Excerpts, Reading

Excerpt: Rules of their Fake Florida Fling

Six weeks, one wedding, no falling in love… Will the neurosurgeon and the anesthesiologist be able to stick to their rules and keep their sizzling attraction at bay? Rules of their Fake Florida Fling is available now, and you can read a short excerpt below!

“YOU REALIZE THREE other surgeons have turned this case away?”

“They weren’t me.” Dr. Asher Parks shrugged as he looked at the head of the surgery department, Dr. Levern. Asher wasn’t bragging—not really. Just being honest.

He was the best neurosurgeon at Mercy General. The best in Orlando, Florida…one of the best in the nation. He knew his skill set.

He’d chosen neurosurgery because it was complicated. In the academic world nearly everything had come easily…again not a brag, just a fact. Neurosurgery offered a challenge so many other things didn’t. And Asher loved a challenge.

This surgery was difficult…some had said impossible. An operation most neurosurgeons wouldn’t touch, and this was a competitive field. But it was a challenge Asher could meet; he was certain of it.

“A tumor in the spinal cavity. Definition of unlucky.” Dr. Levern flipped through the images on the tablet, clicking his tongue at the results.

Asher felt his nose scrunch and intentionally leaned back. It was unlucky. Statistically, nearly impossible. He understood this line of work required at least some compartmentalization of emotions. Dr. Levern didn’t mean anything by the throwaway comment, but there was a person on the other end of that “unlucky.”

Jason Mendez. Twenty, barely more than a teenager, with a full life in front of him. He should be worrying about college, or starting a career, or dating. There were so many things one looked forward to at twenty, before adult realities sneaked in. A tumor had ripped that “normal” away.

Unlucky indeed.

“It’s grown by three centimeters in the last six months.” Asher rocked back on his heels, trying to keep the frustration at bay. A tumor in the spinal cavity was dangerous. The surgery would take at least six hours, assuming everything went well. Three other surgeons had looked at the location of the tumor and told the patient to prepare for the end.

But Asher wasn’t ready to concede to the fates. Jason knew the risks, knew that a single slip could paralyze him. Knew that if the tumor had any attachments not currently seen on the images, removing it completely might not be possible. Since it was cancerous, that would buy him time, but not forever.

Jason understood he might not make it through the surgery. That was always a risk, but, when dealing with neurosurgery, the risks were even higher. Still, as Jason had told him, he was already under a death sentence. May as well give it a go.

And Dr. Asher Parks was more than willing to give it a go. In fact he planned to do this flawlessly. Perfection!

Dr. Levern clicked his tongue again. It was a tell every surgeon in the hospital knew. It meant the head of surgery was leaning toward yes and trying to convince himself it was the right choice.

“Think of the prestige the hospital will get for doing this.” Asher kept his voice upbeat even though the words tasted like dirt. He hated it that hospitals took prestige into their calculation matrix for high-risk cases. He may have chosen medicine because it was a challenge, but saving lives was supposed to be the purpose.

And it was for most doctors. But hospital administration was a different beast. All spreadsheets, profit margins and dividends. Unfortunately that was the beast Dr. Levern had to answer to.

“You’ll write a paper? Answer any questions, if they’re asked? Interviews, if necessary.”

“Of course.” Asher could see the mental calculations of at least a hospital-organized local press release and a medical journal publication coalescing into the affirmative. It shouldn’t matter, but that wasn’t the way life worked. And for his patients, he’d do anything.

“And you’ll have to have the best team for this. They’ll need to sign off on participating.” He tapped a pen against his desk. “It’s high risk and…”

“Understood.” Asher wanted to pump his fist, but he kept his pose professional. This was going to be approved. Jason would get the surgery, and Asher would wield the scalpel. If anyone balked, well, most of the hospital owed him at least one favor for stepping out on a limb for them.

“That includes Dr. Miller.” Dr. Levern handed him back the tablet.

“Of course.” This reply was more subdued, but Asher kept the smile on his face. “Dr. Miller and I get along fine.” That was a bit of a stretch, but Dr. Levern didn’t push him on it.

Leaving Dr. Levern’s office, Asher went in search of Rory Miller. Better to talk to her before word trickled out. He might need a bit of time to get her on his side.

He and Rory tolerated each other. They worked well together, but their personalities were diametrically opposed. He was a jokester, had to find some way to expel the stress, while she was commonly called the Rock of Mercy. She was great at her job, cared about her patients. Listened.

And the woman never flinched, never worried in surgery, never showed any emotion.

Unless it was annoyance with Dr. Parks! They’d lived next to each other for almost five years, worked together for six, and yet he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the woman smile.

Not that he hadn’t tried. It was his secret personal project. Six years with no success, every attempt expertly rebuffed. All work and no play for the Rock. But Asher was persistent. One day he’d find the crack…

He’d met the anesthesiologist at the new-employee orientation. Sitting next to the fiery redhead with piercing green eyes should have been the highlight of his morning. Their safety presentation had been drier than dry. The monotone of the instructor made most of the assembled employees yawn.

He’d leaned over and made some joke…something lost to the fog of time now. And Rory had looked horrified; that he hadn’t forgotten. Her jade eyes flashing as she shook her head. The drop of his stomach as the beautiful doctor judged him…and found him lacking.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

The Prince’s One-Night Baby – Excerpt

Who loves a royal romance? Me!!! I love writing royal romances and am so excited to share my first royal medical romance, The Prince’s One-Night Baby!, out October 25th.

Enjoy this brief excerpt:

There’d been a photographer sitting in a car when she’d first arrived, and more had appeared in the last hour. In Seattle, she’d occasionally seen journalists and photographers at the hospital, but never near the maternity wing, and usually only after a terrible accident.

“Waiting for our new OB.” Alexa let out a sigh as she looked out the window. “A few of them camped out back there, too. Guess they want to make sure they covered all potential entrances.”

“Did he work as a movie star at some point?” Calla chuckled as she looked up. The nurse’s stare cut the sound out of her throat. “Seriously, he was in the movies?”

“No.” Alexa looked at her and crossed her arms. “Did they really not tell you that you’d be working with King Ioannis’s little brother? Prince Kostas?”

“Kostas?” Her throat went dry as she processed the name. No way her Kostas was a prince. He would have said something…right?

Uncertainty pooled through her. Would he have told her? Their physical connection had been deep, electric, magical, but they’d not actually spoken of where they were going.

She’d called this an adventure and he’d only said he was going home. And that he wasn’t looking forward to his family’s expectations…

No. That didn’t mean anything. Far too many people had family expectations that were overburdening.

She and Kostas hadn’t shared too much, but that was a protective measure, one to guard their hearts as the heat between them burned but didn’t allow for any future. At least, that was how Calla viewed it and had assumed it was the same for him.

But what if was something else?

It had taken Liam almost a year before he’d told her how much wealth his family had. He’d claimed other girlfriends had used him for his family’s money.

She chewed on her lower lip. Surely, her Kostas, the man she’d spent the most passionate day of her life with, wasn’t a prince. It was just a name.

If he looks half as good as he did at his brother’s coronation, then he could be in the movies. But Palaío’s Prodigal Prince chose medicine.” The tinge of annoyance at the words Prodigal Prince sounded almost maternal. As if Alexa understood the desire but couldn’t quite countenance the choice the royal had made.

“Where was he working before?”

“Some city in the US. Starts with sea…” Alexa tapped her finger against her chin. “Sea—”

“Seattle.” Calla set the tablet down as she leaned against the desk.

“That’s it!” Alexa stated.

Kostas. Her mouth was dry. Kostas was here. Her heart hammered as she tried to figure out what this meant. Does it mean anything?

They’d had one blissful night together. But they’d given in to passion because they’d never expected to see one another again—or at least that was why she’d followed her needs.

Her cheeks heated as the memory of his fingers on her skin lit up her mind.

You can get your copy of Kostas and Calla’s happily ever after from your favorite bookseller here.

Excerpts

A Date With Her Best Friend

Can a fake date—change everything?

Paramedic and single dad, Tom, is gorgeous, but to Cara he’s simply her best friend. So when she needs a pretend date for her meddling father’s fundraising ball, Cara knows exactly who to call! Yet learning to dance together in preparation, is it her imagination or is there suddenly a spark between them? Firefighter Cara knows she can’t replace the wife Tom lost, but deep-down she’s always loved him, and his son.

Is Tom beginning to feel the same?


A Date With Her Best Friend comes out next month! But here’s a little to whet your appetite!


Cara Maddox was two sets in on a five-set high-intensity weights workout when her phone went off. The scary ringtone she’d allocated to her father filled the fire station’s small gym and she debated whether to ignore the call. But familial duty got the better of her and she set the weights down with a sigh.

Wiping her face with a soft towel, she accepted the video call. ‘Hi, Dad.’

Her father smiled at her. ‘Hello, darling, how are you doing?’

He was sitting in a comfortable leather chair, and his background told her he was in the library of Higham Manor, her childhood home. Shelves and shelves of leather-bound books behind him reached from floor to ceiling.

He peered closer, then frowned. ‘You look shattered. Are you taking care of yourself?’

‘I’m in the middle of a workout, Dad.’ She checked her watch to note her heart rate and then paused her workout.

‘Right. Of course. Got to stay fit in your type of job, I guess.’

‘That’s right.’

She stiffened slightly when he mentioned her job. Felt herself instantly go on the defensive. Her father had never been a fan of her joining the fire service. If he was calling just to have another go at her about it, or to suggest she change jobs, then she’d end the call. She really didn’t have any time for that kind of nonsense any more.

‘What can I do for you?’ Best to get right to the point.

‘I was wondering if you were going to come back home at the end of the month, for your mother’s party? We haven’t seen you in a long time, and it would be nice to see you.’

As he finished speaking, Michaels, her dad’s butler, came into view, carrying a tray with coffee and biscuits.

‘You’re seeing me now.’

‘Come now, Cara, you know it’s not the same. It’s your mother’s birthday. She’d want you to be there.’

‘She’s been dead for years, Dad. She’s not going to know whether I’m there or not.’

Her father bristled, waiting for Michaels to leave the room before he began speaking again. ‘But your family will. Our friends will. The servants will. What will they think?’

‘It doesn’t matter what they think. I don’t know them. They’re your friends and associates. Not mine.’

‘It’s her birthday, Cara,’ her father said, as if that should be enough explanation for everything. As if that should be enough motivation to get his daughter to do everything he wanted.

She felt guilty for trying to avoid it, but she’d been to many of those evenings before. They were meant to be about her mother, but all they were was a huge chance for her father to network with his friends and/or try to fix her up with the son of one of them. There would be a speech. Her mother would get a token mention. Heartfelt but short. Everyone would raise a glass and then her father’s pals would go back to whatever business deals they were arranging, exchanging cards and contacts over cigars and brandies. And the entire time Cara would stand there, feeling awkward, trying to make conversation with a Tarquin or a Theodore—people she didn’t know, who were all rather surprised that she did the job that she did.

It wasn’t what they expected. She was the daughter of an earl, and they expected her to be something other than a firefighter. The patron of a charity, perhaps? Someone who had a lot of lunches with her lady friends and cared way too much about handbags and nail polish. She was Lady Cara Maddox, after all.

But Cara didn’t care for titles, or expectations, nor did she have lady friends. Most of her friends were guys. Her best friend was a guy. Tom Roker. Sweet, dear Tom. Handsome Tom. Paramedic. Father to a beautiful little boy called Gage. And widower of Victoria, who’d been willowy and tall and exquisite. Preened to perfection. The kind of woman Cara’s father obviously wished his daughter would be more like. The kind of woman Cara could never be, which put Tom—dear, sweet, lovable, handsome Tom—completely out of her league.

Cara had always preferred the company of men. But that was what happened when you grew up with three older brothers and didn’t quite fit in with the young ladies at your posh school. You hung around at rugby and polo matches, you laughed and joked with the boys, you competed with them, wrestled with them. You got to know your brother’s friends and they were mostly guys. On the odd occasion when one of her brothers had brought home a friend who was a girl, Cara had had no idea how to talk to them! They’d seemed a different breed. Alien! Not interested in the slightest in Cara’s topics of conversation, such as rugby or whether they wanted to arm wrestle! Clothes and designers and parties had been completely off her radar.

‘I know. You don’t have to remind me. I can remember all by myself.’

Her mother’s birthday had also been her death day. For many weeks Serena Maddox had lain in bed, trying vainly to fight the ravages of breast cancer that had metastasised to her lungs, liver and bones. Cara had sat by her mother’s bedside in those last few days when she was mostly asleep, listening to the fluid building up in her mother’s lungs and throat, sponging her dry lips as her breathing got slower and slower, and she’d held her mother’s hand as she’d taken her final, agonised breath.

It was a day etched into her brain. A memory filled with so much pain and so much guilt that she had never been the daughter Serena had dreamed of. Cara had let her mother down, and her father knew that, and she hated it when he used that to his own advantage.

‘Come home, Cara. Your brothers will be here. Clark is flying in from New York next week. Cameron will arrive a few days after that,’ he said.

‘And Curtis?’

‘In Milan, still, but he promises he’ll be back for the party.’

She could hear the tone in her father’s voice. The tone that said, I’m glad my boys have flown the nest and are upholding the Maddox name, but I do wish they lived closer to home.

Her father, Fabian Maddox, Earl of Wentwich, was a proud man, and often boasted about his three sons, but Cara knew he would prefer to have them close by, so that the Maddox men could be a force to be reckoned with. Instead they were spread out across the globe, and their father could only preen, in their absence.

Clark ran a prestigious law firm in New York, specialising in family law and pandering to the rich, Cameron was in Cape Town, South Africa, running a business that built cruise ships, and Curtis was the CEO of Maddox Hotels, whose head office was in London. But she knew they were currently constructing a new hotel in Milan, which he was overseeing.

She spoke to her brothers often, and though she’d never felt any judgment from them, she wondered if they, too, questioned her choice in jobs.

But being a firefighter was all she’d ever wanted to do. Ever since she’d been little, when a fire had broken out in the kitchens and her family and the staff had rushed from the building, only to watch in awe as firefighters rushed towards the flames. They’d arrived in huge fire engines, unloading equipment and hoses, and the flames licking out of the downstairs windows had soon been transformed into thick, grey smoke, billowing up into the sky.

She’d felt a nervous excitement at seeing them, had felt herself come alive watching them. It had been a heady feeling, and one she’d wanted to chase from an early age, even telling her parents, when she was just six years old, that she was going to be a firefighter. Oh, how they’d laughed at that, and Cara had felt flummoxed and confused by it. Why was it such a funny suggestion? Why did they all keep telling her that she’d change her mind when she got older?

She sighed. If all her brothers were coming back, if they were making the effort… She’d not planned on going this year. She’d done her duty, honouring her mother’s birthday over the years. She’d been ready to start missing a few. Remembering her mother in her own way instead. Laying a wreath at her grave. Saying a few words, perhaps. Just…remembering, without having to stand around feeling uncomfortable, with people she didn’t know, in order to fulfil some duty that her father had imposed.

Thankfully, she was literally saved by the bell.

The siren blasted out through the station. ‘Gotta go, Dad.’

‘But you’ve not given me your answer!’ He leaned forward in his chair, filling the screen with his face.

‘Sorry! Speak later!’ And she ended the video call, pulling on a navy tee shirt and trousers over her workout clothes.

When that siren sounded you dropped everything.

Including any guilt.

In fact, she was grateful for it.

The siren meant that whatever was happening with her right there and then had to be put to one side for later. It wasn’t important. What was important were the people who needed help. Those trapped in cars after an accident. Those who watched their businesses and often their livelihoods burning to the ground.

Green Watch often couldn’t save someone’s car or house or factory, but they could try to save lives—and that siren meant someone or something needed to be saved.

And that was what Cara lived for.

Mills and Boon

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (US)

Amazon (Australia)

Excerpts, New Releases

Excerpt – Nurse’s Outback Temptation by Amy Andrews

Hello peoples out there in cyberspace! My first medical in about 4 years is now out in the world so I thought I’d drop an exclusive excerpt here for y’all to check out.

If you’re interested, click on one of the covers for more info!

Happy reading 🙂

You and I are going to have to stop apologising to each other all the time

“Found them,” he called, grabbing a smaller box out and returning to Chelsea.

She averted her gaze as Aaron strode towards her then crouched to put the box on the shelf where it belonged. Grabbing one out, he rose and handed it to Chelsea.

“Thank you,” she murmured, glancing at him briefly as she took it.

Dropping her gaze, she pulled the pen out from her hair and made a check mark on the form clipped to the board. Rationally, Aaron knew, she wasn’t doing it as a turn on but, bloody hell…something about it or about the unselfconscious way she did it, was super sexy and the urge to kiss her throbbed through every cell in his body.

And he really needed to quash that urge right now because if that’s where she always stashed her pen, he was going to see that a lot and wanting to kiss her every time she did it would be seriously inconvenient.

“Any time,” he said gruffly. “Anything else?”

She looked at him briefly and opened her mouth as if she was going to say something then thought better of it and shook her head, dropping her gaze to the clipboard again.

Aaron sighed. Okay, maybe the talk couldn’t wait a week. Maybe they should hash it out now. Staring at her downcast head he said, “Chelsea…I think we need to talk.”

It took a beat or two, the only sound the low hum of the air-con, before there was a definite rough release of breath and her chin lifted, her gaze meeting his. “Okay.”

“We can’t keep doing this –” He waved a finger back and forth between them. “We have to work together so –”

“I know, God, I know,” she interrupted, her gaze beseeching. “I’m sorry, I just…can’t stop thinking about how much I embarrassed myself on Wednesday night and you said it wouldn’t be weird or awkward but it is. It really, really is. And that’s on me and I’m just so sorry.”

Aaron shook his head, taking a step towards her because he didn’t want her feeling like that but he didn’t know how to convince her. He wanted to grab her arms and squeeze them a little to really get it across but he kept his hands by his sides.

“You didn’t embarrass yourself. You should try barging into a woman’s hotel room in the middle of the night. A woman you don’t know and is in nothing but her underwear and you’re going to be working with her two days later. That’s something to be embarrassed about. To be sorry about.”

Her snort was full of derision. “That was an accident. My…action was deliberate. God.” She shut her eyes briefly and shook her head. When they flashed open again they were full of anguish and she leaned in towards him as if to implore him. “You were just being kind and welcoming and I must have come across as the worst kind of sex-starved…” She bugged her eyes at him, leaning in closer. “Widow. Making a play for the first guy I’ve been alone with in three years. I totally blew it and I just…” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry.”

Her impassioned tirade hit Aaron square in the chest, her torment over the incident palpable and he couldn’t take the rawness of it. His heart was beating fast and his breath was heavy as wet sand in his lungs. She seemed to be under the impression that she’d been the only one feeling something on Wednesday night.

And he just couldn’t bear it.

Lifting the hands he’d had clenched at his sides he slid them either side of her face as he swooped in and kissed her – hard – trying to convey that she hadn’t been alone in that moment. That her kissing him had not been some kind of unwanted advance.

Her clipboard clattering to the floor broke the spell and Aaron pulled away, his hands dropping to his sides again. For something that hadn’t been more than a pressing together of lips, he was breathing hard. So was she.

Bending over, he scooped up the clipboard, then handed it back. She took it and they stared at each other for several long beats, not saying anything.

“You and I are going to have to stop apologising to each other all the time,” he said when he found his voice although it was rough, gravelly. “I liked it… the kiss on Wednesday night.” His eyes burned into hers. “You weren’t the only one who was feeling it, you know?”

Her eyes searched his for what felt like forever. She swallowed. “Okay…”

It sounded tentative but she wasn’t rejecting the premise of his statement which was a relief. “But, here’s the thing,” Aaron continued, his voice a low murmur. “I think you’re still in love with your husband and, as I said on Wednesday night, I don’t get involved with out-of-towners so what’s say you and I just be friends? Do you think we can do that?”

“Uh huh.” Her voice was stronger, surer. “I’d like to.”

Aaron smiled. “Me too.” Truth was, he’d like a lot more but there was no way he could see it ending well for him. Why borrow trouble?

Just then the store room door opened and Chelsea’s eyes widened as she looked at him. “Chelsea?” It was Charmaine. “Are you still in here?”

“Yes…sorry,” she called, her eyes never leaving his. “Just finished. I’m coming now.” She started to back away, shoving her pen back through her hair and Aaron gave her his friendliest smile because man…that move would be the death of him, he just knew it.

Finally, breaking eye contact, she turned away from him and Aaron’s gaze snagged on the swish of her pony tail and the poke of her pen as she hooked a right at the end and disappeared from sight.

The door closed shut and Aaron let out a long, slow breath, confident that Chelsea and he were on the same page with the friend’s thing. And it didn’t matter how much that kiss – or the one on Wednesday night – had affected him. Had made him want things. They were on track to managing the situation between them so he just wasn’t going to think about inconvenient truths. Or those kisses.

Yeah…he was never going to think about them again.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Their Marriage Meant To Be

PROLOGUE

Five years ago

A wisp of her son’s golden hair fell across his forehead as the fan at the side of his hospital bed blew air around the small room. Bex reached out to smooth it back, her touch light, delicate. Tender.

It was easy to pretend he was just sleeping, after a hard day playing outside in the garden. His little face was so relaxed in repose. The lovely, long eyelashes that he’d inherited from his father rested still and inert upon his soft pink cheeks.

If only he was sleeping.

If only he didn’t have half his face obscured by the tube that was breathing for him.

If only he’d not had a stroke.

The nurses had turned him onto his left side, and he had one hand gently curled into a relaxed fist. He still had dimples where his knuckles should be. How she loved his little hands. They were so expressive. The way he’d clap them when he was happy. The way he’d raise them above his head, begging to be picked up. There was nothing Charlie loved more than to be held by her, so he could play with her hair as he rested his head against her chest.

The doctors said that he wouldn’t be doing that any more.

He wouldn’t be doing anything any more.

Was it her fault? Could she have prevented this? If she’d only got him to hospital sooner…

The burn of tears scorched her eyes, filling them with salty tears that ran freely down her face as she leaned over him, adjusting his blanket and trying to sing him his favourite lullaby.

Although the words got stuck in her throat halfway through, she eventually succeeded in getting to the end.

This wasn’t how the fairy tale was meant to end.

If she ignored the machines in the room she could pretend that he was breathing on his own. She could pretend that she’d just put him to bed for an afternoon nap having read him a story.

At the side of the bed was his favourite book. His favourite grey teddy. She picked up the bear and tucked it in beside her son, stroking his hair once again, unwilling to stop touching him, because it meant that he was here, still vital, still alive.

She was unwilling to acknowledge that in reality Charlie was already gone.

The nurses had told her to take as long as she liked, before they’d slipped quietly from the room.

She had to wait for Ethan. He needed to be here for this. He should be here already. She didn’t know why he wasn’t. She needed his support. Needed to feel his arms around her when they came in and switched off the machines.

She bent low and gently dropped a kiss to her son’s forehead. His skin was warm and soft, as it always was.

‘I love you. I love you so much! You are my everything.’

The lump in her throat almost stopped the words and she had to wipe her eyes, unable to see for tears. Sniffing, she continued to stroke his face, his hair. Trying to imprint upon her memory how he felt. The shape of him. The scent of him. The curves of his face, his soft cheeks, his perfect, perfect sweetheart lips.

Never again would she hear his wonderful laugh.

Never again would she hear Charlie say ‘Mummy!’ and see his beaming smile as he raised his arms, wanting to be picked up.

What she wouldn’t give to feel his little body clamped onto hers, the weight of him on her hip, his little sticky face and hands…

Life was much too cruel. To do something like this to an innocent little boy.

‘Sleep tight, Charlie. Sleep tight. Mummy will love you always.’

And she allowed her grief to consume her as the sound of her desperate cries filled the room.


The only thing that can heal them?

Each other!

The day they lost their son, veterinary nurse Bex and vet Ethan’s world was left shattered. Struggling to cope, their marriage fell apart. Now, five years later, Ethan is back in Bex’s life…to treat a critically ill horse in her care. Being in each other’s company again reminds Bex of every single thing that she loved about Ethan. But will it prove they are meant to be together – forever?

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (US)

Amazon (Australia)

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, New Releases

Excerpt: A Nurse to Claim His Heart

I have a new book coming in April and it’s a duet with the lovely Scarlet Wilson! My heroine, Penny, is a trivia-loving NICU nurse who Dr. Benedict has never managed to forget. When a viral video sparks dating rumors, they use it to raise fund for a cause close to Benedict’s heart. But what happens when the fake romance starts feeling all too real?

I hope you enjoy this short sneak peak into A Nurse to Claim His Heart. You can read the full first chapter here: https://bit.ly/ClaimhisheartCh1. Available for pre-order from your favorite book store now!

“CHAPTER ONE

CROSSING HIS ARMS, Dr. Benedict Denbar played the “can I get comfortable in the small metro seat?” game. He considered standing, but it was early in the morning, and he was going to be on his feet all day while working at Wald Children’s Hospital. At least the uncomfortable plastic let him avoid the crush of people pressed into the metro car. It wasn’t much in the way of quiet time before his shift started, but it let him clear his head before starting the day as the attending physician in the level four neonatal intensive care unit.
The NICU was quiet. In fact the doctors and nurses did their best to keep the noise level below forty-five decibels as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to protect the tiny babies in the unit. But the quiet wasn’t restorative and the stress of the environment, where patients shifted from stable to critical in hours, sometimes minutes, wore on many of his colleagues. He’d seen dozens of doctors and nurses seek different specialties.
And he didn’t blame them. But the NICU was his calling. His place to make a difference. His place to make amends.

“He closed his eyes as his thoughts wandered to Olivia. They’d traveled there so often lately, as his dream of a high-risk maternity unit in the children’s hospital was finally becoming a reality. Assuming Wald’s Children’s Hospital could fund the multimillion-dollar investment.
He’d been on the committee suggesting fundraising ideas, and there were several high-profile fundraisers planned. But was it enough?
He blew out a breath. This was his dream. Benedict needed the unit funded. Needed to find a way to support the mothers of the babies in his unit.
Medical care for NICU patients had come a long way since he’d stood over Olivia’s incubator, not knowing that the heated crib was actually called an isolette. But too many mothers were separated from their children while they received care and their children were treated in the high-risk nursery.
If only she’d been born a few weeks later…a few days even. If the world were fair, he’d be helping plan her eighteenth birthday now. But life wasn’t fair.
And if she’d lived, he wouldn’t be sitting on an uncomfortable chair in DC. Hell, he probably wouldn’t have become a physician…at least not a pediatrician specializing in neonatal care. His life would look completely different.
All sacrifices he’d have gladly made to raise Isiah’s daughter. His brother had been gone for nineteen years this month. Nineteen years… A lifetime.
He’d now lived more of his life without his baby brother than with him, but Benedict still found himself searching for him. Still longed to call him at the end of the day. It was a funny feeling to miss part of yourself.
Benedict shook himself and straightened in his seat. He’d thought of Isiah a lot over the last few months. And Olivia, and her mother, Amber—his wife.
At least his wife according to legal documents. A connection bonded by a vow he’d made to Isiah, but never even sealed with a kiss. A vow that shouldn’t have been necessary, if Isiah had only listened to Benedict’s arguments about his shift from certified drag racing to illegal street racing for cash.
Amber had arrived at his door less than two weeks after Isiah’s funeral. Tears streaking across her face as she protectively cradled her belly. He’d known her predicament and that her mother would disown her for getting pregnant at eighteen. An unwed mother would not be welcome in her home. It might have been the twenty-first century, but that didn’t matter.
Isiah had planned to use the winnings of his last illegal street race to run away with her. If only he’d told Benedict, they’d have found a different way.
There was almost always a different way. Something else you could try. But that was a lesson that came with age and experience. And blinded by love, his brother hadn’t been able to think clearly.

His phone dinged, and he pulled it from his pocket. His mother’s face with a new ring held in front of her face and giant smile with a guy he did not recognize flashed on his screen. He couldn’t stop his eyes from rolling to the ceiling. If she made it to the altar, this would be her sixth husband, and he’d lost count of the number of fiancé’s she’d dumped or been dumped by. Yet, with each new relationship, she sent him a text…that he never answered.
Love.
Benedict scoffed and ignored the stare from the elderly woman sitting next to him. He hadn’t meant to let noise out, but love or the feeling that people claimed was love really was too fallible to be trusted. It either turned to hate or destroyed.
Responsibility, friendship, even honor, last longer than love. Which was why he’d stepped in where his brother could not. Accepting a platonic union as they’d helped each other mourn the loss of his brother and then the loss of Olivia when she was born too early.
So tiny.
And with that, his connection to Amber should have ended, and in many ways it had. They’d married when he was nineteen, and separated three days before he’d turned twenty-one, just after he’d enrolled at Oregon State University, determined to help babies like Olivia.
But Amber hadn’t wanted the shame of a divorce. Her family, difficult though they were, were all she had left now that Isiah and Olivia were gone. She’d asked him to stay married, at least on paper. And he’d agreed, after all he’d promised till death, and Benedict hadn’t wanted to follow down his parents’ path of broken vows. He’d meant the words when he said them—vows were not to be made lightly no matter what his mother and father thought of their promises.
So they’d stayed married. Amber got to keep the illusion that she was married for her mother and Benedict got to do right by the woman his brother had loved. It wasn’t as though he’d ever planned to marry for love anyway. He’d seen how dangerous that was, so what did it matter if he remained married to Amber for duty’s sake?”

A young couple entered the metro with a newborn. The young man wrapped his arms around the mother. They looked exhausted, but most parents at that stage wore exhaustion well, almost basked in it as they loved on their baby. The woman laid her head against her partner’s shoulder while cradling the infant wrapped against her chest. It was picture perfect, but one never knew what went on in other people’s homes.
He deleted the text from his mother, then looked at the message he’d sent Amber yesterday about starting their divorce procedures. She’d left it on Read. He shook his head as he added following up with her to his mental to-do list. A few weeks ago, she’d asked to wait a bit longer while she dealt with her mother’s illness.
But how long?
The metro slowed, and Benedict leaned forward as the door to the Foggy Bottom Station opened. Penelope Greene, Penny, stepped onto the train. She met his gaze, nodded and quickly shuffled to the other side of the car.
He tried not to let that hurt.
He and Penny were colleagues. Nothing more. Though seven years ago, they’d been as close as work colleagues could be. Coffee breaks, laughter and support as she found her way as a junior nurse, and he navigated the last days of his residency. He’d been attracted to her, desperately so. Their friendship nested on the edge of so much more. He’d dreamed of kissing her more often than he cared to remember.
But Penny had made no secret of the fact that she wanted a family. A re-creation of the happy home that she and her little sister, Alice, had grown up in.
For a brief second all those years ago, Benedict had wished he could give her those things. Wished that he believed a happily-ever-after was possible. Wished he were free to promise things that no one could really promise. Life shifted too unpredictably for anyone to truly promise for better or worse and forever.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Tis the season to be in a box set

I bet you’re all looking forward to Halloween? My office is throwing a party in a pub, promising games, food, drinks and “scary” cocktails. Whilst I doubt they mean the 100% proof rice liquor that once saw me waking up dazed in a rice paddy in Bali (true story) I’m still not sure I’ll go this year. I’d have to rummage into boxes deep at the back of my storage cupboard to find my cloak and witch’s corset… and even if I did, I doubt the corset would fit. Hey, I ate a lot of cheese in lockdown, what can I say?

Anyway, maybe I’ll decide on that later, but for now I’m more excited about CHRISTMAS!

Why?

Well because, for the first time in my life, I will be part of a box set! And I don’t mean the part that jumps out of a decorated gift parcel in another ill-fitting piece of seasonal apparel. I mean a Harlequin box set.

Check it out.

3 BOX SET

How cool is it that my words – all fifty-thousand of those wintery babies – get to dwell amongst the snow-covered greatness of Alison Roberts and Louisa Heaton? It’s like Christmas came early.

Here’s the premise of my first Christmas romance, WHITE CHRISTMAS WITH HER MILLIONAIRE DOC.

Can Christmas together mend their broken hearts? 

Montana Ski-resort owner and single dad, Dr Jax doubts the new locum from NYC can survive five minutes in his busy clinic, let alone two months! Until dedicated Dr Ophelia’s kindness towards his son thaws a heart that’s been frozen since his wife died.

Yet Ophelia must return to her own reality and, no matter how tempted, a just-for-Christmas romance can’t lead to forever… can it?

And here is a sneaky snippet, the meet-cute, I guess you’d call it.

Enjoy lovely people, and whether you’re more pumped up for Halloween or Christmas, I hope you have yourself some seriously happy holidays.

****

The teenage girl at the coffee cart in the airport took seven minutes to make her latte. It was almost amusing, watching how she did it with such pride, at a pace that wouldn’t much rival a snail’s. She’d be fired for being that slow in Brooklyn.

‘Dr Lavelle?’

Ophelia spun around at the voice, and promptly had her words snatched away by her sudden intake of breath. He was much taller than she’d expected.

‘Jax Clayborn,’ she managed, adjusting her hat and matching scarf. His dark almond eyes studied her with the same depth and intensity that had stirred her up in their video call, but it reached inside her now on a whole different level. Jax was as striking as she remembered, but he was all about presence too, commanding the attention of everyone who passed, especially the women.

‘It’s so nice of you to come pick me up.’ She watched him remove one glove, then took his bare outstretched hand. Big, she noted, like my father’s hands.

Tufts of his dark hair flicked outwards from his beanie hat, and when he clamped his palm firmly to hers, something told her she should wake up now and pay attention. It was the strangest feeling. It totally caught her off guard as he studied her eyes up close.

‘Shall we?’ he said. He pushed a stuffed bear into her hands and then bent to pick up her suitcase.

‘What’s this?’ she asked, turning it over in amusement.

‘A welcome gift. Everyone gets one.’

The air was freezing outside. A dark cloud promised more snow. Craggy white-peaked mountains framed Jax like a moving painting as he carried her case towards a huge white truck in the parking lot. Damn, he looked good in those jeans, she thought. He was even seriously pulling off a flannel shirt under his ski jacket—not an easy task for any man.

He caught her eye as he flipped the trunk on the shiny four-wheel drive. ‘Again, my apologies for being late, Doctor, I was out on the slopes, then I got the call about the bear attack…’

‘A bear attack?’ she echoed.

Jax lifted her suitcase into the back as if it were nothing but a feather and flicked the red scarf she’d tied around the suitcase handles. ‘I wouldn’t go waving this colour around here. Unless you want to attract that bear right into your room.’

She swallowed. ‘I’ll remember that.’

The first step up into the truck was almost knee height. Ophelia placed the stuffed bear on the seat first and tried to climb in gracefully. Jax hovered behind her to make sure she wouldn’t fall—he was probably fighting the instinct to make a comment about her rather impractical high-heeled boots, she thought.

‘I like the heated seats, nice touch,’ she told him, self-awareness making her hot.

‘I liked them too, last time I broke down in a minus-thirty snowstorm,’ he remarked.

When he dropped to the leather seat behind the wheel and closed the door, she still hadn’t managed to fasten her seat belt.

‘Need help with that?’

She stopped breathing as the smooth sleeve of his padded winter coat slid a millimetre above her lap. His fingers made a split-second job of clinking the chunky seat belt into place, and there it was.

His wedding ring.

Disappointment surprised her but there was something in Jax’s expression as he spotted her clocking the ring that stunned her into looking away. She knew that kind of emotional pain very well indeed. A bad divorce?

No, he’d likely have taken the ring off if that was it. It was more than that, something worse.

Something had happened to his wife.

‘So, where did you say this bear attack took place?’ she asked when the silence during the drive got too heavy. He didn’t seem too chatty. She was aware of his every slight movement in the driver’s seat, the way his eyes scanned the mirrors and the roadsides intently, as if he was expecting a grizzly to pounce at any moment.

‘Guy got unlucky out on the Trout Camp Trail… Eagle Peaks Mountain Club community, slightly northwest of Sunset Range.’

The geographical information meant nothing to her. She was still thrown from seeing that look in his eyes, the same one she’d seen all too often in the mirror… She’d know the face of grief on anyone. What had happened to his wife? Jax was older than her, maybe by a decade, but being widowed at his age would be grossly unfair, not to mention tough.

‘Seems like it was a pretty surprise encounter,’ Jax continued. ‘Pretty is probably the wrong word for it. Poor guy had to crawl up to the road after the bear left him for dead.’

She winced. ‘That’s…terrible.’

‘The ranger up there found him. He thought it was weird that some guy was taking a break, just sitting in the snow. Then he saw the blood everywhere. Guy couldn’t speak but he scratched out “BEAR” in the snow with a stick.’

Ophelia put a hand to her mouth. ‘God, I can’t even…’

‘The fire department brought him to us, but we sent him to Willow Crest Trauma. The lacerations were beyond our team’s capabilities to fix on-site. He had puncture wounds on his face, and all down his back. Slashes all up his arms and stomach, and you don’t want to know what those claws can do to a man’s—’

‘I’m pretty sure I can imagine.’ Ophelia hoped she didn’t look as horrified as she felt. She thought she’d seen it all in New York, but never a bear attack. ‘I can’t imagine it, actually,’ she admitted. ‘It’s just too horrendous.’ What sort of job had she walked into?

‘Don’t worry, this kind of thing is very rare. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’ll give you a tour if you like, show you where not to go. Are you going to open that, by the way?’

Ophelia held the stuffed bear up to face her. ‘This?’

‘Open it.’

Obediently she dug inside the bear’s belly to find a clasp. Pulling out the aerosol container inside, she held it up over the dash. ‘Bear spray. Are you serious?’

‘If you need it, start from the feet, right up to the head. And if that doesn’t work…’ He reached across her knees again, and she caught a whiff of his scent, no cologne, something primal and musky that was all his. It left her breathing in expectantly, wanting more. Pulling the glove compartment open, he revealed loose rags, a few sticks of gum…and a gun.

Ophelia froze. ‘Have you ever actually used that?’

He seemed to contemplate her question. ‘I wouldn’t carry it if I didn’t need it.’

‘So, you have, then.’

He snapped the compartment shut, and his almond eyes narrowed behind the wheel. ‘We’re not at the top of the food chain out here, Ophelia. No matter what happens, we all respect that. But we always shoot as a warning, never to kill. I can teach you how to use a gun for protection.’

‘I probably won’t take you up on that.’

‘As you wish.’

When she looked at him, he was smiling faintly, as if she amused him. He’d probably laugh out loud if she mentioned her own attempts at self-defence, the Taekwondo classes in an old gym hall in Brooklyn that she’d given up on after only three weeks. She shuffled in her seat. How was he affecting her like this?

For more… and you know you want more, readers, you can pre-order WHITE CHRISTMAS WITH HER MILLIONAIRE DOC here.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt: Island Fling with the Surgeon

I have a dear friend who has been super-supportive of my writing career, buying my books whenever they come out and even recently asking me to sign my latest, which she swears is her favorite. While I definitely have more than one friend who buys my books, her love of Island Fling with the Surgeon means a lot to me, because she’s one of those people who doesn’t hesitate to give her honest opinion. Well, maybe she just wouldn’t *say* anything if she hated it, but she wouldn’t say she liked it if she didn’t!

As I keep saying, this was a fun book to write. My impulsive, mischievous heroine and steady, loving hero are the kinds of people I’d love to hang out with, and I want to party with their extended families. While we can’t make it back to the Caribbean just yet, or have the opportunity to visit far-flung family and friends, I hope this book will remind us all of what awaits once we can again!

Excerpt: Island Fling with the Surgeon

Zach leaned back as the deepening shadows cast Gen’s face into a mysterious, gorgeous study in gray scale. They were sharing companionable silence, while she watched the final colors of the setting sun fade from the sky, and he found himself equally enthralled by her profile. The more time he spent with her, the more fascinated he found himself becoming.

It was all well and good to say they were play-acting in an effort to fool the people around them, but he knew, for him, the acting was starting to feel far too real.

Leaning over her earlier, he’d realized he was tempted to kiss the top of her head or her cheek.

It had been a long time since he’d felt drawn to another person the way he was to Gen. He could spend hours with her and never feel bored or uncomfortable—except when his body reacted to hers in untoward ways, like when they’d danced together.

Whew.

That had been far too real for comfort.

She’d moved like silk in his arms, her lush body swaying in perfect time with his. It had been easy to imagine they really were a couple, and all he had to do was dip his head and she’d lift hers for a kiss.

Which was something he’d been thinking about way too often.

Kissing Gen.

It had crossed his mind repeatedly that kissing her on her cheek when her mother was around would seem highly unusual. After all, they were supposedly in the midst of a months-long relationship. Wouldn’t it be more natural for them to greet each other with a kiss on the lips?

But that was a direction he was chary of going in, since he wasn’t sure he was ready to take such a step.

It seemed far too dangerous to go down that path, especially with his heightened awareness of the attraction building toward the beautiful woman across from him.

What he was beginning to feel for her was way too close to desire to be entirely comfortable, despite the fact it would make his performance all the more realistic.

Shaking the thoughts away, he got up to turn on the lights in the house and catch his breath.

“Would you like some pudding?” he asked, as a way to distract himself. “I have some stewed local plums and ice cream.”

The sound of her little chuckle made him smile too.

“That’s not pudding. That’s fruit and ice cream. But no, thank you.” Her chair creaked as he watched her get up. “I’m going to head home. I’m operating early tomorrow morning.”

As she spoke, she came into the kitchen, blinking at the brightness of the light. When she rubbed her left eyelid, he realized she was probably more tired than she was letting on.

“Okay,” he said, his brain unerringly going back to his previous thoughts about kissing. “Drive carefully, and let me know when you get home.”

“Will do,” she replied, taking up her handbag. “And why don’t you come by my place tomorrow evening for a change. I’m so in love with your house, I keep coming here, making you cook for me. It’s time I returned the favor.”

He chuckled. “I don’t mind. I like cooking.”

And he liked having her there. She brought new life to the house, blowing away the cobwebs of his previous funk.

“And I very much like eating your cooking,” she agreed serenely, as they walked to the stairs. “But come by anyway. I have a hankering for steak, done on the grill.”

“I’d like that,” he admitted, and it was no lie. He’d only glimpsed the inside of her town house when he’d gone to pick her up for one of their excursions. It would be nice to get a more intimate look. “You need me to bring anything?”

“Nope.”

They were at the foot of the steps when she paused, looking up at him, and something in her expression froze him in place.

“Zach,” she said softly, coming a little closer. “I’m going to kiss you. If you have any objections, now’s the time to voice them.”

His throat was suddenly so tight it rendered him unable to voice anything at all. So instead, he opened his arms to her, reminding himself it was all just play-acting, even as his body hardened and his heart rate went into overdrive.

She smiled slightly, but it had an uncertain edge to it, and he saw the color staining her cheeks just before she stepped into his arms.

And even though he tried to hold back, he couldn’t resist moving his mouth against hers, deepening the kiss in minute increments until he felt the tip of her tongue touch his lower lip.

Then all bets were off.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Reading

Here’s to Five! An Excerpt from Reawakened at the South Pole

Cover of Reawakened at the South Pole By Juliette Hyland

Five medical romances, five books with my name on them! When Reawakened at the South Pole comes out on September 28th it will be my fifth medical romance, almost exactly two years to the date from when I signed my first contract. A dream come true to say the least. I loved writing Helena and Carter’s happily ever after. I know I say that about all my characters (mostly because it’s true, writing happily ever afters is the best job ever!).

It’s available for pre-order now and until September, you can enjoy this short excerpt.

“I am angry that anyone could think that you were anything less than one of the strongest people they’d ever met.”

His finger traced a line along her chin, burning her as his gaze gripped hers. “You are gorgeous, Helena.”

She let her gaze linger on his face. Drinking in the soft look of his eyes, the roughness of the stubble on his cheeks and the fullness of lips that she yearned would caress her.

“Kiss me.” Her demand poured from the depths of her soul. These were the words she wanted to say all those years ago, the words she wished she’d stated last night.

Carter’s fingers slipped to the base of her neck as he pulled her close. The little distance between them evaporated as his lips met hers. The kiss was firm, not demanding as one hand pulled her hips tighter to his.

Wrapping her arms around Carter’s neck, Helena deepened the kiss. She’d waited far too long to know how Carter Simpson kissed, and she would not waste this moment. The world tumbled as his tongue dipped along her bottom lip.”

“Carter.” Her head fell back as he traced lines of kisses first along her jaw and then down her neck. But as his fingers slipped along the edge of her shirt, Helena froze.


He pulled back immediately and smiled as he dropped a light kiss on the tip of her nose. “I want you, Helena. I’ve wanted you for weeks. Years, if I’m being honest. But this goes only as far as you want it to.” He swallowed and held her close.


Blood pounded in her ears as Carter gripped her. His fingers skimming across her back in soothing motions. She wanted him. He’d seen her scar—at least part of it—and hadn’t recoiled. Swallowing the last bit of fear, Helena looked up and kissed him.


“I want you, too…”

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

A Return to St. Eustace

In July of last year, one of the favorite of all the books I’ve written was published. Being a tropical girl, I’d wanted to set a book on an island in the Caribbean, yet couldn’t decide on a specific one. After going over it in my head again and again, I decided to create a fictional island nation, called St. Eustace, (not to be confused with the Dutch island of Sint Eustatius) and set Best Friend to Dr. Right there.

Then, as is the way of authors, I moved on.

But that world, those characters, the setting kept calling me back.

The fact is, the Caribbean is a rich, multicultural area, which attracts so many people for so many different reasons. Centuries ago it was an area people ran to, to hide, to escape, to reflect, to prosper, and it’s really little different now. That aspect of the Caribbean is one that fascinates me and that fascination led me to a new storyline, and back to St. Eustace.

So, Island Fling with the Surgeon was born, and will be released in August 2021. In it two flawed but delicious characters navigate their way through a faux love affair, that becomes oh, so real! There are also glimpses of familiar characters from Best Friend to Doctor Right. I hope you enjoy the excerpt below!

Make-believe?

Or more than she bargained for?

When Dr. Genevieve Broussard convinces nurse Zach Lewin to enter a fake relationship to help keep her meddling mom off her back, she’s confident there’s no danger of it turning into anything more. Her first priority has to be her surgical career, and both Gen and Zach are still reeling from recent betrayals. But as the summer heat in the Caribbean loosens inhibitions, their fake “affair” is at risk of becoming all too real…

Excerpt

The drive over to Coconut Beach took only about fifteen minutes, but Zach found his thoughts repeatedly going back to Genevieve, no matter how he tried to keep them on other matters. So much so that, on turning into the car park next to the beach, he thought perhaps his eyes, following the lead of his brain, were playing tricks on him.

That couldn’t be Dr. Broussard sitting on the bonnet of her car waving to him, as he pulled into a nearby space, could it?

It most certainly was, and as she hopped down from her perch and made her way toward his car, bemusement had the muscles in his neck tightening.

What the heck was going on?

He had hardly closed the car door behind him before she started speaking.

“Hey, I’m sorry to stalk you like this, but I really needed to talk to you, and the hospital wasn’t the best place to do it…”

Although she stopped to take a breath, Zach didn’t have a chance to utter even one word before she asked, “Would you be my boyfriend?”

Gen hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that, but she was so nervous her palms were sweating, her knees were weak and the words just tumbled out of her mouth. The look of shock on Zach’s face just made it all worse. Heat climbed the back of her neck, and she rubbed at it, trying to dispel the prickling sensation.

“I’m sorry?” he said, his voice clipped and terribly precise, sharp enough to cut. “I beg your pardon?”

“Oof,” she replied, then wished she could pull the inarticulate sound back into her mouth, especially when his eyebrows contracted into a fierce scowl. Who would have thought she’d won prizes for elocution in the past, if that was the best she could come up with? “No, I’m sorry. I know it sounds crazy, but will you give me a chance to explain?”

He was still wearing that scowl, and the searching nature of his gaze made her wonder if he thought she was nuts.

She was wondering the same thing herself and couldn’t blame him if he were!

“I’m waiting with bated breath for you to do just that,” he said, with a hint of sarcasm overlaying the words.

She rubbed at her nape again and tried to regain some hint of composure.

“I’m not propositioning you, although I know it sounds like it.” The urge to start babbling again had her stopping and taking a deep breath. After blowing it out, she continued. “The truth is, I lied to my mother and told her you and I were involved in a relationship.”

“You what?”

He said it softly, but he couldn’t have sounded any more dangerous if he’d shouted.

Gen held up her hands. “I know. I know. It was stupid, but Mom is always on at me about not having a social life, and one night I just couldn’t take it anymore. So, I made up a story to get her off my back.”

Not the entire truth, but close enough under the circumstances.

“Why me?”

Now she could hear curiosity warring with his outrage, and it made her embarrassment deepen, if that were at all possible.

“I don’t know for sure,” she replied, trying to be honest. “I think it was because you’d just arrived, and I’d worked with you in the OR for the first time, so your name just popped into my head.”

Zach shook his head slowly, still giving her a suspicious glare.

“And now—?”

“Now Mom’s coming to visit, and I can’t let her know I lied.”

His nostrils flared slightly, as he drew in a harsh breath. “Just tell her it didn’t work out, and we’re not friendly anymore. Wouldn’t that solve the problem?”

“No!” Yikes, now she was barking at him. She had to get a grip. “It would make it worse—for me anyway—because then the whole cycle would start again.”

His gaze made her feel like a recalcitrant child, and now her entire body flushed hot. Looking around, she spied a small gazebo farther along the beach and gestured toward it.

“Can we sit down and talk about it?” Yeah, she was pleading, but although it felt weird, she was willing to do whatever it took to get Zach on board with her plan, no matter how crazy it was.

He didn’t reply for such a long interval she was absolutely sure he was going to tell her to get lost, but finally he nodded and waved his hand in the direction of the hut.

“After you.”

“Thank you,” she said, as they started walking that way. “I really appreciate it.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” he said in that cool, cutting tone. “I haven’t agreed to anything.”

“You agreed to at least hear me out,” she pointed out, perhaps more sharply than she should, all things considered.

That earned her a stern, sidelong glance, but he was gracious enough to say, “That’s fair.”

By the time they sat across from each other at the shaded table, she was struggling with what she was going to say. It had sounded, if not sensible, at least reasonable when she’d rehearsed it all in her head, but now all that she’d planned to say fled in the face of that interrogatory gaze.

“Well?” he said, not breaking eye contact. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

She was suddenly catapulted back in time to the principal’s office, where she was supposed to explain how one of her many escapades had gone awry—and the sensations were still the same.

Embarrassment.

Shame.

But also, the unmistakable high of an adventure unfolding.

The last made her smile, and Zach’s scowl grew even more ferocious.