Sunday, October 11, 2009

Scarlet and the Sheriff - excerpt 2

This is an excerpt from the story Scarlet and the Sheriff, available from eRedSage here.

Feeling a bit shy, Scarlet finally opened the door and stepped into the bedroom.

Rand squatted in front of the fireplace, prodding the logs with a long iron poker. He wore faded black sweat pants riding low on his hips and a gray t-shirt that clung lovingly to his chest. Yum.

He looked up at her. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah.” Her wet bangs fell across her eye. “Thanks for everything.” She looked down at herself. “I hope I’m decent.”

“Unfortunately, you are.” He smiled. “That shirt could cover you two times over.”

Yeah, it could, and that was the problem. She felt loose and naked and somehow open under the baggy t-shirt he'd lent her.

She gestured with the hairbrush. “I couldn’t open the industrial strength packaging.”

He held out his hand. “Come on over and I’ll brush your hair for you.”

She walked slowly toward him, knowing there was a catch somewhere in the casual invitation. A smart woman wouldn’t get within twenty feet of a man who looked so warm and tough and…and just plain desirable. A careful woman would ask him to leave, or, at a bare minimum, would maintain her distance. She watched him sit down on the butter yellow chaise angled in front of the fire. He leaned against the back, spread his legs to either side of the chaise and patted the seat in front of him.

“I promise not to bite,” he said, his lips curving in a half smile. “Let me take care of you for a few minutes.”

Ah, hell, she’d never been careful. What was the point of starting now? She kept moving toward the chaise as if she had no will of her own. It would feel so good to sit in front of the snapping fire, warm and cozy at last, and have her hair brushed. She sat down, leaving several inches between them. Rand leaned forward, grasped the hairbrush from her nerveless fingers, and lightly gripped her shoulders.

“You need to move back just a bit,” he said, tugging her gently, “so I can reach you.”

He didn’t force her into contact with him, though she could feel his heat and smell his clean male scent. She heard the packaging rip open and then he began brushing.

Ahhh, he’d learned well from someone. Long, gentle strokes that massaged her scalp all the way from the top of her head to her neck. Immediately, she began to relax, feeling the long tension of the day seep out of her.
They were both silent, the crackle of the fire and the patter of rain the only sounds accenting the peace of the moment. She closed her eyes, succumbing to the drugging pleasure of his touch.

Rand drew the brush slowly through her hair, resisting the urge to fling the hairbrush on the floor and pull her against himself. The fire threw up a flame of light and the table lamp he’d turned on glowed softly beside them. He could see the outline of her breasts beneath the thin t-shirt and her long bare legs stretched out in front of her as if placed there solely to tease him.

Perfect temptation, right here in his arms. He stirred, trying to ease the ache in his balls. But there was no point in trying to delude himself. He’d wanted her since the minute he’d seen her standing on that hot sidewalk, blowing her bangs out of her eyes and glaring at that trucker. She might not be the woman he’d been thinking about looking for now that he was at least temporarily settled in his hometown. Certainly, she was not relationship material. He doubted if she’d said an honest word to him since they’d met. But his body didn’t care. She was pure sex, no strings attached, just a few minutes away from writhing beneath him if he could find the right lever.

If only she hadn’t accepted his offer to stay here under the terms of no sex. He had to honor her refusal. No matter what it cost him.

Of course, she’d already kissed him. If he could steal a few more kisses, that wouldn’t be violating the agreement, would it?

He placed the hairbrush silently on the table, leaned forward and rested his hands on her shoulders.

“What happened to your engagement, Scarlet?” With women, talk was always a useful distraction.

“Ummm…” She hesitated, as if speech were an effort. “We weren’t compatible, that’s all.”

“Why not?” He moved his hands to the naked skin between her shirt and her shiny hair. He rubbed slowly and gently. Nothing to alarm her.

“He was a lawyer. Successful. And I’m not the trophy wife type, y’know? 2.4 kids, blonde ponytail, a body too thin to cast a shadow.”

He laughed. “No, you have the body that makes a man pinch himself to see if he’s dreaming.”

“Hey!” But her voice was languorous, and she smiled, her eyes still closed. “I’ll pinch you if you don’t behave.”

“I’m behaving, Scarlet.” Though he was not. His hands probed deeply, massaging her shoulders, trailing over her neck, raising goose bumps that told him as clearly as words that she reacted to his touch. He took note of everything, the way she tilted her head forward to allow him better access, the way her hands were relaxed on the chaise, the way her legs had fallen slightly open. Her rose scent teased him, a feminine contrast to the burning fire.

“Did this successful lawyer give you the bruise on your face?” He had to mention it, though he was damned if he knew why.

She clapped a hand to her cheek and her whole body stiffened. “That…that must be from the car wreck,” she said.

Another lie. But typical. Women rarely wanted to admit to abuse. Rand willed his own hands to relax as he continued massaging her neck. “Just in case it was a man,” he said, forcing the words out around the knot of anger in his throat, “don’t ever see him again. A man who hits a woman once will do it again.”

She didn’t say anything and he pressed on, unsure why he felt so protective of her, but damnit, he did. “Promise?”

“Okay. If you keep on doing what you’re doing, I’ll promise never to let a man hit me.” She stretched under his probing fingers. “Again.”

He barely caught the murmured word, but anger flared anew at her whispered admission. He knew it had cost her to say that, after trying to brush off his question with her light words. If he ever saw the son of a bitch who’d mark a woman like this, the guy would be lucky to keep his balls. But for now, all he could do was try to make her feel good and maybe steal that kiss that was teasing him with its promise.

She stirred a bit as he moved his long fingers around to her front and stroked the delicate bones that supported her neck. She brushed her cheek against the back of his hand. “You’ve got magic fingers, Rand. Why aren’t you married?”

“In Chicago, the job owned me. Long hours. Odd hours. And to be honest, I didn’t see any need to settle down.”

Then he could’ve kicked himself for his honesty. No woman wanted to hear that a man found sex and other women easy to come by.

“Aren’t things different here in Lovestruck?”

“Yeah.” He brushed his hands over her soft skin. “No sex.” Shit, where had that come from? It was the truth, but he didn’t need to advertise it.

“Lost your touch, have you?”

“I don’t know,” he murmured. He let his hands drift down to the tops of her breasts. “What do you think?”

“Ummm.” Did she arch her back just a little? “I think if you wanted a woman, you’d have one.”

“It’s not so easy when you’re Sheriff in a small town.” He kept his hands moving, slowly. He rubbed the sides of her breasts, and down to her waist.

“The badge is that heavy, huh?” She sounded a little breathless.

“I always have to worry what people think. Being a role model is sort of an understood part of the job description. Which isn’t necessarily bad. It’s kind of fun having the kids looking up to you. But the flip side is, you have to be someone worth looking up to. You don’t want little boys looking at a cop and saying, yeah, I’ll be just like him when I grow up. Running around town, using women.” He flattened his hands on her stomach. “So if there are easy women in town, I can’t pursue them.”

“Surely you could have women without using them.”

“Women don’t seem to see it that way too often. As soon as you have sex, they start getting expectations about a relationship.” He paused, pressing lightly against her stomach, his hands tense. “And if you don’t want that, watch out. You’re using them.”

“Well, aren’t you?”

“Hey, if we have consensual sex that we both enjoy, how am I using them?”

“You are. You just don’t understand.”

He chuckled. “Nope. I don’t. But I have to live by it here.”

“Well, better you than me,” she murmured, her eyes drifting closed again. “I’m definitely not a model citizen.”

Oh, he knew that. But didn’t care at all. Not when she was lying here almost naked in his arms, her tight little nipples pressed against his t-shirt as if begging for his attention. He ran his hands down the side of her hips, learning her shape without touching anything vital. She wriggled back against him, and he hugged her close, careful not to force her against his erection. He wanted her to feel…cherished, not mauled.

“I seem to be developing quite an interest in a girl who doesn’t follow the rules,” he said. He leaned forward and kissed the back of her neck, gently at first, just testing her response. She sighed and dropped her head forward. He added his teeth, nipping her where her exposed neck met her shoulders. She moaned, and his hands moved automatically to cover her breasts. For a long moment, he pressed his palms against them while continuing to kiss her neck. Then he began playing with them, running his fingertips over her nipples, then pinching them upright as her back stiffened, and her breath panted from her lips.

Her growing arousal stoked his own desire.

But his discomfort rose at the same time. He’d made an agreement with himself that he wouldn’t try to do more than kiss her. Yet here he sat, his hands full of her breasts, his heart thundering with need. And a sense of urgency rode him. She wouldn’t be in town long, surely not long enough for him to have his fill of her. So he had to make the most of whatever time they had together. It could be just this one night.

“Scarlet.” He turned her in his arms. “Honey.” Not such a stretch, from one name to the next. But her eyes peeked open at the endearment, and she turned and gazed into his face, her brown eyes unblinking.

“That’s why you’re seducing me,” she whispered. “I’m just passing through town. No expectations. No fodder for the gossip mill.”

“Negative,” he murmured. He threaded his fingers through her hair and began massaging her scalp. “I’ve been wanting you since I first laid eyes on you. Yelling at that trucker because he couldn’t keep his eyes off you. I knew exactly how the poor sucker felt.”

“I wasn’t yelling at him.” Her voice had a low, dreamy quality, and Rand knew she was ready to fall like a perfectly ripe peach.

He leaned close, so he could whisper in her ear. “And with every outrageous statement you’ve made since, I only wanted you more.”

There's another excerpt on my website. Thanks for joining me!

Buy link: Scarlet and the Sheriff

The Naked Male Tour of Austria

I did not go to Austria to view naked men. That was just a side benefit.

We started our vacation in Vienna. The city provides a wealth of inspiration for a writer, with everything from richly decorated historical buildings to fabulous baroque art and even the Lipizzaner horses (amazing show and the riders...yum). Most every restaurant and cafe has outdoor tables and the city is full of charming side streets and entire city blocks that are vehicle free. Vienna is a walker’s and bicyclist’s paradise in many parts of the city.

In the Spittleberg district (where 18th century men could "enjoy life to the full outside their home") we had drinks one evening at an outdoor cafe on one of these cafe-lined side streets. Totally romantic.

I went inside to use the ladies room (identified by the bra on the door). As I was washing my hands, I looked up where I expected the mirror over the sinks to be. What I saw, however, was two young men doing their business about two feet from my nose. In place of a wall above the sinks, there was a large glass fish tank (immaculately clean) which occupied the space between the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms. One could scarcely avoid the "view".

I was shocked, but it’s great for a story tidbit. Dibs, ladies. I reported back to hubby who said that women are total voyeurs, but they don’t want to admit it. Are they? I have to say, I wouldn't have looked intentionally. One has to keep in mind that all kinds of guys use the facilities.

We saw The Magic Flute at the Viennese Opera. Though I normally enjoy opera for the music, the costumes here were so amazingly vibrant and colorful, they inspired a whole new series for me. The performance was fabulous. The Opera House itself was a bit of a disappointment, as much of it was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt during the 50s in, unfortunately, a 50s style. There were glimpses of the original splendor.

We moved on to Salzburg, a unique city that has been carefully maintained to retain much of the beauty and charm of the past. (Mozart was born and raised in the yellow house on the left.) However, the old city has been given over almost entirely to shopping, and chain stores abound. We accidentally stumbled upon the Mirabell gardens where (supposedly) the original Maria von Trapp and her stepchildren could be seen singing and dancing around the fountain. What we saw was my next naked man, a fellow who was strolling inside the fountain pool, attempting to hang onto his shorts. But he lost the battle just as we walked by and we were successfully mooned. You know, I bet the children were a lot more charming.

Next we drove up into the lake district for some hiking. When we passed by Lake Mondsee (also a setting for The Sound of Music movie) hubby noticed a nude beach. We did not even take a peek (having learned in our travels that there is rarely a person on a nude beach you want to see, well, naked).

But we did not escape the lady sitting on a bench on the regular beach who was changing her clothes. Took off her bathing suit top as we approached and, by the time we were walking by, she was in the process of removing the bottom. Okay, that’s the naked lady story. Off subject.

However, I do feature this nude beach in an epilogue to my story Scarlet and the Sheriff. The free epilogue is available here.

We drove into the Austrian Alps on the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, a white-knuckle ride up to the highest mountains in Austria. This road hugs the Alps, ascends to more than eight thousand feet in the course of 30 miles, and was lined with bicyclists making the ascent. Can we say fit men? Unfortunately, none of them removed their clothes for my enjoyment. When we got to the top, however, there was a male hiker disrobing. Standing right there in the parking lot, with dozens of people milling around. He stripped himself naked to change his outfit. I don’t know why, though it’s not the first time I’ve seen such a thing. However, he wasn’t hot. Not that I looked.

Our last night in Austria taught me, oddly enough, why everyone wants to know what a Scotsman has under his kilt. It is well worth knowing about. Now, I am happily married and can’t take advantage of this knowledge. But, if you’re not, get yourself over to Scotland.

So, here’s the tale. We were at Octoberfest in Salzburg. (oompah band during daylight with man in poncho) (Technically, it’s a religious type holiday in Austria, but even the Austrians admitted it was hard to tell the difference.) As you see from the picture, they gather in large groups to drink excellent beer, sing along to an oompha band, and dress in native costume. (Think flowered dirndl dresses with aprons for the women and leather shorts and checked shirts for the men.)

The sight of two Scotsmen in full kilted gear added to the festive atmosphere. Added considerably, as you will see. Everyone sits at big picnic tables family style, that is, wherever you find a seat. The Scotsmen were at the table next to mine, and I was keeping a casual eye on them. (Yup, casual.)

Though we were all eating dinner, it was still full daylight. They were bantering with an Austrian woman at my table, laughing and having a grand time (in German). The guys stood up, still joking with her, when suddenly one of them simply pulled up his kilt and exposed his wares for the Austrian lady. That’s right. He wore not a stitch under that kilt and not only that, he was shaved as bald as a robin’s egg. No, dinosaur egg would be a better simile. Because that man had a set of pipes…whew, I’m still agog. It’s amazing how shock immobilizes you, and yet allows you to focus intently.

He dropped the kilt and the Austrian lady and I started to cry.

No. No. We didn’t. She blushed brighter than the red stripes on the tent. (We think she had dared him to do it.) I managed to close my mouth and tell my husband what had happened. The man sitting next to me and I laughed for ten minutes (though he was blushing). It was so unexpected. The two Scotsmen sat back down and within five minutes, there were two young women sitting across from them (coincidentally, I’m sure.)

Well, in the US, that stunt would probably cost him a night in jail. But the Europeans are much more casual about public nudity.

I have to leave you with one last set of pictures, because I love libraries. The Austrian National Library. Now that's a library (with an amazing collection of rare books).

Finally, I have a brand new web site if you'd like to check it out here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Most Romantic Getaways

Maui, Hawaii – the essence of romance, right? But it’s really a restaurant I’m focusing on. The Swan Court at the Hyatt Regency on Kaanapali Beach. Doesn’t that just sound romantic? My husband and I ate here when we were youngsters and it was so special and romantic, we never forgot it. The restaurant was a big splurge then, and there was no way we could have actually stayed at the hotel. Though we dreamed…Then, lucky us, we have lots of frequent flier miles. So last summer we returned to Maui for a family vacation, stayed at the Hyatt and, with more than a little trepidation, returned to the restaurant. Sometimes things don’t seem as special the second time around. But the Swan Court more than fulfilled our expectations. It was even lovelier than what you see in the picture.

As for the Hyatt itself, the lobby is rated #2 on all of Maui and it deserves the rating. (I think the Four Seasons is #1.) It’s a huge tropical space open to the outdoors. Quite unique. The hotel rooms are standard and the Kaanapali Beach itself mediocre (sad to say with a name like that), but the Hyatt is at the end of a string of hotels lining the beach with lots of restaurants and shops so there is plenty to do. At night, the whole stretch is supremely romantic with the ocean on one side, and twinkling lights and happy vacationers cuddling on the other.

Another favorite romantic getaway is the Hunstrete House near Bath, England.

A true country manor turned hotel, it is a quintessentially British country house type experience. The rooms are huge and furnished with beautiful antiques, the grounds spectacular, and the food wonderful. I almost felt like someone might curtsey to me! It’s very quiet, secluded and, well, romantic!

Finally, one of the most romantic experiences I ever had with my husband was dining at a mom and pop restaurant by the ocean on the way to the Florida Keys. It was called MacDonalds, which I only remember because it’s a family name of mine. We stopped when the endless drive to the Keys finally defeated us. We were starving. They brought us out to a deck right on the water, which swayed and murmured all around us, black as the night. The stars shone overhead. Candles flickered in the breeze. They served us plastic baskets of pink shrimp (which my husband determined were steamed in beer). We peeled the shrimp ourselves. Not a fancy place according to most definitions. But we both remember it as one of the most romantic experiences of our lives together. A perfect, starry night on the water with good food. Which proves that serendipity, and the person you’re with, rather than money, is the key to the most romantic events!

What is your most romantic getaway? I’m always looking for good ideas!

And don’t forget to join the blog to win a chance at a gift basket Nicole is giving away this month!