DEVIL IN DISGUISE (AN ENEMIES TO LOVERS, DARK, FORBIDDEN, SLOW BURN TABOO ROMANCE WITH AN HEA AND PLENTY OF SIZZLE): A DARK, FORBIDDEN ROMANCE
5 Star Reviewers say:
Wow! This is a different kind of read, but it is definitely one that you want to read. Alex is sent to school by her father to learn how to act and behave in the real world. Jacques is her professor and she doesn't mind bringing chaos into his class. Between tutoring, working on Jacques father's vineyard, and the holidays, Alex starts to see a different side to her professor and the feelings are mutual. Definitely a wild ride till the end with a very satisfying HEA. KJ
Fast, fun, and sexy story! An amazing, captivating, interesting and oh-so-satisfying read! The writing draws you in and keeps you interested till the end. The chemistry between the H and h is amazing plus their attitudes and events going on make the story even richer. S
I loved this book! It was really well written with a taboo theme. It has great characters that grow throughout the book and I love it. I would recommend it to others. Lucinda
What would you do to keep your inheritance?
Would you go to the school from hell, run by a real life Queen Bitch?
Allow yourself to get spanked by the sexiest man alive if you break the rules?
No? Too scared?
Alexandra Van Heiden, bold hellion that she is, takes the deal, willingly giving in to her father’s demands so that she can receive the money. Everything would be fine, if she agreed to play by the rules. But that’s not going to happen. With a rebellious streak a mile wide, she meets her match, a professor that insists she address him as Master, and assigns extra everything when she disobeys him. Which, she can’t seem to help. How can she survive the year from hell, when she is having such a hard time not crushing on the sexiest, hottest, most infuriating man she’s ever laid eyes on? Especially when such a thing is forbidden?
Master Jacques Renevier, sexiest man alive according to his female students, has a code. Never fraternize with students, enforce the school rules, and never fall in love with a spoiled rich girl. So, two out of three isn’t bad. He’s never had to enforce school policy until Alexandra. But there is a certain satisfaction in taking the wind out of an entitled brat’s sails. The biggest problem is that it soon becomes apparent to him, that Alex has more to offer than she initially lets on.
Find out what happens when the most rebellious young woman meets the strictest, hottest teacher. How far will Alex go in defying the rules? And how long can Jacques last without breaking his own code?
Author’s note: Slow burn, forbidden, dark themed romance. All characters are over 18. A survey among 4,500 participants, conducted by Lovehoney, revealed that 75% of women and 66% of men like hands-on (bum) action in the sheets. So, if you enjoy a good spanking fantasy you’re in the majority. And if you’re in the 25 percent that do not, please avoid this novel. For a mature audience only.
LOVE BITES: A DARK, STEAMY, ROMANTIC COMEDY, CONTEMPORARY, GRUMPY, ALPHA VAMPIRE ROMANCE (AFTER DARK VAMPIRE ROMANCE)
5 Star Reviewers say:
Good read! I loved this book! It was really well written and the characters were great! I loved how the story played out and I would recommend it to others!
This is a great read with an awesome storyline that has well developed and engaging characters that have lots of chemistry. The smooth flow of the storyline makes for a good reading time.
This was a great read. I enjoyed the storyline and characters and found both well written. I recommend reading.
Love Bites is a steamy rom-com vampire novella.
All my worldly possessions are burning, I’m in a skimpy set of mismatching unicorn undies and my Knight in Shining Armor wants me off his property. What else could go wrong?
SAMANTHA: It’s the worst day of my life. My car is overheating and while driving, I remove all of my clothes except my skivvies. It wasn’t the best choice, I admit that now, after the fact, but in the moment, it seemed like the right choice. And then, the car catches fire, and I’m forced to abandon ship, so to speak. At first, I think I’m alone by the side of the road, but then I realize that there’s a very hot guy watching me and my car burn. And then I meet him, and he’s not exactly friendly, let’s put it that way. How about we just call him what he is, a major dick. When my BFF arrives on the scene, I discover that the guy is Lord Wilhelm Montefiori. The title fits him, he’s got a strange accent, accuses me of being drunk(and I’m not), is stiff and proper, and tries to scare me off by telling me there’s a beast roaming these woods. Yeah right, he just wants all the partygoers to stay off his property. Well, fine by me, he’s way too uptight and judgy. I will never go near him again. I know what you’re thinking, famous last words, right?
WILHELM: Fate has a way of laughing at us, I know that for sure. I’m minding my own business, working, when this half naked chick shows up on my property, shooting selfies of her and her burning car wreck. She insists she isn’t drunk. Whatever. I don’t do relationships anyway. Can’t, ever since I went the way of Edward in Twilight. People think it’s a joke, but I’m real. And now that I’ve gotten her scent in my head, I can’t guarantee that the beast in me will stay hidden.
Author’s Note: Larger than life, possessive, protective, broken hero vampire. High spirited, independent, sassy heroine. Explosive chemistry. Sexy times. Crazy vampire family. Steamy Virginian nights. Major heart-feels. Very satisfying Happy Ever After. No cheating. Standalone romance. Book 2 in the After Dark Vampire Romance Series.
BENEATH THE BILLIONAIRE
5 Star Reviewers say:
...this love story gave me goose bumps...
...prepare yourself for an all-nighter...
...read this in one sit...
They say trust your first impression…I should have trusted mine when I first saw him...
Time comes to a standstill for a moment as I get sucked into the dark, molten gaze of the most strikingly handsome man I have ever laid eyes on. Player or taken, logic brain informs me. Logic be damned for a hot minute. I drink in every detail of his sinfully fine face, like a desert cactus during a rainstorm. There’s an essence about him that exudes power and confidence, and potentially perilous aggression, giving me the impression that if there was something before him that he wanted, he would take it.
It doesn’t take him long to decide that I’m the one he wants to take…
I was perfectly happy being single, calling the shots with my own business, in fact, that was my directive. Little did I know just how strange a turn my life was about to take, when I get caught in an early spring blizzard, whilst visiting my newly inherited cabin in a state 16 hours north of my home. And neither did I realize how far the ‘Tsar’ would go to protect me from the storm. It’s a lot y’all.
Before I have a chance to dig into my hefty stack of vacation novels, I am sucked into the world of a man, known by the locals as ‘the Tsar’, and his crazy dysfunctional family and their secrets, and his psychic housekeeper, who has made some unusual predictions. Suddenly, I’m missing the life I carved out for myself down south, or am I? I was perfectly happy being single until I meet Mr. Ruthless Alpha Man. And now? All bets are off…
BENEATH THE BILLIONAIRE is a standalone, super steamy romance with a Happily Ever After. Enjoy😊
He inhales deeply as he watches me, the depths of his eyes searching mine for a connection. He wants me, and it terrifies me. I have never felt an intensity of attraction like this before, maybe because he is a man, and I’ve only dated boys.
“I’m not staying here.” I say with all the coldness I can muster.
His eyes harden. “The time for games is over, Anna.”
In one swift motion, he catches me at the waist and swings me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, slamming the truck door and making his way to the house through the whirling snow.
Anna and Valentin, Beneath the Billionaire
EXCERPT: CHAPTER 1
So, the day Mother Nature decides to unleash her fury with an early spring blizzard is the day I meet HER. But I’m getting ahead of myself.It’s been a hell of a winter, and I haven’t been socializing that much with anyone other than the crew that works for my company and my household manager, Señora Madora. Señora Madora is a lovely woman, and a self-proclaimed psychic. Think Teresa Caputo with a Spanish accent. And around the same time last year, she predicted that in a year I would meet the love of my life and some other things, which are too embarrassingly strange to even think about. Señora Madora was very specific, said the woman I’d meet would be blond, blue eyed, and young. The young part is completely not my type BTW; I’ve never dated a woman younger than myself, too much drama for my tastes. Part of me knows that Señora Madora told me those things trying to push me to get back on the horse again.But I find myself standing here, fueling my truck and I get this hair prickling, electric tingling kind of thing go down my spine, and when I look up, I see a real-life Goddess. The first thing I notice is the attitude, second, she’s wearing combat boots and with her hair whipping about her face, she looks like a force of nature to be reckoned with. She’s not from around here. That much I can tell by the NC license plate. Doesn’t have snow tires on her jeep, and we’re about to get a blizzard. What the hell is she doing out here in this weather? She looks completely out of place, and that’s an understatement.Why is this girl not dressed for the weather? No sign of skiis, and all’s she’s wearing is a hoodie and ripped jeans. Her hair is crazy long and straight and blows all over the fucking place as she steps out of her jeep. She tucks her hoodie to her, and I catch a glimpse of her curves beneath the shapeless fabric. I do love curves on a woman. She walks in my direction, as I silently will her to look at me. At that moment, she does, and time comes to a standstill. Our eyes lock for a moment, and a blush races across her face. She drops eye lock, grabs the fuel nozzle, and jams it into the side of her car. I study her vehicle, reminded of Señora Madora’s predictions that the woman would be from the south. My eyes return to her, and I catch her staring at me. She stills for a moment, despite the wind aggressively whipping her long hair across her face. It’s an expressive face, one with vivid blue angelic eyes, sensuous pouty lips, and flaxen hair. She wraps one arm about her middle, trying to stem off the cold with her barely there hoodie that keeps falling off one shoulder. I am sorely tempted to offer her my jacket, but I know she wouldn’t take it, I can tell by her demeanor.Her phone jangles again and before I can say a word to her, she takes off at a clip towards the convenience store, a scowl plastered across her expressive face. I follow, intent on discovering her name and story. Would I be doing this if Señora Madora had not made any predictions? Yes. Why? Her damned bold attitude. Her aliveness. The combat boots and the curves. So many things. Lucky for me she doesn’t know who’s coming for her.
EXCERPT CHAPTER 2
The air is a frigid 28 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind blustery, as I pull into a gas station in Newport, Vermont, a couple miles south of the Canadian border. I should have gotten my winter jacket out of the back of my jeep before I stepped out, but I left balmy North Carolina at 70 degrees and the brief stops I made along the way didn’t require it. If there was any sleepiness in me before, that is completely dissipated by the blast of wind that hits me square in the face. Technically, we just passed the vernal equinox, but it doesn’t look like spring has sprung here, nor does it look imminent. More like, winter has not yet departed. Not that I mind, since I want to try my hand at skiing, for the first time ever. It would have made sense for me to have checked the weather before I left home, but sometimes my impulsive side takes over the decision-making process, and I was in a hurry to get up here.Pulling my hoodie tighter to me, I walk around my jeep to the fuel pump, catching a glimpse of an extremely tall, broad shouldered man across from me. The wind takes this moment to catch my hair and viciously rend it across my face, as my eyes lock with the sensuous, molten gaze of the most strikingly handsome man I have ever laid eyes on. God have mercy on my soul. I catch my breath and glance down at my borrowed boots, making sure I don’t trip over the concrete island between us. Player or taken, logic brain informs me. Logic or not, he is sinfully fine, all chiseled cheeks and stubbly jawline, and well dressed for the weather, a sign of intelligence. Drives an expensive truck, that’s an indication of someone who works hard. Other hard things come to mind, playing hard, there’s that. Nope. Player or taken. Logic brain is frequently a killjoy. Maybe I was imagining that he was staring at me. Ignoring the phone jangling in my pocket, I reach for the handle of the fuel hose and insert it into my jeep’s tank, distractedly not realizing that I should have swiped my card first. Logic is overruled by instinct, and my gaze impulsively flicks to Mr. Handsome, as I wait for the fuel to dispense. I get a jolt, as I realize he’s staring, his dark, shrewd eyes clearly fixed in my direction. Stupidly, my heart does a flip flop, my cheeks reddening under his scrutiny, as the ferocious wind takes my hair and relentlessly whips it across my face. I drop gaze to my oversized, black steel-toes, my heart beginning to hammer in my chest, like a gazelle under the watchful gaze of a ravenous lion. I want to look at him again, but my phone keeps ringing. For the second time, I hit the side button, and it stops the noise.I risk another look at him. His attention is on placing the fuel nozzle back in its slot, but it immediately comes back to me, and my heart jumps again. That was deliberate. He wants to catch me looking at him. He stares at me in a more pointed way this time, as if to say, make sure you know that I caught you looking at me.Time comes to a standstill for a moment as I get sucked into those eyes. Dark demon like eyes that don’t miss anything in their environment. There’s an essence about him that exudes power and confidence, and potentially perilous aggression, giving me the impression that if there was something before him that he wanted, he would take it. He doesn’t break his gaze with me and neither does he smile flirtatiously or anything, just stares at me with hunger in his eyes. Studies me like a predator would, and that thought, for some reason, sends a curious thrill down my spine. My phone goes off for the third time, and I realize that the pump is not accepting my credit card for whatever reason. Reluctantly, I break eye lock with the handsome stranger and begin to walk towards the convenience shop, sliding my finger across my phone to accept the incoming call. “Mom, I told you already. I’ll be fine.” Do not. I repeat, do not, send someone to check on me.” My exasperation rises as my mother’s insistent voice broadcasts though my cell phone.Crossing the service station at a snappy pace, I try to ignore the bitterly cold wind swirling around me. My mother is a perpetual ‘fixer’ and sensing that I might be in over my head in this northern clime far from home and about to experience my first ever, real life blizzard, she’s been calling around the area to see if any of Nana’s old friends can offer me assistance.“Anna, darling, I already asked, the Bennett’s will stop by the cabin to check in with you. I don’t think Nana’s cabin is equipped for a blizzard. You will be out in the middle of nowhere by yourself, what if you lose power? Nana didn’t have a generator as far as I’m aware.”“Mom! There’s a fireplace. Now, stop worrying, I can handle it all myself. I have to go.” It was a 16-hour drive from North Carolina to Vermont, and I’m counting down the stops before I can reach my newly inherited log cabin. Beat and annoyed, I head inside to pay, hoping that my credit card doesn’t give me any more trouble. It is.“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to pay in cash.” The service attendant, sporting pink frosted hair tips, a lip piercing and cracking a large wad of gum looks at me expectantly. She doesn’t look a bit sorry for this at all.I quickly begin to rummage through my purse. “I don’t understand why my card won’t work here.”The attendant shrugs her shoulders.My face heats, as a giant line begins to form behind me. I suppose everyone wants a fill up before the blizzard hits full force. I really should have gotten more cash out of the bank before I drove up here. “All I have is a five.” It’s not going to get me up and down the mountain. “Is there an ATM around here?”She cracks her gum and looks at my five. “The nearest ATM is that way about 5 blocks. I’m not sure if the ATM is working right now. Do you want five dollars in gas?”I sigh and brush my hair off my face. “Yes. Sure.”“Here.” The handsome dude, that I was eyeing moments ago at the pump, steps forward and lays a fifty-dollar bill on the counter. Blood rushes to my face. My eyes search upwards towards the face of a-god-come-to-earth, who has just offered to help me out. Oh. Wow. He does smile. His laugh lined eyes search mine with such kindness, that momentarily I’m speechless, my irritation dropping away like mist parting before the morning sun.“Long way from home?” He smiles at me, and my heart skips a beat. Obviously, he’s been listening in on the conversation and my southern drawl.My pulse ramps, and my face continues to heat against my will. “I am, but you don’t have to do this. I’m sure there’s an ATM around here somewhere.”“Don’t worry about it, I insist.” His deep voice emanates a rugged sexiness and has the trace of what sounds like a Russian accent.I hesitate. People continue to stare, and my cheeks indicate that an inferno has been ignited at the surface of my skin. I hate it when I blush like this in front of a bunch of people. “Thank you so much.” My voice sounds higher than normal, as I thank him.“My pleasure.”A wave of lightheadedness passes over me at the masculine rumble of his voice. The blush stays with me until I get back into my jeep. It isn’t till I get there, that I realize I have completely lost my manners. I should have asked him his name and offered to pay him back, but I’d been too flustered to even think of it. Hands shaking slightly, I insert the key in the ignition, sit back and exhale.The mystery man leaves the store, holding the door open for an attractive woman in a designer coat and boots. Self-consciously, I run a hand though my hair and look down at my paint splattered skinny jeans, wool socks, and engineer treads that I borrowed from my friend’s brother that are about 3 sizes too big. No wonder that man took pity on me, I look like hell. I guess that was why he was staring at me. I’ve only slept for about a half an hour in the last 18 hours. Not that it matters anyway, I didn’t ask him his name, and by the looks of it, he probably has a wife or a girlfriend. My gaze stays on him and the pretty lady. The pair are in deep conversation, and then the woman touches the sleeve of his coat in an affectionate gesture.I look away, not wanting to be caught staring at them. What am I thinking anyway? I’m here for a vacation. There isn’t time to begin a relationship. But something stirs inside me, something I haven’t felt in a long time.Pushing aside thoughts of the generous mystery man, I grudgingly turn back to business at hand. I need to call the credit card company and find a bank, in addition to all the other things I need to get before I head up to Nana’s cabin. Shifting my car into gear, I pull out of the gas station and onto the main road, watching the mystery man and lady in my rearview mirror.The snow, which had merely been flurries at the station is beginning to fall harder, and I turn on my wipers so I can see. It starts to lay on the road, as I meander around the city of Newport, looking for the closest bank with an ATM. An hour later, I finish with banking and shopping for supplies. A forty-five-minute drive to my cabin lies ahead, and I turn the dial on the radio searching for an update on the weather.I find one. “Looks like we’re gonna get a big one folks. The National Weather Service is calling for record snowfalls, as much as 48 inches. Don’t go out if you don’t have to and keep warm. Stay with us for updates.”My phone buzzes. I’m expecting it to be my Mom, and I answer without looking at the incoming number, so that I can keep my eyes on the road. “Mom.” My tone is sharp. She needs to relax and stop bugging me.A sweet-sounding voice is on the other end of the line. “No, I’m afraid not dear. This is Emma Bennett. Is this Anna Anderson?”“Yes, this is Anna.”“Anna, I’m an old friend of your Grandmother’s. Your mother just called me to say that you will be in the area for a while, and my husband Harold and I were wondering if you would like to stay with us for a few days until the snow is cleared out. Your Grandmother’s cabin is quite a way out from town, and they don’t always plow the roads up there on the mountain. I know your mother is very worried about you, she said you have never been up north during the winter season. She rambles on, seeming to anticipate my thoughts. “And I know it’s officially spring, but up here, it can act like winter until May.” I know she means well, but my irritation rises at the mention of my meddling mother.“I appreciate your invite Mrs. Bennett, but I’ll be fine. I have the fireplace if the power goes out.”“I thought as much. I can see that you take after your Grandmother. She was very independent too. I just want to warn you that if we get the 4 feet of snow that the weatherman is predicting that you may be stuck on the side of that mountain for days my dear.”“Please don’t worry about me. I have everything I need, and I’m alright with being alone. This is a vacation for me.”Emma pauses. “Okay dear. But just to humor an old lady, would it be alright if we sent a friend of the family by to check on you this afternoon?” It’s more of a statement than a question, I realize as Emma continues. “His name is Valentin Tsarev. We call him ‘the Tsar.’ It’s our nickname for him.” Mrs. Bennett chuckles, and I silently raise my eyebrows at the nickname. “It would make us feel so much better, if we knew you were safe during the storm.”“I don’t want to make anyone go out of their way for me Mrs. Bennett. I can assure you, I’ll be fine, really.”“Oh, it’s not out of his way at all, dear. He lives right up the road from you. He has a logging business on the mountain. You see? It’s no trouble at all,” she says cheerfully. “We already talked to him about you.”I try to leave the rising annoyance out of my voice. After all, Mrs. Bennett is simply being neighborly. But all I want right now is a hot shower and a nap. “I see. It’s not necessary, but if you insist. What time will he be stopping by?”“Later this afternoon dear.”“Thank you for calling Mrs. Bennett.”“You’re quite welcome. Please come and visit us after the storm has passed, we’d love to meet you.”“Of course, I look forward to meeting you.” I hang up and consider calling my mother to tell her to stop interfering, but instead, I allow my attention to drift to the sight of the thick, gently falling snowflakes and the beauty of the snow-covered Green Mountains in the distance. When at last my jeep begins its long trek up the road that leads to Nana’s cabin, I inhale. The view is breathtaking. Enormous snow-covered pines line the path, and as I rumble down the road, a pond comes into view. I pull into the driveway of a cozy looking log cabin, cut the engine, and open my door to a big gust of wind. Tramping through the snow, I head for the cabin.My heart jumps in anticipation, I place the key in the lock and open the solid wooden door. A rustic wooden table with two chairs sits in the middle of a tidy little kitchen, and a few copper pots hang from the ceiling. There’s a cast iron griddle on the stove, and the sink is old fashioned, but I note with relief that is has a faucet with running water. There’s a small fridge and some dusty blue Wedgewood teacups on the corner shelf nearby.Anxious to see the rest of the house, I carry my large duffel bag into the tiny bedroom off the kitchen. The bedroom consists of a double bed, an antique trunk at the foot of the bed, a hand painted dresser in red, and a small army green nightstand on which stands a single dried rose in a crystal bud vase. I throw my duffel on the bed and place a large stack of reading material on top of the dusty nightstand. From the look of things, I’m going to have to give this place a solid cleaning before I settle in. The bathroom has an old-fashioned toilet, a claw footed tub, over which is a sky light, and a white porcelain sink with an oval mirror. The nicest room is the moderate sized living room with a large stone fireplace and hearth. A gigantic picture window allows me to take in the spectacular view of the mountains in the distance and the pond and snow-covered trees that sit below the level of the cabin. The walls are a warm cedar and contrast to the grey skies and snow, which continues to fall. I hug myself and feel a twinge of excitement shoot through me despite the long journey to get here. It’s perfect. No Wi-Fi, no cell service. Peace. I tie my unruly hair into a ponytail, crank the heat to warm the cabin, turn on my portable radio and set to work. First on the agenda is the bathroom, which I speedily scour while fantasizing about the long hot soak I’m taking after I finish with the rest of the house. Moving onto the living room, I peel the sheets off the furniture, revealing a worn leather sofa and 2 tufted leather club chairs. The coffee table is made of natural polished wood on which sits some old National Geographic magazines and a faded ivory candle on a wooden plank. I pause at the fireplace mantel, looking at the cluster of family pictures. I smile as I look at the picture of Nana and Pop on their wedding day, an awful one of myself in second grade, sporting a toothless, crooked smile, my Mom and Stepdad on a cruise, and Uncle Jack in his Navy uniform.I reach for a picture of Nana in Peru. She lost Pop when she was 40, and after that she traveled a lot. I always admired her for being an adventurer. I hold her picture to my heart. “I miss you Nana.” As I speak, a shaft of sunlight breaks through the storm clouds and hits me in the face. I hold the picture and look at her face again, memories streaming in with the sun.“Live life on your own terms Anna.” Nana’s words come back to me.“I am Nana. At least. I’m trying too.”The sun disappears and the room darkens with the storm. I turn up the volume on the radio. Singing along to the music helps me work a little faster, and after I mop the wide planked wood flooring, I do a little dance in front of the picture window.“You never close your eyes anymore, when you kiss my lips.” My can of dusting polish becomes my microphone. Because, who cares? No one is here to see me look like a fool. A surge of happiness shoots through me. The place is starting to look spotless, and it’s so cozy. I love it! Tonight, I’m doing nothing but sitting by the fire and reading and relaxing. That’s my plan anyway.
EXCERPT CHAPTER 3
While waiting for the tub to fill, I strip off my ratty jeans and t-shirt and throw a handful of salt crystals into the tub. A cloud of steam arises from the bath, and I sink gratefully into the tub, enjoying the steamy heat against my skin. My muscles start to unknot themselves, and I lie back and close my eyes, daydreaming. At last. It’s so peaceful here. Not a sound, except for the swish of the wind blowing through the pines outside the log walls, and the indiscernible sound of snow gently falling on the tin roof.
Lifting my feet to the edge of the tub, I scoot my body forward, and allow the hot water to soak into my scalp. Snowflakes drift over the skylight and I get lost in a stare, mesmerized by the beauty. Thoughts idling, I wonder how my business partner is making out. I trust Tim, he’s a capable person, and lucky. Tim and his wife have the perfect little family, in love with each other and their new baby.
Not to be left out of the thought parade, my inner cynic injects her own thought. Dream on Anna. What Tim and Mia have belongs in a fairy tale. After my last breakup, well, so much for fairy tales. Amid my reverie, I’m lifted from delicious solitude by a loud knock at the kitchen door.
OMG. I forgot that Mrs. Bennett’s friend was going to stop by. Crap.
It’s gotta be ‘the Tsar.’ I’d love to disregard it, as the timing can’t be more inconvenient. But if I ignore it, he’ll probably speak with the Bennett’s, who’ll speak with my mother and then who knows what will happen? Knowing my mother, she’ll call the police. Not to mention, it’s obvious I’m here because my jeep is parked outside, and since I already told Mrs. Bennett that it’s okay for the man to stop by, I better get up. Otherwise, I risk being rude to my new neighbors.
“Awesome timing.” I mutter. The knocking becomes a pounding.
“I’m coming.” I yell, wondering if the man can even hear me through the thick walls. The last thing I want to do is get out of this steamy bath. My dirty clothes lie mangled on the floor, and I make the hasty decision against throwing them back on, maybe it will give him a strong hint that I’m otherwise occupied.
My mother’s voice resounds in my head, “Now Anna, remember, good southern girls always dress for company, no matter who it is.” Screw that. I’m on vacation. And I’m lacking sleep, and clearly, manners.
I hastily throw my bath towel around me, stride to the door, and fling it open, expecting a much older man than the one that stands before me wielding an enormous bouquet of flowers and eyeing me with a bemused expression.
My heart literally skips a beat. I grip the door handle for assistance, feeling like the impulsive idiot that I sometimes am. Here before me is the ruggedly handsome dude from the gas station who I had some serious eye lock with and who generously paid for my fuel. Momentarily confused, I clutch my towel for support, as my body, traitor that it is, sends a blush traveling over every inch of my skin.
The name Emma Bennett gave me had sounded Russian, and this man has a Russian accent. Therefore, it is highly likely that ‘the Tsar’ is standing before me.
Without thinking, I cheekily cock an eyebrow at him and blurt out, “You’re the Bennett’s friend, ‘the Tsar’ I presume?”
He gives me a sexy smile, “Obviously, you’ve spoken with Emma.”
“She warned me,” I smile, oblivious to the cold and feeling like my annoyance has dissipated at the sound of his deep, accented voice.
“And you’re my new neighbor, Ms. Anna Andersen. I did not realize this earlier, or I would have introduced myself at the gas station.”
“Yes. Please call me Anna. Thank you again. That was exceedingly kind of you. I’ll pay you back.”
He glances at my towel, an apologetic expression on his face. “Not necessary. But I’ve come at an inconvenient time. I would have called, but Emma said you don’t have a phone installed. I’ll stop by later.”
Whoa. He’s assertive. He isn’t asking. The memory of the eye lock experience at the gas station returns, he struck me as a man not afraid to go after what he wants. But now he’s all charming and such. Hmmm.
“It’s not necessary, really. I’m fine. I’m sorry to have wasted your time. The Bennett’s are worried for nothing.”
His dark eyes assess me with a frankness that makes me feel naked. He’s looking at me like I’m an unnatural specimen that doesn’t belong out here in this seeming wilderness, as though I need protection from myself.
“I’ll stop by later Anna.” The low rumble of his masculine voice and the forcefulness of his demeanor sends a tingling sensation straight to my belly. “These are for you. Welcome to the neighborhood.” He hands me an exotic bouquet of multicolored blooms.
I reach for the bouquet, making a grab for my towel, as it slides dangerously towards my backside. Another blush rushes across my cheeks as our fingers graze each other. “Thank you, these are beautiful, but I don’t know if I’ll be here later.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll see you around 4 Anna. If you’re still here that is. I have a proposal for you.” He calls over his shoulder to me as he heads for his truck.
I shut the door against the swirling snow, plop the flowers onto the kitchen table and watch his truck drive down the road. A strange mixture of feelings swirl through my body. Who is this man? Insistent, forceful. Handsome as hell. Not like anyone I’ve ever met in the south. Probably married, engaged or with someone. The woman dressed to the nines at the gas station seemed friendly with him.
I assure myself that the only reason he’s returning is to satisfy the Bennett’s that I’m okay. The proposal means he is probably going to try and convince me to stay with the Bennett’s during the storm. But that’s my luck. My friend Rachel claims it’s because I have a tainted view of men. Of course, we did do some intense staring at the gas station, but…
Scenes from what seem like a lifetime ago flash before my gaze. Jason, my former boyfriend, turning in shock as I enter his apartment. Him naked, mounting a girl from behind on the sofa near the door. The sofa we’d made out on. The shock wave that came over me with the realization that he was fucking someone else on the day that I was ready to have sex with him for the first time.
Wearing nothing but the sexiest set of black lingerie under my trench coat and a pair of stilettos, I ran out of the apartment, hearing Jason’s rueful voice calling my name. All the planning to make it the best ever. I’d wanted everything to be perfect for our first time. I wanted to surprise him. Well, it sure as hell did. It was humiliating.
From that point on, I’d barely looked at guys, but it made me driven enough to start my own business with one of my best friends and depressed enough to lose the extra forty pounds I’d been carrying around since my parent’s divorce.
Returning to the present, I stare at the flowers. They’re gorgeous. When is the last time I received flowers like this from a man? Never, honestly. Not like this. They’re so artfully arranged, I’m sure they come from a flower shop. Leaning over the arrangement, I pluck out the attached note.
Please accept this welcome to Vermont. Your Grandmother was a wonderful neighbor, and she is missed by all in these parts. Do not hesitate to ask if there is any assistance you might need.
I gape at the note, wondering about the man I’ve just met. He is a gentleman. Older than me, the laugh lines around his eyes betray that fact. But, for an older man, he is quite nice to behold. I remind myself that a man like this is most likely not single. Not that I care. I’ve sworn off the male gender. For my own good, of course. The staring incident? Maybe he thought I looked like hell because, I did. Who doesn’t after being cooped up in a car for 16 hours?
I return to the tub. The water is still hot, but I top it off with more until all I can see is a haze of steam. Closing my eyes, I review the shock I felt when I opened the door. I’d been expecting a rough old, grizzled mountain man, not the bold figure that stood before me with the piercing eyes and commanding features. He is amazing to behold, more so because he seems like a genuinely kind person. I remind myself that I saw him talking with a beautiful woman. Not only that, his reason for returning is benign, likely due to the Bennett’s via my mother’s request.
My logical self tells me to stop fantasizing and that the best course of action is to make sure that I’m not here when he returns. There isn’t going to be anymore pestering about me being able to stay in this lovely little cabin while the storm rides itself out. End of story. And I'm not going to allow myself to feel a crazed attraction for him, despite the staring between us. He’s overtly bold and pushy. And kind, my better side speaks up, and then the devil side wins out. Forget it, it whispers.
I lather myself up, wash my hair, and shave off the stubble. Stepping out, I leave a trail of water droplets across the floor and towel off in front of the fire. It’s so refreshing to be clean. I sit naked on the fur rug and enjoy the warmth of the fire on my bare back. The snow falls thickly out of a slate gray sky, intensely beautiful. Once I’m warm and dry, I cream my legs and slip into my favorite old jeans, a black T shirt, hoodie, and a pair of fuzzy socks.
Glad for the engineer boots I borrowed, I throw on my jacket and head to the shed for more wood. It takes me about an hour to stack enough wood next to the fireplace to feel satisfied that I won't be needing anymore for several days. Then, I bring the shovel into the kitchen, thinking it might be handy if the snow piles up near the door.
My tasks finished, I check my cell for the time, noting the no service icon. 3:33 PM. Time to head out before the Tsar gets back. Rummaging around, I find tape and an envelope, and set about writing a thank you note to the Tsar with $50 included. I tape it to the inside door of the kitchen, grab my jacket and winter things, and head for my Jeep. I'll take a drive, find a place to pull over, and hike. Oddly enough, I can hear my friend Rachel's voice making a clucking sound in my head. Rachel would not approve, she’d bug me to take a chance, but I'm not taking a chance on someone that most certainly has a special someone, especially when I'm only here for a few weeks.
It’s extraordinarily gorgeous, the thickly frosted pines and deeply drifted snow make it look like an enchanted forest. Quite a change from the southern climate I'm used to in North Carolina. We rarely get snow that far south. This is something I always wanted to see when I was a kid.
I direct my Jeep down the snow-covered dirt road that runs past the cabin. After a short drive, I find an overlook, pull off the road and park my Jeep. The wind is picking up, and it bites at my cheeks, as I get out of the shelter of my vehicle and head down the road. Snow lies thickly on the road surface, only visible in a few bare patches where the wind has sliced it away.
Determinedly, I trudge along, pausing to take pictures of the winter wonderland before me. A logging truck rumbles past, and the driver waves and nods at me like he knows me. After 30 minutes of walking, a sign looms ahead of me. Tsarev Logging Company, Inc.
Surprised, I make a hasty U turn towards my Jeep. I've been trying to avoid the man, not run into him! As I turn, the wind catches at my face, taking my breath away. Somehow, the walk back towards my Jeep feels much colder than the walk away from it. A red Chevy pickup passes me, followed by two cars. Probably workers, I think, maybe leaving early because of the storm.
Five minutes later, a black F-450 pulls alongside. My pulse begins to race, I recognize the truck. The window lowers, and the Tsar's handsome face appears, looking amused. Does he think I'm here to check him out?
“Enjoying the weather Anna?” Brows lift, dark eyes absorb me, head to foot.
For some stupid reason, the second I look at him, I trip on a chunk of ice, twisting my ankle in the process, and fall headlong into the road. Pain flashes through my ankle, as I lie sprawled out like a roadkill.
Are you kidding me right now? Why in God's name did I have to fall in front of a man that looks at me like that?
The Tsar stops his truck, jumps out and swiftly moves to my side. I pull myself to a sitting position, feeling incredibly awkward and stupid. It’s these damned oversized boots. That and the feeling that I'm going to faint every time I have an encounter with this man.
“Anna, are you alright?” He touches my arm gently.
My face flushes crimson, and it isn't the cold. “I'm OK, I just twisted my ankle.”
“I'm going to lift you up. Put your arm around my neck.”
I follow his instructions, expecting him to lift me to my feet, but he doesn't bother with that option. His steely arms lift me and carry me to his truck.
Not that I'm a stick by any stretch of the imagination, but he moves with me as though I weigh next to nothing. Heart rate accelerating, I catch the heady, masculine scent of his cologne. Somehow, I've died and gone to heaven. He’s all man, from the hard sinews of his arms to the muscular frame of his body, that I can't help but feel, despite the winter coats between us.
He places me on the seat. “I'm going to drive you home and look at it.”
“If you could please just drop me off at my Jeep, it's down the road from here.”
“I'll have one of my men drive it home for you. I'll call now. Here give me your keys.”
“I can drive myself. It's not far.”
“No worries. We're your neighbors, let us give you a hand.”
I hand my keys to him, wondering if he is going to insist that I stay with the Bennett’s. Of course, he is. In the past four hours, he has been there to give me money, a neighborly greeting, and a lift in his truck. I look out of my element here, and I know it.
I spend most of the ride back to the cabin wondering if the Tsar thinks I’m a complete idiot. The very thing I tried to avoid has happened. He pulls into the driveway. My Jeep follows, driven by one of his men, and another follows in a pickup. This is unbelievably embarrassing.
Expecting to hobble into the house on my own, I get ready to slide out of the truck, my cheeks flaming scarlet from all the attention. The Tsar is quicker, and he scoops me off the seat into his arms, and heads for the kitchen door. I thank the men that have returned my Jeep, feeling my face heat into what I am sure looks a four-alarm inferno, when the Tsar refuses to put me down. He insists on carrying me inside and gives me a surprised look when I tell him that door is unlocked.
“You shouldn't leave your house unlocked.” He chastises me, as he sets me on the kitchen chair, pulling the other one under my bad ankle. “Even though it is rather desolate around here, there have still been the occasional break-ins. It's not safe for a woman alone.” He looks into my eyes, searching to see if I am taking him seriously.
“I really do know how to take care of myself, Valentin.” I give him an exasperated sigh, preparing for him to suggest that I stay elsewhere during the storm.
He laughs, and then says with a twinkle in his eye, “Is that why you fell in front of my truck, because you were taking care of yourself?”
“Thanks for that. I was having a clumsy moment. Alright, laugh. Yes, it was funny.”
“I'm teasing you.” He pulls up a chair and gently takes my foot in his strong, capable looking hands. “I think we should take a look at your ankle.” He pulls off my boot and sock and looks from my boot to my foot, giving me a knowing smile. “Your boyfriend's?”
My cheeks flush at the question. “No. I borrowed them from my friend’s brother. He has big feet.”
“Compared to yours, yes. Good God woman. No wonder you tripped.” He chuckles as he probes my ankle gently with his fingers.
I can't help but notice how large his hands are. “Ow! That's the spot.”
“You're lucky, I think it is not sprained, just badly bruised. Do you have ice or frozen peas?”
“No.” I look at him ruefully. “I wasn’t expecting to need it.”
“Yeah.” I point to the cupboard.
The Tsar grabs one, heads outside and fills it with snow and places the snow filled baggie on my ankle. “That should help with the swelling.”
“Thank you, neighbor,” I give him a cautious smile, amazed at how kind he is, but waiting for his ‘proposal’. It’s coming, I know it is. He’s a considerate man, he’d probably offer to drive me to the Bennett’s and pick me up if I asked.
“My pleasure.” He gives me a warm look that sends tingles up my spine.
“And you wanted to ask me something?”
He gives me an apologetic look. “Anna, I think you should stay with the Bennett’s until the storm is over. That way I will know you are safe.” There it is. I pegged it.
“Absolutely not, I am perfectly fine here on my own.”
“It's not uncommon for the power to go out on this mountain during snowstorms, and you'll be left without heat. “
“I thought of that. But I brought enough wood in for the fireplace to last at least two days.”
“Anna, the power could be out for a week. And you will not be able to bathe either.” The corners of his eyes crinkle with his smile, and I feel sure he is remembering me standing at the door in a towel.
“Valentin, I appreciate your concern, but I am fine here by myself. Seriously.”
“If I can't convince you to stay with the Bennett’s would you at least agree to coming with me to dine at my home tonight?”
My heart feels like it’s going to leap out of my chest.
“You can meet Señora Madora and have one good meal before you are forced to cook over your fireplace for a week. She is the best cook on this side of the mountain.” My heart does a dive at the mention of Señora, but judging by the look on his face, he isn't going to take ‘no’ for an answer.
“I'll bring you there now. It will save you straining your ankle further.”
I'm amazed, I've never met such a determined man. He’s obviously used to getting his way. “You like to get your way, don't you?”
“I do. I am known as ‘the Tsar’ by my friends for a reason.”
I see the gleam in his eye when he says this, and I laugh despite myself. “Mrs. Bennett mentioned that. You are a wicked Tsar?” I cock an eyebrow at him.
“Sometimes, but only when necessary.” His dark eyes, momentarily serious, examine my lighter ones, sending an electric jolt down my spine. It reminds me of the predatory look he gave me at the gas station.
He turns away, his attention focused out the window. “We should go, it's starting to get dark, and I told Señora Madora we would be back for dinner.”
“You told her I was coming?”
“I felt confident that I could persuade you, and I was reasonably sure that you would not agree to stay at the Bennett’s. Emma told me that you are very much like your grandmother, an independent woman.”
My mouth drops open. Firstly, I thought him arrogant, but he sounded complimentary of my Nana, and that gives me a warm, liquid feeling inside my heart. He is full of surprises.
“I'm going to carry you to my truck. Don't try to fight me.” He gives me a wary look that contains a little smile.
A little fluttering sensation kicks around in my belly. He is entirely charming and forceful, and he knows it.
“Put your arm around my shoulders,” he commands.
My heart rate accelerates, as I place my arm around his neck and his arms encircle me. His scent and the strength of his body are intoxicating to my senses. The temptation to run my fingers over the dark stubble of his jawline hits me full force, commanding other parts of my body to respond at the pleasurable images that are running through my brain.
With a sigh, I give myself into his steely hold and allow myself to be carried to his truck. He places me on the seat, and I discreetly watch him as he walks around and slides into the driver seat.
“Thank you for everything Valentin.”
“You’re welcome Anna.” A thrill runs through my entire body as he looks into my eyes. The truck rumbles to life under his touch, and we head up the hill to his home. The snow swirls around the truck, enclosing us into what feels like a cave inside the cab.
On the drive to his home, I finally gather enough courage to ask, “Is Señora Madora your wife?”
“Heavens no!” That brings a laugh from him, though I notice that for a split second, pain seems to register on his face at the word ‘wife’. “Señora Madora runs the household. You’ll like her Anna, she’s got a heart of gold, and she knows how to cook.”
“She’s your maid?”
“I don’t think of her that way. She is like family, like a mother figure to me and my men. It works out well.”
A barely discernible Tsarev Logging sign appears out of nowhere on the left. It’s getting hard to see anything at a distance. A road turns off to the left just past the sign. We continue our ascent. Ten minutes later, he turns the wheel to the left and follows a long road to his house. How he’s able to see anything, I’m unsure. To my eyes, the road and the landscape are one continuous blur of white.
The mansion is a massive log and stone, three story structure. Double doors stand at the entrance, and wide paned glass windows cover the house. Cypress trees in iron planters stand on either side of the doorway. A smaller but elegant house stands off to the left. Immense maples and pine trees ring the properties. The front door opens, and I see an older, beautiful, dark skinned woman standing there, beaming, and waving. Señora Madora.
Valentin opens the passenger door and scoops me up into his arms before I can protest. The feel of his warm strong arms, his hard body pressed into mine, and the scent of him inebriate my senses. I warn myself to stop, there is not going to be anything between us, there can't be for many reasons. But my body has a will of its own, my pulse races and the light headedness returns.
The snow swirls around us as we make our way to the house, Valentin shouting to the Señora for an ice pack. She disappears into the house, leaving the door wide open for us to enter.
As he crosses the threshold with me, his eyes meet mine and with a devilish smirk, he says the exact thing that has just crossed my mind, “This is like a man with his bride, eh?”
I allow my eyes to connect with his momentarily, and then I drop them, feeling the heat of an entire body blush wash over me, as tingles of electric energy spark from my navel to my thighs. He must know the effect he has on me; my heart is thumping like it's going to burst out of my chest. Fortunately, I am rescued by Señora, who bustles into the Hall with a concerned look on her face. “Everything is ok?” She asks with a heavy Spanish accent.
I open my mouth to respond, but the Tsar is quicker. “She hurt her ankle, I'm going to give her a chair in the sitting room until dinner is ready.” He talks, as he strides into the sitting room, and deposits me on the leather sofa that sits opposite of a stone fireplace. He gently lifts my sore ankle onto the leather Ottoman and takes the ice pack from Señora. Placing it on my ankle, he introduces me to the woman. “Anna, this is Señora Madora. Señora Madora, this is Anna.”
A look passes between them that I cannot read, and then Señora bends down to shake my hand, looking incredibly pleased. “My Tsar has brought home an Angel.”
He replies to Señora Madora, though, his dark eyes burn into mine, “This one's a fallen Angel, Señora Madora, she fell right in front of my truck.”
Another body blush comes over me, and I force myself to break my eye lock with Valentin to look at Señora Madora, “That's kind of you to say. Thank you for having me. I'm sorry to trouble you.”
“It is no problem.” Señora waves her hands. “He never brings home a woman. I always tell him, ‘I love to cook. Bring someone home’. But he never does.” She rolls her eyes and looks upwards. “Thank God, finally, my prayers have been answered.”
“Señora, when will dinner be ready?” Valentin interrupts her rant. It makes me wonder if he is slightly embarrassed, though he shows no signs of flushing.
“A half an hour or so. Do you like salmon?” She asks me.
“I love anything that I don't have to cook myself.”
Señora looks from me to the Tsar, “I like her.”
I smile and Señora swishes out of the room, singing a little Spanish song to herself.
“Would you like a drink before dinner?” Valentin offers. “I have a very good pinot grigio.”
“That sounds good. Yes, I'd love one.”
Valentin leaves, and I scan the richly furnished room. An oil painting of a sailing ship in a stormy sea hangs over the fireplace. Two model ships stand on either side of the mantle, as well as a large piece of coral and some giant seashells. Leather club chairs flank the fireplace, and a rug made of what could be alpaca fur gives a warm field to the sitting area. The walls are a rich red color, and the stone of the fireplace spans the entire wall. A fire burns cheerfully in the grate.
My brain takes in the luxurious surroundings and the man responsible for them. I admit to myself that I am surprised by the intensity of my attraction to this man, especially because I have had a cynical streak about most men since my last breakup. Thoughts war inside me. What if Valentin has ulterior motives? Of course, he does. He was flirting with me. If he weren’t attracted to me, he wouldn’t have made the comment he did when he carried me over the threshold. I must be careful. He’s a man used to getting what he wants. I get that vibe from him.
Some sass part of my brain chirps in with, and what do you want Anna? Good question.