Misc Stand Alones

Taking Home the Tycoon

posted on June 24, 2017 by Catherine Mann

Workaholic millionaire meets feisty single mom! Sexy cybersecurity guru Max St. Cloud’s trip to Royal, Texas, is strictly business: he’s here to expose a tech-savvy blackmailer. Falling for Natalie Valentine, the captivating widow who runs the local B and B, isn’t on the agenda. Plus, Max isn’t daddy material and she comes with two kids…

A Christmas Baby Surprise

posted on December 18, 2015 by Catherine Mann

Alaina Rutger was living her childhood dream—a family of her own. Her charismatic husband was driving her home from the hospital with their infant son strapped into a car seat. She had the perfect life.

If only she could remember the man who’d put the four-carat diamond wedding ring on her finger.

A man who called himself Porter Rutger. Husband. Father of her child. And a man who’d been wiped from her memory along with the past five years of her life.

She tore her eyes away from his broad shoulders and coal-dark hair as she sat in back with their baby. Her baby. Alaina tucked the monogrammed red blanket over the infant as he slept, one foot in a booty, the other in a cast that had begun the repair on his clubfoot.

Another person she didn’t remember. Another heartbreak in her upside-down world. A week ago, she’d woken in the hospital with no memory of the man sitting by her bedside or of the blue bundle in the bassinet.

Waking up from a coma had felt a lot like coming to after the worst hangover ever, her head throbbing so badly she could barely move. But a quick look around showed her a hospital room rather than a bedroom.

And a hot man sleeping in the chair, his dark hair rumpled. His black pants and white button-down wrinkled.

Her own Doctor McDreamy? “Hello,” she ‘d croaked out, her throat raw for a sip of water.

McDreamy bolted awake quickly. “Alaina?” He blinked, scrubbed his hand across his eyes in disbelief, then shot to his feet. ”

“Oh, God, you ‘re awake. I need to get the nurse.”

“Water,” she rasped out. ”

“Please, a drink.”

He thumbed the nurses’ call button. ”

“I don’t know what the doctors will want. Maybe ice chips. Your IV has been feeding you. Soon, though, I promise, whatever you want, soon.”

The nurses? Doctors? He wasn’t Doc McDreamy? Then … ”

“Who are you?”

He looked up from the control panel of buttons slowly, his eyes wide with disbelief. ”

“Who am I?”

She pressed her fingertips to her monster headache.

“I’m sorry, but I feel like hell. What happened?”

“Alaina… ” He sank slowly into the chair, his voice measured, guarded. ‘”We were in a car accident.”

“We?” She knew him?

Sheltered By The Millionaire

posted on August 5, 2014 by Catherine Mann

A life-and-death rescue leads to love for a single mom in USA TODAY bestselling author Catherine Mann’s Texas Cattleman’s Club story. Texas tycoon Whit Daltry has always been a thorn in Megan Maguire’s side, especially when he tries to put the kibosh on her animal shelter. But when he saves her daughter during the worst…

Rich Man’s Fake Fiancee – 2-in-1 reissue w/Brenda Jackson

posted on February 8, 2014 by Catherine Mann


Only one thing sucked worse than wearing boring white cotton underwear on the night she finally landed in bed with her secret fantasy man.

Having him walk out on her before daylight.

Ashley Carson tensed under her downy comforter. Through the veil of her eyelashes, she watched her new lover quietly zip his custom fit pants. She’d taken a bold step – unusual for her – by falling into bed with Matthew Landis the night before. Her still-tingly sated body cheered the risk. Her good sense, however, told her she’d made a whopper mistake with none other than South Carolina ’s most high profile Senatorial candidate.

Moonlight streaked through the dormer window, glinting off his dark hair trimmed short but still mussed from her fingers. Broad shoulders showcased his beacon white shirt, crisp even though she’d stripped it from him just hours ago when their planning session for his fundraiser dinner at her restaurant/home had taken an unexpected turn down the hall to her bedroom.

Matthew may have been dream material, but safely so since she’d always thought there wasn’t a chance they could actually end up together. She preferred a sedentary, quiet life running her business, with simple pleasures she never took for granted after her foster child upbringing. He worked in the spotlight as a powerful member of the House of Representatives just as adept at negotiating high profile legislation as swinging a hammer at a Habitat for Humanity site.

People gravitated to his natural charisma and sense of purpose.

Matthew reached for his suit jacket draped over the back of a corner chair. Would he say goodbye or simply walk away? She wanted to think he would speak to her, but couldn’t bear to find out otherwise so she sat up, floral sheet clutched to her chest.

“That floorboard by the door creaks, Matthew. You might want to sidestep it or I’ll hear you sneaking out.”

He stopped, wide shoulders stiffening before he turned slowly. He hadn’t shaved, his five o’clock shadow having thickened into something much darker – just below the guilty glint in his jewel green eyes that had helped win him a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Five months from now, come November, he could well be the handsome sexy-eyed Senator Landis if he won the seat to be vacated by his mother.

With one quick blink, Matthew masked the hint of emotion. “Excuse me? I haven’t snuck anywhere since I was twelve, trying to steal my cousin’s magazines from under his mattress.” He stuffed his tie in his pocket. “I was getting dressed.”

“Oh, my mistake.” She slid from the bed, keeping the sheet tucked around her naked body. The room smelled of potpourri and musk, but she wouldn’t let either distract her. “Since yesterday, you’ve just developed a light step and a penchant for walking around in your socks.”

Ashley nodded toward his Gucci loafers dangling from two fingers.

“You were sleeping soundly,” he stated simply.

A lot of great sex tended to wear a woman out. Apparently she hadn’t accomplished the same for him, not that she intended to voice her vulnerability to him. “How polite of you.”

He dropped the shoes to the floor and toed them on one after the other. Seeing his expensive loafers on her worn hardwood floors with a cotton rag rug, she couldn’t miss the hints that this polished, soon-to-be Senator wasn’t at home in her world. Too bad those reminders didn’t stop her from wanting to drag him back onto her bed.

“Ashley, last night was amazing–”

“Stop right there. I don’t need platitudes or explanations. We’re both single adults, not dating each other or anyone else.” She snagged a terrycloth robe off a brass hook by the bathroom door and ducked inside to swap the sheet for the robe. “We’re not even really friends for that matter. More like business acquaintances who happened to indulge in a momentary attraction.”

Okay, momentary for him maybe. But she’d been salivating over him during the few times they’d met to plan social functions at her Beachcombers Restaurant and Bar.

Ashley stepped back into the bedroom, tugging the robe tie tight around her waist.

“Right, we’re on the same page then.” He braced a hand on the doorframe, his gold cufflinks glinting.

“You should get going if you plan to make it home in time to change.”

He hesitated for three long thumps of her heart before pivoting away on his heel. Ashley followed him down the hall of her Southern antebellum home/turned restaurant she ran with her two foster sisters. She’d recently taken up residence in the back room off her office, watching over the accounting books as well as the building since her recently married sisters had moved out.

Sure enough, more than one floorboard creaked under his confident strides as they made their way past the gift shop and into the lobby. She unlocked the towering front door, avoiding his eyes. “I’ll send copies of the signed contract for the fundraising dinner to your campaign manager.”

The night before, Matthew had stayed late after the business dinner to pass along some last minute paperwork. She never could have guessed how combustible a simple brush of their bodies against each other could become. Her fantasies about this man had always revolved around far more exotic scenarios.

But they were just that. Fantasies. As much as he tried to hide his emotions, she couldn’t miss how fast he’d made tracks out of her room. She’d been rejected often enough as a kid by her parents and even classmates. These days, pride starched her spine far better than any back brace she’d been forced to wear to combat scoliosis.

Matthew flattened a palm to the mahogany door. “I will call you later.”

Sure. Right. “No calls.” She didn’t even want the possibility of waiting by the phone, or worse yet, succumbing to the humiliating urge to dial him up, only to get stuck in voicejail as she navigated his answering service. “Let’s end this encounter on the same note it started. Business.”

She extended her hand. He eyed her warily. She pasted her poise in place through pride alone. Matthew enfolded her hand in his, not shaking after all, rather holding as he leaned forward to press a kiss…

On her cheek.


He slipped out into the muggy summer night. “It’s still dark. You should go back to sleep.”

Sleep? He had to be freaking kidding.

Thank goodness she had plenty to keep her busy now that Matthew had left, because she was fairly certain she wouldn’t be sleeping again. She watched his brisk pace down the steps and into the shadowy parking lot which held only his Lexus sedan and her tiny KIA Rio. What was she doing, staring after him? She shoved the door closed with a heavy click.

All her poise melted. She still had her pride but her ability to stand was sorely in question. Ashley sagged against the counter by the antique cash register in the foyer.

She couldn’t even blame him. She’d been a willing participant all night long. They’d been in the kitchen where she’d planned to give him a taste of the dessert pastries her sister added to the menu for his fundraiser. Standing near each other in the close confines of the open refrigerator, they had brushed against each other, once, twice.

His hand had slowly raised to thumb away cream filling at the corner of her mouth…

She’d forgotten all about her white cotton underwear until he’d peeled it from her body on the way back to her bedroom. Then she hadn’t been able to think of much else for hours to come.

Her bruised emotions needed some serious indulging. She gazed into the gift shop, her eyes locking on a rack of vintage-style lingerie. She padded on bare feet straight toward the pale pink satin nightgown dangling on the end. Her fingers gravitated to the wide bands of peek-a-boo lace crisscrossing over the bodice, rimming the hem, outlining the vee slit in the front of the 1920’s look garment.

How she’d ached for whispery soft underthings during her childhood, but had always been forced to opt for the more practical cotton, a sturdier fabric not so easily snagged by her back brace. She didn’t need the brace any longer. Just a slight lift to her left shoulder remained, only noticeable if someone knew to check. But while she’d ditched the brace once it finished the job, she still felt each striation on her heart.

Ashley snatched the hanger from the rack and dashed past the shelved volumes of poetry, around a bubble bath display to the public powder room. Too bad she hadn’t worn this yesterday. Her night with Matthew might not have ended any differently, but at least she would have had the satisfaction of stamping a helluva sexier imprint on his memory.

A quick shrug landed her robe on the floor around her feet.

Ashley avoided the mirror, a habit long ingrained. She focused instead on the nightgown’s beauty. One bridal shower after another, she’d gifted her two foster sisters with the same style.

Satin slid along her skin like a cool shower over a body still flushed from the joys of heated sex with Matthew. She sunk onto the tapestry chaise, a French Restoration piece she’d bargained for at an estate auction. She lit the candle next to her to complete the sensory saturation. The flame flickered shadows across the faded wallpaper, wafting relaxing hints of lavender.

A deep breath at a time she willed her anger to roll free as she drifted into the pillowy cloud of sensation. She tugged a decorative afghan over her. Maybe she could snag a nano nap after all.

Timeless relaxing moments later, Ashley inhaled again, deeper. And coughed. She sat up bolt right, sniffing not lavender, but…


Honorable Intentions

posted on January 9, 2012 by Catherine Mann

Chapter One

New Orleans, Louisiana: Mardi Gras

“Laissez les bons temps rouler!” Let the good times roll!

The cheer bounced around inside Hank Renshaw, Jr.’s, head as he pushed through the crowd lining the road to watch the Mardi Gras parade. His mood was anything but party-worthy.

He needed to deliver a message on behalf of his friend who’d been killed in action ten months ago. Tracking down his best bud’s girlfriend added twenty-ton weights to Hank’s already heavy soul.

Determination powered him forward, one step at a time, through the throng of partiers decked out in jester hats, masks and beads. Lampposts blazed through the dark. The parade inched past, a jazz band blasting a Louis Armstrong number while necklaces, doubloons and even lacy panties rained over the mini-mob.

Not surprising to see underwear fly. In years past, he’d driven down from Bossier City to New Orleans for Mardi Gras festivities. This town partied through the weekend leading all the way into Fat Tuesday. If former experiences were anything to judge by, the night would only get rowdier as the alcohol flowed. Before long, folks would start asking for beads the traditional way.

By hiking up their shirts.

A grandma waved her hands in the air, keeping her blouse in place for now as she shouted at a float with a krewe king riding a mechanical alligator, “Throw me something, mister!”

“Laissez les bons temps rouler!” the king shouted back in thickly accented Cajun French.

Hank sidestepped around a glowing lamppost. He spoke French and Spanish fluently, passable German and a hint of Chamorro from the time his dad had been stationed in Guam. He’d always sworn he wouldn’t follow in the old man’s aviator footsteps. While his dad was a pilot, Hank was a navigator. But in the end, he’d even chosen the same aircraft his dad had—the B-52. He couldn’t dodge the family legacy any more than his two sisters had. Renshaws joined the air force. Period. They’d served for generations, even though their cumulative investment portfolio now popped into the billions.

And he would give away every damn cent if he could bring back his friend.

Chest tight with grief, Hank looked up at the wrought-iron street number on the restaurant in front of him. Less than a block to go until he reached Gabrielle Ballard’s garret apartment, which was located above an antiques shop. He plunged back into the kaleidoscope of Mardi Gras purple, gold and green.

And then, in the smallest shift of the crowd, he saw her in the hazy glow of a store’s porch lights. Or rather, he saw her back as she made her way to her apartment. She didn’t appear to be here for the parade. Just on her way home, walking ahead of him with a floral sling full of groceries and a canvas sack.

Hurrying to catch her, he didn’t question how he’d identified her. He knew Gabrielle without even seeing her face. What a freaking sappy reality, but hell, the truth hurt. He recognized the elegant curve of her neck, the swish of her blond hair along her shoulders.

Even with a loose sweater hiding her body, there was no mistaking the glide of her long legs. The woman made denim look highend. She had a Euro-chic style that hinted at her dual citizenship. Her U.S. Army father had married a German woman, then finished out his career at American bases overseas. Gabrielle had come to New Orleans for her graduate studies.

Yeah, he knew everything about Gabrielle Ballard, from her history to the curve of her hips. He’d wanted her every day for a torturous year before he and Kevin had shipped out. The only relief? Since she lived in South Louisiana, while he and his friend were stationed in Northern Louisiana, Gabrielle had only crossed his path a couple of times a month.

Regardless, the brotherhood code put a wall between him and Gabrielle that Hank couldn’t scale. She was his best friend’s fiancée, Kevin’s girl. At least, she had been. Until Kevin died ten months ago. Two gunshots from a sniper at a checkpoint, and his friend was gone. That didn’t make Gabrielle available, but it did make her Hank’s obligation.

Gabrielle angled sideways, adjusting the sling holding her groceries and the canvas sack, to wedge through a cluster of college-aged students in front of the iron gate closing off the outdoor stairs to her apartment. A plastic cup in one guy’s hand sloshed foamy beer down her arm. She jumped back sharply, slamming into another drunken reveler. Gabrielle stepped forward, only to have the guy with the cup block her path again. She held her floral sack closer, fear stamped on her face.

Instincts still honed from battle shifted into high gear, telling Hank things were escalating in a damn dangerous way. He scowled, shoving forward faster without taking his eyes off her for even a second. The street lamp spotlighted her, her golden hair a shining beacon in the chaos. She pressed herself into a garden nook, but the sidewalk was packed; the noise of the floats so intense that calls for help wouldn’t be heard.

Hank closed the last two steps between him and the mess unfolding in front of him. He clamped his hand down firmly on the beer-swilling bastard’s shoulder.

“Let the lady pass.”

“What the hell?” The drunken jerk stumbled backward, bloodshot eyes unfocused.

Gabrielle’s gaze zipped to Hank. She gasped. Her emerald-green eyes went wide with recognition as she stared at him. And yeah, he felt an all too familiar snap of awareness inside him every time she crossed his path, the same draw that had tugged him the first time he saw her at a squadron formal.

One look at her then, in the ice-blue dress, and every cell in his body had shouted, “Mine!” Seconds later, Kevin had joined them, introducing her as the love of his life. Still, those cells in Hank kept on staking their claim on her.

The guy shrugged off Hank’s hand, alcohol all but oozing from his pores into the night air. “Mind your own business, pal.”

“Afraid I can’t do that.” Hank slid his arm around Ga-brielle’s waist, steeling himself for the soft feel of her against his side. “She’s with me, and it’s time for you to find another spot to watch the parade.”

The guy’s eyes focused long enough to skim over Hank’s leather flight jacket and apparently decide taking on a trained military guy might not be a wise move. He raised his hands, a glowing neon necklace peeking from the collar of his long-sleeved college tee. “Didn’t know you had prior claim, Major. Sorry.”

Major? God, it seemed as if yesterday he was a lieutenant, just joining a crew. Okay. He sure felt ancient these days even though he was only thirty-three. “No harm, no foul, as long as you walk away now.”

“Can do.” The guy nodded, turning back to his pals. “Let’s bounce, dudes.”

Hank watched until the crowd swallowed the drunken trio, his guard still high as he scanned the hyped-up masses.

“Hank?” Gabrielle called to him. “How did you find me?”

The sound of her voice speaking his name wrapped around him like a silken bond. Nothing had changed. He was still totally hooked on her. Bad enough before when she and Kevin had been engaged. But now, one glance at her made memories of his dying friend roil in his gut again.

He needed to check on Gabrielle as he’d promised Kevin he would, pass along his friend’s final words, then punch out of her life for good.

“You still live at the same address. Finding you wasn’t detective work,” he said, guiding her toward the iron gateway blocking her outside stairway. His eyes roved over the familiar little garden and wrought-iron table he’d seen for the first time when he’d driven down with Kevin two years ago. Determined to gain control of his feelings, he’d accompanied his bud on a weekend trip to the Big Easy. Pure torture from start to finish. “Let’s go to your place so we can talk.”

“What are you doing here? I didn’t know you’d returned to the States.” Her light German accent gave her an exotic appeal.

As if she needed anything else to knock him off balance. Good God, he was a thirty-three-year-old combat veteran, and she had him feeling like a high schooler who’d just seen the new hot chick in class.

He took in her glinting green eyes, her high cheekbones and delicate chin that gave her face a heartlike appearance. A green canvas purse hung from one shoulder, her floral shopping sack slung over her head, resting on her other hip. The strap stretched across her chest, between her breasts.

Breasts that were fuller than he remembered.

Better haul his eyes back upward, pronto. “I’m here for you.”

The rest could wait until they got inside. He pulled her closer, her grocery sling shifting between them heavily. What the hell did she have in there?

He slipped a finger under the strap. “Let me carry that for you.”

“No, thank you.” She covered the sack protectively with both hands, curving around the smooth bulge. Smooth? Maybe not groceries, after all. But what? Her sack wriggled.

He looked at the bag again, realization blasting through him. Holy crap. Not a satchel at all. He’d seen his sister Darcy wear one almost exactly like it when her son and daughter were newborns. No question, Gabrielle wore an infant sling.

And given the little foot kicking free, she had a baby on board.

Billionaire’s Jet Set Babies

posted on July 4, 2011 by Catherine Mann

…He needed more time with her.

His mind filled with a vision of Alexa chasing his kids around, all wet from the tub. Warm memories pulled him in with a reminder of the family life he should be having right now and wasn’t because of his workload. Having Alexa here felt so right.

It was right.

And so he wasn’t sending her home in the morning. Not only did he need her help with the children, he wanted her to stay for personal reasons. the explosive chemistry they’d just discovered didn’t come around often. Hell, he couldn’t remember when he’d ever burned this much to have a particular woman. So much the craving filled his mind, as well as his body.

The extension of their trip presented the perfect opportunity to follow that attraction to its ultimate destination.

Landing her directly in his bed.
by Catherine Mann
Harlequin Desire
October 2011

Acquired: CEO’s Small Town Bride

posted on April 7, 2011 by Catherine Mann

“I never thought you would turn into a smug, stuck-up snob.”

“Why don’t you speak a little louder? I don’t think they heard you over at table ten,” Rafe quipped.

“Why do you care what they think? What does it matter to you if I lose my job?”

“Sarah, perhaps we should talk this out somewhere more private.”

“Oh, so now you want to speak to me? After five months of ignoring my existance? After fourteen years of not even a postcard when you left for L.A. after graduation? I’m so sorry if hearing the truth makes you uncomfortable.”

He’d opened his mouth to take her down a peg…. Then the absurdity of it all hit him. He was renowned for making top corporate raiders quake in their Gucci loafers, but fearless Sarah took him on without a wince…

Bossman’s Baby Scandal

posted on October 12, 2009 by Catherine Mann

Lauren Presley wondered how a man could be so deeply inside her and yet totally distant at the same time. But no doubt about it, the sated, half-dressed man tangled up with her on her sofa at work had emotionally left the building.

She would boot the rest of him out of her deserted office as soon as she could breathe again.

The butter-soft leather of her turquoise couch stuck to the back of her legs through her thigh high stockings, sweat still slicking her body from their frenetically passionate – surprise – hook up. At least her fledgling graphic art business was closed for the day, the workplace empty.

Everything seemed out of sorts, disconnected like a Salvador Dali painting. She couldn’t blame Jason for regretting their impulsive act since she was pretty much freaking out too over how fast her panties had landed on the floor, her dress up around her waist while she’d torn at his belt buckle and zipper. Jason Reagert was a business friend, a working alliance they may very well have wrecked. She needed to get through this awkward post-sex moment ASAP with her pride intact.

She absolutely refused to be like her desperate, needy mother.

A low drone filled the quiet of the empty office. Lauren tensed. “Your pants are vibrating.”

Jason arched back and raised a dark eyebrow, his close cropped hair mussed on top from her fingers. “Pardon?”

She clapped her hand on his warm hip – beside his BlackBerry. “Seriously. It’s buzzing.”

“Damn.” He disentangled himself, cool air brushing over her bared legs. Jason swung his feet to the floor, his Testoni loafers thunking against the scarred wood as he sat and unclipped the handheld. “Helluva bad timing.”

Avoiding his eyes, she slid upright and adjusted her silky black wrap dress in place again. Her panties would have to wait. She kicked the scrap of ebony satin under the sofa. “Your pillow talk leaves something to be desired.”

“Sorry.” His zipper closing rasped, overloud in the late night silence. “It’s my reminder alarm.”

“Alarm for what?” She stared nervously at the white brick walls, the easel in the corner, the artwork on lit screens.

“My flight to California.”


He was leaving.

Lauren stood, smoothing her dress and looking for her favorite Manolo leopard pumps that she wouldn’t be able to wear again without thinking of this stupid, impetuous night.

She and Jason had been wrapping up final details on a graphic art design project she’d freelanced for his last ad campaign at the New York firm – he was leaving his NYC job and heading to greener career pastures in California. The job at Maddox Communications in San Francisco was a great opportunity for him. She’d known about this for a couple of weeks…. And as she’d hugged him goodbye tonight, she’d been knocked off balance by how upset she was over his impending move.

One second she’d been looking up at his leanly handsome face while blinking back tears, and the next second they’d been kissing… and more. A tingle of pleasure prickled down her spine, settling lower as she remembered the bold sweep of his tongue and his hands, his strength as he’d cupped her bottom and lifted her against him. Already her body ached to reach for him again, grab hold of that tie she’d never quite manage to undo and tug him toward her again. The impulse was too much, too strong.

Too overwhelming.

Gathering up her shredded self control, she looked away from his strong cheekbones and tempting mouth. She didn’t know where all these frenetic feelings had come from and wasn’t sure how to untwine them now that he was leaving.

She spied her leopard print shoes under the desk and welcomed the chance to put some space between herself and Jason and a sofa that smelled of good sex. She knelt, pulling one pump free but the other stayed annoyingly out of reach.

“Lauren,” his loafer clad feet stopped beside her, making her all the more aware of her ungainly butt-up position, “I don’t make a habit of–”

“Stop.” She sat back on her feet, willing away one of those awful blushes that came with her auburn-head complexion. “You don’t need to say anything.” Echoes of her mother’s humiliating pleas for her husband to stay bounced around in Lauren’s head.

“I’ll cal–”

“No!” Standing, she gave up on her shoes, her toes curling against the cool wood floor. “Don’t make promises you aren’t certain you’ll keep.”

He scooped his suit jacket from the back of a contoured metal chair. “You could call me.”

“What would that accomplish?” She faced him full on for the first time, taking in his prep-school good looks, hardened with an edge from his years in the Navy. He came from old money and had made his fair share of new as well. “You’re moving to California and New York City is my home. It’s not like we have any kind of real connection beyond being work acquaintances who happened to get caught up in a fluky hormonal maelstrom. Nothing to disrupt our entire lives over.”

Shaking her long, loose hair back, she opened the door to the larger studio outside, empty but for vacant rolling chairs pushed haphazardly up to tables.

He braced a hand on the doorframe, his arrogant brown eyes revealing a hint of surprise. “You’re giving me the brush off?”

Apparently Jason Reagert wasn’t told no often. Of course she’d been mighty quick to say yes, something she intended to change starting now.

“I’m simply being realistic, Jason.” She stared him down, her spine straight in spite of the fact he stood at least a head taller.

Later, away from him, she would hole up in her cute little one bedroom apartment on the upper east end of Manhattan. Or better yet, hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the entire day, crawling into the world of each painting. Her art was everything. She couldn’t forget that. This business – bought with a surprise inheritance from her dear elderly Aunt Eliza – was her big chance to make her dreams come true. To prove to her mother she was worth something more than a debutante slot and lucrative marriage.

She refused to let any man derail her.

Finally, Jason nodded shortly. “Okay, that’s the way you want it, that’s the way things will be.” He skimmed back her hair with his knuckles, his callused thumb stroking her cheekbone. “Good-bye, Lauren.”
She settled her features into a portrait worthy of any Dutch master – solemn and unrelenting. Jason turned away, his jacket hooked on one finger over his shoulder, and she fought back the urge to call out to him.

Hearing he was leaving New York had brought a surprise pinch of regret. But nothing compared to the twist in her gut as she watched him walk out the door…

Propositioned into a Foreign Affair

posted on September 4, 2009 by Catherine Mann

Chapter One

His hands roved her bare body, melting her with the warm heat of his strong caress.

Bella Hudson bit her lip to hold back an embarrassing groan. Barely. She called upon all her training as a Hollywood actress to stay silent while Henri worked his magic on her oiled up body.

Muscles melting, she buried her forehead deeper in the massage table’s face cradle. The scent of aromatherapy candles soothed her nose while Christmas carols sung in French mixed with ocean sounds to caress her ears.

Pure bittersweet pleasure. Very bittersweet.

Sixty-two year old masseur Henri was likely to be the only man touching her for quite some time since her jerk of an actor boyfriend stomped her heart just last week. And wow, that thought sure kinked up her neck again, encroaching on her peaceful retreat.

She and her precious dog – Muffin – had escaped to France for some much needed soul soothing at the seaside Garrison Grande Marseille. Garrison hotels always provided the best in pampering, peace and privacy.

And crossing the Atlantic guaranteed she wouldn’t risk accidentally running into Ridley or worse yet, Uncle David.

Men. They were all rats. Well, except for Henri, who was too old for her and married, but oh my, he worked wonders with heated river stones along her lower back.

“Henri, are you and your wife happy?” She stared through the face cradle at Henri’s gym shoes as he swapped out the stones beside her treasured little Muffin snoozing away in her pink doggie carrier.

“Oui, Mademoiselle Hudson. Monique and I are very ‘appy. Four-tee years, three children and ten grandchildren later. My Monique is still beautiful.”

He continued to laud his wife and family, his adoration so thick it threatened to smother her.

Or make her gag.

She’d really thought Ridley loved her, only to have him say he’d been too caught up in the romance of their starring roles in the movie about her grandparents’ WWII romance. She’d really thought her parents loved each other too.

Wrong. And wrong again.

Her mother had cheated. She’d slept with her own brother-in-law and now Bella’s Uncle David was actually Daddy David. Her two cousins were actually her half-siblings. Good God, her family was ripe to be featured on an episode of Jerry Springer.

Even river stones couldn’t ease that ache.

A low sounding beep echoed through the room. A series of clicks sounded. Had the whale sounds traded up to dolphin calls?

Henri yanked the sheet up to her shoulders. “M’selle Hudson , quick, get up.”

“What?” she asked, not quite tracking yet.

Her eyes snapped open. She blinked to adjust in the dim light and found Henri blocking someone trying to push through the door.

Someone with a camera.

Crap. Crap. Totally tracking now, Bella bolted off the table and to the floor. Her feet tangled in the sheet and she pitched forward.

“Paparazzi. Run,” Henri barked as Bella struggled to regain her footing. “Run. M’sieur Garrison prides himself on protecting the privacy of his clients. He will fire me. Then my wife, she will keel me. She is crazy mean when she gets angry.”

So much for Henri and Monique’s happy marriage.

“Where the hell am I supposed to run to?” Bella spun away from the door – and the camera – making sure to anchor the sheet over her backside. She dashed to Muffin’s quilted pink carrier and grasped the handle.

She couldn’t wedge past Henri and the photographer struggling to raise his camera over Henri’s head.

“The screen,” Henri gasped, “move the screen. There’s another door behind. I will hold off this piece of garbage, M’selle Bella.”

Henri might have strong hands, but he appeared to be fighting a losing battle. Time was shorter than this oil spotted sheet.

Clutching the Egyptian cotton in one hand and the rhinestone studded carrier in her other, Bella raced to the antique screen painted with Monet-style murals. Sure enough, she found a narrow exit decorated with a large red bow. She butt-bumped the bar, creaked the door open and peeked out.

She looked left and right down an empty corridor, less ornate than the rest of the hotel. Labeled office doors bedecked with simple holiday wreaths. There might be some after-hours workers around, but running into them beat the hell out of sprinting through the wide open, high ceiling lobby with crystal chandeliers spotlighting her mad dash toward the elevator.

“Okay, Muffin, cross your paws, ‘cause here we go.”

Her sweet little fur baby yawned.

Bella tucked into the dimly lit hall, empty but for ornately carved antiques. Her bare feet pounded along the thick Persian carpet on her way past a lush green tree, tiny lights winking encouragement. She paused at the first office.

Locked. Damn.

She ran her hands along door after door on her way down. All locked. Double damn.

An echo sounded behind her. The sound of someone running. She glanced over her shoulder and…

Click. Click. Click.

She recognized the sound of a camera in action too well. The short but bulky photographer had overpowered Henri.

Bella ran faster, Muffin’s cloth cage bumping against her leg. She wasn’t a novice in ditching the press. She’d been aware of the media attention on her family since she was born twenty-five years ago.

Gilded framed photos of employees stared at her in a weird pseudo voyeurism. She rounded the corner and yes, yes, yes, found a mahogany door slightly ajar. No lights on. Likely empty. She would lock herself inside and call for help.

Panting, she raced the last few steps, slid through the part in the door.

And slammed into a hard male chest.

One without a camera slung over his shoulder, thank heaven, but still a warm bodied – big bodied – man. She looked up into his cool gray eyes. She didn’t need to check the formal photo by the door to confirm the identity of this dark haired, billionaire bachelor. At only thirty-four, he’d already been featured in plenty of “most eligible” lists. This expatriate bad boy had broken hearts from the Mediterranean to South Beach .

She’d fallen into the arms of hotel magnate Sam Garrison…

The Executive’s Surprise Baby

posted on September 2, 2009 by Catherine Mann


July, five months ago

Brooke Garrison ordered her first taste of alcohol at twenty-eight years old.

She reached across the polished teak wood for the glass of wine from the aging bartender at the Garrison Grand hotel lounge. Her hand shook after the emotional toll of the day, hearing her father’s will read, learning of his secret life. At least she didn’t have to worry about getting carded even if she had been younger since her family owned the place.

“Thank you,” she said, surreptitiously reading the older man’s nametag, “Donald.”

“You’re welcome, Miss Garrison.” He slid an extra napkin her way as smoothly as the pianist slipped into his next song. “And please accept my condolences about your father. He will be missed.”

By more people than she had realized. “We all appreciate the kind words. Thank you again.”

“Of course. Let me know if you need anything else.”

Anything else? She would like to erase this whole horrible day and start over. Or at least stop thinking about it, much less talking. She’d already ignored four voice messages from her brother Parker’s receptionist.

Tentatively, Brooke sipped the wine, wincing. She watched the candle’s flame through the chardonnay’s swirl. Somewhere in that glass held the answers to what stole her mother away from her. To what had driven her father to lead a secret second life in the years before he’d died.

Her alcoholic mother’s bitter words after the reading of John Garrison’s will this morning echoed over and over again through Brooke’s head. “The cheating son of a bitch. I’m glad he’s dead.”

What a helluva way to learn there weren’t five Garrison offspring – but six. In addition to three bothers and an identical twin sister, Brooke had an illegitimate half-sister living in the Bahamas , a sister her father had never told them about while he was alive. Instead, he’d chosen to share the news in his will while handing over a sizable chunk of the Garrison Empire to Cassie Sinclair – the newly discovered sibling.

Not that Brooke cared about the money. The betrayal, however, burned.

Conversations and clinking glasses of happier people swelled around her while she sipped. She wanted none of the revelry, even made a point of carefully avoiding eye contact with a couple of men attempting to snag her attention.

Brooke raised the long-stemmed crystal to her mouth again. She knew intellectually to be as top notch as the fresh flowers and linens around her. Her taste buds, however, registered nothing. She was too numb with grief.

She’d always blamed her mother for her father’s frequent business trips. The drinking must have driven her wonderful daddy away. Now she couldn’t help but wonder if her father’s behavior had somehow contributed to her mother’s unhappiness.

And how could she untangle it all in the middle of mourning the loss of such a huge figure in her life? The hotel blared reminders of his presence. She could see her father’s imprint on each multi-domed chandelier in the bar, on every towering column.

Brooke circled a finger around the top of her half-full glass, an indulgence she never allowed herself because of her mother’s addiction.

Tonight wasn’t normal.

Her eyes hooked on the looming columns in the spacious hall outside the bar – the evening turning farther beyond normal than she ever could have anticipated.

Through the arched entranceway walked the last man she expected here, but one she recognized well even in the dim lighting. Their families had been business rivals for years, a competition that only seemed to increase once Jordan Jefferies had taken over after his father’s death.

So why was Jordan here now?

Brooke forced herself to think more like her siblings and less like her peacemaker self… and the obvious answer came to her. He’d come to her brother Stephen’s hotel to scope out the competition.

Brooke took the unobserved moment to study Jordan Jefferies prowling the room with a lion’s lazy grace. No, wait. Lazy was the wrong word.

Think like her siblings. Jefferies would only want people to perceive a lazy lope so he could pounce while she was otherwise occupied staring at his blond, muscle-bound good looks.

Yeah, she’d noticed his looks more than once. He might be the enemy, but she wasn’t blind. However, she’d considered him off limits because of the controversy it would cause in her family. Often, she’d heard her oldest brother Parker fume for days over a contentious business meeting with Jordan . The family diplomat, she always tried her best to soothe over arguments and hurt feelings.

For all the good it had done her. The whole Garrison clan had been ripped raw today.

Her mother’s voice whispered in her head again… “The cheating son of a bitch. I’m glad he’s dead.”

The bartender swooped by, breaking her train of thought. “Can I get you anything else, Miss Garrison?”

Garrison. She couldn’t escape it anywhere around here, just as futile as thinking she could keep peace in her family.

Why bother trying?

A heat fired through her veins and bloomed into an idea, a desire. And sure, a need for open rebellion after a day of hell. “Yes, Donald, actually you can do something for me. Please tell the gentleman over there,” she pointed to Jordan , “that his drinks for the evening are on the house.”

“Of course, Miss Garrison.” The bartender smiled discreetly and walked under the rows of hanging glasses to the other side of the wooden bar. He leaned to relay the message and Brooke waited. Her stomach tightened in anticipation.

What would he think of her picking up the tab for his drink? Likely nothing more than a Garrison acknowledging his presence.

Would Jordan Jefferies even remember her? Of course he would. He was a savvy businessman who would know all the Garrisons. A better question – would he be able to tell her apart from her twin?

He looked from the bartender to her. His gaze met hers, and even in the low lighting she could see the blue of his eyes. Interest sparked in his slow smile.

Jordan picked up his drink and wove his way around the patrons, straight toward her with a deliberate, unhesitating pace. He set his glass beside hers. “I didn’t expect such a nice welcome from a Garrison. Are you sure you didn’t have the bartender poison my drink, Brooke?”

He recognized her. Or a lucky guess?

“How do you know I’m not Brittany ?”

Without ever glancing away from her eyes, he reached, stopping an inch shy of touching a lock of her hair that stubbornly refused to stay pulled back. “Because of this. That wayward strand is signature Brooke.”

Wow. He definitely recognized her when even her own father had gotten it wrong sometimes.

In that moment, she realized she had more Garrison determination in her than anyone would have ever suspected. Brooke lifted her glass to Jordan in a silent toast.

She’d seen him many times. She’d always wanted him.

Tonight, her family be damned, she would have him…