Darby Malone has trouble saying no. Hosting a children’s Valentine party at her recently renovated gallery is the last straw, and the last time she intends to say yes to anything. That is, until she meets Ben, a well-known Cape Cod artist with eyes as deep and blue as the ocean. He stirs feelings in her that have been dormant for too long. Can she afford to say yes to him?Excerpt:
Ben Phillips needs this gallery show. His life has been empty since his wife died four years ago, his paintings the only thing giving him solace. But his style has changed, his art completely different than the breezy shore paintings he staked his reputation on. Can he convince Darby to give him a chance – and to consider him for more than just a place on her gallery walls? Will she give him a place in her heart as well?
She let out a sigh, tipping her chin up at him. “You know, Ben Phillips, for an artist, you’re actually a nice guy. And you have one of the sexiest smiles I’ve ever seen.” Bright spots of pink appeared on her cheeks as she laughed at herself. “There I go again, unable to filter that brain-to-mouth connection. I’d blame the scorpion bowl, but it’s really just me.”
He chuckled. “I like you unfiltered, Darby Malone.”
“Mmhmm.” He reached across the table again, taking her hand and twining his fingers with her. “I like you, Darby.”
Her lips formed the cutest little O of surprise, those hazel eyes dawning with comprehension and maybe a pinch of worry. He was beginning to understand the fascinating creature on the other side of the red vinyl booth, her fears and dreams. And he realized if he pushed too hard she might slip away. He dialed back on the emotion, returning to the light and slightly flirty tone that’d been working so well. “Hey, we both have a busy week ahead. Maybe it’s best if we get the check and call it a night. That way you won’t overdose on scorpion bowls, or my company.”
She grinned and agreed. He released her hand and signaled the waitress for the bill, worried he’d made a mistake by declaring his feelings. The smart move would be to let her settle into the idea slowly, wrap her head around the fact he wanted more than a one-day show. He’d take friendship, if that was all she could offer, but it didn’t stop him from wanting it all.
They walked to the parking lot side by side, his hands shoved deep into coat pockets, clutching at the lining to keep his fingers from reaching for her. Fat snowflakes drifted silently, a light coating of white already dusting the ground. The still air felt laced with magic, the swirling snow like pixie dust sparkling all around them. Her car sat next to his pickup truck under the streetlamp, the last two vehicles in the lot. He stopped next to her door as she unlocked the car. “This was fun,” she said, sounding sincere. “It’s my turn to pay next time.”
“I’ll hold you to that. And maybe I’ll pick a more expensive place.” He laughed when her eyes widened, her smile turning into more of a smirk. There’s that spunk. “Actually, I hear there’s a new Middle Eastern place opening on the other side of town with a fancy prix fixe menu we could try.”
She laughed out loud, shoving his shoulder playfully. “Why stop there? Let’s go all out for the hundred-dollar lobster at the Chatham Inn.”
Unable to resist, he grabbed her wrist before she could pull away and drew her in for a friendly hug, rocking her from side to side. “Only kidding. Scorpion bowls again soon?”
“Yeah, I’d like that.” Her warm breath tickled his neck, making him suddenly aware of every soft curve pressed against him. Need stirred deep inside. She stared into his face, her eyes reflecting the same longing.
Before he could stop to think, he bent his head and captured those soft lips with his own, gently tasting the sweetness he’d been dreaming about since their first meeting. Her whole body stiffened, like she might pull away, before she relaxed into the kiss, tentative, tasting, taking his breath away. He teased her lips with his tongue until she opened for him, giving herself more fully. He fell headlong into her softness, the rest of the world fading to nothingness. All that existed was her mouth, this kiss, and the feel of her body molded to his.
He slid one hand from her waist to tangle in the mess of curls above her scarf, pulling her closer, fully claiming her mouth. He felt her hand on his cheek, cupping it gently, holding him in place as her thumb stroked a trail of fire along his jawline. The pleasure intensified as she shifted against him, every nerve ending in his body hyperaware of her touch. He had no sense of time passing until the snow fell harder, melting on his cheeks, dripping down the back of his neck.
When their lips finally broke apart, both were breathless. It took him a moment to orient himself and remember where they were.
Alone in a dark parking lot, lost in a kiss.
“Wow,” she whispered, her hazel eyes shiny, tiny snowflakes sticking to her lashes and dotting her dark curls, covering her shoulders with a fine layer of white.
She looks like an angel. My own little snow angel. He cleared his throat, trying to get a handle on the turmoil churning within, hoping she felt at least a fraction of what he experienced. His voice came out rougher than he expected, full of emotion. “Darby, I…”
She put a gentle finger across his lips, a small smile playing on those luscious lips. Her voice sounded as husky as his. “Don’t you dare apologize. I know I said it isn’t a date, but that was the most delicious kiss ever, so don’t ruin it.”
Ben’s hand still tangled in her hair, his fingers playing with the silky curls at the nape of her neck. He chuckled. “No way I’m apologizing. I’m only sorry if you’re uncomfortable with this new twist in our relationship.” He feathered light kisses along the edge of her forehead. She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch.
“Twist?” Her soft murmur sent his pulse racing.
He swallowed hard and pulled back to look in her face, memorizing each curve and angle. “I thought I could do this, but obviously I can’t. We can’t be friends any more, Darby.”
Her eyes widened, her voice a whisper. “Why?”
“Because I want more. I want more dates, more kisses, more time with you in my arms. I can’t go back to being your friend when I want to move forward.” Her cheeks flushed, but since she didn’t pull away or run screaming, it gave Ben hope that maybe there was a chance. When she started to smile, the knot in his chest tightened. So beautiful.
“With kisses like that, how can I say no?” Her words teased, and her smile invited. He couldn’t resist claiming her mouth for another intoxicating kiss. A little moan rose from deep in her throat, and the knot twisted tighter still, his heart aching with need, his mouth hot on hers. Again they were breathless when they came up for air.
She inhaled deeply, opening her eyes. “But like I said earlier, I don’t have much luck dating artists.”
Her words were like tiny daggers stabbing at his hopes. Even though she hadn’t moved, he felt her slipping away, convincing herself to stop before they even started. He pressed his case, pulling her closer.
“I’m not like the other artists you dated. I’m not interested in fame or the trappings of success. I’ve already been on that rollercoaster. I want something real, and I want someone to share it with. I’ve been lonely for too long. I think you have, too.”
Her eyes glistened under the streetlight, her face filled with uncertainty. The snow continued to swirl around them. “Ben, I don’t know…”
He silenced her objections with another kiss, warm and gentle, filled with the same hope and longing as his words. Her resistance melted and she kissed him back, becoming more insistent, her hands clutching his shoulders to pull him tight. She ended the kiss and pushed him away, wriggling out of his embrace, her face looked more confused than ever. She kept her hands on his shoulders, her elbows locked while she held him at arm’s length. She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I can’t kiss you and think clearly at the same time.”
He knew just what she meant, his head still spinning from that last kiss. The chemistry between them felt irresistible—so why was she still trying to deny it? “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
The grimace on her face told him the answer. “Not thinking is what gets me into trouble. Every time.”
* * *Grab a copy today - on sale now at the publisher's website for $1.19 or at Amazon for $1.99. Less than that afternoon latte, and so much more satisfying to the soul...