Trying to polish up a book & get it turned in while also promoting a brand new release is not easy. It’s definitely a juggling job…& have I mentioned that I am not a good juggler? I can barely carry a bowl of cereal & a glass of orange juice without spilling one or both of them. :oops
Even though I only have about three chapters left of A Baby in the Billionaire’s Boardroom (working title) to proof & polish, they’re moving kind of slowly because they’re the most important chapters.
And then I’ve got this small task of trying to make sure the entire world knows about ON THE VERGE OF I DO so that when it comes out on TUESDAY, APRIL 3RD!!! everybody will stampede their way to the bookstores—or Wal-Mart or Target or Amazon or BN.com—to buy it.
So while I dive back in to my edits before Editor C sends an army of guerrillas to collect the manuscript & leave me a pile of lifeless, limbless jaguar food, I shall leave you with a few fun snippets from Kara & Eli’s story. (On sale TUESDAY, APRIL 3RD, in case I forgot to mention it. :winkwink )
What’s going to make these mini-excerpts so interesting? you might be wondering. :Huh
Well, in an effort to always keep things fresh & different here in The Dungeon, the excerpts I’m going to share to day are from the beginning, the middle, & the end of ON THE VERGE OF I DO. But don’t worry, no spoilers. I won’t get so close to “The End” that I ruin anything for you. :winkwink
IN THE BEGINNING…
Kara Kincaid chuckled as she turned another page of the full-color catering catalog spread open on the glossy surface of the low black lacquer coffee table in front of them.
“And I don’t know how you keep half a dozen luxury hotels and resorts up and running. I’d rather pour over guest lists and seven-course menu items any day over trying to keep all of that afloat,” she told her older sister’s fiancé.
Eli Houghton was tall and handsome and mouth-wateringly well-built. With chocolate brown eyes and wind-blown, coffee brown hair, the man could make a woman’s heart skip a beat without even trying. When he did try . . . well, that was enough to stop a woman’s heart from beating entirely.
“You’re selling yourself short, darlin’,” he told her, flashing a smile that made her own internal organs do things she didn’t think her personal physician would approve of. “We may have different talents, but we’ve both managed to build successful businesses for ourselves.”
“Except that Houghton Hotels and Resorts is worth a couple of million dollars, and I run Prestige Events out of my home office.”
At the moment, they were sitting on a low, black leather sofa in Eli’s impressive ninth-floor office, but ordinarily they would be having this meeting in the small, ground floor library-turned-workplace of her meticulously restored French Quarter row house on Queen Street, circa 1806.
She loved the quaint, three bedroom/three bath home, which was more than enough space for a single gal like herself. But she did sometimes worry that running her business out of her home gave the wrong impression to potential clients. Not for the first time, she realized that she should probably give some serious consideration to renting an office elsewhere.
Possibly even an entire building where she could host tastings, and put up displays, and store reusable decorations so she wouldn’t have to rent them so often from other vendors. She might even hire an assistant—or one day employees, plural—to help her, since she’d been running things pretty much single-handedly so far.
She didn’t regret the hard work. Prestige Events was, after all, her baby. The business she’d started on her own, stepping away from her family’s long-time interests in shipping and real estate to do it. But it might be nice, just once, to not have to be responsible for everything, all the time, for everyone else. Or at the very least, to have a handful of workers on staff that she could delegate and turn to when two arms, two legs, two ears, and one mouth just didn’t seem to be enough to get the job done on time.
“Give it time, sugar,” Eli said in a voice as smooth as Kentucky bourbon, drawing her attention back to their conversation. “Keep doing what you’re doing, and I’d be willing to bet that in a few years you’ll be planning the wedding of one of the Obama girls.”
Oh, her sister was a lucky, lucky woman. It was a good thing Kara was sitting down. The man positively oozed charm, and his softly spoken encouragement had her bones melting like butter on a biscuit.
Clearing her throat, she took a deep breath and straightened her spine. This was not the time to be going all weak-kneed over a man. Not the time or the man.
Eli was Laurel’s fiancé, for Pete’s sake. In less than a month, the two would be married, and Kara would officially have to stop letting her hormones take her good sense for a stroll.
Yes, she found Eli attractive. She’d be willing to bet she was no different than any other red-blooded woman in South Carolina–or heck, the entire Eastern seaboard—in that regard.
Yes, she’d sort of had a crush on him from the time they were teenagers. Again, that was no great surprise. Every girl in school had had her eye on the tall, athletic, football player.
Well, almost every girl, anyway. Kara couldn’t remember Laurel ever showing more than a passing interest in him while they’d been growing up. They’d always been friends—all of them; the entire Kincaid brood and the lone boy who lived with the Youngs on the neighboring estate—but it wasn’t until much more recently that the two of them had decided to get engaged.
But she was doing her best. And her best required putting aside any inner turmoil she might be feeling to pull off what could arguably be considered the Wedding of the Year within Charleston’s high society circles. The fact that it was her sister’s wedding only raised the stakes, made the event that much more important to Kara, both personally and professionally.
SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE…
Kara was lying on her side, watching the sun slip beyond the horizon. It was a bright ball of orange, the sky glorious streaks of pink, yellow, purple, all sliding into the wide expanse of the gently rolling blue of the ocean.
Without a doubt, Eli had the best view of the entire resort—through a number of oversize windows gracing the walls of his suite, the double set of French doors in the other room, and the sliding door here in the bedroom. It paid to be the owner and CEO of such an amazing enterprise, she supposed.
It was one of the most beautiful sunsets she’d ever seen, and she’d never felt so happy, so comfortable, so satisfied and content. Or she would have, if guilt weren’t swamping her in steady waves.
She’d just slept with her sister’s fiancé. Ex-fiancé, but the ex part was so fresh and new, it might as well not even be there.
So instead of basking in the warm relaxation of afterglow, she was lying there worrying.
Worrying about Eli’s arm circling her waist and what emotions or intentions it might symbolize.
Worrying about what she would say to Laurel when she got home . . . or how she would ever again be able to look her sister in the eye if she didn’t confess this weekend’s sins.
Worrying about what to say to Eli, a man she’d known half her life and yearned for almost every one of those years.
Being with him had brought to life a million fantasies, made a million of her dreams come true. But they couldn’t last. And worse yet, she was afraid she might only be a temporary distraction for him. A rebound relationship designed to help him get over his recent break-up with Laurel.Which only added to her misery, because if there was one role she’d never played in her dreams or fantasies of being with Eli, it was an emotionless substitute for the woman he truly craved.
“This was a mistake,” she murmured softly, still staring off into the distance.
She should be leaping away from his touch, grabbing up her clothes and fleeing his room, his resort, and the island, racing back to Charleston as quickly as possible. Not that she had any idea what she’d do once she got there. Lock herself inside her own bedroom, maybe, and refuse to come out, refuse to speak to anyone until her guilt and humiliation wore off. If it ever did.
“No, it wasn’t,” Eli responded without missing a beat.
His nose nuzzled her hair, his lips grazing the lobe of her ear. The arm around her waist tightened, pulling her even closer to his bare–and obviously masculine–length. He wasn’t fully aroused, but he wasn’t soft, either, and he made no secret of the fact.
“What are we going to tell Laurel?” she asked, her voice crackling with the sinking of her heart.
“Nothing. She has nothing to do with this. With us. We’re consenting adults. We don’t owe her, or anyone else, an explanation.”
If only it were that simple.
“We didn’t use protection.” The flip-flop of her stomach at that knowledge—realized too late to do anything but panic and regret—joined her rapidly descending heart until everything in her felt heavy and weighted down.
“I know,” Eli admitted. “You got me so worked up, I completely forgot. I’m sorry.”
He pressed a kiss to her temple, sliding his arm higher until it just brushed the undersides of her breasts. “I don’t want you to worry, though. If anything happens, you know I’ll do the right thing.”
Wonderful. So if she wound up unexpectedly pregnant to her sister’s ex-fiancé, he would “do the right thing” and marry her, giving even more grist to the overactive Charleston gossip mill. That had never been part of her Eli-related dreams or fantasies, either.
She felt, as well as heard, Eli’s long sigh. With a tug at her shoulder, he rolled her onto her back. She held the sheet to her chest, but otherwise just lay there, staring up, passive and pliant.
Propping himself up on one arm, he hovered over her, gazing down into her eyes.
“You need to stop worrying so much,” he told her. “About other people, and about what they think. You’re not responsible for the entire world, you know. Or even your family.”
She raised a brow, knowing she should be offended, but lacking the energy to work up a good mad. “That’s a terrible thing to say. I love my family.”
“Of course, you do. I love your family. But you spend so much time taking care of everyone else that you never stop to consider what you need or want.” He splayed his fingers and ran them through the hair at her temple, sending warm sugar down her spine. “You have a right to your own life, Kara. A right to be happy.”
“I am happy,” she protested.
“Happy enough,” he agreed. “You’re not sitting in a bathtub with a straight razor, that’s for certain.”
She wrinkled her nose at the image that created. She preferred to sit in a bathtub full of bubbles, with maybe some candles, rose petals, soft music, a glass of wine . . . And the only razor she took in with her was of the leg-shaving variety.
“But your first thought is always for others. What you can do for them, what they need, how you can help them. Even your job is about fulfilling everyone else’s wants and needs over your own.”
Okay, she was beginning to get some of her strength back. Annoyance was building.
“Since when is not being a selfish jerk such a crime?” she charged.
He shook his head. “It’s not a crime. You are an amazing, caring, selfless human being. I just want you to admit that we’re enjoying ourselves here, and that there’s nothing to be guilty about.”
“When a person does something that hurts, or has the potential to hurt, another person, I think they should feel remorseful.”
Eli cocked his head, still hanging over her, still stroking her hair. “Who are we hurting?”
She opened her mouth, a name popping immediately to her mind and lips, but he covered her mouth, stopping her before she could speak.
“Don’t say Laurel.” He sighed, a shadow passing over his coffee brown eyes. “Dammit, Kara, you’re not her keeper. She’s the eldest sister, so if anything, she should be yours. But even that doesn’t matter, because she is not a part of this equation. Laurel is a grown woman, she can take care of herself and make up her own mind, and that’s exactly what she’s done. She called off the wedding because she doesn’t want to be married to me.”
Licking his lips, he held her gaze. Glared down at her might be a better description. But despite the harsh lines of his face and the darkness of his glower, she could see the sincerity in his expression and had no choice but to believe him, no matter how strongly her gut told her to deny his words.
“And I’m fine with that. After giving it a bit of thought, I don’t think I really wanted to be married to her, either. But I do want to be here with you now. And I want you to want to be here with me.”
A sob worked its way up from her diaphragm and she swallowed hard to hold it back. She knew he meant what he said, believed he meant it.
She wasn’t sure it was enough to override all of the issues still clamoring between them—which did matter, regardless of his claims to the contrary—but for the moment, it was enough to make her forget. Or at least convince her to pretend.
Her hands came up to stroke his shoulders, his biceps, back up to cup his square jaw. “I do want to be here with you,” she told him barely above a whisper.
It was easier to admit than she would have expected. Maybe because it was so very true.
A wide smile spread across his face, lifting the shadows and turning his dark eyes to a soft milk chocolate.
“That’s something, anyway,” he murmured.
For long minutes, they were twined together. Her arms and legs tangled with his while he rested in the cradle of her thighs. His mouth devoured her, overwhelmed her, but in the best way possible.
When he lifted his head, his ragged breaths dusted her face with warmth. His smile was still there, making him look happy and youthful and carefree. The emotions were contagious, and she couldn’t help but smile back.
CLOSE TO THE END (but not too close)…
“I’m not miserable,” Kara said in a tiny, quiet voice that certainly sounded miserable. At least, she hadn’t thought she was. She might not have been deliriously happy, twirling around on a mountaintop somewhere like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, but miserable was a bit of a stretch.
“You’re sitting here, crying into your latte,” Laurel pointed out. “Your hair is a mess, your makeup looks as though it was applied by Picasso, and when I arrived at your house this morning, you were still in your pajamas. If I’m not mistaken, they were the same ones you’d been wearing for a couple of days, at least.”
Laurel raised a brow. “This, to me, does not scream personal contentment.”
Oh, my god, it was true. She was a mess. She was miserable.
Hadn’t Eli said nearly the same thing to her back on Seabrook Island? Not the miserable part, but the part about always putting others first, not spending enough time looking out for herself.
That made two people who knew her pretty darn well telling her the exact same thing.
So maybe she should listen.
“Does Eli feel the same about you?” Laurel asked.
Her eyes stung and her throat began to close at the mere mention of him, at the flood of memories from their time together. But she wouldn’t start crying again. She needed to buck up and face this head-on, even if it meant reassessing her life and the way she dealt with others—especially her family.
Taking a deep breath, she was completely honest. “I don’t know. He said he did, but then the things Diane said . . . What if they’re true? What if he was only seducing me because he failed with you, and he really is after the Kincaid name and fortune?”
Laurel frowned, mouth turned down and brows forming a sharp vee over her wrinkled nose. “I don’t believe that, and neither do you. We’ve known Eli for years. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever met,” she said with conviction. “Not only is he a millionaire in his own right, he’s noble and honorable, to boot. He doesn’t need our money, and probably wouldn’t take it if we offered it to him on a silver serving tray. He’s proud of who he is and what he’s accomplished, given his humble beginnings.”
She paused only long enough to pick up her cup and take a quick swallow of her now tepid espresso. “As for wanting to ride our coattails or marry into the Kincaid family to better himself . . .” She gave an unladylike snort. “If anything, I’d expect him to avoid the very possibility like the plague, knowing how vicious the rumor mills can be with that kind of fodder. The fact that he’d date either one of us is clearly a sign of the opposite—that he doesn’t care about our name or social prominence, and is perfectly comfortable and confident with who he is.”
Kara hoped she wasn’t grasping at straws, but what Laurel was saying made sense to her. Parts of it, anyway.
“What about him jumping from you to me so quickly, though?” she wondered.
Half-aloud, maybe, but really wanting—needing—an answer. “He couldn’t have been ready to marry you, then suddenly develop feelings for me in the space of a single week. Could he?”
“No, I don’t think he could,” Laurel said, her features softening. “I think maybe you’re the one he’s been interested in all along—even if he didn’t realize it. He was only marrying me because he thought it was time to settle down and start a family, and we’d always been close. Good friends who could maybe grow to be something more.”
Reaching out, Laurel took her hand. “But, honey, we weren’t sleeping together. That’s one of the things that helped me realize we probably shouldn’t be married. We’d kissed, of course, but even that was . . . bland. There was no spark between us, no need to be together or inability to keep our hands off of each other. We were just friends, and I’m afraid that’s all we’ll ever really be.”
The air got trapped in Kara’s lungs and she suddenly couldn’t breathe. No sex. No spark. Just friends. Three things that definitely couldn’t be said about her time with Eli.
With them, there had been enough sparks to light up the entire North American sky on the Fourth of July. The sex had been spectacular. They’d done it ‘round-the-clock . . . and tried to find time to squeeze in even more.
And the just friends part . . . They were friends, but didn’t think they could ever again be defined as “just friends.” Maybe they hadn’t ever been; maybe there had always been more between them, but lying dormant. Lurking beneath the surface, waiting to be let loose to bloom like an enormous cabbage rose.
She lifted her head to find Laurel grinning at her. “The sex was good, huh?”
“Phenomenal,” Kara admitted, barely able to hold back a starry-eyed sigh.
“I told you,” Laurel said, looking entirely too smug and self-satisfied. “He’s always been closer to you than the rest of us.”
It was Kara’s turn to frown. “What do you mean?”
“Kara,” her sister said gently, “haven’t you ever noticed how solicitous he is of you? At Sunday dinner, he always finds a way to sit next to you. Even while we were engaged, he somehow managed to finagle himself so that you were on his one side and I was on the other.”
She hadn’t noticed, though thinking back, she realized he did end up next to her during most of her family’s gatherings.
“He calls you ‘sugar’ and ‘darlin’,” Laurel continued. “He never used endearments with me. I was always simply ‘Laurel’.”
That was true. He called her those things all the time, she just hadn’t realized he didn’t also used them with her sister or other women.
“And whenever we all get together, he seems to gravitate to you. Sitting on the arm of your chair . . . hanging out in the back yard while you help Mama with her flowers . . . offering you a hand while you’re in the kitchen putting together a plate of cookies or making a pitcher of sweet tea.”
“He never did those things with you?” she asked, tipping her head to the side while she let it all sink in.
“No,” Laurel replied. “He was a gentleman, don’t get me wrong. He pulled out chairs, brought me drinks, walked me to the door after we’d been out to dinner. But he didn’t look at me the way he looks at you. His voice didn’t go whiskey soft when he spoke to me the way it does when he talks to you. And he never took me away for the weekend so he could ravish me within an inch of my life.”
Kara flushed at her sister’s pinpoint accuracy—and the knowing grin on her face.
“I don’t know what the deal is with this Diane woman,” Laurel volunteered, “but I’d be careful about taking her at her word too easily. Talk to Eli. Ask him flat-out whether or not he’s having an affair with her behind your back.” Her lips twisted in distaste. “While you’re at it, ask if he was seeing her behind my back, just because I’m curious. If he was—and is—then he’s just about the biggest jerk on the face of the earth, and I think we should hire a mercenary to take him into the jungle, stake him spread-eagle to the ground, and leave him as fresh meat for the big cats and flesh-eating ants.”
The image made Kara chuckle, even though she would never actually want to see Eli subjected to such an act. Then again, if he was a cheating, two-timing S.O.B., he probably deserved much worse.
“But, really, ask him first,” Laurel suggested again. “Give him a chance to defend himself–or come clean, if need be. I’d hate to see you miss out on something phenomenal—” She winked, tossing Kara’s own descriptive term back in her face. “—over little more than a misunderstanding . . . or a third-party troublemaker up to no good.”
Propping her elbow on the table, Kara blew out a breath and rested her chin in the cradle of her hand. “When did you get so dang smart?” she asked her sister, slightly annoyed that she suddenly felt like she deserved to sit in the corner with a Dunce cap on her head.
Laurel chuckled, reaching for the final bite of her muffin and popping it into her mouth. “I’ve always been this smart, you just never noticed before because you didn’t want to admit your older sister might actually be able to teach you something about life.”
They both knew that wasn’t entirely true, but if Laurel wanted to gloat, Kara was more than happy to let her. This time, at least.
“Well, you’ve taught me something today,” Kara told her. “Thank you.”
With a wide smile—the first she’d really felt and let slip out since she’d returned from Ocean Breezes—Kara leaned over and hugged her sister tight.
“Give me a little more time,” she said just above her sister’s ear. “Maybe I still will.”
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