrew he was far from finished, but at least his friend knew him well enough to leave it alone tonight. Even so, he wasn’t sure Mike had ever relented so quickly. Andrew must sound more exhausted than he thought.
Andrew turned into his driveway and felt a sense of relief. He was home. His own bed was close. All he needed was to sleep twenty-four hours or so, and then he’d be back in fighting shape. “Listen. I’m home now. I’ll call you tomorrow. Maybe we can get together this weekend and take in a White Sox game or something.”
“Sounds good. Get some rest.” Mike clicked off with a quick goodbye.
Andrew grabbed his suitcase from the trunk and tiredly walked to the front porch. The house was dark. Harper had left town shortly after he’d taken off for his ill-fated trip, attending some sort of teachers’ conference in Minneapolis over spring break. He hoped her mini-vacation was fairing better than his had. He couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to spend their time off doing what was the equivalent of more work, but Harper was nothing if not a devoted teacher. He felt the same sense of pride that filled him whenever he thought of his baby sister. She was the only family he had left in the world and he adored her.
Locking the door behind him, he climbed the stairs in the quiet house, not bothering to turn on a light. He’d grown up in this place, knew it by heart. He treaded lightly on the third step to avoid the creak, even though he knew he was the only one home. Some habits were so tightly engrained they never left.
He glanced through the open door to Harper’s bedroom as he passed, the room bright with moonlight. As expected, her bed was empty. He paused briefly, missing her. She seldom went anywhere, so when she wasn’t home, he felt her absence deeply. It was going to be a lonely week here without her bubbly, energetic presence. He’d considered going on to L.A. to stay in his own apartment, but he’d felt the urge to spend some time in his hometown.
Continuing down the hallway, he didn’t stop until he reached his own room. The second he crossed the threshold, the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
Something wasn’t right.
He quietly placed his luggage on the floor, forcing his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The curtains in Harper’s room had been open, but his were drawn. The lack of moonlight left him blind.
Taking a few cautious steps into the room, he made his way to the window. Someone was here. He could feel it. Reaching toward the wall, he found his baseball bat. He’d played third base on his high school team, but he’d hung up his mitt shortly after heading to college. However, he’d never gotten rid of the bat, the hard wood now serving as the weapon he’d kept in the corner of his room for years.
Once he wrapped his hand around the bat, he drew it up, ready to swing. There wasn’t any movement in the room, but he could definitely hear someone breathing near the bed. Approaching slowly, he almost tripped over something on the floor. As his gaze adjusted to the dark, he noticed the pile of clothing at his feet, then he managed to make out a lump in his bed.
What the hell?
Someone was in his bed, and given their deep, relaxed breathing, they were sound asleep. Turning back to the window, he quietly parted the curtains, anxious for some light. The person never stirred. Andrew kept the bat raised as he retuned to the bed.
With the moonlight shining in, he could see much clearer—and was shocked at the image of a naked woman in his bed.
He glanced around to confirm they were alone. The rest of his room looked normal, nothing touched or disturbed. The only thing out of place was the beauty who’d taken up residence between his silk sheets.
Andrew stood for several moments trying to figure out his next move. The rest of the house was quiet, but part of him wondered if the woman was here as a ruse, a distraction. Shit. He needed to lighten up on the murder-mystery books. He’d read two stories in the past three days as he killed time waiting in airports because of delayed flights.
He wasn’t even supposed to be here. The only people who knew he was in Chicago were Mike and Tom.
The woman rolled from her side to her back, treating him to an unhindered view of her left breast as the sheet drifted lower.
His cock responded, stealing much-needed blood from his brain.
This woman had broken into his home. Somehow she’d known the house was empty. He fought down his arousal and decided to take action, to get some answers. He carefully put the bat down, leaning it against the nightstand in case he needed to grab it again quickly.
Then he slowly reached behind the headboard, silently searching for the straps he knew were there. He hadn’t brought a woman back to the house in years out of respect for his sister, but he also hadn’t bothered to remove the restraints he’d had installed when he was younger. Once the strap was freed from its hiding place, he walked to the other side of the bed, looking for the mate.
He took a deep breath, trying to calm down. He wasn’t sure exactly what was causing the sudden racing of his heart—the anticipation of a fight or rock-hard, pulse-pounding arousal.
Moving ever so carefully, he reached for one of the woman’s wrists, dragging it toward the first restraint. If he could fasten the straps before she woke, it would make his job of questioning her easier.
Unfortunately, luck was not on his side. The woman’s eyes snapped open at his touch. She started to scream, so Andrew covered her mouth with his hand as she began to fight him in earnest. While he had to have her by almost a hundred pounds, the petite woman waged one hell of a battle. She scratched his face as he struggled to reclaim his grip on her hand. Despite her naked state, she kicked off the covers, freeing her legs to pummel his thighs with blows strong enough to leave bruises.
Forced to keep her mouth covered, lest she wake up the neighborhood with her screaming, he tried to subdue her one-handed. When that attempt failed, he released her mouth. The woman started to scream again, so he quickly grabbed her blouse from the floor and stuffed some of the material into her mouth, muffling her cries.
Her initial shock at being gagged gave him the precious seconds he needed to snap a restraint around one of her wrists. When she realized what he was doing, she doubled her efforts. With one of her hands out of play, it was easier to capture and restrain the second.
For the first time, desperation and fear crept onto her face.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” His words sounded ridiculous even to himself. He’d gagged her and was now straddling her naked body, holding her legs to the mattress with his own after tying her to the bed. Regardless of who she was or why she was there, she’d be insane not to be afraid of his intentions.
She twisted her head, trying to dislodge the shirt from her mouth.
“If I take it out, do you promise not to scream?”
She blinked rapidly then nodded her assent.
He pulled the material away, ready to replace it if she broke her vow.
“No.” Andrew reached up to touch his tender cheek, his fingers finding the raised welts she’d put there with her long nails. “Who are you?”
Her breathing was labored, coming in hard pants after their fight. Even so, her gaze hardened and he knew she wouldn’t talk.
Something inside him cracked. He’d been traveling for days, stealing only a couple hours sleep here and there. This woman had broken into his house. She had some nerve acting like he was the villain. By God, he’d make her talk.
“I’ll give you one more chance to answer my question. Tell me who you are or you won’t like the consequences.”
She stilled beneath him, her intelligent gaze sizing him up. He should climb off the bed and call the cops. If he was in his right mind, that’s exactly what he’d do. Having her arrested would certainly be the kinder response. As it was, he wasn’t in the mood to be merciful.
Instead of answering, she threw his question back at him. “Who are you?”
“None of your business. Give me your name. Now.”
She bit her lip nervously. “I’m Amy.”
Amy? Mike’s Amy?
Andrew leaned back on his haunches, his mind whirling. Had Mike set this up? Past experience had obviously convinced his friend he’d never consent to a blind date. But would Mike actually go so far as to throw this woman into his bed?
Andrew knew the answer. It was more than possible. It was actually quite probable. Mike had the extra key to the house. He knew Harper was away and Andrew was back in town.
Andrew recalled a lifetime of little surprises his best friend had tossed his way. The high-class call girl who’d shown up at his door on his twenty-fifth birthday. The so-called conference that had really turned out to be an impromptu weekend trip to Vegas, complete with nonstop gambling and a private show with five of the hottest strippers Andrew had ever seen. Or this past year when Mike had managed to score tickets to the Super Bowl, but told Andrew they were headed to Indianapolis for his cousin’s bachelor party. He’d let Andrew bitch for three hours in the car about missing the big game, only letting him in on the surprise when they’d reached the entrance to the stadium.
Mike was the master of the unexpected, so it wasn’t farfetched that his friend would go to this extreme in a hookup. It would also explain his friend’s easy capitulation when he refused to go on a date with the woman earlier. Mike didn’t push the issue because he knew Amy was already here.
He grinned as his annoyance lifted. Amy was beautiful and feisty, with a hot accent. Australian, if he wasn’t mistaken, though he’d need to hear her say more before he could be sure. His best friend knew he was a sucker for a girl with an accent. For the second time in one night, it looked like Mike was going to be able to say, “I told you so.”
And since Mike had gone to so much trouble, far be it from Andrew to look a gift horse in the mouth.
The Foreign Affairs sneak peeks continue. Today…I give you Cowboy! And don’t forget the entire series is for sale in one box set…four books for the price of two!
Foreign Affairs, Book Two
Flying halfway ’round the world to meet his potential soul mate sounds like a fine idea to Dylan Sullivan—until he discovers said soul mate, Annie, has gone looking for him. In Australia. Now Dylan’s adrift, a bloke from the Outback alone in the bloody big city. Until he’s rescued by Monet, a gorgeous local artist…and Annie’s best friend.
A dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, Monet has never met anyone like Dylan. Taking temporary care of the sizzling-hot cowboy is easy; he’s friendly, funny and interesting. Keeping her hands off him is decidedly not easy. That horny accent, that killer grin…and as a successful artist, Monet is very much a hands-on sort of girl.
Dylan and Monet hold back until they learn Annie is engaged in her own foreign affair in Oz. Then all bets—and clothes—are off. But it can only be a fling. An Aussie cowboy doesn’t belong in New York any more than a city girl belongs in the Outback.
Now if only their hearts would listen.
Dylan Sullivan gazed up at the Empire State Building towering a thousand feet above him and thought, Bugger.
He considered going with the tried and true, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto”, but seeing as he’d never been to the U.S. before now, let alone Kansas, and he didn’t have a little yappy dog prancing around his feet, he decided it was both clichéd and inappropriate.
Dylan’s chest squeezed tight. His dog, Mutt, was on the other side of the world, probably curled up asleep in the back of Dylan’s pickup on the cattle station he and his brother called home. Either that or causing havoc with the wild kangaroos that kept seeking out water around the main house. The fact Mutt wasn’t at his side, where the dog spent pretty much every minute of the day when Dylan was working, just drove home the point that Dylan was out of his comfort zone. Way out.
An Australian stockman had no business being in America. None at all. There wasn’t a cow, kangaroo or shed to be seen.
Reaching up, Dylan removed his hat—a thoroughly beat-up, well-worn Akubra—and dragged his fingers through his hair.
What the bloody hell had he been thinking, flying to America?
What had you been thinking? You’d been thinking about Annie. About finally meeting her face to face. About seeing if she smells as good as you think she does. About finding out if her lips are as soft as they look…
Yeah, that’s what he’d been thinking. Of course, when he’d touched down at JFK International Airport, Annie had been a no-show. Which left Dylan, well…screwed.
Turning away from the Empire State Building, he surveyed the mass of people swarming around him. It had seemed like a good idea at the time to leave the airport. Annie hadn’t arrived but that didn’t mean she’d stood him up. After a few months of talking on the Net, he figured her to be a pretty decent woman. Not the kind to leave a man in the lurch after agreeing to a cross-global meeting. Hell, she’d been all for the challenge of a city girl and a country boy facing off, and he’d told her what flight he was coming in on in his last email. But the moment he’d deplaned, things had started going wrong.
He didn’t believe in omens, not like Aunt Joyce back home who wouldn’t leave her house if she saw a row of ducks break formation, but when he’d gone to collect his luggage—one solitary duffel bag—and found it missing, he should have suspected things wouldn’t go as planned.
After two hours of waiting for Annie, of standing in a busy airport surrounded by people who all looked as if they were in a major rush, Dylan had decided to brave the unknown world beyond the glass doors and seek her out. He had her address. Perhaps there was something wrong? A problem preventing her getting to the airport?
A traffic jam had brought his cab to a halt, however, before he could make it to Annie’s apartment. Determined not to wait in the stuffy vehicle, he’d elected to walk the rest of the way.
He hadn’t expected a doorman who wouldn’t let him pass. Why would he? He’d spent his entire life on Farpoint Creek cattle station, a place half the size of Texas and roughly a thousand kilometers from Australia’s closest high-rise apartment complex.
The man, a round and somewhat squishy bloke decked out in a burgundy suit complete with gold buttons and matching cap, stood in Dylan’s path, staring up at him with unwavering determination. “I’m sorry, sir.” He shook his head, his American accent highlighting how disconnected Dylan felt from everything he knew. “But Ms. Prince is not in residence and I cannot let you pass.”
Dylan frowned, his exhausted brain telling him he’d missed something really important in the man’s statement. “Sorry? What did you say?”
The man straightened a little more. “Ms. Prince is not home.”
Dylan let out a ragged sigh. He removed his hat, raked his fingers through his hair and returned the damn thing to his head. Not home? Maybe she was at the airport waiting for him after all? Could they have just missed each other? “Do you know when she’ll be back?”
If possible, the doorman snapped his spine straighter. Dylan wondered for a jet-lagged second if the bloke thought he was going to throw a crocodile or something at him. “I can’t divulge that information, sir. Now, if you will please step away from the door?”
There was a threat in the words. Even in his tired state, Dylan could hear it. Or a promise. Walk away from the door before I call the authorities.
Dylan walked away from the door. It wasn’t in his nature to back down, but he’d come to New York to meet a woman he’d been flirting with on the Net, not to start an international conflict between Australia and the U.S.
Stepping to the side of the building’s double glass doors, he leaned his back against the cool marble wall. He’d wait it out. Wherever Annie was, she’d come back, find him there—the unmistakable Aussie stockman in a sea of suave New Yorkers—laugh at his obvious fish-out-of-waterness and then they’d go inside and see if they had the same chemistry in the flesh that they did online.
A lifetime on Farpoint Creek had, if nothing else, taught him patience.
Forty-five minutes later the doorman stormed over to him, squishy face set in a menacing glare. “Listen, buddy—”
Dylan stuck out his hand. “Dylan Sullivan.”
The doorman blinked. He jerked his glare—now a slightly confused glower—to Dylan’s extended hand then back up to Dylan’s face. “Err…Tommy. Tommy Taberknackle.”
Dylan gave him a smile and a nod. “G’day, Tommy.”
The doorman blinked again, his hand slipping into Dylan’s. “I…you shouldn’t be…that is, Ms. Prince isn’t…”
A naked, entwined couple moving behind Tommy caught Dylan’s attention.
He frowned, watching the utterly erotic sculpture of a man and a woman making out move along the footpath, wrapped in the slim arms of someone he couldn’t quite see. The sculpture stopped. The arms adjusted the art as a leather-clad knee came up to help balance it precariously before one of the slim arms waved about in the air.
A husky female voice called out, “Taxi!”—a fraction of a second before the sculpture tumbled sideways.
Dylan leapt forward. He snared the sculpture—bronze? Is it bronze?—just as it fell from the unseen husky-voiced woman’s arms.
She spun to face him, a relieved sigh escaping her full lips as Dylan held up the unscathed sculpture. “Don’t worry, love.” He gave her a lopsided grin. “I got it.”
Those full lips curled into a smile. “Thank you,” she said, her accent subtle and—to Dylan’s ears—very, very sexy. She reached out to take the sculpture back but he shook his head.
“It’s all right.” He repositioned the artwork in his arms—definitely bronze, judging by its weight and surface temperature—and smiled some more. “I’ll keep a hold of it until you get a taxi.”
“Thank you again.”
He nodded. “Welcome.” Damn, she was pretty. Even with black sunglasses hiding her eyes, he couldn’t help but notice. The kind of pretty that came from a finely structured face, thick black hair that fell about her shoulders in an unruly mass of waves and a turned-up nose just made for dropping a kiss on.
“Are you Australian?”
Dylan grinned. “The hat doesn’t give it away?”
She laughed, the sound warm and relaxed and thoroughly…stimulating. A twinge of pressure pulled at his groin, making things down there a tad uncomfortable. “The hat may have helped. But I have to admit, it was mainly the accent.”
Dylan did his best to ignore the completely unexpected physical reaction to her laugh. “Bugger. I was hoping I’d blend right in around here.”
The woman’s lips twitched. Dylan got the distinct impression her hidden gaze was taking him in from head to toe. “I think,” she leaned forward as though sharing a secret, “the chance of you blending in anywhere is fairly remote.”
Dylan’s cock jerked. He swallowed, his grip on her sculpture tightening. His sleep-deprived brain told him she’d just paid him a compliment. His red-blooded male hormones told him just as quickly what to do about that compliment. His common sense, however, told him he’d flown halfway around the world to meet with Annie Prince, and whoever the woman with the sexy voice, kissable lips, gorgeous mane of hair and altogether too concealing sunglasses was, she sure as hell wasn’t Annie.
He swallowed again, unable to think of a single bloody thing to say.
“So,” the woman continued. “What’s an Australian cowboy doing in New—”
Her question stopped dead. She stood motionless for a split second, her lips parted, then she pushed those dark sunglasses to the top of her head and stared at Dylan with eyes the color of a cloudless summer day. “You’re Australian.”
Dylan nodded. Hadn’t they already established that?
Her blue gaze roamed over him, from the tip of his hat to his boots and back up to his face. “You’re a cowboy.”
“Stockman,” he said. “We’re called stockmen back home. Or graziers. But yeah, I guess over here you’d call me a—”
“Cowboy,” the woman said, an almost breathless quality to her voice. “You’re an Australian cowboy, the Australian cowboy. Although I have to say, Annie was right. There’s nothing boyish about you at all.”
“Annie? You know Annie Prince?”
“You’re her Aussie cowboy,” the woman continued, as if Dylan hadn’t said a thing, her gaze taking him in again, her eyebrows knitting in a slight frown. “And you’re here. You’re here and she’s…” Her stare returned to Dylan’s face, her teeth—white and even and perfect—catching her bottom lip.
Dylan’s heart beat faster. “She’s what?”
The woman let out a shaky laugh. “Oh shit. You’re here and Annie’s in Australia.”
The question burst from Dylan a bit louder than he’d intended. He adjusted his grip on the lovers in his arms, fixing the woman before him with a dumbstruck stare. He knew it was dumbstruck by the way his mouth hung open. If he were back home, he’d be catching flies by now. Of course, he wasn’t back home. He was bloody seventeen thousand kilometers away from home. He was on the other side of the bloody world to see a woman he’d met online and now he was being told that woman was back where he’d come from?
Fuck a duck, his brother was going to laugh his arse off when he found out.
“She’s in Australia,” the woman not seventeen thousand kilometers away told him, an expression—part worry, part mirth—playing with her features. “She flew out yesterday.”
“Why the bloody hell did she do that?”
Once again, Dylan’s voice was louder than he’d intended. Of course, nothing had gone as planned in the last twenty-four hours so why should his voice toe the line?
The woman before him laughed, that deep, throaty laugh that played merry hell with his senses. If he hadn’t been so gob-smacked by what she was telling him, he was pretty certain it’d play merry hell with them some more.
“She went to meet you.”
Monet Carmichael knew she shouldn’t be laughing. Nor smiling. The poor cowboy in front of her truly looked like the definition of confusion. But oh boy, what a beautiful definition it was. Okay, not so much that he was confused, but just the way he looked in general. His strong lips and chiseled bone structure, the perfect growth of honey-brown stubble on his jaw and chin, the hat.
Every inch of him screamed MAN. Virile, potent man.
Having grown up a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, Monet was experiencing her first in-the-flesh cowboy—and what a cowboy.
Stockman, Monnie. He’s a stockman.
She caught her bottom lip with her teeth again, the junction of her thighs doing a funky little twisty thing she enjoyed very much.
Man was correct. A beautiful man. A goddamn gorgeous, sexy man. Complete with a goddamn gorgeous body his faded jeans and well-worn flannel shirt couldn’t hide at all.
If it wasn’t for the fact he’d flown from Australia to meet her best friend, Monet could quite happily stand there and undress him with her eyes. Render him naked and imagine all the things a woman could do to a male body like—
She caught the wildly inappropriate thought before it could form a wildly inappropriate image in her wildly visual mind.
“Let me get this straight,” the Australian cowboy said, his light green stare doing all sorts of wicked things to Monet’s resolve. Even his eyelashes were perfect. She could imagine drawing each one in charcoal. Imagine even better the way they would feel against her lips as she—
“Annie flew to meet me in Australia yesterday, despite the fact I flew to the U.S. to meet her?”
Monet nodded. “You sent her an IM with flight details. Well, some flight details. The day, the airline, the arrival time. Although you were wrong by an hour on that last one. Her flight didn’t touch down in Sydney until—”
“Wait, wait, wait.” The cowboy’s confused frown grew deeper, his Australian accent turning the word into a drawling song Monet found quite enjoyable to listen to. “I IM’ed her about a Qantas flight to New York. The one I was thinking of getting. And then the next day I emailed her the actual details of the flight I’d booked a seat on.”
Monet blinked. Annie hadn’t said anything about the email. In fact, Monet had been sitting right beside her best friend when she’d bought her airline ticket to Australia, a Qantas flight touching down in Sydney on the day her online Aussie cowboy…friend…had told her. Surely Annie would have known he was flying over here? How could they get their wires crossed so badly?
She opened her mouth—to say what to the man, she didn’t know. Damn, what was his name? Annie had said it enough times over the last few months, but Monet shut her mouth again when the doorman of their building suddenly appeared at the cowboy’s side.
“Everything okay, Ms. Carmichael?” Tommy’s gaze flicked back and forth between the Australian and Monet. “Mr. Sullivan’s not giving you—”
The cowboy’s name popped into Monet’s head, along with an image of a clean-shaven man without a hat smiling somewhat nervously into a camera.
Monet shook her head, unable to take her gaze from Dylan’s still troubled face. “Everything’s fine, Tommy,” she assured him, even as she compared the beautiful hat-wearing male before her, his stubble as sexy as his accent, his accent as mesmerizing as his eyes, to the clean-cut man in the photo on Annie’s laptop.
“Are you sure?”
She flicked Dylan a quick look, her pulse beating far too fast for her peace of mind. “I’m sure.”
“’Cause he was asking about Ms. Prince—”
“It’s okay.” She cut him off with a smile. “I know Dylan. We were just going to catch a cab to the gallery.”
“Oh.” Tommy nodded. “In that case…” He stepped one foot off the curb and let out a sharp whistle.
Before anyone could say a thing, a taxi pulled to a quick halt on the road beside them.
Monet gave the doorman another smile. “Thanks, Tommy.” She opened the back passenger door of the cab and extended an arm toward the grimy interior. “After you, Mr. Sullivan.”
The brim of his hat cast his eyes in shadow, and for a brief moment Monet thought he was going to refuse. And then he gave her a loose, lopsided grin that made her want to grin back. “I take it the lovers sit between us?”
She nodded. “The lovers do.”
“It’s probably better you climb in first then, love.”
Her pulse fluttered, and for the first time ever, Monet found herself totally flustered by a man. Love. Who would have thought she’d get excited over an almost antiquated term. She despised pet names—no babes or hons or sweethearts allowed, thank you very much. But the term “love” coming from Dylan’s lips…
Her reaction to it was unnerving. The whole situation was unnerving. Annie on the other side of the world. Dylan here in New York. Her unexpected response to the man.
She dove into the cab before Dylan Sullivan, her best friend’s would-be Aussie cowboy, could see the flush painting her cheeks pink.
Oh boy, this was…inconvenient.