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06
March
2015

Stolen Hearts


He ripped her life apart. She’s dreamed of doing the same to him ever since.

Six years after leaving town, Charlotte Heart returns to Texas to face the man who destroyed her family. When she finds herself stranded with him in a dusty little antique shop, she finally has the chance for retribution. But it’s not only anger that boils in her veins.

Lucas Prescott is still haunted by the loss of his best friend—a death he caused. Knowing he will never deserve happiness, he is content with his self-imposed solitude. When a winter storm brings a feisty, curly-haired reminder from the past, Charlotte re-ignites a desire that not even the weather can cool.

Sparks explode between the two, exposing fragile hearts and dark secrets that will either heal their wounds or destroy them both.

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22
February
2015

The Widow’s Keeper

No matter how fast or far you run, your past will follow…

Three years have passed, and Ally’s memories of her kidnapping and torture still haunt her. Determined to keep her demons at bay, David refuses to leave her side.

Until…

The lies woven to protect come unraveled. Ally has no choice but to return to the land that once imprisoned her. This time, instead of the sociopath who tormented her years ago, she faces his angry brother. A brother whose thirst for vengeance threatens to destroy everything and everyone she holds dear.

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10
December
2014

Taking The Plunge

Since graduating high school, Eve Cambridge has dropped ten dress sizes, became an RN, and kicked her jerk of a boyfriend to the curb – all on her own. So when her still-hot high school crush, Pete, shows up in her life, she does what any normal self-reliant woman would do — pepper spray him.

Peter Russo has tried to make the best of a career he never planned for since inheriting the family plumbing business. He’s made his share of mistakes, but he’s worked hard to learn from them. Now that he’s run into Eve, he’s not so sure he isn’t making another one. After all, she did almost blind him.

When logic and emotion don’t agree, which path should they follow?

Excerpt

A woman stood about ten feet down the hall. Leaning against the threshold of one of the doors, she stared into a room, oblivious to his presence. Rays of the morning sun bathed her in a hue of gold.
Pete sucked in a breath. She looked like an angel. Tall and lean with just the right amount of curves, she wore light blue scrubs with blue cartoon characters all over her shirt. Her fiery-red hair was tied back in a ponytail with a few loose strands of waves against her cheek.
Evie.
When her full red lips stretched into a smile, the muscles in his face tugged to do the same.
What made her grin like that?
He moved closer for a better view.
A few steps later, the red-headed beauty turned to him. His ability to breathe ceased the minute her blue eyes fixed on him.
Before he could say hello, she raised her arm and sprayed him.
Fuck!
The peppered air felt like smoldering granules of sand shoved into his eyes, mouth and nose–all at once. He dropped the bat, covered his face, coughing and yelling as the burning heat soared through his eyelids and sinuses.
“I’m the plumber. Dan sent me,” he managed to say through his coughing fit.
Keys clattered against the wood floors. “Oh my God! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He was too busy coughing up his lungs to accept the apology. Hands grabbed his shoulder, steadying him. Unable to open his eyes, he let her guide him through the hall.
When he tried to scrape the fire away from his skin, she pulled his hands back and planted them on a cold surface. “Don’t touch anything, it’ll only make it worse.”
He grunted and clenched the countertop. Tears and snot streamed down his face.
“I’m going to wash it off with water. Okay?”
At this point, Pete wouldn’t have cared if she poured acid on his head as long as it made the inferno stop. Although in the depths of hell, he nodded through his coughing fit and fought the urge to rip his eyelids off his face.
Gentle hands began to wash the sting away, while a soft voice whispered to him calmly. It took a long while for the pain to ebb enough so he could open his eyes without cursing.
Pete sat on the toilet and wiped his face with the towel she handed him. He cleared his sore throat. “Thank you,”
Evie grabbed his towel and dried her hands. “For what? Almost blinding you?”
He eyed the strands of her hair hanging in loose curls against her tanned cheeks and itched to tuck them behind her ears. But after the last twenty minutes of misery, thought better of it.
As if reading his thoughts, her cheeks flushed. She pushed the loose locks out of her face and stared at her toes. Damn she looked cute.
“I’m sorry I sprayed you.”
Pete chuckled. “I showed up unannounced, waving a baseball bat. I think I kind of deserved it.”
When Evie smiled, something fluttered in his stomach.
She bit her lip, obviously to keep from laughing. “Nice bat, by the way.”
How the hell had he not met her until now?
Before he got the chance to tell her just how nice his bat was, his butt started vibrating.
Pete reached into his back pocket, pulled out the cell and looked at the screen. “Your uncle.”
Her eyes widened. “Crap. He thinks I already left. Don’t tell him I’m here.” She turned and headed for the hall.
“Hold up.” Pete grabbed her arm with one hand while hitting the ignore button on the cell with the other. “Have dinner with me and I won’t.” He decided to play his cards and omit the part about how her uncle already knew she was still at the house.
She stared at the wrist he currently possessed. “You know, I still have the pepper spray.”
The cell buzzed a second time. Pete shrugged and kept a grip on her wrist. “I’ll take my chances.”

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 Taking The Plunge

Inspiration for Taking the Plunge

There’s a Hole in the World – by The Eagles

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08
December
2014

The Second Wife

Married psychologist Alisha Dimarchi is abducted by an obsessed client, Sayiid Ifraiin, and imprisoned in his secure Pakistani compound for over two years. After spending the last two years mourning the disappearance of his wife, David Dimarchi finally has the information he needs to find her. Will he be able to reach her in time? And if he does, will she still want him?

Excerpt

THE SECOND WIFE (CHAPTER 2)
Chapter 2: An hour with Tom
Twenty-five months, three weeks, and two days later
***David***

Dave released a breath as he mindlessly flipped through a sports magazine. It was almost eight in the morning. His tired ass should be home in bed right now, not sitting in the waiting room of a counseling center. But, since he kept walking into the kitchen and finding his wife, here he was. It wouldn’t be so bad, except for the fact that she wasn’t really there, and hadn’t been for over two years. His grip on the glossy paper tightened.
The vision was always the same. Seated at the breakfast table, Ally reads through one of her psych magazines. Her head propped on one elbow, a curtain of black hair caresses the soft skin of her arm. When she notices him, her chin tilts up and their eyes lock. Soon those kissably perfect corners form at the edges of her lips when she smiles, taking his breath away each time.
And then things get all sorts of fucked up. Her mouth moves, but no sounds come out. Typically, that was when reality hit.
She was gone and he was losing his mind.
Each time, it was a punch to his gut, knocking every ounce of air out of him.
God, I miss her.
Her voice.
Her touch.
Everything.
No matter how hard he tried to block the memories, she haunted him. And this was why his messed up ass was at the counseling center.
Dave leaned against the sofa and sucked in a breath. His mind raced at all the possible topics that might come up during the session. None of which were ones he wanted to discuss.
Like the dreams he kept having about her. Some of them so intense he’d jump out of bed covered in sweat, terrified Ally needed him. Then there were the others. The erotic ones where he woke up hard and hungry for her.
What would the good doctor do with that screwed up piece of information? Shouldn’t those dreams – those aches – be gone by now anyway? The sad reality was he didn’t know if he really wanted them to be.
And what about the real reason he closed his eyes when he and Kate had sex? The heat of shame burned his face.
I don’t need to pay someone to tell me I’m a piece of shit.
His magazine slid to the table and the leather couch creaked when he rose, heading for the escape.
“David?”
Damn.
With the doorknob partially turned, he froze and for a moment considered pretending his name was Peter or Paul – anybody else. Instead, he released the knob and faced his fear.
A gray-haired gentleman with a warm smile and gentle eyes stood across the room. He was shorter than Dave, but being six-foot-three, most people were.
“I’m Tom.” He approached, hand extended.
“Hi, Tom.”
He waved to the other side of the door. “Come in.”
With a nod Dave followed him into a back office.
The walls were painted soft green and the room furnished with a leather sofa facing a matching arm chair, very similar to the way Ally’s once looked. The resemblance was comforting.
Dave sat in the armchair and wondered if the therapist was analyzing him for what seat he picked. As if reading his thoughts, Tom smiled and positioned himself on the sofa. “So, David, what brings you here today?”
“You were referred to me.”
Tom shot him a curious glance. “Who can I thank for the referral?”
“Alisha Dimarchi.”
As Tom mouthed her name, Dave sucked in a nervous breath. “You might have heard of her. She was a psychologist here in the city. She disappeared a couple years ago.”
He nodded. “Yes, I remember.”
“She had a list of therapists she referred to and your name was on the top.”
“I see. You have the same last name. How are you related?”
She was my life.
“She was my wife.”
Concern flashed across Tom’s face, lowering Dave’s guard an inch.
“I’m sorry for your loss. How long has it been?”
Twenty-five months, three weeks, and two days.
“Over two years. Do you remember her?”
“I had the pleasure of sitting in on some of her supervision groups. Dr. Dimarchi was an excellent therapist.” The old man fixed his gaze on Dave. “I can’t imagine how painful that must have been for you.”
The concern etched all over his face caused a familiar burn at the back of Dave’s eyes. He focused on the stash of bottled water and tissue box on the end table.
Fuck. A simple statement and I’m already eyeng the Kleenex.
“Is that why you’re here, David?”
An image of Kate, blond, hazel eyed, and so different from his wife, popped into his mind. An impulsive firecracker, she was four inches shorter and three years younger than his Ally.
“No. Kate asked me to come.”
“Kate?”
“My girlfriend. We’ve been together about six months. She says there are things I need to work through, unresolved stuff from my past that’s affecting our relationship.”
“I see.” He pulled out a thick packet of papers from his file. “I assume, she’s the one who filled out your online forms.”
A smile crept across Dave’s face. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Tom chuckled. “Most of my clients answer the questions in first person.” He shifted through the forms.” Let’s see…she put your reason for counseling as ‘to work on his current relationship and unresolved grief issues. Here.”
Dave took the stack, immediately dropping it to the floor beside him.
“So, do you need counseling?”
No. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees and provided the appropriate answer. “I do.”
“Then tell me what brings you into counseling?”
“I need to get over losing my wife and focus on my future. On Kate. She’s part of my life now and I need her.”
“You need her?”
He shrugged. “She’s been good for me.”
“I see. Do you mind if we focus on Alisha today?”
Dave leaned back and squeezed the armrest. Might as well get it over with. “What do you want to know?”
“As much as you’re comfortable sharing. This is your session.”
After a couple gulps of air, he started at the beginning. “I met her in Denver, my senior year of college.”
The onslaught of memories transported him to a smoky room filled with couples dancing and making out as strobe lights flashed and music blared. He and his roommates were downing shots when Ally and her friends walked in the door.
The blue dress she wore molded to every one of her curves and where it stopped, long legs took over. His fingers had twitched to trace her slender tanned neck up to her perfectly oval face. When her enormous brown eyes, outlined by the thickest, longest lashes known to man fell on him, he dropped his drink.
“David?”
Tom’s voice pulled him out of this trance. Embarrassed, Dave cleared his throat, and focused on the man seated across from him.
“You were about to tell me how you two met?”
“Sorry. We met at a frat party. It was her freshman year and my senior year. It took a lot of chasing and persuading, but I got the girl.” A proud smile tugged at his lips.
“We dated for a year, and then I went to St. Louis for medical school. She stayed in Denver. Three months after classes started, I proposed. By the end of her second year, we were married and she’d transferred to St. Louis U.”
Images of a breathtakingly beautiful Ally, in white, walking down the aisle, intensified the ache in his chest. “My heart went zero to sixty in a split second when she entered the sanctuary. I remember thinking, ‘How the hell did you get so lucky?’”
“How old were you when you married?”
“Young. I was twenty-four. She was twenty. Too young.”
“Do you regret it?”
“Not for a second.” Dave shifted in his seat as he considered omitting the next part, at this point what difference did it make? “Four years in, our marriage fell apart. I wasn’t around much, when I was, I didn’t have time for her, and it got worse when I started residency. She got tired of waiting and left me.”
“How did that impact you?”
He shrugged, unsure of how to answer. Of course there was an impact, but it didn’t compare to losing her two years ago. Of the two, he’d go back to when she walked out in a heartbeat. Yeah, she left, but he knew she was alive and safe.
“It was hard. She moved to Philadelphia with her sister and said she wasn’t coming home.”
Tom gave him an encouraging nod.
Dave took a breath. “So, I went into individual counseling to fix myself, my marriage.”
“Did counseling help your marriage?”
“Saved it, actually. I applied and got into a Surgical Fellowship program here in Philly, and we made it work.” His voice trailed off. “Things were perfect until she disappeared two years ago.”
Dave’s throat tightened at the thought of when everything in his life went to hell. He grabbed a bottle of water from the end table and took a gulp. “Before Kate came along, it was a lonely life. One I don’t want to live anymore. She’s my world now and I’m here to work out my issues with her before it falls apart, too.”
Tom nodded and leaned in. “Sometimes to fix our present, we need to work out our past.”
Ally used to say crap like that to me all the time.
“My past is painful. It changed me. It’s not something I know how to work on.”
And hurts like hell.
“Well, from what you’ve told me, therapy worked before because you actively sought it. First and foremost, you need to decide if this therapeutic relationship is something you want for you, not Kate.”
Did he want counseling? No. But, if he didn’t come, Kate threatened to walk. The last thing he wanted was to be alone again.
He eyed the therapist. There was something calming about Tom. Kinda reminded him of his dad. Funny. After working hard to forget Ally and their life together, in a few short minutes, this stranger had forced those doors open. If she was here, she would be clapping her hands like a stupid seal right now. “I’m willing to give it a try.”
“Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?”
No.
He took another swig of water. “She disappeared two years ago. No one’s heard or seen her since.”
“How have you survived her disappearance?”
Dave fiddled with the lid of the bottle and focused on the paisley area rug. “It’s been hard. Really hard.” His voice sounded hoarse even to his own ears.
It had been a while since he’d talked about the disappearance and opening Pandora’s Box hurt like hell, yet for some reason, he found himself prying the lid, wanting to let the demons out.
“She was beautiful, and God, I loved her. She used to tell me to take her off the pedestal. That I’d wake up one day and be disappointed. After eight years of marriage, I still had it bad for her. How many husbands can say that?”
Tom nodded, encouragingly.
“I was so proud she was mine. She was amazing in every way…as a wife, a friend – smart, funny, the whole package, and there was nowhere on earth I’d rather be than with her.”
He blinked back the emotion and fast forwarded to the morning two years ago. “She disappeared on March twenty-third. I got home to an empty apartment about four-thirty that morning from being on call. At first I thought she’d left me again, but that didn’t make any sense. So I made some phone calls, then drove to her office. Her Lexus, purse, and keys – even her shoes – were in the parking lot. But no Ally.”
As many times as the story had been shared, he should be able to recite it automatically, but today was different. His voice cracked and the waterworks he thought were over tried to push to the surface. Dave slammed his lids shut and pushed the words through. “I called the police. The rest is history.”
“How have you held up through this?”
Dave rubbed the wetness away and continued. “No words. I keep thinking if I’d been home that night this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Do you believe you could have prevented it?”
“No, probably not. But I let her down. Didn’t protect her.”
He accepted the Kleenex Tom handed and wiped his face dry. His head lowered and voice soft, he recounted his hell. “They investigated her clients; everyone had an alibi. People came in and out of the house for weeks. The media plastered information everywhere. Calls poured in about bodies, and each time, I wished I was dead. I couldn’t sleep. Eat. Breathe. My life was gone. Two years later, here we are, no news, no leads, nothing. She vanished from the world.”
Emotion sat heavy on his chest, choking him and making it impossible to speak. After an eternity of silence, Tom’s firm hand gripped his.
“I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for you.”
Still is.
Dave nodded and cleared his throat. “The first year, I did everything I could. Kept in touch with the police, FBI, private investigators, psychics…everything. I yelled, threatened, bribed, but no one could find her. How can someone just disappear? Finally, her family sat me down, told me to stop doing this to myself, and go to work. So I did.”
The hard part finally over, he stretched and checked the time on his cell.
Only twelve minutes left.
“Were you angry?”
He shook his head and laughed. “Still am. But I have to move on for my own sanity. I was out of money, and needed to do something more productive with my life. Now, work is my distraction. Except even there, I can’t get her out of my mind. She’s always right there at the edge of my thoughts. The only time I don’t think about her is when I’m in surgery.”
“Tell me how Kate fits into that.”
With the conversation away from Ally, Dave let out a breath. “Kate’s a nurse at my hospital. She’s twenty-five and funny as hell. She walked up one day and asked me out.”
“Do you think you love her?”
He shrugged. “I could. She loves me and wants to tell people we’re together. Even talks about moving in. But I can’t. I’m not ready.”
“Which part are you not ready for?”
“Any of it.”
“Why?”
The leather chair cracked when Dave shifted in his seat. Tom wanted answers to things he had never allowed himself to say out loud. This was uncharted territory, and yet here he was swimming for shore.
“I’m ninety percent sure she’s dead.” He hesitated about speaking the rest but shook his head and took a sip. The doctor might as well know just how fucked up his client was. “There’s that ten percent. What if I move out of our apartment or get a new number, and one day she escapes from whatever hell she’s in and comes for me?”
“So you want to keep everything the same in case Alisha returns?”
He cringed at how bad that sounded. “And I like our home. If I’m not working, that’s where I am. It’s unrealistic, I know. But I can’t shake the fantasy. I haven’t told Kate, and don’t plan to. She’d run. I don’t want that. I need her.”
“And if Alisha came home, what would you do?”
Dave closed his eyes, imagining the same scene he’d envisioned for over two years. The warmth, the smell, the peace of her in his arms. “I’d hold her and never let her go.”
“And Kate?”
Instantly the warmth drained, chilling him. “I’d have to hurt Kate. But it won’t happen, and these are all hypotheticals. The reality is Ally’s dead. She’s my past.”
“Can you give Kate a future while holding on to the hope that Alisha might come back?”
A valid point – one for which Dave had no response. He grinned. “I guess that’s why she sent me to you, Doc.”
After scheduling another appointment, Dave sat in his car in the parking lot. What if she did come home? The crater of a hole her disappearance left in his chest throbbed.
From the glove compartment, he pulled out the owner’s manual and flipped through the pages until he found her.
A smiling Ally stared back and his eyes watered. Sometimes, after long shifts at the hospital, this was how he found his solace.
How the hell am I supposed to get over you?

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KP_TheSecondWife_400x600

The Second Wife Trailer

 

Inspiration for The Second Wife

Phillip Phillips – by Gone Gone Gone

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09
November
2014

Blind Love

At twenty nine, psychologist Lauren Baxter has a successful counseling practice. Since becoming legally blind at fifteen, her world has been a blurry mess of colors. Her greatest fear is also her ultimate reality. One day that fuzzy realm will forever turn black. Refusing to let blindness define her, she builds a life for herself with her dog, Jack Sparrow, and best friend, Sunny Daye.

Lauren has no tolerance for pity or for Superman swooshing down and rescuing her. She is capable of saving herself just fine. That is until Gabe, the great smelling, former Marine, from Texas moves in next door. Her attraction to him is immediate and, unfortunately for her, mutual.

When Lauren’s ex-husband shows up begging for another chance, she is confused and fragile. She also finds herself in the arms of her secretive neighbor. Little does she realize that her decision for a steamy roll in the hay with Gabe will suck her into his mysterious past, thrust her ex-husband back into her life, put her in the middle of a murder investigation, and place her life in danger.

Gabriel Briggs has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Short term flings are all he can afford for more reasons than one – reasons he never plans to share. Until he moves in next door to the beautiful, green eyed, feisty, Lauren. One night with her and he’s reconsidering promises he made almost a decade ago. When a woman from his past is murdered, his world is turned upside down. Secrets are revealed and innocent lives are threatened.
Can Gabe win Lauren’s love and save her life before it’s too late?

Excerpt

Chapter 1: Jack

Something hard slammed against the other side of Lauren’s office wall during her phone session. She tried to keep her voice calm and soothing as she spoke into the receiver of her speakerphone. “So you feel like your husband isn’t as attentive to your needs as he used to be?”

“Yes,” the woman whimpered. “I think he’s having an affair.” In a matter of seconds, the woman’s sniffles turned into a full-fledged sob.

“Elise…” Before Lauren could finish her sentence, the pounding started again and continued with such force the framed diploma above the sofa crashed to the floor.

Stunned, she leapt out of her seat and placed her hand on the wall, feeling it vibrate from the assault.

What the hell?

Switching the speaker off, she cradled the cordless phone next to her ear and left the office. Lauren scrambled downstairs, shutting herself into the kitchen closet—the spot farthest from the noise. “Elise, you mentioned earlier this is the busiest time…” As the hammering became louder and more incessant, Lauren punched the pantry door and tried to keep her voice tranquil and comforting. “…of the year for him at work.”

The rest of the counseling session with Elise progressed much the same. Lauren prayed the anxious woman on the phone wouldn’t realize how close her therapist was to exploding. By the time the woman hung up, Lauren wanted to take the damn hammer and bang it against Mr. Fix-it’s head.

But first, she needed to get out of her pajamas.

One of the perks of doing phone-counseling sessions out of her home: callers had no idea if their therapist wore fuzzy pajamas or a business suit. Stomping upstairs to her bedroom, she unzipped her oversized flannel onesie, created especially for women not interested in finding a man, and tossed it on the bed. Goose bumps pebbled her skin the second she peeled off the furry layer.

She pulled open the drawers of the dresser behind her and reached for a shirt and pair of jeans. In fifteen minutes, her next client would call. Plenty of time to tell the dumb neighbor, who had killed her wardrobe plans for the day and was ruining her career, what he could do with his stupid tool.

In the bathroom, she grabbed the toothpaste and squirted some into her mouth. After swishing the wintergreen-flavored gel around her teeth for a few seconds, she grabbed her toothbrush. Lauren’s hand moved rhythmically with the thumping of the hammer.

Another perk of working on the phone all day: no one smelled your breath. After her teeth had been cleaned and probably scrubbed free of all enamel, she began the tedious process of detangling her brown shoulder-length hair.

She would have liked to check out her appearance in the mirror but that was impossible. One of the drawbacks of being blind.

Well, mostly blind.

Lauren’s emerald-green eyes worked; everything was just blurred. She saw colors, lights, even silhouettes of people—nothing more. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of six, she had lost ninety percent of her vision by her fifteenth birthday. The timing sucked, considering her friends were learning how to drive while she learned how to walk around the house without bumping into things.

In typical teenage manner, she pitched a fit and hated life. Until she got tired of feeling sorry for herself. Fourteen years later, Lauren had a Ph.D. and a thriving private practice doing phone counseling with people across the country. All of which she couldn’t have accomplished without the help of her very controlling parents and her eccentric best friend, Sunshine Daye.

Speaking of Sunny, if she had actually come into work today, she could have handled the noise pollution. Lauren ran her fingers through her hair to make sure she caught all the knots before leaving the bathroom. Sunny’s parents were high on pot when they named her. In the middle of his drug-induced festivities honoring her birth, her father decided Sunshine was the perfect accompaniment to Daye. As soon as she could tie her shoelaces, Sunny started showing up next door at Lauren’s house. Now, decades later, nothing had changed. More than her best friend, she worked as Lauren’s personal assistant, and was a successful erotica author—a funny career choice for a woman whom Lauren would always envision as the shy teenage girl with braces and a blonde ponytail.

Lauren rolled her shoulders back, tilted her chin, and spoke with an air of confidence. “I don’t need Sunny. I can take Mr. Handyman on myself.”

Her chocolate German shepherd, Jack Sparrow, nudged her leg as soon as she approached the front door. After rubbing his neck, she grabbed hold of his harness and stepped outside.

A beautiful mix of greens and blues touched with red swirled around her. After several blinks, her eyes adjusted to the brightness. She pointed in the direction of the neighboring townhome.

“Jack, Mrs. Rourke’s door.” A pang of guilt ran through her. She and her former neighbor had been close until Lauren placed her in a nursing home. It was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, but when an eighty-five-year-old woman sat in one’s kitchen butt naked talking about the weather, it left few options.

Jack tried to warn her but she ignored him and sent the poor dog to the backyard. She cringed at the memory of Mrs. Rourke’s bare skin under her hands when she hugged the old woman; it was one she wouldn’t soon forget. Since the episode, Lauren made a concerted effort to pay better attention to her guide dog’s whimpers and barks.

Together they made their way across the lawn. Once at the door, Jack sat down down and waited for her to do the rest. Taking a deep gulp of fresh Denver air, she held it for a few seconds before slowly releasing.

Calm and patient.

That’s the person I am and that’s the person he’ll see.

Lauren felt the wall for the doorbell and pressed the plastic control. A few dozen doorbell presses later, realization hit. If he’s banging away in there, how’s he going to hear the doorbell? She slammed her knuckles into the wood for what seemed like an eternity but still no response.

Okay, time for Plan B. Since her home connected to the demolition man’s, they shared a common backyard.

“Jack. Home.”

He rose, maneuvering them back. Together, they marched into their townhouse, through the living room, and out the backdoor. Jack guided them across the lawn, straight to the offender’s patio. She banged her knuckles against the glass pane. After they were raw and felt like they were on fire, his hammering stopped. A few minutes later, she heard the sound of plastic blinds shifting. Lauren plastered on her biggest smile and waved. Metal slid against wood and the door opened.

The faint smell of sandalwood mixed with cedar filled her lungs. It was the same scent she’d gotten whiffs of the past four weeks since he’d moved in.

“Can I help you?” His soft Southern drawl flowed through her skin, warming her face. The image of a shirtless man in a cowboy hat and jeans leaning against the doorjamb popped into her head. For a moment, she forgot why she’d come.

“Umm, hi, I’m Lauren.”

“Hello, Lauren.” The amusement in his voice pulled her out of her cowboy fantasy.

Jack nudged her leg, reminding her they were there on business, not to drool. “I live in the townhouse next to yours.”

“I see you two jogging the park in the evenings.” From the angle of his voice, he sounded about six feet tall. She could hear the smile in his words. When he shifted his weight, the doorjamb squeaked. She wondered if his shoulder leaned against it, like the half-naked cowboy in her head.

Thank God I changed out of my onesie.

“They have some nice jogging trails.” Her voice came out husky and she caught herself playing with her hair when she responded.

What the hell?

Lauren dropped her arm and grabbed a fistful of her jeans to curb her need to twirl, flick or touch her hair—or him for that matter.

“I maht have to try them out.”

Maht? Yup, definitely a country boy. Images of tight jeans and cowboy hats filled her thoughts.

He cleared his throat. “Would you like to come in?”

Her heart thudded and her palms moistened at the prospect.

Yes…

“No, I wanted to ask a favor.”

“A favor?” The evil man continued his flirty tone, successfully melting her organs.

“What kind of…favor?” The way he said the word had her brain exploring all the inappropriate things he could do with her—for her.

Stop it! You are stronger than this. Focus.

Lauren cleared her throat for the hundredth time. “I work from home and spend most of the day on the phone with clients.”

He chuckled. “Ahh. So putting in crown molding isn’t helpful, is it?”

Her stomach fluttered.

Speechless, she smiled and shook her head.

“Well, what time are you finished with work?”

“Five, tonight. But it varies.”

“So if I work on the molding after five…”

“I’ll be very grateful,” Lauren finished.

“How about giving me your number so next time I have a project I can find out your schedule before I start?”

Wait? Was that a line or sarcasm? He can’t be hitting on me.

No. It made total sense he needed her number. After all, sometimes she did have evening clients. “Okay, you want to get a pen?”

“I’ll remember.”

Lauren’s face heated.

Yup, he’s flirting.

She wiped her clammy palm on Jack’s back and rattled off the digits.

“I’m Gabe, by the way.”

“Hi, Gabe, and thank you.” She turned to rush away before she agreed to more than her phone number.

“Lauren?”

Damn.

“Since you’re done with work at five, how would you like to go to dinner with me tonight?”

Lauren had relationship issues. They started after her ex-husband cheated on her.

Hence the reason she preferred to keep people with dangling parts at a distance.

Mechanically, she spouted out the same answer she’d used for years. “Sorry, I’m dating someone.”

“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen any men come over. So I assumed…”

While her feet stayed rooted, her brain buzzed in search of a response. Very rarely had individuals with said parts challenged her “I’m not available” line. “Well, Jack travels a lot on business,” she shot back.

“Tell your boyfriend it’s just dinner. My way of apologizing for ruining your workday. I’ll bet Jack wouldn’t mind.”

Jack Sparrow let out a soft whine at the sound of his name. She nervously rubbed his neck and prayed Gabe didn’t notice. She needed to get out of there before her lies caught up with her.

“After the previous owner, I decided it best to not make friends with the neighbors.

Stopping by naked, unannounced and asking for coffee didn’t work too well the last time it happened.”

He laughed. “What?”

She shook her head and giggled. “Long story.”

“A rain check then. Once I’m done refurbishing this townhouse and renting it out, I’ll come back and we’ll do dinner.” Mercifully, he shut the door before anything else stupid came out of her mouth.

Stunned, Lauren escaped to the sanctuary of her home and slumped onto the couch.

My boyfriend Jack? Naked neighbors coming over for coffee? I’ve lost my mind.

Sensing her complete mortification, Jack plopped his head on her lap. She patted him and kissed his nose. “Baby, you are the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. So technically I didn’t lie.”

Unfortunately, she attracted a certain kind of man. The kind who demanded being cast in the starring role as hero. As she had found out the hard way from her failed marriage, heroes needed a constant stream of damsels in distress. Lauren had learned a simple lesson from her experience. She might need a great many things but never again would she need to be rescued.

In the case of her neighbor, did he even realize she was blind? That’s the thing about retinitis pigmentosa. Her eyes looked completely normal.

And speaking of looks, Gabe probably looked nothing like what she imagined. As she focused on all the awful images of what her neighbor probably looked like, the phone rang. Pushing her canine boyfriend off her lap, she rushed upstairs and picked it up. “Dr. Lauren Baxter, how can I help you?”

“Lauren, it’s Gabe.”

Her stomach fluttered at the way her name rolled off his tongue.

“Hi.” Her voice came out husky.

“I forgot to tell you; I already have some interested renters for the house. They’ll be signing the lease agreement tomorrow. So by the time they leave, we won’t be neighbors. I’ll come by about seven tomorrow to take you for the dinner I owe you.” He hung up before she could respond.

A confusing mixture of excitement and anger filled her veins. Mrs. Rourke’s voice popped into her head. “Lauren, sweetheart, what mess have you gotten yourself into now?”

“Oh God, Irma, I should have never sent you away.”

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  • About Kishan

    From daring escapes by tough women to chivalrous men swooping in to save the day, the creativity switch to Kishan Paul’s brain was always in the on position. If daydreaming stories was a subject, Kish would have graduated with honors. It has taken her decades to discover a way to finally pull those stories out of her head and share them with the world.

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