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May I introduce: Larisa Anderson "The Millionaire's Convenient Bride"



I have the pleasure to have Larisa Anderson as a guest today.

Larisa likes nothing better than heading home for a glass of red wine and curling up with her laptop to write a new hot romance. Writing tales of hidden encounters, secrets and those who's lives are lead in the shadows.
 

When did you start writing?
 
I started when I was 15. I wrote a young adult story long hand then started on the computer. I finished that when I was 20 and have since put it in the bottom draw because I can’t even imagine trying to edit it! I started writing romance when I was about 23 after I decided it would be easier, boy was I
wrong.


So what drew you to erotic then?
 
I was writing romance and a crit partner of mine started writing erotic after a crit partner of hers suggested it. I loved what she wrote (that story is now published and has been nominated for awards) and decided that I didn’t like leaving out the good bits and wanted to include all the juicy details.
 
Have you always written Contemporary?

Actually this is my first. Most of my longer works are paranormal. I have written several short contemporaries which you can get on Smashwords, but this is my first full length one.  I was inspired by the Harlequin spice books and thought I would give a millionaire story a go. Turned out to be a good idea I think J

 

Tell us about the book.

Louisa is a successful lawyer with her own firm. But, someone is driving away her clients and leaving her broke. Enter Dominic, her college fling and the heir of one of her biggest clients. Fate intervenes and Louisa finds herself in a tricky position, marry him and he will make all her problems go away.

 

What’s next for you?

I have a paranormal out in November, Taming the Hunted, with Beachwalk Press that I’m really excited about. I am also hoping to get a holiday themed anthology out by Christmas with a few fellow authors.

 
So where can we find, The Millionaire’s Convenient Bride?

You can get it through Amazon

Or on Evernight:

Or jump on my website:

www.larisaanderson.com

Excerpt:
His dark eyes sparkled in the half light. She felt a warmth spread through her body that had nothing to do with the tea she had drunk.  She found it hard to believe that she ever mistrusted him. He was taking care of everything with such efficiency and care, and he was doing it all to help her. She didn’t know why she did it, but she found herself leaning forward and kissing the corner of his mouth.
“Thank you,” she told him, leaning back and using her next move to hide the silence that followed.
She looked up just as his hand reached behind her head and pulled her mouth to his. His lips were warm and soft, moving gently against her mouth. She opened to him and felt him deepen the kiss. He tasted of tea and something that she couldn’t identify. She wanted more. His fingers caressed her neck as he placed last kiss on her swollen lips. He pulled back slightly and rested his forehead against hers, his breath still hot against the sensitive skin of her lips.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice soft and husky. “I shouldn’t have done that. You just looked so…”
The waiter came at that moment with the food they ordered, and they broke apart reluctantly.  She couldn’t look at him. She waited for her pulse to stop thundering around her body. She could still taste him on her lips. The temptation to trace them with her tongue, to taste him again, was overwhelming, and she tried to keep her hands from shaking as she ate. She had to say something to break the silence.
“Thank you for arranging this so quickly,” she said finally as she put her fork back on her plate and moved it to one side.
“It’s the least I can do after putting you in such a position. You have enough to worry about.”
He smirked as he pushed his own plate aside and made his next move on the board. “Check.”
Louisa sighed and relaxed again. She had been afraid that he might want to talk about what just happened. She smiled at the cocky grin on his lips. She had the impression he knew exactly what she was thinking.
“Drat,” he muttered, as she took his queen. He leant over and rested his elbows on his knees, a look of concentration now replacing the grin.
“Dominic, can I ask you something?”
“Mmm,” he mumbled still studying the board.
“When I left all those years ago, why didn’t you call me?”
She hadn’t wanted to ask, but she couldn’t move on with this arrangement knowing that he had just let her go once before, that he hadn’t even tried to get her to come back. She knew it was childish of her. She had been the one to walk out, but he had just let her, not even bothering to call and ask why. She spent so long after their last day together wondering. Her friends tried to take her mind off him. With every blind date Louisa felt more and more that she had lost something. Love sounded so old fashioned, but all she knew was that she felt so calm, so happy in Dominic’s arms. Once she lost that, it had taken her years to convince herself she needed to move on, and she could never forget. Telling herself it wasn’t meant to be helped her get on with her life. Now here he was again, like a ghost, and she couldn’t help but feel betrayed. The door of the café opened allowing a breeze to blow past her carrying the scent of the street, wet and cold. She had to know. Had he thought about her after that night? Or had he seen her as nothing more than another woman in a long line of conquests?
His gaze shot up to meet hers, his eyebrows raised in what was clearly surprise.
“I did call you. Each time I called, your roommate answered and said she would leave a message for you.”
Louisa frowned. She hadn’t received any messages. She asked her roommate Cassie many times over the first few weeks if anyone called for her.
She clicked her tongue against her teeth as she thought. “I didn’t get any messages.”
 “Does it matter now?” 
 
 
 
Coming Soon by Larisa Anderson
Taming the Hunted - November 2013
Untitled Holiday Anthology - Summer 2014

 

This Week's Book Choice - Brenda Maxfield: Ocean Mist Stories

 



 


Blurb for Player (an Ocean Mist short story):

Landing a summer job with the girl of his dreams is seventeen-year-old Andrew Kendrell's fantasy come true. Daniela Rosen is perfect — beautiful, flirty, fun. Unfortunately, she's also taken. Andrew  
can't believe his luck when she's dumped by her boyfriend and turns her sights on him. But his new love has a hidden agenda, and it spirals him toward a life-altering decision. 

 
Blurb for Buried Truth (Ocean Mist Book One):
Nearly a decade has passed, but Mags can’t forget what she did. Now at 17 years old, the shame continues to haunt her, coloring her world. She throws herself into every worthwhile project available, struggling for redemption.
Andrew can have any girl he wants — and he wants them all. He revels in his reputation as player. Or so everyone thinks. Nobody knows what lies beneath the façade.
When Mags takes it upon herself to fix Andrew’s reputation, she doesn’t count on falling for him. Nor is she prepared to have her own carefully reconstructed reputation smeared.
Will either of them trust each other enough to reveal their true selves or their true motivations? Will Mags ever be forgiven for what she did?

 

 

Author Bio:

My passion is writing! What could be more delicious than inventing new characters and seeing where they take you?

I'm a teacher so I spend most of my waking hours with young people. I love chatting with them and hearing their views on love and life. My students are magical, and I am honored to be part of their lives.

I've lived in Honduras, Grand Cayman, and Costa Rica. Presently, I live in Indiana with my husband, Paul. We have two grown children and a precious grandbaby, special delivery from Africa.

When not teaching, I love to hole up in our lake cabin and write -- often with a batch of popcorn nearby. (Oh, and did I mention dark chocolate?)

I enjoy getting to know my readers, so feel free to write me at: contact@brendamaxfield.com . Visit me to learn about all my books and some smart and sassy, clean teen reads: www.brendamaxfield.com  Happy Reading!

 

Buy Links:




 

Contact Links:







 

Excerpt from Player:

I tossed the old newspaper onto the coffee table and tried to keep my eyes off her bedroom door, but I couldn’t help staring. Seven-thirty.

Any minute now.

The morning sun shot through the pine trees in our front yard, making jagged needle-like shadows on the wall behind me. That was where I should concentrate. Might make some great photos.

But no, the bedroom door had my full attention.

I rubbed my hand over the stubble on my chin and waited. With a quiet twist, the doorknob turned. I jumped from the couch and stepped to the bar in the kitchen, feigning interest in my soggy cereal. The door opened and he came out, his gelled hair sticking out in unruly spikes. He tucked his sports shirt into his jeans.

“Oh, Andrew. Hey, man,” he said, grinning.

My stomach turned to steel, and I bit back the smart-mouth retort that fired to my lips.

He looked out the window, and his smile stretched even wider. “Nice day, huh? Well, I’d best be off.”

He moved across the room in three long strides and left the house. My gaze shifted back to the bedroom door. Mom emerged, wiggling her hips to straighten her short skirt.

“Andy, honey, would you make me a bit of decaf?”

“You’re going to be late.”

“I know, but Boss-Man won’t care now, will he?” She patted her poofed-up hair and gave a throaty giggle.

I grabbed a clean mug, filled it with water, and stuck it in the microwave.

“You going in to work today?” she asked, settling on a bar stool.

“Yeah, at nine.”

She reached over and stroked my cheek. “Don’t forget it’s summer. I want you to do some major goofing-off.”

Whose mother says that? None that I knew. “I know, Mom. I will.”

I had my reasons for loving work. Especially now. Granted, it was running a cash register at Sue’s Seaport Shoppe, but there were perks.

“They ever hire a new salesgirl?”

I nodded and quickly averted my eyes. All I needed was for Mom to figure out why I suddenly loved my job.

“Tourists are crawling around everywhere this week.” She ran her hands down her shoulders and hugged herself. “Hmm, maybe I should do some crawling around, too. You know, troll the male tourists.”

The microwave dinged, and I took out the hot water. “Gross. Would you stop talking like that? Gives people the wrong idea.”

Actually, it would give people the right idea, but I didn’t say so.

I grabbed the decaf off the shelf and spooned some granules into her cup. After a swift stir, I handed it to her.

She pursed her lips and blew into the mug. “Pity is, you remind me of your dad. When are you going to start living a little?”

As soon as Daniela Rosen says yes.


Excerpt from Buried Truth:

Longacre High’s annual junior class beach bonfire had once again lived up to everyone’s low expectations. I stepped back from the blistering heat and watched the crackling sparks fly upward like disappearing flashes in the night sky. Beside me, Brianna jabbed a gooey marshmallow stick near my face.

I jumped and knocked into Courtney Phillip’s elbow. “Sorry, Court.”

Being Bri’s friend was like serving combat duty. Duck, hide, defend yourself. You needed to do it all.

“Ooo, sorry, you guys. Mags, did I poke you?” Bri plunged the marshmallow stick into the sandy dirt at my feet.

“No, I’m fine.” Through the shadows, the stick vibrated back and forth like it was alive. “Uh, no one’s going to want to use that. Dirty s’mores aren’t exactly appetizing.”

Her dark eyes widened, and she pulled the stick from the ground. I grabbed it before she flailed it in somebody else’s face. “I’ll take it. No worries.”

I needed an excuse to walk over to the picnic tables anyway — Andrew was over there. Nobody surfed on this stretch of the Pacific Ocean, but Andrew still had the body of a surfer and a smile that made my legs turn to gummy worms. I held the stick point down and drifted over.

Andrew looked up, and his eyes roamed over me. At his half-smile, my knees went weak and my breath quickened. I tossed the stick on top of a wobbly stack of campfire supplies. To prolong my stay, I fussed with some graham crackers and chocolate.

“Not much of a s’more without the marshmallows.”

Andrew’s deep voice rolled easily above the joking and laughing around the fire. I opened my mouth, hoping for a smooth reply, but my voice stuck to the sides of my throat. I slapped some broken squares of chocolate onto the crackers and kept my eyes down.

“Are you getting s’mores ready for the entire junior class?”

One sentence and a question. Even though our school wasn’t huge, Andrew and I had never really talked, had never really become friends. The most I’d ever gotten from him was a hey or a what’s happening — not that I kept score.

I raised my gaze to his and even in the flickering shadows, I saw the mischievous glimmer in his eyes. I stifled a strange impulse to reach up and touch the rugged stubble on his face, but thank God, I kept my hands on the chocolate and crackers.

 
 
 

Tuesday Tales - Wave



¸.•*♫♪¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪¸¸.•*¨*•   It's time for Tuesday  Tales•*¨*•♫♪¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪¸¸.•*¨*•

Oliver is a Baseball player in Melbourne, Tyra is from Perth and has just moved to the Victorian Capital. Their first meeting wasn't as pleasant as Oliver has been used to with females.

Remember - it's a WIP, ie not edited. Please excuse any errors you'll find.

So this week's Tuesday Tales prompt is WAVE.
  
Enjoy - and feel free to leave a comment. And don't forget to click the link below to go back to the main Tuesday Tale site for more stories by very talented authors.
 
  

He shook his head and frowned. “No. But you should’ve seen her eyes this last week,” he said more to himself than to Markus.

Oliver looked after Tyra and the sudden silence with only the sound of the waves of Port Phillip Bay gave him a shiver.

“What did you do to her?” Markus asked suddenly.

He shrugged. “She’s screwed, mate. Coach Becker told me she’s off limits, but man, I tell ya, she’s screwed.” They started walking back towards the pier. “I ran into her the other day at the parking lot and she couldn’t find her keys. They’d been in her pocket and when I pointed at them her whole body jerked.”

Markus raised an eyebrow. “Apparently you have that effect on women.”

Oliver choked back a laugh. “I do, but that wasn’t my touch, that was fear, mate.”

His buddy nodded towards Tyra in the distance and they watched her as she tried to stay as far away as possible from other people.

“I think I can see what you mean.” And then with a pat on Oliver’s shoulder he asked, “How are you going with the girl from the other weekend.”

He shook his head. “Don’t remind me. High maintenance. Had to take the car to my parents to get it fixed and she like constantly called and wanted to be picked up.”

Markus laughed and Oliver noticed how his friend was still staring at Tyra. “You’re quite smitten with her, aren’t you?”

“Nope. Intrigued, but not smitten.”

But Oliver was. And it irked him. She wasn’t his type. His type of woman was drawn to him, was attracted to him and looked sensational. Tyra was different. Yes she looked good and as he stole another quick look, he admitted, yes she had a nice behind as well. Somehow there was something about her that he could not place. Something about her grabbed him. And as he followed Markus to the pub across the road he wondered whether it was because his coach not only asked him to stay away from her, but literally told him she was off limits. Off limits? Not some words he was familiar with. He’d asked why and the simple answer had been She had a hell of a couple of years. But he didn’t get any more details.

Off limits his arse.

“Mate, I need to get something done. Ty will be here in a sec. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

And with that left Markus standing and walked otu. There was something he had to do.

 

 

Click her to read more Tuesday Tales



~~
 

Review: Rebecca Clare "Breaking Point"



Publisher: Penguin Group

ISBN:  9780425240519

My rating: 4/5


While investigating border violence in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Denver journalist Natalie Benoit is caught in a bloody ambush and taken captive. Alone in the hands of ruthless killers, she will need every ounce of courage she possesses to survive.

Betrayed by another operative, Deputy U.S. Marshal Zach McBride has endured a week of torture and interrogation at the hands of a bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartel. Ready to give his life if he must, he remains unbroken—until he hears the cries of an American woman.

Although Natalie is only a voice in the darkness of their shared prison, her plight brings renewed strength to Zach's battered body. With her help, he overpowers their captors, and they flee through the desert toward the border, the attraction between them flaring hotter than the Sonoran sun.

But past loss and tragedy leave both of them reluctant to follow their hearts, even when the passion between them reaches its breaking point. Faced with feelings neither expected, they fight to stay ahead of the danger that hunts them as forces more powerful than they can imagine conspire to destroy them both…
(www.pamelaclare.com)


My thoughts:

Ack - this is a tricky one. I liked it, then came the sex scenes and I was close to not finishing it, but persisted. AND I'm glad I did.

Natalie Benoit, a Denver journalist, gets kidnapped in Mexico and held captive next to Zach McBride, US Marshal, tied up and tortured by the Los Zetas (Mexican Crime ring). They're able to escape and make it back to the US. But even back home they're not safe. Piece by piece they figure out why the kidnapping happened and who is responsible for.

It's a definite page turner, if you turn a blind eye to the 'into-too-much-detail sex scenes. It's fast paced, with a wonderful touch of romance, a great story about friendship and emotions. I really enjoyed the book to the very last sentence.




Release Day for my new book - "New Beginnings"


 
 
 New Beginnings
by Iris Blobel

Please share the good news by "by simply clicking here"
 
Tagline:
To believe in new beginnings is to trust in tomorrow


Blurb:
Twenty-two-year-old Sophie Levesque has been guardian to eight-year-old sister Mia since their mother’s death a few years ago. Luck comes their way when they inherit a small house in Hobart. Problem is, though, they don’t know or have even heard of Clara Bellinger, the testator, and Sophie is afraid it’s all been a mistake.
As Mia settles well into her new school and life in general, Sophie is not only occupied by her search of what connected her to Clara, but also her new studies and the two men, who suddenly have become part of her daily life - Mark O’Connor, the lawyer representing Clara’s estate, and Zach, the hunk from across the road.
 
Links:
 
Other online bookstores still to come.
 
 
 
Excerpt:
Chapter One


Sophie stared at the attorney, waiting for some answers. She and her sister, Mia, had been quietly sitting in Mr. O’Connor’s office for more than half an hour, and had learnt about the details of their inheritance.

"Who?"

"Clara Catherine Bellinger."

"Who is she?" Mia asked.

Startled by the subtle sound of the clock chiming across the road, Sophie’s gaze turned to the window, where she saw the post office building across the road. It looked impressive and old. Surely, an old place like this would have its own ghosts — after all, Hobart was renowned for its lively spirits.

Her younger sister’s gentle touch on her arm reminded her she hadn’t answered the question, yet. "I wouldn’t have a clue." Sophie shrugged and focused her attention back on Mr. O’Connor. Although hearing his words, she still found it hard to comprehend. Here she was in this old office, furnished with heavy antique oak furniture, the curtains in a pretty shade of aubergine, and the carpet beneath her shoes thick and warm in a matching shade.

"I believe she was a distant relative of yours. I’m afraid I don’t have any further details," he replied.

Sophie arched an eyebrow in disbelief. Was he serious? What kind of lawyer was he? Sure, Tasmania was at the very end of Australia, but wouldn’t they have the same education? With a slight shrug of her shoulder, she asked, "Why not?"

He stared at her. "Pardon me?"

Sitting up straight, she repeated, "Why not? Why aren’t there any further details?"

He looked uneasy, but she didn’t care. She needed to know. Sophie had received a call from the lawyer a week earlier, and he’d told her about an

inheritance. He’d given her details on where to pick up tickets to Hobart. Some legality, he had said. She needed to come in and sign documents for the transfer of ownership.

"Ms. Bellinger was one of the partner’s clients. I was only given the details shortly after the client’s death."

Sophie drew in her lips. Her eyes darted over to the window as she took a few deep breaths, inwardly calming herself. Nothing had ever been easy in her life. "Why isn’t the partner here?"

He took a deep breath. "Retired."
As she pondered on that for a moment, she began to think about what life could be like with this inheritance. Different. Better. Another sigh escaped as she returned her gaze to the man behind the desk. "You can’t just leave your assets to just anybody, can you?"


"Miss Lever—"

"Levesque," she helped him.

Their eyes met.

"Are you refusing the bequest?" he asked hesitantly, and she clearly noticed how one of his eyebrows arched upward.

Staring blankly with her mouth open, she could feel the panic running through her veins with every thump of her erratic heartbeat. An uncomfortable silence fell over them for a moment. Then she quickly said, "No. No, of course not. We’re accepting." She turned to look at her younger sister. "We’re actually looking forward to seeing it."

And with one swift movement, he stood and went to a little cupboard near the window and retrieved a bunch of keys. "Would you like me to take you there?"

Still feeling that rush within her, Sophie took Mia’s hand and inclined her head in answer. "Is it far?" Her voice sounded tired. Even to herself. It had been a long day already. She stood and thinking how tired she was, Sophie placed her arm around Mia, who was probably exhausted.

"No, not at all. Five to ten minute drive, I’d say."
"I still don’t understand. Why us?" Sophie asked quietly, meeting his gaze and, for the first time, actually taking in his icy-blue eyes. He was very attractive. Too attractive for a boring lawyer. His face was tanned by wind and sun, and there always seemed to be a hint of a smile on his face. His blond curling hair was cut short. Her gaze fixed back on his mouth. Blushing, she quickly looked away.


The attorney turned to them. He scratched the back of his head. "Ma’am, what I know is that both of you are in the will. What I know is that I was supposed to fly you down here to officially read you the will. What I know is that I’m supposed to hand over the keys to you, and to let you know that your expenses are covered for the next twenty-four months. I did not know Ms. Bellinger, as one of the retired partners wrote up the will. I do not know who she was or in which way she was connected to you. I assumed she was a distant relative."

Sophie took her sister’s hand as she thought about his last comment. Distant relative? Her mother would have at least mentioned her once. She sighed and tried to understand, not the circumstances that had brought her there, but the fact that the attorney just didn’t know. "Oh well, let’s go then."

He pinched his nose with his thumb and index finger and took a deep breath. "Okay. Look, Miss Lever—"

"Levesque," Sophie helped him again. This time somewhat more firmly.

Running his thumb over his eyebrow, he stepped closer, but not so close as to be intimidating. "I’m sorry. It’s been one extraordinary week," he said with his voice just above a whisper. "Once I get back I’ll check with the partners here to see whether anybody knows more about it."
One extraordinary week? His remark irked her. In fact it was downright annoying. Holding Mia even closer to her side, she lifted her finger and pointed at him. "No offence, Mr. O’Connor, but it has been quite a week for us as well, and I was prepared to answer all your questions. I have one simple question, and you don’t know. Wouldn’t there be something in the file?" Sophie was a kind person.


Kindness was her middle name, but she wouldn’t have got that far in life if she hadn’t watched some of those nasty actresses on television and copied them. And the stare. Sophie met his surprised frown dead-on.

He frowned and seemed taken aback by her words. "No offence taken." And then he let out a deep breath. "You’re right. I apologise. As I said, I’ll find out details and let you know."

"Thank you, Mr. O’Connor," she replied as she blew out a breath.

"What about our stuff?" Mia whispered to Sophie.

Sophie moved her head to look down at her sister, but before she had a chance to say anything, he beat her to it. "What stuff?" he asked as he opened the door.

"Considering what we inherited here, we brought all our things," Sophie explained without looking at him.

The attorney stopped in his tracks. "All, as in all your clothes?"

Sophie’s eyes met his. She emitted a small sigh, but tried to keep her composure. It was something she had learnt over the last few years. Standing straight, she corrected him. "All, as in all our belongings."

They stepped outside the building and followed Mr. O’Connor with their suitcases. Two teenage boys walked past them, eager to get the attention of some girls across the road. Aware of the attention, the girls covered their mouths with their hands and broke into giggles. Sophie’s stomach churned. So many things she had missed out on in life. But it was going to be better from now on, she reminded herself, and straightened up as she followed Mr. O’Connor.




This Week's Book Choice - Ruth J. Hartman "Romance at the Royal Menagerie"





Romance at the Royal Menagerie
Ruth J. Harman



Blurb:
Francesca Hartwell adores cats of every kind. Lions, leopards, tigers. And they all love her. Good thing she gets to see them every day, since her father is their caregiver in the Tower of London’s Royal Menagerie. She’d love to find a man with whom she could share her love of animals, but so far, no one has stolen her heart. And there’s the added snag that whoever she marries must not have anything to do with nobility, as her mother had left her and her father for an earl.
 
 John Fairgate has three rules given to him by his uncle. Inherit the title of baron upon his uncle’s death. Give up ornithology. And marry a childhood acquaintance. The first two, John will abide by, but won’t like. But the third, marrying a shrew who makes his skin crawl, he simply cannot do. Meeting Miss Francesca Hartwell at the zoo, however, has given him other ideas for a wife. But she’s not titled or wealthy. How will he be able to convince his uncle that she’s the woman of his heart?
 
 
Author:
 
Ruth J. Hartman spends her days herding cats, and her nights spinning sweet romantic tales that make you smile, giggle or laugh out loud. She, her husband, and their three cats, love to spend time curled up in their recliners watching old Cary Grant movies. Well, the cats, Maxwell, Roxy and Remmie, sit in the people's recliners. Not that the cats couldn't get their own furniture. They just choose to shed on someone else's. You know how selfish those little furry creatures can be.

Ruth, a left-handed, cat-herding, Jeep driving, farmhouse-dwelling romance writer uses her goofy sense of humor as she writes tales of lovable, klutzy women and the men who adore them. Ruth's husband and best friend, Garry, reads her manuscripts, rolls his eyes at her weird story ideas, and loves her in spite of her penchant for insisting all of her books have at least one cat in them. Or twelve. But hey, who's counting?
 
Excerpt:
 
“Pardon me, miss.”

Startled, she whipped around. A man, tall and fit in black breeches and tailcoat, stood in front of her. Wide shoulders filled out his coat. Her glance roved down his arms to soft leather gloves. His dark hair, curly at the ends, was slightly longer than that of most men. “Oh, I beg your pardon, sir. I didn’t see—”

“It is of no concern.” His dark brown eyes sparkled. She widened her own. When had she ever seen actual sparkling eyes? On a man? Her mouth went dry, forcing her to swallow. Warmth spread from her face to her toes. So beautiful. If he were like most men, though, he might not wish to be associated with that term. She bit her lip, holding back a grin. It couldn’t be helped. He was beautiful.

The man raised his dark eyebrows. And smiled. His teeth, white, with the two front ones a tiny bit overlapped, were ensconced in full lips. Francesca pressed the fingers of her left hand to her own lips and nearly swooned. If she could only step closer, reach up a hand and touch his cheek. What would it be like to kiss—?

“Are you… well, miss?”

How embarrassing! Francesca caught her breath and averted her glance down toward her dusty boots. She clenched her hands together. How could she have stared at him like that? With no regard for propriety or good sense? And how long had she stared? What must he think? Her face heated, surely red. “I… pardon me… sir.”

He laughed.

Laughed?

She frowned. And leveled a glare at him. Her face warmed another degree, probably red in color, but she cared not. How dare he? They had never met, and here he was, having fun at her expense. Did he think himself better than she, to scoff at her blunder? She was only…

Wait. But she had been staring. At a stranger. Still, she bristled at the fact that he laughed. Was still laughing, in fact. Francesca placed her hands on her hips and tapped her boot toe on the ground. Raising one eyebrow, she tilted her chin and waited.

The man’s mirth subsided. His cheeks reddened as he cleared his throat. “Please forgive my impertinence, miss. It seems I have offended you. And of that, I had not the slightest intent.” He held out his hand. “Pray accept my apology and permit me to introduce myself. I am Mr. Fairgate.”

Francesca glanced down. Even the man’s hand was handsome, with long, strong fingers. Would his nails be clean and trimmed beneath those expensive gloves? Around the zoo, the workers all had dirt and grit beneath their nails. Everything about Mr. Fairgate was pleasing to the eye. Simply captivating. Would it not be more of a pleasant diversion to engage in conversation with him?

She smiled. “Apology accepted, Mr. Fairgate. I am Miss Hartwell. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.” She held out her hand. He took it and bowed, kissing the air right above it.

Embarrassed, she slipped her hand from his. Who was he that he would do something so out of the ordinary? She was used to common workers, as the only men she spoke to besides her father were laborers at the Tower Menagerie. Men who labored, cleaned filthy animal cages, did the dirtiest of jobs. Rich men visited the Tower, of course, but she did not often speak to them.

This man’s dress marked him as someone with means. Perhaps he was a person of consequence, someone who would contribute to the cause of the zoo? Something which could only help her father retain his position. It might behoove her to be kind to him, since they’d now introduced themselves.

His gesture of kissing her hand had caused uneasiness and discomfort, and yet… Why did her stomach quiver as if filled with tiny fluttering birds flapping their wings to escape? The back of her hand tingled, even though his lips hadn’t actually made contact. But his breath had warmed her skin, radiating up her arm, to her chest, neck, and face, like sunshine on a July day.

Mr. Fairgate’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Now that we’ve been properly introduced, I’ll proceed to the intended purpose for my visit. I must say, I’ve quite been looking forward to seeing what’s new here.”

She swept her arm toward the cages. “If you’re here to see some of the wild cats, perhaps I can be of assistance.”

“Oh?” He raised his eyebrows. “Do you work here?”

“No. My father is chief caretaker of all of the different large cats. So I spend much of my time here. I know quite a bit about them, if you have any questions.” What was she doing? She sounded prideful. He must think her—

“That would be splendid. I have always admired cats, big or small, so any information you can supply would be most appreciated.”

A sigh of relief escaped her lips. Even if he did think her forward, he seemed not to mind. If her father had heard her just now, he would be displeased. Again. Wasn’t he always chiding her for being too outspoken for a woman? Too forward? Too opinionated?

She pointed toward the leopard’s cage. “This is Belle, the Tower’s newest leopard.”

“Such a gorgeous animal. And quite… large. I had not expected a leopard to be such.”

“Yes, she is large. Partly due to expecting a litter.” Her face warmed. Why did I let those words slip from my mouth? While she easily discussed anything having to do with the cats’ care with her father, she was embarrassed to speak of such a delicate matter as giving birth to a stranger.

Especially this stranger.

He lifted the corners of his mouth, forming deep dimples. “Ah. How marvelous. Very soon the world will have several more cats to admire.”

What a wonderful thought. Her father would only grumble that it would cause more work for him. The workers would complain that they would have to make sure the mother had extra shares of food so she could nurse her cubs. But Mr. Fairgate seemed to appreciate them. Their beauty. As she did.

“I agree. Most likely, she’ll have anywhere from one to four in the litter.” She sighed. “Leopard cubs are delightful.”

He tilted his head toward the cage. “I shall have to return after the cubs are here. I should so love to see them.”

“Indeed, once she has them, I daresay her cage will be most popular with visitors for awhile. Perhaps people will take time to watch them instead of the smelly bear around the corner.”

Mr. Fairgate laughed. This time, it bothered Francesca not a whit. On the contrary, it sparked something within her, bringing every sight and sound around her into sharper focus. Brighter. Louder. More vivid. As if she’d never fully experienced life until this moment. Until meeting him. But why?

“A smelly bear. That sounds not in the least appealing. But cats of any sort, I’ve always had a fondness for. As a boy, I’d often play with them when others might ignore them or be cruel. I’d sneak them into the house until found out, and reluctantly return them to the out-of-doors.”

She smiled. How alike they seemed in that manner. “Oh, I agree. More often than not, I would rather have spent time with my house cats than with most people.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “And you are not alone in sneaking your cats inside. Just the thought of mine toiling outside in the wind and rain of winter or in summer’s heat had me in tears many a night.”

“How pleasant it might have been had we been acquainted as children, to have the same fondness for our pets.”

Blushing, Francesca nodded. Never had she met someone as fond of cats as she was. And never had she spoken so with a man, especially not with a man so appealing. She swallowed hard, glancing behind her. But what would Papa say if he saw her right then?

“I’ve been away due to my position as an ornithologist. It has been too long of a time since I’ve visited the zoo. Especially now.” He tilted his head toward the cage. “As the leopard shall soon have her cubs. That is an event I would hate to miss.”

“Perhaps you will be fortunate enough to visit when it… occurs.” References to the physical act of giving birth still refused to slide easily from her lips.

He placed his hand on one of the bars of the cage’s gate and nodded. “You know, I— Ahhh!” He widened his eyes as the gate creaked and opened beneath his grip.

Francesca gasped. Saul must not have fastened the latch when he’d hurried away from Belle! She grabbed for Mr. Fairgate’s arm, but touched only air. He stumbled as the gate creaked open. Tripping, he fell into Belle’s pen, landing with a thud.

Belle crouched low, lashing her long tail. She bared her teeth, growling much as she’d done to Saul. But this time was different. This time Mr. Fairgate was not in a position to run. He had fallen and was now at the mercy of the angry, expectant cat.

Rushing forward into the cage, Francesca positioned herself beside Mr. Fairgate. “Shhh, Belle, it’s fine. No need to be afraid.”

Mr. Fairgate whipped his gaze away from the cat to her. “She’s afraid? I daresay she cannot feel the terror running through her veins as I do in mine!” He trained his gaze back toward Belle and scampered back, his boots scraping through the dirt. But he crashed into the stone wall and could go no further. He swallowed hard, his face draining of color.

Francesca took slow steps, reaching out her hand toward Belle. Keeping her voice barely above a whisper, she spoke to the cat. “There now, Belle. Mr. Fairgate is an acquaintance of mine. He’ll not hurt you. You have no need to put up such a fuss.”

“Miss Hartwell—” Mr. Fairgate’s voice was a hoarse whisper.

Francesca bent down, now on eye level with the cat. “Belle, I know you aren’t feeling well right now, but we must be nice to our visitors.” She peeked over her shoulder.

Mr. Fairgate opened his mouth, but no words escaped. He clamped his teeth together, and swallowed. “Miss Hartwell, what are you doing? You’ll be killed!”

“Nonsense. Belle and I are friends, aren’t we, girl?” Francesca angled back toward the cat. Belle’s whiskers twitched as she yawned, exposing long, sharp teeth. She lowered her head and lay down on her belly, her chin resting on her paws. Francesca reached out her hand, wiggling her fingers. Belle closed her eyes partway and sniffed Francesca’s hand.

“But—” Mr. Fairgate shuffled in the dirt behind her. A small cloud of dust filtered throughout the cage.

Francesca stayed still, letting Belle continue to sniff her hand, fingers and nails. Once finished, Belle turned away and groomed her paws, her rough, pink tongue wetting her spotted fur. The cat, content to see to her own toilette, seemed no longer concerned with people in her midst.

“See? It’s all fine.” Francesca turned around and reached out her hand to Mr. Fairgate, much as she’d done to Belle. He eyed the leopard for several more seconds before peering up at Francesca. Eyes locked on her outstretched hand, he grasped it, allowing her to help him stand. Once he regained his balance and seemed not likely to faint, she released his hand.

Reluctantly.

He followed her from the cage, his hand grazing her shoulder when he stumbled. Heat sparked from his touch. If just touching her shoulder produced such a sensation, what would it be like if he touched her neck or face? Best not to dwell on that.

Francesca tugged the gate closed. That latch is fastened tight this time. If she hadn’t been there and Mr. Fairgate had been alone in the cage…

Taking in huge gulps of air, Mr. Fairgate hurried toward a visitor’s iron bench and collapsed onto the seat. His skin pale, he let out a breath as he ran his hand down his perspiring face. “I can hardly believe what just happened. That leopard nearly… You saved my life! You’re a heroine. To be commended—”

She waved a hand back and forth through the air. “Nonsense. It was… I am just able to—”

He sat forward, his elbows resting on his knees. “We must contact the newspaper. An article should be written extolling your—”

“No!” She glanced around, relieved no one else was about. She’d not meant to shout.

Mr. Fairgate spread his shaking hands. “But why?”

Stepping closer, she sat on the opposite end of the bench. “I don’t want anyone to know.” Angling her glance away from him, she shrugged. “My father could get into trouble if the wrong person found out I’d been in the cage. He could lose his position. Please…”

He touched her arm briefly. “As you wish, Miss Hartwell. I will not speak a word of this to another soul. Although it was the most heroic, amazing feat I have ever personally witnessed. Just know that I am, and will always be, in your debt.”

“I—”

A large group of people entered the Menagerie gate. Several children ran ahead, laughing and squealing, much to the dismay of the frowning adults. Mr. Fairgate, still pale and shaken, stood and tipped his hat.

“I find that I am not feeling the best at present, Miss Hartwell. My experience with the leopard… Please forgive my abrupt departure, but I’m afraid I must go.”

Francesca, concerned for Mr. Fairgate’s health, only had time to nod before the man disappeared into the crowd. She sighed. It would have been so pleasant to have had a longer conversation. Would he ever return? Or would his fright from a leopard’s near-attack keep him away?


This Week's Book Choice - J.F. Jenkins "Displaced"

 

Displaced
by J.F. Jenkins
 
 
Blurb: 
Chevelle Donahue thought going into work would be just like any other boring day at the mall. Sure, there was her annoying co-worker Wicken Sanders, and a promotional visit from teen heartthrob Timber Hudson, to watch and keep her entertained. But who was she kidding? Working retail was lame no matter what happened.

A terrorist attack changes everything - an attack from aliens of all things. The patrons are given two options: comply or else. Complying means giving in to a new set of rules and changing her entire life. "Or else" means she has no chance of going home again.

She must figure out the truth behind why the aliens are holding everyone hostage. In doing so, she risks her chance at freedom - but by the time she learns what's really happening, she might not want it.
 
Excerpt:
I want to say it’s a Thursday, and the middle of January. I’m not sure exactly because I haven’t seen a calendar since the end of October. The one we kept in the apartment ran out, and all of the others have been destroyed in the effort to make sure all of us poor, inferior humans submit to the ways of the Achlivan. We were able to draw one on our bathroom wall. It’s small, but it does the job.
It took some time, but I think I’m finally able to accurately document everything that’s happened in the past three months. For a while, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be ready. I’ve seen things I wish I could forget, and as much as I want to just go along with the way of these aliens, I can’t.
Letting go of my past life is not easy, and I’m terrified of forgetting it. Someday, the human race will be free from captivity, and when that day comes, they’ll need to know what happened and how life used to be. They’ll need to know that our species was once part of a thriving civilization.
That’s why I’m writing this.
I remember the day the Achlivans came vividly. It was warm, which was something to cherish in late October in Minnesota. The weather there was always so temperamental, like Mother Nature had PMS. One day it’d be gorgeous, and the next there would be three feet of snow. It didn’t matter if it was the middle of July. That day, I want to say it was around sixty degrees. Jeans and a sweatshirt kind of weather.
Like most days before I had to open at work, I didn’t sleep the best the night before. Something about the anticipation of having to wake up with my alarm clock always messed with my ability to relax. I had the same problem during school too. Any time I had to wake up before my body actually wanted to messed with my head. I don’t think I need to elaborate how going to bed at two in the morning on a regular basis didn’t make for waking up at a time before eleven often. It all comes with being a night owl. At school, I had the ability to schedule my classes around that. Work on the other hand left me at the mercy of my manager. Because I needed money – badly – opening was something I had to suck up and deal with.
The store opened at ten, so it wasn’t like I had to get up at some ungodly hour in the morning or anything. Still, the morning of the attack, I was having a hard time wanting to get out of bed. I groaned several times and opted out of taking a shower just for the extra half an hour of sleep.
My alarm went off on my cell phone one last time. If I hit the snooze button and stayed in bed, I’d be on the chopping block at work. The fifty cents over minimum wage that I got an hour was almost enough for me to say screw it all and stay in bed. Unfortunately, it was still more money than I had in my bank account.
As if he could read my mind, my chihuahua, Burrito, jumped up onto my chest and started to lick my face until I couldn’t breathe. Dog breath filled my nostrils, slobber covered my mouth and nose, and tiny paws scratched my neck and shoulders.
“Ugh, okay, I’m awake, I’m awake!” I carefully picked Burrito up and put him next to me. Then I reluctantly got out of my warm, cozy bed. Getting dressed took all of five minutes since I threw on my jeans from the day before which were still laying on the floor, my navy Toy Tech T-shirt that I needed for work, the first pair of socks and necessary undergarments I could find in my top dresser drawer, and my amazingly comfortable work shoes. All that was left to do was pull my long, straight, boring, dark hair back into a ponytail.
I was halfway up the stairs when my Mom called down to me. “Chevelle, if you don’t get up here soon you’re going to be late! Breakfast is ready for you!”
“I’m right here, relax,” I said, meeting her at the top of the steps. “You cooked? Wait, of course you cooked. You’re always cooking.”
“Someone has to make sure you’re eating right. I figured you’d be thanking me so you didn’t have to eat all of that cafeteria college food.” Mom threw up her hands and shook her head. “All right honey, I can take a hint. You’re an adult now and you don’t need me to baby you.”
I gave her a big hug. “Baby me all you want. I just don’t have a lot of time to eat a big breakfast. Like you said, I’m going to be late. Besides, do the words freshmen fifteen mean anything to you?”
She laughed. “If you’ve gained fifteen pounds already, you’re hiding it well.”
Truth was, I’d gained five pounds. Pants should not be such a chore to get on. Would my mother have understood this? Over time, but not until I lost control over my weight gain and it became painfully obvious it was there. I didn’t want things to get that bad and, like most American teenage girls, I believed I already needed to lose ten pounds as it was just to feel good about myself.
Ignoring her comment, I took a cold toaster pastry from out of the box and rushed to grab my purse and hoodie from school. “I’ll be back for dinner! Love you!” I called out before I headed out the door.
Those were the last words I spoke to my mother.


Link:
http://www.amazon.com/Displaced-The-Achlivan-Cycle-ebook/dp/B00DTLOZ30