Birthday Box Set Bonanza!

It’s my birthday week!

And that means lots of fun and goodies for YOU!

Ten of my fabulous box sets are discounted to just 99 cents for five days (because I’m celebrating turning 55).

Click on your favorite one below–or snap up all ten. Why not? It’s an unbelievable deal!

{Note: some of the links might go only to Amazon because the books were not updated yet at the other vendors. If your vendor isn’t linked, don’t worry– the sale should be happening there, too!}

 

 

 

 

Love in a Small Town Box Set I

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Dish Romance Collection 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Anti-Cinderella Royal Romance Box Set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Career Soldier Collection (Fort Lee Tour of Duty)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diagnosis: Love Box Set One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diagnosis: Love Box Set Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Recipe for Death Box Set 

First Chapter Friday: Just Roll With It

It was only supposed to be a one-night thing.

Amanda
When I showed up at my friends’ engagement party, the last thing I planned for was a wild one-night stand with the bride’s older brother. On the other hand, Vincent DiMartino is smart, sexy—and safe. He doesn’t want more than a quick hook-up–and neither do I. Or so I thought.

When life tosses us together again, the same intense spark is still there. There’s nothing wrong with a casual relationship . . . unless someone’s heart is at risk.

Vincent

I’m not interested in long-term anything, and I have no desire for a serious relationship. My job as a pastry chef in my family’s restaurant demands all of my time and attention. The night I spent with Amanda Simmons was supposed to be just that—one night. But I didn’t bargain for how much I’d enjoy her sense of humor, her intelligence and her sass . . . not to mention her unrepentant sensuality.

Now that I realize I want more than just her body, can I persuade Amanda to take a chance on me? Will she risk her heart on the man who was only supposed to be a fling?

Sometimes plans go awry. And sometimes, you just have to roll with it.

Read the first chapter now!

Amanda

The city sidewalk felt like a wind tunnel as I hustled toward the entrance of my apartment building and yanked open the door, fighting the blast of hot air that tried to thwart me. A man in an understated uniform standing behind the desk smirked at me.

“Little breezy today, Ms. Simmons?” Rocky cocked his head.

“Just a tad.” I ran my fingers through my dark hair, giving my head a little shake just so that I could see between the thick strands. For the hundredth time, I congratulated myself for getting my hair cut last week; taking five inches off the length made me feel lighter, somehow. It was also easier on a day like today when the gusts would’ve tangled my curls into snarls.

?“Are you glad to be finished for the week? Ready for a relaxing weekend?” The doorman and I had an easy, teasing acquaintance. Rocky prided himself on his familiarity with the schedules and rhythms of the people who lived in this building, and so he knew that I’d just finished my first week back at law school. He also knew how happy I was that this was my last year. I was beyond ready to be done with classes, papers, and exams . . . even if I wasn’t sure that diving into the world of civil law was going to be that much better.

?“Normally, I’d say hell, yeah, but tonight isn’t going to be my typical ordering in and vegging. I have to go out.”

?Rocky chuckled. “Most people your age love to go out on a Friday night. You sound so glum about the idea.”

“I am,” I sighed. “I’m tired, and I’m grumpy and—” A trilling sound came from the bag on my shoulder. “And that’s my mom calling for our weekly catch-up. I better answer it. See you later, Rocky.”

“Stay cool, Ms. Simmons.”

?I waved and pushed the button for the elevator at the same time that I answered the phone. “Hey, Ma. How’s it hanging?”

The long sigh on the other end of the line made me grin. “Amanda, my mother and her mother are rolling in their respective graves in horror at the way you answer your telephone. And the good instructors at St. Ursula’s Academy aren’t thanking you, either.”

“Fine.” Stepping onto the elevator, I affected a genteel tone, imitating the cooing voices I’d grown up hearing from all the so-called ladies. “Good afternoon, Mother. I hope you are quite well.”

She groaned. “That’s even worse. Isn’t there some kind of happy medium with you?”

?“Nope. I’m all or nothing, from one extreme to the other. And you know it because that’s how you raised me.”

“And I have no one to blame but myself. Oh, well.” My mother laughed. “How did the first week of classes go?”

“Fine. Nothing unexpected.” I unlocked the door to my apartment and stepped inside, throwing the deadbolt out of habit. “Dr. Arlington asked me to send you her best.”

?“Lois Arlington? Good Lord, is she still teaching? She was ancient when I was there. I’m surprised she’s still alive.”

“I’m not positive she is. She never stands up the entire class period—she teaches from her chair. For all I know, she could be an animated corpse. But she remembers you, so there’s that.”

“It’s something. Are you just getting home now? Sounds like you had a long day.”

?I kicked off my shoes and padded through the living room, past the kitchen, and into my bedroom, where I eyed my king-sized bed longingly. I wanted nothing more than to crawl under the covers and sleep the weekend away.

“Yeah, I’m home, and yeah, it was a long day. But it’s not over yet. I have Liam and Ava’s engagement party tonight, remember?”

“Ah, that’s right. I forgot that the party’s this weekend.” A little bit of regret tinged Mom’s voice. “I have that fundraiser in Newark. I’d much rather be celebrating with all of you. Be sure to give Liam and Ava my love. And Laura, too, of course.”

“Will do. Think the senator will show up?” I unbuttoned my jeans and wriggled them down my legs, kicking them off.

“I have no idea what that man might do anymore, except that it’ll probably be the wrong thing, and he’ll end up making an ass of himself. I won’t be sorry to miss that.” Mom sniffed. “I can tell you that the governor is not at all happy with Liam’s father. It’s only a matter of time before the party kicks him out of his seat. You can’t talk about family values for decades and then screw around on your wife. At least, you can’t do that if you’re going to remain wholly unrepentant.”

“Which he is.” I switched the phone over to speaker and set it on the dresser so that I could peel off my shirt. “I feel so sorry for Liam’s mom. She must be mortified.”

“Well . . .” My mother chuckled. “I wouldn’t feel too bad for Laura. I ran into her a few weeks back, and she was, um, very cozy with her companion. I think he’s got to be at least ten years younger than she is. And he is . . .” Mom paused, as though she was searching for the right word to use. “Uh, quite the looker.”

“Liam’s mom has a hot new boy toy? Go, Mrs. Bailey.” Reaching behind me, I unhooked my bra and leaned forward until it fell down my arms and landed on the floor. “I never knew she had it in her.”

“I doubt the Senator did, either,” Mom responded drily. “But I will say that Laura seemed to be very happy.”

?“I just bet she is.” I picked up the phone again and turned the speaker off as I brought it to my ear. “Hey, I’d be happy, too, if I were getting laid on the regular by a smokin’ hot dude.”

“Amanda, really.” I could practically feel my mother’s shudder. “I don’t want to think about my friend getting laid, and I certainly don’t want to hear my daughter talking about her sex life.”

“Or lack thereof,” I muttered, nudging open the bathroom door with my shoulder.

“Well, I should probably let you get ready for tonight,” Mom said loudly enough that I knew she was making a point of ignoring my words. “Have a good time. I’ll think about you while I’m dying a slow death of boredom.”

“You do that. See you Sunday?” I rummaged in the bathroom cabinet until I found my curling iron. “We’re still on for O’Doulies?”

?“Brunch at eleven,” my mother confirmed. “You can tell me all about the engagement party, and your father can show you pictures of the site he’s flying off to next week.”

“It’s a date. Love you, Mom.”

“Love you, too, sweetheart.”?I set my phone down on the bathroom counter, plugged in the curling iron, and reached into the shower to turn on the water. Wriggling out of my panties, I tossed them in the vague direction of the laundry basket and stepped into the stall, giving a happy little sigh as the hot water hit my skin.

It felt weird to be getting ready to leave my apartment again. In the past three months, I’d been living and breathing law, up to my neck in interrogatories and depositions between my part-time job in a law firm and my classes. I’d intentionally stepped away from any kind of social life after Cam and I had called it quits last spring. ?I wasn’t nursing a broken heart by any means. Cam and I had started out as friends with benefits, and when we’d morphed into more, it had been out of convenience rather than passion. Exclusivity wasn’t hard for either of us, because we were both too busy to go looking for other distractions. Our relationship perks had included having an automatic plus-one for any social occasion and the promise of sex-on-request whenever either of us needed it. We’d always gotten along well, and if I were being honest, I’d have to admit that I’d enjoyed our sparring about law and politics even more than I’d loved our sex life.

When Cam had graduated in May and accepted a position with a firm in Seattle, a couple of our friends had asked if I planned to follow him to the West Coast after I’d finished school. We’d both laughed because the idea had never crossed our minds. After his graduation celebration—which had been dinner with his parents in a lovely, trendy restaurant—we’d said goodbye. Cam had kissed me on the cheek and promised to keep in touch. So far, we’d texted now and then, but I knew he was moving on—as he should have.

As for me, I’d jumped into my job with both feet. Aside from seeing my friends Giff and Liam and their respective partners, and the weekly brunch with my parents, I didn’t go out. I ate, I slept, and I worked. Giff had taken to calling me his hermit friend.

“Hey,” I’d retorted. “You’ll be glad I’m working so hard now after I graduate and become your friend who can represent your ass in a court of law.”

“Sweetie, the only thing I can be accused of is killing it in party planning. And so far, that’s not a crime.”

?Giff and Liam had known me long enough that I didn’t worry about offending them when we went weeks without talking or months without actually seeing each other. But apparently, I’d tried Giff’s patience enough that he’d texted me one Sunday last month, announcing that he and Jeff, his long-time boyfriend, were coming over to take me out to dinner.

“Pick a good restaurant, cookie. Jeff and I want to spoil you a little.”

?I’d smiled at his use of the affectionate name. Choosing obscure nicknames was one of Giff’s specialties. As long as I could remember, he’d called our friend Liam Bailey ‘beetle’, a reference to the old comic strip Beetle Bailey. Liam’s fiancée Ava was ‘peaches’, thanks to her gorgeous skin. And I’d always been ‘cookie’ except for a brief period midway through high school when he’d taken to referring to me as Evita. I’d assumed it was because I’d played that title role in one of our high school productions.

When I’d asked Giff, he’d smiled at me. “That’s part of it. You killed it as Eva Peron, for sure. But it made me think that you’re a whole lot more like her than what I’d realized. You’re a tough cookie on the outside, but inside, you’re mushy, and even though you try to hide it, you want people to like you.”

“Bullshit.” I’d rolled my eyes. “I don’t care what people think of me. That’s a lesson I learned early in life.”

“That’s what you want us to think. But I see more than you know. And I stick by what I say.”

That night, when the three of us were out to dinner, Giff had told me about Liam and Ava’s engagement, as well as about the shit-show that had taken place earlier in the day when the two families had met to talk wedding details. ?“

It was ugly.” He’d shuddered. “The Senator showed up late, guns blazing.”

?“He means that in a figurative sense,” Jeff had put in. “It’s probably important to say that, given Senator Bailey’s position on the Second Amendment.”

“True. Anyway, he wants them to get married next year in DC, and he wants to make it a huge show. I had to get tough with all of the parents.”

?I could just picture it, and I’d smirked. “Did they behave after that?”

“For the most part. The wedding itself is going to be small and intimate, and it’s happening around Christmas time. But they’re letting Mrs. B throw an engagement party next month, so make sure you put it on your calendar as soon as you get your invite.”

And that was why I was now showering and musing over what to wear when most of me wanted to pull on my jammies and curl up on the sofa with a bag of chips, a bowl of onion dip, and Marvel’s The Defenders on TV.

“It’s fine.” I spoke to myself out loud as I turned off the shower and wrapped a fluffy towel around me. “It’s one night. I can show up, smile, do the friend thing, and then come home and veg. I don’t have to stay long.”

Even as I said it, I knew I was delusional. Liam and Ava were among my best friends. I’d never risk hurting their feelings by cutting out early, even if the last thing I wanted to do tonight was to be sociable.

Padding out of the bathroom, I opened my closet door and began flipping through the hangers at the far end, where I kept the clothes I didn’t wear very much. This was the only part of the walk-in that was still organized and fairly neat, thanks to the gift my mom had given me for my last birthday.

Maybe some daughters would’ve been offended if their mother had sent a professional organizer as a gift, but I’d been thrilled. Mavis had shown up and whipped my closet, my drawers, and my desk into shape. She’d been fast and efficient, and she hadn’t shamed me about my lack of neatness. Still, even though we’d agreed to make her visits an annual event, I had to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to letting her see that I’d slid back into bad habits. ?I wasn’t a slob. Not really. I just always had more important things on my mind than doing things like hanging up clothes or folding them neatly. I meant to go back and do it, but somehow, there never seemed to be enough time. Consequently, while my apartment wasn’t dirty, it wasn’t exactly well-ordered, either.

But here in the fancy-dress section of my closet, everything was still hanging by color and length. Granted, the color differentiations weren’t great; most of the dresses were black because I’d long ago discovered that black was the easiest option when it came to evening events. I frowned as I flipped through them; black might be easy, but it was also boring. While I didn’t expect the engagement party tonight to be a wild affair, out of my love for Liam and Ava, I wanted to look my best.

?I was just thinking that I should’ve taken the time to shop for something new and pretty when a flash of red caught my eye. Frowning, I lifted the dress from the rod, trying to remember where it had come from. Was it an impulse purchase when I’d been out shopping with friends? Or had my mother sent it to me? That seemed unlikely, the more I examined the dress; it was short and silky, cut low in front and back, with two thin straps to hold the top up. While my mom was fairly progressive when it came to me and her acceptance of my choices, she never would’ve given me anything this out-and-out sexy.?Still, here it was, and there wasn’t any harm in at least trying it on. If it didn’t fit or if I didn’t like it, I could always go back to one of the black ones.

But once I’d wriggled into it, I knew there was no way I could wear anything else. It didn’t look as though it should fit me, but hot damn, it really did. With boobs the size of mine, there were few times I could go without a bra, but this dress had enough support that the girls were showcased nicely, without making me look ridiculous and trashy. The material clung enough to accentuate my hips and ass, and it was short enough that my legs looked amazing.

?Digging through my shoes, I found a pair of silver strappy heels that worked perfectly. As I scrutinized myself in the mirror, I couldn’t help grinning—all I needed was hair and makeup, and tonight, I was going to be a total babe.

Thirty minutes later, my hair was blown dry, curling slightly around my shoulders, my makeup was flawless, and I’d added some sparkly silver jewelry to compliment the shoes. I transferred my license, my debit card, a twenty-dollar bill, tissues, lipstick, and my phone into a small clutch and hustled my fabulous self downstairs to wait for my ride. ?I wasn’t too precious to take public transportation most of the time. I didn’t mind trains or buses, since owning a car in the city felt like a waste of money and energy. But I also had enough money to afford a car service, thanks to a generous allowance from my parents and my own small salary at the law firm, and tonight, it made sense to splurge. I didn’t want to risk getting wind-blown or overheated when I’d made the effort to look good.

?The RideIt driver pulled up in front of my building right on time. She greeted me with a smile, and then we were on our way.

?* * *

“Amanda! I haven’t seen you in months.”

Ava DiMartino greeted me with a hug and kiss on my cheek. “I’ve missed you.”

?“Apparently, not that much,” I teased, reaching for her left hand. “Look at this sparkler. It’s gorgeous, girl! Liam did good.”

Ava beamed. “Didn’t he? The main diamond came from his grandmother’s ring, and the smaller ones were from one that belonged to my great-grandmother. He designed it himself.”

?“Overachiever.” I winked as the man himself strolled over and wrapped his arms around his fiancée’s waist, pulling her tight against him. “Hey, buddy, congrats on getting the girl. It’s about time. I was starting to worry that I was going to have to nudge you into proposing.”

“Never.” Liam nuzzled Ava’s neck. She shivered, and a pang of stark loneliness quivered through me. “I know a good thing when I have it. I was just waiting for the perfect time.”

?“And this is it.” I lifted my glass of prosecco in a small toast. “I can’t wait to watch you two get married. Giff filled me in on some of the details . . . are you really sticking with the small wedding at Christmas idea?”

“Yup.” Ava nodded. “Giff’s all over the planning, but we’re keeping it small and intimate. In spite of what our mothers want.”

“Good luck with that.” I glanced around the room, taking in the mix of friends and family, some of whom I recognized and some of whom I didn’t. “Your dad isn’t here yet, Liam?”

Ava sighed, and Liam winced. “I don’t think he’s going to show. We had a pretty serious argument last time I saw him, and my mom says he hasn’t been answering her calls or texts. He’s sulking because we won’t do things his way.”

“I’m sorry.” I laid a hand on his arm. “That must suck for you.”

?Liam shrugged. “Honestly, it’s easier that he isn’t here. It’s the guilt over feeling that way that’s the worst part, I think. I should want my dad to be part of my life, right? But I’m always happier when he stays away.”

“It’s going to work out.” Ava turned in his arms and kissed the side of his jaw. “He’ll come around eventually. Your father loves you, babe. It’s just . . . he has to learn what’s really important.”

“You’re too nice.” Liam brushed a thumb over Ava’s lips. “My dad doesn’t deserve the grace you give him.”

“Maybe not, but for you, I’d do anything.” Ava rested her cheek on her fiancé’s chest.

“And on that note, I’m going to find Giff and Jeff before I go into a diabetic coma from all the sugar between you two.” I pretended to gag a little, and they both laughed.

“Enjoy yourself tonight, Amanda.” Ava tilted her head. “Giff tells me you’ve been working too hard lately. So have a good time here, and then let’s make sure to get together for lunch soon. We need to catch up.”

“It’s a date.” I winked at her as I began to move across the room. ?Mrs. Bailey definitely knew how to throw a party. Jazz played softly in the background, and uniformed servers circulated a variety of foods and specialty cocktails. A bar in the corner offered beer, wine, and other mixed drinks. I drained the glass of prosecco that I’d been handed soon after coming in and made my way toward the bar for something more my style.

“It’s probably not exactly PC to say this, but you are the hottest thing on two legs in this whole room.”

?Pausing, I answered without looking back. “Then take me away and do me hard, baby. I’ve been waiting all my life to hear those exact words from you.”

“Hey, now. Are you both forgetting about me?” Jeff made a good show of sounding affronted as I turned around to face both men who were grinning at me.

“Sorry, Jeff. I had him first.” Grabbing Giff’s face, I nailed him with a fast, passionate kiss. “The truth is, I ruined him for all women, and that’s why he had to turn to the male population.”

“Your loss was definitely my gain.” Jeff’s hand wandered lower to rest on Gifford’s ass, and my friend actually blushed a little. These two made my heart melt.

“Seriously, cookie, you cleaned up good tonight. I love the hair a little shorter. And that dress—you put the VA into va-va-VOOM!” Giff held my hand, looking me over.

“Thanks. You both look pretty good yourselves. I was about to get a drink. Care to join me?”

“Don’t mind if we do.” Jeff linked his fingers with Giff’s, and together we approached the bar. Giff ordered a white wine, while Jeff stuck with water. I asked for my regular, sniffing the liquor in appreciation as we wandered back toward the center of the room.

?“It’s a nice party.” I let my eyes roam over the crowd. “Did you help?”

“I gave Mama Bailey a few tips and pointers, and I suggested the caterer, but otherwise, I left everything in her capable hands. The woman’s been throwing parties and hosting political events since I was in diapers. She knows what she’s doing. She could teach me a thing or two.”

“I doubt that.” I sipped my scotch. “You’re making quite a name for yourself. When I tell people that I actually knew the famous Gifford Mackay way back when, I’m practically a minor celebrity myself. Your parties are becoming legendary, my friend. I’m proud of you.”

Jeff nudged him with an elbow. “See that? You’re the talk of the movers and the shakers now, baby.” He met my eyes. “I keep telling him that he’s headed for the big time. But he worries more than you’d think.” ?“

I didn’t ever see myself doing this. Planning events,” Giff admitted. “So sometimes it makes me nervous that everything seems to be coming so easily.”

“You work damn hard. Just because you enjoy what you do doesn’t make the work any less meaningful.” Jeff took a long chug of his water bottle. “You’ve got a gift.”

?“He’s right.” I poked Giff in the ribs. “And speaking of Jeff being right about everything . . . when are you two going to make this official? Weddings come in threes, don’t they? You just planned Ava’s friend Julia’s wedding, and now Liam’s . . . maybe it’s time to tie the knot yourselves.”

?Jeff hooked an arm around Giff’s neck. “We’re going to do it, sooner rather than later. But no big planned event for us. When we get married, I’m whisking him off to the islands, where we can do everything our way, and he doesn’t have to worry about the napkins matching the matchbooks or any shit like that. Just the two of us . . . in a tropical setting . . . lots of rum drinks . . .”

?Giff moaned. “Let’s leave tonight. I’m all over that.”

“If I thought you were serious, I’d have you out the door already,” Jeff retorted. “But soon enough.”

“Can a close, personal friend get in on the destination wedding deal?” I sighed. “I could use a vacation, and you need a witness. I promise, I’d pay my own way, and I’d book a room on the other side of the resort.” I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t need to be in the next room for the wedding night shenanigans.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal.” Jeff touched his water bottle to my glass, and we both laughed. As I tossed back my head to finish my drink, my gaze caught on Liam, who was chatting with a man who looked vaguely familiar. ?But I was pretty sure I’d have remembered meeting a guy like this one. He was tall, with the kind of build I just knew was solid muscle. He was in black dress pants that fit him well in all the right places and a crisp, white cotton button-down shirt that strained over his chest and shoulders. Even as my eyes traveled down his body, he glanced at me, returning the favor as he checked me out, too.

“Giff,” I murmured, never looking away. “Who’s the man candy talking to Liam right now?”

Giff followed the direction of my eyes. “Oooooooh. That’s Ava’s big brother, Vincent. He’s kind of pretty, isn’t he?” He patted Jeff’s back. “No offense, honey.”

“None taken. I’ve always thought it was a shame Vince is straight.” Jeff gave a rueful shake of his head.

“Wait a second. Vincent is the single one, right?” I tried to remember Ava’s family lineup. “He’s not the one who got married a couple of years back?”

?“Nah, that’s the oldest, Carl. Over there with the wife and teeny tiny baby. As far as I know, Vince is unattached. I can’t believe you haven’t met him before now.”

I gave a rueful laugh. “I did, actually. Remember Liam and Ava’s house-warming party a couple of years ago? I had a brief but hostile conversation with one of Ava’s brothers, and if Vince is the pastry chef, he’s the one. He was kind of rude.”

“Vince is the type who doesn’t pull any punches. He says what’s on his mind, no matter what, so I can see him being a little prickly if you two got off on the wrong foot back then. But he’s usually a pretty decent guy.” Giff wiggled his eyebrows at me. “Are you thinking he’s the horse you’re about to get back on?”

?“What?” I tore my gaze away from Vincent and Liam. “What horse?”

“Jeff and I were saying it’s time for you to get back in the saddle after Cam moved west. Now seems as good a time as any to do that.”

“Do you really think it’s a good idea to saddle up Ava’s brother and take him for a ride?” I nibbled the side of my lip. “Don’t you think she might . . . object?”

“Nah.” Giff shook his head. “Ava’s the least judgmental person I know. Plus, there’s that whole deal where her best friend was Liam’s girlfriend before she had him, you know. So she’s not the kind to throw stones.”

“Still—” I was about to say something, to share yet another reason why I might not want to tangle with Vincent DiMartino, when suddenly Giff gripped my arm. ?“Look at that. He’s heading this way!” His whisper was excited. “Oh, my God, Jeff, the look on his face tells me it’s time to exit, stage left.” Giff kissed my cheek. “I have things to do and people to chat up. You have a good time with that one, sweetie pie, and then fill me in on all the details tomorrow. I’ll call you. Later in the day.”

“Giff.” I half-laughed as the two men moved away from me, but when I felt a large, strong hand on my back, between my shoulder blades, all humor died. ?With a deep breath, I turned to face Vincent DiMartino.

Want to read the rest of the story? 

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VIRTUAL Coastal Magic!

Coastal Magic is going virtual.

Of course, we all wish we were going to be back together again at Daytona Beach, but this year, we’re virtual once more–to keep us safe so that we can meet again.

Here’s how I’m participating (all links will be on the Coastal Magic website that weekend):

Tawdra’s Q&A Friday, February 25th, 11:15 AM EDT

Tawdra’s virtual book signing, Sunday, February 27th, 3:15 PM: If you want to take part, you can preorder your paperback here and then chat with me while I sign it and then send to you.

Coastal Magic Convention Charity Anthology–available here now! All proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity. My story in the book is called Cake By the Ocean and features Cal and Alex from both Crystal Cove and Love in a Small Town.

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Bosom Buddies Episode Seventeen

 

Dax

“So you never did tell me. How did the big date go? You know, that night I covered your shift and you were all dressed up in the monkey suit?”

One side of my mouth curled up as I regarded Marc. “Fine. It was fine. Now listen up, because I want you to be familiar with this new list of cocktails. The holidays are just around the corner, and you know we’re going to have a shit ton of tourists in the city, staying at our hotel, hitting up this bar. That’s not even counting all of the corporate parties, weddings, and other social events.” I tapped the paper on the bar. “Read it. Learn it. Live it.”

“Uh-huh.” Marc picked up the menu and let his eyes wander down the list. “Don’t worry, boss. I’ll have time to study tonight. Looks like it’ll be pretty quiet.”

“Probably,” I conceded, tossing a used bar towel into the bin under the counter. “I’ll leave you to get down to business. I’ve got a date at home with a cold beer and Sunday Night Football.”

“Doesn’t sound like as much fun as your last date, but whatever, dude. You do you.” Marc grinned. And then, as an older couple wandered over to sit down at a nearby table, he winked at me. “Time to get to work.”

I’d just clocked out and was about to head out when Sherri, one of the restaurant servers, nearly ran into me.

“Oh, Dax! You’re exactly the man I need.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Not the first time I’ve heard that, but I have a feeling you mean it in a different way.”

She shot me a look of mock reprimand. “And you’d be right. Listen, we’re in the weeds tonight. We’re down two servers and a sous chef, and we’ve got two big parties coming in.” She lifted a small slip of white paper. “Then this guest up on the twentieth floor ordered champagne and strawberries to be delivered to her suite. Since you’re going to have to prep the bubbly anyway, would you mind taking it up along with the berries?”

I hesitated. Normally, I’d have been happy to help out my co-workers. One of the things I loved about this job at the hotel was that we all pulled together when the place got busy. I didn’t mind coming in early or hanging around to make sure the job got done. But I’d been feeling mopey and grumpy lately, and I honestly just wanted to be at home right now where I could be miserable on my own.

It was stupid, and I knew it. I didn’t even really know Coral Jennings, and we’d just shared that one kiss. Why was this bothering me so much? Why had I made an ass of myself by showing up at her signing? She’d snidely accused me stalking her, of wanting a piece of her fame pie—which was an asinine thing to say, by the way—but maybe I’d had it coming by pushing when she’d made her position clear.

Sherri was still waiting for my answer, her toes tapping impatiently. I bit back my initial inclination and nodded my head.

“Sure. Did the guest ask for a specific kind of champagne?”

Sherri lifted one eyebrow. “As a matter, they requested Cristal. 2005. Two flutes, strawberries and cream.” She rolled her eyes toward the kitchen. “Come see me when you’ve got the wine ready, and I’ll have everything else set to go.”

“Okay. Will do.” I turned to go back to the special cooler where we kept our high-end liquor.

“Appreciate you, Dax!”

I sighed and focused on the job at hand.

***

I didn’t make many room service deliveries. Most people came down to the bar when they wanted a drink, and when they ordered booze with a meal, the kitchen servers popped over to the bar to retrieve what was necessary and then added it to the cart.

Consequently, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken the service elevator upstairs. I was heading up to the penthouse suite now—swanky, weren’t we—with a wheeled cart beautifully set for two lucky someones to enjoy pricey bubbles and luscious red strawberries grown in a year-round garden within a biodome outside the city.

There were times when I felt as though I was doing okay in my life, paying my rent on time, owning my car outright, and even putting away a little something for the future. But when I came face-to-face with the luxuries we offered here at the Gwynne, I realized that I was still just a good ol’ boy from North Carolina, and I was never going to understand people who lived the high life.

The elevator dinged softly, announcing my arrival on the twentieth floor. I waited until the doors slid open and then wheeled my cart over the plush carpet to the suite’s door, where I knocked.

“Room service!”

The door swooshed open as though the occupant had been waiting for me, and when I saw who was on the other side, I understood why.

“Coral?”

She stood with one hand on the doorknob, fidgeting a little as she gazed up at me. My mouth dropped when I took in the full picture.

Her small and curvy body was covered in sheer white cloth, some kind of nightgown deal, I thought. It was the kind of thing I’d seen on television or in the movies, but none of the women I’d ever dated wore stuff like this.

But damn, Coral wore it well. The neckline plunged between her full breasts, revealing her creamy skin, and through the thin material, I could make out the dark circles of her nipples. Her short hair was tousled the same way it had been the night of the premiere, but this time, her face was bare, no makeup in sight. She didn’t need it; her gray eyes were luminous as she watched my gaze consume her luscious body.

“Hello, Dax.” Coral’s voice was husky.

“I—I didn’t know it was you. I mean, who ordered the—the room service.” I eased the cart further into the room.

“No, I specifically asked the woman downstairs to send you up without letting you know it was me. She told me you were about to go off-shift, and so I thought . . .” She shrugged, the movement causing the nightgown to ripple over her skin. “Maybe this was a good way to tell you that I’m sorry.”

“Well.” I cleared my throat. “It’s, um, the most unique and promising apology I’ve ever gotten.”

Her lips twitched, and she lifted her chin. “Dax, I’m sorry about what happened at the bookstore. I don’t . . . I shouldn’t have said that to you. I never really thought you were trying to—you know. Cash in on my fame. That was stupid. And hurtful. I think I was just reacting to—um, you pushing me. Not that you were—I mean, I know you didn’t mean to. You couldn’t know—you can’t understand. But anyway, I really am so sorry.”

“All right.” My voice sounded hollow. “Apology accepted.” I swallowed, not sure what to do next. I felt as though I’d fallen into some bizarre dream.

Coral sighed and clasped her hands behind her back, unintentionally—I thought—thrusting forward her chest. “Okay. Phew.” She smiled up at me. “I’m so glad we straightened that out.” She reached for the bottle of champagne. “Let’s celebrate by pouring some of this fine champagne and sitting down over here. Can you close the door, please? I know this is the penthouse, but I’d still like some privacy.”

“Coral.” I couldn’t believe I was doing this, but I shook my head. “What is this?”

Her hand holding the champagne flute shook a little. “What do you mean? I thought that since we cleared the air, we could . . . well.” She took a deep breath. “Like I told you, I don’t do dating or anything like that, but I like you, Dax. And I’m thinking that we could have some fun.”

“So you came up here, booked this suite, ordered room service, and met me with this—” I swept my hand in her direction. “This get-up. And you think that by saying you’re sorry, I’m going to be okay with jumping into bed with you, no strings attached.”

Coral crossed her arms over her breasts, her cheeks going pink. “I thought we could talk—I thought you were interested in me.”

“I am interested in you,” I almost bellowed, then lowered my voice as I remembered that we were in the fucking penthouse. “But for more than just a casual fuck. God, Coral, I’ve lived most of my life going from woman to woman, from bed to bed. It’s fine. It’s been fine. And then the first time I meet a woman I think could be more—a woman I want to be more to me—you won’t even think about it. You won’t even give us a try.”

“I explained all of this. I told you why.” Coral’s lip jutted out stubbornly.

“And I told you that I didn’t accept that. You threw some ugly words at me, and then you came here to, uh, apologize—” I gave the word air quotes. “—which was really just an excuse to try to seduce me.”

“Dax—” Coral began, but I cut her off, shaking my head.

“You said you could never love anyone else. You said you had your one shot at love when you were a teenager, and now you won’t even consider that maybe you’d get a second chance. You won’t think about it. I think you’re a damn coward, Coral Jennings.”

Her eyes flared. “The fuck I am.”

“You heard me. A damn coward who’s too chickenshit to take a chance on love.”

“How can you say that?” Tears filled her beautiful eyes, and I almost lost it right then, fighting the desire to sweep her into my arms and kiss her, make her feel better, take back the words I knew had stung. But if I touched her, I’d be a goner, and I wasn’t going to give in. Not when I knew we had the potential for so much more.

“I’m sorry, Coral,” I said, gentling my tone. “I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt you. But you have to know my truth, too. I’m tired of meaningless fucking. I’m tired of not having someone special in my life. Sure, I want the hot sex, but I also want long talks over meals. I want walks in the woods where we find out more about each other. When it comes to you, Coral, I want the whole package.” I took one step backward. “And because for the first time in my life, I know I want more, I’m not going to settle for anything less.”

Before I could look at her again and lose my resolve, I pivoted and walked out the door, shutting it behind me.

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Eighteen is coming next Friday, December 24th!

Is there any hope for these two?

And hey, what about Sabrina and Wesley?

There is ONE more episode of Bosom Buddies.

Don’t miss it!

What about Celeste?

If you didn’t read her story in TINSEL AND TATAS,

don’t despair . . .

TITS THE SEASON

is available here now!

Bosom Buddies Episode Thirteen

If you missed Episode Nine, read it here.

If you missed Episode Ten, read it here.

If you missed Episode Eleven, read it here.

If you missed Episode Twelve, read it here.

Dax

This was . . . intense.

When Coral had talked about showing up at her movie premiere, I’d pictured us walking into a movie theatre crowded with fans and maybe a few celebrities. As the writer, Coral wouldn’t be that big a deal I’d figured.

I was wrong.

Yeah, I’d started to get a clue when her publicity person—someone I didn’t really like from the get-go, I’ll add—started talking about image and contracts and how we should act. But I still wasn’t ready for the total onslaught of flashing cameras and shouting journalists the minute Coral stepped out of the limo.

“Coral! Over here!”

“Coral! Give us a pose, love!”

We walked a few steps and then, like a total pro, Coral paused and turned to face one side of the mobbed red-carpet. Her fingers were still gripping mine, neither of us ready to let go yet, I thought.

“Coral! Who’s your date?”

She glanced up at me for the most fleeting of seconds before she answered the last question.

“This is Dax Turner. My boyfriend.”

I’d never heard those words before, not in reference to me, anyway. No woman had ever referred to me as her boyfriend. I waited for the inevitable sense of panic that I assumed would follow, even though I knew Coral was just playing a part, just doing what we’d agreed.

But the panic didn’t come, and instead of wanting to run, I found myself wanting to do something else. And being the impulsive, grab-life-by-the-balls bastard I was, I did what I wanted.

Using the hand I was holding, I tugged Coral against me. With my other hand, I tipped up her face to mine, lowered my head, and kissed the hell out of her.

***

It was for show, or at least, that was what I’d thought. But the minute her lips touched mine, everything else in the world disappeared. Sound stopped. Time ceased to exist.

She was so soft, so yielding. So warm against me. I groaned, and she arched toward me, setting my body on fire. I thrust my tongue into her mouth, needing to be closer to her any way at all. She jerked a little as if in surprise, and then she just . . .  went with it.

I angled my head and slid one hand down to her neck, my thumb moving to caress her soft skin there. I wanted to touch every inch of that skin, to explore it with my lips—

Next to me, very close to us, someone cleared her throat in a meaningful way. And I remembered where I was and what we were doing and why we were here.

Apparently Coral realized it, too, because she flattened her hand against my chest and gently pushed me away. I blinked, still in a daze, and straightened up. Swallowing hard, I ventured a glance at her face.

She was flushed, and her lips were puffy, but otherwise, she appeared to be in control and okay. She smiled at me, and although on the surface she was still Coral Jennings, famous author, I could see the confusion and surprise just under the surface. She held onto my hand still as we both began to walk again.

“Coral! That was hot!” This time it was a tall woman holding a microphone, waving at us. “Tell us more about this guy! Where did you meet? How long have you been together?”

“Guys, guys!” Sherrell was there, smiling that shark-like grin as she herded us forward. “This is something personal, and Coral isn’t going to spill her life here on the red carpet. You’ve got your pictures. Now we’re going to join the rest of these gorgeous, talented people and enjoy this incredible film that came from the mind of this wildly talented woman!” She pointed to Coral. “Thanks for coming tonight! See you later!”

We walked the rest of the way into a huge, gorgeously decorated lobby, and once again, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. Everywhere I looked, there were familiar faces—not of people I’d met in person, but faces I’d seen in magazines, on television, in some of my favorite movies. It was so wild, so unbelievable.

“Is that—is that Deena MacMillan?” I hunched over and whispered into Coral’s ear. “Holy shit, that’s really her. I used to watch her when I was a kid.”

“Yeah, that’s her.” Coral smiled faintly. “She plays the grandmother in the movie. A real grand dame, a ball-buster. She blew me away. I even got to tell her that I’d written the character with her in mind.”

“That’s so crazy.” I shook my head.

“Want to meet her?” Coral tilted her head, and I looked down at her, really pulled my attention from the star-studded crowd around us and looked at her. She still had a fairly dazed expression in her eyes, her lipstick was gone, and her hair was a little messed-up from where my fingers had accidentally pulled it from the pins.

“Um, yeah, but first . . . Coral, about what happened outside. About the kiss.”

“No.” She shook her head. “Not here. Not now. It wasn’t—I know, Dax. I know it was just for them. For the reporters, the photographers, the . . . public.”

“Coral—” I tried to figure out how to say what I needed to tell her, but she held up a hand.

“No, Dax. Not here. Right now, we’re the actors, okay? Just play the role. Pretty soon, we’ll be sitting in the theatre, and the lights will go down, and we can relax. A little.” She slid her hand into the crook of my arm. “C’mon. Let me introduce you to some stars.”

***

Coral was wrong. She was dead wrong. Because sitting next to her in the dark theatre wasn’t relaxing or easier. If anything, it was agony.

I felt the heat of her body against my side. Her scent—some magical mix of perfume and pheromones—filled my nostrils. And all I could remember was how her lips had felt against mine, how she had tasted . . .

I wanted to feel her again and couldn’t stop myself from running my finger tips down the inside of her arm until I reached her hand. Her palm twitched beneath my touch, and then after a moment, she curled her fingers around mine.

 We sat through the entirety of the movie that way, our hands linked. I managed to pay attention to the film, to lose myself in the slowly unwinding story that was painted on that big screen, the tale that had come from the imagination of the woman whose hand I was holding. It was incredible. I couldn’t even fathom what it must be like to see people she had invented walk and talk and interact.

When the lights came up again, Coral was wiping tears from her cheeks. “Sorry,” she sniffed. “It always happens when I see my movies.”

“Don’t apologize. I’d be crying, too. Holy fuck, Coral—you did that. You made that happen. I know we don’t know each other that way, but I’m, like—I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks.” She took a deep breath, her chest rising. “Okay. We’re heading out that back exit over there—so we don’t have to see the press again. That’s standard.” She carefully disentangled our hands. “You don’t have to worry. No one will see us. We don’t have to keep up the act.”

Her voice was even, as though nothing was at all unusual. As though that kiss hadn’t happened. I followed her from a distance, trailing her out the door and into the car.

“What about your friends?” I inquired as the limo pulled away into the night.

“They’re going to the after party. I want them to have a good time, enjoy themselves . . . but it’s just not my thing. So I’m heading back to the hotel.” She offered me a smile of contrition. “You know, I’m a writer, not an actor. I can pull off a show now and then, like what we did walking in tonight. But I can’t manage hours at a party where people can come up and talked to us, ask questions—I can’t keep up the pretense that long and to that extent.”

“But Coral . . .” I trailed off. “I don’t mind. I don’t want you to miss something like this. If you want to go, I won’t. Or I’ll go if it would help you.”

“No. Seriously.” She shook her head. “I never go to the parties. They’re like torture for me. I just want to go back to the hotel and crash.”

I digested this, letting it roll around in my mind. “Want some company?”

Coral jerked her head around to stare at me. “I’m sorry?”

“Coral.” I sucked in a deep breath. “That kiss. On the carpet. That kiss was—”

“Dax, please.” She sounded pained. “I might be a babbling, awkward mess, but I’m not an idiot. I know that you did this as a favor to me. I know you felt bad about knocking me over at the hotel. I know I was pathetic when I sat at your bar. And you were such an amazing sport today. That kiss will get enough buzz that my agent will be able to negotiate me a really sweet contract for my next series.”

“Oh.” I nodded slowly. “Okay. That’s great. But what if it wasn’t all an act? What if I wasn’t pretending?”

“But you were. I mean, we both were.” She patted my arm. “And here we are.” She pointed out the window, and I realized we were pulling up in front of the Gwynn. “I figured you probably left your car here, right? So this is easiest.”

“Yeah, I did.” I fiddled with my cufflinks. “Coral, I really want—I mean, I want to talk about—”

“Good night, Dax.” Coral shifted to the far corner of the back seat. “It was a wonderful evening, and I don’t know how I can ever thank you for doing this for me.”

“I don’t want to go in,” I managed to say, trying to get nearer to her. “I want to go back with you.”

“But you can’t.” She crossed her arms and closed her eyes. “Please just go, Dax. Tonight was amazing, but whether or not we like it, it was only make-believe.”

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Fourteen is coming next Friday, November 26th!

Are Dax and Coral over? Was it only pretend for both of them?

What about Celeste?

If you didn’t read her story in TINSEL AND TATAS,

don’t despair . . .

TITS THE SEASON

will be released next month as a stand-alone.