I’m proud to announce my newest release…
Hope Fiore reached over and snagged a fry from her brother’s plate.
“Dammit, Hope! I offered to buy. Order your own,” Val groused. He had a phobia about anyone touching his food. Which, of course, compelled her to steal another one. His frustrated sigh made her laugh. “Here. It’s all yours.”
She accepted the plate he shoved her way. “You’re so easy.”
“Whatever. Next time I’m ordering two plates.”
As she squirted the ketchup in a swirly pattern, she caught him checking his watch for the third time in fifteen minutes. “Got a hot date?”
He flushed when he said it, so she didn’t believe him. “Who is she?”
“Leave it alone.”
“You only get moody over one woman. Ashley Reynolds. She coming back to town?” His furious glare didn’t deter her. She grinned around another mouthful of fries. “I take it by your pissed off face that she is. And soon, unless I miss my guess. Poor Val.”
It didn’t take him long to realize she wasn’t as surprised by the news as she should have been. She saw the moment it registered. “You knew!”
The accusation in his dark coffee eyes bothered her. Yes, she knew, but Hope needed Ashley for photo and commercial shoots scheduled at their family’s vineyard, starting this Friday.
“Dammit, Hope!” he swore for the second time in as many minutes. “How could you not tell me?”
“Because you would have taken off, and I need you here.” Her voice held only a hint of apology. The truth was that Fiore family members were expected to step up to the plate where their family’s business was concerned, and Valentino Fiore was no exception. It didn’t matter that the woman in question had crushed his heart. Hope gulped down a third of her beer before saying. “Mama wanted her for the new catalog shoot.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“She wants you to partner her in the pictures and in all the commercials spots we’re filming.”
“Fuck. No. There’s no way in hell I’m going to get within ten feet of that succubus.”
Hope shot a nervous glance around the Spigot bar. A few of the locals were expressing too much interest in their conversation. “Butt out,” she mouthed. She’d never been afraid to give people a piece of her mind.
“No, Hope. I’m not doing it. I’m waiting for Bella to pick me up. We’re heading to San Francisco for a long weekend.” He pointed a finger in her direction to emphasize the point. “This is my first vacation in two years. I’m going.”
“Actually, you’re not. Bella isn’t coming.” Hope popped another fry in her mouth and refused to meet his furious gaze. “While you were in the bathroom, I sent her a text from your phone, telling her you were canceling.”
His large palm slapped the table top, making their dishes dance. “Do you know how long it took me to get Bella to go out with me? Do you?” His voice rose, and the surrounding silence was deafening. Too many nosy-ass people in this town. “I had to convince her I was over Ashley. A thought that you put in her head when you told her I wasn’t. This was supposed to be the weekend. The weekend, Hope.”
“Bella’s not for you, Val. Give it up. I don’t want the two of you to hook up because then I would lose my best friend when you broke her heart. As it is, she isn’t happy I hired Ashley and asked her to come back.”
“Who the hell says I would’ve broken her heart? Can I not even explore other options in this God forsaken town?”
“Keep your voice down. You’re drawing a crowd,” she warned.
“Like I could give a sh—”
There she hovered, a foot behind Val, the woman who’d destroyed her brother’s spirit six years before. Ashley appeared fresh and beautiful, as always. Hope noted her brother had frozen, mid-action, beer arrested halfway to his mouth. Anguish flashed before he carefully blanked his expression. To this day, Hope still hadn’t discovered the circumstances surrounding what went down between the two of them. One moment they were in each other’s pockets, completely inseparable, and the next, Ashley was gone, leaving her brother a cold, bitter man.
That her brother let Hope clasp his hand and squeezed hers in return said a lot about the state of his emotions. She would have come up with something to fill the awkward gap, but a dream of a man strolled up to place his hand on Ashley’s shoulder.
The air rushed from Hope’s lungs, and she floundered like a fish out of water. Definitely a new sensation for her. She’d never been out of control a second in her life. Breathing became difficult, and a warmth flooded her body. What in the world was going on? How does one man have that effect? The poet within woke from her lifelong nap to start writing a lame tribute to his beauty. Being that she really was no poet, all that came to mind was “wow, I want to lick him all over.”
Apparently it didn’t stop at her mind but came out of her mouth – if the gasps and shouts of laughter directed at her were any indication. She thought she might pass out from the blood rush. Hope couldn’t remember ever being so embarrassed in her life. In fact, before that moment, she would have swore it was impossible to embarrass herself. Now, she knew differently.
Since it was too much to hope for that the earth would open and swallow her whole, she tried to muddle through. Blasé. That was it. She needed to come up with something to show she was cool and only joking. However, because she was locked onto his chiseled features, no chance of breaking free of his invisible hold, that possibility was slim to none.
When he grinned, she near fainted. The black dots on the edge of her vision were closing in fast. Had it not been for Val’s tightening on her hand, she would have been a goner. She jerked back, upending her beer. The icy drink soaking through her jeans snapped her out of her hypnotic state.
“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Not quick enough to stop the deluge of liquid, she threw her arms up in frustration. Her brother’s snort of laughter angered her. “Et tu, Brute?”
“Sorry, sis. I’ve never seen…” Val gestured up and down. “Good to know you’re as human as the rest of us.”
“Bite me,” she snarled, taking the proffered towels from someone to her left. She lifted her head to offer a thank you. There, in place of who she’d assumed was the waitress, was him. Her throat closed around the words, only allowing a strangled cry to escape.
In fairness, the man made a valiant effort to hide his amusement. She sat, transfixed by his twitching lips and the flash of white teeth she glimpsed beyond. He opened his mouth to speak, but from the corner of her eye she noticed Nora Kincaid, town gossip, with her smart phone aimed in her direction, ready for action.
“Oh, hell no! What is she even doing here?” Her words startled him and caused him to take an involuntary step back. “Excuse me, I have to go beat an old woman to death.”
He had the nerve to catch her arm, halting her progress in chasing after that damned busybody. He leaned in to murmur, “How are you going to lick me all over if you’re stuck behind bars?”
Hormones and emotions all over the place, Hope socked him in the gut and stormed out the door. Let her brother clean up her mess for a change. She was going home to shower off the beer stench and hide in bed for the next century, or two.
Royce Anderson bent double, trying to catch his breath. Damn, the woman could pack a punch. Yet, he couldn’t be mad. Basically he’d asked for it. To tease a female in a heightened state of anger was foolish. He straightened and grinned. Her words had snapped him out of the trance he’d been sucked into upon seeing her face. He’d been so caught by those sparkling chocolate eyes of hers that he’d been struck dumb. Luckily, she’d been the one to garner all the attention with her comment. They’d been on the same wavelength though, because his brain leapt right to needing to taste her.
He moved to watch her stalk away. A car honked when she crossed in front. Her middle finger answered the aggressive driver. Royce found himself grinning again. A quick visual check on Ashley showed her to be absorbed in everything Val Fiore. With a shrug, Royce took off after the firebrand who’d captured his interest.
Catching up and keeping pace was easier said than done. Her long legs ate up the sidewalk. Damn, the woman had a sexy stride. He became so lost in the motion of her ass swinging side to side that he’d forgotten to pay attention to where he was going.
It all went down in slow motion. His dream girl slowly spun back in his direction, her eyes widened in horror, and he had exactly one second to question why before the sound of tires attempting to stop registered. Rough hands jerked him back, and the momentum sent him crashing into the brick exterior wall of the closest business. The arm he raised to protect himself let out a sickening snap.
He sank down to the pavement, back against the wall, and cradled his wrist. A whole host of swear words poured out of his mouth causing gasps from the more conservative onlookers.
“Kiss your mama with that mouth?”
And there she was, squatting down in front of him, palms resting lightly on his knees. He didn’t want to go so far as to claim love at first sight, but he wasn’t going to rule it out either. “No, but I want to kiss you with it.”
“I see I’m not the only one prone to blurting inappropriate comments at inappropriate moments,” she teased and ran gentle fingers along his forearm and wrist, probing the bones there. His hiss had her looking grim. “I’m no expert, but I think you might have broken something. Come on, lover boy, I’ll take you to the ER for an X-ray.”
“What about your pants?” Stupid to be concerned with her wet clothing when the pain was finally registering. He suspected when the nurse asked him his discomfort level, he’d be pointing to the crying face on the chart.
“My brother is on duty. I’ll steal a pair of his scrubs,” she said, using his good arm to pull him to his feet and steady him.
“Do I get to watch you change?”
“Only if you’re a good boy and do exactly what the doctor says,” she quipped. “Now stop being pervy. Care to explain to me why you were following me, and why you felt the need to step out in front of a speeding car?”
“Oh crap!” Royce spun around, looking for the good samaritan who’d saved him. “I didn’t thank…”
“I recognized your savior. We can host a party in his honor later, if you’re so inclined.”
“Sarcasm isn’t necessary.”
She put up a tough front, but Royce was of the mind to believe she was a marshmallow on the inside. He had to admit, if only to himself, he adored a ball-busting female. The edgy exchange, the challenging looks – it was as good as foreplay.
Although, at this precise point in time, sex was the last thing on his mind. Added to the sharp pain, a throbbing had started. Sweat beaded his upper lip. He prayed he wouldn’t pass out in front of her. He’d never been great with pain management.
“What’s your name?” Her question surprised him. Because it seemed like he’d known her forever, as if the span of ten minutes actual time had really been a lifetime, he stopped short. His puzzled frown appeared to cause her concern. Before he could clarify he hadn’t forgotten his name, she asked, “Did you hit your head?”
Tension coated her words, and she plunged her hands into his hair searching for a bump or wound. He could have stopped her, but why? Her soft touch felt too good, and her lips were mere inches from his own. Gunmetal gray eyes met rich mocha. Time stopped. Breathing became labored for them both. As one they surged toward one another. Her body came in contact with his… and he promptly fainted.