Friday, December 31, 2021

Read an Excerpt from Titus: The Trouble Sisters Saga Finale Novella by Taylor Lee

FREE

Amazon

He’s a formidable county sheriff. She’s a defense attorney. When she represents the despicable US senator accusing the sheriff of a vicious crime, she learns just how formidable the sheriff really is.

Sheriff Titus Theseus Trouble is the leading law enforcement official in the busy border county. Commanding and proudly arrogant, Titus admits that he’s been intrigued and frankly annoyed by the brash, prominent defense attorney from the first time he met her. His interest, make that , his obsession with her, was surprising. The sophisticated, stunningly beautiful, smart-as-hell woman was eons away from the casual women he routinely bedded and as off-putting.

Rita Davidson is proud of her reputation as a ball-busting attorney. She’s worked hard to earn it. Only clients able to pay her outrageous fees are part of her elite clientele. While she can’t ignore her untoward reaction to the tall, commanding, gray-eyed sheriff, he annoys the hell out of her. She’s infuriated with his overtly chauvinistic taunts—even though she knows he’s just trying to provoke her.

When her outrageous client insists that she charge the sheriff and his deputy sheriff daughter with police brutality—a charge Rita knows is false—the smoldering emotions between them flare. As angry as he is with her despicable client, Titus is more furious with the brazen attorney. Determined to take her down, he’s surprised that winning the case isn’t his primary goal. Rather, he’s determined to win her.

Titus is the finale novella in the steamy Trouble Sisters Saga. If you like smart characters, tough-talking, arrogant men and women and scorching passion, then you'll love Taylor Lee’s sizzling thrill ride.

Buy Titus today and prepare to be wowed.

Chapter 1

 

“Damn, woman, it’s good to see you!” Zane reached for the beautiful woman sitting at a corner high-top table at the B n’ T and dragged her into a one-armed hug. “If you aren’t a sight for sore eyes, I don’t know what is.” He glanced at her chic pantsuit topped by a clearly “un-faux” fur vest and rolled his eyes in pretend surprise. Glancing at Dante, the barkeep who was grinning at them from behind the bar, he hollered, “Tell me, Dante, when was the last time one of your patrons came in this benighted hangout wearing what has to be several thousand dollars of high-priced duds on her svelte body?”

“Hmm, sans the svelte body, Mr. District Attorney, that would be every time you stroll in here dressed like some fucking GQ model.” Dante grinned. “If ever there was a clotheshorse, buddy, it’s you. But if you’re saying that Attorney Davidson looks like a million bucks regardless of her attire, I’m in total agreement.”

Rita gave a full-throated laugh and shook her head. Accepting Zane’s hug, she winked at Dante. “I can see I need to come back to this crazy bar more often. Nothing like being greeted by two of the sexiest scoundrels I know. Particularly when one of them makes the single best ‘sure to knock you flat on your ass’ martini in any part of the country. I would come back to Sierra Vista for that noxious libation alone.”

Zane nodded to Dante. “I’m with Attorney Davidson. Rustle up a couple of those infamous, appropriately enough named porn star martinis of yours so that I can snuggle in next to this beautiful woman and get even more buzzed than I already am just looking at her.”

“Good grief, are you really that glad to see me or just trying to make a girl feel good?”

“Hell, Rita, you have to know that you are several levels of heaven above ordinary angels in my mind and always will be. Heck, you reside darn close to the stratosphere the Trouble sisters occupy.” He grinned at her. “Although, I confess that middle Trouble sister has wormed her way into my heart, mind, and most definitely my body in a way I never dreamed a woman could.”

“How is she, Zane? And please tell me she is doing as well as I’ve heard. Is it true that she is going to keynote the Arizona Bar Association annual meeting in May?”

“Yeah, she is. I’m telling you Tatiana has to be the strongest woman I know. And given the competition you and her sisters provide, that is saying something. But she has come through that hideous experience she suffered and is truly thriving, professionally and personally.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Tatiana Trouble is without a doubt one of the most impressive women I know. The fact that she has the inimitable Cochise County DA and all-around hotshot at her side also makes her one of the luckiest women I know.”

“Aw shucks, what can I say except that we are both lucky. You know as well as anyone what a profligate rogue I was. That Tatiana was able to see past the reprobate I was and introduce me to a concept that had been exceedingly elusive to me—the love of a good woman—is a gift I will treasure forever.”

“My goodness. Like every other woman in the county, heck, the state, I never thought I’d see the day that Zane Wilder fell for a woman—and a good one, make that one of the best ones, at that.”

Clicking her glass against his, Rita took a healthy sip of the powerful drink Dante had put in front of her then reared back at the burn of the pungent alcohol. She grinned at Dante, who was watching her from behind the bar. “Phew, don’t tell me my time away from the B n’ T has made me a wuss. Or are you just trying to set me up, Dante? Remind me that I need to come here more often if I’m going to be able to keep up with your usual debauched crowd.”

Zane raised his glass to her and chortled. “Let’s just say that by the time you’ve polished off a couple of those babies, Rita, you’ll be able to drink the best of us under the table.”

“I hope you’re right. Before we proceed to get drunk together, tell me that the news I hear regarding that disgraced ADA of yours is true.”

“You must be referring to the fact that Chloe Richards has not only been disbarred but is fighting what I consider to be a losing battle: that of trading her slutty clothes for the decidedly unflattering orange jumpsuit with the DOJ insignia on the back.”

Rita nodded in agreement. “My attorney colleague who has the unhappy task of representing her confirmed that brazen bitch is looking at a minimum of three to five in the Florence state prison.”

“Your colleague is correct. Trust me, after what she tried to do to Tatiana and how she made a mockery of the judicial system, not to mention disgracing the bar, they can’t keep her locked up long enough to suit me.” Running his hands distractedly through his shock of tousled hair, Zane shook his head and, as if determined to change the subject, met Rita’s gaze. “Look, neither you nor I want to discuss that disgusting former colleague of ours. Tell me what brings you to our hallowed burg. Here’s hoping that whatever it is will keep you here for a long while. We miss you.”

“Thanks, Zane. I’m surprised to say how much I miss all of you. When you hauled me down here to represent Tatiana, I assumed I’d be bored out of my mind. I’m not exactly a small-town kind of a gal. But the time we spent clearing your woman of that hideous crime was anything but dull. In answer to your question, I have a new client here in Sierra Vista. Actually, a long-time client I’ve represented on a number of issues, only this time it’s his son who’s in trouble.”

“Holy hell, don’t tell me you are here to defend that degenerate asshole, Justin Powell, son of the Senator Martin Powell?”

A deep voice endorsed Zane’s surprised assertion. “I agree, Zane. I thought Attorney Davidson was choosier about whom she represents with her vaunted skills. Imagine my surprise to learn that the inimitable attorney has thrown in with one of the most despicable reprobates I know. And I’m not talking about the senator’s weasel son we arrested yesterday for his third DUI.”

Rita whirled to confront the source of the insulting comment. She wasn’t surprised at the jolt of electricity that shot through her surprised body. Glaring up at the tall man looming over her, his lips twisted in an ironic smile, she forgave her wayward body’s untoward reaction. She was confident that Sheriff Titus Trouble had the same unsettling effect on every woman he approached. After all, it wasn’t every day that a Hugh Jackman look-alike replete with de rigueur beard shadow, chiseled jaw, and dancing eyes sauntered into a bar. Although, given that it was the B n’ T, Rita could have expected the imposing man, who was a regular at the town hangout. It took her a moment to contain her unruly emotions and manage an appropriate response to the sheriff’s putdown of her client or, more specifically, her client’s father.

“I take it you aren’t impressed with our senior United States senator and second largest landholder in southern Arizona?” She shrugged. “Why would I be surprised, Sheriff, that you disapprove of my defending my long-term client or his admittedly debauched son?”

“It’s not up to me to disapprove, Attorney Davidson. You can represent any reprobates you wish, as well as their degenerate progeny. I’ll only say that you must be hard up for clients if you have to slurp from Martin Powell’s trough.”

Shocked at his demeaning comment, Rita forced herself to respond in as normal a tone of voice as she could muster. “I’ll try to ignore your intimation that I belong in the company of swine, Sheriff Trouble, in that not very long ago I represented your daughter.”

Titus nodded in agreement. “Yes, you did, most impressively. A fact for which I will always be grateful. Which makes your current representation even more deplorable.”

“Whoa, you two.” Zane held up his hands. Glancing at his clearly angry companions who were facing off against each other, he said with a good-natured chuckle, “And good evening to you, Sheriff Trouble. Even considering your inflammatory greeting of our mutual friend, let me say I’m delighted you could join us.” Motioning to Dante, Zane called out, “How about you bring Attorney Davidson and me a refill and a double for our apparently peeved county sheriff.” He grinned at Titus. “I’m well aware, sir, that you’re not a fan of our senior US senator or his debauched son.” When Titus merely nodded, Zane added, “But I presume that you don’t hold our lovely attorney in that low regard.”

Titus shrugged. “That’s a given, Zane. Even highly competent attorneys can be taken in by wealthy individuals who are willing to pay through the nose to keep themselves and their offspring free of the long arm of the law.” Taking a hearty pull of the martini Dante placed in from of him, Titus shot Rita a narrow-eyed gaze. “After all, said attorneys are the ones who have to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror. As long as they can live with what they see, more power to them.”

Rita smacked her glass on the table and glared at Titus. “Damn, Sheriff Trouble. I’d forgotten what a supercilious, arrogant man you are. But even as self-righteous as you are, implying that the fact Senator Powell can pay my admittedly high fees is the only reason he is my client is a bridge too far. You didn’t seem to mind Zane paying through his nose to have me represent your daughter.”

“No, Ms. Davidson, I not only didn’t mind, I was grateful that Zane had the wherewithal to hire you. However, you were representing my daughter, perhaps the worthiest woman alive, not some scurvy political prick’s equally scurvy son.”

Forcing herself to step back, Rita did the best she could to speak in a reasonable tone of voice. She wasn’t surprised by the effort it took. Holding the sheriff’s steely gaze, she said, “The one thing I despise more than anything are law enforcement officials who think that because they wear a uniform and a badge, they are superior to defense attorneys who have the temerity to call them into question. You know those presumptuous attorneys. The ones who actually believe in our heralded system of justice. The system that posits that everyone, even rich, privileged assholes, are entitled to a defense when charged with a crime.” Not able to squelch her rising fury at the implacable man narrowly regarding her, Rita added, “One would hope even county sheriffs would be capable of understanding the basics of our justice system no matter how isolated they are.”

Wishing that she hadn’t given in to her fury and added that last poisoned dart, Rita grabbed her glass and took a larger swallow than she intended. Choking on the fiery liquid, she was horrified when Titus moved next to her and smacked her on the back. She didn’t have to look up at him to know he was amused. His drawling response to her impassioned attack said it all.

Interesting. As a lowly county sheriff, one thing I dislike is being lectured by a highfalutin attorney who looks down her nose at anyone ridiculous enough to believe that your income doesn’t determine your worth or your ability to grasp the intricacies of our judicial system.” At her sputtering cough that she couldn’t contain, Titus grasped her upper arm in his big hand and smacked her again between her shoulder blades. Picking up his glass and draining it, Titus added with a mirthless grin, “You know, one of those haughty, grossly overpaid legal beagles who wouldn’t acknowledge a client is too disreputable to defend even if the proof rose up and bit her on the ass.” Looking her up and down, Titus met her angry gaze and said with a shrug, “Particularly when said legal beagle has as delectable an ass as yours, Attorney Davidson.”

Rita leapt to her feet and demanded, “What did you say to me?”

Titus shrugged and winked at her over his retreating shoulder. “You heard me.” Nodding to Zane and without looking back, he saluted Dante as he dropped a bill on the bar, then strode through the door into the dark night.

Struggling to control her fury and rubbing at her arm where Titus had held her in place, Rita glared at her clearly amused companion. “I’m glad that you think the supposedly upright sheriff’s behavior is funny, Zane.”

“Ah, Rita, you have to know that Titus is intrigued by you. Even if he’s put off by your, shall we say, flippant attitude.”

“So in addition to being a conservative, arrogant asshole, the contemptible lawman is also a chauvinist pig who doesn’t like strong women?”

“Nah, Rita. Like the rest of us arrogant assholes, he’s intrigued and, yeah, put off by ballsy women. But, sweetheart, you won’t meet a fairer guy than Titus Trouble. Although, I should warn you. You don’t want to get on his bad side. In addition to being a straight shooter, Titus is a vicious antagonist. One you definitely don’t want to mess with.”

Thursday, December 30, 2021

COUNTERFEIT HUSBAND by Linda Wisdom

$3.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers

Amazon

Counterfeit Husband

TO DO:
- Get a haircut
- Cancel appointments
- Hire husband?

It was the only way Chloe Sumner could protect herself from a lecherous business rival on a luxury cruise. But what "husband" could Chloe trust to spend every day -- and every night -- in skimpy cruise wear and one cramped stateroom?

1-800-HUSBAND was good, but not even Chloe could believe the husband they gave her would know her better than she knew herself...would ignite her with one searing glance...would be Dalton James her ex-husband!

A Joyride Books romance classic by Linda Wisdom!

Monday, December 27, 2021

Read an Excerpt from Marcel - Redemption Through Fire by Jessica McBrayer

$3.99

BUY HERE

A bad boy hockey player who can’t drink away his painful childhood.
The woman who will never forget his biggest mistake.
The fight to face their demons and win a chance at true love.


Marcel “Frenchie” Hugo, NHL player for the Savannah Heat, has spent the past year regretting a single night—the night that he betrayed the love of his life.

Julie Reynolds watches her friends with happy lives, but she can’t tell them what is tearing her apart. Her happiness was destroyed with a single phone call.

When Marcel makes a bold move to close the distance between them, he ends up in the hospital, his career in shambles. Marcel and Julie both have demons to face down before their story can find a happy ending. Can they overcome past mistakes for a second chance at a happily ever after? 

"Definitely one click, do not pass on reading this! Well worth taking a half-day to hide out in a coffee shop and read." CATAylor

 


Chapter 1. Julie 

 

“Julie, baby, Cherie! Open up! I’m so sorry, Cherie.”

“Marcel, go away. You’re going to wake my parents up,” I pleaded from the other side of my apartment door.

God, why did he keep tearing us up? He had to let it go. I’d been lying to myself that I had moved on. It was easier that way until he did something like this. It’d been a year. I swiped at the tears running down my face.

Cherie, I love you. I have since I first saw you with my jersey on at that first game. Do you remember? I will never forget it. Please forgive me. I’m so sorry,” he whispered the last part in his beautiful French accent.

I almost opened the door.

“Julie don’t open that door. I’ve called the police. I don’t know who this crazy man is, but he needs to leave. Now! Damned harlot! How did you lure Satan’s spawn here?” my dad yelled up from below.

“No, Daddy. Just let me deal with it.”

“Fucking cops! Call the cops. Great! Thanks, old man!” Marcel yelled at my dad.

Wonderful, Daddy would never forgive him. The cops were on the way for sure. I heard the sirens in the distance.

“Julie, baby. She was just some nameless face. I was too drunk. I didn’t mean it. I don’t even remember it,” Marcel said, and I could swear I heard crying.

“Marcel, you have to leave. The police will be here. I don’t want you to get in trouble. Think about your career. Please.”

“Fuck hockey! I need you more.”

“Please, don’t do this. I can’t take it,” I sobbed.

I placed my hand on the door, wanting to touch him but knowing I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do anymore late-night phone calls and I sure as hell couldn’t handle him coming here. Oh, good God, he drove here. What if he had hurt someone?

The sirens were now in front of my parents Victorian. I lived on the second floor in a separate apartment. I could see the lights flashing through my windows. At least they turned the sirens off.

I heard footsteps coming up my stairs. Marcel, why? He could lose his contract over this.

“Sir, you’re going to have to come with us. You’re disturbing these people,” I heard an officer directing Marcel. “Ma’am? Are you okay?”

“Yes, Officer. I don’t want to press any charges. I’m sorry you were called,” I said as I opened the door, I looked up into deep dark blue eyes, framed by messy black hair and short stubble — his six-foot-three frame towered above my five-four self. My long hair was a mess from pulling my hands through it, and I’m sure my eyes were framed by red puffy lids.

As soon as Marcel saw me, he lunged to hug me. The policeman misinterpreted his move and restrained him.

“Buddy, just stay the hell away from this woman. Y’all smell like a moonshine still. Y’need to calm down.”

“I was just trying to fucking hug her… wrap her in my arms… tell her how much I love her,” Marcel choked out.

“I can’t take this, Marcel. The phone calls every time you’re drunk, and now this drunken visit to my house. My parents live below. Do you know how upset they are? Please. Just go. It’s over. It has been for a long while.”

“Then, why are you crying?” he asked in his whiskey-smooth voice.

“Because damnit. I love you, too. But I can’t forgive you. You need some help. Get some help, please. I am not more important than hockey. You’ve worked your whole life to be where you are.”

“Julie, Cherie. I would give it all up for you.”

“Come on big guy. The lady wants you to leave. Did you drive here?” the officer asked.

Shit.

“Is that a problem?” Marcel asked as he swayed dangerously close to the stairs.

The officer grabbed him to keep him safe, and Marcel swung at him. He didn’t hit the cop, but the momentum pushed him over the top stair, and he fell to the bottom. I screamed and ran after him in my pajamas. The officer was right behind me, calling an ambulance on his radio.

Marcel laid still on the grass, not moving. When I reached him, I could see blood running from his head down his temple, and his arm was at a wrong angle, but he was breathing.

“Julie, who is this man?” my father demanded.

“Marcel Hugo,” I whispered.

“The hockey player? Shit,” the officer said. “He has a lot of charges waiting for him when he wakes up.”




 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

A Family For Christmas by Mona Ingram Review

$3.99

Amazon

Laid off and in a new city, Maddie is eager to get her life back on track before Christmas. With a new gift wrapping business in the lobby of the Drummond Building, the last thing on her mind is falling for Chase, the heir to the Drummond fortune. But it isn't Chase who captures her heart. Annie, only ten years old and recently orphaned, needs more than gifts for Christmas, and Maddie might just have enough love left in her heart to help.

Mona Ingram is the author of over forty sweet, clean romances full of hope, inspiration, and happily ever afters. For a complete list of Mona's books, visit her website: monaingram.com

Review:

I loved, loved, loved this holiday romance. It was absolutely perfect. It had the emotional ups and downs that every good romance should have and the characters were so wonderful. A Family for Christmas would make an absolutely wonderful movie. If you love holiday romance, you must read this one!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas at the Gingerbread Cafe by Rebecca Raisin Excerpt

$0.99

Amazon

The icing on her Christmas cake!

Christmas at the Gingerbread Café is a lovely, cheery festive read, a good old-fashioned feel-good romance’ – Books with Bunny

The icing on her Christmas cake!

Christmas is the season the Gingerbread Café in Ashford, Connecticut was made for…but owner Lily couldn’t be feeling less merry if she tried. She’s spent another year dreaming of being whisked away on a sleigh-ride for two, but she’s facing festive season alone – again. And, just to give her another reason to feel anything other than candy-cane perky, a new shop across the road has opened… Not only is it selling baked goods, but the owner, with his seriously charming smile, has every girl in town swooning.

But Lily isn’t about to let her business crumble — the Gingerbread Café is the heart of the community, and she’s going to fight for it! This could be the Christmas that maybe, just maybe, all her dreams – even the someone-to-decorate-the-Christmas-tree-with ones – really do come true!

Finalist for the RWA Ella Award 2014

Don't miss any books in The Gingerbread Café series:

Book 1 – Christmas at the Gingerbread Café

Book 2 – Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Café

Book 3 – Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café

The Bookshop on the Corner

Secrets at Maple Syrup Farm

Check out Rebecca Raisin’s newest series: The Little Paris Collection
Book 1 – The Little Bookshop on the Seine
Book 2 – The Little Antique Shop Under the Eiffel Tower
Book 3 – The Little Perfume Shop Off the Champs-Elysées




EXCERPT
With a sly grin on my face, I jog back out to the front, yelling, “That fool won’t know what hit him,” only to run straight into the damn fool.
“Who are you talking about?” Damon asks, rubbing his chin where my head has just connected.
“Ouch! Who creeps up like that? If you want me to feel the earth move, that isn’t the way to go about it,” I say, sure I’m going to be sporting a big lump on my head any minute now.
“Which fool are you talking about?”
I make a show of wincing, while I try and think of an answer. CeeCee’s no help, standing there as a half-dressed Santa, her lips quivering as she tries to hold in laughter. I know she’s going to lose it, and then the whole sorry story will come tumbling out of her mouth.
“Excuse me, mister, who said you could come in here and spy on us?”
His forehead creases, and that same sexy smile creeps back on his face. “Who said I was spying?”
“That smile might work on other girls, but it sure doesn’t work on me. I said you’re spying. Now get on out of here. Shoo.” I wave my hand towards the door.
“Shoo? Not until you tell me who the fool is.”
“You’re as dumb as a bucket of rocks if you think I’m telling you anything.”
“I see.” He scratches his chin, which has a red mark from our collision. “I think you’re cooking up another plan to steal my customers.”
“Of all the…I think you’re forgetting who was here first. You’re stealing my customers—let’s be clear on that.” I try hard not to poke my tongue out at him. He brings out the worst in me, this newcomer. He’s wearing those same tight jeans, and under his open jacket he’s wearing another of those checker shirts, but has yet another button undone. I can see right down to his belly button and I happen to notice he’s got quite the six-pack going on. The girls round here are going to swoon over him.
He edges backwards, his brown eyes sparkling with mirth. “Well, my family has lived here since before there was electricity, don’t you know? And wouldn’t the town folk love to know you’re not giving me the same warm welcome that they are?”
CeeCee bustles over. “Oh, yeah? And who’s your family, then? Ain’t no one mentioned your people to me.”
“My people, as you say, are the Guthries, born and bred right here in Ashford for as long as anyone can remember.”

Thursday, December 23, 2021

His Christmas Wish by Melissa McClone

$0.99

Amazon

When tragedy strikes, everything Carly Bishop ever loved about Christmas is destroyed.

Distraught and grief-stricken over the deaths of her fiancé and only brother, Carly left Hood Hamlet and her Christmas spirit behind to start over somewhere new. But now, six years later, her pregnant sister-in-law needs help, so Carly comes home to face her past and...the holiday she no longer celebrates.

Mountain rescuer Jake Porter believes he could have saved his two friends that fateful day and kept the Bishop family from experiencing such a heart-wrenching loss. He hopes helping Carly rediscover the magic of Christmas will help him finally move forward with his life, but he's not certain anything is a match for the guilt that's kept him stuck all these years.

As Jake and Carly spend more time together, attraction grows, but toe-curling mistletoe kisses aside, his late best friend would never think Jake was good enough for his little sister. The question is, is that enough reason for him to stay away from her?

Fans of Hallmark Christmas movies will love this heartwarming Christmas romance by USA Today bestselling author, Melissa McClone.

Scroll up and one click to start reading today and see why readers can’t wait to visit the quaint town of Hood Hamlet again!

Previously published as Rescued by the Magic of Christmas.

Mountain Rescue Romance series
Book 1: His Christmas Wish
Book 2: Her Christmas Secret
Book 3: Her Christmas Kiss
Book 4: His Second Chance
Book 5: His Christmas Family

Read an Excerpt from A Man for Mom by Linda Wisdom

$3.99

Amazon

Parenting a teenager was trouble enough, but when the teenager turned matchmaker, it added up to hormone overload. Chelsea Brennan was satisfied with her life as a single mom. Her days were spent in Hot Stuff, her shop of classy lingerie, and her nights...well, she liked sitcoms. Only the summer separated Chelsea's seventeen-year-old daughter from a college far from home. Three short months to set her mom up with Mr. Right. Enter Mark Harrison--via the back door at midnight. When he showed up on the doorstep with teen Colleen, Chelsea nearly blew a gasket. Of course this hunk was too old for her daughter, but was he the man for Mom?

Excerpt:

"Okay, start talking.”

Her glare the picture of righteous motherly wrath, Chelsea Brennan regarded her errant daughter, Colleen, who stood on the front doorstep at 1:22 a.m. on Friday the thirteenth.

The girl's initial bravado was rapidly disappearing. Even in skimpy silk pajamas that barely covered her feminine curves, her mother looked intimidating as hell.

To the man who stood behind Colleen, however, the lady looked just plain sexy.

Colleen winced, ineffectually crossing her arms to conceal the black sequined dress that barely covered her to mid-thigh. "I have a feeling you won't like it."

Chelsea's gaze flickered from her daughter to her companion. Oh, Lord. The man was definitely too old for a seventeen year old girl. Besides, Colleen had supposedly gone to the movies with her friend, Elaine.

Colleen sighed, envisioning being grounded until she was thirty.

"I suggest you begin by explaining what you're doing with this... gentleman," Chelsea prompted her.

"It's not what you think," the man started to explain.

Chelsea's hazel eyes snapped to the left. "Exactly who are you, and what are you doing with my daughter?" An unsettling thought occurred to her. "Are you a police officer?" Her eyes flicked suspiciously over his attire. Did undercover policemen wear jeans that tight and sexy leather jackets and have rugged good looks that spelled male in capital letters?

"No, I'm not a cop. The name's Mark Harrison." In turn he looked her over with a thoroughness most inappropriate for the mother of the teenage girl he was so tastelessly escorting.

She spoke crisply to deflect his brazen gaze. "All right, Mr. Harrison, if it's not what I think, as you so quaintly put it, what exactly is it you're doing with my daughter?" And to think she'd complained about Colleen's last date because the boy had worn an earring!

"I brought Colleen home to keep her out of trouble," he explained, looking all too self-assured for Chelsea's peace of mind.

"Oh?" she said frostily, disbelief dripping from the single frozen syllable.

He rocked back and forth on his heels, his hands jammed in his pockets, his eyes blazing meaningfully into hers. "So you can't believe I was just being an all-around nice guy?"

"Not at all."

"Mom, I'm freezing," Colleen complained as she pushed past her mother and entered the house.

Chelsea opened her mouth to protest as the cradle-robber who called himself Mark Harrison boldly followed Colleen inside and closed the door. Too late. He was already in her living room. Well, she supposed she ought to hear his side of the story, too. She tightened the sash of her robe and marched after the twosome.

Mark prowled around her living room, touching a vase here, running a finger over a framed photograph there. Looking altogether too much at home, he sprawled loosely on the couch.

Chelsea pulled in a deep breath. "All right, will somebody please explain what the hell is going on here?"

Colleen winced. "Mom tends to get emotional about certain things," she explained to Mark as she sat in an easy chair, oblivious to the way her already short skirt rode up her slender thighs. Her mother noticed and was silently relieved that Mark didn't seem to pay the least attention to the exposed young flesh. Instead, he gazed up gravely in her direction.

"Well, you knew Elaine and I had plans for tonight," Colleen began.

"Yes, you told me you were going to the movies. Naturally, every teenage girl wears an eight hundred dollar dress to the mall multiplex."

Mark's deep brown eyes widened. "Eight hundred dollars for that little scrap of material?" He pointed at the strapless creation Colleen wore. "You're kidding, aren't you? I mean, no one pays eight hundred dollars for something like that, do they? I mean, she's only a kid. I wouldn't let my kid go out looking like that. Eight hundred bucks?" he repeated in outraged awe.

"A kid?" Colleen yelped, sitting forward.

Mark ignored her outburst and glared at Chelsea as if she were somehow to blame for his shock.

Chelsea spun on him. "All right, Mark Harrison, we've ascertained that you're not a cop, but you still haven't explained what you are. I'd like to know who I'm going to have arrested call it an idiosyncrasy of mine," she said sweetly.

"I told you, I'm Mark Harrison. I'm also your daughter's savior. I protected her endangered virtue from a drunk hassling her at the club," he explained. "For all the thanks I get," he added, grumbling.

Chelsea gasped. "Club? What club? What on earth happened?"

Colleen rolled her eyes in disgust. "Mom, it was no big deal. Mark just makes it sound like one. The other guy didn't touch me. Well, okay, he touched me, but not the way he wanted to. Well, what I mean is, he was drunk, and I doubt he could have done all that much in his condition, no matter what he thought."

Chelsea groaned, unsure whether to laugh hysterically or cry. Closing her eyes, she collapsed on the couch. "This is a nightmare. All I have to do is wake up and everything will be fine, right?"

Mark found his gaze riveted on the distraught mother of the adventurous minor. And why not? Talk about the kind of woman any man wouldn't mind having around late at night. Her honey brown hair was tousled, as if she'd just climbed out of bed. Considering what she was wearing, that was more than likely. Bed the perfect place for a woman like her. Her cinnamon silk robe had slipped open just enough to reveal a slippery camisole and matching boxer shorts. While some men wouldn't consider glasses sexy, the tortoiseshell specs perched atop her honey colored waves somehow added to her angry, offbeat allure.

Wait. If she'd been in bed reading, waiting up for her daughter, had she been alone? If so, where was Colleen's father who would be, dammit, Chelsea's husband and why wasn't he here ready to turn Mark into mincemeat?

"Mrs. Brennan ...” he began.

"Ms. Brennan," Colleen corrected smartly, then added, "Chelsea." Chelsea glared at her.

So, the lady was single, Mark reflected. The evening was looking up. The evening. He abruptly remembered why he was here. "Let me make a long story short, Ms. Brennan."

"Please do." Her sarcasm was palpable.

"Colleen was down at Rick's Cafe with a friend." He held up his hand when Chelsea snapped forward, looking ready to kill anyone in her path, him first. "Some guy'd had a bit too much to drink, and when Colleen refused to dance with him, he made a fuss. She was smart enough to leave, but he was stupid enough to follow her out to the parking lot. I saw what was going on and guessed there might be a bit of trouble. I went outside just in time to prevent the guy from losing his chance to father children as Colleen and Elaine defended themselves. Since he was still a lot larger than they were, I stepped in to even the odds."

He paused, glancing briefly at Colleen. "I followed Elaine's car to her house to make sure the guy wouldn't try to tail them,' then brought Colleen on home. She said she didn't think you'd be in yet, so I wanted to make sure she’d be all right."

Chelsea arched a disbelieving eyebrow. "Sure. And pigs fly."

He ignored the sarcastic remark. "Look, I didn't have to do this, but she seemed like a nice kid, and I didn't want to see her get hurt."

Chelsea stood. "That's true, you didn't have to do anything. After all, chivalry died ages ago, and men like you don't drive young girls home unless you feel certain said girl's parents aren't around and you'll have the opportunity to receive a proper thank you."

"Mom!" Colleen was shocked. "Are you kidding? He's old!"

"I don't have even one foot in the grave yet," he said wryly. "And as for you, Ms. Brennan, you're too cynical for your own good."

She stood her ground. He might be the best looking man she'd seen in a long while, but he had a healthy dose of arrogance to go with the attractive package. And she didn't like his telling her what was wrong with her. "Maybe I have good reason to be."

He got to his feet. "Maybe you do. So don't trouble yourself with a thank you. Besides, even with the heavy makeup and" he winced "eight hundred dollar dress, Colleen is underage and could have gotten the club owner into a lot of trouble, even though she did drink just club soda. Why she was at Rick's is no business of mine. I'd say that was more her mother's department. But Rick is a friend of mine, and Colleen seemed like an okay kid, and I just saw no reason for the situation to get any worse."

Chelsea's eyes remained icy cold. "How commendable."

Mark didn't flinch. He merely gazed suggestively at Chelsea's long, sexy legs peeking out from the folds of the robe. "Look, Ms. Brennan, how you raise your daughter is no concern of mine. I only came in to explain."

Stung, Chelsea straightened and dismissed him with a chilly, "Thank you for bringing Colleen home, Mr. Harrison."

He headed for the door. "Remember what I said, Colleen. You stay out of places like that until you're of age," he said over his shoulder.

"What, and deprive heroes like you of the chance to rescue the sweet young things?" Chelsea couldn't resist sniping as she followed him out.

He turned and faced her squarely. "I seldom explain myself to anyone, Ms. Brennan, but since you insist on being so wrongheaded about my supposed decadence, allow me to enlighten you. I don't hit on jailbait, and I don't hang out in singles' bars. But since Rick is a friend of mine and is rarely able to leave during operating hours, it's usually the only way I get to see him. If I were you, I'd be damn grateful that creep hadn't gotten his hands on Colleen. Otherwise, it would have been the police, not me, coming here to see you."

Chelsea watched the front door close behind Mark Harrison. She didn't move until she heard his car back down the driveway and roar off, unwilling to admit that his words had struck a painful chord deep inside her. Worry that something would happen to her precious daughter dogged her steps even more now that Colleen had suddenly reached the threshold of womanhood.

She took several deep breaths before turning back to her daughter. "Would you like to give me the whole story now?" she said with dangerous calm.

Colleen winced. "It's not what you think."

"Oh, really? What am I thinking?"

"You're thinking that Elaine and I went there to pick up guys."

"If you didn't go there to pick up guys, why did you go?"

Colleen shifted uneasily in her chair. "Would you believe to research a psychology report on the mating habits of today's singles?"

"Not a chance. School doesn't start until next week. How did you get the dress?"

"Elaine and I stopped by the shop. I'll pay for the lingerie," she hastened to add. "And I'll have the dress dry cleaned. After all, Mom, you never sell the samples. That's why I took this one. I figured you'd prefer my taking a sample than something off the rack."

Chelsea raked her hair with her fingers, dislodging her reading glasses, which tumbled, unheeded, to the carpet. "From the day you were born you never gave me a minute's trouble," she sighed. "You slept all night, suffered from colic only twice, and you didn't even go through the terrible twos that so many other mothers moaned about. Even puberty, with all those hormonal changes, was a breeze. Are you trying to make up for lost time now?" Her voice rose with her agitation.

Colleen stood up sensing she was going to need every advantage she could get. "We just wanted to see what Rick's was like. We weren't out for trouble."

Chelsea was unmoved. "Try again."

"Okay, Elaine and I made a mistake in going there. But we were curious. You know, to see if singles' places are like they show in the movies. That's all!" Colleen insisted.

Chelsea searched her daughter's features. She had always been grateful that Colleen never lied to her. She sincerely hoped the girl wasn't beginning now. "All right, go on up to bed," she said finally. "I'm not forgetting about this, though. From now until I say differently, you work at the shop every day until school starts to pay for what you took. When school starts next week, you can come in after school and on weekends.... And that doesn't mean your schoolwork slides, either. This year is too important for you to screw up."

Colleen's eyes widened at the extent of her punishment. "I have to pay for the dress, too?"

"The special dry cleaning alone won't be cheap, and, knowing your excellent taste" her sharp eyes took in the shimmering black silk stockings, and she imagined the remaining lingerie under the minuscule dress "you can forget any afterschool activities unless they have something to do with your education."

"Mom!" Colleen squeaked.

"My dear, you are well and truly grounded until further notice. If what Mr. Harrison said was true, you were very foolish and very lucky tonight." She stopped. "Now, do us both a favor and go upstairs before I lose my temper completely."

Colleen knew well enough to beat a hasty retreat. She scooted past Chelsea and hurried upstairs.

Chelsea bent down and picked up her glasses. What a day. First the bank had refused to extend her business loan. Then her business dinner had gone sour because the jerk of a manufacturer's rep refused to understand that she had absolutely no interest in going to bed with him. The shipment of silk camisoles due yesterday hadn't arrived and couldn't be traced. With the way her luck was going, they'd probably landed in Alaska.

"And now this," she muttered. She turned off the lights and headed wearily for the stairs.

 

"OH, NO, YOU MEAN your mom was already home? Did she talk to Mr. Harrison?" Elaine asked. Colleen had called her the moment she reached her room.

"He told her where we were," she groaned, flopping onto the bed, wrinkling the infamous dress. "As of now, I'm grounded for the rest of my life, and I have to work in the shop until I pay my debt to Mom and society. I guess I'm lucky she hasn't decided to lock me in my room for the next ten years." She adjusted the receiver against her shoulder and grimaced at the glittering sequins that were going to cost her so dearly. "Had your parents come home from their party yet?"

"No, it was cool," Elaine explained. "But, Colly, we're not going to be able to do this again. Next time, we might not be so lucky. If Mr. Harrison hadn't come outside when he did, I hate to think what might have happened to us. That guy was a real creep."

Colleen shuddered as she thought of the man, reeking of beer, who'd called her horrible names and told her he was going to show her just how grateful she should be he was paying attention to her. "Yeah, but I still haven't found anyone for Mom."

"What about Mr. Harrison? He's kinda cute."

"Yeah, he's cute for an old guy," she admitted grudgingly. "But he's so do the right thing," she complained. "He's probably one of those boring types who doesn't know how to have a good time. He kept talking about how to raise a daughter, and he called me a kid!" she insisted, bristling anew at the major insult.

"If he didn't know how to have a good time, he wouldn't have been in Rick's," Elaine argued. "It's one of the hottest clubs around."

"Yeah, but he said he was only there because Rick is a friend of his. Not because he was looking to have some fun. Oh, I know he's cute, but someone that straight can't be cool, right? I'll just have to keep looking."

"I'm not sure that was such a hot idea to begin with, Colly. I mean, your mom might want to look for a man on her own. And there's no guarantee that she'll fall in love with someone we find. Oh, why do I bother going along with your crazy ideas?" she wailed. "We always get in trouble. And tonight was too scary for me,"

"I just have to do some more thinking," Colleen said logically. "Look, El, we're entering our senior year, and then I'll be going off to college. I don't want Mom sitting around here all alone with just the shop for company then. She needs a man. She needs a sex life! After all, hard as it is to believe, according to all the magazine articles, she's in her sexual prime. She can't afford to let that important time of life pass her by."

"You'd better not let her hear you say that, or you'll never get to leave the house," Elaine warned.

"She won't. Uh--oh." Colleen looked up as the object of their conversation entered the room.

Chelsea plucked the receiver out of Colleen's hand. "Hello, Elaine. You two were very lucky tonight," she said. "So I'm sure you'll understand why I'll be talking to your mother first thing in the morning. If you're smart, you'll talk to her first."

"She'll kill me!" Elaine wailed.

"Don't worry, we'll make sure you two have adjoining graves, so you can continue to get into trouble in the afterlife. And now it's time to go. Good night, Elaine." Chelsea replaced the receiver and reached down behind the nightstand to pull the cord out of the jack. She carefully wound the cord around the phone and began walking out of the room with the phone in her hands.

"But, Mom!" Colleen protested with all the unearthly anguish of a telephone less teen.

"I suggest you take off that dress before you ruin it completely," Chelsea said sweetly.

Colleen's pained wails followed her down the hall and into her own bedroom. As she pulled off her robe, she glanced down and suddenly remembered the brazen way Mark Harrison had looked at her. If her robe had gaped open, he might have seen her cinnamon silk nightwear gleam against her lightly tanned skin. The thought unaccountably warmed her cheeks.

He was too old for Colleen, she reminded herself, recalling the man who was probably a good six inches taller than her own five foot six. And too young for her, she added firmly. He looked to be in his early thirties; she, on the other hand, was reaching forty sooner than she cared to admit. "And he was way too sure of himself," she muttered, scowling at the unwanted memory of his skintight jeans and buttery leather jacket.

Chelsea crawled into bed and pulled the covers over her head. "If I'm lucky, I'll wake up in the morning and learn this was all a bad dream."

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...