Sunday, September 29, 2013

Introducing Mateo Bravo

Mateo Bravo was raised to be a man of unquestionable integrity. His mother was widowed shortly after his birth, forcing her to raise both Mateo and his sister, Naomi, with nothing more than her indefatigable will. She had one goal: to get her children to adulthood, and to their own amazing futures, without taking one handout from anyone. She worked every job, never missing one day, to pinch and save every penny to give them a future much brighter than she herself had working as domestic help for Houston's super wealthy.

It was a lesson Mateo never forgot.

Another lesson he learned was that his station in life, much poorer than the people his mother served, robbed him of his worth and identity to the privileged upper-class. His resentment grew the more he realized that he was a nameless, faceless minority that could be traded and sold within that upper crust society. When it cost him the thing that meant most to him, his family, he was out for revenge.

When pampered princess, Peyton Prescott, landed on his radar, he had a few plans in store for the preening debutante who thought the world owed her something. He embarked on the rather titillating journey teaching her a few important lessons he thought she needed to learn. He wasn't going to be happy until he was in the driver's seat, and she was going to fight him every step of the way.

The longer it takes to tame this entitled vixen, the more Mateo is attracted to her core strength and uncompromising ability to go after what she wants.

Before long, this powerful alpha male must decide whether or not he can submit to his own desires. But things are more difficult than they seem, for the top spot on Mateo's priority list is already taken by another girl.

Excerpt from The Undisciplined Bride

She wore an evil smile as she shopped for the special attire she had planned for the evening. Instead of dressing up for the occasion, she, too, wore a band T-shirt that was thread-bare and skin tight, a cute little gem she found at a flea market on the way back from her father’s office. She didn’t bother with a bra, nor did she worry about underwear underneath her jeans. There was barely any breathing room between the denim and her body as it was.

She could imagine his peeling her clothes from her like someone might peel a banana, and it made her giggle as she spritzed herself with her favorite perfume. She tossed her hair for that just-out-of-bed look on the way to answer his knock at precisely eight o’clock.

His eyes drifted over her new clothes, barely concealing his amusement. “Am I early? I’d hate to miss the evening gown competition.”

She shrugged. “I figured I’d follow your lead,” she said as she indicated his casual clothes. “You are my teacher, after all.” He laughed as he knelt to retrieve a couple of cloth bags full of groceries. “It’s a good thing you’re dressed comfortably,” he said as he led the way to the kitchen. “Since we’ll be doing a little bit more than boiling water tonight.”

“Good,” she said as she followed. “I doubt sincerely I can wow anyone with my ability to make tea.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Princess. All you learned was how to boil a pot of water. Tea is a few steps beyond you at this point.” He hoisted the bags onto her marble countertop and proceeded to unload the contents.

“I love how you think I’m so helpless in the kitchen. I can make a cup of tea.”

He turned to her slightly. “Prove it.”

“What?”

His eyes met hers. “Make me a cup of tea, Peyton.”

It was such a softly spoken demand for something completely mundane, but it shot electricity down to her toes. “Fine,” she said as she reached under the counter for her teapot. She filled it with water and put it on the stove, before retrieving a canister full of tea bags and a mug.

Through her peripheral vision, she noticed Mateo lean against the counter to watch her work, which made her feel terribly self-conscious. She busied herself pulling out the sugar and fresh mint, praying she wouldn’t drop anything like a klutz in front of him. For long minutes the torture went on as he studied her every movement. Finally her hands trembled as she poured the boiling water into the cup. As the tea was steeping, she turned to him. “So how did I do, Teach?”

He grinned as he crossed the kitchen to stand in front of her. He put a hand on either side of her, resting on the marble counter. “I won’t know until I have a taste,” he said softly as his eyes traveled over her slightly parted lips. “But your form was good,” he added, glancing down over her taunt chest. “Definitely a lot of… raw potential to work with.”

She tossed her hair over her shoulder. “As good as Lissette?” she wanted to know.

“Apples and oranges,” he answered softly, and coyly, with a tug at the corner of his mouth.

“I guess you really do have a preference for rich blondes,” she said as she crossed her arms in front of her.

“Blondes in general,” he admitted gleefully. “They don’t have to be rich.” He touched a curly tendril of her hair. “They don’t even have to be a natural blonde.”

She slapped his hand out of her hair, which made him chuckle. “No offense, Princess. Thanks to your little peep show the other night, I know you’re true.”

She flushed beet red as she turned back to the cup on her counter. She felt the heat from his body as he leaned against her, his mouth against her neck. Neither of his hands had moved from their spot on either side of her, but he stood close enough to press her into the counter. She nearly groaned in spite of herself as she realized that hard contour pressing into her ass was the evidence of his desire. When he spoke, she practically came right out of her skin. “Don’t rush it, Princess,” he cautioned as his warm breath tumbled over her skin. “It’s always better when you wait.”

She spun around to throw herself right into those arms, to take the very affection he was withholding, but he moved away in the same fluid motion. She was strung tight like a string on a violin, waiting to fulfill all the sexy promises this dark stranger kept making with his tempting body. “Is that what this is all about then?” she asked.

He had his back to her, facing instead the mountain of groceries he had brought. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said, and even though she couldn’t see it she knew damn well he was grinning. “I thought you hired me to teach you to cook.”

She walked over to where he stood, placing her hands on either side of the counter, exactly like he had done. She pressed her chest into his rigid back and whispered against his spicy smelling neck, “Is that all you want to teach me, Mateo?”

She grinned wide when she realized he was no longer focused on the groceries. His eyes had fluttered closed, and she could sense he was doing his level best to control his breathing. She stood on her tiptoes, rubbing herself against him as she whispered against his ear. “What else do you have to offer an unsatisfied girl like me?”

Her hands slipped around his waist, dipping lower to cup that growing bulge in his jeans. Deftly he took one of her wrists in his hand and spun it behind her back as he turned to face her fully. If she didn’t know better, he looked almost angry. “I told you, Miss Prescott, I don’t play with another boy’s toys.”

She couldn’t think. He had her arm bent behind her back, forcing her soft curves against his rigid, unyielding body. His mouth was a kiss away, but he was reluctant to take what she offered with a nervous lick of her lips. She was, however, rewarded by the shudder that passed through him.

“What do you want from me?” he asked softly.

“What do you want from me?” she countered.

He bent closer, the heat of his open mouth warming her lips. Finally he answered, “Your check,” with a smile that indicated he had once again gained control of his senses.

She spun out of his arms. “You egotistical son of a bitch.”

He grinned as he reached for the cup of tea she made. He licked his lips as he devoured her with his eyes. “Wow,” he finally said.

Even as mad as she was, she beamed under his praise. Until he ruined it with, “There’s hope for you yet, Princess.”

She stomped off toward the bedroom, half-hoping he’d follow her. Instead he made her once again come to him, only this time she plopped down a check for $50,000 onto the countertop. “There,” she said. “That pays for your ‘instruction’ for the next nine months, until I get married. Which, for your information, is the only time I will belong to any man.”

He leaned back against the counter. “Are you serious?”

“I’m always serious,” she informed him.

He held up the check. “And just what are you expecting for this sum of money?”

“You tell me,” she said, using his own pat answer against him. “You are the teacher. What exactly do you think I can learn in nine months?”

He walked over to where she stood. “You can learn to cook,” he told her pointedly. “Nothing else is for sale. Including me.” He started to exit the kitchen so she added, “You can say no, of course. But then I might call your work ethic into question, and, by extension… your sister’s. If you leave, I may have to rethink my using her for my wedding. And that paycheck looks a lot like this one, does it not?”

He turned back to face her from the doorway. “You honestly think you can control all us little people with your money, don’t you?”

“No,” she answered flatly. “You could say no. Go back to boring ol’ Lissette and her connections.” She advanced where he stood. “But good luck forgetting about me,” she promised with a smile.

“Now who’s sure of herself, Princess?”

“I’m sure you want to fuck me,” she answered directly, rewarded by how his eyes darkened from her boldness.

He leaned close. “I’d do more than fuck you,” he promised. “I’d ruin you for any other weak-kneed little rich boy you could bend to your will. And you know it, don’t you? You know I’d do more than just sleep with you, Peyton. I’d make you mine.”

She snaked her hand around his neck. “Then do it, damn you.” She pulled him down for a kiss but he was too strong. He lifted her up easily into his arms and slammed her against the wall behind her.

“Maybe someday,” he promised. “But not today.”

He released her and she slid down the wall, chasing after him the minute her feet hit the floor. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” she screamed at his departing back. “You aren’t even done with your cooking lesson!”

He swiveled back to her at the door, swinging on her so quickly she took two steps back out of instinct. “Tonight’s lesson wasn’t about cooking, Princess,” he said with that cockeyed grin.

Her eyes widened. “What are you talking about? What exactly were you teaching me?”

He grabbed her by her waist, pulling her up into his arms. When his mouth landed on hers, she couldn’t breathe. It was hot and tasted of mint as his tongue darted between her lips. It was an angry kiss that demanded her full submission. She wilted into his arms as she allowed him to deepen the kiss, but it was over almost as soon as it had begun.

His eyes were dark and stormy as he released her. “I’m teaching you what you need to learn,” he said. “See you next Tuesday.”

With that, he was gone.
***
"The Undisciplined Bride" releases October 1, 2013.



Introducing Lissette and Naomi

Whereas Peyton embraced the luxurious life of privilege she had born into, her childhood friend, and future sister-in-law, Lissette Goodreau, had always felt out of place. This low-maintenance daughter of Southern money worked her way through college, where she found many like-minded friends who accepted her modest lifestyle and her more liberal viewpoints... all of which were polar opposites of her conservative family.

When she meets the Bravos, she has found kindred spirits who are equally invested in making the world a better place, one random act of kindness at a time. As she becomes better and better friends with the struggling siblings, she realizes just how high their financial stakes are. Worse, neither sibling partner of Bravo Catering will accept her charity.

Instead they accept her kindnesses in other ways, particularly with all their work at a progressive church that seeks to feed the hunger, clothe the poor and be sanctuary for the downtrodden.

The more they accept her for being who she is, the more she is able to grow and blossom into the independent young woman she has always wanted to be... despite the tiny box that had been crafted for her by her status of wealth and privilege. This empowers her to consider breaking free - to be honest with who she is no matter what the cost.

Better still, she finally finds the person who can give her this love and acceptance in ways she never before dreamed possible. She has fallen in love at last... and is willing to risk all her money to marry the her newfound soul mate.

Naomi Bravo is one-half of the hottest new catering company in big demand for Houston's elite. Trained in New York City and completely self-made, she clings to the core values her long-struggling single mother taught her: If you can work enough for it, you can make any dream come true. Naomi wasn't sure that all of her dreams could come true, but she knew she had to do what she could to make life easier for others, particularly those she loved the most. After returning to Houston to hold her beloved family together, she works her way from selling muffins out of her car to catering large events for Houston's most powerful families. She has one real objective: she wants to lift her family out of economic dire straits, no matter what she has to do to make that happen. Her secrets run deep, especially concerning her new friend, Lissette, who has unexpectedly taken her under her wing.

The three become an unlikely trio, and a family of choice, though many complications threaten to tear them all apart.

Excerpt from The Undisciplined Bride

Lissette Goodreau had learned from childhood that she could have her own life as long as she always made sure to carve out some Peyton time. An afternoon spent with the proper amount of doting and duty could free up an entire week, so she made that sacrifice that Friday afternoon, when it became clear that Peyton was going to hound her to death if she didn’t. She sat in the passenger side of Peyton’s convertible, driven from shop to shop, dragged from dressing room to dressing room, while listening to the ire of Peyton’s life: that she couldn’t have exactly what she wanted the minute before she decided she wanted it.

By the time they got to Shop #3, Lissette was ready for the real thing to be poured into her champagne flute, not just some sparkling cider. A dozen crumpled dresses later, they headed for lunch to refuel. Lissette ordered a dirty martini before they were seated.

After a week spent with children whose fondest wishes included living long enough to see their next birthday, Peyton’s manufactured drama was even more grating than usual. The dresses were inferior, the shop girls weren’t fawning enough, and the clock was ticking on her chance to find The Dress before her doll maker could make an exact creation of Peyton for her big day. It was a tradition her parents started way back on her first birthday. After that, every significant event was marked with a personalized doll to add to her collection. There was a First Day of School Peyton, a Sweet Sixteen Peyton, a Homecoming Queen Peyton, and a College Graduate Peyton. There was no way in this world or any other that Peyton would allow herself to marry without a Bridal Peyton. That deadline was even more pressing than any alterations that could be done between now and October. The usual logic was to have an eight-month window so there would be time for at least three fittings between choosing The Dress and The Big Day. Mr. Holzmann’s window was a teeny bit narrower than that. He preferred a full year to prepare the doll, but he’d settle for eight months. He could probably do it within six, but he made it clear to Peyton he’d never deliver a doll that wasn’t truly ready. The closest they ever cut it was Homecoming Queen Peyton, which they ordered and she posed for long before her name was even up for a vote to win. That was a six-month doll, and it was her least favorite.

It was her epic meltdown that made her German doll maker from New Braunfels swear he’d never deliver another rush job. If she wanted a doll, she had to give him the time he demanded to get it right.

This was her truest deadline, and all she could talk about as she plowed through her salad.

Well, almost all. She stealthy slid Mateo Bravo into the conversation, as she was dying to know exactly what was going on with her mousy best friend and the hottest, most annoying man she’d ever met.

“So catch me up to date with your children’s… hospital… thing,” Peyton said between bites. Her blue eyes locked onto Lissette, cornering her like a wobbly-kneed gazelle.

Lissette swallowed the olive she had been chewing on from her second dirty martini. Peyton never asked her about her fundraising. She really never even asked her about her life. Instead Lissette was a verbal trampoline. Peyton would talk about herself, and Lissette would volley it back to her with the appropriate level of worship to keep Peyton happy.

“What’s there to know?” Lissette shrugged. “Big gala in about three weeks, hopefully we’re going to raise enough to finish that new wing at the hospital. That’s another three hundred rooms and a brand new surgical center with all the latest technology.”

Peyton tried not to roll her eyes. “That’s a lot riding on it. Surprised you are trusting that new caterer for such a big event.” Lissette narrowed her eyes as she glanced up at Peyton’s face. “You’re trusting your wedding to them.”

Peyton waved a hand dismissively. “That was Daddy. He fell in love with the food after they catered the last dinner party. Personally I think it was mediocre at best, but hey. One less thing to worry about for the wedding.”

Lissette sat back in her chair. Never had Peyton Prescott relented on any small detail of a big event in which she was the star. Why was she bullshitting her now? “A lot of Mother’s friends were singing their praises.”

“Is that how you found them?” Peyton wanted to know.

It was such an innocently delivered question, but somehow Lissette understood that she finally had something that the Great Peyton Prescott wanted. And, for the first time in her life, she felt less than accommodating. “Why do you ask?”

“You have to admit how weird it is. Some no-name, struggling caterers land in our laps and start wowing all our elite set of friends. God knows they certainly don’t know how to act among us, if that idiot in a monkey suit is any indication.” A smile broke apart Lissette’s face. So that was it. Mateo Bravo had dared to mock her highness, and she was strung up in knots trying to figure out why anyone would be above trying to impress her. It was a game, and Lissette was up to bat. “You have me to blame for that, I guess,” she said, trying her best not to chuckle.

“You? What do you mean?”

“I found Naomi and Mateo when I was out church shopping. They were hosting a soup kitchen and I was really impressed with the quality of the food they were serving people who couldn’t even afford to pay them.”

Peyton didn’t know which part of the story to attack first. “Wait. What? Church shopping?”

With a finger, Lissette ordered another martini. She turned back to Peyton. “Yes. Church shopping.”

“But we’ve always gone to the same church. We were practically born there. Pastor Hannigan is like our grandfather.”

Lissette smirked. “Trust me. He favors some ‘grandchildren’ more than others.”

Peyton didn’t know what to think. Their families were steeped in tradition, from the schools they chose to the churches they attended. Everything had been passed down from one generation to the other, and there had never been any reason at all to change anything. The church especially was where they were forgiven for being so wealthy in a world that had so little. They could build houses for the poor, feed the hungry with their massive food pantry, even sponsor certain inner city school children in private learning institutions, all by dropping a check in the collection plate every Sunday. They, and their equally privileged friends, found comfort in their united effort to make the world a better place, while driving away from their weekly duty in their $40,000-dollar cars to the multi-million dollar mansions they called home.

It was a comfortable place for Peyton, but it had been suffocating Lissette for years. She didn’t realize how much of a mismatch it was until she moved to Austin to go to school. There she had dabbled in different religions and philosophies, trying to find the one that would fill her spiritual holes.

The closest she had come was the Church of the Works, which she attended more than five months before. There everyone was welcomed, no matter the color of their skin or their social status. All one needed was the willingness to do the work set out in Christ’s ministry in the Bible. They were to feed the hungry, clothe and shelter the poor, heal the brokenhearted, visit the jails and let those who felt like they had no place in the world find sanctuary. There was no laundry list of rules to follow except one: to love one’s fellow man as one loved him or herself.

She jumped right in to roll up her sleeves and help serve the congregation after their Sunday service, which was where she met Naomi Bravo for the first time. The Spanish beauty had a wide smile for each and every person who appeared before her with an empty plate, which she filled to overflowing with the most amazing food that Lissette had ever tasted.

But what had won her over, ultimately, was when Naomi would refuse any money for her services. She’d give it all back to Reverend Mitchell, who used her generous contribution to fund those projects that meant so much to the church. When they found out about the Children’s Hospital drive, Reverend Mitchell and Naomi were the first ones to offer their services, for free, to raise money to help her.

She’d found another home in Church of the Works, and new friends in Naomi and her brother, Mateo. Sunday became a date she couldn’t break. Each and every weekend she could be found helping them prepare the food they’d give away for free, just because people were in such desperate need. Soon, Lissette looked forward to the laborious weekend more than any other time in the week. She’d written her fair share of checks in the past for every charity that had marched itself in front of her. But never had she felt as productive as when she was covered with flour and all kinds of sauce, laughing with Naomi as they prepared pans full of food late into each and every Saturday night.

They drank wine, they shared stories from their vastly different backgrounds. They formed a friendship that made her paper doll propping for Peyton even more intolerable, but Naomi insisted that Peyton needed her, and she couldn’t just give up when it got too hard.

Those conversations led to others, when Naomi had taken her into her confidence about the financial hurdles her family faced. They were on the verge of losing everything, including the one thing that money couldn’t replace. Lissette held onto Naomi as she cried on her shoulder, holding onto every belief that goodness was the reward in and of itself. She was the most remarkable person Lissette had ever known. And she had something that Naomi needed desperately: connections. After that, Lissette repaid each and every kindness by pimping them out to her stupidly rich family and friends to ensure Bravo Catering could get the recognition and the business they so richly deserved.

But Peyton wouldn’t appreciate this story, since it didn’t involve her, so Lissette had never shared it. Now Peyton was staring at her like she had grown a third head just because she didn’t want to live the life someone else had crafted for her generations before. It reminded Lissette once again that their world didn’t allow for coloring outside the lines. They had to marry a certain type of spouse, they had to live in a certain type of neighborhood, and they had to attend the same churches and clubs as all of their equally wealthy friends.

It was a very exclusive club so many fought to get into, and Lissette had subtly been trying to break out of it for years. “Well, I guess this answers why you’re unavailable on Sundays,” Peyton said as she pushed her plate away. It was a $20 salad, and she barely ate half. It’d end up in the trash where someone who had absolutely nothing could get ticketed for picking it out to have something, anything, to eat.

“Yes,” Lissette affirmed. “That’s why God invented six other days to get things done.”

Peyton rolled her eyes. “Well, I’d like to see the church that produces the likes of Mateo Bravo. That’s the cockiest son of a bitch I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting.”

Lissette once again suppressed her laughter, especially when Peyton probed further.

“You looked pretty cozy the other day. Don’t tell me you’re slumming with someone like that.”

Lissette shrugged. “He is quite handsome,” she baited.

“Please,” Peyton snorted. “Bargain basement at best. You’re selling yourself short if that’s what you’re willing to settle for, Lissette. Honestly.”

“Oh come on,” Lissette grinned. “Don’t tell me you’re not the teensiest bit curious. All that raw sexual appeal… and that body. I mean, my God.”

“Yawn,” Peyton said as she looked away. “Leland is ten times the man Mateo Bravo is.”

“It’s a good think you think so,” Lissette agreed. “Considering you’re marrying him.”

“You’re next down the aisle,” Peyton changed the subject easily. “Just do us all a favor and aim a little higher than a caterer, please.”

Lissette’s eyes sparkled. It was easy to see that ship had already sailed, and it pissed Peyton off even more. “Caterers can be a lot of fun,” she informed her friend with a knowing wink. “They keep it plenty hot in the kitchen.”

“Check!” Peyton demanded as she glanced around for the waiter.

***
"The Undisciplined Bride" releases October 1, 2013.



Friday, September 27, 2013

Introducing Peyton Prescott

Peyton Prescott is a young woman who knows what she wants. Bred to be one of Houston's upper-class debutantes from one of Houston's powerful, wealthy families, she has become accustomed to getting her way - and she doesn't care who knows it. She accepts the position of royalty within the 1% like the true queen-in-training she happens to be, and that jumps into overdrive the minute she decides to marry.

Peyton is no dummy. When it comes to Southern wealth and power, men definitely have the edge. And she's tired of being effectively shut out of all the excitement, disregarded as a bubble-headed socialite whose main career is to look pretty, marry well and breed. She's fiercely ambitious, and forever beating against the rails of her gilded cage. To be mistress of her own destiny, she must be mistress of her own home. She zeroes in on her childhood sweetheart to secure her status as a powerful Mrs., rather than an invisible Miss. That her groom hails from a family even more powerful and wealthy is no coincidence. Love has precious little to do with her choice. She's more concerned how well she can control her future hubby, and with Leland Goodreau, III, she's confident that she has a secure grip on her diamond-studded leash.

Peyton has honed her many wiles through the years, taking lessons from the culture around her that the power women have comes either from charm or complete bitchiness. Peyton took the bitch route, treating everyone around her the same way: it was up to them to keep her satisfied.

Unfortunately for her AND everyone around her, no one managed to make that happen.

The older she got, the nastier she got about it. And no one was willing to stand up to her and all her bridezilla ways until one fortuitous meeting nine months before she was expected to walk down the aisle and say, "I do."

Excerpt from "The Undisciplined Bride"

She joined her mother and Lissette in the kitchen, where they stood in a circle completed by Marlena Goodreau, Lissette’s and Leland’s mother. None of these females dared to enter the male lair; they stayed to themselves and talked about the gardening, their charity functions and which of their country club friends was screwing the pool boy this week. Business talk would have driven them bananas, a language in which they were never versed.

Not me, thought Peyton as she perched onto the barstool next to the island in the kitchen.

“Penny tells me that you haven’t yet found a dress,” Marlena said as she turned to Peyton. “I remember searching for my dress. What an adventure that was. I ended up going back to my mother’s trunk and pulling out her dress, allowing the tailor to make it a bit more fetching for my big day.” She turned to Lissette. “That’s going to be your dress one day, my dear.” Lissette smiled. “One less thing to worry about.”

Marlena nodded and patted her hand. She knew that whenever Lissette decided to marry, there wouldn’t be such the fuss that Peyton was making.

But that was just Peyton. She’d liked things her way from the crib, and didn’t really care who knew it. Marlena was thankful yet again she’d been blessed with low-maintenance children. She really didn’t think her nerves could stand raising a child like Peyton. Dealing with her on a part-time basis was stressful enough.

“Daddy said Orrin was here,” Peyton said as she turned to her mother. “Checking out the new caterers.” Penelope nodded. “He was, but he had to go help them when their van broke down.”

Peyton arched an eyebrow. “It broke down?” Penelope merely shrugged. “I thought Rose gave these people a sparkling recommendation.”

“Mrs. McGuire,” her mother gently corrected. She’d been trying to train her daughter in the ways of poise and demure ladylike behavior since she brought her home from the hospital. Her work still wasn’t done. “And it’s a mechanical failure. It doesn’t have to reflect on the quality of the food.”

“But our guests are arriving and the food isn’t here. Not very professional, if you want my opinion.” To punctuate her displeasure, the French doors clattered open and Orrin Ely swept through with flourish and grace, topped with endless good humor. “Call off the dogs. We’re here.”

Peyton straightened as she took note of the beautiful, young Hispanic woman who followed Orrin, holding a large pan in her hands. Orrin guided her to Penelope. “Penelope Prescott, this is Naomi Bravo.”

Penelope offered a limp hand for a shake as she glanced over the young woman in modest clothes. Her white, button-down shirt was tucked neatly into clean and pressed jeans, which led down her impossibly long legs to brown espadrille sandals. “How do you do?” “Much better now,” Naomi answered with a brilliant smile as she tossed errant dark curls back over her shoulder, tied up tight in the ponytail she wore. “I must apologize for the delay. My brother didn’t see a board stuck in the middle of the road and we hit it dead on. We ended up having to change a flat.”

“You’re here now,” Penelope offered, but though the comment was gracious, her tone was anything but. “Our guests are arriving, so I expect that you’ll be able to make up lost time.”

Naomi’s smile never faltered. “Of course, Mrs. Prescott.”

“Where is this ‘brother’?” Peyton asked as she slid off of the barstool. “I should think anyone with a pair of eyes could have noticed a board in the middle of the road.”

“Peyton,” her mother cautioned, but Orrin interrupted. “He’s outside cleaning up a bit. Dirty work, changing a tire.”

“Well, he’s not coming in here until he is cleaned up,” Peyton declared as she marched toward the French doors. If one of her duties throughout her married life as Mrs. Leland Goodreau III was to corral the help and keep her house running smoothly, there was no greater time to hone this particular skill on novice caterers who couldn’t even get to their event on time.

Her heels clicked loudly against the brick terrace leading out to the sculpted gardens. The white van sat parked in the back driveway, the back doors hanging open as someone leaned inside. Any haughty reprimand she might have delivered stuck right in her throat as the man straightened up and came fully into view.

Like Naomi, this man was of Spanish descent. His jet black hair was cropped short around his neck, with one lazy shaft hanging over his chiseled face. Clad only in a tight-fitting pair of jeans, it was easy to see that his clean, cut body was just as perfect as his face. The sight of his bare, bronzed six-pack shocked Peyton into uncharacteristic silence as her approach noticeably slowed. There was a raw magnetism to his being half-naked just a few feet away from where she stood, especially when his dark brown eyes locked with hers.

Insanely full lashes outlined his eyes, making it appear as though he wore mascara and eyeliner. He offered her a whiter than white smirk as he watched her advance. “Here to offer a hand?”

She crossed her arms in front of her. “I think not,” she said. “I wanted to take a look at the man who couldn’t even spot something in the road to avoid a flat. I do believe you’re the first I’ve ever heard of doing so.”

He shrugged as he took his sweet time sliding a white shirt onto his powerful shoulders. “First time for everything,” he offered in good humor, well aware that she couldn’t tear her eyes from his powerful fingers and they slid down his body.

She wrenched her gaze away to glance into the van. “Is this the food that is supposed to be so wonderful?” she wanted to know. He laughed. “You tell me,” he said as he reached in and grabbed three large metal pans at once. “After all, you’re the one footing the bill.”

“My family is paying you, they are the ones to impress,” she corrected. “I’m Peyton Prescott,” she announced, and waited for him to provide his name in return.

“Mateo Bravo,” he offered in kind, with the same cheeky smile.

She gave him her notoriously arched eyebrow. “Mateo Bravo?” she repeated. “Are you some sort of superhero or something?”

He laughed. It was a full, throaty, deep laugh that tripped over her senses in the cool night air. He closed the gap between them until he towered over her, reaching an arm around her body to grab a box from the van, to balance on top of his already oversized load. Their eyes met and locked as he was mere inches away from her shocked face. His deep voice warmed her senses as he said softly, “You tell me.”

Once again she was struck mute as she staggered back a bit, allowing him to hoist several pans into those powerful arms. The woodsy scent of his freshly washed body filled her nostrils as he brushed past where she stood on the pavement, his powerful bicep brushing against her chest lightly in the process, making her gasp. He took three steps before he turned back to her. “Feel free to grab a couple of pans while you’re standing there.” With that same damnable smirk he turned back and walked into her house.

She glanced from him to the back of the van, where pans were stacked high and deep. With a defiant flip of her hair, she turned from the van and followed him into the house empty-handed, albeit a little shakier than before.
***
"The Undisciplined Bride" releases October 1, 2013.





Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Series vs. stand-alone novels

Most people who know me got to know me thanks to the popular Groupie series. That book was never intended to be a series at all, but the characters decided there was a lot more story to tell and one book just wasn't going to cut it.



That spun off to my highly rated Fierce series, which I knew from the first outline was going to be told in three books.



I'm also planning a new trilogy featuring a triangle with two powerful, rich brothers for release in 2014. How I plan to do that should get people talking, but that's a blog for another time. Suffice it to say, series are a great way to spread one's wings and explore so many different subplots and recurring and supporting characters. In fact, the first novel I ever wrote had enough story outlined to be told in three books. I love having the room to gallop. It's one of the reasons I always leave the book on a hopeful note that the story could continue, though generally speaking I've resolved that book's plot and the story is complete. If there's enough fan interest, however, any book could become a series. And I really like the idea of that.

Granted, many people have a love-to-hate-it attitude when it comes to series. Most of the time this is because you have to wait so long for resolution to the story, in particular the Happily Ever After (or HEA.) It has a lot more power when it does come after it took two, three or even five books to get there, but as long as there is a series in play, the HEA is generally the carrot on the stick for you to keep reading and keep buying books.

When I realized that Groupie was going to spawn additional books, and in effect end on a rather unapologetic cliffhanger, I started researching how well series romance is received, since most of what I published beforehand were stand-alone novels with the room to grow if there was ever a demand. Even though I got the occasional request to tell a story beyond the one book, I figured many were not too pro on the idea of a series because of the postponed HEA. However, as far as best-sellers go, series were the ones topping the charts. A casual glance at the current NYT Best Seller list shows Unlocked by Maya Cross at #10, which is the third book in that particular trilogy.

Bringing up the rear at #20 is E.L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey. Twilight, Harry Potter, and more best-selling romances than I can shake a stick at finally convinced me to give the series a try.

Remarkably, and unexpectedly, Groupie offered me moderate success. I broke into the Amazon best-selling lists after the release of the second book in 2012. Despite the fact I released the first book in 2011, in fact nearly two years ago, it continues to be my biggest seller, surpassing even new releases. The first book, Groupie, has sold at least ten times that of my top-selling stand-alone romances.

I'm as surprised as you are, frankly. I thought for sure I'd go down in flames by breaking up the story into three books and throwing my characters in the blender of my twisted psyche and hitting "Frappe." That so many people love these characters is mind-boggling. That so many people want more and more of these characters, even more mind-boggling still. That is one of the perks of writing the Fierce trilogy, because I get to hang out with Vanni and Andy beyond their happily ever after... when they're actually, y'know, happy.

They don't have be dragged through the muck. It's not their story anymore. They can actually make smart choices and we can love them fully and truly.

It's awesome.

It's awesome to write happy, lighter stuff, especially after spending the last 5 books I've written in gut-twisting angst. To put that in perspective, that's nearly a half a million words that turned my emotions upside down way before I hit the "publish" button. I still have about 70k to go before I put this second trilogy to bed, and I just needed a break.

I needed a story that stood alone. I could have written an erotic horror, which I went to Connecticut to research earlier this year. I could have written a couple of screenplay ideas that were either heartwarming or comedic (or both.)

I decided instead that I needed a fun novel, a sexy novel... one that didn't take itself too seriously, one that wasn't out to make a social statement or change the world (like I hope Fierce will do.) I wanted a sexy alpha male and a bitchy, unlikable heroine he could put into her place. And I wanted, most of all, to be done with it. No cliffhangers, no waiting to see how it all shakes loose in book #3. One and done, folks. This is it. Whether we hit a HEA or a HFN or nothing at all, this is the story in its entirety, as authentic as I can write it.

The Undisciplined Bride is the titillating tale of power-swapping seduction with ambiguous morality. A frustrated socialite bridezilla named Peyton meets a working-class chef named Mateo, and sparks instantly fly. These two people aren't interested in falling in love, but they can't WAIT to fall into bed. Their antagonism toward each other fuels this fire. While I'm not one to write a true BDSM novel, I definitely get off on the dual domination that comes from two powerful titans out to best the other throughout the chase. Neither are nervous virgins who lack any self-esteem. These are two hot-blooded people who hunger for each other in the truest, rawest way possible. Who will win? It's anyone's game.

Here's an excerpt:

***


Each minute ticked audibly by and no one, from her parents to her best friend to her fucking fiancĂ©, came to see what was wrong. It made Peyton even angrier and more petulant as each passing moment stole a little more thunder from her hissy fit. With a scowl, she plopped down onto a stone bench and preened to listen in to the riotous laughter coming from her parents’ formal dining room.

They were all having the time of their lives… without her.

She hopped up and began to pace again, only this time all she could see were those dark eyes that twinkled whenever they danced brazenly over her like a piece of meat. Electricity surged through her as she thought about how innocently he brushed against her when they stood beside his food van. And this thought led to the memory of how he looked in a tight pair of jeans and no shirt… like a bronze Adonis that looked more at home among the statues in her mother’s gardens than the wait staff in the kitchen.

After another involuntary shudder, she cornered another server. “Do you have a cigarette?”

“I do,” a deep, masculine voice said from behind. She whirled around to find Mateo leaning against the open door frame in his tuxedo like some leading man from a move from the golden age. She watched his hand reach deep into his pants pocket to withdraw a pack. His fingers were long and strong as he withdrew a cigarette for her, offering it just a few paces away from where she stood, making her cross the final steps between them.

She snatched it from his hand and he had the nerve to chuckle. “What’s so funny?” she demanded.

“You don’t strike me as the kind of person who smokes,” he shrugged. His eyes fell on her mouth as she put the cigarette between her lips.

For a split second all the humor was gone. Instead Peyton saw something else there… something she could control. She saw his hunger. With a slow smile she met his eyes and said, “I guess I have an oral fixation.” To her delight his eyes darkened. “Have a light?”

He withdrew a lighter and this time he closed the scant inches between them to light her cigarette. He watched her suck in a breath as his eyes locked on her mouth. “So what did you think of the food?” he asked softly. "You left in such a hurry," he added with a teasing smile.

She shrugged. “I don’t see what the big deal is, personally,” she offered evilly. The food had been exceptional, but there was no way in hell she’d let him know that.

He chuckled again, the warm sound of his rich, deep laugh tumbled across her senses. “Guess we’ll have to do better next time.”

Her perfectly tweezed eyebrow arched. “What makes you think there will be a next time?”

It was his turn to shrug. “Just a hunch,” he said. His eyelids drooped lazily as he inspected her. “You don’t seem like a woman who will give up on anything until she’s completely satisfied.”

Her chin jutted out. “You’ve got that right, at least.”

His eyes traveled over her face, then down across the exposed skin of her chest and arms. “Damn shame you have gone unfulfilled for such a long time already,” he said softly.

She gulped. “What is that supposed to mean?”

His voice was quiet but powerful. There was a cadence to his speech, as though he was striking every word with a hammer. The softer the words, the harder the hit. “You tell me. When is the last time someone fully met every aching need?” He wanted to know as he stepped closer. “I’ll bet never. And that’s why you’re so pissed off, isn’t it, Princess? You can have everything you want… yet, you never have.”

She shuddered despite herself. “You have a lot of nerve talking to me like that. Don’t you know I could have you fired?”

He stepped even closer, until their bodies were a breath apart. “But you won’t.”

She glared at him. “You’re a cocky son of a bitch, aren’t you?”

Before she realized what was happening his arm snaked around her waist and he pulled her to his rigid body. “You tell me.”

Her brain scrambled as he manhandled her. His grip was strong and true, and if she struggled she would feel every inch of his hard body contained in that fine tuxedo. “Let me go,” she gritted between clenched teeth.

His face was next to hers, his mouth mere inches from her ear. “Is that what you want, princess?” His hand slipped down from her waist over the graceful curve of her ass.

It was inappropriate as hell, and no one – absolutely no one – had ever treated her in such a disrespectful manner. Instead of the anger she would normally feel, for one insane moment she was tempted to reach the remaining inch between them and crash her mouth against his, to taste the raw hunger of this stranger’s kiss once and for all.

Her eyes widened as she pushed against that rigid chest, rippling with muscles she had never experienced so close before. “Fuck you,” she breathed as she stumbled away. She nearly lost her footing and it was Mateo who prevented her from landing face first on the hard concrete.

“Maybe someday,” he said with that same damnable smirk. “But not today.”

With that he left her alone on the terrace as he disappeared back into the kitchen. She nearly snarled with rage as she tossed the cigarette off onto darkness.

***


Needless to say, I'm having a LOT of fun writing their story, especially since in my head, Mateo looks like this:



And you know I never make you wait for long. So save the date, because we're serving this stand-alone on October 1st. #lickyourlips #Mateoiscoming