Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Alana: Sweet Xmas Romance 99 cents #MFRWHooks



 Kindle Countdown Deal - 99 cents

Betting on Paris Series

Available on Kindle for 99 cents. Free on Kindle Unlimited!


Excerpt

The rest of the day unfolded in blessed peace and quiet. The stray dog she'd temporarily named Dusty, curled up on the porch and went to sleep.

Toward late afternoon, Alana grabbed one of Grandma Essie’s vinyl shopping bags and took the footpath behind the house to the grocery store. The path ran parallel to the back boundaries of all the houses on the block and wound through a small copse of trees, down the hill to the center of town. It ended at the public parking lot which was situated at the north end of Main Street.

Alana stopped into the grocery store for dog food then treated herself to a soft-serve cone dipped in chocolate. The afternoon temperature had reached eighty degrees and as the sun waned, the air began to cool, creating a pleasant evening.

She hiked back up the hill, her bag now heavy with five pounds of dry dog food and assorted cans of wet food. Due to yesterday’s early rain, she had to step carefully along the wet, slippery earth, making sure to watch out for loose rocks or exposed tree roots. The last thing she needed was to trip and fall, scraping her knees and ruining her dress.

As she neared the top of the hill, she heard a man’s deep, angry voice. It sounded like it came from the backyard next door. Without warning, a large furry animal—soaking wet—streaked across the path, disappearing into the brush. Horrified, she gasped. That looked like Dusty! What had happened to her?

“What on earth is going on?” she said aloud.

The shopping bag landed with a loud thud as she let it drop to the ground. She slammed her purse on the flat stump of a sawed-off tree. With a surge of anger spurring her on, Alana charged along the path, her arms swinging as she searched for the person responsible for spraying water at Dusty and frightening her. She couldn’t permanently keep Dusty, but even so, the poor thing had taken up residence on her porch and for now, that gave her a sense of responsibility toward the sweet canine.

It didn’t take her long to find the culprit. Just beyond the thick stand of lilac bushes that had initially shielded her view, a man stood at the edge of the adjacent property with his back to her, watering a young apple tree with a garden hose. This must be Drew Sinclair, the same man her friend Jemma thought so highly of…

How dare he point that hose at Dusty and chase her off! Who does he think he is?

Her fists clenched with fury as she stomped toward the tall, lean man with thick blond hair, clad in a pair of snug-fitting jeans and a black T-shirt stretched over wide, muscular shoulders. The moment she brushed past the lilacs, he spun around, showering her with icy cold water. “I told you to get—”

“What—a-a-a-a-h!” Alana gasped in shock then screamed as the frigid water deluged her, saturating her from head to toe. “Stop! Turn it off!”

“Where did you—how did you…” Looking totally flummoxed by her presence, he quickly turned off the sprayer, his deep blue eyes widening as he tossed the hose away and approached her. “I’m truly sorry, I didn’t mean to get you all wet! I didn’t realize you were there until it was too late. When I heard the brush moving, it sounded like that coyote had come back—”

“That was no coyote. That was a homeless dog you were picking on!” She shivered, chilled to the bone. Clutching her skirt, she shook the water from it and glared at him, unimpressed with his convenient excuse. “Look at what you did to me! My dress is soaked, my hair is sopping wet, my shoes are probably ruined!”

“You’re shivering.” He reached out to warm her upper arms with his hands, but she jerked away. “You need to get warm. I’ll grab a blanket for you from my porch—”

No thanks. I’m going home to change.” She needed a nice hot bath to warm her up and a glass of wine to calm her down. She turned to leave, then whirled around, firing one last question at him. “What did you think you were doing, attacking a poor, defenseless dog?”

“This town has been having major problems with coyotes lately. Some people have had their pets snatched right out of their yards. My daughter would be devastated if her cat disappeared.” He held out his palms in frustration. “I didn’t mean it any harm. I simply wanted to discourage it from coming onto my property.”

“Well,” she replied acidly, “I think you’ve gotten your wish. Neither the dog nor I will ever bother you again.”

***

She stood before him, tall and curvy in a dripping flowered sundress with a tiny waistline and flared skirt. Her long, dark hair, reaching just below her elbows, glistened with moisture in the late afternoon sun. Everything about her, from her manicured nails to her beautiful jewelry suggested she was a woman of fine taste. His younger self would have been attracted to her type like a magnet, but nowadays, with the pain of Monique’s betrayal still deep in his heart, Reid stayed far away from classy women like her.

Just the same, he felt like a fool for turning the hose on her. He should have looked first instead of acting on impulse. Her dress and shoes were probably ruined. Judging by the incensed look on her face, so was any chance to make things right. Even so, he had to try.

“I’m sorry about your dress,” he offered with sincerity. “If you’d like to drop it off at the dry cleaners in town, I’ll pay to have it cleaned and pressed.”

“That won’t be necessary. The dress is washable. It’ll be fine. I can’t say the same for my dog, though. She ran away looking terrified.” Her wide amber eyes flashed in disbelief as she folded her arms. “What did that poor animal ever do to you? It’s simply trying to survive!”

“Hey, I said I’m sorry,” he said, becoming frustrated. “I didn’t know it belonged to you. If you care about it so much, why don’t you take better care of it? It was so skinny and scruffy-looking I thought it was a coyote.”

She rolled her eyes in annoyance. “She’s a stray, but I’m feeding her in the hope that her condition will improve. After the way you just traumatized her, however, I wouldn’t blame the poor pooch if she never comes back!”

They were getting nowhere. In an attempt to lead the conversation into more friendly territory, he purposely softened his tone. “That’s very kind of you to take responsibility for its welfare.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Reid Sinclair. I didn’t get your name.”

“I didn’t give it.” She ignored his gesture of neighborliness and instead kept her arms tightly folded. “I’m Alana Morgan, Essie’s granddaughter. I plan to be in town only a couple of days and I’d like to be able to walk outdoors without worrying about my dog getting drenched again—or me—so do me the courtesy of finding something else to use for target practice.”

Target practice? You’re being ridiculous.

“Look, lady, I wasn’t using the dog for target practice. I told you, I simply wanted to get her out of my yard—”

With a dismissive wave of her hand, she whirled around and began walking away before he’d finished talking. Her refusal to listen to reason made his temper flare. “Well, if you don’t like it then from now on maybe you should keep your dog in your own yard!”

The instant the retort left his lips he regretted it. He hadn’t meant to come across as a bully, and he didn’t know why he’d suddenly lost his cool with her, but there was no way to take the comment back now. He stood in silence and watched her walk away, disappointed in himself for insulting Essie’s granddaughter. He should have tried harder to sympathize with her reasons for being upset instead of alienating her further. She was the one person who might believe his theory that Essie had been pushed off her back steps. That Essie had been murdered.

She said she’d be around for merely a couple of days. Given their disastrous meeting tonight, he might not get another chance to speak to her, but if he did, he had to find a way to bring up the subject and tell Alana Morgan what was on his mind.

Essie deserved that much.


Available on Kindle for 99 cents. Free on Kindle Unlimited.




Betting on Paris!

Four exciting stories linked by a unifying theme. You’ll want to read each one!

BETTING ON PARIS SERIES

Sometimes the best bet is the one you lose…

Four best friends. Four promises.

Each year in mid-August, the former college roommates meet up on a girls-only trip somewhere in the world. This year, it’s Paris, the city of museums, art, and romance. One night during their vacation, the girls engage in a serious talk about the sorry state of their love lives and collectively decide they are swearing off men. Instead, each woman is intent on pursuing her life’s goal. Falling in love is the last thing on her mind!

Find all the Betting on Paris novellas at Amazon!

Josie by Beth Gildersleeve

Ryley by Donna Lovitz

Alana by Denise Devine

Annika by Rose Marie Meuwissen

~*~



Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Merry Christmas, Darling for 99 cents #MFRWHooks

 


Merry Christmas, Darling

A sweet romantic comedy

by Denise Devine

On Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Chapter 1

Friday evening, December 18th

“Merry Christmas, darlin’.”

Rock Henderson lounged against the doorway of Kimberly Jo Stratton’s condominium, wearing a killer grin, a bright red Santa hat, and a sleek tuxedo. One hand gripped a bottle of champagne; the other displayed two crystal flutes dangling upside-down between his long, slim fingers.

“I’ve brought you a little gift.” He raised the bottle. “Vintage holiday cheer.”

The grandfather clock in the opposite corner of her dining room chimed nine times as Kim tightened the sash around her pink chenille bathrobe. Rock’s assistant had called at the last minute and said he would meet with her at four o’clock that afternoon to discuss the war brewing between the residents of their condominium complex, but he never showed. She’d skipped the hospital’s Christmas party to keep that appointment, only to get stood up. By seven o’clock, she’d given up on him and changed into her pajamas and robe. How dare he drop by at this late hour, unapologetic, unconcerned about the situation, and ready to party?

At her feet, a fawn Chihuahua with a white face yapped non-stop, jumping at her ankle like a wind-up toy. “Hush, Sasha,” she snapped at the small dog, worried that all the commotion would draw attention and expose her plan to other tenants on her floor.

“You’re five hours late, Henderson.” Intent on keeping their meeting confidential, she grabbed him by the lapels and hauled him into her living room. “Did you get lost?” Her gaze swept pointedly over his formal attire as she quickly shut the door. “Or were you sidetracked by someone more glamorous than your lowly, working-class neighbor in 601E?”

Sasha looked up at Rock, let out a high-pitched yelp, and dashed out of sight, her fluffy tail curled between her legs.

He moved close, murmuring in Kim’s ear. “I had an emergency, but I’m here now.”

Rock Henderson, a self-made millionaire and CEO of his own software design company, possessed the charm of a Hollywood heartthrob and the reputation of a ladies’ man who switched girlfriends as often as he changed the oil in his sports car.

“Come on, darlin’,” he coaxed in that deep, throaty purr she’d heard him use on other women in the building, “just hear me out before you chew me out.”

An emergency that required a tux? Yeah, right. A laughable excuse if she’d ever heard one. No way could she count on his cooperation if she couldn’t even trust him to keep his word. He held out the bottle to show her the label, but she ignored his ill-timed bribe for standing her up, and instead, glared into his coffee-colored, deep-set eyes. “You’re drunk, Rock. Get on your private elevator and go home. And stop calling me darlin’!”

“I’m stone sober,” Rock muttered as he strode past her, giving her a wry, sideways glance. “And for the record, I did not pass up our meeting for a hot date. I’ve just spent a long and difficult day dealing with an issue that literally landed on my doorstep.”

He scanned her newly refurbished living room, illuminated only by the TV screen and twinkle lights on her Christmas tree. “Nice place you’ve got here,” he said, abruptly changing the subject. He collapsed his broad, six-foot frame onto a cream loveseat, stretched out his legs, and toed off his patent leather dress shoes. “Ah-h-h... feels good.”

Kim followed him, ignoring the obvious compliment to flatter her into a good mood. They both knew her one-bedroom unit looked like a walk-in closet compared to the ballroom-sized penthouse he occupied on the twentieth floor. She folded her arms and stared down at him. “Look, Rock, if all you want is someone to drink with—”

“Hey, hey, wait a minute.” His dark brows arched as he set the champagne and flutes on the metal and glass coffee table. “You’re the one who pressed my assistant repeatedly for this meeting. I’m simply providing refreshments.” He pulled off his Santa hat and tossed it across the armrest of the loveseat. A thick lock of tousled black hair fell across his forehead. “What exactly do you want?”

Realizing she might actually have a chance to persuade him to accept her point of view, Kim sat on the opposite loveseat, picked up the TV remote, and muted the sound of Pillow Talk. “I’d like to discuss what happened at the association meeting last week.”

“Lucky me,” he countered in a bored voice as he began peeling away the foil on the top of the bottle. “I’ve made it a rule to avoid those things. Most of the discussion is nothing but a complaint session. I have a corporation to run, clients to satisfy. It’s immaterial to me whose overnight guests are taking up too many parking spots or whether we plant red flowers or gold ones along the front of the building.”

If only...

The meeting last Wednesday nearly turned into an instant replay of a reality TV episode, almost degrading to the point of chair-throwing and a down-and-dirty brawl. Kim pushed the image of the emotionally charged crowd to the back of her mind as she edged closer to the coffee table separating her and Rock. “But you do understand the real issue in the latest controversy, don’t you?”

He crumbled the foil into a ball and slipped it into his jacket pocket. “With all the arguing going on everywhere I turn, I’d have to be an alien from Mars to be ignorant of this one.”

“Then tell me, which side are you on?” Her heart skipped a beat. She hoped he understood how much the outcome was riding on his opinion. How drastically things could change if he elected to support the opposing view. “Are you for or against changing the bylaws to prohibit pets in this building?”

“Don’t care either way.” He unwound the wire cage protecting the cork then pointed the bottle toward the ceiling. “Pardon the pun, dar—my dear, but I don’t have a dog in this fight.” His brows drew together in concentration as he gripped the cork between his thumb and fingers and gently pulled. It made a long, low hiss as pressure escaped. After a few moments, he eased the cork out, but no bubbly liquid gushed forth. Only a slight mist curled above the opening.

“Rock, the preliminary vote ended in a tie and no one will budge.” She leaned forward, placing her palms on the table. “Your vote could swing the decision either way.”

At a time when she expected him to be serious, he chose to grin. “What you’re really saying is, you want me to cast my vote in favor of the status quo so you can keep your mutt, right?”

A low growl unfurled under the Christmas tree followed by a succession of rapid snorts.

Rock glanced around in surprise. “What was that?

“My dog and she isn’t a mutt,” Kim replied as Sasha glared at them from between two presents wrapped in red foil. “Here, Sasha.” She patted the empty cushion next to her and smacked her lips. “Come on, sweetie. Rock’s not going to hurt you.”

The pint-sized canine crept from the shadows with pointed, white-tipped ears laid back, her bulbous brown eyes focused on Rock as she cautiously approached the loveseat. A ridge of fawn hair spiked in protest along her spine. Multi-colored lights twinkling on the tree reflected a rainbow of hues against her white chest and finger-length legs. She jumped on the loveseat and settled on Kim’s lap with a snort, never taking her attention off the stranger sitting across from them.

“So that’s what all the fuss is about, huh? No offense, but it looks like a furry rat.” Grinning, Rock handed Kim a flute of champagne. His fingers grazed hers as the crystal changed hands. A sharp tingle sparked like a live wire up her arm and down her spine. Rock had that effect on women. All women, to be precise; but then, who could resist a tall, dark, handsome man who owned a penthouse on the Minneapolis riverfront and drove a red Jaguar?

She could and she’d made up her mind a long time ago she always would. Growing up, she’d watched her mother fall in and out of love with men like him—successful, high rollers who loved the chase but didn’t know the meaning of commitment. The late Veronica Stratton would have schemed night and day to net a fish like Rock Henderson. Based upon her mother’s experience, Kim knew first hand that you didn’t catch a shark. The shark caught you and always left you deeply wounded in the water. She’d rather swim alone than take that chance.

Sasha glanced back and forth, voicing her own opinion with an occasional “R-r-r-ruff.”

“This time it’s more than a mere fuss, believe me.” Kim slowly twirled the glass between her fingers. “If the majority vote swings in favor of banning animals, a lot of residents will sell out and move, including me. Most of the pet owners have been here since this complex was built. We’re more than just friendly neighbors; we’ve become as close as family and I don’t want my family to split up. Some of our elderly residents depend upon their neighbors for help so they can continue to live independently. Who would they turn to if we left?”

Rock frowned as he filled his glass. “With all those units for sale at the same time, the value of everyone’s property is bound to decrease.”

“Including yours.” Kim sipped her champagne and waited for that little tidbit to sink in.

Rock looked her straight in the eye. “Perhaps there’s a way we can accommodate each other.”

She froze, suspending the flute midway to her lips as her suspicion grew. His insinuation that they might be able to find a workable solution should have alleviated her fear. Instead, it angered her. It always came down to sex, didn’t it? Men didn’t have anything else on their minds. “If you’re suggesting I sleep with you as a tradeoff—”

“No, no.” He waved away the notion. “Just live with me for about a week. I need your help.”

What did he have in mind—a live-in maid with a little hanky-panky on the side? Did he really think she’d fall for that lie? Her disgust boiled over.

“Why? Are you in between girlfriends? Looking for a little distraction until something better comes along? If you are, you’ve looked in the wrong direction! I’m not a member of your fan club.”

He gave a little tug on the lapel of her robe. “I’ll make it more than worth your while.”

Get out of my house, Rock Henderson!” She scooped up Sasha and jumped to her feet. The dog wriggled from her grasp and landed on the loveseat cushion, barking as it dived to the floor and raced out of sight. “This conversation is over.”

She tossed the last swallow of champagne into his face and stormed out of the room.

*     *     *

Rock snatched the silk handkerchief from his front pocket and mopped his chin before the sticky liquid dripped onto his jacket.

Huh...that went well.

A moment later, Kim’s bedroom door slammed, reminding him that he needed her in his bed. Tonight.

“Ah, c’mon, Kim,” he coaxed gently as he crossed the room and rapped his knuckle on the door. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I’m sorry if I made you upset.”

“Apology accepted,” she said, sounding tired, but deliberate. “Now, go home.”

“I’m not leaving until you come out and give me a chance to explain.” He tried the knob and found it locked. “Besides, there’s at least two more glasses of champagne left and I hate drinking alone.”

The tree lights suddenly flickered and went dark. He glanced over his shoulder just in time to catch that mutt with the cord between its teeth, pulling the plug out of the wall.

“Hey, you, stop that!” He walked over to the tree and knelt to rescue the dog, but snatched his hand back before the ungrateful little critter could sink a mouthful of pointy teeth into his thumb. “You keep chewing on that cord, half-pint, and I guarantee you’re going to turn into a grilled sausage, fully charred.”

Behind him, the bedroom door flew open and Kim rushed to his side, gasping in horror. “Let go of the cord, baby!” She pried the apparatus from Sasha’s mouth and snatched the dog into her arms. Without a word, she turned to head back into her boudoir, but Rock stepped in her path, nearly causing her to collide with his chest. The top of her head barely reached his chin and she couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred ten pounds soaking wet. Wrapped in all that pink fluff, she looked more like a ball of cotton candy than a tough-as-nails nurse practitioner.

She looked up, her gaze boring into his. “You’re blocking my way.”

“Just a minute.” He gripped his hands on his hips, unwilling to let her pass until he’d made his point. “I just saved your pooch from getting barbecued and that’s all you have to say?”

“You’re right,” she answered with a begrudging smile. “Thank you.” As she attempted to skirt around him, he cupped her elbow, steering her toward the living room.

“You’re welcome. Now, can we please start over?” Anxious to make amends, Rock ditched the flirtatious manner and lowered his voice to a gentler tone. “You said you needed my help.” He gestured toward the twin loveseats. “Let’s sit down. I have a proposal to make and I promise I won’t bite, though I can’t say the same for your mutt...er, baby.”

As if it understood, the mangy little cur rolled back its top lip, silently showing him a set of sharp fangs.

Rock cleared his throat and shoved his hands into his pockets. After the day he’d endured, he could use a nice, stiff shot about now, but preferably not tetanus. He nodded toward the living room. “Shall we?”

Kim hesitated as if weighing her options. “All right,” she replied with a sigh, “but don’t try coming on to me again or I’ll sic my dog on you.”

He agreed and followed her back to the loveseats, taking his previous spot. “Now,” he continued in a business tone, “I want you to listen with an open mind until I’m finished.” He took a deep breath and braced himself. Might as well cut to the chase and get it out there. “I really need you to move in with me for about a week...and pretend to be my wife.”

Her jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”

The sudden chill in the air almost made him shudder as she sat up straight, mirroring the image of an ice sculpture he’d once viewed at the St. Paul Winter Carnival. Her wide blue eyes regarded him with skepticism and distrust. He studied her for a moment, wondering what to say next. Her blonde pixie cut, upturned nose, and smattering of freckles fit the image of the proverbial girl next door. She’d probably make a great wife for the right guy one of these days. However, did she possess the skill to convince Zelda that she would be the perfect wife for him?

“Let’s have another drink.” Rock grabbed the bottle and began to pour, filling her flute. “I’ll start from the beginning.”

“Please do.” Her lips barely moved, the words slipping out in monosyllables.

“A couple of months ago I became engaged. That was my first mistake.” He set the bottle down and clasped his hands together. “Then I told my mother.”

“What’s wrong with telling your mom? That’s usually the first person you call to announce good news.” Kim picked up her bubbling flute. “I gather you’re not engaged any longer.”

“No.” He rubbed his palm over his emerging five-o-clock shadow. “She didn’t work out.”

Kim didn’t comment, but her raised eyebrows suggested she didn’t empathize with someone who talked about breaking up with his future wife like a business deal gone bad.

“Okay, there’s more to it than that. She double-crossed me.”

“She cheated on you?”

“It’s on par with infidelity as far as I’m concerned.” He shook his head, still angry about it. “She obtained confidential information through intimate conversations with me and turned it over to my competitor. Of course, when I discovered the leak and confronted her, she professed extreme remorse. According to her,” he paused, replaying the scene in his mind, “by that time, she had allegedly realized she’d fallen in love with me.”

“What does all this have to do with me getting your vote?”

“I didn’t tell my family what happened once the engagement ended.” He gave a cynical laugh. “My mother would’ve been so disappointed she would have never let me hear the end of it.” Squaring his shoulders, he downed his drink in three gulps and set the flute on the table. “Now that the wedding date has passed and no one received an invitation, everyone thinks I eloped.”

Kim burst into incredulous laughter. “Why don’t you just tell them the truth, Mr. Chief Executive Hypocrite? You didn’t like being deceived, so why are you deceiving them?”

Because you don’t disappoint Zelda, he thought glumly. Especially the way things stood now. “My mother’s heart is in bad shape. I’m afraid of what it would do to her if I told her what really happened. She’s so happy now that she thinks I’m married.”

“How is putting on a charade going to keep her happy? She’ll find out eventually and then you’ll have to account for lying to her, too.”

“She’s not going to last much longer, so I don’t see the point in causing her any more pain than she’s already bearing.” Rock grabbed Kim’s glass and consumed her champagne, wishing he could just tell his mother the truth. Unfortunately, the tug-of-war relationship with his imperious mother didn’t work that way. “If she’s going to die soon then all I want is for her to go happy.”

“You don’t actually believe you’re going to pull this off, do you? I mean, I’m not the vain, self-centered type that you date. I don’t know how to act haughty and spoiled. She’s going to see right through me.” Kim set her dog aside and stood up. “Forget it.”

Desperation fueled his frustration. Rock stood to his full height, towering over her. “Look, you don’t have to be my type; you just have to be by my side for a week. I’ve got everything covered.”

If I agree to it, I’m not moving in with you.”

Heat began to build under his collar. “Oh, yes, you are, darlin’. The last time I checked, that’s the way married couples operated.”

“But we’re not married. We’re not even working out at the gym together.” She rose on her tiptoes and poked him in the chest with her index finger. “So, if you think I’m going to sleep in the same bed with you—”

He leaned forward and grabbed her hand. A surge of attraction coursed through him as he covered her petite fingers with his broad palm. It threw him off guard for a moment, but the prospect of spending the night with her suddenly intrigued him. “What’s the matter, darlin’, are you afraid you might like sharing a bed with me?”

Her eyes narrowed as she jerked her hand away. “Get over yourself, Rock Henderson. What I’m afraid of is that this is all just an amusing game to you and once we’re alone, you’ll pull out every trick in your little black book to try to seduce me—no matter what we agree on.”

“Don’t worry about that. You’re not my type—remember? I’ll be a perfect gentleman. Besides, before you know it, the week will be over. Look, I can’t disappoint my mother. If you want my vote, those are my terms. No wifey,” he pointed at her mutt, “no doggie.”

She clamped her jaw shut. After a few tense moments of staring him down, she said through clenched teeth, “When is Mother scheduled to arrive?”

His stomach churned. “She showed up this afternoon with her nurse.” He grabbed the champagne bottle by the neck, brought it to his lips, and drained the last few drops. The champagne went down like water, but it did little to relieve his apprehension.

“I had no idea she’d planned this visit. She decided to surprise me and lay over a few days in Minneapolis before flying to Vail to spend Christmas with my brother, Patrick. She wanted to meet my wife! I didn’t know what to do until I remembered my assistant telling me you had left messages with her saying that you desperately needed my help. So, I decided to pay you a visit and see if we could strike a deal. I couldn’t get away earlier to talk to you about it because I had to take Mother out to dinner. I told her you couldn’t make it because you were out for the day shopping with your girlfriends.”

His iPhone suddenly buzzed. He glanced at the screen and turned it off. “It’s her. I’d better go. She’s probably wondering why it’s taking so long to get a newspaper. How soon can you change and come upstairs?”

She gave him a stubborn look. “I didn’t say I’d do it, yet. I’ve been looking forward to taking a vacation at Christmastime for years. Do you have any idea how long it took me to gain enough seniority at the hospital to get this week off? I have gifts to buy, parties to attend, and lunch dates with friends. Playing house with you isn’t my idea of a vacation!”

“Yeah, but you did say that the fate of your residency here and all your long-time neighbors is hanging on my vote. You hold all the cards...”

“But, Rock, I don’t have the expensive designer clothes that your fiancée would wear. I live in scrubs and a lab coat.”

He shrugged. “The day I showed my fiancée the door, she departed in such a rage that she left some clothes in my closet—mostly things I bought.” He looked her over. “She’s taller, but you’re about her size. Just wear hers. They’ll look better on you than they did on her, anyway.”

He set the empty bottle back on the coffee table and headed for the door. Pausing with his hand on the doorknob, he turned back. “I’ll tell Mother you’re on your way home and due to arrive any minute. Oh, and by the way, your name is Diona Daye. Got that?”

“What?” She stomped across the room. “You mean I have to change my name, too? What are we going to do when someone sees me in the lobby and calls me Kim?”

“I don’t know. We’ll just make sure no one sees us together. At any rate, let’s concentrate on one issue at a time, like getting through the next hour or two.” He reached into his trouser pocket. “Here’s your security card for the elevator. It’s also my private entrance into the garage. You can move your car tomorrow.”

Something caught his eye. He glanced down as she slowly took the card. “Hey,” he remarked with a wide grin, “are those bunny slippers on your feet? I haven’t seen anyone wearing those since I was ten years old.”

“Yeah.” She stuck out her chin. “Gee, is that a tux you’re wearing? I haven’t seen anyone show up for a meeting with me in one of those ever.”

She sure was cute, but he knew better than to verbalize it.

He opened the door a crack and peered out at the empty hallway before looking back at her. “My company Christmas bash is going on tonight at the Hilton. It’s too bad I had to miss my own party, but Mother didn’t feel up to going. It cost a small fortune.” He gave her a wink, determined to let it go, and concentrate on the issue at hand. “See you in a few minutes, Diona.”

The throw pillow intended for his head hit the backside of the door as he slipped out and hustled toward the stairwell. Kim’s spunky temper felt like a refreshing breeze compared to Diona’s constant pouting. He exhaled; relieved that he’d caught on to Diona’s traitorous scheme before she’d caused too much damage to his company. Even so, she’d still managed to ruin his belief in marriage. Her duplicity had proved beyond a doubt that he couldn’t trust anyone with either his deepest secrets or with his heart. He had no idea if he’d ever meet someone who would change his mind, but for now, he planned to live his life one day at a time, leaving the past behind.

He slipped into the stairwell and bounded down the stairs to make it to the lobby and get on his private elevator, all the while wondering if Kim would hit it off with Zelda or if his mother would see right through her pretense. Time would tell, but one thing seemed certain. No matter how well Kim played her part, it would take a miracle to get through this week—with both women.


Available on Kindle for 99 cents. Free on Kindle Unlimited!

~*~ 


Want to find more good authors who write sweet romance? Join my reader group - Happily Ever After Stories. If you like sweet romance and want to be part of a great group that has lots of fun and fantastic parties, visit us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/HEAstories/.







Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Sweet Christmas Romance Collection #MFRWHooks

 


Merry & Bright

A Sweet Collection of Christmas Stories

by Denise Devine

On Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

It's the happiest season of all...

With snowflakes dancing in the frosty air, and the ring of carols everywhere, Christmas holds a special place in our hearts, our favorite time of the year. Set in the Midwest, this sweet collection of "Happily Ever After" Christmas stories are sure to brighten your day and lift your spirits. Enjoy them all year!

A Merry Little Christmas

Merry Connor is struggling to feed her two children, pay heat bills, and fix her secondhand car.

Though she’s barely making it financially, life is good. That is, compared to two years ago when she lost everything—thanks to her lying, deceiving ex-husband. She’s come a long way since then and doesn’t intend to look back. Even so, it’ll be a long time before she trusts anyone with her heart again.

Tony Lewis hasn’t had a merry Christmas since his wife and son perished in a car collision three years ago.

The holidays are lonely without his family, but his heart begins to mend when he meets Merry Connor and her two rambunctious kids. He can’t stop thinking about her and yearns to get closer to her. Will she turn him away once she learns of his connection to her ex-husband?

A Christmas to Remember

Katie McGowan is desperate to make it home for Christmas.

Since the death of her husband in a snowmobile accident two years ago, her family has filled the void left by Josh’s passing. Returning home from a business trip on December 23rd, Katie finds herself trapped by a blizzard in Alexandria, Minnesota. Stranded travelers have filled the hotels, leaving her no choice but to take an executive suite in the same resort where Josh died.

Ryan Scott intends to spend the weekend at Lakewood Resort, riding his new snowmobile and dodging Christmas.

His parents’ sudden divorce announcement has ruined his holiday and he’s in no mood to socialize. His plan derails, however, when he meets Katie McGowan and she steals his heart.

Overwhelmed by memories of the past, neither Katie nor Ryan believes they are open to the possibilities of a new relationship. But a little bit of Christmas magic, along with a stray dog rescued from the storm, gives them a reason to unwrap their hearts. Together, they find the courage to rediscover the joy of the holiday season.

Once Upon a Christmas

When old friends reunite, will a new enemy keep them apart?

Ashton Wyatt has spent a decade running from her past.

Hanging out with a bad crowd in high school cost Ashton her reputation, her boyfriend, and her relationship with her parents. Determined to start over, she has moved far away, but can't escape the loneliness that shrouds her heart. When she receives an offer to return to the small, tourist town of West Loon Bay to revive The Ramblin' Rose bar with her sister and her cousin, she accepts the challenge, hoping to repair the bond with her family as well. But just when her life is on the mend, she crosses paths with someone from her past and things spin out of control...

The last thing Sawyer Daniels needs is to get mixed up with the town's wild child.

Sawyer did his share of partying and keeping the cops busy in his misspent youth, but he has long since abandoned that crowd in order to make some sense of his life. He's already under contract to renovate The Ramblin' Rose when he learns Ashton Wyatt is back in town. Though the situation gets off to a rocky start, their friendship grows as they work side by side. He doesn't realize how much he's grown to care for her until a stalker puts her life in danger. Now that he's finally found his true love, is he about to lose her?

So This is Christmas

Annabelle Lee - She's looking forward to a weekend of catching up, munching cookies, and enjoying Christmas cheer with her childhood girlfriends. She hasn't had a vacation since this time last year and desperately needs the time off. Her business has taken a toll on her life, leaving her exhausted and questioning the price of success. She arrives early at Ellie Stone's family cabin to relax and decide the direction of her future, but to her dismay, she's not alone. Ellie's twin brother is also there and declares he isn't leaving until Friday.

Christopher Stone - He's the boy who mercilessly teased her when they were kids. He's grown into a handsome man with a career in professional baseball and a pop-star girlfriend. He appears to have an idyllic life, but the longer they talk, the more Annabelle suspects his love life isn't as perfect as he claims. She can't deny her attraction to him and knows he's attracted to her as well.

Best Friends Forever - Will this week proceed like old times or turn out to be a new chapter in her life?

Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. Get your copy today!



Want to find more good authors who write sweet romance? Join my reader group - Happily Ever After Stories. If you like sweet romance and want to be part of a great group that has lots of fun and fantastic parties, visit us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/HEAstories/.


Read all of the first chapters of Denise's books by clicking on any story in the title bar at the top of this blog!




Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Invincible Secrets 99¢ #MFRWHooks




Nine Fabulous Romances for only 99¢! Get your copy today of INVINCIBLE SECRETS – A bestseller on Amazon! Free on Kindle Unlimited!

Everyone Has Secrets; Some More Devastating Than Others…

Presenting a brand-new collection of page-turning romance and suspense from NINE International USA Today Bestselling, Award-Winning Authors.

Nine stories, nine heart-wrenching soon to be revealed secrets. Can the truth really set them free?

GEORGIA MOON (new): Jen Talty, USA Today bestselling author: He wants to give her everything, but she wants the truth. And the truth could kill them both.

ALANA (new): Denise Devine Meinstad, USA Today bestselling author: Done with men…or so she thought.

THE SISTER PACT (new): Jacquie Biggar, USA Today bestselling author: Two sisters lose sight of what's most important- family bonds.

THE SET UP (new): Dani Haviland, USA Today bestselling author: Life was perfect until her mother took over.

ALL OR NOTHING: Natalie Ann, USA Today bestselling author: Can the explosive chemistry between Ben and Presley survive the secrets they both hide when the truth is finally revealed?

BIGGER THINGS: Ev Bishop, USA Today bestselling author: Lifelong friends, Jen, Chelsea and Kyra know everything about each other. Or think they do.

KIP’S RESOLUTION: Alicia Street, USA Today bestselling author: Mina has been the good girl her whole life, but her bargain with Kip uncovers secrets they both have to face.

CLOSED DOORS: Nancy Radke, USA Today bestselling author: Can she keep his secret and not destroy him and his company?

THE LIBERATION OF RAVENNA MORTON: Suzanne Jenkins, USA Today bestselling author: Ravenna's granddaughter uncovers secrets no one wants to face.

Excerpt of The Set Up by Dani Haviland

“Do you promise not to kick me out of bed – or at least your life – if I tell you a secret?”

“Cross my heart, hope to go broke…”

“You’re so silly. That’s one of the many characteristics I like about you.” She took a deep breath, shut her eyes so she wasn’t looking at him, and said, “My mother set us up. Or she kinda sorta made me at least try to seduce you. But…”

“Yeah, so,” Alex said, then put his hand on her cheek. “Look at me.”

Grimacing with embarrassment, Grace opened one eye and saw his concern, then opened her other eye.

“But,” he prompted.

“But I didn’t think I was going to like you. At least this much. You’re a blast to be around. I mean, I have – or had – a boyfriend, and I’m pals with lots of guys at school, but you’re nothing like them.”

“I hope I have a few years of maturity on them. I’m sure most of them will grow up eventually. So, does this mean you’re hanging around with me because you want to now, and not because your mother wants you to? It was kind of obvious when she dropped by that she was making sure the mouse had taken the bait.”

“You, my dear friend,” Grace said, crisscrossing the curly hairs on his chest, “are not a mouse. You are more of a man than I thought I could ever have. So, now that I’ve said that, did I just cook the goose that laid the golden egg? Are you going to take me for a quick trip in your helicopter, and then I’ll never hear from you again?”

“Nope.”

“I mean, you’ll probably have someone send me a Christmas card...”

“Grace, I’d like to spend Christmas Eve with you. I’m not a gambling man, but unless the world comes crashing down around us, I don’t see any reason why we can’t spend Christmas week in Sydney then sailing the warm waters toward Tahiti.”

“Or making snowmen in Tahoe?”

“Tahoe or Tibet or wherever you want. But I really would like to take off before it gets too late. I can’t fly at night yet. That’s another level of certification. I was going to take a few more hours of class, but I think I just found another passion. Flying will have to wait.”




Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Passionate Protectors 99 Cents! #MFRWHooks




SIX FULL-LENGTH ROMANTIC SUSPENSE NOVELS FROM NEW YORK TIMES & USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHORS

On Pre-order today for only 99 cents! Don’t wait! Get your copy today!
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CD1H2FQ
When danger abounds, passionate protectors rush to the frontline to shield and defend. Homicide detectives, US marshals, and secret agents chase the guilty, thwart attacks, and endanger themselves with a zeal to protect. When love ignites and emotions run hot, these men and women put it all on the line. From New York to Chicago, Bangkok to a remote lake in Minnesota, nonstop adventure and steam sizzle when romance and suspense combust.

Patricia Rosemoor – Obsession – A driven female cop teams up with an irresistible ex-con to bring a killer to justice. Can they stop the sexual predator before he strikes again? NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

Rachelle Ayala – Triggered by Love – After her firefighter fiancé is shot, all Avery Cockburn has between her shattered heart and death is the cocky – and very determined – detective, Jason Burnett. USA Today Bestselling Author

Susanne Matthews – Sworn to Protect – A secret is locked in Nancy’s mind. Can Neil protect his estranged wife from someone determined to silence her forever? Award-winning Bestselling Author

Taylor Lee – The Bangkok Affair – Going undercover in a high-end Bangkok brothel brings a feisty redhead face to face with a villain as charming as he is evil. Fortunately, her bad-ass lover doesn’t take a back seat to anyone. Sparks fly both inside and outside of the bedroom! USA Today Bestselling Author

Stacy Eaton – Second Shield –Together they will uncover the evil from within and try to deny the passions that rage between them. USA Today Bestselling Author

Excerpt from...
Small Town Girl
The soft rap on Annika’s door surprised her. Only one person would show up this late without calling first. It was inconvenient, but she didn’t think it was a good idea to give him her cell number. Even so, her heart fluttered at the thought of seeing him again.

When she opened the door, he towered over her in snug-fitting jeans and a black T-shirt that outlined his muscular silhouette. His handsome grin and locks of thick black hair falling across his forehead enhanced his bad-boy look, making it difficult for her to stop staring at him.

“Hi,” Alex said and held up her red flashlight. “I needed to return this anyway so I thought I’d stop by and ask if you wanted to walk with me down to the lake again. We need to talk about this issue with your poems being turned into lyrics for our songs.”

Don’t fall for that line, she thought desperately. Don’t let yourself get sucked into a pattern of seeing him that you’ll truly regret later.

He probably wanted to apologize for eavesdropping on her conversation with Erik. Or maybe he planned to tell her it was too late to give her credit for the songs. Regardless of his reasons, it was a bad idea to go with him because it would only encourage him to keep coming by to see her.

Annika glanced down at her ankle-length nightgown, looking for a convenient excuse to refuse him. “I’m not dressed to go out.”

He leaned against the door frame, his confident expression signaling he was undeterred by her excuse. “No problem. I’ll wait outside while you change.”

She folded her bare arms and frowned. “I don’t think so, Alex. I’m tired—”

“Aw, c’mon.” he said in a soft, cajoling tone. “You can’t stay cooped up in this oven of an apartment every night. The fresh air will do you good.”

“Yeah…no…I don’t—”

His eyes crinkled as he tugged on her long braid draped over her shoulder. “Don’t forget to put on mosquito spray.” He placed his hand on the doorknob. “I’ll be downstairs, waiting for you.”
He shut the door in her face.

“Oh!” She grumbled to herself as she stomped into her bedroom to change. “Five minutes. He’d better talk fast because that’s all he’s getting from me. And if he’s got his sights on anything else…” In a hurry, Annika jerked off her nightgown and slipped on a peach knit tee. “I’ve got plans for this summer and it doesn’t include being taken for a ride by a smooth-talkin’ rock star.” She froze. “Does that sound crazy or what?” She grabbed a pair of stretch jeans and shimmied into them. “It’s incredible how crazy can quickly become normal.”

Annika slipped on her tennis shoes, doused herself with mosquito spray and grabbed her flashlight. She opened the front door, stepping into the hot, sultry night air. She found him in his usual place, relaxing against her car. “Let’s go.”

Alex slapped his cap on his head and made a grand sweep of his hand. “Ladies first.”

She passed by him and led the way, anxious to get going. He caught up to her quickly. “Whoa, slow down,” he said gripping his wide palm on her narrow shoulder blade. “We’re taking a walk, not training for a marathon.”

Annika slowed down but was silent, fiddling with her flashlight as they walked down the alley, avoiding the narrow greenspace between the buildings where bar patrons were smoking.
Alex stilled her hand. “Is something wrong?”

She gave him a sideways glance. “Why do you say that?”

He slid his hand around her arm and stopped as he slowly turned her toward him. “You seem distant. Are you upset with me because I overheard you and Erik arguing?”

She pulled her arm away. “No, and we weren’t arguing. We were just…discussing the situation.”
“I didn’t set out to intrude on your conversation,” he said sincerely. “I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Actually, I think it was more like being in the wrong place at the right time. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have found out that you should have been given credit for writing our songs. You should have also received fair compensation.”

She shook her head. “I’m not in it for the money.”

Alex sighed, sounding frustrated. “That’s noble, Annika, but you should have been paid. Each of your songs made millions. If the press got wind of this issue, it would be disastrous.”

“Oh, no! That can’t happen!” She stared up at him, panicking. “Look, I—I don’t want to cause any trouble for Erik. He means too much to me. I’d rather let him get all of the credit than cause a scandal. Besides, the songs were rarely recorded word for word from my poems. He changed a lot of things to adapt them and make them better. It was more like a collaboration.”

Alex moved close, resting one hand on the back of her head, the other gripping her chin as their gazes held. “You’re amazing. Erik is lucky to have you as a sister,” he said gently. “It’s a mess, to be sure. I’m not happy with your brother at the moment, but don’t worry about it, honey. If you’re willing to work with us on this, we’ll figure something out.”

The deep, throaty timbre of his voice when he called her honey caused her heart to jump. She swallowed hard as she looked away.

When they resumed walking, she knew she should pull away and head back to her apartment, but she couldn’t. Despite her best intentions, she found herself drawn to him.

They reached the shore and walked along the aluminum dock. At the end, Alex sat down, causing the dock to rock gently in the water. He looked back and patted the spot next to him. “Let’s sit here for a while.” He gazed up at the cloudy sky. “It would be fun to jump in and take a refreshing swim to cool off in this heat, but the moon isn’t shining tonight and I’m afraid it wouldn’t be wise when we can’t see each other very well in the water,” he said as he pulled his tennis shoes off and rolled up his pant legs. “This will have to do.”

Annika toed off her tennis shoes and sat down then pulled off her socks and rolled up her pant legs. She plunged her feet into the cool, refreshing water of Lake Tremolo. “Oh, that feels so good.”
He smiled but didn’t share what he was thinking.

She braced her palms on the edge of the dock and leaned forward, slowly moving her feet back and forth in the water. “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“That depends,” he replied warily as he turned his head toward her.

His answer puzzled her. “On what?”

“On how deep you want to go.”

She laughed nervously, realizing he was referring to his life on the road. “Okay—it’s not that kind of personal. It’s just something I find curious.”

“All right,” he said, sounding cautious. “What do you want to know?”

Annika touched his forearm with her finger. “You don’t have any tattoos. Any. The rest of the guys have distinctive ones.”

Alex grinned broadly. “Oh, you mean like—the names of former girlfriends?” He followed up with a droll laugh. “Boy, Jonas really regrets that particular moment of weakness. She’s been gone for a long time.”

Annika groaned impatiently. “Are you stalling?”

“It’s a long story.”

She poked him in the forearm. “Then give me the short answer.”

He went silent.

“Alex, I’m waiting,” Annika said in a sing-song voice.

“You’d better never breathe a word of this to another soul. If you do, I’ll deny it.”

She leaned back on her hands and splashed water on him by vigorously kicking her feet. “I’m still waiting…”

“Hey!” He raised one hand to shield himself from the splash. “I have a problem with needles.”

“Like what kind of problem?” Surprised, she sat up. “Do you faint or get sick?”

He pressed his fingers against her lips. “I think that’s enough questions for one day.”

Laughing, Annika pulled her feet out of the water and scooted backwards to let them air dry so she could put her shoes on again, but she moved so quickly she lost her balance and fell backwards, smacking her head and shoulders on the aluminum planks. Her clumsiness made her laugh.

“Careful,” Alex warned as he slid his arms around her to pull her back to a sitting position. “Are you all right?”

Well… she thought, I was…

He was so close she could feel the rise and fall of his chest. The woody, aromatic fragrance of his bold cologne mixed with the heat of his body like a heady mist. His arms held her in a gentle, but protective manner. “I’m—I’m fine,” she murmured. Sitting with him like this was way too close for comfort. She knew she should pull away, but she couldn’t move. His nearness was intoxicating.
She looked up, and though it was too dark to look into his eyes, she knew by the tilt of his head his lips were a breath away. Slowly, as if giving her time to refuse, he moved closer and placed his lips on hers. His kiss was tender at first, but when she didn’t resist, his mouth crushed hers as his arms tightened around her. In the heat of the moment, her resistance dissipated. She slid her arms around his neck and kissed him back, melting into him as her heart pounded in sync with his.

As he ended the kiss, she leaned her forehead against his, stunned, with her hands splayed on his chest. She could barely breathe. She closed her eyes, desperate to calm her thundering heart.
“If you don’t want to continue this,” he whispered in her ear, “just say so and I’ll stop.”

Don’t…what? Her thoughts were a jumbled mess as her mind raced to make sense of what was happening. She stared up at his shadowed face. “Why did you kiss me?”

“I hadn’t planned to do that, but I couldn’t stand it any longer,” he said huskily. “I had to find out what I was missing.”

His reply sounded so much like a cliché, it jerked her back to her senses. How many other women had he used that line on? Realizing what an idiot she’d been to let herself be taken in by him, her hands gripped his shirt. “Don’t play me for a fool, Alex. I may have been born and raised in a town the size of a postage stamp, but I’m not naive. I’m the lucky girl you’ve chosen to be your entertainment while you’re in town, aren’t I?”

“That’s not true,” he replied, sounding hurt. “I’d never treat you that way.”

“Then be honest with me. Why did you kiss me? I’m not glamorous or high-maintenance like the women you usually chase. I read the tabloids. If anything, I’m the total opposite.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, sweetheart,” he said softly. “Beauty is more than fake body parts and Botox. The best makeup artist in the world can’t fix a shallow, self-absorbed personality.” He brushed her cheek with his thumb. “You have no idea how desirable you are.” He chuckled. “Especially in that long nightgown.”

She snorted. “It was pink with black cats printed all over it.”

“Really?” he replied. “I didn’t notice.”

“C’mon, Alex, a guy like you doesn’t fall for a woman like me.”

“What makes you so sure of that?”

This can’t be real, she thought. It’s too good to be true.

She closed her eyes to keep them from misting. “We don’t have anything in common. You’re rich and talented and wildly successful. I’m merely a small-town girl,” she said, her voice wavering, “with nothing to show for her life but unfulfilled dreams.”

“Annika,” he whispered breathlessly, “that’s not true. You’re so much more. I can’t explain why but ever since the day I walked into the café and saw you I haven’t been able to get you off my mind. Everything about you is so natural and genuine. You have no idea how rare that is in my world.”

“You have no idea how boring and tedious my world is,” she shot back. “Carly Strand feels the same way, but we have plans. We’re finally going to do something about it.”

He took his arms away and shifted his body, settling next to her. “Are you going into business together?”

“We’re taking a road trip at the end of July, heading out west. If we like it there, we may not come back so I’ve been desperately trying to convince my mother to turn my job over to Penny. That way my parents will still be able to operate the café and draw an income from it.” She expelled a frustrated sigh. “My mother is so stubborn. The boss always knows best and always gets the last word! She won’t listen to me.”

His silence indicated he was absorbing her words. After a few moments he said, “Take it from me, wherever you go, you won’t find the kind of happiness you’re looking for. After years of searching, I’ve come to realize that true joy in life derives from the things money can’t buy.”

Annika brushed droplets of lake water off her skin and began rolling down her pant legs. “We’ll never know until we try.”

“Maybe so,” Alex said, “but I hope you don’t find out the hard way like I did.” He placed his hand on the back of her neck and pulled her close. “Don’t go, Annika. Please, don’t leave.”

“Our plans are set. I promised Carly. I’m not letting her down.”

“Then I’ll just have to figure out a way to convince you to stay…” He pulled her into his arms and kissed her so passionately her head began to spin. She didn’t want to kiss him; didn’t want to be caught up in his irresistible charm, but she couldn’t help herself.

Car lights suddenly invaded their privacy.

Annika and Alex turned around at the same time to see who it was
.
“It’s a cop,” Alex blurted out as he scrambled to his feet and helped Annika get up.

She saw the lights and grabbed her shoes. “It’s Chris Peterson. I’ll talk to him.”

Chris’ spotlight swept across the beach and stopped at the dock, blinding them. “The beach is closed,” he yelled out the car window. “Get off the dock. Now.

“He’s an okay guy. We went to the senior prom together,” Annika said as they hurried toward the squad car. “Chris! It’s me, Annika!” His window slid down as she approached him. “Hi.”

The officer craned his neck to see who she was with. “Annika? What are you doing out here after dark? You know it’s not safe to be in the water at night.”

Annika bent at the waist to meet him at eye level. “We were sitting on the dock, trying to cool off, but we’re going now.”

Chris frowned at Alex, as though he disapproved of who Annika chose to spend her summer nights with toe-dipping in the lake. “Okay, but I don’t want to catch you out here again. Is that clear? I’ve got enough to do without playing lifeguard, too.”

“I understand,” Annika replied hurriedly as she straightened and grabbed Alex’s hand. “Goodnight!”
They sprinted across the beach and headed up Main Street. They were breathless by the time they hooked a right at Lake Street, went a half-block and cut through the alley to Annika’s place.

When they reached the stairway, she grabbed the mosquito spray off the car and halted at the bottom step. No way was she inviting him up to her apartment. Or falling into the trap of letting him kiss her again. “Alex, I don’t think it’s a good idea for us—”

“Wait.” He held up his hand as he cut her off. “Hear me out first.” He leaned against the railing to catch his breath. “Everything I told you tonight was the truth, Annika. From the bottom of my heart. I didn’t plan to purposely take you to the beach where we’d be alone so I could kiss you. It just happened, but I don’t regret it.”

She placed her foot on the next step, ready to sprint up the stairs. “I like you, Alex, but we’re worlds apart. Even if I wasn’t leaving town, it won’t be long before you’ll be ready to move on yourself so let’s leave things as they were before tonight. Let’s remain friends. Nothing more.”

He nodded; his disappointment showing. “What happens at the beach, stays at the beach.”

“Right.” She turned to go upstairs, but looked back. “That includes what I told you about Carly and me, too. I don’t want that getting back to my mother before I’ve had a chance to break it to her myself. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“Goodnight then.” She ran up the stairs filled with bittersweet emotions. She’d never forget what it was like to be kissed by Zander Lang, frontman of the band “Wolfmoon,” but like Alex’s stage name, it wasn’t real. It was only part of his act.

~*~

Metadata for posts:  #MFRWHooks #MFRWorg #mgtab #romances #Kindle #Gr8Reads #sweetromance #books #booklovers #romancenovel #romance #bookfans #booklist #fictionobsessed #romancebooks #bestsellers #fictionbooks #bookstoread #books #booklists #humor #wholesome