Saturday, November 1, 2014


Chapter One

Piper O’Riley watched a silver-gray Chevy Silverado pull into the parking lot of Health Aid Pharmacy, the drugstore she managed in the small town of Harmony Hills, Pennsylvania. A tall man climbed out. His shirt displayed broad shoulders and tight abs. His jeans all but caressed his perfect butt. His close-cut black hair and the way he carried himself—his shoulders back, his movements smooth and efficient—reminded her of someone in the military. He reached into his truck, pulled out a black cowboy hat, and plopped it on his head.

Wow. Just wow. He had all the makings of the man of her dreams.

She stopped that thought. Stomped it out with the fervor of a woman determined not to make the same mistake three times. The absolute last thing in the world she wanted was to notice another man. Three short months ago, she’d left her second groom at the altar. She’d gotten halfway down the aisle to marry Ronnie Nelson, but just like with Tom Lashinsky—the first guy she’d ditched—she’d known, just known, there was “more” to love than what she felt for her groom.

And she’d bolted.


The cowboy walked up to the glass door, his head down, as if he were deep in thought, and pulled it open.

Of course, when he looked up, he saw her standing there in the middle of the aisle like an idiot. His dark brown eyes crinkled at the corners as his full lips lifted into a warm smile.

“Mornin’, darlin’.”

Oh, Lord help her. Where did a man get a voice like that, with a western drawl that trickled down her spine and sent goose bumps to her toes? The kind of chill bumps she’d never felt in any of her relationships. The kind of chill bumps that explained why she couldn’t marry either of her previous grooms. The kind of chill bumps that made her wish that once—just once—she could be with a man who made her shiver.

“Can you point me in the direction of the cards?”


“Wedding cards.”

His voice was as smooth as velvet. His smile probably dropped women’s panties from thirty feet.  He wouldn’t be the kind to settle down. He didn’t have to.

Piper’s inner good girl shook her head. Was that what she really wanted? A sexy man who couldn’t settle down? Sounded like a heartbreak waiting to happen—

Which explained why she always chose safe, ready-to-settle-down men. She didn’t want to get hurt.

She pointed to aisle three.

He smiled, put his fingers on the brim of his Stetson, and walked past her.

She smelled his aftershave, felt the heat of him as his arm almost brushed hers. Her heart tripped over itself. Her stomach fell. All her nerve endings glittered like a prom queen’s tiara.

And her inner bad girl all but swooned. Usually she stayed quiet, but today she was wide awake and curious.  Suffering a broken heart might be worth a few nights with this guy.

Within seconds, he was back, shiny white wedding card in hand. Maybe if she had a red-hot fling, something to satisfy this crazy feeling that she was missing out, she could stop leaving fiancés at the altar and actually get married.

“Who’s the wedding card for?”

“My brother.”

She smiled. “If he looks anything like you, the bride’s a very lucky girl.”

There. She’d said it. She’d put it out on the table that she found him attractive. The next move was his.

He returned her smile and took a step closer. “Well, darlin’, he’s a little fairer than I am, but I think we’re in the same category.”

She drew in a quiet breath as glorious need combined with fear of the unknown and created a tingly feeling she’d never had before. A feeling that egged her on, made her say the first flirty thing that popped into her head.

“Then she is lucky.”

He laughed. The sound walked up her spine and sent that feeling through her again.

“What about you?”


“Pretty girl like you working in a drugstore. That doesn’t seem right.”

She laughed. The urge to flirt was so natural now, she couldn’t stifle it. “What do you think I should be? A stripper?”

His gaze rippled from her hair to her toes. “I’d pay to see you wind around a pole.”

That just plain stopped her breathing. Her inner good girl gasped. Women who wanted to keep their reputations did not wind around stripper poles.

But her inner bad girl sighed. She’d really like to be able to flirt without the constant nagging.

Piper found the compromise position: “I’m really not the kind to pole dance, but I might take money at the door.”

He laughed again.

Happiness surged through her. See, inner good girl? Flirting can be fun.

“You’re funny. I like that.”

She walked to the counter and slid behind the cash register. “I like a guy with a sense of humor, too.” She peeked up and caught his gaze. “And I hope it was just a joke that you thought I should work in a strip club.”

He leaned against the counter. “Man’s gotta have his fantasies. But there’s a lot to be said for living in the real world. You dating anyone?”

Her heart stumbled. Good God. He was going to ask her out. “No. Not now.”

“Which tells me there was somebody.”

She swallowed. How could he not know who she was? He had to be from out of town. “I kind of broke up with him about three months ago.”

He grinned. “Three months. That’s good timing.”

“It is?”

“Sure. By now the residual hurt feelings are down to a bare minimum, and you’re probably looking to move on.”

Gazing into his sexy dark eyes, she was so ready to move on.

“I’m not in town for long, though.”

She was right. He wasn’t from here, and he was telling her he wasn’t into a relationship, just a fling.

Could she do this? Have a fling? Could she try an affair, see what she was missing, and wave good-bye when he moved on?

Not quite sure what to say, she picked up his wedding card. A quick scan caused $6.99 to pop up in the digital readout of her cash register.

His eyes widened. “Seven freaking dollars for a card?”

She laughed. His façade of perfection cracked. Although, in some ways, his shock was cute. Clearly the man didn’t shop. “There are cheaper ones.”

He sighed, then winked. “I’m not cheap.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a five. “I just remembered the card when I was coming back from the diner. I spent most of my cash on breakfast for my brothers. I’ll have to go home and get more.”

“How about a bank card?”

“Don’t have that with me either. When I travel I only use it for gas. Easier to keep track of my spending that way.”

His gorgeous dark eyes met hers, and the zap of electricity that surged through her almost stopped her heart. There was no denying she felt a zing for this guy. But the things he’d said suddenly began to group together in her head.

Wedding. Finn Donovan was getting married today.

Brothers. Finn had two brothers.

When I travel…Cade, Finn’s older brother, lived out of town. In Montana. On a ranch.

Which explained the Stetson.

He might be older, his hair shorter, his face more mature, but now that Piper had put everything together, she recognized him. This cowboy was Cade Donovan.

She had to fight not to squeeze her eyes shut. She wanted to have a fling with Cade Donovan? The guy who’d left her best friend at the altar?

Wow. She couldn’t exactly remember the definition of irony, but Harmony Hills’s runaway bride being attracted to its most notorious no-show groom? That was too much gossip for one town to handle, especially since the woman he’d left, Lonnie Simmons, was her best friend. So, no. She wouldn’t be participating in that particular literary device.

But, more important than the runaway bride/no-show groom gossip was the notorious Hyatt/O’Riley feud. His grandfather had won her father’s grocery store in a poker game, and most people in town believed Richard Hyatt had cheated. Cade Donovan was the grandson of the guy who had stolen her father’s business. Taken away his livelihood. Half the people in town didn’t shop at O’Riley’s Market because they didn’t want to support a cheat. She and her mom would cross the street rather than walk by anyone in the Hyatt/Donovan family.

She and Cade Donovan weren’t just a bad bet. They were enemies.

Her spine stiffened. Her smile became cool. “There’s no need to go back for cash. We have less expensive wedding cards.” Though it was a struggle, she kept her demeanor professional. “And they’re every bit as nice.”


He smiled again, and she had to take a quiet breath to stop the surge of white-hot need that burst through her. As much as she wanted to feel this heat that she’d never felt before, she could not be attracted to him. She refused.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014



Ricky trudged up Eloise’s four flights of steps on Friday night, so sad he’d nearly cancelled their evening together again. On Monday night, he’d gone to the hospital to read to the kids, as Regina had suggested, and it had been devastating. He hated seeing kids suffer. He couldn’t believe Regina had suggested he read to children so weak they broke his heart, reminded him of Blake, reminded him of how stupid he’d been. His son was dead because he’d never asked Blake’s mother to let him raise him. She was a party girl turned mother. He’d seen the difficulties she’d had fitting Blake into her life. She probably would have been happy to give him custody of Blake, as long as she got visitation, but he’d never asked.

Anger with himself had made his pulse race, and he couldn’t stay in the children’s ward activity room that night. He’d bowed out before the kids even knew he’d come there to read, so there was no harm done to them. But as he’d struggled to get through his week without thinking of Blake, without berating himself for not asking for custody, for not taking his son away from a woman who clearly wanted an out, he’d simply forgotten about Eloise Vaughn.

He almost laughed. Another man would think it impossible that he could forget a woman so beautiful she could be a princess. But that was his life.

When she opened her door to him, and he looked down at her dress, he blinked. The pale blue fabric complemented her pink skin tone and yellow hair, but it also glittered as if someone had woven tinsel into the material. She looked like a princess trapped in a snow globe.

His heart lifted a bit. “Wow.”

She smiled. “You know, even if nothing else comes of fake dating you, I’m getting a real sense of satisfaction out of your compliments on my sewing.”

He took her cape. When she turned for him to help her into it, he noticed this dress had a full back and sighed with relief. The gloom that hung over him like a dome loosened a bit. “You deserve to be complimented. I’d never guess you were taking old clothes and making them new.”

They headed down the hall to the stairs. “It’s not like I’m redoing things from the last century. Five years ago, my clothes were in style.”

“Then you went to university and your money had to go for tuition.”

She stopped at the top step and faced him. “Something like that.”

“Hey, unless you’re born into money, you’re going to suffer through university.”

A strange expression crossed her face. He wouldn’t be this far in his business dealings if he couldn’t read the look of someone who had something to say. The pinch of pain in her eyes told him it wasn’t something good.

But instead of a confession, she said, “Or starve.”

He smiled, but curiosity ruffled through him. She’d told him about her job problem, but it had never crossed his mind to think she might have had personal troubles in her past. Something that had broken her heart.

Still, he pushed it from his mind. He had problems of his own. And wondering about her wasn’t part of their deal. Getting to know her wasn’t even part of their deal. In fact, with as pretty as she was and as tempting, he might be wise not to ask questions.

In the limo, they talked generically about her job and his busy schedule as they drove to a hotel in the theater district. Lit for Christmas, Times Square took his breath away. So many lights. So much creativity in the Santa and sleigh that rode the tickertape around the jumbo video screens, and the Santa’s workshop filled with elves in the toy store windows.

He shoved back the memory of bringing Blake here for a private tour of the toy store and focused on getting himself and Eloise out of the limo.

Again, the night was cold and, as they stepped out, Eloise shivered. His arm rose in a natural reaction to pull her close, but just before he would have touched her, he stopped himself.

Too many things happened naturally with this woman, and although that probably added to the success of their charade, it wasn’t good for either of them personally. When they weren’t actually at a party, he would keep his distance.

A small stairway took them to the hotel lobby, where they were directed to an elevator to the ballroom. Lively music blared at them as the doors opened.

Eloise turned to him. “Are we late?”

“No. We’re right on time. Preston’s a music promoter. Expect the unexpected. Including the fact that he might have started the party early just because he wanted to.”


A laugh escaped, and he relaxed a little. Technically, he had to have fun and talk to her for the charade to work. “Cool? Maybe yes. Maybe no. But I’m betting on no.”

She happily exited the elevator and nearly walked into Preston Jenkins’s arms. High as a kite, their host took their coats and handed them off to a huge, beefy man who looked like a bodyguard.

He hugged Eloise effusively. “You are as gorgeous as the gossip mills are reporting.”

Her eyes grew round and shiny with what looked to be fear, and Ricky remembered how she hadn’t liked getting her picture taken the week before. Now she appeared deathly afraid of gossip.

“Which is why,” Preston slurred, “I’m thrilled that we are about ten feet away from mistletoe.”

Her eyes grew even larger, and this time Ricky understood. No woman wanted to be slobbered over by a stranger, regardless of how much mistletoe hung over doorways. Protectiveness rose up in him. She was his date. She wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t brought her. He needed to get her out of this.

His brain scrambled for a way to save her, and eventually he simply opened his mouth and said, “Do you really think I’d let a schmoozer like you kiss my date?”

Preston slapped his arm. “Oh, such a kidder. I wasn’t going to kiss her. I’m getting pictures of everybody kissing their dates under the mistletoe.” He pointed to the huge bodyguard type, who displayed a camera.

His heart did something that felt like a samba. “You want me to kiss Eloise?”

Nudging Eloise and Ricky under the mistletoe, Preston grinned drunkenly. “Yeah. You kiss Eloise.”

Happiness tumbled through him before he could stop it, before he could think of Blake, before he could think of the myriad reasons this was wrong. It was as if time froze and there was only him and Eloise and mistletoe. No crowd. No past. No future. Just a kiss.

Eloise blinked up at him. Her pretty blue eyes round and curious. The curls of her soft blond hair framing her face. Her pink lips parted.

His pulse scrambled. He hadn’t kissed a woman in almost two years. And just touching the skin of Eloise’s back had set his hormones dancing. What would happen when their lips met?

Fireworks probably.

His pulse kicked up again. He hadn’t felt fireworks in forever.

Longing, swift and sharp, rose up in him.

He silenced it. They were only fake dating. Kissing took them to dangerous ground.

Except he hadn’t kissed a woman in almost two years. Hadn’t felt alive in almost two years—

He glanced back at Preston, who waved dramatically. “Go on! Camera’s waiting!”

He caught Eloise’s gaze again. Need prickled his skin. Desire swelled. And he had to admit he wanted this. He wanted to feel alive again, if only for a few seconds. It was foolish. But it was also only a kiss. One kiss when he’d been so long deprived hardly seemed earth-shattering, and he could go back to being miserable after that. Plus, if he didn’t kiss her, he would ruin their charade.

He bent his head and barely touched his mouth to hers. Soft, smooth lips met his. She tasted like peppermint and felt like heaven, and his head spun. Had he said this wouldn’t be earth-shattering? He’d been wrong.

His mouth pressed against hers, and simple need bubbled like a witch’s brew in his gut. He knew he was flirting with disaster. But he couldn’t stop himself. He’d never wanted anything as much as he wanted to simply lose himself in her. The softness, the sweetness he’d never found in another woman.

One kiss. Then he would walk away.


Friday, April 4, 2014


As Ellie pulled her little car in front of the funeral home, she saw Finn sitting on one of the two wide wicker rockers on the front porch.
            Her face reddened, and she took her time shutting down her engine, collecting the thirty scraps of paper covered with notes from her Tidy Whitiez conversations, and getting out of her car.
What was it with this guy? Did he have radar? Did he somehow scoop her thoughts from the air and know that she’d been thinking about him?
About having sex with him?
She climbed up the porch steps. “What do you want?”
            He sat forward on the big wicker chair. His short hair stuck up in all the right places, as if he’d combed his fingers through it in frustration, but that only gave it a sexy, bedroom look. He’d ditched his suit in favor of jeans and a gray T-shirt that showed off his broad shoulders and those gloriously sexy tattoos.
Her breath stumbled. Or maybe she sighed with disgust at her own weakness. Sure, he was great-looking. But did her artist’s eye have to notice every detail? Especially after her thoughts while talking to her Tidy Whitiez crew?
“Is that any way to treat a guest?”
            The smart move would be to get away from him. Yes, an affair seemed logical, given how attracted she was to him and how much she needed a distraction right now. But there were other issues to consider. Particularly the fact that they were enemies, fighting for the same customers.
“You’re not a guest. You’re the competition. You stole the Wojak funeral.”
            “I’d sold her a package months ago.” He glanced at the glob of sticky notes in her hands. “What’s all that?”
            “The results of hours of conversation.”
            “Staffers for my adult diapers campaign.”
            “You’re trying to get adult diapers elected to public office?”
Damn it. It was the struggle of a lifetime not to laugh. And maybe that was the biggest temptation of all. He didn’t just turn her on. He made her laugh.
“It’s an ad campaign.”
“So you’re hawking adult diapers?”
She grimaced. “Yes.”
“This is exactly why I came here.” He chuckled.
            “To make fun of me?”
            He shook his head. “No. To hear something that would make me laugh.”
            It was one thing to joke around. It was another to insult her. “You’re laughing at my job?”
            “No. I’m just laughing at the absurdity of life.”
No matter how he prettied it up, he was laughing at her. Despite her very rational arguments for having an affair with him, that brought her back to planet earth. She unlocked the door to McDermott’s and went inside.
He followed her. “Hey, come on. Don’t be mad.”
“Just shut up. Go home.” How had she ever thought sleeping with him would be a stress reliever, when he was the biggest producer of her stress? Especially when she’d told him to go home but he was still following her up to her apartment.
She tossed her purse on the old glass table, her gaze colliding with his broad shoulders beneath his gray shirt, and she almost groaned. He had the trimmed, toned body of a warrior. The sexily mussed hair of a man who liked to take life easy. The strong, chiseled face of a Greek god. And a voice that could melt butter. She had to forgive herself for being attracted to him. But that didn't mean she would let him stay.
She raised her gaze to meet his. “I’m not mad. I just want you to go away.”
“After the way you just sized me up?” He grabbed her arm, spun her to him. “I think you lie.”
His lips were on hers before she could even form a reply. At first she stiffened, but the reality of her life closed in on her. It had finally sunk in that her dad wasn't getting any better. And Finn was offering a way to forget, if only for a few minutes.
            He rolled his tongue along her bottom lip and everything inside her went nuclear. Heat exploded low in her body and roared through her. This was what she wanted from him. The heat. The intensity. She didn't just need to forget her troubles. She wanted him. And he wanted her.
And if only for a few minutes, she was taking what she could get. Even if that was only one long, delicious kiss. She caught the back of his neck and pulled him closer.
As if she’d taunted him or challenged him, he deepened the kiss. Gliding his tongue along her lips again, opening her mouth so he could dive inside. Sweet sensation exploded in her mouth. The scratch of his tongue. The taste of peppermint.
Desperate, needy, she pressed closer, feasting on his mouth, cruising her hands down his neck, shoulders, and arms, feeling the strength in the corded muscles, taking what she craved. Any minute now, he’d break away or she’d push away, and he’d leave in a huff…or maybe teasing her. She would be fine. They would be fine. She just wanted two minutes of pure pleasure.
His hands slid from her shoulders down her back, pressing in when they reached the swell of her bottom. Heat shot through her, scorching her, ramping up the needs swelling inside her.
His hands roamed up again, tracing her spine, filling her with liquid heat, but instead of stopping at her shoulders, they raced around and found her breasts. Her nipples pebbled to aching life, straining to get into his hands, but meeting the soft lace of her bra.
She groaned.
“I love this dress. Let’s take it off.”
That woke her up. Instead of stopping they were going further?
            He stepped back, swiveled her around, and unzipped her dress. Before she had a chance to say stop, he turned her back to him and slid his hands under the shoulders of her simple black sheath. With one quick shove from him, it puddled to the floor.
In what felt like the blink of an eye, she stood before him in a black bra and panties, exposed, vulnerable.
            He chuckled as he whipped off his T-shirt. “You’re a closet underwear junkie. I like that about you—you’re never what I expect. You’re always better.”
            The word “stop” died on her tongue. “Every girl likes to be pretty.” She said the words slowly, finally understanding why he tempted her so much. He wasn't just gorgeous. He had a way of making her feel beautiful. Even when they were arguing.
            He put both hands on her waist and nudged her to him again. “You are the prettiest.”
            “Oh, now you’re just lying.”
            He skimmed his lips along her neck. “Never.”
            That made her laugh out loud, then his lips nibbled behind her ear, and her laughter died. Heat flooded her and became an ache at the apex of her thighs.
            Were they really going to do this?