Heart stopping puppy chases, childhood melodrama and the aborted hangings of innocent toys are all in a day’s work for Nikki Duncan. This athletic equestrian turned reluctant homemaker turned daring author, is drawn to the siren song of a fresh storyline.
Nikki plots murder and mayhem over breakfast, scandalous exposes at lunch and the sensual turn of phrase after dinner. Nevertheless, it is the pleasurable excitement and anticipation of unraveling her character’s motivation that drives her to write long past the witching hour.
The only anxiety and apprehension haunting this author comes from pondering the mysterious outcome of her latest twist.
Seduced in Sand
If Queen of Venues Tabatha Sampson wasn’t so easy to like she’d be universally hated. At Tulle and Tulips, she wins over her clients with a deft likeability, and a gift for finding them the wedding venue of their dreams.
Her polished veneer fools everyone into thinking she’s never known hardship, that everything she touches is blessed with perfection. In truth, her deepest secret is her life’s biggest failure—her husband.
A reformed beach bum turned professional volleyball player, Danny Hampton knows a thing or two about how to work a crowd. On the circuit he wins the hearts of spectators and sponsors while keeping his own safely shielded. Since stepping onto the sand he’s done nothing but win. Behind his easy smile lies the heart of his biggest loss—his wife.
Now he’s determined to show Tabatha he’s a changed man. But it’ll take more than heated kisses to keep her pen off the dotted line at the bottom of their divorce papers.
ExcerptRomeo, Romeo, where for art my Romeo? #onlinedating
Tabatha Sampson set her phone on the bar, well aware that her date was ten minutes late, and turned her attention from Twitter and what-ifs to the glass of Moscato sitting before her. After a crap day at work, she’d seriously considered a heavier drink, a triple shot of something one hundred proof, but stopped herself for the sake of her date.
If she’d met the man before, even once, she’d have been more inclined to go ahead and indulge in the stronger drink. Predictably, first dates, especially those planned over the Internet, were tricky enough with the need to be on her best behavior and make a good first impression. Wouldn’t want to do anything remotely scandalous that could turn a man off. Booze, especially too much or something too hard, put first impressions in jeopardy.
She’d also learned the worst time to reach for liquor was when she felt a need for it. That was when she was more inclined to overindulge. Overindulgence never really killed the pain, only dulled it temporarily.
“Not the smoothest.”
Sam, a bartender Tabatha had met through her co-worker and friend Misty, leaned against the bar and sent her steady I’m-a-bartender-and-can-see-into-your-soul stare across the bar. “You sure that wine is going to be enough?”
“It’s going to have to be.” Tabatha smiled, almost feeling like it was real.
“Venue trouble, which caused the bride trouble.”
Tabatha prided herself in being the Master of Venues at Tulle and Tulips Designer Weddings. But when a hotel double-booked a space and forgot to mention the issue until a month before a wedding, even the master struggled to pull picturesque bliss out of her hat. The need for perfection had required her to rearrange her day and spend seven hours with an understandably panicked bride.
It had taken the efforts of Tabatha, Kayla, Lori and Tess to ease the bride’s anxieties and prevent her from severing the heads of innocent bystanders. After several hours of last-minute appointments and venue visits, they’d found a place suitable for the bride’s vision. It had actually been a place she looked at early in the planning stages but vetoed because of price. In addition to being a venue master, Tabatha also had a reputation as a tough negotiator. Due to the hotel’s mistake, they would be paying a breach of contract fine that made the new location more than affordable.
The satisfaction of the win had soothed the bride’s feathers nicely, but the remnants of the stress took longer to fade from Tabatha’s neck and shoulders.
“If you change your mind,” Sam said as she smiled at an approaching customer, “just let me know.”
“I won’t, but thanks for the offer.” Tabatha caught sight of the newcomer in the mirror behind the bar, but it was only enough to identify a man. His hat and glasses obscured any details.
“Yeah, Tabatha never changes her mind once it’s made up.” The man spoke near her ear as be brushed aside her hair and sniffed her. “Still too uptight for the good stuff I see.”
Shivers ran down her neck and she knew, instantly and instinctively, that her date was the one man she’d expected never to hear from again, at least not in person. As quickly as she recognized him all the old feelings kicked in.
Disappointment and lust, anger and rapture. Danny awakened every emotion by existing. His free-spirited approach to life made her feel more alive than anyone or anything else. And he always let her down by his inability to be dependable.
Shivers of attraction turned to the heat of resentment. She’d finally decided to start dating again, to see if anyone could make her feel half of what her friends seemed to be finding, and in walked her husband.
He would be her ex-husband if he stopped playing games with the attorneys and signed the divorce papers. But no. He did just enough to keep them legally married, so the best she’d gotten in over a year after leaving him was a legal separation.
“Danny. What are you doing here?”
“We have a date.”
“No.” He couldn’t be Daniel, the man she’d been communicating with through the dating site. The man whose profile picture, and every other picture she found online, was an action shot of him spiking a ball over a volleyball net. Dark glasses, a ball cap and white sunblock on his nose added to his appeal and left her imagination free to fill in the details.
The wildest musings of her imagination hadn’t filled in details resembling Danny.
Yeah, he was as gorgeous as ever. Tall and lean, tan and blond, in amazing shape. But Danny was Danny, a beach bum with a good heart and crappy follow-through. Danny defined forgetfulness and adventure. The man she’d agreed to meet was Daniel, a serious athlete respected for his dedication to his teammate and named as a favorite for the Olympic team. Daniel was a man who defined commitment and follow-through.
She’d had Danny, the man who’d given her no reason to stay with him. She wanted Daniel, the man who’d given her every reason to think he was worth a risk. “We do not have a date.”
He slid onto the stool beside her and reached for her hand. She pulled it away.
“You’re here for Daniel, an Olympic-caliber volleyball player.”
“Yes, and though you might be comfortable in the sand—” and anyplace else that allowed him to be a responsibility-shirking bum, “—you lack the dedication to be a serious athlete or dependable partner. I won’t go into the list of other things you lack, but someone should warn your teammate.”
“I never thought you had it in you to be cold, Tabatha.”
“That’s just the thing, Danny.” The old hurt that came from wanting him to be different and always being disappointed when he wasn’t took control. “You know nothing about me.” She reached into her purse and pulled out some cash to pay for her drink. “You never did. I, however, know you. Like if you’d been honest with your identity on your profile I’d have known you’d be late.”
“And I know more than you think. Like if I’d been completely honest on my profile we wouldn’t be here now. I know I’ve changed and could convince you if you gave me a chance.” He grabbed her hand when she stood to leave. “I especially knew how to make your body hum. And I’d bet I still do.”
Her body heated, blood and vein and muscle, in an instant. The day’s stress that hadn’t eased faded beneath the warmth to be replaced by irritation. Irritation that she had no control of her reactions to his touch. Instead of saying anything, she stared at him.
“Come back to my place.” He smiled the charming smile that had always weakened her knees or diffused her anger or kicked her libido into overdrive. “Let me remind you of all the ways we’ve always been right together.”
Calmly, when she didn’t feel calm at all, she pulled her hand from his grasp and took a step away from him and the barstools. Every inch she put between them helped her resist the temptation to give in to him. She’d needed to distance herself from him when they were together. She needed to stay away now.
He could turn her resistance to mush with nothing more than a look. A touch sent her heart racing and fuzzed her mind of everything but thoughts of him. A whisper or breath against her skin had her ready to rip off her clothes. And his.
Sex had never been a problem for them.
He claimed to be different, and she wanted it to be the truth. The idea that he would move from California to Miami and become a responsible man capable of dedicating himself to something was appealing. Thinking he did it for her, even partially, ignited a dangerous excitement.
She held firm in her resolve.
“I am not going anywhere with you. Whatever game you’re playing, give it up and sign the divorce papers. Sam,” Tabatha said as she grabbed her phone, “have a great night.”
“Tell Jace we miss him around here,” Sam said with a goodbye wave.
“You bet.” It was a harmless statement, but it filled Tabatha with pleasure when she saw Danny’s brown eyes darken until the green flecks in their depths vanished. He was jealous, and she wasn’t going to tell him Jace was a friend’s fiancé. Jealousy suggested he cared about something other than himself.
She was smiling as she promised to deliver Sam’s message. She was tweeting as she crossed the bar for the exit.
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