Books

Rescue Me

posted on July 18, 2014 by Catherine Mann

A Second Chance Ranch Romance…
RESCUE ME
By
Catherine Mann
Prologue

For twenty-eight years I had three names – Bitch, Fat Mama and Dumbass.

I didn’t dare ignore the voice that growled more fiercely than any animal. I didn’t question if I deserved to have a single name of my own. My existence followed a pattern. Hungry, not hungry. Hurt, healed. Pregnant, nursing. And above all, obey or pay.

Looking back, the contrast from then to my life now is staggering. Some people have said they wonder how I survived so long in that cabin with limited human contact, only the drone of game shows on television and the bubbling mix in the kitchen to break the tedium. How I kept my spirit intact. How I didn’t turn into a mirror image of the voice that both fed me and hurt me. I have to confess I came close to becoming like the soulless monsters that drifted in and out during those early years.

Until I was saved from crawling into the dark hole of hurt and misery forever. I was given a hint of hope beyond the rank four walls of my home.

I smelled honeysuckle.

Just a whiff of the perfume drifted through an open window one summer Tennessee day. At first, I thought I’d imagined it. I tipped my nose into that gentle breeze curling through the half cracked pane, each puff parting the despair one ripple at a time. Overriding even the constant hum of quiz shows.

Then there it was again. Honeysuckle. Sweet. Soft. Light. Everything opposite of what I’d known from birth.

Desperate for more, I crawled to the window, slowly, praying no one would see me. Life was easier if I stayed hidden, because otherwise I feared I would one day have to fight back. Still I was willing to risk detection to breathe more of that flowery perfume.

I have a particularly keen sense of smell, so living in a filthy meth house for twenty-eight years took a toll on me. And just to clarify, twenty-eight human years equates to four dog years for me. As a dog, that explains why the stench hit me hard.

Did you know that canines can identify smells up to ten thousand times better than a human? Well, we can. I learned that about sniffers on Jeopardy. My brain has forty percent more capacity devoted to smell than yours. Not that I mean to sound condescending or call you inferior. Facts are facts. I have over two million olfactory sensors in my nose. You have opposable thumbs. Truly, aromatherapy is wasted on you people.

I like facts. The endless television programs offered that much at least, game show after game show. Back then, I embraced those quizzes, soaking up data, anything to prove I wasn’t a dumbass at all. If I’d been a human and hadn’t started having babies so early, I’ve often thought I would have become a professor with thick black glasses. I would have sequestered myself in an office lined with books, solitude. Peace.

But back to my sniffer.

Back to the honeysuckle.

And how all that relates to the day I found freedom in a splintered door.

To be clear, I spent my life watching methamphetamine being cooked, smoked, shot, sold. The rancid odor of the drug left me groggy. Sometimes even made me snarl, when that’s not my nature. The smell of it saturated the walls, peeling the paper down in strips I chewed in moments of frenzied boredom. It permeated the saggy sofa I never sat on. Even clung to the mattresses on the floor in both bedrooms where junkies had sex. Worst of all, the toxic clouds hung in the kitchen, counters packed with everything from drain cleaner to funnels to my bowl full of scraps.

But that afternoon during my fourth summer, when I discovered honeysuckle, I considered that maybe, just maybe there was something better for me, if only I could wait long enough to escape farther than the chain in the yard allowed.

Easier said than done, because I was a money maker, just like that steaming meth cooker. My litters of boxer pups were worth a lot, so I ate well, periodically. No one kicked me for a while. Until my babies were taken away so I could breed again. They always took them too early, and then I was alone.

You may already be thinking “puppy mill,” but that’s not one hundred percent accurate. The woman who owned me – I won’t bother to distinguish her with a name – would be more appropriately labeled a backyard breeder who used me and other dogs to supplement her meth income. Up until that honeysuckle moment in my fourth summer, I thought my mission in life was to have babies for people to love even if I never got to experience that feeling myself, other than for the few brief weeks I was allowed to keep each litter, their warm tiny bodies snuggled up against me.

By the fourth winter, I wondered if I’d imagined a honeysuckle world just to survive. I began to lose hope, drawing in nothing but the fumes that made me mean.

Then, on the bitterest, coldest morning my world changed on a larger scale with another beautiful scent. Peppermint. It’s still my favorite perfume, even above honeysuckle. Those two beautiful smells outnumbered the one evil stench of this cabin. There was more out there past my chain. So much more.

And I thank the Big Master who made us that the peppermint-scented lady understood I was not at my best the day she and the sad-eyed policeman broke down the meth house door to rescue me…..

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

posted on February 8, 2014 by Catherine Mann

CHAPTER ONE

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.

Damn.

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…

Smoke….

Shelter Me

posted on February 7, 2014 by Catherine Mann

PROLOGUE:

I was born in the land of Babylon.

Thousands of years ago people spoke the same language there, before the Big Master scattered them. Maybe that’s why I understand what humans mean even when they can’t understand each other. Or possibly that’s why they can’t understand me, because they left.

But then perhaps they can’t understand me because I’m a dog.

No. Really. I’m not putting myself down. I’m seriously a D-O-G. Yep, I can spell, too, but I can’t tell people that, either, because . . . Come on, you know the reason. Say it with me. Because I’m a . . .

Dog.

And while I was born in Babylon—a.k.a. Southern Iraq—my life changed forever the day I left that home with Sergeant Mike Kowalski. The morning I went away was tricky, because the Sergeant had to sneak me out of the forward operating base on one of those monster big cargo planes they call a C-17. I was going for the ride to end all rides.

Back then they didn’t have lots of cool puppy rescue organizations to bring dogs back from a war zone. In my day, the Department of Defense law stood more often than not. No pets on military installations. And bringing them home? Huge negative on that.

So rules were bent, twisted and broken to rescue me, but it was a must-do operation to complete my mission. To understand my mission fully, you need to know how I ended up with Sergeant Kowalski.

Back when I ran in a pack with my cousins, we scavenged for scraps. Best place to look? U.S. military installations. The guys in uniforms, the ones from across the ocean, fed us. Good stuff, too. So we howled out the locale of new troops setting up camp so our pack buddies would know.
I hit the mother lode with those guys.

“No MREs for you, Trooper. You get steak,” said a colonel with silver hair, dusty camos and creaky knees.

The first time I ate steak, I almost peed myself. Of course I peed myself for a lot of reasons in those days because I was still a puppy. Six months old then. Twelve months old when I left that place. Eleven years old now.

During my puppy days, the rest of my pack didn’t want to stay at that particular camp because it was busy and big, and they were ancient and wary. But I was the youngest, the only one of my litter to survive, and gut-deep hungry from only scraps of leftovers. I was way below being the alpha dog. Not even really a beta dog. More like a lowercase zeta.

After we ate our fill for a week, it was a tough choice sticking around by myself, because yeah, I would lose my pack, but hunger won out. Six months later when the time came to leave on that plane? I didn’t hesitate for a second. Sure I would miss this place where they tossed a tennis ball and seemed to think I was a rock star because I figured out fast they wanted me to bring it back. Like that was hard after tracking rats in the desert for dinner?

But I knew it was time to leave Babylon. Southern Iraq. Home.

I had a mission. That was what the Sergeant told me. I was needed. Magic words to a dog. We live for a job, a purpose. It’s what we were created for by the Big Master.

My mission: to heal a family, the family that had lost their person over here. I was supposed to be their link to him because he was the one who found me. The silver-haired Army colonel who fed me steak…

Grayson’s Surrender/Taking Cover – reissue

posted on February 7, 2014 by Catherine Mann

From GRAYSON’S SURRENDER:
“Nice patch there, Major.”

The words fell from her lips with a light Southern drawl, whiskey warm and just as potent.

Gray glanced down at his sleeve. Anything. Anywhere. Anytime.

The insinuation crackled along the humidity-laden air. Gray let his gaze slide back to her. “Wanna test the motto out?”

Lori laughed, husky, if a bit tight. “Same old gray.” Her chin tipped. “Been there. Done that. Lost the T-shirt.”

His arms folded over his chest. “You left it at my place.”

She laughed again. The great husky laugh of hers that rolled right into him. Just as fast, she had his hormones bombarding the defenses of his reason. Of course sex, great sex, incredible anything, anywhere, anytime sex, had never been their problem. But the minute they’d set their feet on the floor….
*****
From TAKING COVER:
Captain Tanner “Bronco” Bennett gripped the cargo plane’s stick and flew through hell, the underworld having risen to fire the night sky.

“Anything. Anywhere. Anytime,” he chanted the combat mantra through locked teeth.

His C-17 squadron motto had gone into overtime today.

Neon-green tracer rounds arced over the jet’s nose. Sweat sealed Tanner’s helmet to his head. Adrenaline burned over him with more heat than any missile. He plowed ahead, chanted. Prayed.

Antiaircraft fire exploded into puffs of black smoke that momentarily masked the moon. The haze dispersed, leaving lethal flak glinting in the inky air. Shrapnel sprinkled the plane, tink, tink, tinking like hail on a tin roof.

Still he flew, making no move for evasion or defense.

“Steady. Steady.” He held his unwavering course, had to until the last paratrooper egressed out of the C-17 into the Eastern European forest below.

Offloading those troopers into the drop zone was critical. Once they secured the nearby Sentavo airfield, supplies could be flown into the wartorn country by morning. Starving villagers burned out of their homes by renegade rebels needed relief. Now. The scattered uprisings of the prior summer had heated into an all-out civil war as the year’s end approached.

Anything. Anywhere. Anytime. Tanner embraced it as more than a squadron motto. Those villagers might be just a mass of faceless humanity to other pilots, but to him each scared, hungry refugee had the same face – the face of his sister.

A flaming ball whipped past his windscreen.

Reality intruded explosively a few feet away. Near miss. Closer than the last. Time to haul out.

“Tag,” Tanner called over the headset to the loadmaster, “step it up back there. We gotta maneuver out of this crap. In case you haven’t noticed, old man, they’re shooting at us.”

“Got it, Bronco,” the loadmaster growled. “Our guys are piling out of this flying coffin as fast as they can.”

“Start pushing. Just get ‘em the hell off my airplane so we can maneuver.” Urgency pulsed through Tanner, buzzed through the cockpit.

His hand clenched around the stick. No steering yoke for this sleek new cargo plane. And it damned well needed to perform up to its state of the art standards today.

He darted a glance at the sweat-soaked aircraft commander beside him. “Hey, Lancelot, how’s it look left? Is there a way out on your side?”

Major Lance “Lancelot” Sinclair twisted in his seat toward the window, then pivoted back. A foreboding scowl creased the perspiration filming his too-perfect features. “Bronco, my man, we can’t go left. It’s a wall of flames. What’s it like on your side?”

Tanner leaned forward, peering at the stars beyond the side window for a hole in the sparking bursts. Bad. But not impossible. “Fairly clear over here. Scattered fire. Isolated pockets I can see to weave through.”

“Roger that, you’ve got the jet.”

“Roger, I have the jet.” He gave the stick a barely perceptible shake to indicate his control of the aircraft. Not that he’d ever lost control. Lance hadn’t been up to speed for weeks, a fact that left Tanner more often than not running the missions, regardless of his copilot status. “Tag, waiting for your all-clear call.”

“You got it, big guy.” Tag’s voice crackled over the headset. “Everybody’s off. The door’s closing. Clear to turn.”

Anticipation cranked Tanner’s adrenaline up another notch. “Hold onto your flight pay, boys, we’re breaking right.”

He yanked the stick, simultaneously ramming the rudder pedal with his boot. The aircraft banked, hard and fast.

Gravity punched him. G-forces anchored him to his seat, pulled, strained, as he threaded the lumbering aircraft through exploding volleys in the starlit sky.

Pull back, adjust, weave right. Almost there.

A familiar numbing sensation melted down his back like an ice cube. Ignore it. Focus and fly.

Debris rattled, sliding sideways. His checklist thunked to the floor. Lance’s cookies, airmailed from his wife, skittered across the glowing control panel. Tanner dipped the nose, embers streaming past outside.

The chilling tingle in his back detonated into white-hot pain. His torso screamed for release from the five-point harness. The vise-like constraints had never been adequate to accommodate his height or bulk. Who would have thought a simple pinched nerve just below his shoulder could bring him down faster than a missile?

Doc O’Connell had even grounded him for it once before. He knew she would again in a heartbeat. If he let her.

Which he wouldn’t.

Tanner pulled a sharp turn left. The plane howled past a shower of light. He hurt like hell, but considered it a small price to pay. By tomorrow night, women and children would be fed because of his efforts, and he liked to think that was a worthwhile reason to risk his life.

Yeah, saving babies was a damn fine motivator for going to work every day. No way was he watching from the sidelines.

He accepted that none of it would bring his sister back. But each life saved, each wrong righted, soothed balm over a raw wound he knew would never completely heal.

Tanner’s hand twitched on the stick, and he jerked his thoughts back to the cockpit. He couldn’t think of his sister now. Distractions in combat were deadly.

He reined his thoughts in tight, instincts and training offering him forgetfulness until he flew out over the Adriatic Sea.

“Feet wet, crew.” Tanner announced their position over the water. “We’re in the clear all the way to land in Germany.”

He relaxed his grip on the stick, the rest of his body following suit. The blanket of adrenaline fell away, unveiling a pain ready to knife him with clean precision. Tanner swallowed back bile. “Take the jet, Lance.”

“Bronco, you okay?”

“Take the jet,” he barked. Fresh beads of sweat traced along his helmet.

Lance waggled the stick. “Roger, I have the aircraft.”

Tanner’s hand fell into his lap, his arm throbbing, nearly useless. He clicked through his options. He couldn’t avoid seeing a flight surgeon after they landed. But if he waited until morning and locked in an appointment with his pal Cutter, he would be fine. Doc Grayson “Cutter” Clark understood flyers.

No way was Tanner letting Dr. Kathleen O’Connell get her hands on him again–

He halted the thought in midair. Her hands on him? That was definitely an image he didn’t need.

Keep it PC, bud. Remember those soft hands are attached to a professional woman and a damned sharp officer.

All presented in a petite package with an iron will that matched her fiery red hair.

Forget reining in those thoughts. Tanner dumped them from his mind like an offloaded trooper.

Lance pressed the radio call button on the throttle. “Control, this is COHO two zero. Negative known damage. Thirty point zero of gas. Requesting a flight surgeon to meet us when we land.”

“What the–” Tanner whipped sideways, wrenching up short as a spasm knocked him back in his seat. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Calling for a flight surgeon to meet us on the ground.”

In front of the crew? Tanner winced. “No need, Lance. I’ll be fine until I can get to the clinic.”

“Yeah, right.” Lance swiped his arm across his damp brow as he flew. “I’ve seen you like this before. You’ll be lucky to walk once we land. You need a flight surgeon waiting, man. I’m not backing off the call.”

“Listen, Lance–” Tanner wanted to argue, fully intended to bluster through, but the spasm kinked like an overwound child’s toy ready to snap.

He couldn’t afford to be grounded from flying again, not now. He only had six weeks left until he returned to the states to begin his rescheduled upgrade from copilot to aircraft commander. Not only could he lose his slot, but he would also lose six weeks of flying time, of making a difference.

Why the hell couldn’t he and O’Connell have pulled different rotations, leaving her back at Charleston Air Force Base with her perfectly annotated regulation book and haughty cat eyes?

The strain of ignoring the stabbing ache drizzled perspiration down Tanner’s spine, plastering his flight suit to his skin. Options dwindled with each pang.

“Fine.” Tanner bit out the word through his clenched teeth. What a time for Lance to resume control. “Just have them find Cutter to meet us. He’ll give me a break.”

Not like Doc O’Connell. She probably hadn’t colored outside the lines since kindergarten.

“And Lance, tell Cutter to keep it low key. Would ya? No big show.” Rules be damned, he wasn’t going to end a combat mission publicly whining about a backache. Cutter would understand. Tanner was counting on it.

If by-the-book O’Connell ran the show, he would be flying a desk by sunrise….

One Good Cowboy

posted on January 11, 2014 by Catherine Mann

…”What are you doing?”

“You said you didn’t want to talk.” Sure he knew they weren’t really going to have sex on his desk, but he reveled in the regret in her eyes that she couldn’t hide in spite of her scowl.

“You’re being outrageous.”

“Good.”

“Stop. Now,” she said firmly.

Okay, he’d pushed her far enough for today, but he could see that while their love for each other might have burned out, their passion still had plenty of fire.

He buttoned his shirt again and tucked in the tails. “Spoilsport.”

She brushed papers into a stack. “The pilot’s waiting.”

“Damn waste of an empty desk,” he said with a smile…

For the Sake of Their Son

posted on September 30, 2013 by Catherine Mann

“You can’t be serious.”

“I’m completely serious.” Elliot’s fingers twisted in Lucy Ann’s ponytail.

“Let. Go. Now,” she said, barely able to keep herself from hauling him in for a kiss. “Sex will only complicate matters.”

“Or it could simplify thing.” He release her hair slowly, his stroke tantalizing all the way down her arm.

“Lucy Ann?” His bourbon-smooth tones intoxicated her parched senses. “What are you thinking?”

“My aunt said the same thing about the bonus of friends becoming….more.”

He laughed softly, the heat of his breath broadcasting how close he’d moved to her. “Your aunt has always been a smart woman. Although, I sure as hell didn’t talk to her about you and I becoming lovers.”

“You need to quit saying things like that. You and I need boundaries for this to work.”

His gaze fell to her mouth for an instant that stretched to eternity. “We’ll have to agree to disagree….”

Yuletide Baby Surprise

posted on July 5, 2013 by Catherine Mann

“Do you really think people are going to believe we went from professional adversaries to lovers in a heartbeat?”

“Lovers, huh? I like the sound of that.”

“This isn’t a plan.” Mariama pulled free, inching her chair back. “It’s insanity.”

“It’s a plan that will work.” Everyone will want to hear more about the aloof princess finding romance and playing Good Samaritan at Christmastime.”

Her eyes went wide with panic, but she stayed in her seat. She wasn’t running. Yet.

Rowan showed to his feet. “Time for bed.”

“Bed?” she squeaked, standing as well.

He could see in her eyes that she’d envisioned sharing a bed before this moment. And it gave him a surge of victory….