Friday, July 15, 2016

Summer Reading List

Two struggling souls seek peace and end up finding each other...

                                                                 Find your copy on Amazon
                                                  Also available on Barnes and Noble for Nook
                                                                              And iTunes
Layla Evans was a damned good defense attorney with the fancy car and beach condo to prove it. But, sometimes success comes at too steep a price and she’s done with it all. She’s sold her soul to the devil for the last time. Escape comes in the form of an unexpected inheritance. She leaves her expensive, tailored lifestyle and turns in her high heels for a pair of cowboy boots. The move is a major but with any luck her demons will stay behind with her old life.
Ben Callahan knew a thing or two about demons. His have haunted him day and night since leaving his Special Forces unit a few years ago. It was the sole reason he sought out the solitude of the mountains. With nothing more than a cabin, a fishing pole and a few acres, he was finally able to sleep a little at night. Until he gets a new neighbor that rocks his carefully constructed world with all the force of an IED.
When Layla’s past catches up to her, Ben finds old instincts kicking in. His need to protect the woman he is falling for becomes stronger than his desire to protect his heart. Can he get to Layla in time to save her and also heal his battered soul?

A little excerpt:

Without another word, Ben followed her directions and headed to the bedroom. All the way there, Layla alternated between anger and gratitude. She was flipping hot that another human being had inflicted such physical pain on Ben and down-right pissed off that someone he loved had in essence treated him worse than his torturers. On the other hand, if those things hadn’t happened she wouldn’t be in the arms of a man she was pretty sure she was close to falling in love with.
He placed her carefully on top of the colorful patchwork quilt Layla had found in a closet when she took the house over from her deceased father. After replacing the mattress, box spring and sheets, the handmade piece made her feel homey and comfortable. It almost seemed sinful to have it present for what she was about to do with Ben who was stretching out on the bed on top of her.
She didn't have a problem with that at all.
Ben adjusted the pillows behind her head. Layla couldn't stop trying to touch him. She was as hungry for the contact between them as a man starved for food but he stayed just out of reach of her embrace.
"Ben!" There was frustration in her cry. She needed him and she needed him right now.
"Shh…" He held a finger to his lips as he ran his hand along the bottom of her shirt, slipping just inside. The muscles in her abdomen trembled under his fingertips. With that hand he slowly inched her shirt up exposing her stomach. Layla shivered. Ben continued to pull the top up until the bottoms of her breasts peeked out. She heard him suck in a breath and then release it slowly. "Are you sure…?"
"Oh, yes," Layla replied before he could even finish his question.
Sitting up and pulling her with him, he yanked the tee shirt up over her head and then pushed her gently back against the pillows. "It's been a while—I might be a little out of practice." The pink tinge of embarrassment in the russet skin of his face just made her smile.
"Just like riding a bike, I promise."
As she contemplating pushing him over and climbing on top of him, Ben leaned in and took her lips. The kiss was tentative at first, not like his usual passionate go broke or go home approach. Wrapping her arms around his neck she pulled him back down on top of her, opening her lips and granting him the access he hadn't yet asked for. To hell with it, the guy had no idea what he wanted. She would just have to show him.
The feel of his hard chest against her softer one was glorious in all the ways one could imagine. So many nights of sleeping alone, the other side of the bed cold and empty, could be coming to an end. Layla hadn't been alone as long as Ben but she had been lonely for a lifetime. She needed this as much as he did, if not more.  Trailing kisses from her lips to the line of her jaw and down her neck, Ben let out a little moan that Layla echoed. His touch sent sparks shooting over every last one of her nerves. Her entire body was electrically charged and ready to spontaneously combust if he didn't do something soon to relieve the agony.
"Ben, please." She reached for the button on his jeans as his mouth moved a little lower on her chest. He stiffened for a second and Layla was certain he was about to flee like a startled deer but he slowly relaxed.
He nodded against her chest and she felt a shudder run through him before he spoke. "Do you want me to close the shutters and pull the drapes?"
"Now why would I want you to do that?" Layla slid her hands up his abdomen until she held his face in her hands. Avoiding her gaze, Ben kept his eyes focused on the place where her heart beat. Just having him stare at her like that, so focused, stepped up the rise and fall of her chest.\
 "Look at me, Ben." He did as she asked. "I am not Lauren. I am not repulsed by you. Can't you see that by now? Everything—and I mean everything— about you turns me on. Now, stop holding back on me, would you? I want the lights on and the windows open. If it will make you believe me, we can go out back in the middle of the pasture and do this."
"I'm sorry." He shook his head vigorously, tossing a lock of thick, dark hair onto his forehead. She reached up and pushed it away as he laughed. "Damn it! Why do I keep saying that? I feel like a teenaged boy getting it on for the first time!"
"Don't apologize any more. There is nothing to be sorry about. I want you, you want me and it's Lauren's loss."
He seemed to consider what she said for a moment before jumping up off the bed. Afraid he was leaving, she started to speak until she realized he was pulling off his boots and dropping his jeans to the floor.
"That's so much better." Layla grinned, feeling giddy. "Now get back over here."
Ben did as he was told but instead of stretching out over her again, he hooked his fingers in the waist of her borrowed sweat pants and yanked them down. Layla giggled. "Now I’m the one that feels like the teenager. Did you lock the door?"
Ben laughed, a relaxed sound that just added to the excitement of the building anticipation. "Nope. Let your folks walk in. I don't care."
"My folks? You're ridiculous!" She squealed as he dropped down on top of her again. His hands went everywhere his mouth wasn't. Her body was hot all over, muscles pulled so tight she thought they might snap as Ben continued exploring parts of her that had been dormant for much too long. When his fingers trailed their way along the top of her pink lace panties, Layla's pulse pounded so loudly in her ears she thought she might go deaf from it.
The pounding got louder. And louder. Ben stopped the assault his tongue and lips were waging on her and sat up. "Did you hear that?"
"What?" She gasped, reaching for him again.
"Someone's knocking on the door."
"They will go away eventually." Her voice was hoarse with need as she tried again to reach for Ben at the same time he rose from the bed.
"Wait here." The undertone to Ben's voice unnerved her. The pounding had grown more insistent. Ben pulled on his jeans, settling them over his hips but not bothering to button them.
"What's wrong?" she asked, grabbing her shirt and pants and scrambling back into them.
"I don't know. Were you expecting any visitors?"
"I don’t know anyone and I haven't called the insurance company yet."
Grabbing a gun off the bureau she hadn't realized he’d been carrying, he held a finger to his lips telling her to be quiet. "Stay out of sight and be quiet."
She thought about arguing with him that he wasn't her father or her boss but something in Ben's eyes told her do as he asked. Ben made his way down the hall toward the front door. Layla trailed behind, quiet as a mouse despite the fear setting up camp in her insides. No one knew Ben was there. What if it was the same person that had burned her barn down and painted the cows?
Why would a criminal knock on the door?
The thought made sense but then why was Ben holding a gun, ready to shoot whoever it was that kept pounding on the door?
She watched from the corner of the hallway as Ben looked through the peep hole. Her heart raced and her body shook just a little. Ben was all business. Standing behind the door, he grasped the handle and yanked the door open pointing his gun at the chest of whoever was there.
"Who the hell are you?" Ben demanded.
"Who the hell are you?"
She heard a click as Ben readied his weapon.  His voice was low and deadly. "I asked you first."
"Whoa, man! Put the gun down!"
It couldn't be.                          
She stuck her head around the corner and yelled. "Ben, no!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Reading List- Romantic Suspense

I can't believe we are already half way through July. This summer has been moving way too fast. I am not ready to even think about going back to work in the fall and it seems like it's just around the corner. There's still plenty of time to get some writing done and definitely time to read! This week I am posting excerpts from one of my romantic suspense series. Plenty of car chases, gun fights and oh, chemistry of course.

                                              Grab your copy here!

Someone wants NYPD detective Angelina Ferrara dead…again.

Following her heart instead of her mind landed her in Witness Protection. Can she trust it and handsome detective Logan James to keep her alive this time?

As far as the world knows, NYPD detective Angelina Ferrara died in a violent firefight on Chelsea piers over a year ago. Living in the witness protection program as history teacher Lucy Taylor was supposed to save her life but being alive and living were two very different things. Until she meets detective Logan James when he goes undercover in the same private school where she works. Something about the handsome man with the gorgeous blue eyes piques her interest. There’s no doubt he has secrets… but then so does she.  When the Ricci crime family discovers she’s still alive, can she trust the same heart that landed her in the witness protection program in the first place to let Logan to help her survive it?

A little excerpt...
"I so cannot do this again." Lucy groaned loudly and pulled her pillow over her head as the bright Virginia sunshine filled her bedroom. There was no smog, no skyscrapers, no anything to filter the light and give her a chance to ease into being awake.

A distant rooster crowed its early greeting to the sun. Five thirty in the morning, every freaking morning. If she stayed in this godforsaken town for a hundred years she would never get used to it. She missed horns blaring and tires squealing against heavy brakes that used to serve as her alarm clock back home in New York City. The whole chickens in the yard, cows grazing alongside the highway, thing didn't really work for her.

Teaching Catholic school wasn't so great either. Why the powers that be in witness protection felt a New York City cop would make a good Catholic school history teacher, she couldn't begin to fathom. In fact, she hated teaching almost as much as she hated chickens. The only thing she had in common with her students was being Catholic.

Yet here she was, all dressed up in her ridiculous teacher clothes, with her fake blue eyes, and disturbing straight blonde hair, trying to live a life she despised and be thankful for it.

"At least you are still alive, girl," she whispered to the sad reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Yeah, right. She might be alive, but living was another idea all together.

"If I could at least carry a gun..." Lucy said to no one in particular. Not carrying her trusty sidearm made her feel as naked as a jaybird, but there was no getting around it. Part of the terms of the contract stipulated she could do nothing reminiscent of her old life, including the concealed carry of her favorite type of accessory.

"Here we go again," she muttered, sliding behind the wheel of her little car.

The drive to St. Mary's took less than ten minutes. The parking lot looked exactly the way it did when she drove away the previous June, full of expensive SUVs and shiny convertibles that all made her aged sedan look much older than its nine years. The only noticeable change was a deep blue Jeep Wrangler—as about as out of place as a football team would be in the all-girls school—sat in the space where Lucy usually parked. Not a good way to start her morning when she was already so tense.

"Hey, Ms. Taylor!" a voice called to her from across the lot.

"Good morning, Sarah!" she called back a lot less cheerfully than she had intended. Her former student waved and walked on.

Another year was about to begin. Oh, how she missed her old life. Lucy was not born to be a teacher, not by any stretch of the imagination. But, it was a job. It kept her from going insane from the loneliness that had been a constant part of her life since she fled the city over a year ago and left her friends and family to believe she was dead.

"I'm so sorry, Mom," she whispered for the hundredth time since it had all gone down.

As she trudged her way to room 210, Lucy forced thoughts of death and funerals from her mind, replacing them with good memories of her life in the city. Such as the smell of roasted cashews and sauerkraut covered hotdogs from street vendors, taxis honking, New Yorkers telling each other to go to hell on every corner. Dark alleys hosting a multitude of crimes that beckoned to her like crack to an addict. No text books, no lesson plans, no parent conferences.

"Umpf!" Lost in recollection, Lucy slammed into a solid mass. As the man turned around, she came face to face with the bluest pair of eyes she had ever seen. A quirky smile lifted one corner of his lip as he reached out to steady her. His light touch on her forearm sent a shocking shiver down her spine. No one had elicited any sort of response from her feminine side since...well, in a long, long time.

"Excuse me, Miss. I'm sorry to get in your way. I...umm...I am a little lost. I guess my eyes were focused on room numbers instead of where I was walking."

Lucy couldn't help but smile back, despite her best effort not to.

"Oh...are you new here?"

"Yes, ma'am." The handsome stranger stuck out his hand. "Name's Logan Smith. I'm teaching World History."

Lucy eyed the man, instantly suspicious. Of course, lately she had become instantly suspicious of everyone. Lucy accepted his outstretched hand.

"Lucy Taylor. I teach U.S. History. What room were you looking for?"

"Oooohhhh, Ms. Taylor! Who's the hottie?" The same girl from the parking lot called out, openly eyeing the school's newest instructor. Lucy flushed a deep crimson. They were standing in the middle of the main hallway practically holding hands. Quickly letting go of Mr. Smith's hand, she shoved her own into the pocket of her corduroy skirt. It irritated her that she missed simple human contact way more than she should.

"Don't you have a class to get to, Sarah?" Lucy used her sternest teacher voice to redirect the young lady. Sarah was all smiles as she waved to the new teacher. Lucy could see why, Mr. Smith was definitely nice to look at, a fact that was going to cause some unrest in the all female population. "The bell is about to ring, you know."

"Yes, Ms. Taylor." The girl scurried off giggling, her plaid skirt flipping around her legs as she moved. Lucy turned back to Logan. The man was definitely way too handsome for his own good. His students were never going to take him seriously. Why did she even care anyway?

Because that man is fine with a capital F, and you have been alone and lonely for way too long.

Lucy pushed thoughts of how handsome Mr. Smith was out of her mind and focused on the task at hand.

"Now, Mr. Smith, which room were you looking for?"

He checked the crumpled piece of paper in his hand. "Um, looks like room 212."

"Oh, that's easy. I can take you there. It's the room right next to mine. Follow me."

Damn! He's right next door.

The new teacher unnerved her, and she didn't need anything throwing her off her game. Suddenly very self-conscious, Lucy took off down the hall and through the throng of girls eagerly greeting each after a summer of camps and vacations. Without looking back even once to see if Logan Smith followed her, Lucy stopped short in front of her classroom.

"Your room is right there." She pointed to the open door about ten feet away from her own.

Logan flashed her a smile that lit a playful light in his eyes. That little shiver traveled the length of her spine once again. What the heck? Since when did the smile of a good-looking guy have any effect on her at all? Nothing had penetrated her shell since Salvatore.

"Thank you. I feel as lost as I did my freshman year of high school! Of course, back in those days I didn't have a pretty escort to show me around, so maybe this time around won't be quite so bad." He winked and then chuckled when Lucy blushed.

She averted her eyes, not accustomed to having conversations anymore with anyone, especially flirty, handsome men. In five minutes she would have thirty expectant teenagers waiting to see if she could teach them a thing or two. She didn't have time to wonder where Mr. Smith had come from or why he was stirring feelings deep inside her that she was absolutely certain she had locked away a long time ago.

"Well, everyone gets the jitters on the first day. You'll be fine. Let me know if you need anything." Lucy disappeared inside her room. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked away. Her abrupt departure was on the rude side, but she was a little rusty on the personal interaction front. Mostly, she just talked to her students, and occasionally the television. She hadn't made a single friend in all the months since leaving New York.

She had no desire to get comfortable in this place and certainly didn't intend to die in the mountains of Virginia, no matter what the feds had to say about it. Lucy sighed heavily and dropped her bag on her desk. The mess that was her life would never be resolved. Not as long as a single member of the Ricci family was alive.

The shrill bell announcing the beginning of her school day filled the classroom and made her jump in her seat. Everything had her jumpy anymore. She had to give away her cat after she almost shot the poor feline in the middle of the night just for jumping off the windowsill. It had probably been a year since she last slept through the night.

"Good morning, Ms. Taylor. Did you have a good summer?" A young lady with big green eyes and tight ginger colored curls stood over her. Lucy looked up from her desk.

"Hello, Hailey. It was just fine. Thank you for asking. How was yours?"

"Umm, it was okay."

"Just okay?"

"Spent most of it watching my two little brothers. Not much fun in that."

Lucy smiled, memories of her own large family filling her with warmth and then a hint of sadness. "Little brothers aren't so bad, really. Some day when you are all grown, they will be your best friends."

"I guess. Whatever." Hailey shrugged and headed to an empty desk in the front row. She was a good student, somewhat shy and reserved but friendly. She reminded Lucy of herself at that age. Lucy had two brothers also, but they were older than her. Another twinge of nostalgia stung in her chest before she pushed all memories of her former life into the deep dark spot in her brain where she had forced them over a year ago. This was her life now. She'd done the right thing, and she could live with that.

For now.
                                     Start this new series today!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sweet Love in a Small Town For Anyone Who's Ever Loved a Soldier

Looking for a sweet love story for the weekend? Join Jennie Marshall as she navigates loss and love in a small town... Free in Kindle Unlimited. $.99 summer sale...

Jennie Marshall has some hard choices to make.
Does she leave the small town life she resents or stay in the old house she’d been raised in and care for her grieving mother? Staying means no college and giving up all her dreams. It also means keeping the farm going, taking on a job she’d never wanted, and facing the reality of Trisha and Michael getting married and starting a family. Leaving would mean Momma losing the home John Marshall had built for them before he died.
So, of course, she does what a good, responsible daughter should do—gives up her own dreams, determined to carry out her father’s. When the stress of her life becomes almost intolerable, relief in the form of Grayson Jennings arrives. He’s sweet, handsome, and totally in love with her. But Jennie, being as stubborn a Marshall as her father, refuses to see what’s right there in front of her until it’s too late.
It takes yet another tragedy to prove that everything she never knew she wanted was right there Down the Dirt Road.
                                                    Get your copy here!
A little excerpt...
Jennie picked up the box and went to her room where sat on her bed, the bundle of letters in her lap. There were exactly sixty two of them- every single one had a date written in the upper left corner, the earliest one dating back to October when Grayson was in boot camp. All this time she had waited, thinking what a fool she had been believing he would actually write to her.  Why hadn’t he sent even one?

And now he was missing in action and she might not ever get the chance to ask him. She turned the stack over in her lap again, studying his handwriting on the front of the top envelope. Much neater than Michael’s but still very masculine.

She really wanted to open one and read it but where to start?

Flipping the pile back over, she pulled the very first one- dated 18 October- out from the stack and opened it, careful not to tear the envelope. A part of her felt like she was invading someone’s privacy, reading secret thoughts in a diary meant only for the writer. But, they were addressed to her. Grayson had written them for her.

Never mind that he had never actually sent them to her.

The first letter was written in black ink on lined notebook paper, the ragged edges from the spiral meticulously removed.

18 October 2001

Dearest Jennie,

I know you thought I would never write and honestly, as I sit here in my bunk I wonder if I should. Do you really want to hear from me or am I just setting us both up for heartache? You have gone through so much with the death of your father, I have no right to volunteer for war and then expect you to sit at home and wait for me when there is no guarantee I will even make it him. Of course, if I could survive the first three weeks of boot camp, I suppose I can make it through even the worst enemy prison camp. That was supposed to be a joke. Not very funny was it?

There is something I would like to say Jennie. I am very glad that you came to find me that day I left. The memory of holding you, kissing you even as brief as it was, has helped me through many a lonely night and long day in the field. I don’t know why you came for me, I like to think it is because you are as head over heels in love with me as I have been with you for so many years but I am smart enough to know that’s not it. I guess it really doesn’t matter why, just that you did and now I find I have a reason to make it home alive when all is said and done.

Yours Always,

Private Grayson Jennings, United States Army

A single tear drop fell, landing right beside the words yours always, the image of a tiny heart taking shape as the salty water saturated the paper. Her own heart was aching. How could such a letter possibly be meant for her? She grabbed up the envelope, checked the name and address again, just to be sure it really had been for her.

How would she have felt receiving that letter when Grayson was alive and well, knowing he was waiting for her response in an Army barracks somewhere? What would she have said to him as he poured out his heart and soul to her, naming her as his reason for living?

Grabbing a pen and a notebook from her desk, she sat down and pulled out a fresh piece of paper.

Dear Grayson,

I am so glad to finally hear from you. I was beginning to think that I had dreamt our last meeting, so quick that it was. I only wish you had written sooner.

I am a grown woman, about to turn twenty one and no one can make my decisions for me. If I choose to wait for you while you fight the war for our freedom than it is my choice and you have nothing to feel guilty for. I don’t really know why I went after you that day, I only know that I couldn’t bear the thought of you being halfway around the world without my having told you how sorry I was for being pigheaded and stubborn. Did I just describe the same thing twice? That’s how strongly I feel about it! I look forward to the day when I will see you once again, alive and well on my front porch in your cop uniform, your gun slung low on your hip and crooked smile meant only for me.

Until then,


Reading back over what she had written, Jennie decided that for every one of Grayson’s letters she would write a reply. If she were to be privileged to his private thoughts and feelings then he should be able to share hers. He could read the whole stack when he was found—alive—and sent home with a purple heart and an honorable discharge. Yes, that was what she would do. For every letter he wrote to her she would write a reply.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Summer Reading List

If you are looking to read on the beach this weekend, check out When First They Practice To Deceive

Meet the man reviewers are calling a "hunk" and "Mr. Trey McDreamy" in the action packed third book of the Secret Lives series.

                                                            Read The Reviews Here!!!

To Get You Started...Here's a little bit of Jessy and Trey... enjoy!!

Jessy stepped out into the cold and wrapped her coat around her more tightly. Agnes had given her an envelope for the packet of papers that she carried under her arm. The wind had definitely kicked up while she was inside the office; she wouldn’t be surprised if there were a storm brewing off the coast.

Quickening her step, she crossed the road and headed to the lot where her car was parked. From behind her, someone called her name.

“Jessy! Wait, Jessy!” She stopped when she reached the sidewalk and turned around, expecting to see one of Sam’s friends or some guy he worked with. Instead, she saw Trey.

Her body didn’t know how to react. The hint of electricity that ran down her spine at the sight of him in his well-worn leather bomber jacket warred with the nausea over possibly being seen coming out of the attorney’s office.

“Hi, Trey. What are you doing in this neck of the woods?”

He grinned down at her. His cheeks were red from the cold, but that just made his blueeyes bluer. “I was supposed to meet my dad for lunch but he had to cancel. Work stuff, I guess. How ‘bout you? Do you live around here?”

“No. I, uh, I had an appointment.”

“I hope it was to file for divorce against that loser husband of yours. There’s about ten divorce attorneys around here. I can recommend a good one for you if you want me to.”

Once again, her emotions warred with each other. Her mind wanted to both defend Sam for some crazy reason, and she wanted jump into Trey’s arms so he could hold her until all of it was done and over with. She settled for telling him the truth instead.

“Actually, I did.” She pulled the packet from under her arm. “Here’s the papers I have to fill out .”

Trey reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. Jessy may have leaned into his touch just a tiny little bit, not that she’d actually admit it to anyone. He didn’t seem to mind, if the sparkle in his eye was any indicator. “I know how hard all of this is. I’ve had my share of loss. If you need anything—a shoulder to cry on, a couple bottles of wine—I’m here for you.”

Jessy couldn’t resist his smile. It consumed the entirety of his features and made her feel all warm and fuzzy in places that had, just moments before, been freezing. “Thank you, Trey, I appreciate that.”

“Hey, have you eaten yet? I’m starving and I don’t have lunch date.”

“I don’t know—”

“I promise, no diner food. There’s a great little barbeque place down Lynnhaven Parkway. They were on the Food Channel once, I heard.”


“My treat.”

 It was so hard to resist his boyish grin. What the heck, it was only lunch, right? It’s not like they were dating. She threw caution to the wind. This was the first day of the rest of her life; she might as well start over the right way. Lunch with a very handsome man sounded good to her. “Okay, fine. I’ll follow you there.”

He rubbed his hands together. “Excellent. As soon as I get some feeling back in my fingertips, I will unlock my car and we can be on our way.”

She had no idea what came over her when she reached her hands out and took his in her own, rubbing the backs and the palms to create warmth between them. Time slowed around them. Jessy was no longer aware of anyone or anything except the point where she and Trey touched and the depths of his eyes that searched her soul in a very unnerving way.

“Coming through!” a panicked voice yelled, jarring her back to reality. Trey wrapped an arm around her, pulling her toward him swiftly. She slammed into his chest as they tumbled to the icy ground in a heap and tangle. A man on a motorized scooter whizzed by them, the orange flag attached to his seat waving wildly in the air. “Watch it next time, suckers!”

Trey was on top of her, his eyes full of worry. “Are you okay, Jessy?”

Was she okay? Now that was an interesting question. She was sprawled on the wet ground, wind blowing up her long skirt, and she was fairly certain there was mud on her face. On the other hand, an almost illegally sexy man was spread out on top of her and she was pretty sure he didn’t have a gun in his pocket. So, was she okay? Hell yeah, she was more than okay.

“I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” He rolled to her side and started checking her appendages for broken bones. “Did you hit your head? Does anything hurt?”

Oh, something hurt all right. But it wasn’t because she had fallen. “I’m really okay, I promise.” She sat up and smoothed her hair. Yup, full of mud. “I must look a real fright though.”

Trey wiped at her cheek with a thumb. “Actually, you look quite beautiful.”

All kinds of heat radiated from her as blood rushed to the surface of her skin. “You don’t have to say that. I fell in the mud.”

“Yes, and you wear it very well.” Trey gave her another amazing smile as he stood and gently pulled her to her feet. “I suppose this means you are going to cancel lunch on me as well?”

She should probably go home, clean up, and take a nap before work, but the war in her brain was happening again. This time it was between her practical side and the rest of her that really, really wanted to have lunch with Trey.

“Nope. I’m hungry. If you can stand to look at me like this for the next hour then I’m game. I just need to hit the ladies’ room to wash up a little.”

“It won’t be any hardship on my part to look at such a beautiful woman while I eat.”

“You don’t have to keep saying that.”

He looked confused. “Saying what?”

“You know, that I’m beautiful. I’m still hungry either way. Flattery is unnecessary.”

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you how stunning you are?”

“Please, I am as homely as they come. Let’s go eat.” She started walking the rest of the way to her car.

“That man of yours was a bigger ass hat than I thought. He never once complimented you, did he?”

She waved away his words with one hand as she unlocked her car with the other. “I’m sure he did. We were together for years.”

Trey took the keys from her fumbling fingers and hit the remote unlock button. Nothing happened. “Why didn’t it work?”

She shrugged. “Battery died.”

He fit the key in the lock and pulled the driver’s side door open. “We need to get that fixed for you. I don’t like the idea of you not being able to unlock your car after work. I’m not there every night.”

“I’ll take care of it. With everything going on, it kept slipping my mind.” She slid in behind the wheel and nodded toward a car she recognized as his. “Go. Get in your car and lead me to food. My stomach is going to digest itself soon.”

Trey offered her a mock salute, obviously deciding the key fob was a non-issue at the moment. “Yes, ma’am. You every wish is my command.” He turned and jogged toward his car, leaving Jessy wondering if he meant everything he said.

It took over ten minutes to get to the restaurant. Apparently everyone in Virginia Beach was out to lunch on Lynnhaven Parkway that day. When he finally led her into the parking lot of a strip mall, Jessy was confused. Maybe with all the traffic he had changed his mind about lunch.

Trey pulled into a spot and Jessy pulled up alongside him, rolling down the passenger window. A gust of cold air swirled into the car, making her shake. “Change your mind?”

“What? No. This is it. Come on, I told you it was a little hole in the wall.”

A restaurant in a strip mall worried her. How good could it be if they couldn’t even afford their own building?

Trey walked around her car and met her as she stepped from the driver’s seat. Tucking her arm in the crook of his, he led her to a tiny storefront she never would have noticed on her own. As they walked inside, the sweet, vinegary smell of Carolina barbeque assaulted her senses, making her mouth water. She might have moaned right then, but she would deny it until her death bed. She completely ignored the cashier eyeballing her and her disheveled, dirty appearance.

“Okay if I order for you?” Trey stood at the counter, looking over at her. “I’m not trying to go all alpha male on you or anything, I just have a feeling I know what you will like.”

Yeah he was going a little alpha male, but it actually didn’t bother her. Truth be told, she kind of liked him taking care of her a little. “Go ahead, I trust you. I need to go clean up anyway.”

She could feel Trey’s eyes on her as she walked to the restroom. At least, she hoped they were his and not everyone elses’ in the tiny restaurant.

Thankfully, the bathroom was a single-occupant-only space. She closed and locked the door behind her and turned to face the evil truth in the mirror. Opening eyes she didn’t realize she had closed, Jessy bit back a little scream. Pieces of dead grass and a few brown pine needles were stuck in her hair. Smudges of mud under her eyes made her look like a wannabe athlete, and the hem of her skirt was nearly black. Yay. Either Trey really didn’t see what a hot mess she was, or he was enjoying a secret laugh at her expense.

Squirting a pile of foamy soap in the palm of her hand, Jessy scrubbed her face until it was red and felt raw. Carefully picking all the vegetation from her hair, she then undid her braid and brushed through her waist-length hair. Her wrist ached with the effort. Apparently she had hurt herself a little in the fall after all. It took too much effort to try and braid her hair back up, so she tucked the long waves behind her ears, put her brush back in her purse,  took a deep breath and left the bathroom. Things were as good as they were going to get.

She caught sight of Trey setting two foam plates on a table, and headed toward him. He turned, one large Styrofoam cup in each hand and stopped when he saw her. “I didn’t know what you liked to drink. You look different.”

“No more dirt on my face?” She smiled and reached for the cups. “Let me fill them. I like sweet tea. You?”

“I’ll have the same.” He sucked in a breath as she turned away from him, bringing a smile to her own lips. “Jessy, your hair.”

She felt a light tug and glanced at him over her shoulder. “Thanks for not telling me it was full of pine needles.”

“I didn’t notice.” He kept step with her as she went to the drink station. As she poured the two sweet teas, Trey buried his fingers in the hair at the base of her neck, sending a shiver down through her.

“Here.” She turned and handed him one of the cups. “It was too hard to re-braid in the bathroom, but I can if it bothers you.”

“Bothers me? What is wrong with you, girl?”

“Wrong with me?” Unexplained anger started to boil slowly inside her.

“Relax, I don’t mean it as an insult.” He leaned forward, placing his lips close to her ear. “You have no idea how many fantasies I’ve had about that hair of yours. You’ve just made one of them come true.” He straightened and returned to their table, leaving her rooted to the floor and stuttering. Sam had hated her hair, said it got in the way of everything—clogged drains, irritated him while he slept.

Did Trey just say he had been fantasizing about her? Yes, he most certainly did. Tossing all her hair over her shoulder so that it fell, sensually she hoped, over her body, Jessy joined Trey at the table. She picked up her sandwich, complete with fresh coleslaw piled on the pork just the way she liked it, and took a bite, watching Trey all the while.

They chatted about the weather and Dixie and the colorful customers that Jessy was getting to know. When they were just about done, Jessy asked the question that had been on her mind for a while. “Have you always been a cook?”

“Have I always loved to cook? Yes. The job at Dixie’s though is just temporary…while I figure a few things out.”

Maybe she had been completely off base thinking he was a cop. Her instincts weren’t usually wrong, but maybe they were this time.

“What did you do before?”

“A lot of different things, much to the dismay of my father.” He laughed, but the sound lacked his usual humor.

She reached across the table and touched the back of his hand. “I’m sure he is very proud of you.”

“I guess. He is a good man. Does great things for people in need. He expected me to follow in his footsteps but I wanted something different. Something that didn’t quite fit the family mold.”

“I wish I knew how that was. My parents died when I was young, and my grandparents raised me. They loved me, but they didn’t have a lot of expectations of me. By the time I graduated high school they were nearing their eighties. I left home and have been on my own ever since. Until I met Sam on my nineteenth birthday. We were married a year later. If I could go back in time, I definitely wouldn’t have gotten married so young.”

“Our experiences in life make us who we are. I just wish your experiences hadn’t been so heartbreaking.”

She shrugged. “It wasn’t all bad. I mean, aside from the obvious. I had a good childhood. I just have a lousy taste in men, I guess.”

“Not all men are like your soon-to-be ex-husband. Some of us are capable of appreciating a real jewel when we find it.”

“I really hope not all men are like Sam. I’d be forced to join a convent, and I don’t really look all that good in black.”

Trey leaned back against his chair, folded his arms over his chest, and bellowed loudly, “Trust me, Jessy. You’d look good in a paper sack.”