Saturday, October 3, 2015

First Chapter Excerpt - Countdown to Christmas Pets and Kisses

Two Loves for Christmas by Mona Risk
Tabloid pictures of charming laywer, Josh Dutton, threaten his father's senatorial campaign. The family decides he needs a sweet 'temporary fiancée' to repair the damage. With only her German shepherd for friend, Emma struggles with problems. Attraction sizzles between Josh and Emma but no one mentions the 'fake fiancée' detail. When the truth surfaces will Josh be able to prove that his kisses were not part of a charade?
“We found you a fiancée.” Sitting behind his imposing desk, Josh Dutton’s father didn’t even blink as he uttered his outrageous statement.
“Excuse me?” Genuinely puzzled, Josh stepped closer and studied his dad’s expression.
Was the new campaign putting too much stress on Senator Howard Dutton?
Deep lines crinkled the skin at the corner of his eyes, but the senator’s lips showed his usual arrogant smirk. Had Josh been summoned to his father’s office in the Wellesley mansion just to hear this nonsense?
To reassure himself that he’d misheard his father, Josh spun toward his mother. Relaxing on the brown leather sofa she casually leaned forward to rearrange the roses in a crystal vase adorning the glass and brass cocktail table. The aromatic fragrance didn’t do much to soothe Josh’s mood.
“Mom, is he okay?” Josh jutted his chin out toward his father.
“Of course I’m—”
“Your father and I found you the perfect fiancée,” Nancy Dutton announced patiently. Usually her sweet voice agreeably counterbalanced her husband’s autocratic decisions. Today, her soft words exacerbated Josh’s headache.
“So kind of you, Mom. Frankly I’m not looking for a wife. Even if I needed to consider a serious relationship I believe I have enough willing women around me not to require your generous help.” He hoped his sarcastic tone would end the annoying conversation and allow him to leave soon enough to meet his gorgeous date of tonight. With a snort, Josh shoved his hands in his pocket and fingered his car keys. Convinced he’d better not linger around his father’s treacherous office he sidled toward the door.
“Too many willing girlfriends. Too many scandals,” his father bellowed. “That’s exactly the reason why you need a steady woman at your side. I’m fed up of seeing the tabloid magazines feature your scandalous exploits on a weekly basis.” Senator Howard brandished a newspaper and opened it to the middle page. “Look, look at this picture,” his father tapped the paper with a furious finger. “Look at this person.”
A muscle jerked along Josh’s jaw. Determined to remain unruffled, he took the paper and smiled at the photo of the blonde woman dancing with him at the City Hall Gala. “Nice picture. That’s Tammy Burt, a paralegal working at the court. Very pretty.”
“Who cares?” his father spat. “And this one?” He handed him a magazine with another picture of Josh with a brunette in a bikini on a yacht.
“Another good shot with Annabelle on her father’s boat.” Josh summoned his reserve of calm. “What’s wrong with it? We went out for the day with a group of friends. Annabelle is a colleague, a lawyer and a successful one at that.”
“A lawyer? All I see is an almost naked woman at your side.”
“Give me some credit, Dad. I have good taste. She’s not only smart, she has a stunning figure.” Josh affected a nonchalant shrug. His charm served him well in business and a beautiful woman on his arm never hurt. What more could he ask for?
“I can see that. And she’s cuddling against you for the paparazzi’s delight. Did you read the caption? Read it. Out loud.”
“Senator Howard Dutton’s son, attorney-at-law, Joshua Dutton, enjoying an outing in style. Hmm...”
“And this one.” Dad shoved another paper in his hands. “Read it.”
“Lovely Brooke McColey and Joshua Dutton in an amorous pose. Senator Howard’s son entertaining himself with extra-curricular activities while his father preaches hard work and good behavior to straighten our economical crisis. Maybe we should follow Josh’s example to succeed in life,” Josh read and examined the picture. “What a jerk. Anyway, don’t worry about this one, Dad. It’s an old photo from last year. We broke up a few months ago.”
“That’s the problem.” Senator Howard banged his fist on his desk and heaved a heavy sigh.
“Howard, let me explain the situation to Josh.” Nancy Dutton raised an appeasing hand. “Josh dear, you keep dating different girls and leaving them. Unfortunately this reflects badly on your father who’s running a new campaign. You’re giving ammunitions to his rivals and they are having a field day using all these pictures to snatch his voters.” She left the sofa and came to stand near the desk, next to Josh.
Josh frowned. On one hand he understood his father’s frustration, on the other hand Senator Howard’s endless campaigns tended to restrict his children’s freedom to no end. “I promise I’ll be more discreet.” Josh added a reasonable nod to appease his father and get him off his back.
“You already told us as much a year ago,” his father fumed.
Annoyed by his dad’s accusations, Josh opened his palms. “I can’t always look over my shoulder for a hidden camera.”
Both parents rallied around him.
“That’s my point. If you’re in an official relationship you don’t have to worry.” Senator Howard seized Josh’s arm in an iron clutch, proving he was still the powerful man his rivals would like to defeat.
An exasperated huff escaped Josh. “But Dad do you realize you’re asking me to sacrifice my chosen way of life for your damn campaign? Aren’t you going too far?”
“It’s only for three months. You can break the engagement as soon as I’m elected.”
His mother pushed her husband aside and grabbed Josh’s hands. “You know I volunteer at Newton-Wellesley hospital twice a week. Two months ago, I met this woman, Maria Cassiero, a patient, undergoing therapy after a difficult back surgery. Now she’s doing her best to walk again. Well last week, I found her crying and refusing more treatment. Apparently, the insurance hardly covered two-thirds of her expensive procedures. Her husband died almost a year ago in a boat accident. A mechanic by trade, he owned two thriving auto shops in the Newton area.”
“So why can’t she pay for her treatment?” So far his mother’s story didn’t hold much interest. “If you want to help her, I can contribute.” He reached in his pocket for his phone to write an online check.
“Thank you, Josh. No need for that now. I already offered to cover her extra costs when she mentioned that after her husband’s death the shops’ income greatly shrunk. Her stepdaughter left law school to take care of her.”
“Ah.” So there was a young woman in the picture. Obviously a good-hearted, loving daughter, generous enough to sacrifice her studies for her stepmother. A paragon of virtue, hardly his type. He bit back a derisive comment but gave his mother an impatient glance.
“Poor Maria, she sobbed while telling me she didn’t want her daughter to lose her future because of her. When she showed me the young woman’s photo I had an epiphany.”
Mom smiled and Josh’s heart sank. He’d already guessed the conclusion his mother had reached.
 “She’s so pretty. I could easily see her with you, Josh. But I don’t want to upset you by interfering in your life.”
“You could have fooled me.” He snickered. “So what have you and Dad been doing for the past hour?”
“Spare us your sarcasm,” Senator Howard barked. “All we want is your cooperation for three months. Only three little months with a beautiful fiancée.”
“She accepted?” Talk about an opportunist.
“We don’t know yet.” Mom sighed. “Stop bickering you two. I explained to Maria my idea of giving you a fiancée for a few months to erase the lousy image caused by your scandals—”
“Mom, I didn’t cause any scandals. I didn’t hurt any woman. I didn’t create any unwanted kid.”
“Thank God. As if we needed that.” Mom crossed herself and Dad’s cheeks turned a heavy shade of purple that worried Josh. He hated his father’s politics but he still deeply loved his parents. After counting to ten to recover his cool, he pledged to remain calm in front of any crazy eventuality they came up with.
“Okay Mom, keep going.”
“Well Maria was so grateful for my help that she promised to vote for Senator Howard and to bring Emma to meet you.”
“Emma?” Nice name. For the sake of his mother who’d never let him down, Josh smothered his annoyance. “You have a picture? I should at least see the face of the woman who’d be hanging on my arm for three months.”
“No picture, but you’ll meet her tomorrow.” A smile grew on his mother’s face. “I knew you love you father enough to —”
“Of course I love my father. And I love you.” He gently patted her shoulder.
“I invited them for dinner here and told Maria our chauffeur will pick them up around 5 pm.”
“Tomorrow?” Just like that. He rubbed his neck already feeling an unwanted noose strangling him.
“Will you do it, sweetheart?” Mom pleaded. “It’s for a good cause. Two good causes actually. Your father neutralizes the smear the tabloids have thrown on his campaign and Maria continues her therapy.”
“I see a third good cause.” Forgetting his usual diplomacy, Dad smirked. “Josh gets a taste of monogamy for a while.”
Josh’s mouth twitched at his father’s lousy joke but he swallowed his acerbic reply.
“Well what’s your answer, Josh?” Mom squeezed his hand although her tone had turned a tad impatient.
His gaze flipped from his mother to his father. In spite of her easygoing manner and charitable heart, Mom could be as manipulative as Dad. And often more efficient. No wonder Senator Howard had maintained his senatorial seat for ten years. He had her infallible support. How come Josh had never found a woman who loved him unconditionally as Nancy loved her dictatorial husband?
“Josh?” Mom repeated.
“Okay, Mom.”
“Oh darling, I knew you’d accept.” Mom threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. “You’re free to go now, but be here tomorrow before 5 pm. I’m counting on you.”
These were the same words he heard so often as a little boy.
I count on you meant he should ace his classes, score goals in soccer, win his tennis match, make sure his younger brother and sister behave. Yes, the same I’m counting on you. At ten or at thirty, the middle child of Senator Howard’s five kids hated to disappoint his parents.
Tonight the cost of his good behavior soared.
“Goodnight, Mom, Dad. See you tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Son.” His father gave him a hand and Josh shook it, and then Dad pulled him in for a hug. “I really appreciate your effort.”
His back straight, Josh feigned an indifferent expression and walked out of the office to the front door. These three coming months would test his will power, but he’d consider them a contribution to his father’s wellness, rather than his campaign. Maybe with a little blooming luck his engagement to Emma would prove to be a charming interlude.
In the comfortable but messy living room of their two-story house, Emma Cassiero helped her stepmother prepare for their special evening. Crouched next to her stepmother’s recliner, Rino, the golden-brown German shepherd, relaxed and watched her through half-open eyelids.
With precise downward strokes Emma swept and blended the makeup on Maria’s cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead. “Much better. This foundation gives you some color.”
Maria chuckled. “You can’t transform a sick woman who looks like a ghostly witch into Cinderella.”
“You’re beautiful, Mom. I just want you less pale if you’re so determined to visit these people. To be invited to dinner by a senator’s wife is not a daily event here,” Emma joked to lighten her own grim mood. “Right, Rino?”
At the sound of his name, the dog slowly moved his muzzle toward her, rubbed her leg and groaned his approval.
Maria slipped a pearl necklace around her head and clipped on her earrings. Exhausted by the effort, she slumped against the back of the recliner and closed her eyes.
“You look too tired. You sure you want to go?”
Mom seemed so preoccupied today. Several times she’d started to talk about her new friend Nancy, and then stopped in mid-sentence and mumbled under her breath. Emma had caught her crying a couple of times which was normal considering...
“The least I can do is accept their invitation. Nancy Dutton is a very nice lady. A generous soul the kind you don’t find anymore.”
“I’m grateful that she convinced you to sign up for the second phase of your treatment. That’s why I agreed to go to their house with you to thank her personally.”
Emma sighed at her reflection in the mirror above the living room credenza. The blue color of her outfit suited her well. She’d bought the silk dress when Dad took her out with Maria to celebrate her good grades at the end of her second year of law school. Little did they know that two weeks later his cherished boat would explode and kill him.
Mom had insisted she wear the fancy dress today. What a waste, just to entertain an unknown politician and his wife.
“I want you to meet Nancy and her husband. They’re good people we can count on if we need help.”
“I still wonder...” Emma sprayed a whiff of perfume on her neck and then on her stepmother’s. “Since when does a hospital volunteer, especially a senator’s wife, invite a patient to her house?”
“Nancy has become a good friend, always encouraging me. They want to meet you. Maybe he can give you a job or...” Mom blinked several times and bit her lip.
“Do you think so? A part-time job would be great. I’d still have enough time to take care of you.” Emma exhaled with relief. You’re starting to improve. You’ll walk again soon, Mom, with the right therapy.” Emma repressed the pang of anxiety gnawing at her stomach and blanked any sign of worry from her face. Bringing the walker closer to the recliner, she held Maria’s elbow with one hand and slipped an arm behind her back to help her stand.
“I’m doing my best, sweetheart. I don’t want you stuck to my side forever. I often pray you meet a nice man and find happiness.”
“Nice man?” With a snort, Emma crushed her mom’s daydreaming. Where would she meet a nice man who’d accept her and her mountain of problems? So far she’d met more jerks than nice men, Scott Garett and the likes.
“Yes, a presentable man, educated and with good-manners. You’re pretty enough to attract any guy you set your heart on. Nancy mentioned she has four sons and—”
“For heaven’s sake, Mom, stop dreaming. Politicians or their sons are not paragons of virtue. Far from it. They know how to take advantage of people.”
“But Nancy is not like that. She wants” Maria sighed. After she shifted to straighten her back, she rested a pensive gaze on Emma. “We won’t have problem with payments.”
“Of course we won’t. I told you I’ll sell the small shop soon. It’ll cover the first phase of your treatment, and then if necessary I’ll sell the second shop. It’ll be more than enough.” She offered her dear mom a reassuring smile.
Maria caught Emma’s hand. “Don’t sell anything. It’s your inheritance. It should help you go back to law school.”
“I’ll resume my studies once you get better. I can get a scholarship or a loan that I’ll repay later.” With a gentle hand she caressed her mom’s hair.
Rino scrambled up to a sitting position and turned his head to the left, his ears twitching.
The door bell chimed and he barked. Their ride had arrived.
Emma collected their purses, the box of chocolate wrapped in silver paper for their hosts, and a silk shawl for her mother to add over her suit.
A hiss escaped Maria’s lips as she slowly shuffled to the door. “You’re not listening, Emma, I don’t want you —and I don’t need you— to sacrifice the shops. Mrs. Dutton said she’d pay the medical expenses that are not covered by insurance.”
“No way.” Emma’s hand stalled on the doorknob and she stared at her mother, her eyebrows gathered in shock. “You can’t let a stranger pay for your treatment. We don’t need her.”
“She’s a dear friend now.”
“A senator’s wife? What does she want in return? Our votes for her husband?” Bitterness underlined her questions.
Maria shook her head and grabbed Emma’s arm. “Wouldn’t you vote for a politician whose wife is so generous? I would do anything to thank them.” She raised imploring eyes to her daughter.
“Why, Mom? We’re not paupers. Dad left us two auto shops. Why would you accept charity from strangers when I can help?”
A couple of votes didn’t justify paying for the expensive treatment. What else did they want from Maria and Emma? After her father’s death, Emma had met her share of unscrupulous people. Many had tried to take advantage of the sick woman and her young daughter.
“Enough, Emma. I want you to meet them before casting unfavorable judgment.” Her labored breathing frightened Emma. She refrained from more comments and opened the door.
“I’m Carl, the Dutton’s chauffeur.” In black suit and cap, the man gripped the walker to lower it down the two steps. “Are you ready, Ma’am?”
“As ready as can be.” Maria twisted herself to tackle the first step.
Rino growled at the stranger and bared his impressive canines. A bit on the defensive, the man jumped down two steps and stared suspiciously at her protector. “Huh, your dog wouldn’t bite, I hope.”
Sure he would. “Hmm.” He’d already done it to defend her. “Just a moment please. I’ll be right back.”
Emma raked her fingers through Rino’s fur the way he loved it and urged him inside. “Come, buddy, we’re going to the backyard.”
“Take your time, Miss. Meanwhile, I’ll help the lady to the car.”
Emma led Rino to the fenced backyard and the doghouse where he could nap in the shade. “Be a good boy.” She set out a bowl of water and another with chow. “Have fun and guard the house.” After an extra dose of caresses, she entered the kitchen and closed the door, then went to the front hall entrance.
The driver had settled Maria in the backseat of a black Mercedes waiting at the curb. After an indifferent glance at the luxurious car, Emma locked the house and slid next to her mother. Lost in her thoughts, she repeatedly cursed her stepmother’s tendency to match-make and barely paid attention to the scenic drive or the time spent until the driver slowed down to pass through a gate. The car rolled on a gravel driveway between two rows of magnificent maple trees and stopped in front of an imposing mansion.
Good Lord, was that where they were having dinner?
Emma climbed out of the car while the chauffeur opened the other side door to help her mother. Their hosts must have been watching for their arrival. An elegant woman in a maroon dress, her strawberry blond hair impeccably coiffed, glided down the five marble steps and bent to hug Mom. “I’m so glad you were able to come, my dear Maria,” she greeted with a friendly voice.
“Thank you for inviting us and sending your driver.” Maria turned to Emma and proceeded with the introductions. “My stepdaughter, Emma Cassiero. Mrs. Nancy Dutton.”
“Emma, what a pleasure to meet you. You’re even prettier than your picture.” Nancy hugged her with as much affection as if she had been a long-lost niece.
Why had Mom shown her picture around? Was Emma making too much out of a friendly gesture?
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Dutton. I’m very grateful for the support you’ve given my mother. This is for you.” Emma gave her the box of chocolate.
“Thank you. Very kind of you. And here is my son, Josh Dutton.” Nancy waved to the striking man who’d followed his mother outside. Gorgeous enough to be called Man of the Year on any magazine—and make Emma’s heart beat erratically. Maybe she’d been confined at home for too long caring for Mom and had forgotten some men could be attractive enough to stir her blood.
 Josh’s unfathomable gaze swept over her from head to toe and backtracked, roaming over her legs, skimming her waist and chest, and resting on her face for more appraisals.
Oh but he was so annoying... even conceited.
A flush warmed Emma’s cheeks but she raised her chin, returned the once-over, and stared him down. “Mr. Dutton,” she said with an icy tone.
Amusement glittered in his ocean-deep blue eyes shaded by a fringe of long dark lashes. “So glad you came, Emma.” He had the audacity to wink at her.
Yes, a perfect jerk.
In spite of his brazen arrogance, his smile confused her and her gaze riveted on his chiseled jaws and nose in the hope of finding his features lacking. Wistful hope. Physically he was close to perfection.
A queasy feeling filled her stomach and she slowly inhaled to regain control of her senses.
Nancy guided Maria up a side ramp and through the front door opening on a marble entry hall adorned with an antique credenza, gilded mirror and a velvet love seat. “Please come inside. We have a lot to talk about.”
Was Mrs. Dutton planning to explain her generous offer?
Emma didn’t have time to delve into the question. A warm hand settled on her back. Josh’s lemon scent surrounded her. He led her to a huge family room furnished with two brown leather sofas, matching armchairs, dark wood cocktail tables, and various knickknacks she couldn’t take in with her mental faculties focused on the large palm stiffening her shoulders and melting her insides.
Without waiting for an invitation she eased out of his hold and scooted to her mother’s side. Nancy had already helped Maria into a comfortable wingback chair and arranged a pillow behind her back, and then sat on a chair close to her guest.
Ignoring Josh who observed her curiously, and determined not to share a sofa’s closeness with her unsettling host, Emma sidled to the matching wingback chair across from her mother’s and dropped there.
A robust man in his late fifties entered the room, a jovial grin on his face. “Ladies, what a pleasure to meet you. Nancy talks so much about you.”
“Here you are, Howard,” Nancy introduced her husband.
“Maria, I feel I already know you.” Senator Howard was as friendly as they come.
His charisma filled the air and he outstretched both arms to enfold Maria’s frail hand between his. With silvery hair at the temples and thin lines underlying his eyelids, he presented a mature and pleasant personality quite in line with his position. Emma flipped a glance from the senator to his son and noticed the subtle smile hovering on Josh’s lips.
He’d settled on the empty sofa and seemed amused by his father’s affable greeting.
Had she missed something?
About the Author
NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Mona Risk
A tireless traveler, Mona lives in Florida and writes contemporary romance, medical romance, and romantic suspense, simmering with emotion and sprinkled with a good dose of humor. Her novels are set in the fascinating places she visited--or in Florida, her paradise on Earth.
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Countdown to Christmas Pets - Dog-Gone Christmas!

Dog-Gone Christmas by Melinda Curtis
Widow Marnie Haywood wants Christmas hosting her in-laws to go smoothly. And it would – if her handsome neighbor and his friendly St. Bernard would stop coming over, mooching food, and stealing kisses.
“The abominable snowman is in our backyard!”
Marnie Haywood kept stirring the gravy. She had a few days to perfect her gravy-making technique before Christmas. She wasn’t going to burn the gravy this year, especially since her in-laws were coming for the holiday.
Besides, the likelihood that a live snowman was in their sunny San Diego backyard was small.
Five year-old Alex jumped up and down next to her. “Abominable! Snowman!” He made claws with both hands and dropped his voice to a monster snarl. “A-bom-in-a-ble! Snow-man!”
Maybe it’d been a mistake to allow Alex to binge-watch Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and sample the baked goods she’d made to share with their friends and neighbors. He was supercharged, bursting with enough energy to power Rudolph’s nose through a foggy all-nighter.
No fictional snowman was ruining Marnie’s gravy. She stirred as vigorously as her son jumped.
And then they both stopped, because something growled. Something in their backyard.
Alex gripped her jean-clad leg. “I told you.” He pointed to the glass slider behind her. The one leading to their condo’s backyard.
A thin sheet of glass separated them from a huge white dog. A pony-sized dog. A slobber-on-the-slider, paws-as-big-as-softballs, jaws-as-big-as-bear-traps dog.
Marnie’s insides shimmied like tinsel near a heating vent. This situation wasn’t covered in the Single Mom Handbook.
The dog gave another growly-grumble.
“No. I will not let you in,” Alex said as if he understood dog-speak.
The canine drooled and licked the slider, but mostly he panted. Now that the initial shock of him had passed, Marnie noted he had a black nose and a brown mask and ears. He was just so large, white, and Abominable Snowman-like.
“He’s thirsty.” Alex’s death grip relaxed on Marnie’s leg. “We have water, doggy.” Her little man took two steps toward the slider before Marnie dragged him back.
Panting, the dog plopped to his haunches and tilted his head to one side, trying to see in.
“Mama, you said we have to be nice to the new neighbor.”
Their condo shared a backyard and a wall with the unit next door. They’d heard someone move in yesterday. Marnie had planned on introducing herself tonight after whoever moved in had time to settle. But this…
Marnie held on to Alex’s small shoulders. “That dog is not a new neighbor. He’s a stray.” Had to be. There was a no pet policy at the condo complex. She had no problem with people sneaking in hamsters, indoor cats, or parakeets. But this…
The dog rested his humongous head on his humongous paws and made a sound that was half growl/half howl in a way that sounded as if he said, “But I’m harmless.” And then he put a paw on the glass with all the grace of a ballerina.
Her heart wanted to soften. But Marnie was a single mother. She had to be strong.
Alex broke away from Marnie’s arms and ran to the sliding door. He pressed his hand where the dog’s paw was. His small one was almost a perfect fit with the dog’s.
Marnie hurried after him. “Touch that slider latch, young man, and you’ll never watch Rudolph again.”
The beast lifted his head slowly, staring at Marnie with soulful eyes. He licked the glass near her son’s face before resuming his panting in a way that sounded like, “Hot-hot-hot-hot.”
Granted, it was warm. Ninety degrees wasn’t too warm for San Diego. But it was warm for the week before Christmas and for a big, furry dog.
“Water, Mama. Please?” Alex had big soulful eyes of his own.
“We’re not letting in a stray dog.”
An even larger figure stepped on to their small concrete patio.
Shrieking, Marnie and Alex stumbled back.
The setting sun outlined a towering, muscular frame, and kept the man’s face in shadow. He surveyed the backyard, paused, and then peered inside as the dog had done.
A second scream caught in Marnie’s throat. A man. At her backdoor. With only a flip-lock and a thin sheet of glass separating them.
He moved, and sunlight illuminated him in all his raggedy glory. A sleeveless black T-shirt, faded blue jeans, and tan work boots – torn, dirty, and scuffed. None of which made her pulse slow. Her gaze met his smiling one – blue eyes as soulful as the dog’s, his teeth just as white. She wasn’t fooled by his good looks and that meant-to-be-reassuring smile. Dressed like that, her money was on vagrant serial killer. The Single Mom Handbook was clear on big strange men in tattered clothing – call the police.
Marnie ran through their small living room/dining area and into the galley kitchen, looking for her phone. Where had she left it?
“Mom?” Alex pointed to the patio.
The man had straddled the sitting dog and was pounding the beast’s barrel chest as if it was a drum. “Good boy, Snowflake.”
Snowflake?” The name was more fitting for a small white poodle than that monstrosity.
The vagrant serial killer straightened, smiling as if he had the world at his feet. He knocked on the glass.
Did she trust those soulful blue eyes? That sun-kissed brown hair? That sigh-worthy smile?
Alex did. He unlocked and opened the slider.
“I didn’t do anything.” Her son’s standard disclaimer.
Snowflake bounded in, circling Alex and licking his face, eliciting a giggle. The dog finished with her son and galloped through the living room, past the Christmas tree, toward Marnie.
Big white teeth. Big white paws. Big white underbelly.
He tackled her, knocking the air from her lungs, banging her head to the hardwood, and wiping every trace of makeup from her face with his tongue.
“Off the nice lady, Snowy.” Using the dog’s nickname and his cop voice, Jonas Johnson took hold of the St. Bernard’s collar and pulled him off the petite woman. “Sorry. He only tackles people he bonds with.”
“But…We just met.” She wiped her face with the back of her hands. “Tell me you didn’t move in next door.”
“I did. I was crashing at a friend’s apartment, but Snowy wouldn’t have fit in that small space.”
Introductions were exchanged.
The little boy, Alex, giggled. “You smell like my friend Ursula’s Christmas tree.”
“That’s because I’m managing some Christmas tree lots for my family. We have a big Christmas tree farm. Three generations.” He took a couple of weeks off from the police department at the holidays every year to help out.
Holding Snowy back with one arm, Jonas extended his free hand to help Marnie up from her whitewashed hardwood floor. Only then did he get a good look at her – velvety brown eyes, a delicate nose, and a cascade of black, silken hair. Her small hand fit in his like a properly placed puzzle piece. When he brought her to her bare feet, she hardly came to his shoulder. But there was nothing petite about her attitude.
“No dogs allowed.” She tossed her hair and tugged at her clothing. Her hair was straight and her body was curvy, covered in blue jeans and a simple red tank top.
Something shifted in the air between them. And it wasn’t dog breath. It was a bone deep awareness that spread from Jonas’ lungs to his chest to his gut. Her words finally sunk in. “No dogs? In your house?”
“In the entire condo neighborhood!”
“Well, I…Is something burning?” He glanced at the brick fireplace. Was that what had him all tied up in knots?
My gravy.” The spitfire hurried into the small kitchen, turned off the stove, and put the saucepan on the back burner. “Ruined again. I’ll never get past this.”
Snowy trailed after Marnie. He was tall enough to put his nose on the stove, but he didn’t. He took deep breaths and then did his doggy-mutter, the one he used to beg for food. He sat, still talking, sounding hopeful and reproachful at the same time.
“Gravy isn’t good for dogs,” she said. “Especially dogs who aren’t supposed to be here.” She leaned against the counter, brought Jonas in her sights, and crossed her arms.
“Don’t you like Snowy?” Little Alex hugged the St. Bernard. “I do.”
Snowy made a soft noise and licked the boy’s cheek.
“He talks,” Jonas said, studying her for more than just her negative reaction to a dog. “How can you not love a dog like that?”
“It doesn’t matter what skills your dog has. He has to go. Little boy. Big dog. Someone’s going to get hurt.” She touched the back of her head, wincing slightly. “The policy is clear. No pets.”
Snowy slumped.
She couldn’t possibly care that much about the rules. More likely she didn’t want any more overly-loving take-downs or extra-large poop piles for Alex to step in.
 “He’s not my dog,” Jonas admitted. “I’m taking care of him for a friend who just deployed. This was the only place I could find that was available on short notice and had a fenced yard.” Yeah, he’d seen the photo of a Marine in dress blues on her corner table next to the brown microfiber couch. And yeah, he wasn’t lying. Darren had been deployed with his SEAL team yesterday and was due back in two weeks.
Her gaze flew to the picture in the corner. Something flashed across her face. Pain? Guilt? Remorse? The jumbled emotions disappeared as fast as they came, triggering Jonas’ spidey-cop sense. What had begun as a friendly, neighborly distraction, threatened to plunge into private territory Jonas wanted to avoid.
Jonas flashed an expression of his own: his most charming smile – the one that settled speeders he’d pulled over to ticket and that sold Charlie Brown Christmas trees at full price on Christmas Eve. “I’m only here until Christmas Day and then I’m gone.”
“So he’s here until the holiday?”
The “he” in question grumbled softly and slid to the floor, putting his head on his paws. Alex sank next to Snowy and gave him another hug.
Marnie shook her head. “Does Snowflake always take things so personally?”
“He’s a sensitive dog.” Her white granite counter was lined with baked goods, including an open tin decorated with toy soldiers and filled with sugar cookies. “Are these homemade?” He selected a red stocking cookie as she nodded, and then handed one to Alex. The cookie was soft and sweet, worth savoring. “I miss home cooking. Your husband is a lucky man.”
Marnie paled.
“Daddy’s in Heaven.” Alex stood, dropping cookie crumbs on Snowy’s head. He bounded over to the couch. “And my grandparents live in Houston and Hackensack.”
Somebody liked alliteration.
“Michael’s parents are coming to spend the holidays with us for the first time.” Marnie’s words were tension-filled, her eyes clouded with worry. “They arrive day after tomorrow from Hackensack.”
Ah, the reason for the rules comes out.
Marnie glanced at the pot of ruined gravy and then back to Snowy. “Is there anyone else Snowflake can stay with once they arrive?”
“No.” Jonas took another cookie and admired the fridge art. If he had to guess, the rectangle with stick legs, Xs for eyes, and a red nose was Rudolph.
“Just for a few nights?” Her voice had a hand-wringing quality to it that reached inside Jonas’ chest and squeezed.
How far did she have to reach before she found his heart? Most days lately, it felt like it had gone missing. Some days, like today with an exuberant, friendly dog, it felt merely Grinch-sized.
“My former in-laws didn’t approve of me either.” Jonas admitted begrudgingly, tugging at his wrinkled, sap-stained T-shirt over the place where his heart should be beating. He was only crashing here for a few days. Why did this have to be complicated? “Hillary’s parents wanted someone with a college degree and an office job.” Anyone who wasn’t a cop.
Snowy climbed onto the couch and curled into a tight ball next to Alex, who leaned on him as if he was a pillow.
“I just…” Marnie lowered her voice, glancing at her son. “I just want us all to get along and move past...things.” Her gaze returned to the photograph of her dead husband. She seemed as reluctant to talk about her past as he was. “Things that…Well, I just want Christmas to be perfect.”
Things. Such a small word with such big emotional punch. According to his police captain, Jonas had “things” to get past before he could return to patrol. For the first time in weeks, Jonas felt he wasn’t the only person in this oversharing world that didn’t want to regurgitate the past. Maybe that wasn’t sexual attraction he’d felt when he’d helped her up earlier, but an intuitive emotional connection. Had to be. He hadn’t felt anything like it since.
 “I could be convinced to take Snowy to work with me at the Christmas tree lot while they’re here, if you could see it in your heart to share some of your holiday treats.” He gestured to the apple pie and cinnamon rolls on the counter. Both looked homemade.
“Could you?” Marnie perked up. “I’ll close the curtains at night so they won’t see Snowflake. This will be perfect.”
Snowy grumbled and nuzzled Alex’s head.
Jonas bit into his cookie. It was bakery quality. Really, setting aside the burnt gravy, Marnie had skills in the kitchen. “So we have a deal?” It was the least he could do for their mutual “thingness.”
“We have a deal.” And then Marnie smiled.
He hadn’t seen her smile before, hadn’t experienced that deep hit of joy and enthusiasm.
The air deflated from his lungs quicker than an inflatable snowman with a puncture wound.
This had nothing to do with things.
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Melinda Curtis
Award winning, USA Today bestseller Melinda Curtis writes the Harmony Valley series of sweet and emotional romances for Harlequin Heartwarming, and the indie pubbed Bridesmaid series. Brenda Novak says: “Season of Change has found a place on my keeper shelf”. Melinda also writes independently published, hotter romances as Mel Curtis. Jayne Ann Krentz says of Blue Rules: “Sharp, sassy, modern version of a screwball comedy from Hollywood's Golden Age except a lot hotter.”
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Monday, September 28, 2015

#NewRelease/giveaway ~ Erotica - Cheerleaders in Heat

Cheerleaders in Heat
   Muffy Wilson  and  Chrissy Laurence
                @SexyMuffyWilson            @LaurenceChrissy                   

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Miami Rattlers Cheerleader Cherie Redd is exquisitely beautiful, athletic, and very, very lonely. Romance: a puzzling phenomenon she figured had something to do with guys' fear of rejection or lack of self-confidence because they just didn't have what it takes to win someone like Cherie. 
Titillatingly sexy and breathtakingly beautiful, Cherie and her other cheerleading friends often spent their lonely Saturday nights lamenting their beauty and available just for the asking. The prettiest single women around: lonely, loveless and forlorn.
Frustrated by too many quiet nights at home or with other cheerleaders, Cherie was oh-so-eager for romance and a man to seduce her lavishly. She wanted to feel what a real orgasm in the arms of an adoring man was like once again. So, she tucked her vibrator away and took to the Internet. Cherie had no clue how rapidly the seduction would begin or where her life would careen as a result. Painfully naive and overwhelmed by admirers before her spinning head cleared, Cherie was learning things her momma never even knew enough to warn her about. 
Follow Cherie and her friends as their sexual scoreboards light up brighter than in any stadium as their downward spiral introduces them to hot ménage sex, perversion and degradation.
Or does it?
Even his muscles have muscles for The Girls

An Insatiable Appetite for the Explicit *HOT* Edge 
Once in awhile, a book comes along that really captures your imagination. 
This book does that.
It begins as a charming “anything goes” chronicle of Cherie, and her cheerleader friend’s, 
journey beginning with Internet dating on the wild-side of South Miami nightlife. 
Timely situational circumstances hold a mirror on the breath of today’s edgy living, sensation-seeking society reflecting a degradational descent into drugs, alcohol, BDSM, casual sex, and sexual perversions.
This book was hard to put down. The pace was a roller-coaster ride of surprising 
twists and turns—some funny, some not, all thought provoking—all totally absorbing.
However, the underlying story is one of love: 
wanting it, losing it, looking for it, finding it,  and underestimating the power of love.
Outstanding, entertaining read! Wilson and Laurence nailed this one! 
You will not see the end coming…..
~ PA Jiuditta

As the evening darkened into night, the lights of Miracle Mile slowly came on, one-by-one, to welcome the late comers to the Strip. They were clearly interested in one another, their eyes locked in a magnetic embrace. Her emerald eyes lost their golden flecked luster to a dark, nighttime desire, matching Juan’s. Their hands touched often, fingertips communicating the messages lovers speak that only they can hear. Cherie, thinking the better of the two with the most to lose, excused herself to the ladies room.
The Girls take on the Hot-Hungry Media
There was a fiery feeling building up a steam that needed expression and release. In the restroom stall, Cherie raised her dress and put her hand up her thigh. She moved her red thong out to the side as she searched for her honey spot, now wet and eager. She knew this would not take long; so much emotion had burned through her already tonight.  Her head relaxed to the wall and she began to finger herself rapidly as she thought about Juan holding his cigar and the size of his hands. God, but he was handsome, tall and virile. She wondered about his cock. Was he circumcised or did he have a turtleneck sweater? She smiled and released a slight giggle. Was he long, thin, short, thick, wide and flat, bushy or trimmed?  How did he smell: like a warm musky forest after a light rain or like boot leather? Did he like briefs or boxers?  Oh, God, maybe a thong… Oh God, oh God, maybe he was wearing a thong now, or nothing! She could feel the earlier tension redirecting energy to her clit as she became more and more aroused at the thought of Juan’s cock.  She was adept at fingering herself and she wasted no energy now.  She began to moan and move with the rhythm of her hand and fingers.  She released her neck muscles and her head rolled from shoulder to shoulder.  She could feel it all over now, everywhere.  She was electrified, getting wetter with each stroke. Damn, she wished she had her finger vibrator, but she only carried it when she travelled. She would have to rethink that strategy another time.
She is reading for pointers from The Girls
She moaned, gyrated, clinched and quivered.  She moved in harmony with her passion, with the ebb and flow of her pulse. Her eyes closed floating in the image of Juan, and then she raised her foot to the seat in the stall.  She spread her legs giving her hand full open access: oh, what a vision she must have been.  She was hot, looked sublime, and coming soon in her red silk undies.  Her thong and garter belt pushed aside, she tormented her clit and pussy.  Aware that people looked at her as if they wanted her made her feel better and gave her an emotional edge. She pretended Juan was looking at her now in the same way.
She began to come in her hand: two fire-red tipped fingers plunged inside of her pussy and her red-tipped thumb found the pink pearl of her existence.  She worked herself into frenzied hot passion as she imagined Juan kissing her, holding her breasts, pinching her nipples, bending to suck her aureole and bite her nipples.  Her hardened nipples stretched and made an appearance under her tight fully
He just collided with an 80 year-old Grandmother at a bus stop
fitted dress.  God!  Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, God and she released a moan with her breath as she gripped her thighs tightly together, pushed, quivered, contracted and came.  She stood like that for a few seconds then relaxed as she rotated her head and released her neck muscles.  She felt like a new woman: a woman that knew she should be headed home before her quality time with the man at hand, Juan, turned into quality debauchery. 
Cherie emerged from the ladies’ room looking like a redheaded goddess, to Juan’s eye. It was a wonder to him what women could do to themselves in a few short minutes to freshen up.  Begging the late hour and an early call tomorrow, Cherie left after the next glass of wine and a penetrating kiss promised more to come.

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Chrissy Laurence ~

Chrissy Laurence is the cousin of Best Selling mystery writer C.K.Laurence. Chrissy has always wanted to write, but until her dear friend Muffy encouraged her to do so, she kept the manuscript she had started tucked away without moving forward.
Thrilled with the opportunity to collaborate, she forwarded her manuscript to Muffy. It turned out that the two women were a perfect team and the result of Chrissy and Muffy's work is CHEERLEADERS IN HEAT...
Yours to read and enjoythoroughly!

Muffy Wilson ~ 

Muffy, author of erotic, romantic novels and stories about love, sex, hope and passion, was born in San Antonio, Texas, to traditional parents. With two older brothers, she was the youngest, the family "princess," indulged and pampered. She adored her older brothers, following them everywhere and was surrounded by love, stimulation, and pets. Her father was a career Colonel and pilot in the U.S. Air Force which required the family to travel extensively. The family lived in most points between Alaska and France. Muffy spent her formative years in Europe and came of age in France.Returning from France with her family, Muffy finished high school in Northern California and attended the University of California at Davis and majored in Business Management. She entered the work force, independent with a fierce work ethic, and retired at 39 from IBM as a Mid-West Regional Director in the Real Estate and Construction Division. She and her husband moved to a small Island in northern Wisconsin where they owned a historic one hundred year old tavern, restaurant and resort business which they since have sold.They now live a charmed life by the water in SW Florida. Muffy pretends to be a serious real estate business person but, in real life, indulges her private interest writing sexy stories and sensual literotica.  ~ Live, Laugh, Love with Passion. 

Ravenous Romance, Decadent Publishing, Yellow Silk Dreams, 
Secret Cravings Publishing, Oysters & Chocolate 

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