About the drawing first!
Click on the picture to see what we already have for our giveaway.
This is what we’re adding. It’s a Sterling Silver toe ring. Only because James is into jewelry and well…if you read Stare Him Down when it releases you’ll see why.
Here is scene #3 of Stare Him Down. If you didn’t read scene 1 & 2 here are the links
The Donavan ski lodge a year later. The annual company competition
James knew he’d put his foot in his mouth the second Bran Donavan jumped to accept.
“Great. Are you sure you don’t mind going back to the cabin to check up on her? I’d go myself, but I’m expected to stay until the race is over.”
James shifted his skis from his right shoulder to rest against his left one. “No. I’d be glad to. You know I wasn’t planning on participating this year anyway.”
“Good thing.” Bran studied him for a second and then added, “But I hope that decision wasn’t based on you worrying about winning and thereby creating more waves with the crew. I’m well aware of how your advancements have been viewed by certain members of the board. You need to ignore them. You’ve earned every promotion I’ve given you.”
James wasn’t worried about this, but he was sensitive to it. In only a few years he’d become Bran’s right-hand man. Much to Decker’s chagrin, and most of the other guys vying for advancement in the company. “I should hope so. You fucking work me like a dog.”
Bran smiled. “I know. And now there’s more work for you to do.”
James had gathered his skis and was just about to step away when his boss’s words sunk in. “Work?”
His friend and mentor nodded. “See if you can get my girl to talk. She’s going through something right now and we haven’t had enough time together for me to draw it out of her.”
“And you want me to talk to her?” James was a little surprised. The last time he had come face to face with her was when she’d screwed him around with that conference call. Sure they’d seen each other in passing—a company thing here or there—they’d both been polite to each other, but from a comfortable distance.
“Yeah, I think she likes you. You’re the only employee she’s ever bothered to ask about. Several times in fact.”
He didn’t like the way the older guy was staring at him. Nor did he like the observation he’d just made either. “Again. And you want me to go back to the cabin and speak with her? Isn’t that a good reason for me not to go?”
“I know you have a certain lifestyle. There are rules and protocols you strictly adhere to, correct?”
James nodded, relieved that Bran had brought the topic out in the open.
“Michaela is my daughter and she knows nothing about those things. She never will. Understood?”
James did, better than Bran would ever know.
“Great. Besides, you’re the only man I trust. I’d trust you with my life.” He put a hand on James’ shoulder and even through the heavy ski jacket material James felt the heaviness on him. It weighed him down, much like the added pressure of being asked to deal with an angsty teen. But he’d do it. “I am trusting you with my life. You know how I feel about her.”
Of course he did, but even if he didn’t, James didn’t want anything to screw up the solid relationship he had with this man, so he thought he’d try one more time. After all, signing up to check in on someone was far different than sticking around and speaking to them about their problems.
Not just any someone. This was the girl with a Mona Lisa smile.
“Bran, I really think you should be the one to talk—”
“I can’t. I’m too close. If her mother was still with us…” He looked away and James realized how hard it was on the poor guy. Then he recalled how Bran had confided in him a few months ago when he’d shared his fears about Michaela and him growing apart. It was bound to happen. Most girls around Michaela’s age usually did grow up and find a man to replace Daddy. Damn. He nearly choked on the irony of that thought. After all, in his world outside of work, James counted on this natural evolutionary process between men and women. It worked to his benefit. This transfer of need was something he relished, but not with her. Never with her because of the respect he had for her father.
“I’ll do my best then.”
When the man looked back, relief was written all over his face. “Thanks. We’ll be up around dinner time. I’ve got one of the chefs from the lodge trucking up supper for all of us tonight. It should be fun.”
James didn’t know about that. Especially when he made the trek up the mountain on one of Bran’s expensive snowmobiles and the dark gray clouds overhead opened up, pelting down snow. This was a heavenly occurrence to a skier, but hell for him. Why? It was a little too Charlotte Bronte for his tastes. A Dom being stuck in an isolated cabin with a gorgeous young woman who supposedly had a crush on him.
He revved the engine of the Polaris, thinking there was no way this afternoon could get any worse…until it did.
The cabin that evening at dusk
She clutched the pillow over her head and curled up tighter into a ball. If her dad didn’t stop knocking on her bedroom door she was going to scream. What was wrong with him tonight? Normally he gave up after a few tries when she was in hibernation mode.
Her eyes popped open and she blinked in the darkness under her covers. That wasn’t her dad.
“I’m coming in if you don’t answer the door in the next thirty seconds.”
That was Barrington. She tossed the pillow aside and sat straight up. “What’s wrong? Is my dad okay?”
“He’s fine. Open the door.”
She really didn’t want to for many reasons. The biggest one? She’d been wearing the same sweats for a couple of days and it smelled like it.
“I’m going to start the count down.”
Holy shit, he was. “Hang on.”
“Five—No, I suppose your dad hangs on. I don’t—Four…”
She turned on a bedside lamp and scooted off the mattress. One quick check of her image in the mirror attached to the dresser as she rushed by it, intent on the door, and she winced. Her hair had seen better days, but then so had the rest of her. She was one hot—
She lost her train of thought when she opened the door and saw him. He was mad and disgusted. Maybe even a little surprised. “Damn? Damn what?”
“You are one hot mess right now.” She couldn’t argue with that. “What have you been doing all afternoon?” But she could take exception to his brusque demand.
She leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms to ward off the chilly air. “Obviously not my hair. What’s it to you?”
His smile was tight. As if the action was paining him. Didn’t he know he was the one wrecking everything at the moment? All she wanted to do was sleep and get over her funk. She hadn’t pounded on his door.
“I want you to come down and help with dinner.”
He may as well have said, “I want you to hand over fifty grand and a box of your finest cigars.” She wasn’t eating, and even if she was, she wouldn’t be cooking for anyone. She barely even cooked for herself. “No thanks.”
She stepped back and managed to get the door halfway closed before his big hand landed with an abrupt bang against wood. The knotty pine surface vibrated so hard she felt the twangs straight through to the grip she had on the brass knob.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t a choice. Get yourself cleaned up and come downstairs. I’ll meet you in the kitchen in fifteen.”
She really didn’t know what to say to all this. Could he really make her? “But…but I don’t want to.”
“First rule of negotiations? Never show your opponent what you’re holding in your hands.”
She looked down, and then let go of the door handle and scowled up at him. “I don’t have anything in my hands.”
His voice softened when he said, “Yes you do. You have the power to choose.”
“I thought you said I didn’t have a choice?”
“Not with what I have planned for our dinner, that’s been decided. But with other things? The sky is the limit unless you keep slamming doors on me. Are you going to continue to slam doors in my face, Michaela?”
She swallowed so hard she was afraid he’d heard the action. Suddenly she was hot. Short of breath, and wishing for the life of her that she wasn’t standing just inside her room with her crappy sweats on.
His big frame filled the doorway.
He was patiently waiting.
“Are you going to answer me…?”
That whispered query sounded as if he’d cut if off short. As if he had wanted to add an endearment to it, like honey, or sweetheart, or love.
She swallowed hard again, only this time she vigorously shook her head before she whispered back, “No door slamming. I’ll be down in fifteen minutes. You can time me.”
His smile widened and then he saluted her right before he left. She thought about that odd gesture as she got changed. The action was the same as the one he’d given her that night after he’d returned her medallion. Only this time it felt different. Very, very different.
“Don’t be crazy,” she muttered. “There’s no difference. None. Zip.”
But there was because she was still warmly blushing from it…
The kitchen, ten minutes later
He was trying to keep his cool, but seriously? He’d returned shortly after lunch only to find that Michaela intended to sleep the whole afternoon and evening away. He’d been patient, but when he’d received word from Bran that the snow was so bad the main ski lodge had closed down the lifts, and advised against making the trip up the mountain pass on vehicles, he knew he had to do something. Plan A had been to tell his boss that he hadn’t gotten the chance to talk with her because clearly the young woman was exhausted and needed her sleep.
“Fucking snow.” Because of it, plan A was a bust.
He continued carefully trimming the salmon as he thought about what he’d just done. He’d gone upstairs to bully her in the gentlest, almost flirtatious way he could. Was it his fault she’d eaten it up like—?
It was all his fault.
He didn’t need a plan. He needed a motive. Some other reason to put the third degree to her besides his boss asking him to. He wasn’t a meddler, nor did he believe in passing the buck. Yet now that he was going to be pulling an all-nighter with her on his own?
Yeah. He was going to have to get to know her.
“Hi. I’m here with a minute to spare. Did you say something?”
He shook his head and then angled a look at her. Big mistake. She had done what he’d asked and cleaned up. Brilliant. Now, all she’d been hiding under her baggy jersey sweats was nicely molded in a tight, long-sleeved pink T-shirt, and a pair of dark and equally snug jeans.
“What can I do to help?” she asked, as she opened one of the cabinet doors to retrieve a glass. Unfortunately, when she rolled up on tiptoe to reach the shelf inside, her shirt rode up with her. Was that a sterling navel ring she was sporting?
“Help.” It was an unconscious slip of the tongue. He should have formed the one word into a question, or he should have flatly told her the truth. She’d be helping him immensely if she tucked her shirt back in. Or better yet, returned to wearing her sweats.
When had she grown up?
When she ditched her dad, searching for a different kind of relationship with a man.
“Dude, you don’t look so good.”
And with that statement, all was right with the world again. She may look the part of a grown woman—absolutely, positively she did, but she was a young adult.
He could deal with young, bratty, and emotional. “No need to be concerned. I’m fine. Are you any good at chopping vegetables?”
She turned and eyed the two items. One bunch of broccoli and half a dozen carrots he’d left on the cutting board. Then she shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess we’ll see.”
After she was all set and had started the job he’d given her, he returned to his own task of preparing the salmon. “Don’t tell me you’ve never cooked your own dinner before.”
His hand stilled in the process of shaking black pepper over the fish. “Okay what?”
“I won’t tell you.”
Her Mona Lisa smile had nothing on this cryptic edge to her personality. He liked it. “I give.” He finished peppering both sides of the salmon. “What will you tell me?”
“I like soup.”
His chin dropped to his chest and he turned to study her profile. “Soup?”
“Yes. Tomato and chicken noodle. Sometimes I crave cream of mushroom. Usually when I’m hung over. You have no idea how great a crushed up bag of saltines stirred into the broth tastes. It’s a healing miracle for a delicate stomach.”
“There’s no soup tonight.”
“No soup for you!”
It took him a second to realize she wasn’t mocking him. She was mimicking the Seinfeld soup Nazi character.
He liked that too.
Then there was a comfortable silence between them as he placed the salmon fillets on the broiler pan. Nothing but the sound of her knife hitting the cutting board in a gentle series of chop, chop, chop. Chop, chop, chop. But then, by the time he’d put the fillets next to the oven, he noticed the sound had increased and the frequency had decreased to sharp and hard chops. Chop! Chop! Chop! Chop!
“Whoa. Easy there. You keep treating that knife like a hatchet and you’ll lose a finger. As it is, you’ve done a great job of slaughtering the broccoli.”
Initially she attempted to fight off his hold, but when he didn’t let go, she gave up with a sigh. “I shouldn’t be here.”
So this was her problem. She wanted to be somewhere else. Probably with the guy she wanted to replace her dad with. He let go of her hand and gave her some room. “I take it your dad insisted you be here?”
“Yes. He wants me to hang out with Mr. Decker’s son, McCauley Jr. The schmuck might be Jr., but he’s a bigger dick than his dad.”
James grinned, for no other reason than he whole-heartedly agreed with her. “Is this why you’ve been hiding out? Your dad is worried about you.” He turned and set the oven temperature to four hundred and fifty degrees. Then he looked at her. “Tell him you don’t want to babysit.”
“I have. Oh, and McDick Jr. isn’t the reason I’ve been hiding. I can deal with him.”
The way she said this made James think there was something pressing on her that she couldn’t deal with. Brilliant. “What’s going on?”
She picked up the knife and started chopping the emulsified broccoli again. “I’m not telling you.”
“Yes, you are, but first you’re going to stop killing the stems.” He pointed to the carrots. “Murder those for a bit while you tell me.”
“No.” He knew she meant no to telling him, when she started chopping the carrots and they began flying all over the place.
“Jesus, you’re a menace with a knife. Give me that.” He took the blade away from her and easily began slicing through the long, orange vegetables. “And yes, you will tell me. Why?” He stopped slicing and angled a look down. “Your father is worried sick about you. Is it a guy at school? Did someone put the moves on you, make you uncomfortable, or…?”
“Moves? I wouldn’t care about that. It happens all the time.”
This was so not what he wanted to hear.
“By some of Dad’s closest friends.”
Definitely not what he wanted to know.
“Decker even. Senior, not junior.”
Brilliant. Lecherous old fucker.
When she turned to stir the potatoes boiling on the stove, he was relieved, hoping the topic of her being hit on was at an end, but as it turned out? It wasn’t. Not even close.
“The office doorman asked me to marry him last summer, only because he was looking to start the honeymoon right away. Dad’s favorite security guard begged me to meet him in the parking garage for a little—” she paused here and tilted her head as if thinking about how to describe the invitation. Apparently she settled on the basest way possible, when she continued, “—participate in a taste-test of the foreskin kind. Decker cornered me in a conference room right after that. No asking or begging from him. He just growled an order like I would drop everything, even my clothes, and be all over what he was offering.” She gave a shudder of disgust and James didn’t blame her.
“Michaela Donavan, it seems you take after your mother. From what your dad has told me, she didn’t have any filters either.”
She stopped stirring, but didn’t look up at him. “My dad talks to you about my mom?”
Great. Now he’d done it. He’d singlehandedly peeled one more layer off the shield he’d hoped to maintain between them. If he started talking about her mom, he’d go from being a casual acquaintance to what? A confidant?
He was just about to brush that truth aside, when he took note of her profile and how still she was while she waited for his answer. She appeared hopeful. Didn’t—?
“Dad never talks to me about Mom.”
That quiet admission made his chest tighten because he knew it was true. Bran only talked to him about his late wife, Celia Donavan, when the guy was three sheets to the wind, and him getting in that condition rarely ever happened.
“He loved your mother.”
She looked up and he was struck by the color of her eyes. Violet. Not blue like he’d thought. “Is that all he tells you?”
“No.” Very carefully he used the knife to corral the carrots into one neat pile before he put the blade down and turned to her. “He told me once that your mom drove four and a half hours to your very expensive summer camp to pick you up because someone had drizzled red paint all over your sheets and then hung them out the window of the cabin for everyone to see. He said she took one of the male counselors off at the knees for laughing over the prank.”
Slowly she nodded, and when he saw her pretty eyes start to turn glassy, he was sorry he’d shared this with her.
“Thank you for reminding me.”
But then, maybe he wasn’t.
“My mom was…she was my best champion,” she whispered.
And his heart squeezed a little tighter in his chest.
Brilliant. Trapped and not because of the snow.
An hour and a half later in the library, sitting in front of a raging fire
Wow, he had a great laugh. A great smile. A great…well, everything. Seeing him comfortable like this made her realize how young he was as well. When he’d been at her bedroom door earlier, even in the kitchen, she would have described him to anyone who asked, as him being older. Grown up. No, mature. Too mature for her. But now he seemed so much younger. Approachable.
“Hang on a minute.” He held up a hand. “You can’t seriously be thinking you won with that word. Where’s the Scrabble dictionary? Not that I need one. Fangshui? It’s feng shui, two words, by the way. And fang? Not getting that one by me.”
She so was. “Haven’t you ever heard the term?”
He shook his head and she noticed how nicely his eyes sparkled when he was amused. “No.”
“It’s an elite group of vampires who enjoy positive energy in their nests.”
He lifted a brow at her. “The undead are concerned about their energy? They should be more concerned about living in nests.”
She had to work hard not to smile. If she was going to get away with this she had to sell it. If he got another turn he’d win and if there was one thing she hated, it was losing. “They don’t live in nests, per se, at least not physically. It’s more a figure of speech. The same way we live in communities. So you know they do live in houses, just like we do.” She vigorously nodded when she saw she might be losing him. “We live in communities, but also in a house, right?”
“This is what you’re going with?” He sat back and folded his arms over his chest. “So these nests of elite vampires buy furniture that they have to fangshui? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“Exactly.” She wasn’t going to fool around here. Quickly she scooped up a few tiles off the board so he couldn’t challenge her anymore. Unfortunately, in her haste, a couple of them dropped to the floor. “Uh oh.”
He wasn’t fazed. He shifted, bending forward to pick them up, speaking as he checked the floor for them. “When do they shop?”
She was staring at the top of his head. Actually, his hair. She wanted to touch it. “Shop? At night of course, or online.”
“I can only find one.” He straightened and tossed the tile to her. When she snagged it, he said, “Good catch.”
She clutched the square piece so hard the corners dug into her palm. “Thanks.”
“So tell me more about these fangshui elitist vampire nest people.”
She turned away from his direct stare because she didn’t want to carry on with this. No wonder her dad had fast-tracked James’ promotions. The man was unflappable. Determined and so charming she needed to get out of here before she said or did something stupid. More stupid than trying to get him to swallow her made up fangshui concept.
The second tile. “Oh. I see the Q. It’s right under your seat. To the left. No, your other left.” He gave her a withering look, so she widened her eyes and pretended she didn’t notice. “I can’t lose that. It’s worth ten plus points to a player.”
After he searched, but couldn’t find it, she decided to help, even though she’d been trying to stay on her side of the coffee table. “I’ll get it.”
She wasn’t going to get on her hands and knees. Not around him. So she sat beside him and bent down to reach under the sofa. It was farther back than she realized, and she wound up having to put her hand on what she thought was the couch cushion. Turns out the block of steel was his thigh, just above his knee.
With her other hand she searched. The tip of her index finger touched the tile. Now all she had to do was coax it forward just a little until she could get a hold of it.
“What’s their adage? I’m fairly sure every elite group has one.”
Did he just flex his leg or had her grip tightened on him? Please let it be the first one. Please, please, please. She stretched as much as she dared, nearly pulling a muscle in her arm. “You mean like a motto?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
His tone was deep, not mad sounding, but definitely authoritative. She closed her eyes and went all in trying to reach the tile.
His hand was on her arm.
On. Her. Arm.
His grip was as steely and rock-hard as his thigh had been.
Oh boy. She liked it.
She managed to reach the tile and then blurted out at the same time, snapping up so her hair cartwheeled over her head, “Get bitten facing the right direction and it won’t suck.”
Their gazes locked. He didn’t blink and neither did she.
“That’s quite a motto.”
She couldn’t even remember what she’d said. All she knew was that she was being pulled, not by him, but dragged by some unseen force to lean toward him. One inch, two, three. She was so close to pressing her lips to his, barely a breath-span away, that when he shifted back she almost fell forward into his chest.
His tone was soft. So…apologetic and gentle that she knew—could actually feel her face flaming in heated embarrassment. She’d put the moves on him and he’d backed off.
Oh, no, no, no. She didn’t want to deal with this. Not now. She put the tile on the table and then shot up. Before he spoke her name again, she rushed out of the library, up the stairs, down the hall and into her room, closing the door, and wishing for the world she’d never come out from under her covers tonight.
And now for my Honey story. This is titled: The Rack
Okay, so as most of you know Honey and I have been doing a minor remodel that blew up into a major one the second he took down the first wall. And, for the most part, I have dealt with the upset around the house, my office, and basically in life in general, fairly well.
I was willing to put up with all this because he was working like a madman, but then he tells me on Saturday that he’s agreed to start another big project for a client before he finishes ours. That wasn’t part of the deal. He was supposed to get ours completed before he took on anything more. Why?
We have moved out of the master bedroom, and we are now sleeping in one of the guest bedrooms. The problem with that? Well, aside from the bed being a queen size when we are used to a king, it’s like sleeping on a rock. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “Riley why don’t you buy a nice cushiony mattress pad to soften things up a little?” *Points finger at you* I did that and then it was too soft!
When I complained to Honey about the too hard and then the following too soft problem, he shook his head and said, “Who am I living with? Goldilocks?”
To which I promptly replied. “I wish because when I get out of that bed I feel more like The Hunchback from Notre Dame. And who am I living with? Pinocchio? You promised you’d finish this up in a week and now it’s going to take weeks.”
He kind of made light of this, but to me, it is a big deal. Remember how I sleep like a vampire? Well, as it turns out, I do and this affords Honey a nice uninterrupted sleep. How do I know this? Well, I’ve been lying next to him wide awake most nights for nearly a week.
Did I mention me having time on my hands to think is never a good situation for Honey? No? *Looks right at you* It’s not people. If I’m not dreaming up new things for him to build, do, or otherwise keep busy, I’m coming up with ways to entertain myself. *Looks away* Then mutters, “At his expense.”
Last night? That would be one of those times when I was looking to amuse me, and it all started with the Mother’s Day card my daughter bought me. She so gets me, which is why the card was not only covered in felt-type cut out pineapple drink images with colorful umbrellas sticking out of them but when you opened it you were greeted with the most kick-butt luau music that played really loudly – I thought – for a card. And what better time to enjoy the music than in the middle of the night when not a creature was stirring, but Riley, right?
We hadn’t been in bed for more than five minutes when I snuck the card out from under my pillow in the total darkness and opened it up. One second later I totally regretted my bug-Honey decision. Why? As the sounds of the pacific played, Honey slept right through it, but my poochie? She freaked out and by the time I got her settled so she wasn’t barking her face off, I realized that my little stunt woke up my feathered Oscar Pavarotti in his nest – which I swear has to be right outside the guestroom window.
There I am lying like a vampire next to Honey ten minutes later listening to my pooch, who is doing the low growl at anything – I mean – anything. Static sound on the sheets *grrr…* Me sniffling, *Grrr…* Me silently thinking, “Grrr…* AND, when I’m not focusing in on her doing that, I hear Oscar beyond the window pane, chirping his little heart out. Perfect, right?
Perfect happened when Honey rolled over to face me. In a soft and calm voice, he asked, “Would you like me to test our fire alarms now as well?”
I heard him, and yeah, I recognized that tone as not being a happy one, but seriously. I was so looking forward to getting my house back this week and now because he’d taken on another project I’m looking at weeks lying on this rack, so how could I play nice? I pulled the duvet up to my chin and answered him in a louder than normal voice, “What did you say? I can’t hear you over the dog growling and the bird caterwauling.”
He chuckled. The pooch growled. The bird chirped louder. And Riley? She buried her head under the duvet and continued to work on her crooked spine.
One upside to all this? The horrific experience has inspired me. Oh, yes it has. I’ve come up with this really interesting spin on Goldilocks. Hey, I may even write it down if I’m not crippled before I get my bed back. *Fingers crossed*
As always, thanks for stopping by! Don’t forget to leave a comment. You know the drill. If you’re a subscriber you’re automatically entered into the build-a-giveaway drawing, but if you leave a comment your name gets added each time, for more chances to win. Yay! I think we only have two more items to be added before we do the drawing. Can’t wait!