Unexpectedly You, page 1
By Lily Santana
Emma LeFleur’s vintage beach home is close to foreclosure. With a business struggling to take off, she has no choice but to turn to her neighbor, sexy and arrogant real estate investor Mitch McKenna—the man whose reputation she’s spent the past six months pulverizing.
Mitch offers her a deal that will save them both: if she’ll convince her neighbors that she’s 100 behind his controversial condo project he’ll save her home. As a prominent leader in the community, Emma’s the only one who can help him salvage the project and keep his employees from getting laid off.
But the chemistry between Emma and Mitch burns surprisingly hot, complicating their deal in a way neither had anticipated. Mitch unearths the long-buried siren within Emma, who’d forgotten how good it is to feel sexy, alive.
As Emma begins to turn public opinion in Mitch’s favor, she’s drawn to him in a way she can’t deny. And Mitch finds himself wanting to prove to Emma that he’s not the player she thinks he is...
I feel as though every month I start my letter the same, gushing over our month of releases and telling you how amazing and fantastic they are. This month, I’m going to change things up and start by telling you that they’re all quite awful. Okay, not really. Poor authors, I wonder how many of them reading this just had a mini heart attack? Of course you should be excited about this lineup of releases, because it’s another wonderful and diverse month.
In the new-and-unique category, this month we have our first ever decide-your-own-erotic-adventure. Christine d’Abo’s Choose Your Shot is an interactive erotic adventure that not only lets the reader choose who the heroine ends up with, but what kinky fun the characters get up to along the way.
We’re thrilled to welcome Karina Cooper to Carina Press. She’s moving her steampunk series, The St. Croix Chronicles, to Carina Press—starting with a prequel novella, The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway, in which a young Cherry St. Croix takes on her first bounty, only to find her efforts challenged by a collector whose motives run deeper than a hefty purse. Look for book three in The St. Croix Chronicles, Corroded, releasing in September 2013.
We have a strong lineup of contemporary romances this month. Fiona Lowe returns with her next Wedding Fever book, Picture Perfect Wedding. Tamara Morgan brings us The Derby Girl, in which a roller-derby girl lives up to her “bad girl” image to woo an unattainable plastic surgeon, only to discover that he’s the one man trained to see past the surface. In the humorous contemporary romance category, Stacy Gail’s Ugly Ducklings Finish First will be a hit with fans of high-school reunion romances, and with those who like their romance on the more lighthearted side.
I’m also thrilled to welcome three debut authors to Carina Press this month, all with contemporary romances. In Kelsey Browning’s Personal Assets, book one of the Texas Nights series, a recovering good girl needs the right man to help her find her inner bad girl—which is easier said than done in a small Texas town. Next, when the bank refuses Emma the loan she needs to save her family home, she must turn to her neighbor Mitch McKenna, a sexy real-estate investor whose reputation she’s spent the past six months pulverizing into sand, in Unexpectedly You by Lily Santana. And last, but certainly not least, Knowing the Score by Kat Latham features a smokin’ hot rugby player with a scandalous past who gives up his vow of celibacy to help a virgin overcome her fear of intimacy. Three debut authors offer up three terrific contemporary romance novels—make sure to give them each a try!
This month we also have three fantastic male/male romances. Kim Knox kicks off a fun-filled science-fiction historical trilogy. As described by the author, Agamemnon Frost and the House of Death is Sherlock Holmes meets The Scarlet Pimpernel. With aliens. Check out further Agamemnon Frost stories in September and October 2013.
John Tristan joins Carina Press with his male/male fantasy romance, The Adorned. A beautiful young man indentures himself to a tattooist and becomes a living canvas for the artist and his inhuman patrons. And for those who like their male/male romance in the contemporary genre, Libby Drew’s Bending the Iron is sure to hit the mark as she builds a brand for emotional, wonderful male/male romance.
Following book one of her Magick Trilogy, Magick by Moonrise, Laura Navarre takes us back into her historical paranormal world. When the Angel of Death falls in love with life, will a secret Tudor princess pay the ultimate price? Tudor England and the celestial realm collide in Midsummer Magick.
Last, Love Letters Volume 4: Travel to Temptation continues the collection of A to Z erotic short-story romances penned by Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher, Emily Cale and Maggie Wells. Volumes 1 through 3 are now available. Look for volumes 5 and 6, Exposed and Cowboy’s Command, on sale in September and October 2013.
As always, we have a significant backlist of books that I hope you’ll browse and take a look at, in genres from horror to mystery to fantasy to female/female and across the ranges of romance. There’s an adventure waiting for every reader!
We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to email@example.com. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.
Executive Editor, Carina Press
Mom, this book is dedicated to you, for always, always having a Mills & Boon, Silhouette or a Harlequin on your bedside table. Thank you for sharing your love of reading romance and for pretending to be asleep when I sneaked in to read your book after you’d gone to bed.
I know that in your heaven, there is a never-ending supply of your favorite sweet romance novels, and that you are smiling, knowing you have inspired me to not only read but to create the stories you love.
I miss you.
As with many journeys, the path to how this book came to fruition took many lovely, scenic turns as well as some harrowing Starsky & Hutch U-turns. I was fortunate to have along for the ride some amazing people who came willingly, offered their time and expertise selflessly and shared tears of joy and disappointment unfailingly.
My wonderful CP partners Lynda, Jennifer, Paula, Kim and, last but never the least, Jenna. Thank you so much for your encouragement and support and for never giving up on me.
A special thank you to Patty Sturgeon, who was my down-to-the-wire beta reader. I’m glad I made you feel like a soap opera star reading your daily lines.
My heartfelt gratitude goes to my amazing family, especially my sisters: Cindy, Monet, Patty and Tess. The world is less lonely knowing you are all just a text away with your endless supply of laughter and love.
To Eric, for all the million interruptions to listen to just one more sentence. You are the best muse. Ever.
And finally to my fabulous editor Rhonda Helms. So right, so funny, so brilliant.
About the Author
“What do you think you’re doing? You’re not planning on going outside in your pajamas, are you? Mitch already thinks you’re certifiable.”
Emma LeFleur’s gaze flashed to the solid red light on the answering machine before zeroing in on her seventeen-year-old daughter’s lithe frame splayed flat against the kitchen’s back door. Clad in running shorts and a San Diego State Aztecs hoodie, Sammy LeFleur had inherited her father’s obsession with his alma mater, along with the annoying habit of perkiness before dawn.
“I couldn’t care less what that man thinks of me. He’s making a racket outside, and it’s barely light.” She glanced at her distorted reflection in the stainless-steel toaster and smothered a grimace. “What’s wrong with the way I look?”
Sammy’s eyes widened in exaggerated disbelief. “Nothing. You always look amazing when you first get out of bed,” she said, shaking her head.
“Thank you. Unlike Mitch McKenna, not all of us look like we’re primped for Glamour Shots first thing in the morning,” she said smugly but pulled her fingers through her knotted hair just the same.
“If you tried, you could look amazing. It’s not like you’re ancient.” Sammy ambled over to the bay window above the sink to peruse the action outside. “So you agree Mitch is hot?”
Emma expelled a long breath. “Oh, please, spare me. No woman should ever want a man who looks better than she does on her best day.” This conversation demanded caffeine. She grabbed the empty coffee carafe.
Sammy’s brows furrowed in concentration. “Look at him, with his aviator glasses and five o’clock shadow. He’s the only man I wouldn’t mind seeing in skinny jeans.”
She cringed. “That’s it. I’m getting your eyes checked when you get back from San Diego.” She bumped Sammy aside to fill the coffeepot with water, intentionally getting in the way of her daughter’s ogling. “Are you packed?”
“Stop it.” Sammy swatted her futile attempts to block the view and craned her neck to peek around her. “How old do you think he is?”
“Too old for you.”
“But not for you.”
Emma looked out and studied the object of her daughter’s attention standing less than twenty yards from the dormant raspberry bush that divided their property. Even though he was only thirty-one, McKenna had a reputation for being an ambitious developer and investor, turning distressed properties up and down the Oregon Coast into profitable ventures.
As if he could feel her gaze on him, he suddenly jerked toward her. Her heart in her throat, she stumbled back, spilling water all over the counter.
Sammy raised her brow in amusement. “Why don’t you try a little harder to be nice to him? It’s not like it’s his fault the Madsens foreclosed. You’ve been super cranky ever since Mitch got into town.”
“I have not,” Emma blurted, but when a truck backfired, she flared her nose and gritted her teeth.
Ever since McKenna had bought the foreclosed beachfront property across the street, they’d locked horns. As head of the citizen task force, she spearheaded the effort to delay his multimillion dollar development project. And now, rumor had it, the six-month delay put him in jeopardy of losing his investor. She was certain McKenna would like nothing more than if a sneaker wave came up behind her and swallowed her whole.
She reached for the bag of coffee beans and poured a half cup into the automatic grinder. She turned to her daughter. “I’m fighting hard to keep things the way they are. We want our home to remain peaceful and quiet—a haven.”
“Or, maybe, Grandma’s right about you being stuck in a rut.”
Emma smothered another grimace and tried to remind herself that she sometimes liked her mother-in-law. Except when the woman put on her therapist hat and treated her like one of her clients. And definitely not before Emma’d had her first cup of coffee.
“I am not in a rut,” Emma said at the same time she pushed down the on lever.
Sammy frowned. “Why are Dad’s clothes still hanging in the closet? Why is it that you never go out on dates? Why is it you—”
“Okay, I get it,” Emma interrupted. Between the grinding, the commotion outside and her daughter’s rant, her head might explode. Was that how her daughter saw her? Stuck in the past? She felt the sting of tears but blinked them away. “It’s not as easy as you think. Trust me, men are not clamoring to date me.”
She grinned and forced her voice to sound chirpy. “Because...I’m a thirty-five-year-old widow with a pain-in-the-butt teenage daughter.”
Sammy rolled her eyes. “I bet Mitch would ask you out. That is, of course, if you brushed your hair once in a while.”
The very thought was preposterous but yet sent a chill up Emma’s spine. She’d met the man more than a dozen times in the last year, and in every one of those instances, he’d been curt to her, even borderline rude. Dismissive. As if she were a pebble lodged in his shoe. The idea he’d ask her out was beyond hysterical.
Then why did nerves flutter in her stomach when she imagined the two of them together? She shook her head to erase the image and placed her hands on her hips. “Sweetheart, it is way too early for nagging. And for God’s sake, don’t get your grandmother going on this. Please, whatever you do, do not blab about my personal life.”
“What if she asks me again about Dad’s stuff? I heard you tell her last week you’d already dropped the boxes off at Goodwill.”
Emma chose to ignore the last comment. Her tiny fib to her mother-in-law was the least of her concern at the moment. Her dwindling bank account took center stage in her mind. She’d been waiting weeks for her banker to call. What if Tim didn’t approve her small business loan? After finally realizing her dream of owning a pet boutique, she didn’t relish the thought of shutting it down after less than a year in business. And then there was Sammy’s college tuition due in three months. How the heck would she pay for that?
“Well? What do you want me to say?” Sammy persisted.
“Tell her to mind her own business,” Emma muttered under her breath.
“Mom! I heard that.” Sammy reclaimed her spot by the bay window. “You promise to not go out there without putting your face on?”
She pursed her lips to keep from smiling. “You can relax. I’m not going outside. No one should have to deal with Mitch McKenna on an empty stomach.”
Finally, the coffeemaker beeped. Emma gave her daughter a stern look she hoped conveyed defiance but felt her lips tugging at the corners. The last thing she wanted to discuss with her daughter was Mitch McKenna’s hotness or the possibility of going out on a date. Pulling out a mug from the dishwasher, she poured a fresh cup of the dark-roast brew. Sighing, she closed her eyes and let the chicory steam warm her nose.
“I wonder why he’s not married,” Sammy said, her curiosity over their new neighbor apparently insatiable.
The hot liquid scalded her lip. Ouch. “Sammy LeFleur! Enough. I will not discuss that man’s personal life with you.”
“Whatever.” Moving away from the window, Sammy placed her hands on her hips. “If Grandma asks me, I’m going to tell her the truth. I’m not going to lie for you again.”
Rather than discuss the sore subject, Emma set her coffee mug on the counter and headed to the fridge for something to calm the acid percolating in her stomach. She grabbed a bagel along with the tub of salmon-flavored cream cheese. Still ignoring her daughter’s defiant stance, she picked up a large butcher knife and stabbed the bagel in half.
Sammy gaped at her. “Not cranky
Whistling under her breath, Emma popped the bagel in the toaster for thirty seconds and piled on the cream cheese. She arched her brow in challenge before taking a huge bite of the bagel to stop herself from saying what was really on her mind.
“Maybe Grandma’s right about you and men.”
“And what does she say about me and men?” She squeezed the words out between chews.
Emma frowned. “Spit it out.”
Her daughter hesitated briefly. “She said you were pushing men away because you’re afraid to love again.”
The softly spoken words landed a solid punch to the gut. The bagel she was chewing lodged in her throat. She blinked back her shock but the pain hit nonetheless, right below the rib cage. It took her breath away. She quickly swallowed. “Maybe you and your grandmother need to get lives of your own so you’d stop thinking it was okay to butt into mine.” She recoiled at the sharpness of her tone.
Sammy’s eyes became noticeably red. “Whatever.” Grabbing her iPod, she yanked open the back door and called out over her shoulder, “Tim Brooks left a message on the answering machine.” And then she let the door’s spring hinge bang against the frame.
He did call. Emma’s eyes drifted to the answering machine and the solid red light. Please let it be good news.
Annoyed now because her mother-in-law had obviously recruited her daughter to nag for her, she felt a pang of guilt at how snippy she’d sounded. Her breakfast suddenly lost its appeal. She threw the half-eaten bagel in the trash and reached for her coffee.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t donated most of Stefan’s stuff already. But what was she supposed to do with his favorite things? Like the fleece jacket he wore every day, or... She tightened her grip around the Best Dad mug she held. She couldn’t bear someone else sipping coffee from this mug. Her lungs deflated, making it hard to take a deep breath.
As if he knew when she needed comforting, Bogie, the eighty-pound golden retriever who’d become her constant companion since she’d adopted him a year ago, rubbed up against her leg.