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Could This Be Love
by Lee Kilraine
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
Everyone in Climax, North Carolina, knows the Cates brothers. But Sijan Cates is famous far beyond his quaint hometown–and when he comes back, he brings trouble with him. . .
Avery Danford urgently needs to get back in touch with her estranged family. If only she could get her picture in the papers, maybe they’d track her down. . .and what better way to accomplish that than to squeeze into the world’s tightest dress and cozy up to the world’s hottest actor, Sijan Cates? It’s a crazy idea, but it just might work. And though the former actress has sworn off Hollywood hunks, she’s got to admit this desperate measure might be a pleasure. . .
Scandal-plagued Sijan has come home for some peace and quiet–and to stay out of the tabloids. Then a woman claiming to be his number-one fan plants a hot kiss on him–in front of a pack of paparazzi. There’s only one way to protect his reputation: tell the world they’re engaged. It’s all just a show, as they use each other to get what they need. But in this sleepy Southern town, love stories have a way of coming true. . .
“All right, let me see if I have the latest scandal straight.” Sijan Cates sat with his older brother in Dave’s Diner, a former passenger train car turned restaurant. There were two main entrances, one at each end of the car. Booths snaked around the front of the diner next to the front windows while a sit-down counter sat in front of a cramped but ruthlessly clean kitchen. Dave, the owner and cook, was known for his biscuits and homemade blackberry jam, and his burgers. That’s it. Ordering anything else on the menu was like playing Russian roulette with your stomach. But if you wanted biscuits and jam, a burger, or all the most up-to-date gossip, the diner was the place to eat.
“Hell, Ty, I came home to get a break from it.” He frowned across at his brother, but of course, it had no effect.
“It says here in The Tattler you got a sweet young thing pregnant and then dumped her.”
“I did not get a sweet young thing pregnant. I’ve never even met that sweet young thing. Hell, if I slept with even half the women the tabloids claim I do, I wouldn’t have time to get out of bed, let alone make movies.”
“According to them you’ve got a revolving door on your bedroom with a ‘Now Serving’ ticket machine attached to the wall next to it.”
Sijan leaned back as their waitress, Renee, slid steaming mugs of coffee in front of them both. “Renee, run away with me and save me from all this.”
“Sijan, if I weren’t having hot flashes, I’d be just another crazy woman trying to get a piece of you.” Renee tucked her serving tray under her arm and wagged a finger at him. “Now, your latest scandal’s got the Grapevine stirred up. I don’t think the Simon sisters can take the excitement.”
“Those ladies can handle anything. Besides, they’ve seen this before. Remember four years ago when an ex-girlfriend tried the same thing?”
“Thank goodness for DNA tests and poor math skills.” Tynan grinned. “She sure didn’t account for your six months of filming in Prague. You do attract the crazy.”
“It’s Hollywood.” Sijan’s muscles tensed at the memory. “Too many people can make money off you. I’m just an ‘opportunity.’ An opportunity to get a script read, a part in a movie, or free publicity.” “Or generous child support payments for the next twenty years.”
“Hey, I’ve dated some nice, normal women. Once I learned to steer clear of actresses.”
Tynan nodded. “That would explain all those models, politician’s daughters, and savvy career women.”
He’d be the first to admit he’d enjoyed the benefits of his moviestar status over the years, but he’d always shied away from serious commitment like it was a box of rattlesnakes. Lately though, the serial dating felt . . . empty. Especially after coming home and seeing how happy his brother Quinn and his fiancée Delaney were. “I need a hiatus from women.”
“Bite your tongue. Life is a smorgasbord and you are too young to go on a diet. Seriously, Si, I joke, but this”—he rattled the tabloid before tossing it down in disgust—“just pisses me off.”
“Every job has its downside, right?” Sijan shrugged tense shoulders. He leaned back against the booth, consciously willing his muscles to relax. “I’ve decided I’m just going to lay low and focus on my work while the studio’s lawyers deal with that.”
“Yup. About five seconds after the president of Majestic Studios called me into his office three days ago and explained loudly and in a few choice phrases that my next two films need to exceed box office predictions.” Or else.
“One year ago, this same man couldn’t wine and dine you fast enough after your Oscar nomination.” Tynan sat back, muttering a graphic although physically impossible suggestion for the president of Majestic Studios. “Fame sure is fickle.”
A former Air Force spouse, Lee Kilraine moved seven times over eighteen years before finally settling with her husband in the pine woods of North Carolina. She has worked as a physical therapy aide, a cashier, a waitress, an English tutor, a ballet teacher and a stay-at-home mom. Holding tight to her mother’s motto, “There’s nothing you can’t do if you try hard enough,” Lee returned to college as an adult and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Writing thirty-one papers in two years (she counted) rekindled her love of writing, and she set her sights on her other dream—writing romance. When she isn’t swinging on her front porch swing or watching another of their four young adult children leave the nest (she swears she isn’t pushing them out!) you can find her typing away on her computer with her golden retriever, Harley, destroying something at her feet. Lee is a 2014 Golden Heart® Finalist.
Not Second Best
by Christa Maurice
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
As a lawyer at Touchstone management, Tessa’s position brings her up close and personal to some of the world’s biggest heartthrobs. Sometimes that intimacy crosses professional lines, which is understandable considering Tessa’s impressive contact list. But when rock star Brian Ellis set her aside for the girl of his dreams, Tessa can’t help wonder if “spinster aunt” is her true vocation. Which explains her hook-up with rising star Brett Cherney at Brian’s celebrity wedding . . .
As the lead singer of BroRide, Brett has lived the rock-n-roll bad-boy lifestyle to the very hilt. But when the girl of his dreams marries fellow rocker Brian Ellis, he buries his disappointment in the arms of an older woman. The following morning, Brett realizes what he experienced was only the beginning of a song he’s been trying to write all his life. It’s a seductive theme, which Tessa falls for again and again, but getting her to believe they have a hit is turning out to be far from a sure thing . . .
Tessa walked outside, maintaining her happy expression past the knot of smokers by the door. This wedding shouldn’t bug her so much. Brian had gotten over his crush on her years ago. Shit, he’d been married before. She’d fallen off his pedestal a long time ago.
So why did this marriage seem like the end of the world?
Suzi made a beautiful bride. One of her friends had designed the simple white gown for her. Ribbons of rainbow colors started as faint pastels across the bust and gained intensity as they wrapped around her body and down the back of her dress until they formed a brilliant train. Daisies wound through her upswept hair and complemented her pretty, sweet face. Brian looked rather sharp, too, in his white tux, open at the throat. His best accessory, though, had to be the expression of utter joy in his eyes.
It made Tessa want to puke. Not because they were happy. No, never that. Brian deserved to be happy. Suzi did, too. Apparently, everyone deserved to be happy. Except her.
“Nice show, huh?”
Tessa glanced at Brett who’d wandered up beside her at the overlook. Or maybe she’d wandered up beside him. The ocean smashed into the cliffs below as if it held a grudge against her. “Yeah. They look really happy.”
“She’s the Holy Grail,” Brett said. He leaned on the guardrail, fiddling a cigarette between his fingers. “She was a total mess when she left Logan last year. I took her out to this place I go to. Never laid a hand on her.”
Tessa nodded. Why did he think she should care? Everybody knew he’d pulled Suzi out of the party where she’d broken up with her last boyfriend, Logan, nearly a year ago. Tessa had been one of many people trying to figure out where the hell they’d gone for weeks before Suzi had reappeared at Jason’s West Virginia place. “You’re a big damn hero.”
“Something like that.” He flicked the cigarette off the cliff, unlit. “Brian’s a good guy, right? He’ll be good to her, won’t he?”
“I’ve known him since he was a kid. He’d walk through hell for her.” Brian was the best guy. Absolute heart of gold. If she’d been half awake ten years ago, she could have had that.
“Good. That’s good. Cause next time I have to haul her away from some asshole, I’m not going to be so easygoing about letting her leave.”
She glared at Brett, but he looked like he’d been dragged backward through the desert by a tour bus, and she faltered. “What’s wrong with you?”
Brett turned, stared at the ocean. “Probably the same thing that’s wrong with you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, come on. How dumb do you think everybody is? You’ve known Brian since he was in elementary school. His daughter is named after you. The only person at this wedding who looks sicker about it is Logan.” Brett bobbed his head. “And maybe me. You and Brian had a thing, or you wish you had a thing, or something. I’d say I could write a great song about it, but there’s already been a bunch. Etta James did three or four.”
“So, are you telling me that party-hearty Brett Cherney lost his poor little heart to the bride?” Tessa meant to smirk, but it came out twisted because of the sob she was trying to cover.
“Only as much as tough lawyer Tessa Callisto lost her heart to the groom.”
Tessa stared back in the direction of the pavilion. Over six hundred guests. This wedding was almost as well attended as the Grammys. No point hiring a band because no local band could hold a candle to this audience, so music had been supplied by a running jam. Everyone was having a blast. They wouldn’t notice a couple of people missing.
“You know what the best cure for a broken heart is, don’t you?”
“What?” He glanced over his shoulder as if the answer to her question was back at the wedding reception.
She stared into Brett’s eyes. Brett, who slept with every female who caught his fancy. And there were lots of those. What with his lean build and washboard abs, he was such a very good-looking specimen. “Wanna?” She arched an eyebrow at him.
His lips curled into a smile. “Sounds good to me.”
“Your place or mine?”
Christa Maurice has been obsessed with rock stars from early childhood when her older brother started randomly quizzing her on rock trivia. How many first graders know who the headliners were on the Black and Blue Tour? Christa did. (Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult.) When not listening to music and/or writing, she enjoys traveling, reading and science fiction. Readers can find Christa on Facebook, and visit her website at christamaurice.wordpress.com.
by Maggie McConnell
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
Her mango chutney is exquisite; her blueberry sauce is to die for. But right now, Chef de Cuisine Daisy Moon is a woman without a kitchen–and without a fiancé. Unceremoniously dumped from her place of business and her relationship, Daisy sells her belongings, plus a few of her ex’s, and packs her bags. Maybe smashing all the china in her former restaurant was a bad move. Stripped of her Golden Spoon for “un-chef-like” conduct, she is now blacklisted all over Seattle. Her sole job offer is from the Wild Man Lodge. . .in Otter Bite, Alaska.
Too bad Daisy can’t even get out of Dodge without incident. By the time she boards a ship for Alaska, she’s got a trail of new troubles behind her, and suddenly Otter Bite is sounding pretty good. But the vessel turns into her own personal Titanic when a series of close encounters confirms her terrible taste in men–including one very good looking bad luck charm named Max Kendall. She vows to dedicate the rest of her days to chowders and brulée. Yet even Alaska isn’t far enough away to shake the memories of the sexy shipmate who rocked her cabin–and her world. Thank goodness she’s done with surprises–but they may not be done with her. . .
“What’ll ya take for this?” Daisy Moon lifted her glazed eyes from a makeshift plywood table where she had been tidying pieces of her past. She focused on the midlife, mostly brunette whose brassy streaks fit her gravel voice. Backlit by the golden afternoon pushing into the garage, the woman appeared heaven-sent. After a closer look, Daisy knew better.
In her right hand, a cigarette was wedged between two fingers while her left hand strangled a porcelain figurine, its milky pastels and melted contours in unhappy contrast to the black polish on the woman’s talons.
“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t smoke,” Daisy said politely. “There’s a bucket outside—”
Too late. The cigarette was crushed between the sole of one strappy stiletto sandal and the pristine concrete of Daisy’s double garage.
“So how much?”
A cloud dulled the sun and the saintly aura faded. Stepping back to allow yet another stranger to judge the resale value of her life, Daisy answered the brunette. “Doesn’t the tag say fifty dollars?” as if she couldn’t remember how, in the wee hours of the morning while Lady Antebellum pleaded “Need You Now,” she’d painstakingly tied the price tag around the necks of the porcelain lovers.
“Ye-ahh,” the woman answered as if Daisy were dense. “But how much will you take?”
“Excuse me,” a voice from behind interrupted. “What size is this?”
Daisy turned to a stout woman who held a Kelly-green midcalf skirt and matching short jacket. Daisy loved that suit—it perfectly complemented her Irish genes—but love wasn’t a good enough reason to keep something that squeezed the breath from her. “Size six.”
“Is there some place I could try it on?”
“Try it on . . . ?” Daisy imagined popped buttons and exploding seams.
“I’ll handle this,” Charity Wagstaff whispered, coming through the milling browsers. “You take care of Cruella.”
Daisy shot her eyes toward the heavens.
“But remember,” her best friend softly chided, “you’re turning the page, moving on, taking risks. You’re letting go—”
“I know, I know.” Forcing a smile, Daisy attended to the brunette. “Make me an offer.”
“Ten bucks? That’s a Lladró!”
The brunette stared impatiently, as if she were tapping a foot. “It’s a limited edition and it cost $275 last year. They’ve probably broken the mold.”
“Well, if it’s so valuable, why’re y’ selling it?”
Because it was meant to crown the top layer of a fabulous, fivetier Amaretto wedding cake . . . “Because I’m moving,” Daisy said instead. “And I don’t have the room.”
The brunette yawned.
“It’s like this—” Daisy tried to look pitiful. But it took memories of her long-departed mutt, Sophie, to produce the tears needed for effect. “My husband died and I have to downsize.”
“Twenty bucks,” countered the dry-eyed shopper.
“She’ll take it,” Charity said, sneaking up from behind.
Her auburn frizz quivering with indignation, Daisy spun toward the sunny blonde. “Have you lost your mind? It’s worth more than twenty dollars. It’s worth more than fifty dollars!”
“Let it go.”
“It’s so beautiful.”
“It’s only clay. Let it go.”
“I don’t have all day.” The woman held out a rumpled bill. “Y’ want the twenty or not?”
Reaching across the plywood, Charity snatched the money. “I’ve changed my mind, it’s not for sale!”
Daisy screamed. Charity blocked her attempt to chase the woman, who fled down the drive like a hyena with carrion.
Daisy wilted, then quickly tensed. The browsing had stopped and all eyes were upon her. A Miss Marple–type linked elbows with her equally tweedy companion and the two scurried out of the garage, pausing briefly at the garden tools displayed along the drive before glancing back and continuing their escape.
Sympathetically, Charity said, “Why don’t you take a break? You’ve been at this for hours.”
Daisy took a shuddering breath, the embarrassment and humiliation of the last year dumping on her like a sudden downpour. She didn’t even know these people who were picking over the remnants of her life. Why should she care what they thought? It was her garage—for another two weeks. If she wanted, she could be as contrary and unpredictable as the Seattle weather.
“Maybe a short break,” Daisy conceded, before wending her way between bookshelves and lamps and a widescreen television marked with a SOLD sign. Who could’ve predicted that only weeks after Jason had replaced his reliable television with a sleeker state-of-the-art model, he’d do the same with his fiancée?
Certainly not Daisy, who, nonetheless, had taken the high road, thanks to the example set by her mother, a corporate wife who always kept her smile in the face of adversity. With more at stake than just her personal relationship, Daisy had been civil, allowing Jason to move out at his leisure; she had never intended to keep either the television or the telltale Callaway golf clubs until she received the certified letter from Dritz Klak & Smite.
She’d fantasized about bashing the $2,500 television with the $600 driver, but the ever-pragmatic Charity convinced her to sell them instead.
“You’ll get the best price on eBay,” Charity had told her. But money was less the objective than expediency; Daisy didn’t have time to photograph, upload, monitor, and mail. And fear of another “Craigslist Killer” kept her away from that website. So, the old-fashioned method it was; anything remaining at day’s end would be donated to the SPCA thrift shop.
Of course, Jason didn’t know his precious belongings were the main course at a garage sale.
Although short-lived, the thought cheered Daisy as she passed from the netherworld of her garage into the haven of her kitchen. But not before fluffing the potpourri of carnation petals strategically placed between a crystal mantel clock and a silver-plated chafing dish.
Golden Heart nominee Maggie McConnell spent her childhood in Asia and South America as the daughter of US diplomats. Attending college in Illinois, she earned a BA in Art and an MBA while working at the local animal shelter. At 26, she packed her dog and cat into a Ford truck and drove the Alcan Highway to Alaska, where she spent 23 years exploring The Last Frontier in single-engine Cessnas. An animal-rights advocate and vegan, Maggie provides a sanctuary on her Arizona ranch for all creatures great and small. Her compass still points north.
by Leah Marie Brown
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
With her trust fund and coveted job at Christian Dior, Fanny Moreau believes she has it all. But when her best friend finds a fulfilling new career abroad—and a dreamy relationship with a great guy, Fanny’s fabulous life suddenly feels empty. Inspired to find her true purpose, she trades her cushy lifestyle in San Francisco for an adventure in the Alaskan wilderness.
Everyone thinks Fanny has gone off the deep end. What’s a girl with a Ph.D in Prada doing teaching in an Inuit village? Even Fanny is wondering, especially when she comes face to face with Calder MacFarlane. The Scottish search and rescue pilot is everything Fanny is not—selfless, heroic, and used to living on the edge. He’s also the man who once loved her best friend. Yet something in Calder’s sexy gaze has her believing that she’s a woman capable of great things—a woman who might just find her own happily-ever-after, in a place where she least expects it.
The worst day of my life started with an unfortunate spritz of perfume.
Every tragedy can be traced back to one fatal mistake, one seemingly insignificant miscalculation that sets into motion a series of small blunders resulting in utter catastrophe.
Take James Cameron winning the Oscar for Titanic over Gus Van Sant for Good Will Hunting. If the Titanic’s wireless operator had known how to work the Marconi efficiently, he might have translated the warning messages about ice in the area, the unsinkable ship would have remained afloat, and James Cameron wouldn’t have won the Oscar for a hopelessly insipid movie.
If Christian Lacroix had added jet beads to his pared-back coat dresses and peplum skirts, his ’09 Fall Collection might have been the buzz of the season; instead, fashion editors and snarky bloggers lamented the loss of his talent.
One seemingly insignificant snowball-sized mistake starts its journey down the mountain, and before you know it, a shit avalanche is descending upon you.
My best friend, Vivian—her name is Vivia, but I call her Vivian because it’s more glam—coined the phrase “shit avalanche.” It’s an unpalatably graphic and overblown phrase and not one I use often, but it superbly describes my situation.
My shit avalanche started with an unwelcome spritz of Kitty Kat’s Purrfect. Kitty Kat, the bubblegum pop singing phenom, might know a thing or two about writing hit songs, but she doesn’t know a thing about the delicate art of blending scents to create an intoxicating perfume.
How could a spritz of perfume cause a disaster?
I will start at the awful beginning, but only because I hope my tragic story will serve as a cautionary tale. The Titanic. James Cameron.
Christian Lacroix. Stéphanie Moreau. The world has suffered enough disasters. Read and learn, mon amie.
Leah Marie Brown has worked as a journalist and photographer. An avid traveler, she has had adventures and mishaps from Paris to Tokyo. She doesn’t buy cheesy tee-shirts or useless bric-a-brac, but prefers friendships and memories as souvenirs from her travels. She lives a bike ride away from the white sand beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast with her husband, children, and pampered poodles. She is hard at work on the next novel in The It Girls series, but loves to hear from readers. Please visit her website at http://www.leahmariebrown.com/ Follow her as Vivia on Twitter @Chic_Traveler and Pinterest as Vivia Perpetual Grant, Perpetual Virgin.
COULD THIS BE LOVE
NOT SECOND BEST
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