Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April Fave Fives: Time of Our Lives!



Welcome to an extra special edition of Fave Fives with a few sprinkles on top for good measure. That's right. IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!! This month is all about those special days, and I'm so excited my friends and fellow authors are here to share it with me. Some birthdays come and go, but we all have a handful that stick with us. Read on to find out favorite birthday memories from some of the most kickass authors in romance!





So, today I turn 31. Or as my husband likes to say, it's the 2nd anniversary of my 29th birthday. To be honest, though, I'm happy being in my 30s now. I've had birthdays I'd rather forget, and for the most part, my birthday is just another day of the year, but one where people are obligated to be nice to me. LOL! There are a few that really stick out, though, ones that I'll remember forever. In no particular order...



  1. My 15th birthday rocked. It was the end of my Freshman year in high school, and it had been your typical Freshman experience. In other words... not fantastic. However, my friends all came together to make my birthday special by decorating my locker, leaving gifts inside, and my parents even sent me flowers to school.
  2. For my 19th birthday, my husband's Marine buddies took me to Outback Steakhouse. A dozen Marines with me as the guest of honor. It doesn't get much more awesome than that. 
  3. My 26th birthday was the year I published my first book (under a different pen name) and began my career as an author. My husband made me a shadow box with my print books, and I received flowers from 6 different friends. It was a truly special day.
  4. For my 29th birthday, I hadn't expected much. I was on a deadline, and to be honest, I'd completely forgotten about my birthday. I woke up to breakfast in bed, and then came downstairs to find my husband and kids had decorated everything that would stand still with ribbons, balloons, streamers, and sparkles. 
  5. My 30th birthday. Ah, the big 3-0. My best friend made me a time capsule filled with all kinds of awesome things from 1984. My husband surprised me with more decorations and a takeout meal from my favorite restaurant, and my kids were on their best behavior. It really was the perfect day. 


Driven and career-focused, Starla Winters doesn’t have the time or patience for dating. Other than her family, she has only a handful of personal connections, only a few relationships that truly mean anything to her, but she’s content. Or so she thinks. Then the laidback, free-spirited owner of a local toy store blows into her life, making her want things she’s never even contemplated. 

Turner McCord fell in love the moment the uptight advertising agent marched into his office, and nothing has been the same for him since. He knows it won’t be easy to break through Starla’s shiny layer of professionalism to the fiery woman beneath, but he’s determined to make her his. After all, to love someone as beautiful and captivating as Starla Winters would be an awfully big adventure.

TODAY ONLY, GET STARDUST FOR 99 CENTS! 
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Susan Hayes

I don’t know if it’s the warm glow of nostalgia or the sugar rush from all the birthday cake I used to eat before I knew what calories were, but my fondest birthday memories are all from my youth.


  1. I remember my mum bringing out this amazing angel food cake when I was four or five, and as I blew out the candles I wished so hard that there would be cherries in it. When the cake was cut and I saw it was full of maraschino cherries, I was beside myself with glee that my wish had worked.
  2. For my sixteenth birthday, my parents took me to my first “upscale” restaurant. Surrounded by family, all of us dressed up in our best clothes, it was the first time I felt like a real adult.
  3. It was either my seventh or eighth birthday that we were out on a two week boating trip. My parents woke me up around eleven o’clock because the northern lights were on display. We sat up on the command bridge of our boat and watched the lights dance across the sky while snacking on leftover birthday cake.
  4. I was born in the middle of August, so we were often camping or boating when my birthday rolled around. Somehow, in the days before microwaves or RV’s, no matter how far away we were from home or even civilization itself, my mum always managed to bake me a cake. It amazed me every year.
  5. My parents gifted me with riding lessons for my eleventh birthday. I was beside myself, nearly vibrating with joy at the thought of getting to actually learn to ride! My lesson was with a beautiful little bay pony named Vandy. I thought he was perfect, and when the lesson was over I didn’t want to dismount. As it turns out, that was a good thing, because my parents then told me that he was my real present. Yes, for my eleventh birthday I won the little girl lottery and actually got a pony.



As the future CEO of Forrester Industries, Lucas Forrester has the kind of life most men only dream of. He’s travelled the world, brokering deals and sealing contracts that have benefited the company while making a name for himself as a cold, calculating negotiator.

At work, Luke lives behind his corporate persona, but when a chance encounter with a beautiful and caring stranger brings out his true nature, he finds himself reluctant to go back into hiding.

Veronica Hood’s life will never be mistaken for a fairytale, but she’s proud of what she’s accomplished so far. After years of planning, she’s finally got her own coffee shop, with enough money coming in to stay out of the red and pay for her grandmother’s medical bills, too. When Lucas sees her delivering food to the hungry, he appoints himself as her protector, stealing her heart and starting a whirlwind love affair straight out of a storybook.

The trouble is, Lucas isn’t the only one who has fallen for Ronnie. When her stalker finally emerges from the shadows, Luke will have to fight for his redheaded angel. In the end only one of them can possess her, but who will be the victor...her champion or the dark-hearted wolf?

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Julie Morgan



  1. I receiced my first REAL tea set when I was 10 years old. I really wanted one to have "tea" with my friends. Of course we drank water when playing and being from Texas, we TRIED to talk with what we considered an English accent. We failed miserably but at the time, we rocked it!
  2. On my 30th birthday, my husband (boyfriend at the time) made arrangements to see me in Fort Hood. He had been activated in the reserves to go to Afghanistan. Best birthday present was seeing him before he deployed (and shortly later, asking me to marry him).
  3. When I turned 16 I received my first REAL kiss. His name was Mark (leaving last names off for this haha!) I thought he was amazing, until his tongue tried to go down my throat. Horrified, I went with it, then later told my bff. She laughed and I was hurt. It wasn't till later I realized she laughed at him, not me. It was quite traumatic haha! I've learned quite a bit about kissing since Mark.
  4. My first car purchase happened around my 17th birthday. After saving enough for a down payment, my father co-signed my very first loan and I bought my first car! I won't tell what year this happened for fear of really aging myself lol!
  5. My very favorite birthday memory, saved for last, was finding out the sex of my daughter while pregnant with her. Tears, excitement, and so many other emotions happened that day and I completely forgot it was my birthday. This year she'll turn 8. 



A chance encounter around the world led her to him…

Abby Masters knew it was time to move on and start her life on her own. No one was in her way, no one could stop her. Leaving her past behind was the best way to move forward.

Deciding to travel around the world, the intent was to clear her mind, to find herself and to start over. What she didn’t expect, what she didn’t see coming, was Clive.










Erika Reed


  1. When I turned sixteen, my father surprised me the day of my birthday with a 1990 Toyota Celica parked in the driveway. The funny thing was, I didn't even have a license or a permit yet, and I never expected a car for my sixteenth birthday. And no I wasn’t spoiled. But if you ask my two brothers’, I was. ;)
  2. I had just started dating my husband and he wanted to take me to Vegas on my twenty-first birthday. Being that I was born and raised in the Catholic religion, my family wasn’t too thrilled when they found out that I would be sharing a room with him and not getting my own. Lol ;) 
  3. The day I turned thirty I was eight months pregnant with my first daughter. I remember crying when my husband got home because I had spent the day by myself while he was at work. During the day, I was feeling sorry for myself because I felt fat and old, nothing exciting planned for my thirtieth birthday, so I moped around the house all day. What I didn't know was my hubby had planned a surprised dinner that night with my family and some friends.
  4. My 40th birthday party was the best! All of my friend’s were there. I had a DJ, catered food and a huge buttercream cake, my absolute favorite. My friend’s house had a gorgeous rockslide pool in their backyard, and after a few too many drinks, we all decided to jump in the pool with our clothes on. It was a birthday I'll never forget.
  5. I share the same birthday month with my husband and my two daughters. One weekend, my husband and I surprised my daughters with a weekend trip to Disneyland and California Adventure. We all had a great time and would do it again for our birthdays if we had the chance.


Goldie Locke is in love with her boss, Travis. He has always been the man of her dreams, but it’s getting harder to work for him when she really wants more. After a fire in her apartment leaves her temporarily homeless, she finds herself on her way to Travis’ cabin in the mountains, at his brothers’ insistence. She decides to use the time away to make some decisions about her future...with or without Travis.
Travis Baer had always prided himself at making his construction business a success. He is a man who goes after what he wants, but what he desires more than anything is Goldie. After being tricked into a weekend alone with his gorgeous assistant, Travis is determined to finally make Goldie his, and reveal his true feeling for her.
Could their weekend retreat be the beginning to the fairytale ending Goldie has always wanted?
Now Available Exclusively at AMAZON


J.A. Hornbuckle


  1. On my 6th birthday, my mom asked me to choose my birthday cake.  Being the kind of gal I am, I went with chocolate cream pie with a whipped cream top (…only because I didn’t know what meringue was!).  See?  I was a rebel even then.
  2. My first make-out session took place on my 15th birthday with my first real boyfriend.  I don’t remember anything else about that day—not the gifts, the dinner or anything else.  Just the two and a half-hours of learning the dizzy delights of kissing while using your tongue!
  3. I’ll never forget my 23rd birthday because that was my first one as a mom.  And I remember going through the day with a heart so full of gratitude and awe at the laughing little boy I’d been given…and the little girl that was still growing within me.  (Yep, my kids are a year and two weeks apart!)
  4. 35 was a challenging year.  For some reason, I decided to spend that birthday alone in order to take stock of where I’d been, where I was and where I wanted to be.  Although I wouldn’t have said so at the time, it was one of my best birthdays ever.  Agonizing reappraisal can be awesome in retrospect!
  5. My last entry doesn’t have a year because I don’t remember the when of it, just the what.  And that ‘what’ has become a tradition in our family.  “Mom?  I know why everybody loves birthdays,” my darling girl announced on a birthday morning, although I can’t remember who's celebration day it was.  “Because it’s the day everyone gets to let you know they’re happy you were born!”   Indeed.


He was convinced he was dying, slowly wasting from the same disease that took both his father and grandfather’s lives.
So Bishop began to take the necessary steps to wrap up his life, trying to gain closure in every area.  Especially in regard to his ex-wife, Dory.  A woman who left him when he’d just been a lowly recruit in the Hellion Motorcycle Club.  Reaching out, he asks to meet with her in order to finally put to rest all the unresolved, heart-sick emotions her quick departure had left behind so many years before.

Dory had escaped Missoula and the Hellions where she’d once been a Honey and a wife.  
She’d moved on, creating a new life for herself in Casper, Wyoming.  And those thirteen years away had been bordered in secrets, both in the past and present.  So when Bishop calls her, almost demanding she meet with him, Dory recognizes it’s time for truth.  For letting go of the undisclosed, of exposing her hidden life in favor of the peace that only honesty can bring.

From the author of Hiding in Plain Sight, The Possibility of Trey and the other books in the Hellion MC Series comes the last novel, Checkmate With Bishop.

It’s a story about forgiveness…especially when one of the many apologies you offer must be given to yourself.


*Intended for mature audiences only (18+) due to strong language and sexual situations*

Available Now from AMAZON







Kele Moon


  1. For my 13th birthday my father rented a limo and surprised my friends and me. Then we got to ride into town (Waikiki) and cruise around in style. To a group of 13-year-old girls it was the epitome of cool!
  2. I think 18 was fun for obvious reasons. It was just me and my friends getting together, but I was an adult now, which in my opinion at the time was rock and roll. If I only knew O_o.
  3. For my 25th birthday my husband went all out. He took me to all my favorite places, and made sure I did all my favorite things. We went to get Crepes Suzette at a French place because he remembered me saying they were my favorite. We went to a bookstore. A Jazz club. Made several other little stops. Then we went to a symphony that night. When we got home he’d had a piano delivered while we were out all day. My mother-in-law called me the princess for a year after that birthday.
  4. For my 31st birthday my husband and I owned our Cuban restaurant and he shut it down for dinner, invited all my friends and cooked for us. It was very cool. Would love to do that again! My husband is a kickass chef!
  5. For my 36th Birthday my husband and one of my oldest and dearest friend’s Tony surprised me by arranging for Tony to fly in and spend a few days with us! I hadn’t seen him since I was 18. One of the best birthday’s ever! 


To Chuito the apartment was a self-imposed prison for a lifetime of sins. To Alaine, the girl next door, it was salvation from her overbearing, religious father.

He was a devil. 
She was an angel.

Two people who should’ve never met, let alone become friends, but it’s not until they give into the dangerous passion that’s been simmering under the surface for five years that things go to hell. 

On the outside, Chuito ‘The Slayer’ Garcia is on top of the world. He’s successful. He’s wealthy. He's a champion MMA fighter surrounded by friends who support him, but they don’t know what he was before he came to Garnet.

A gangster. 
A thief. 
An addict. 
A murderer.

Now his past is churning up demons he can’t ignore. Chuito knows he needs to go back to Miami to end it, but there's something holding him back, a single temptation he can't resist before leaving.

Alaine. 

She’s the one drug he can’t give up…even if it destroys them both.

“To me you’re coke. Fine. Smooth. Perfectly white. Very bad for me, but so fucking sexy I don’t give a shit. It’s worth going down for.” – Chuito Garcia 

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Laurann Dohner

Happy Birthday, Kali. Thank you for asking me to give you my 5 favorite birthday memories in honor of it being yours.


  1. My 21st birthday is memorable. I didn't go out drinking. I was pregnant with my first child so we had iced cream and my husband took me out to dinner. Some of my friends thought it should be a bummer that I couldn't go out and get blind drunk. LOL. I remember thinking that spending time with MrL was the best gift ever!!! Perfect.
  2. My 34th birthday - I'd found out I was pregnant with baby #4 right after we'd bought a mobile home. We'd always lived in apartments so this was great. We'd had three girls so I was sure I'd have a forth. The doctor decided to take a peek and then turned the monitor my way to show me the boy parts on the screen.  Happy Birthday! We were having a boy! I was so ecstatic. Finally...I could buy all those cute little boy outfits.
  3. My 39th birthday was AWESOME. I'd just signed my first book contract and was finally going to be published. I'd written my first book in 1993 - had spent all those years dreaming of seeing my name on a book cover...and that came true in 2009.
  4. My 42nd birthday was a favorite of mine. We'd bought our first real house - coming from an old double wide mobile home. We'd just moved to Vegas. I'd been living in the new house alone until our kids finished out the school year in California. They drove to spend that weekend with me and I remember looking at them...knowing life how wonderful my life was with them in my life.
  5. Last year I turned 44 (June) and that was a very special one for me. I'd suffered a stroke six months before that so I felt VERY grateful to be able to celebrate it. I was walking again and recovering. We had bought a new house without pesky stairs and were about to move into it. It was just a fantastic birthday.


Vanni is furious when her fiancé tricks her into attending a conference where his father’s church is protesting the New Species Organization. She hates everything those vile bigots stand for. Vanni goes to the bar to cool off and ends up seated next to a handsome New Species. Things heat up fast when they are both drugged.

Smiley doesn't want to believe the sweet human would dose them with the breeding drug. He's willing to trust her and determined to save her life. He'll hold her. Protect her. Offer up his body to distract them both from the pain. She is his female, even if she doesn't realize it yet.


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Laurie Roma


  1. One of my fondest memories is being able to spend my birthday in Munich, Germany, drinking too much wine and having a fabulous time. 
  2. When I was really young, I remember my mother making me a bunch of Hello Kitty happy birthday posters so it was the first thing I saw when I woke up on my birthday. Just thinking about it puts a smile on my face. :)
  3. Another good childhood memory is when my family threw me a surprise birthday party. It was a blast.
  4. My 21st birthday...I don't remember much, but that's part of why it was so awesome! LOL
  5. Another year, I spent my birthday in New Orleans. Again, I don't remember much besides having good company, good food and lots of drinks. *sigh* Good times...


Tessa Campbell is a woman in an impossible situation. As the owner of an event planning company, her days are usually filled celebrating the best moments of people’s lives, but all of that changes when her father makes a grievous mistake that may cost him the job he loves. He is depending on her to fix his mistake, but nothing is ever as simple as it seems. In order to save him, she must find a way to reason with his boss...the man everyone calls The Beast.

Drake Vidal has a dangerous reputation. A ruthless business man who has taken Vidal Labs and Technology to the top of the industry, he expects perfection from everyone who works for him. He has never believed in love, but all it takes is one look at the gentle beauty that comes to him to plead for her father for him to lose his heart. Can she find a way to see beyond the savage veneer he portrays to the world to discover the good hidden beneath, or will she think he isn’t worth taming? For who could ever really love a beast? 




Now Available Exclusively from AMAZON




Catalina Harper
Website |Facebook

Holidays are exciting times for me. I can’t help it. I get like a little kid, complete with the sugar overloads, fighting sleep, and then subsequent snoring as I fall asleep on the couch. Birthdays are sort of like random holidays for me and I love participating in them. My favorite five birthday memories aren’t necessarily about my birthday but I’ll share them anyway.




  1. The time I got to buy my best friend an issue of Playboy from her birthday month that was printed the year she was born. Her birthday was a big one for her and I loved putting together a basket of time-capsule like collectibles for her to enjoy on her big day. 
  2. Once an Emu, who my redneck cousin thought was an ostrich, showed up in my backyard on my birthday. I will never forget every member of my family attempting to herd it. To where? I’m not sure. But it was hilarious. 
  3. The year I graduated from college, my bestie decided to take me to New Orleans for my graduation/birthday present. We met carnival workers from South Africa, a drag queen who directed traffic, and a tattoo artist with a stripper girlfriend. To this day, it was one of the most unique birthday trips I’ve ever had and one of my fondest memories. 
  4. There is nothing quite like throwing a Little Mermaid themed party for a twenty-five year old woman, especially when you have to go around collecting all the appropriately themed items and people inquire how old your child is. Finding the soundtrack to the Little Mermaid was a bit of a choir but we finally managed to have Under the Sea playing when she walked through the door of her surprise party. 
  5. My little brother’s eighteenth birthday was also a special memory for me. We didn’t do anything special but we played video games and hung out all day and I really cherish those sorts of memories considering he’ll soon be in college and won’t have time for his big sister anymore. 

So voila! My favorites list. Happy Birthday, Kali. You rock my socks off, girl.


We’re all Mad Here. The words immortalized on the door of Chris Jensen’s nightclub, Wonderland, have been a beacon for other eccentric souls in Chicago’s urban landscape. Chris might have been alone but he hadn’t realized he was lonely until he finds a bartender who makes him want more than good music and great Scotch. Alison Liddell walks into his life brandishing a rapier wit and a take-no-lip attitude, but trusting the attraction that sizzles between them will take more than his gut instincts to come into fruition. 

Alison has wanted Chris since the day she started working at Wonderland. However, the beautiful man is nearly as stubborn as she is and keeps her at arms’ length. A night of drinking leads to a kiss that neither of them are prepared to deny, however, walking into a relationship is unfamiliar territory for the both of them and only time will tell if they will be able to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

New Release - Stardust!

After a lot of drama with Amazon, I'm pleased to announce that Stardust is finally available!! Keep reading for an exclusive preview...




Driven and career-focused, Starla Winters doesn’t have the time or patience for dating. Other than her family, she has only a handful of personal connections, only a few relationships that truly mean anything to her, but she’s content. Or so she thinks. Then the laidback, free-spirited owner of a local toy store blows into her life, making her want things she’s never even contemplated.

Turner McCord fell in love the moment the uptight advertising agent marched into his office, and nothing has been the same for him since. He knows it won’t be easy to break through Starla’s shiny layer of professionalism to the fiery woman beneath, but he’s determined to make her his. After all, to love someone as beautiful and captivating as Starla Winters would be an awfully big adventure.





Available Exclusively at AMAZON



CHAPTER ONE

“On guard!” Adjusting the elastic band that held his eye patch in place, Turner McCord lunged forward, brandishing his wooden sword. “You’ll never take me treasure. Argh!”

His foe parried, brandishing his own toy sword in both hands as he eyed the black, velvet bag of plastic coins that hung from Turner’s wrist. “Hand over the gold, or I’ll make you walk the plank!”

The kid couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, with floppy, sandy-brown hair—much the same color as Turner’s—and a smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks. His big, blue eyes shined with excitement, and he smiled widely, showing off his missing front tooth. Turner had never seen him in Neverland before, not that he remembered, but it didn’t matter. All children—both young and old—were welcome in his toy store.

“Johnathon, time to go.” The boy’s mother shifted her purse straps more securely into the crook of her elbow and tapped a manicured nail against the face of her watch. “You have piano lessons in twenty minutes.”

“Ah, Mom, do I have to?”

After a bit of persuasion, a little coaxing, and then finally, outright bribery, the kid returned his sword to the shelf and disappeared toward the front of the store with his mother. Pulling his eye patch off, Turner ran a hand over the top of his head, smoothing down his shaggy locks as he watched them go. 

As usual, the store teemed with activity, even with the weather turning ugly outside. A group of preschool boys stretched out on the padded carpet amongst the stars depicted in the plush threads, pushing toy cars and fire trucks across the floor. A couple of younger girls with matching blonde curls tried on tiaras and glittery fairy wings while they giggled at themselves in the vertical, child-size mirror.

A set of wide, curving staircases wound to the top floor of Neverland, opening into a spacious library filled with shelves upon shelves of books for all ages. In the center of the second story sat the Tree of Knowledge, a massive manufactured tree with several cubbies cut into the trunk, and nests of pillows on the branches. Even with the upbeat music playing on the overhead speakers, Turner could hear parents reading while their children gasped and giggled.

December had been a very good month for the store, and though the temperatures continued to fall in the Windy City, January looked to be just as lucrative. Not that Turner cared about any of that. He already had more money than he knew what to do with, and he hadn’t opened Neverland for the profit. 

“Turner, there you are.” His store manager, Trina Belamy, rounded the corner and bounced over to him, her wild, golden ringlets barely restrained in a messy bun atop her head. “Miss Winters is here to see you.” She held her dainty hands out for the toys and grinned while her eyes crinkled at the corners. “She’s waiting up front by the registers.” 

Passing the eye patch, sword, and bag of plastic coins to her, Turner looked down at his plain, white T-shirt and faded jeans with a frown. “I thought I was meeting with her tomorrow.” If he’d known he’d be seeing Starla Winters today, he’d have put a bit more effort into getting dressed that morning. “Are you sure it’s today?”

Trina lifted one shoulder in a disinterested shrug while she returned the toys to their proper places on the shelves. “She’s here. That probably means it’s today.” Clasping her hands together when she finished, she turned to face him. Her big, blue eyes dominated her pixie-like face and sparkled with mischief when she looked up at him. “You like her, don’t you?”

“No.” If his denial had come a little too quickly or with too much intensity, Trina didn’t comment, so he continued. “It’s just that if I had known she was coming today, I would have dressed more professionally.”

Trina arched a thin, golden eyebrow at him. “Turner McCord, when have you ever been professional?”

He could be professional. “I went to the bank yesterday,” he informed her with a mirrored quirk of his eyebrow. “I wore a tie and everything.”

Snorting, Trina brushed a piece of lint from the shoulder of her billowy, forest-green top. “Okay, fine. You can be professional. If you want to keep that streak going, however, you probably shouldn’t keep Miss Winters waiting.” She flicked a flyaway curl out of her eyes and rested her hands on her narrow hips. “Oh, and don’t forget I’m leaving at noon today.”

Turner nodded, stopped, and tilted his head to the side. “Why are you leaving at noon?”

With an exasperated sigh, Trina took his elbow and tugged, pulling him toward the front of the store. “I’m going out of town with my parents to celebrate my birthday, which you’ve known about for two weeks now. I’ll be back on Monday.”

An ambiguous recollection of the conversation tickled the fringes of his memory. “You’re going to be gone for a week?”

Trina rolled her eyes. “Today is Thursday, Turner, and it technically doesn’t count. So, I’ll only be gone for three days.” She turned the corner, still holding onto his arm while she dragged him along beside her. “You can manage for that long without me, and besides, Lily will be here to help.”

With her pin-straight, ebony hair, brown eyes, and smooth caramel skin, Lily Geist created a striking contrast to Trina. Though only eighteen, she’d been working at Neverland since the day the doors opened two years ago, and Turner had never doubted his decision to promote her to assistant manager. She was a smart girl, good with people in general, but she also didn’t take herself too seriously, something Turner valued in all of his employees. 

Lily had a head for business, and she’d taken over the inventory reports, which he greatly appreciated since he despised paperwork in all its unholy forms. At the same time, it wasn’t uncommon to find her reading to the preschoolers on the second floor, or dueling it out with the older boys over a game of cops and robbers.

“Someone will be here tomorrow afternoon to fix the pinball machine.” Trina flittered her fingers over her shoulder in the vague direction of the arcade located in the back corner of the main floor. “I’ve already informed Lily, and she’s authorized to sign off on the work, so you don’t even have to be here.”

“Trina.”

She slowed to a stop and looked up at him. “Yes?”

While he could be forgetful, and didn’t particularly enjoy the day-to-day aspects of running a business, he could handle the store on his own for a weekend. “Stop fussing. Go, have fun on your trip.” Uncurling her fingers from his elbow, he cradled her hand between both of his own and smiled. “Happy birthday.”

“Thank you.” Eyeing him speculatively, she pulled her hand back and nodded. “Don’t forget to eat.” Her eyes narrowed, and she pointed a finger at his face. “And I don’t mean fast food for every meal, either.” With an impatient sigh, she brushed at his wrinkled T-shirt and shook her head. “Call if you need anything. Otherwise, I’ll see you Monday.” Then she gave him another once-over, sighed again, and disappeared toward the employee break room.

Grinning to himself, Turner rounded a table filled with discounted seasonal items and made his way to the entrance. Outside, stray beams of sunlight had managed to break free of the cloud cover and filter into the storefront, gleaming off the crescent-shaped countertop. Lines formed at both open registers, backing up to the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Beyond the fogging glass, Chicagoans hurried along the sidewalks, pulling their coats tighter and ducking their heads against the driving wind. 

Standing off to the side with a gray, leather case draped over her left shoulder, Starla Winters flashed him a smile that nearly stopped his heart. She’d dressed simply in a black pencil skirt and matching blazer, adding just a splash of color to her attire with a pale-blue, collared shirt that looked lovely against her creamy skin. 

“Mr. McCord,” she greeted in her faint English accent as he approached. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.” 

“How many times have I told you to call me Turner?” Taking her offered hand, he squeezed it gently, careful not to linger too long. “I’m sorry you had to wait. I thought we were meeting tomorrow.” 

“Oh, please, there’s no need to apologize. And you’re correct that our meeting was scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.” She stared up at him, her sapphire-blue eyes wide and beseeching. “It’s just that I have—well, there isn’t an easy way to say this, I’m afraid.” Her left hand rested on the top of her bag, and she drummed her fingers against the leather. “Could we continue this in your office?”

“Of course.” His brow furrowed, but Turner didn’t comment as he waved a hand to the right, indicating the frosted glass door tucked into a small alcove off the entrance. “After you.”

Beautiful in a way he’d only read about in books, Starla exuded confidence and sophistication from her artfully-styled, auburn waves, to her sensible, closed-toe kitten heels. She moved in graceful strides, her long legs flexing with each step as she preceded him to his office. While he tried to be a gentleman, Turner couldn’t stop his gaze from repeatedly straying to her pert backside, and his pulse quickened, beating in time to the sway of her hips.

When he’d contacted Rufio Advertising to discuss marketing options for Neverland, he hadn’t been prepared for the likes of Starla Winters to walk into his office. Smart, classy, and gorgeous, she’d commanded his full attention from the start, and by the end of their first meeting, he’d been captivated. 

In the six months and two campaigns that followed, he’d never seen her lose her composure. Never once had her shiny veneer of professionalism cracked—something that both impressed and frustrated the hell out of him—until now. She masked her anxiety well, but Turner could see it in the slight tremble of her hands, had heard it in the way her words tumbled from her lips just a little too quickly. 

Inside the office, he guided her to the round conference table in the back corner of his office where he held weekly meetings with the staff. Pulling one of the padded chairs out, he waited for Starla to sit before lowering into the seat beside her.

In the harsh, florescent lighting of his office, he could see the bluish shadows beneath her eyes and the worry lines that creased her brow. Her bottom lip appeared red and puffy, as if she’d been worrying it between her teeth, and her shoulders rounded with visible tension. 

“Okay, here we are.” Leaning back in his seat, Turner linked his fingers together and rested him over his stomach. “What can I do for you today?”

“There’s a slight problem with your latest campaign.” 

Turner nodded. He could work with this, and hopefully, ease some of her worry. “What problem?”

Folding her hands together in her lap, Starla took a deep breath, then let it out in a rush. “It’s gone.”

* * * * 

For the past four weeks, Starla had poured her heart and soul into Tuner’s new ad campaign, agonizing over every minute detail. She’d hand-selected which products to highlight, written and discarded slogan after slogan, and had even created the graphics herself. The ad had been her baby. More than that, it had been designed to secure her the coveted corner office with the title of Senior Marketing Director of Rufio Advertising to go along with it.

Now, she’d be lucky to even have a job come Monday morning.

“What do you mean?” Turner didn’t sound angry or even concerned, only curious. “How is the campaign gone?”

“My files, my graphics, my photos, it’s all gone.” Placing her computer case on the tabletop, she tried to open it, but her hands shook so badly, she couldn’t grasp the zipper. “I don’t know what happened. Even my backups have disappeared.”

Strong but gentle hands covered hers, stilling her fumbling movements. “Starla, look at me,” Turner coaxed. He nodded when she complied, his big, chocolate-brown eyes full of kindness and understanding. “Forget the computer for a minute.” Leaning forward in his seat, he rested his elbows on his knees and held both of her hands in a light grip. “Start from the beginning and tell me what happened.”

His warm smile eased the constriction in her chest, allowing her to take another deep, calming breath. “Last night, I wanted to add a few last-minute touches to your ad before I presented it for approval tomorrow. When I opened the program, I discovered all of my source files had been deleted from my laptop.”

“And you said your backups are gone, too?”

Starla nodded. “The files have been erased from my cloud drive, as well as my external hard drive.” She’d been so careful, saving everything in triplicate to safeguard against exactly this kind of catastrophe. “I’m terribly sorry about this, Turner. I don’t know what to say.”

“I just don’t think that ad is going to work.” Releasing her, he sat back in his seat and shook his head firmly. “I’ve decided to go in a completely different direction, so we’ll need to start from scratch.” He held his hands out to the sides, waving them in big, animated gestures. “I need more…blue.” His eyes crinkled at the corners, and he threaded his fingers through his untamed, sandy-brown hair as he nodded. “Yes, more blue. And…pirates. Lots of pirates.”

A torrent of emotion whirled inside her—confusion, amusement, and finally…relief. Toying with the strap on her laptop case, Starla smiled in spite of herself. 

“You haven’t even seen the campaign. How can you be sure you don’t like it?” 

“I bet it’s great, but it’s just not what I want.”

“It really was quite good.”

Turner smoothed his hands down his white, cotton T-shirt, and drummed his fingers over his flat stomach. “I have no doubt. Changing my mind at the eleventh hour must have put a real kink in your workflow. I’m sorry, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to work with me anymore.”

Starla’s belly fluttered, and moisture slicked her palms when his lips stretched into a devilish grin. Clearing her throat, she turned her head, trying to hide the blush heating her cheeks.

During her nine years in advertising, she’d worked with dozens of attractive, successful men. Some of them had even been charming, in their own way. Not one of them had tempted her to toss aside propriety, nor had she ever thought of them outside of work.

None of them, except Turner McCord. 

At first, she’d been frustrated with his inability to take anything seriously. He’d joked and teased throughout their first meeting, but had offered little in the way of helpful feedback. When she’d inquired about his company’s brand, he’d shrugged. So, she’d moved on to less specific topics, asking him instead what image he wanted Neverland to portray. To this, he’d shrugged again and laughed at her, saying, “It’s just a toy store.”

She’d never met anyone so bloody infuriating, and she’d cursed his name all the way back to her office. Their second meeting hadn’t gone much better, but by the third, she’d begun to understand. Turner didn’t purposely set out to make her job complicated. He simply didn’t have an opinion one way or another. She could have pasted pink unicorns into a rainbow background with glittering text, and he’d have approved it with a nod and a laugh.

“I know what you’re doing,” she admitted, finally looking up to meet his gaze. “While I appreciate it, this was my mistake, and I’m prepared to take responsibility.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Standing, Turner waved a hand dismissively. “I want swords. Let’s put swords in the new ad.”

“I’m afraid that’s a tad violent if you intend to market towards parents and children.” She played along, but really, she knew he didn’t mean a word of it. “If you want a pirate theme, perhaps ships and buried treasure would be a suitable replacement?”

“Yes.” He smacked his palm against the tabletop, making her jump. Then he pulled back and tilted his head to the side. “And blue.”

A wholly inappropriate giggle escaped her lips, and Starla pressed her fingers over her mouth to muffle the sound. “If that’s what you want.”

Crouching down beside her, Turner swiveled her chair until she faced him. Then he took her hands again, his eyes softening as smoothed his thumbs over her knuckles. “Better now?”

“Yes.” 

Her heart beat a little too fast, and she thrummed with nervous energy that had nothing to do with her lost files. Heavens, he was handsome. Dark stubble adorned his square jaw, giving him a devil-may-care look that contrasted with the impish grin stretching his lips. His broad shoulders lifted with each, slow breath, and she had no trouble picturing the lean muscles that likely hid beneath his fitted T-shirt and baggy jeans. With the light reflected in his eyes, it gave the illusion of a twinkle in his warm, chocolate-brown irises as he watched her intently, waiting for her to say more.

Pulling her hands back, Starla tucked them into her lap, praying he hadn’t noticed the goose bumps that raised the skin on her exposed wrists. “I am truly sorry. I’ll work overtime to make sure your new campaign is ready to launch on time.”

“When was that again?”

Sighing, she shook her head. “The mid part of February.”

Turner’s eyebrows drew together, and he frowned. “No, that doesn’t work, either. The first of March is better.”

“It’s no trouble.” 

Recreating everything in the limited timeframe wouldn’t be easy, but she could do it, even if it meant she’d miss a few nights of sleep. She still had almost three weeks until she needed to present the digital billboard ad, along with the advised marketing campaign, for consideration to her boss. Of course, she had completed advertisements she could present, but nothing like what she’d envisioned for Neverland. She wanted that promotion too much to leave anything to chance, and damn it, she deserved it. 

Unfolding from his crouch, Turner pushed to his feet and stared down at her for several, uncomfortable seconds before he spoke. “We should have dinner.”

Sure she’d heard him wrong, Starla blinked. “Dinner?”

“Yes, dinner. It’s this thing that happens every day, usually around the same time, and I hear there’s food involved.”

“I’m aware of how it works.” She couldn’t have dinner with Turner McCord. It would be incredibly unprofessional. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea. You’re a client…” And something else she couldn’t remember when he smiled at her like that. “You’re a client,” she repeated.

“Okay.” Folding his arms over chest, Turner pursed his lips and nodded. “You’re fired.”

Anger, swift and forceful, snapped Starla out of her daze, and she launched out of her seat, advancing until she’d backed him deep into the corner of the room. “Excuse me?”

“If your only reason for not having dinner with me is because I’m a client, then fine. You’re fired.”

She’d worked her ass off to create a respectable, family-friendly image for Neverland, and she planned to use that hard work to launch herself right into a promotion. If he thought he could take that all away from her, she had news for him.

“No,” she bit out through clenched teeth. “I am not fired.”

Turner didn’t back down, and he didn’t even have the decency to wipe the ridiculously charming grin from his lips. “Okay, you’re not fired. So, dinner? Let’s say tonight at seven.” Slipping past her, he picked her laptop case up from the table and returned to slide the strap onto her shoulder before ushering her toward the office door. “Should I pick you up, or would you rather meet me at the restaurant?”

“I…well…stop that!” Whirling around, she slapped at his arm when he tried to push her through the open door. Her five-foot-nine stature put her at eye-level with his Adam’s apple, forcing Starla to tilt her head back to glare up at him. “Turner, this really isn’t a good idea.”

“Okay, I’ll text you the address, and we can meet there.” He nudged her out of the office and closed the door behind him. Bending to accommodate for their height difference, he brushed a kiss against her cheek. “I look forward to it.”

Then he straightened, tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and sauntered away.


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