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.


Available Exclusively at AMAZON


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