Nerdy Words is Out Today!

Nerdy Words, the first book in my new series Talk Nerdy to Me, is out today!

About the series:

Imagine a bar where the wait staff dress up like their favorite comic book characters, where drinks are served in chemical beakers, where patrons can play a round of Dungeons and Dragons or other table-top role-playing games. Picture how fun it would be to hang with friends in big booths and play video games while sipping on an awesome craft beer. Imagine watching people in a glass enclosed room acting out dramas from their favorite live action role playing story lines. Imagine there’s a space for the folks who want to enjoy a drink while perusing their favorite comic books. 

All of that and more await the patrons of the city of Cascade Falls, Washington’s newest watering hole, the ultra-hip, geek-themed bar called Nerdvana. Talk Nerdy to Me is a series set around the romances that blossom between sexy, geeky heroes and sassy, smart heroines who meet in the geek-themed bar.

Nerdy Words blurb:

When Olivia Sands walks into the hottest bar in Cascade Falls, she’s swept away by the cosplayers, gamers, and larpers. The atmosphere at Nerdvana is truly a haven for geeks, and Olivia can picture herself spending every weekend at the nerd-themed hangout. Or at least, she could before she finds out the bar’s owner is none other than Dustin Bradshaw, her first crush and the man who fled her life with no explanation four summers ago. 

Of course, the years have done nothing to eliminate the magnetic pull between them, and now that they’re thrown together again they’re helpless to fight their attraction. Between working on her bespoke costume business Cosplaymates, attending grad school, and planning her future, Olivia doesn’t have time for dating. But Dustin will stop at nothing to finally make her his, once and for all.

Nerdy Words is book one in Talk Nerdy to Me, a series centering around the romances that blossom between bar staff and customers at Nerdvana.

Excerpt

“Come out with me tonight, Liv. You need to have more fun and I want to check out that new bar I’ve been telling you about.”

“Oh, yeah. What’s it called again, Nirvana? Is it some kind of spiritual place?” I asked Jamie. She was always on the cutting edge of the bar scene, and well, everything else. 

Nerdvana,” she corrected me. “As in, a haven for geeks and all things geekery.”

“Um, that could be…interesting.” I stepped out into the cool air and light drizzle the Pacific Northwest is known for. I readjusted the wool hat on my head, pulling it down further to keep my curly hair from frizzing. 

“I’m glad you said that because I’m on my way there now. Meet me at Nerdvana in twenty minutes?”

I stifled a sigh. “You assume I have nothing better to do.” 

“Come on. Don’t harsh my mellow.”

“Where is this place?” I asked around a laugh. 

“Evergreen Peak.” The neighborhood she referred to housed some of the city’s most prominent nightlife. 

“Okay, text me the address. I’ll see you there in about twenty minutes,” I said before hanging up. 

When Jamie’s text arrived on my phone, I put the address in the GPS and walked a couple blocks toward the bus stop that would take me to my destination. I took a seat and gazed out the window. I stared at the scenery that whizzed by. The lush greenery and historic architecture a subtle reminder of how much I loved the small city of Cascade Falls.

Despite the picturesque landscape, I couldn’t fully focus on it. Somehow Jamie always got me to do things I’d rather not. Like go out in public on a work night, even when the prospect of being among people sounded about as appealing as a cavity search. It wasn’t that I didn’t like people. I was just nowhere near as extroverted as my bubbly best friend. Forgetting about my intense desire to recoup and decompress at home, I shifted my thoughts to my evening. It would no doubt be fun. Just by being with Jamie guaranteed a good time. But still, the idea of my PJs and a starchy dinner had been the one thing that kept me going at work all day. So much for that dream.

My job wasn’t stressful, exactly. I wasn’t cut out for interacting with that many people day in and day out. My work study position at one of the university’s libraries was something I could scratch off my bucket list. I have always been drawn to the smell of old books and quiet spaces. The romantic in me thought the library would be the perfect place to marry those two loves. In reality, working at the library is nothing like that. On any given day there’s a constant stream of noise, the stereotype that library workers are dowdy curmudgeons who sit behind a desk and shush people all day couldn’t be further from the truth. But a big part of me loves it, and it pays the bills while I attend the Cascade Falls University. 

Realizing we were approaching my destination, I pulled the cord to request the driver to stop. I got off down the street from where my cell phone told me Nerdvana was located. After checking the cross streets at the intersection, I walked half a block until I stopped in front of a beautiful building rich with old architectural details. I craned my neck to take in the three-story structure. Sure enough, the neon sign that hung from the side of the building read ‘Nerdvana’ in red glowing letters. I looked left and right on the street and didn’t see Jamie, so I figured she must have already gone inside.

As soon as I crossed the threshold into the bar the soft sounds of electronic music greeted me. I nodded in time to the rhythm. The tune’s slow bass beat was heavy on the use of a soothing synthesizer. As I took in the sounds at Nerdvana, my eyes adjusted to the blue glow that bathed the bar. I scanned to the left and saw a group of guys sitting in a big, oversized booth. When a couple of them let out a whoop of excitement I realized where the bluish light that ensconced the bar was coming from. Half a dozen booths lined the side of the bar, and each booth had a flat screen mounted to the wall. Mario and Luigi bounced across the TV directly to my left. So Nerdvana was a video game bar? Quite a few were scattered around various Cascade Falls neighborhoods. 

As I walked toward the bar, I took in some of the other details and realized much more than video games took place in the space. It truly appeared to be a haven for geeks. To the right of the large glass and titanium bar was a wooden staircase that appeared to lead to a lower level. A basement in a bar? Interesting. A sign hung in the open doorway above the staircase that read “RPG leagues forming soon” and I knew just enough about the table-top role playing games to know they weren’t for me. 

I walked up to the bar and leaned on the shiny, silver surface and hoisted my barely five-foot frame onto a big, black leather chair. It was comfortable, but clearly the leather gaming chair had been modified into a bar stool. Clever. Between the oversized furniture and the overall gamer feel of the bar, I felt out of my element. I was much more bookish than game oriented. Give me a classic literary tome over a joystick or pair of dice any day.

When a pretty brunette dressed like Princess Leia in the gold bikini appeared behind the bar, I’d made up my mind. I’d hate it here. Scantily-clad waitstaff. Video games. The tech bro vibe. Why had my best friend brought me here? And where the hell was Jamie, anyway?

“What can I get you?” the Leia impersonator asked. 

I looked at the plethora of taps behind her. Nerdvana carried a wide variety of craft beer, but I was in the mood for something different tonight.

“I’ll take a gin and tonic.” 

“Do you want a beaker for two dollars more?”

“A beaker?” 

Her question roused me from my musings, and it caught me off guard. I wracked my brain. Beaker. What the hell was that? A nerd-themed tapas I didn’t know anything about? Leia held up a glass lab beaker and raised her eyebrows at me. Holy shit. For two bucks more I could drink my alcoholic beverage from a lab beaker. What the hell, as Jamie constantly reminded me, we only live once.

“Um, sure.” 

I glanced around again wishing Jamie would materialize and keep me company. The bartender placed my drink in front of me and I plopped my debit card down as a form of payment. I tipped my drink back and took a sip. The gin and tonic was nice and stiff, which was good since it set me back fifteen bucks. 

“Liv, you made it!” 

I turned toward the bubbly voice I knew and loved. The blue light in the bar made Jamie’s blonde hair glow almost platinum. At least the top half of her hair looked light blonde. The tips of her asymmetrical bob shone a bright hot pink. I’d always admired Jamie’s funky sense of style. 

“Hi, can I get a whiskey sour, but can you go easy on the alcohol? I don’t drink much,” she said with uncharacteristic sheepishness. Princess Leia nodded and offered her a beaker. Jamie took her drink in the larger container as well. The bartender passed the sour—light on the whiskey—to her. Of course my friend didn’t drink much, she didn’t need alcohol to loosen her inhibitions. I wasn’t even aware that she had any, honestly. Jamie and I clinked beakers.

“To nerd heaven,” I said with a wry smile. 

“Isn’t it awesome? Oh, good news! I think I might have found a job.”

“Great. Where at?” I asked as I sipped my drink. 

“Here.” She gave a saucy shake of her head, which caused the stud in her nose to gleam in the light.

Jamie went through things like jobs, college majors and lovers like most people went through underwear. It seemed like she was always trying something new only to quickly grow bored and pick up something else.  Life was too short for serious commitments, or so she believed.

“Really? That’s awesome.” I told her about the new job and meaning it. “Will you have to wear one of those barely there outfits?” I asked as I nodded toward Princess Leia as subtly as possible. 

“Please. When have you ever known me to give two fucks about a barely there outfit?”

“True.” I bit back my smile as I took another sip of my cocktail.

“Besides, you’re the last person I would expect to question wearing costumes.”

“You know I’m all about expressing yourself through clothes,” I indicated the rust colored vintage crushed velvet blazer I wore and my black top hat. “It just reeks of sexism to see a bartender wearing next to nothing.”

“Oh. My. God. Please don’t go down this rabbit hole.” She shook her head. “I’ll have you know that according to Quinn, it’s completely optional. I don’t have to dress up, but really, who wouldn’t want to get paid to dress in costume?” 

“And who’s Quinn?” I asked, feeling completely out of the loop. What was it about this place? It seemed like I’d stepped into a different universe ever since I’d crossed the threshold. 

“She’s one of the owners. She’s right there.” 

I trained my gaze to where she gestured discreetly to a woman that looked like a fifties era pin-up model, but with an edge. Her black hair was styled in a rockabilly pompadour, she wore a black dress with a cherry print, and her waist was cinched by a wide scarlet belt. Her lips were painted fire engine red, but even from across the room I could tell the color complemented her bronze skin and sloe eyes. Her left arm was covered in a full sleeve tattoo. 

Her fierce look had my attention right away. I’d always gravitated toward people who didn’t dress like the status quo. That was one of the things that Jamie and I had bonded over instantly. It was obvious that Quinn had a style all her own. I’ve always loved shoes, so I dropped my gaze down to her feet. Girlfriend was rockin’ adorable vintage black and white patent spectator pumps. 

“Damn, I want her heels.”

“Will you get off shoes for a minute and listen? This might be the solution to most of my problems. Remember, my parents, the ultimatum.” She paused and screwed her face up as if just saying the words had put a bad taste in her mouth. 

“Um, as if I could forget the stipulation that might rob me of my awesome roommate?”

 “Anyway,” Jamie said dismissively, swirling the liquid in her beaker. “I struck up a conversation with Quinn back by the larping room before you got here. She’s going to talk with her partner and give me a yes or no tonight.”

“The what room? You’re telling me there’s a room dedicated to larping here?” 

“Ah, I knew spilling that there’s a live action role playing room here would get you to focus on something besides shoes.” 

I just looked at her as though she had suddenly sprouted a second head covered with blonde and fuchsia colored hair. I wasn’t a larper, but I knew enough about it to be impressed that there was now a bar in Cascade Falls with a dedicated space for larping. 

“Come on, I’ll show you. Grab your drink.”

I gripped my beaker and wobbled behind her. As we walked through the bar I saw more booths with TVs displaying video games and gaming consoles from days gone by. It looked like every vintage gaming system was represented on the various TV screens, from Atari and Sega to Nintendo, Xbox, and Playstation. 

As we neared the back of the building, I spied a quiet corner that featured comfy-looking brown leather chairs and teak bookshelves built into the walls. The serene nook seemed more my pace. Until I noticed that a couple of people were flipping through glossy pages and sipping beers from beakers. 

“Are those comic books?”

“Yeah, isn’t it amazing? But look over here,” Jamie said and directed my gaze to a space in the left corner of the bar. “That’s the larping room,” she explained as she pointed at a glass area. 

The two-story room was completely enclosed in glass walls. I titled my head back and discovered there was no ceiling. Instead, a small cat walk and balcony stretched across the top of the glass room. A few people had gathered to peer into the larping room to watch the performance. A group of men were inside the glass room dressed in fifteenth century garb—complete with breast shields, swords, and capes—and they seemed to be acting out some sort of drama. 

“Okay, I think I finally get why this place is called Nerdvana. It’s like a damn nerd wet dream in here.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

At the sound of the deep male voice close to me I jumped, nearly dropping my beaker in the process. I turned my head to address the speaker but had to drag my eyes up at least a foot to look him in the face. Once I met his stare, my mouth wouldn’t work anyway. 

Momentarily stunned by his arresting pale blue irises, I opened and shut my mouth several times before any sound would finally come out. It’d been several years, but I’d never forget that face. I started to greet him, but he broke eye contact. 

Before I could string together enough syllables to form a coherent sentence, he turned his attention to Jamie. It figured. Between her sparkling personality and brown almond-shaped eyes men—and women— constantly hit on Jamie. The fact that she was a D-cup probably didn’t hurt her chances either. But still, I wished the spark of recognition I’d felt when our eyes had connected had gone both ways. Of course, maybe he just didn’t recognize me. I’d changed a lot since that summer.

“Are you Jamie? My business partner let me know she gave you an impromptu interview earlier. I’m Dustin Bradshaw,” he told her and thrust his hand out toward her. 

Dustin Bradshaw.

As if I could ever forget that name. I dropped my gaze to their clasped hands. It was only a professional handshake, nothing more, but I felt like an idiot, just standing on the sidelines watching the two of them. I shifted my gaze to the ink on the outside of Dustin’s right forearm. In what looked to be an homage to the original 1UP gaming system, he sported a tattoo of the gray square controller on his flesh. My brother was a gamer and I had to appreciate the details of Dustin’s tattoo. The depiction of the controller was accurate down to the twin green circles and blue cross-shaped button. Seeing it made memories come back in a rush.

 I’d used my fingertip to trace the details of that tattoo on a warm summer night four years ago. God damn it, why was I thinking about what had happened between us when he hadn’t even bothered to spare a second glance at me? All this clearly one-sided reminiscing made me uncomfortable, like every inch of my skin was exposed under a microscope. The fact that Dustin  hadn’t acknowledged me made it all that much worse. I wanted to run from this bar like the building was on fire. Of course, I wouldn’t. 

Want to know what happens next? Get Nerdy Words at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon AUAmazon CAAppleB&NKobo.

Nerdy Words Cover Reveal!

I’m so excited to announce I’m finally releasing a new series I’ve worked on for years. The time has come and I can’t wait for everyone to meet the cast of characters at the geek-themed bar Nerdvana.

Imagine a bar where the wait staff dress up like their favorite comic book characters, where drinks are served in chemical beakers, where patrons can play a round of Dungeons and Dragons or other table-top role-playing games. Picture how fun it would be to hang with friends in big booths and play video games while sipping on an awesome craft beer. Imagine watching people in a glass enclosed room acting out dramas from their favorite live action role playing story lines. Imagine there’s a space for the folks who want to enjoy a drink while perusing their favorite comic books. 

All of that and more await the patrons of the city of Cascade Falls, Washington’s newest watering hole, the ultra-hip, geek-themed bar called Nerdvana. Talk Nerdy to Me is a series set around the romances that blossom between sexy, geeky heroes and sassy, smart heroines who meet in the geek-themed bar.

When Olivia Sands walks into the hottest bar in Cascade Falls, she’s swept away by the cosplayers, gamers, and larpers. The atmosphere at Nerdvana is truly a haven for geeks, and Olivia can picture herself spending every weekend at the nerd-themed hangout. Or at least, she could before she finds out the bar’s owner is none other than Dustin Bradshaw, her first crush and the man who fled her life with no explanation four summers ago. 

Of course, the years have done nothing to eliminate the magnetic pull between them, and now that they’re thrown together again they’re helpless to fight their attraction. Between working on her bespoke costume business Cosplaymates, attending grad school, and planning her future, Olivia doesn’t have time for dating. But Dustin will stop at nothing to finally make her his, once and for all.

Nerdy Words is book one in Talk Nerdy to Me, a series centering around the romances that blossom between bar staff and customers at Nerdvana.

Nerdy Words comes out Tuesday, 11/17/20!

A Small Town Escape

I’ve talked about how I’m finding more quiet time away from the city lately, and spending that time in nature has made me nostalgic for the days when I lived in a small town. Sure, there are drawbacks from living outside of a city, like not having access to arts and culture like museums and theaters. But, the allure of wide open spaces and the sweet serenade of birds over traffic and construction noise are powerfully persuasive.

Although I have no immediate plans to leave the city, I can visit a small town (based on the one I grew up in) called Clear Lake and so can you. Good With His Hands is about a hot small town mechanic and the reluctantly relocated journalist who fall for each other despite their differences and amid some small town gossip drama 😀

Here’s an excerpt if you’d like to know a little more about Jake and Gabby.

book cover with shirtless man in foreground with hot rod vehicle in backgroundEvery woman wants a man who is good with his hands…

He’s a sexy bad boy mechanic with a reputation. She’s a guarded reporter with too much to lose to play with fire. She tries to resist him but one touch from him changes everything. 

Recent college graduate Gabby Richards has big plans for her life. At the top of those plans is landing a job for a major magazine in Chicago. While Gabby is busy mapping out her career as a journalist, her father gets seriously injured. Upon hearing of his accident, Gabby drops everything, including her career plans, and heads home to her small, rural town of Clear Lake, but vows to return to Chicago as soon as her father is well.

On her first day back in her hometown she has a run-in with the town’s sexy new mechanic, Jake Harrison, and meeting him turns everything upside-down. Despite her wishes to remain single, she doesn’t see the harm in going on a few dates with him. Soon Jake is helping Gabby confront her past and bringing out a side of her that has remained hidden for years. Even though she wants to remain focused on her career and return to her city life, she begins to wonder if it’s possible to have it all—career, her dream life in Chicago, and Jake Harrison.

 

“Sorry, do I have something on my face?” Gabby asked him earnestly.

Jake merely chuckled and shook his head.

“Then what’s wrong? Why are you staring and how come you’re not eating?”

“I love how you’re always so subtle,” Jake said with a laugh. “I was just wondering why you don’t like Clear Lake. What is it about this place that you claim bothers you so much? I say claim because from the way you’re chowing down on that sandwich, and the sparkle I saw in your eyes when you talked about your stories, you seem pretty happy to me. I think you’re determined not to like this town, for some reason, but it’s not working.”

Gabby felt a knot form in the pit of her stomach and she put the half-eaten gargantuan sandwich on her plate. Despite the fact that she didn’t like where Jake was going with the conversation, she felt he deserved some kind of answer. She didn’t know if she wanted to tell him the truth. It was so personal. She lifted her gaze from her Big Henry up into his concerned blue eyes. 

“There are a lot of things about Clear Lake I’d rather forget. When I look around, I don’t see anything but a lot of bad memories and things I wish had never happened. I’m sorry if that doesn’t make sense to you, but it’s the truth,” she said as she threw her napkin down next to her plate.

“So you don’t have to worry about bad memories in Chicago? To you, it’s safe, in that respect, that’s why you’re so determined to run back there the first chance you get,” he said matter-of-factly.

Gabby was shocked at how rude he was being. She opened her mouth to speak, but didn’t know what to say to him. Jake could never understand what it felt like to lose a parent, to watch them suffer and waste away and know there was nothing you could do to help them or stop it from happening. 

She felt tears spring in her eyes, and at the risk of having Jake see her cry, she bolted for the restroom, while muttering an ‘excuse me’ over her shoulder. She nearly bumped into their waitress in her hurry to reach the bathroom. 

Gabby leaned over the sink and took several deep breaths, determined not to cry. She wanted to get angry at Jake, she wanted to march straight out to their table and give him a piece of her mind. She wanted to tell him what an ignorant comment he’d made and that their date on Saturday was off.

However, she didn’t want to make a scene in the dining area and be the talk of the town for weeks. If not months, she thought sardonically. She decided the silent treatment would be better and probably a lot more effective.

When she went back out to the booth, Jake was throwing some cash down on the table to pay their tab. Gabby headed for the door and was waiting inside the hot truck for him when he got outside and cranked the engine to life.

“I’m sorry if what I said upset you.”

Gabby sat staring out the passenger window, feeling all her resolve to tell Jake off fade away. “It’s not just what you said Jake. It’s okay. I don’t expect you to know what it feels like to lose a parent. You probably can’t even imagine the pain of driving by the hospital where your mom spent weeks lying in a bed under fluorescent lighting when she should have been at home, gardening, cooking dinner and living her life. 

“I don’t expect you to understand how everywhere I go and everything I see is overtaken by memories. I don’t expect you to know what it’s like to not only be haunted by what has happened, but also what could have been,” she wiped a tear that had rolled down her cheek and faced Jake. “So, you’re right in one respect, Jake. Chicago is safe, there are not bad memories, there are not good memories. It’s just a place. It’s some place I can just be Gabby, not poor Gabby who lost her mom to cancer, not a sob story, I’m just me. Like I said, you probably can’t get that.”

Jake let out a long sigh and Gabby thought to herself, I sure told him.

“It’s funny you say that I wouldn’t understand Gabby, when I understand perfectly. I lost my mom too. Not to cancer, a car accident. I don’t know what’s worse, watching your parent slip away, little by little, or to have her suddenly taken away, like my mom was. 

“I know exactly what you’re saying about the memories, Gabby. I felt the same way after my mom died and I had to pass by the stretch of road where she was hit. It was like a knife in my stomach every time I saw that spot. Then my grandpa died and when I found out my dad didn’t want to take over the business and move here, I jumped at the chance. 

“I left my hometown for the same reasons you’re trying to leave yours, Gabby and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I have. Sooner or later the pain resurfaces, I may not have to see the spot where my mom died every day, but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s not around anymore. Maybe you can find a way to still be connected to your mom. I started running as a way to connect with mine, when I’m running, it’s like…I can feel her presence.”

He reached for her hand and pulled her toward him across the bench seat. 

“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, I was only trying to help,” he said as he stared deep into her hazel eyes.

“It’s not your fault, Jake,” she said in a husky voice. 

She was so close to him she could smell the shop fluids on his uniform, and feel the heat radiating from his body. She felt Jake remove his hand from hers and she experienced a pang of disappointment. When he placed his hand on the back of Gabby’s bare neck, her heart raced. Jake angled his head toward hers and she parted her lips in anticipation of his kiss. 

Gabby grasped his shoulders and felt Jake’s surprisingly soft embrace. Maybe it was the emotions of the moment, but his kiss wasn’t as insistent as it normally was. Despite it being a mellower kiss, her heartbeat accelerated, her anger totally evaporated now. She let out a contented sigh and was about to wind her fingers through his hair when someone honked their horn. Startled, she and Jake broke apart. 

“Way to go, Jake,” a man called from a vehicle nearby. 

He continued to grin goofily at the couple as he walked into the barbeque joint. Gabby felt her cheeks flame in response to their audience. So much for keeping her dates with Jake a secret and not being the talk of the town.

Interested in more? Find Good With His Hands at  Amazon, Amazon CA, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

 

Less Busy, More Nature

With so many things here in the PNW still closed I’ve spent the past several months getting outside as often as I can. Our weather is often rainy right up until July 5th or so, and some years it’s just not feasible to get out there and enjoy some early summer rays.

I’m grateful that this year we’ve had a fair amount of sunshine interspersed with our typical gloom since I’m now using the great outdoors as my gym, therapist’s office, and entertainment source.

Over the past three months I’ve learned how much nature really centers and, much like creativity, it’s also a balm for the soul.

The lush greenery of Washington is also inspiration for a new series I’m working on. Originally I’d planned to set this series in a bustling metropolis, but the past couple months getting back to nature convinced me to create my own world. One where there’s a small college city nestled in the mountains, near water, and that also boasts a burgeoning nightlife scene.

The town of Cascade Falls, Washington has captivated me and I hope it will enthrall my readers as well. Stay tuned over the next couple months, as I share more about Cascade Falls and the people you’ll meet there!

Baby, Let’s Cruise…

I would love nothing more than to pack my bags and jump on a cruise ship. And, maybe I’m extra nostalgic for cruising this summer because last year around this time I was on a cruise ship.

Ah, what a difference a year makes.

If you’re like me and are jonesing for a nautical adventure, you can live vicariously through my novel Caribbean Caliente. It’s set on a cruise ship, during the early 2000s, and there’s LOTS of dancing and just plain joy in this book. If this sounds like something you could get on board with (see what I did there?) read on for the blurb and an excerpt.

She didn’t plan to fall for a man on what was supposed to be her honeymoon…

After Justus Kendall found her fiance cheating on her, she ended the relationship, but took the honeymoon with her best friend.

On a boat, in the middle of the Caribbean, she meets Miguel Amores, a Latin dancer and entrepreneur from Miami. A chance encounter leads to a dance competition and reveals their scorching chemistry. Justus and Miguel soon find out they’re compatible on and off the dance floor, knowing there’s no future, yet unable to deny their attraction.

When the cruise is over they agree to go their separate ways, but neither can forget about those seven days of Caribbean heat.

“This round show us you know how to dance to current music. Bust out your newest dance moves. DJ Wild, are you ready?” The DJ let loose with an air horn as an affirmative.

What’s Your Fantasy by Ludacris blasted through the speakers and Justus felt a blush creep up her neck. She was supposed to dance in front of all these people with Miguel to a song with lyrics that talked about licking someone from their head to their toes? And of course, Mr. Sexy Dancer himself was grinding his hips toward her in a way that made her want to squirm.

As the rap song continued to describe sexual fantasies, she couldn’t help but picture Miguel in some of the scenarios. Miguel with tortoise framed glasses playing the teacher and she the student. Miguel as a sexy vampire and her the helpless human unable to resist his otherworldly charms. Maybe the sexy situations depicted in the song weren’t that far-fetched after all. The music suddenly stopped and she wasn’t sure if she was happy or disappointed. She’d been so intent on the fantasies laid out in the song lyrics she’d danced on auto-pilot. The audience came through for them. She and Miguel made it to the final round.

“Our last round will be our most difficult,” Antnonio intoned grimly. “We’ll be judging our remaining couples with a full song, and you’ll have to infuse freestyle into this next type of dance.”

“Man, this prize better be pretty sweet. They’re making us work our asses off for it,” she murmured to Miguel.

He bit back a laugh. “I happen to know what the prize is, and I’m making sure you get it.”

Damn, this man is competitive. 

“DJ Wild, what’s our final dance style? Give us a hint.”

The DJ played a snippet of the song I Touch Myself, and of course, the crowd erupted into cheers at the lyrics.

“So the dance style is cheesy 90s songs?”

Miguel burst out laughing. “You’re bad, but I like it.” He arched a brow at her and she relished the devilish look in his eye.

“The style, ladies and gentlemen, is solo dancing.” Antonio threw his hands in the air. “I know! We pulled out all the stops with this last dance. So, to be clear you will dance solo, but will be judged as a couple. How do you do that? I’m glad you asked…” he ate up the audience’s laughter. “The couples will dance near each other, but not touching, not together. Imagine if you will that you’re in a crowded night club, you’re dancing…DJ Wild, help me out here,” Antonio snapped his fingers and the DJ put on a thumping track. The assistant cruise director swayed to the beat. “Now imagine you’re in a crowded night club, dancing, alone. And suddenly, across the dance floor you see that one person. Your eyes meet. Come on, ladies, gentlemen, you know what I mean. Make us feel that electricity.”

“Sure, nothing too difficult there, only have the pressure of tons of strangers watching. Oh, and I’m totally sober. Typically if I danced the way he’s talking about, I’d be tipsy.”

“Justus,” Miguel sputtered her name around chuckles. “You should do stand up.”

“I’m not that funny. I’m just snarky.” She shook her head and smiled at him as they took their positions on the floor. “Ready to help me win this thing?”

“Hell yeah.”

When the song about masturbation came over the speakers, at least Justus was prepared for it this time. And, she knew exactly what she would do to win this competition. She turned toward Miguel and held his gaze. The crowd, the noise, the lights, all of it faded away. It was only her, and him, and the music. Justus moved her body and ran her hands up and down her torso. She popped a hip left, then right and tossed her hair over her shoulders. In return Miguel, rolled his hips and stared her down.

They took small steps toward each other, but danced at least six feet apart. There was no way they could touch each other, but their eyes did all the things their hands and lips couldn’t do in that moment. She bent at her waist, then popped her booty out and ran her hands along the outer edge of her jean clad ass cheeks. Her face flushed and her breathing was shallow and quick. It wasn’t only from the movement. The intense sexual tension between her and Miguel was as thick as a rope. It pulsed between them and took on a life form of its own.

Miguel matched her sexy move with one of his own. He slowly unbuttoned his shirt, each one coming loose of its hold, his gaze never leaving hers. She was faintly aware of the shouts and catcalls from the women on the sidelines. That was the first reminder she had that people were watching them. That this was all a competition. It wasn’t a real thing. It wouldn’t end with her in his arms, his mouth and body crushed against hers. Her footsteps faltered, but she caught the nearly imperceptible shake of Miguel’s head. He held her stare and freed the remaining two buttons from his shirt and shrugged it off.

The screams and whistles from the observers almost tuned out the music. Her gaze took in the copper hued skin, stretched taut over muscles. The smattering of chest hair that led to the trail that ended at the waistband of his jeans. God damn, her fingers burned to touch him. It was more than her fingers that wanted to touch him. Her mouth salivated at the thought of the trace of salt she’d taste if her tongue followed the trail of that hair into his pants. She dropped to her knees and tossed her hair back and forth, swaying her torso to the music. The thought of what she’d rather be doing on her knees played out in her movements. Justus looked at him and slowly rimmed her lips with the tip of her tongue. Heat burned in Miguel’s eyes and without breaking their gaze he thrust his hips in a seductive rhythm. The invasive squawk of an air horn broke their lusty spell.

“Wow. Like…wow, right? I’m just speechless. That was crazy.” Antonio fanned himself with his hand and looked at the audience.

Miguel walked to her and extended his hand and helped pull her to her feet. “I’m impressed,” he murmured and pressed himself against her. She felt how impressed he was. Without breaking their gaze he bent and picked up his shirt, but didn’t put it back on. The two of them walked to the side of the dance floor and stood next to the other couple remaining in the competition.

“As amazing as all our couples have been, there can only be one winner. Are we ready to vote?” The crowd roared. Antonio gestured to the other couple and the crowd broke into mealy applause. That had to be a good sign for her and Miguel, right? Antonio stood in front of them and gestured for the crowd to vote for them. The noise was deafening.

“Couple eight has won. Now, for your prize.” Antonio treated the crowd to a broad grin, drawing the suspense out and loving it. “You win two free excursion trips of your choice. We’ve got the trip to our private island coming up, so you can do any side trip you want there. Horseback riding on the beach, helicopter tour. Your choice.”

Justus squealed and turned to Miguel. He’d won this for her. Overcome with joy she threw her arms around him and planted a kiss on his lips. Laughter, shouts, and whistles surrounded her.

What the hell did I just do?

“Well someone’s very happy to win.” Antonio’s Captain Obvious comment was met with laughter.

Heat flooded her face and she followed Antonio to the side where he took her details and gave her two vouchers for the excursions. She couldn’t even look at Miguel. Yes, they’d performed a semi-pornographic dance routine, but hell, she’d just planted one on him in front of a huge crowd. Surely she’d compromised him in some way, since he taught and gave lectures on the boat. Antonio asked Miguel something and she used that as her excuse to break free from him. She ran across the floor and found Krystal in the crowd.

“Holy shit. I need a cigarette after watching that.” Krystal treated her to a high five, then wrapped her in a quick hug.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m mortified. I need to get the hell out of here.”

Caribbean Caliente is available at Apple BooksBarnes & NobleKobo, and Amazon USAmazon CAAmazon UK, and Amazon AU.

What Will the Post-COVID Romance Hero Look Like?

I’m a life-long romance reader. And I’m old enough to remember the surge in paranormal romance novels that flooded the market in the years following 9/11.

During that time readers couldn’t get enough of supernatural romance heroes. Successful series that launched during this time include The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward and The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, (both in 2005).

So why was paranormal so hot in the early 2000s? Because we’d lived through watching real-life heroes like police, fire fighters, and military personnel lose their lives to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Post-9/11 we craved a hero that wasn’t of the same world where the brave can fight valiantly and still be helpless to stop bad things from happening.

a man with glasses and dark hair

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last several weeks, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of hero readers will want and authors will write in a post-COVID-19 world. I can see a resurgence in supernatural or paranormal heroes. I can also envision the rise of medical heroes and heroines.

Above all, I think readers are going to continue to turn to the lighter side of romance, like romantic comedies and romance novels that either dial down the angst or at least balance angst with light-hearted settings and sympathetic characters.

Speaking of, stay tuned because I have a series launching at the end of summer that takes place in a bar (a light-hearted setting, indeed!) and the series is filled with ultra fun and sympathetic characters. More on this new series in the coming weeks!

 

A Little Fun to Get You Through the Week

Hi! I’m writing this post without wearing pants. I also haven’t brushed my teeth or hair yet today. Welcome to week 856 of quarantine!

I think I’m actually in like week nine of quarantine, but who the hell knows, tbh.

Anywho, I figured you could probably use something a fun to get you through the rest of this week and I have a solution. It’s a snippet from my novella Wild Ride, a story about a shy quiet girl who embraces her rowdy side.

Read on for an excerpt, and if you enjoy it, please share this post with someone who could use a fun read!

She’s in for one Wild Ride…

Fresh from being dumped for being too boring, shy and geeky Cynthia Goode decides to shake up her dull life by entering a provocative contest at a popular country western bar. She doesn’t win first prize at the Naughty Nightie mechanical bull riding contest, but she does win the attention of sexy biker Brody Cruz.

Living out what she thinks is a fantasy, she lets Brody take her home for a night she won’t forget.

Cynthia stripped down and butterflies swam in her belly. She’d greatly underestimated how scary walking across a bar and onto a raised circular stage would be dressed only in a corset, lace panties, stockings and heels. Nevertheless, she strutted toward the emcee, the spotlight tracing her movements as she walked. A series of howls and whistles erupted when the man helped her gain her footing and straddle the bull. 

They think I look hot. Well, at least if I plummet off the bull right away it’s good to know I’ll look sexy as I fall flat on my face.

The emcee reiterated the rules to her and Cynthia tried to concentrate on what he said. 

“Keep your clothes on. Hold on to the pummel with one hand. Keep your other hand raised high. Try to add some personal flare. Aim to ride for eight seconds. Have fun, sugar.”

With that he smacked the side of the machinery and gave a nod to the man controlling the device. The bull started up, the base spinning in a slow circular motion while the saddle rocked front to back. Cynthia gripped the pummel with her right hand and lifted her left hand high in the air. She gazed out into the crowd and flashed a smile. Several cat-calls and shouts rang out. 

I can do this.

The device started to speed up, the movements becoming rougher. Cynthia undulated her body as she’d seen the other contestants do. She rocked forward as the bull tilted back and used her knees to grip the wide body. A shrill whistle sounded from the crowd around her and she smiled. She thought back to the look on Paul’s face when he saw her wearing the corset. 

“Cynthia? Did you lose a bet?”

What an asshole. Not every man thought the way he did, thank goodness. From the shouts, some of the men in the bar found her attractive. Determined to put on a decent show, she tossed her hair. 

Or she tried to anyway.

The small movement made her lose visual focus. Suddenly the machine bucked at the same time that it spun to the left. She tried to recover, but her body slid to the side and she fell onto the mat in what she worried was an ungraceful heap. 

“Let’s give contestant five a big round of applause, everybody,” the emcee said. 

Two bouncers rushed forward to help her off the mat so the next contestant could take her place. When they got her off the stage and let go of her, Cynthia smiled and tried to take a step forward. She wobbled and the room spun. Drinking, bull riding and stilettos so did not mix well together.

“You good?”

“I think so,” she clutched his massive forearm. She blew out a breath and tried to walk again. “I think I’m okay now.” 

The bouncer led her out of the cordoned off area near the mechanical bull and then let go of her arm. She scanned the bar, trying to find Nina, but it was still difficult to focus. She craned her neck, but she didn’t see Nina at the bar where she’d left her before the bull ride. Someone pinched her ass and she let out a yelp at the sting. Where the hell was Nina with her skirt? 

Panic crept in like a fog. What the hell was she even doing? She was standing in a bar in her underwear. No, not her underwear. If she’d been wearing her standard skivvies it wouldn’t be nearly as mortifying. Her usual full-coverage briefs, what Nina insisted were granny panties, would’ve at least kept her from showing off her ass cheeks like two prized melons. 

“I’m so stupid,” she said softly to herself. Scanning the bar again for her friend, she still didn’t see Nina anywhere. Straining her neck every which way, she took a step forward without watching where she was going and wobbled, crashing into a solid torso. 

 “Easy there, sweetheart.”A pair of large hands cupped her shoulders.  “Why don’t you lean against me? I don’t think you’re ready to walk just yet.” 

Cynthia nodded, knowing the kind stranger was right. She only wished she wasn’t wearing her undergarments. 

“Thanks for the help—”

She looked up into the man’s face and her mouth went dry. He was tall, even in her stilettos he towered over her. His dark hair was short on the sides and long on top. Her gaze trailed lower, to the way the black tank hugged his broad chest. How could such a simple garment look so outstanding? Maybe it had nothing to do with the construction of the  plain cotton and everything to do with the man wearing it. 

“It was nothing. I’m Brody. And you are?” He asked with his mouth near her ear.

She had half a mind to give him a fake name, something exotic. But then she remembered that she was a horrible liar. She’d never get an alias out with a straight face. 

“My name’s Cynthia,” she shouted above the hoots of the observers and the emcee’s announcements.

His gaze landed at her throat and her fingers flew to her pendant reflexively. The word GEEK was stamped on its surface. She wore it with pride, because damn it, she was a geek at heart and had no shame in it. What would a guy like Brody think of her geeky ways? 

“That’s a cool necklace.” His gaze connected with hers again and she let out a little giggle. Had she heard him right? He thought her geek necklace was cool.

“Thank you. I made it myself.” 

“Really? Awesome.”

She felt her face flush under his praise. Her jewelry business wasn’t something she told people about. Even when someone complimented her on one of her pieces. It was always something she shied away from telling people about. 

“Well, Cynthia, I feel compelled to see you safely out of this area.” He leaned closer while tightening his hold on her. Surprised, she inhaled sharply. Her nose was filled with a rich, sexy cologne. “This place is a wolf den tonight. I wouldn’t feel right leaving you now. That okay with you?” 

She glanced around at all the men nearby and then back to him. Her gut told her she could trust him. She nodded. Brody steered her away from the throng of males, his hand riding low against the curve of her hip. In a weird way, she liked the way he took control and led her away from the crowd. 

“Do you think you could help me find my friend?” Her words were drowned out by hoots from the rowdy crowd. She turned and caught sight of the next contestant on the bull. The woman wore an aubergine teddy that set off her dark skin. As she undulated on the machine, the filmy material billowed around her like a purple cloud. The DJ had put on a provocative song and the contestant was milking the song lyrics, incorporating the suggestive words into her ride. 

“What? You’re gonna have to get real close to me so I can hear. This crowd’s going ape shit.” He’d stopped walking, tightening his grip on her so she would halt too. Brody pressed his body against her and leaned down, so his mouth was near her ear. He swept her long hair off her shoulder. His breath was a warm caress against the skin on her neck. “See, I bet you can hear me much better now.”

She nodded. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and lower, she felt the beat thrumming in her core. Their gazes connected, held. The strobe light circled and limned his irises. His light brown eyes were flecked with gold. She swallowed hard and with trembling hands she gripped him by the shoulders and gently urged him downward. He lowered his head toward hers. 

Oh, God, does he think I want to kiss him?

She did, of course. What red-blooded woman wouldn’t? He was gorgeous and seemed captivated by her. She turned her head and angled her mouth toward his ear. Instead of speaking, she froze, her fingers tightening around his muscled shoulders. For the first time since arriving at the bar, the intensity of the erotic atmosphere threatened to overwhelm her. 

The heavy bass strumming from the speakers. The humid air and male bodies pressed in close. The catcalls and shouts from the men cheering on the contestants. And, damn it, the lyrics of the 90s R&B song where the sexy male voice promised that his saddle was waiting and commanded a woman to jump on it. Maybe that was good advice. Maybe she needed to jump on it. Well, not on Brody’s…saddle, but she could at least capitalize on the situation. What possible harm could come from a little flirting with this handsome stranger?

Want to know what happens next between Cynthia and Brody? Get Wild Ride for just 99 cents at  AmazonAmazon AUAmazon CAAmazon UKBarnes & NobleiBooksKoboPlayster, and Scribd.

A Steamy Kiss to Get You Through This Thursday

It’s Thursday. I don’t know about you, but I need help remembered what day it is. Quarantine has definitely got me…a little confused.

If you need a pick me up to get through the rest of this week, I’m sharing a sexy snippet from my latest release, Exclusively Hers.

There’s never been another man like him in her life. Heroic. Daring. Gorgeous.

When reporter Cassie Pierce interviews Aidan West at the scene of an accident, she’s mesmerized by his deep blue eyes and intense, laser-like focus. The fact that he pulled a pregnant woman and her small son from a wrecked vehicle after it plunged into a lake impresses her too. After the interview, Aidan makes one request, that she only refers to him as an anonymous Good Samaritan.

Dying to tell this story, she agrees to Aidan’s mysterious terms. Although everything between Aidan and Cassie is supposed to be all business, there’s an undeniable pull that’s impossible to resist. When Cassie agrees to go out with him she realizes Aidan has another side. His intense focus carries over to his love life. Aching to further explore the explosive chemistry between them, Cassie does something she’s never done before: becomes romantically involved with someone she’s interviewed.

As parts of Aidan’s past resurface her journalistic instinct flares, putting her in the uncomfortable position of choosing between love or a career-launching exclusive story.

Snippet:

“I had a great time tonight. It’s funny, but this didn’t feel like a first date.”

“It didn’t to me either. Normally things can seem…forced. I never felt that once tonight.”

“Me either,” he said and cupped her chin. 

They gazed into each other’s eyes a few moments until he tilted her head back and put his mouth to hers. Cassie started to part her lips, but it appeared Aidan was going for a short, quick kiss. He broke their hold, but wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her head to his chest.

“I had a great time,” he said again. “But I should probably go before things get any farther.”

“Why? Who says things can’t go any further?”

He was quiet a moment and she felt his grip around her shoulders loosen slightly. 

“You’ve been drinking. I don’t want you to do something that you’ll regret later.”

“Look at my eyes,” she lifted her head from his chest. “You’re in security. You’ve probably had to handle your share of intoxicated people when they get loud and rowdy. Do I look drunk to you?”

His clear blue irises stared into hers for several moments.

“No, you don’t look drunk.”

“Then what’s the issue?”

“I like you and I want to see you again. You’re a good woman, Cassie. I don’t want to screw anything up because I can’t control myself around you.”

“So, a good woman can’t enjoy sex with someone she’s attracted to and has a good time being around? Come on, Aidan. I see what kind of person you are, with your intense, astute ways. I know control is important to you. It seems like you take pride in restraining yourself, but this is one time you can give in and let go of it.”

“No, that’s where you’re wrong.” 

She knitted her brows together, unsure of his meaning. 

“I am going to keep my control tonight.”

He wrapped his hands around either side of her head and drew her mouth to his. The second kiss was so different from the first. He wasn’t timid. It wasn’t the soft, reverential peck of man trying to test the waters. This was the hot, insistent kiss of a man in charge who knew what he wanted and had no problem claiming it. The pressure of his lips and commanding stroke of his tongue promised an experience just shy of sinful.

It was arousing as hell.

She let out a soft sigh when his tongue caressed hers. Cassie walked her fingers up the wide wall of his chest until she reached the smooth, firm column of his neck. She slid her hands around it and toward the back until she made contact with the hair at his nape. She entwined several of the thick, wavy strands through her fingers. 

He tilted her head back further and broke free from the kiss. She shivered as he trailed his lips down her jaw and along the side of her neck. His mouth nibbled on the sensitive spot, making her squirm beneath his hold. Her breathing was quick and shallow. She was sure that he could feel the speed of her pulse as he kissed the base of her throat.

Want to know what happens next? Get Exclusively Hers on Apple BooksBarnes & NobleKindle USKindle AUKindle CAKindle UK, and Kobo.

 

Steamy excerpt from Caribbean Caliente

Caribbean Caliente is out now! I’m excited to share this book with the world, especially right now when things feel so heavy. This book is light, happy, and FUN! If you’re looking for some new romance to read, I hope you’ll check it out.

Blurb

She didn’t plan to fall for a man on what was supposed to be her honeymoon…

After Justus Kendall found her fiance cheating on her, she ended the relationship, but took the honeymoon with her best friend.

On a boat, in the middle of the Caribbean, she meets Miguel Amores, a Latin dancer and entrepreneur from Miami. A chance encounter leads to a dance competition and reveals their scorching chemistry. Justus and Miguel soon find out they’re compatible on and off the dance floor, knowing there’s no future, yet unable to deny their attraction.

When the cruise is over they agree to go their separate ways, but neither can forget about those seven days of Caribbean heat.

Get it in digital format at Apple BooksBarnes & NobleKobo, and Amazon USAmazon CAAmazon UK, and Amazon AU.

Excerpt

“I didn’t peg you as being a stickler for the rules.” His green eyes toured her body. Warmth spread through her at his look. “Come on, don’t I get an answer?”

She didn’t want to tell him the real reasons why she wanted to know if he was single. She didn’t want him to know she’d been cheated on recently. And she sure as hell didn’t want him to know how he, a near stranger, stoked her desire. Still, she had to come up with something to say.

“In dance class you seemed like a nice guy, but I couldn’t imagine a nice guy asking another woman out right under his girlfriend’s nose. I had to ask you about Tammy because I had to make sure my intuition was right.”

“Fair enough. And what about my other question.”

“Why did I agree to go to the competition with you tonight?”

He nodded. 

“I like to win. What better chance would I have than to dance with an instructor?” She hoped he bought her excuse. It was partially true, but she’d have agreed to dance with Miguel even if he had two left feet. 

“Hmm, a stickler for the rules, competitive, and you don’t shy away from confrontation, either. You’ve intrigued me, Justus.”

Heat spread through her. “It’s mutual,” she whispered, and immediately regretted it.

Miguel smiled at her confession. “Okay. Now that you know the truth, what does that mean? I’ve passed your test, then?”

“Yes, and it means that I can have fun dancing with you tonight at the competition, and have a clear conscience about it.”

Miguel glanced at the clock on the wall. “Speaking of, I’ll see you in a few hours. I have a few things I have to do before I go to the competition.”

“Okay, I’ll see you there.”

 She broke their stare and turned her head from side to side, looking pointedly at the way his arms were braced against the wall, keeping her in place. He dropped his arms. She took a couple steps forward, but Miguel grabbed her wrist and drew her back into the corner.

“Wait.” He looked left and right then gazed down into her face. “I don’t want there to be any room for doubt in your mind.” 

He cupped her chin and tilted it back then slanted his mouth over hers. The contact was brief but intense. He applied just the right pressure and suction. And holy hell were his lips soft. She placed her hands on his chest, feeling the corded muscles there and the heat from his skin warmed her palms. The searing gaze he treated her to afterward caused her nipples to tighten and a ribbon of desire to unfurl in her lower belly. The man could well hold a patent on the smoldering sexy stare.

“Justus,” he called to her. 

She spun and faced him, sure her cheeks were scarlet. “Yeah?”

“I like to win, too,” he told her with a wink. 

Want to read more? You can find Caribbean Caliente at Apple BooksBarnes & NobleKobo, and Amazon USAmazon CAAmazon UK, and Amazon AU.

Give Me Another Hit of Nostalgia

I’ve been working on a story for a while now. It’s called Caribbean Caliente and it’s set on a cruise ship during the summer of 2002. I wanted to write the story during this time frame because of the freedom I’d have with characters who didn’t have smartphones, back before social media was a thing.

And, who doesn’t love a big ol’ slice of nostalgia pie? If you’re looking to add to your reading list-and who isn’t these days?-this book is coming atcha on Tuesday, March 31!

For now, I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Caribbean Caliente where my hero and heroine compete in a Dancing With the Stars-esque competition on the cruise ship.

Blurb

She didn’t plan to fall for a man on what was supposed to be her honeymoon…

After Justus Kendall found her fiance cheating on her, she ended the relationship, but took the honeymoon with her best friend.

On a boat, in the middle of the Caribbean, she meets Miguel Amores, a Latin dancer and entrepreneur from Miami. A chance encounter leads to a dance competition and reveals their scorching chemistry. Justus and Miguel soon find out they’re compatible on and off the dance floor, knowing there’s no future, yet unable to deny their attraction.

When the cruise is over they agree to got their separate ways, but neither can forget about those seven days of Caribbean heat.

Teaser

“This round show us you know how to dance to current music. Bust out your newest dance moves. DJ Wild, are you ready?” The DJ let loose with an air horn as an affirmative. 

What’s Your Fantasy by Ludacris blasted through the speakers and Justus felt a blush creep up her neck. She was supposed to dance in front of all these people with Miguel to a song with lyrics that talked about licking someone from their head to their toes? And of course, Mr. Sexy Dancer himself was grinding his hips toward her in a way that made her want to squirm.

As the rap song continued to describe sexual fantasies, she couldn’t help but picture Miguel in some of the scenarios. Miguel with tortoise framed glasses playing the teacher and she the student. Miguel as a sexy vampire and her the helpless human unable to resist his otherworldly charms. Maybe the sexy situations depicted in the song weren’t that far-fetched after all. The music suddenly stopped and she wasn’t sure if she was happy or disappointed. She’d been so intent on the fantasies laid out in the song lyrics she’d danced on auto-pilot. The audience came through for them. She and Miguel made it to the final round. 

“Our last round will be our most difficult,” Antnonio intoned grimly. “We’ll be judging our remaining couples with a full song, and you’ll have to infuse freestyle into this next type of dance.”

“Man, this prize better be pretty sweet. They’re making us work our asses off for it,” she murmured to Miguel. 

He bit back a laugh. “I happen to know what the prize is, and I’m making sure you get it.”

Damn, this man is competitive. 

“DJ Wild, what’s our final dance style? Give us a hint.”

The DJ played a snippet of the song I Touch Myself, and of course, the crowd erupted into cheers at the lyrics. 

“So the dance style is cheesy 90s songs?”

Miguel burst out laughing. “You’re bad, but I like it.” He arched a brow at her and she relished the devilish look in his eye.

“The style, ladies and gentlemen, is solo dancing.” Antonio threw his hands in the air. “I know! We pulled out all the stops with this last dance. So, to be clear you will dance solo, but will be judged as a couple. How do you do that? I’m glad you asked…” he ate up the audience’s laughter. “The couples will dance near each other, but not touching, not together. Imagine if you will that you’re in a crowded night club, you’re dancing…DJ Wild, help me out here,” Antonio snapped his fingers and the DJ put on a thumping track. The assistant cruise director swayed to the beat. “Now imagine you’re in a crowded night club, dancing, alone. And suddenly, across the dance floor you see that one person. Your eyes meet. Come on, ladies, gentlemen, you know what I mean. Make us feel that electricity.”

“Sure, nothing too difficult there, only have the pressure of tons of strangers watching. Oh, and I’m totally sober. Typically if I danced the way he’s talking about, I’d be tipsy.”

“Justus,” Miguel sputtered her name around chuckles. “You should do stand up.”

“I’m not that funny. I’m just snarky.” She shook her head and smiled at him as they took their positions on the floor. “Ready to help me win this thing?”

“Hell yeah.”

When the song about masturbation came over the speakers, at least Justus was prepared for it this time. And, she knew exactly what she would do to win this competition. She turned toward Miguel and held his gaze. The crowd, the noise, the lights, all of it faded away. It was only her, and him, and the music. Justus moved her body and ran her hands up and down her torso. She popped a hip left, then right and tossed her hair over her shoulders. In return Miguel, rolled his hips and stared her down. 

They took small steps toward each other, but danced at least six feet apart. There was no way they could touch each other, but their eyes did all the things their hands and lips couldn’t do in that moment. She bent at her waist, then popped her booty out and ran her hands along the outer edge of her jean clad ass cheeks. Her face flushed and her breathing was shallow and quick. It wasn’t only from the movement. The intense sexual tension between her and Miguel was as thick as a rope. It pulsed between them and took on a life form of its own. 

Miguel matched her sexy move with one of his own. He slowly unbuttoned his shirt, each one coming loose of its hold, his gaze never leaving hers. She was faintly aware of the shouts and catcalls from the women on the sidelines. That was the first reminder she had that people were watching them. That this was all a competition. It wasn’t a real thing. It wouldn’t end with her in his arms, his mouth and body crushed against hers. Her footsteps faltered, but she caught the nearly imperceptible shake of Miguel’s head. He held her stare and freed the remaining two buttons from his shirt and shrugged it off. 

The screams and whistles from the observers almost tuned out the music. Her gaze took in the copper hued skin, stretched taut over muscles. The smattering of chest hair that led to the trail that ended at the waistband of his jeans. God damn, her fingers burned to touch him. It was more than her fingers that wanted to touch him. Her mouth salivated at the thought of the trace of salt she’d taste if her tongue followed the trail of that hair into his pants. She dropped to her knees and tossed her hair back and forth, swaying her torso to the music. The thought of what she’d rather be doing on her knees played out in her movements. Justus looked at him and slowly rimmed her lips with the tip of her tongue. Heat burned in Miguel’s eyes and without breaking their gaze he thrust his hips in a seductive rhythm. The invasive squawk of an air horn broke their lusty spell.

“Wow. Like…wow, right? I’m just speechless. That was crazy.” Antonio fanned himself with his hand and looked at the audience.

Miguel walked to her and extended his hand and helped pull her to her feet. “I’m impressed,” he murmured and pressed himself against her. She felt how impressed he was. Without breaking their gaze he bent and picked up his shirt, but didn’t put it back on. The two of them walked to the side of the dance floor and stood next to the other couple remaining in the competition. 

“As amazing as all our couples have been, there can only be one winner. Are we ready to vote?” The crowd roared. Antonio gestured to the other couple and the crowd broke into mealy applause. That had to be a good sign for her and Miguel, right? Antonio stood in front of them and gestured for the crowd to vote for them. The noise was deafening. 

“Couple eight has won. Now, for your prize.” Antonio treated the crowd to a broad grin, drawing the suspense out and loving it. “You win two free excursion trips of your choice. We’ve got the trip to our private island coming up, so you can do any side trip you want there. Horseback riding on the beach, helicopter tour. Your choice.”

Justus squealed and turned to Miguel. He’d won this for her. Overcome with joy she threw her arms around him and planted a kiss on his lips. Laughter, shouts, and whistles surrounded her. 

What the hell did I just do?

“Well someone’s very happy to win.” Antonio’s Captain Obvious comment was met with laughter. 

Heat flooded her face and she followed Antonio to the side where he took her details and gave her two vouchers for the excursions. She couldn’t even look at Miguel. Yes, they’d performed a semi-pornographic dance routine, but hell, she’d just planted one on him in front of a huge crowd. Surely she’d compromised him in some way, since he taught and gave lectures on the boat. Antonio asked Miguel something and she used that as her excuse to break free from him. She ran across the floor and found Krystal in the crowd. 

“Holy shit. I need a cigarette after watching that.” Krystal treated her to a high five, then wrapped her in a quick hug. 

“Yeah, yeah. I’m mortified. I need to get the hell out of here.”