Looking for a Valentine read to get you in the holiday spirit? Here's an excerpt from my Valentine Novella, SAY YES, part of The Wild Rose Press Candy Hearts series.
First the blurb:
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?
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?
Now, here's the first chapter to get you started...
Chapter One, SAY YES by Katie O'Sullivan
Darby Malone sat back on her heels to swipe a hand across her forehead, pushing the dark curls out of her eyes to glare at the sticky floor. The neon blue goo teased her from between the myriad cracks of the wide pine floor, ground right into the worn wood by unsuspecting little feet. Who knew they even made blue gummy bears?
Not that she was strict about food on the premises. Since opening her doors last summer, Darby hosted all manner of events in her cozy Main Street gallery, from exhibit openings to book signings to themed holiday parties. That was definitely part of her problem. She couldn’t seem to say no when anyone asked for help. She swore under her breath and attacked the stains with the scrubby side of the sponge, wondering what other surprises she’d find while cleaning.
It sounded like a good idea when her older sister Chelsea approached her about hosting the Girl Scout event in her gallery. Foot traffic along the streets of Orleans slowed to a crawl in February. The mother-daughter pre-Valentine party was a celebrated tradition in the small seaside town, something to look forward to in the middle of a grey and snowy winter. Something Darby herself once enjoyed, even if those days seemed like a lifetime ago. Since when does 28 feel ancient?
Her young niece radiated excitement at the idea of playing co-host at the gallery. Upping her coolness factor was reason enough for Darby to say yes, although getting to know other women her own age was another motivating factor. It didn’t work out that way, as the moms only showed up briefly at the beginning to drop off their daughters and at the end for pick up. The moms also took care of the catering, including the sticky gummy bears, cupcakes with screaming pink frosting that smeared everywhere and some sort of blue juice boxes that left drips and splotches on the beige couch in the reception area.
The girls knocked three paintings off the wall, but neither the art nor the kids sustained permanent damage. Luckily Darby packed away the delicate hand-blown glass exhibit before the event started. She wasn’t stupid, even if she did seem to have a big S for sucker emblazoned on her forehead.
That S was her main reason for moving back to Cape Cod. It wasn’t just to be closer to her parents and her sister’s family, although she had a lot of missed time to make up for. What she really wanted was to erase that big S and start over. She left her old gallery and a series of failed relationships behind in New York City, hoping for a fresh beginning.
But things changed. She’d been away from the Cape for ten years. Darby tried hard to fit in, to play nice, to make things work. Saying yes and accommodating every request…and how far did that get her? Sure, her events were well attended, but how often did those partygoers spend money? Like most Cape businesses, she relied on the summer tourists to keep her gallery in the black. Most of the locals attended her events for the free wine. Or in this case, the blue juice. She rocked back on her heels again to survey her work. “Blue is unnatural,” she proclaimed out loud. “If I ever have kids of my own, I swear they’ll never eat anything blue. Ever.”
“But what about blueberries?”
The deep, seductive voice surprised her. Her leg slipped out sideways and she lost her balance, sprawling across the floor. She turned and glanced up at the speaker. Cobalt blue eyes sparkled back at her, surrounded by amused laugh lines and underlined by a wide smile. “And blackberries, too. Full of antioxidants and also blue.”
Blue like his gorgeous eyes, purred the little voice inside her head. Darby grimaced, wanting to strangle that little voice even as her pulse quickened and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood rigid in anticipation. Anticipation of what? Her mouth hung open as she stared up at the handsome man in the faded jeans and well-worn leather jacket.
She finally found her voice. “I’m sorry, do I know you? If you’re here to pick up one of the Scouts, she already left with your wife.”
Blue Eyes chuckled, the sound washing over her like a rogue wave claiming the beach at high tide. She tried to resist the pull, even as she felt herself going under. “I’m not looking for a Girl Scout.”
A delicious thrill ran through Darby at his suggestive tone and words. Suddenly she realized her compromising position, sprawled on the floor as he towered over her, smiling that wide, intoxicating grin. She clambered to her feet, smoothing her long skirt and hurrying to introduce herself, never losing sight of those deep blue pools. A girl could drown in eyes like those. “Hey, sorry. I’m Darby Malone. This is my gallery. And you are…”
A look of shock and recognition flitted across his handsome features. “You’re Darby? Wait, of course you are, how stupid of me.” He extended a hand and she shook it, his calloused hands warm and strong. “Ben Phillips. We have an appointment.”
“Mr. Phillips. Welcome. But I thought our appointment was scheduled for tomorrow morning?”
His smile held firm under her scrutiny. “Just got back into town from a long weekend in Vermont. Thought I’d take a chance and drop by since I noticed all the lights on. I didn’t realize Tuesday evenings were so busy around here.”
Was that teasing in his voice? “My niece’s Girl Scout troop can be rather rambunctious.”
“Do you host many children’s events?”
She didn’t hear judgment or condescension in his voice, like she had from some of the other business owners on the street. Only curiosity. “No.” Her mouth turned up in a full-on smile. “But I know I have a tendency to say yes to too many causes and events. I was just promising myself to say no to the next person who asked for a favor.”
Maybe it was her imagination, but she could swear his complexion paled. “Now why would you do a silly thing like that? If Prince Charming himself walked through those doors tonight, less than two weeks before Valentine’s Day, would you honestly turn him down?”
Her grin widened, accepting his challenge head-on. She gestured to the blue smears still in evidence along the floorboards. “If Prince Charming smashed gummy bears into my wood floors, then yes, I’d tell him to hit the road. Luckily they’re getting refinished at the end of the month.”
His gaze followed her hand, taking in the stains. “I see where you get your issues with blue food. Although, to be fair, I still think you should reconsider banning all food sources that happen to be in the blue family. Blueberries in particular are supposed to be one of those superfoods.”
“So you’re a blueberry expert, Mr. Phillips?” She eyed him with open curiosity. She’d looked him up on the internet in anticipation of tomorrow morning’s meeting, but his website didn’t have a photo of the artist himself. He looked so much younger than she’d imagined. And infinitely hotter.
He chuckled again, the sound smoothing across her skin like a warm summer breeze. “I’m a painter. My sister, on the other hand, owns a berry farm in Vermont. Blueberries are one of Mother Nature’s gifts to mankind.” He paused, his expression turning serious as he took a step forward. “But I’m not here to discuss the merits of blue food.”
Every muscle in her body tensed at his proximity. Her mouth went dry and her brain clicked into hyperdrive, suddenly aware of every last detail of the six-foot god standing far too close. The shadow of scruff along his chiseled jawline, the salty ocean smell wafting off his leather jacket, the weathered tan along his cheeks and nose giving him the look of someone who spent all their time outdoors wearing sunglasses. His dark blond hair, tossed every which way by the February wind, looked like he’d just rolled out of bed. Darby wondered what it would be like to be in that bed with him, tousling her hands through the unruly mop, tugging him closer to taste those sculpted lips…
She blinked hard, reining in her fantasy. This was strictly business. Ben Phillips was kind of a big deal in the Cape Cod art community; it would be a coup for her little gallery to handle some of his paintings. She’d been surprised when he responded to her mass mailing with a request for this meeting.
He cleared his throat, looking hesitant, maybe even a little unsure of himself. “Maybe this is a bad time. I should come back in the morning as originally scheduled.”
“No, no,” she said, regaining control of her voice. “You just caught me by surprise. I guess I expected you to be…different.”
His brow furrowed, mouth quirking up on one side. “Different? How?”
She headed for the office desk in the corner, talking over her shoulder so he wouldn’t notice the heat suffusing her cheeks. “You seem too young, too laid back, to be such a well-known artist.” Reaching the desk, she sat and grabbed her planning calendar, shuffling pages and not meeting his gaze.
“Thanks, I think.” He trailed in her wake, seating himself in the chair opposite hers.
She tilted her head to one side, deciding to be honest. “Don’t get me wrong, but I’m not even sure why you’d want to exhibit in a little gallery like mine. I’d be excited for the opportunity to work with you, but there must be bigger, better known places on Cape Cod that want you and your work.”
“You’d be surprised.” He reached for the glass bowl of candy hearts on her desk. “Uh-oh, don’t look now but there’s more blue food in your gallery.”
Darby rolled her eyes. “They aren’t sticky and they don’t melt or stain. Besides, who doesn’t need a little burst of sugar now and then?”
He rested the bowl in his lap while he picked colored hearts out one by one. He carefully lined six candies in a row along the edge of the desk. Strong looking hands with long fingers positioned each heart precisely the same distance apart in a pastel rainbow order, starting with pink and ending with purple.
“What are you doing?”
“I haven’t actually seen these in years, not since grade school,” he said, not taking his eyes off the candy hearts. “I can’t say I remember some of these sayings. Text Me? Definitely not the same as when I was in school.” He held up a white heart to show her the hot pink words before tossing it into his mouth.
She shrugged, another grin tugging at her lips. “Everyone needs to change with the times, I guess. Even Valentine candy.”
Want more? Grab your copy of SAY YES on AMAZON