It's out! The second novel of the Lifestyle by Design series, Heart Robber, is now available on Amazon.
I have truly enjoyed writing the story of Jessa Allen and Rob Granger. Just like I did with Will and Clarise from Will To Love, I have fallen in love with these two passionate main characters from my second novel.
Let me introduce to you this book that would heat up your reading device and truly warm your heart. Here is the first chapter and I hope you enjoy it. 🙂 (Warning: some swear words are in this chapter 😉 )
Jessa Allen was vaguely aware she was staring with undisguised interest at the most attractive man she had ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on. But it was just that – vague. If someone shoved a mirror in front of her so she could see her dreamy eyes, dilated pupils and slightly open, almost drooling mouth, she would have blushed darker than beetroot red.
She wasn't the type to openly gawk at handsome men. She was more subtle and reserved than that. But this hunk with jet black hair and mischievous gray eyes that exuded masculinity affected her with unexpected potency. She hadn't even noticed that she'd stopped mingling with the other guests who attended Megan Carson's charity fund-raising event. From the moment they were introduced to each other by the host after dinner, she had been stuck to his side, unable to move a single step away from his magnetic force.
“In so many respects, I just got really lucky,” Rob Granger said with a self-deprecating smile that pulled her attention to his lips. “I still remember the moment when I realised how quickly my business had grown. I got a big jolt. So I decided I better treat it more seriously. Anyway, enough about my business.” Rob changed the subject. “It must be fun writing for a magazine as popular as Lifestyle by Design.”
“Oh, it is,” she answered distractedly. For the umpteenth time, she wondered what it would be like to be kissed by those full, sexy lips.
“If I wasn't running a marketing consultancy firm, you know what kind of work I'd love to have?” Rob asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“What?” She gave herself a mental shake and tried to focus on what was coming out of Rob's mouth instead of what it would feel like against hers.
“I was thinking it would be great to have a job where not only do I get to interview owners of top restaurants, tourism businesses and high-end professional services in Australia but I also get to sample their offerings so I could write about them. Imagine getting paid to do that.” Rob paused as if he remembered something. “Oh, that's right. That's what you do,” he teased.
She laughed. “I must admit I do have a great job. That's why when the opportunity arose I didn't hesitate to move from Melbourne here to Sydney.”
“I read your article on David's on this month's edition of Lifestyle. Sounds like a great restaurant to try out.”
“Yes, you really should go there one time. Their food's great.”
“Maybe you and I can go.”
Huh? Jessa was momentarily speechless, unable to believe what she'd just heard. “Sorry, what did you say?”
“I said, maybe you and I can go have dinner at David's. Are you free, say, Tuesday?”
“Uh, yes, that would be great.” She was thankful she was able to respond without showing the astonishment she felt. Men like Rob didn't look twice at someone like her.
She came to Megan's charity event to support a good cause, not to get a date, but she was definitely not complaining! To think that before tonight, she was feeling melancholy that she was still single, while her three closest friends had all found someone special. Then, the most gorgeous man at the function asked her out to dinner. Who would have thought?
“Rob! There you are!”
They both looked to see Megan approach them with a lady who looked to be in her early sixties.
“Sorry, are we interrupting something?” Megan asked.
“No, of course not,” Jessa answered.
“I just want to introduce Rob to the lady from whom he bought the box of wine,” Megan said with a big grin. “Rob, this is my future aunt-in-law, Bonnie Smithson. She donated that box of wine you won at the auction.”
“It's great to meet you, Bonnie. Thank you for donating the wine. They're one of my favourites.
“Well, thank you for bidding for them, Rob. Just make sure you don't drink them all in one sitting,” Bonnie said with a hearty laugh. “Now, I heard you run a successful business. How old are you?”
Bonnie shook her head in awe. “So young.” She proceeded to tell them the story of how she and her husband George almost went bankrupt twice while trying to build their business, just as Jessa's attention was caught by her friends Clarise and Faye motioning for her to come over to them.
She dragged her feet away from Rob to walk towards her friends.
“Hey, girls, what's up?”
When Jessa moved to Sydney to take up a senior writing and editing role at Lifestyle by Design magazine four years ago, she instantly bonded with her work colleague Clarise Carson and Faye Summers, Clarise's best friend. These two women plus Victor Michaels, the head graphic designer at the magazine, were now her best and dearest friends.
“You tell us, Jess,” Faye said teasingly. “You seem to be busy with a certain someone tonight.”
Her eyes lit up with wonder. “You wouldn't believe this, girls. I don't believe it myself. But that sexy man, Rob Granger, asked me out to dinner.”
“Okay, before I say what I have to say, why are you so surprised?” Clarise asked with a hint of challenge in her voice.
“Clarise, I know you only have eyes for Will, but have you seen Rob?”
“Sure, and?” Clarise's impatience was obvious.
Jessa turned to Faye, who was looking at her with a censuring look. She shook her head at them fondly. “You know what I mean. Men like Rob, who look like they belong on the pages of a magazine, don't usually go for someone average like me.”
Faye put her hands on her hips and Clarise folded her arms across her chest. Both glared at her.
“Okay, granted I'm not unpleasant to look at–maybe I'm even pretty to some people–but you have to admit I'm still quite average. In the looks department, I'm not in the league of women such as you two.” She smiled at her stunning friends with a tinge of envy. They were truly hot. And so were their boyfriends.
Clarise and Faye stared at her like she was growing horns.
“Jessa Allen, are you kidding me? We obviously still have a lot of work to do with your self-esteem issue!” Faye said incredulously.
“Hey, I'm just stating a fact. The last two guys I went out with were blind dates introduced by Aunt Evelyn. I hardly ever get asked out. So when a seriously gorgeous guy asks me out, I'm shocked. Thrilled, but shocked.”
Clarise shook her head in disbelief and exchanged a look with Faye. “We need to do the JAB again. I'll get Victor.” Faye nodded gravely.
Jessa sighed, resigned to what was about to happen. She watched as Clarise walked towards the bar area where Victor was chatting with a group of people. Before Clarise got to Victor, her boyfriend, Will Matthews, stopped her for a quick kiss and a hug. His reluctance at letting her go was obvious. He watched her longingly until she reached Victor before going back to his friends.
Jessa felt a certain sadness mixed with envy envelop her. She wanted that, too – wanted someone to love and look at her like that, like she was the only woman in the world.
At twenty-eight she had had two boyfriends. They were nice enough, but the relationships she had with them didn't have much passion. It didn't take long for the little spark that was there to die down. There was nothing to fan it to flames.
When Clarise came back with Victor, Faye dragged them all inside the house and into the quiet living room, away from the party going on outside in the manicured gardens of Megan's future parents-in-law.
Jessa's palms started to sweat. She knew her friends meant well. It got irritating sometimes but she loved them for it. But they hadn't been and wouldn't be able to convince her that she was as much of a man-magnet as they were.
Her life story had proven that to her. She was always surrounded by people more attractive and vibrant than she was. She had learnt to accept she would never command attention like her younger sister did, or her school friend Iris, or her previous flatmate Anna, or her three best friends, who were now ready to put her through another round of JAB – the Jessa Allen Booster. They believed she had low self-esteem issues when it came to men and relationships. Well, sure, she probably did. But for good reasons.
“Won't Megan mind that we're in here when she has a function going on outside?” she worried.
“I could call my sister right now and she would be happy to join us for the JAB,” Clarise said, knowing Megan wouldn't mind at all. “The charity auction is finished. Everyone's in party mode now.”
Jessa took a deep breath. “Okay, then.”
“Why don't we do it differently this time? I'd like to try something different.” Faye had a determined look about her that she often had when she was ready to whip someone's ass with her words.
“Sure,” Clarise and Victor responded readily, while Jessa winced.
Faye was a lovely person with a sharp tongue that could cut you with its honesty. She would tell you what you needed to know, not what you wanted to hear. As a senior career consultant at one of Australia's leading career consulting firms, this trait had been very effective and beneficial to her clients.
“Don't worry, Jess. I'm not going to bite you. I just want you to answer me this,” Faye said in a quiet voice that demanded a no-bullshit answer. “Why do you think you're so average that it was such a surprise to you Rob asked you out to dinner?”
“Why?” Jessa repeated with a surprised look. This wasn't the usual Jessa Allen Booster. The JAB typically had her friends taking turns telling her where they thought she was beautiful and attractive to the point that she got embarrassed enough she would pretend to agree with them so they would stop. Now Faye wanted her to talk about the ugly truth? Okay, not so ugly but definitely not so beautiful, either.
“Yes. Why, Jessa?”
“Well … because men as good-looking as Rob tend to be attracted to women who are as attractive as they are. You know–the model types.”
“And apart from your height, which is admittedly a little too short for the runway, why do you think you're not attractive enough to be a model?”
She snorted at Faye's reference to her height. Whichever way you looked at it – five foot three or one hundred sixty centimetres – she undeniably didn't have a model's height.
“I need an answer, Jess.”
“I don't look like one.”
“And why is that?”
“Why don't I look like a model?”
“What do you mean? I just don't look like one.”
“So tell me exactly why you don't look like a model, Jessa.”
Jessa turned to Clarise and Victor for a bit of help but they appeared riveted at the conversation going on between her and Faye. They were content to let Faye run this the way she wanted. She couldn't blame them. Faye had helped them work on some of their issues just by being blunt, direct and relentless.
She squirmed in her seat. What did Faye want to hear? What else could she say? She was simply not attractive enough.
“My face is not that pretty,” she said.
“Really, now? Do you remember the magazine we were looking at the other day? The one where this girl had a make-over? Wasn't it you who said she went from drab and daggy to hot and sexy?”
“But that's different! She had some professional help. And who knows? Maybe they airbrushed her picture or something.”
“Haven't we encouraged you to have a make-over, Jess? We're more than ready to bet you'd be surprised at the result.”
“What good would that do?” she scowled. Every once in a while she would dress up, especially when she went to important client meetings and special occasions, like tonight. But she didn't see the point in having a make-over. It would be a waste of time, money and effort.
“See, this is the problem,” Faye said with an exasperated sigh and a sweep of her arm at her.
“What?” Jessa whined.
“You don't make an effort because you don't believe it's worth it, right?”
“Hmm,” she replied cautiously in a non-committal way.
“Why isn't it worth the effort?” Faye asked in a demanding tone.
“Who'd notice, anyway?”
“Ah! So how come Rob asked you out, huh?”
“That's why I'm so surprised by it!”
She couldn't believe they were having this conversation. Rob asking her out was a big surprise. It wasn't something that happened all the time. She wasn't like Faye or Clarise, who never lacked male admirers.
A thought occurred to her. “Hey, I think I know why Rob asked me out. It seems I'm the only single girl here tonight.”
Loud groans came out from all three of her friends.
“Look, guys, that's just the way it is,” she said with a shrug. She wasn't very pretty and there was nothing she could do about that. It certainly wasn't a crime. She couldn't understand why her friends wouldn't accept it.
“Jess, the only reason why we're always at you about this is because we want you to see what we see,” Faye said, as if reading her mind. “Quite frankly, it's annoying when you mope around and say you want to find ‘The One' but you hold yourself back with your lack of self-confidence about your looks. You're not just brains. You're beauty and brains. You are attractive. We have eyes, you know, so we know what we're talking about. We just don't know what you see when you look at yourself in the mirror.”
Tears sprang to her eyes. She was lucky to have friends who see her as beautiful. But there was nothing special about her straight, long black hair, hazel eyes and petite frame. She was simply plainer than what they said she was. Wasn't that the reason Jasmine, her pretty younger sister, attracted four guys she had huge crushes on and that Jasmine even ended up dating all of them? Or why her big infatuation Michael chose to go out with her previous best friend even though she was the one who had the guts to approach him at the bar? All Michael could say to her was ‘your friend's really beautiful'. That said it all. She wasn't. She had known it since she was a kid.
She stood up and threw her arms wide open. “Group hug.”
“Oh, Jess!” her three friends cried at the same time as they gave her big bear hugs.
“Are you okay?” Victor asked.
“Of course, I'm okay. Listen, there are only a very few people in this world who are truly gorgeous inside and out. For some bizarre reason, I'm lucky enough to be best friends with three of them. Equally bizarre is the fact that one of the hottest men I've ever seen asked me out. I'm not going to question that and ruin my fun. I'm just going to enjoy the fact that it happened. I certainly don't get that every day.”
Clarise and Faye looked at each other.
“Jess,” Clarise said gently, “just thought I'd let you know Rob recently broke up with his girlfriend. He's not looking for a serious relationship at this point, just some fun. He said as much to Will earlier today.”
“Oh.” She was surprised at the pang of disappointment that hit her. She had learnt long ago not to get her hopes up with any first dates, but she felt a connection with Rob she couldn't quite put a finger on. It's my attraction to his face and body. He's too good-looking, she thought to herself.
“Yeah,” Clarise continued. “I mean, you can still go out with him and enjoy being taken out to dinner. He seems like a nice enough guy as long as you don't expect anything more than just to have fun with him.”
“Well, it's not an issue with me. I wasn't expecting someone like him to fall for me, anyway. It'll just be great to have dinner with someone seriously gorgeous.”
“When do you go back to Melbourne, Rob?”
“Next Saturday,” Rob answered Will Matthews, his long-time friend. They'd known each other since their early teens, having gone to school together. When he moved to Melbourne five years ago, they kept in touch and remained close friends. “But I'll be back here again pretty soon, probably in three weeks' time or so,” he continued. “I'd really like to establish a strong client base here. I'd like to target some of the larger Sydney-based corporate firms.”
“Well, let me know what I can do to help you,” Will replied. “You've been a big help to me for my Melbourne branch. I already have some high profile clients lined up to use my company's travel services because of your marketing strategy.”
“Thanks … I'll definitely … let you know,” he responded in a distracted tone, his attention shifting elsewhere.
He was startled by Will's call. “Huh?”
“What's going on?”
“You better not be staring at Clarise.”
He chuckled. “C'mon, Will. Would I do that to you?”
Will narrowed his eyes at him. “It's Jessa then. You do know Jessa is one of Clarise's best friends, so I hope you don't have her on your list of potential playmates. I don't think she's that kind of girl.”
“Hey, I just find her work fascinating. Maybe I can have an article written on my business in Lifestyle.”
“Oh, right. That's a great idea. A good article there can attract loads of new clients for you. Mine's coming out in a couple of months.”
“I've asked her out to dinner,” Rob blurted out.
“Oh? To butter her up so she’ll do a good write-up for you? They don't work like that, you know. They don't do any favours when it comes to their work. They're pretty objective.”
“And Clarise is being objective with you?” he ribbed Will. “When it's so obvious the two of you are so hopelessly in love it's gag-worthy?”
Will grinned, clearly enjoying the thought of Clarise being hopelessly in love with him. There was no denying he was hopelessly in love with her. “Clarise isn't writing the article for me, Jessa is. And both of them have warned me several times they're not going to treat me differently from anyone else. It's their careers and reputations on the line, after all.”
“I'm not looking for favours.”
“So, then, you want to go out with her because …?”
Rob shrugged. He asked Jessa out because he found her attractive. She wasn't the type he usually dated but there was something alluring about her. From the way she looked at him earlier, it was clear the attraction was mutual.
It just occurred to him that there could be complications because of her friendship with Clarise. He didn't think about that. But that shouldn't matter if Jessa also found him attractive, should it? And it was only going to be one dinner – and maybe some fooling around in bed if she was okay with it. If she wasn't up for that, then no problem. There'd be other takers.
“I'm sure she can look after herself, Will. She can suss me out and make her own decision. I won't deliberately mislead her.”
After Andrea, his last girlfriend, Rob had made a decision to be upfront with the women he asked out. He thought Andrea knew the score perfectly well so it came as a shock to him when she demanded they get engaged. He only agreed to be exclusive with her because it served them both. Theirs was a relationship of convenience tied with sexual compatibility, not commitment. That was the only kind of relationship he was interested in. It was a pity Andrea forgot that.
“How exactly are you not going to deliberately mislead her?” Will quizzed.
“How? Well, before I end up in bed with her – with any woman, for that matter – I'm going to let her know I'm not looking for a serious relationship.”
“Okay, that could work, although you'll only be with women who only want casual sex.”
“What about finding a nice girl you could potentially be in a serious relationship with?”
Rob’s roaring laughter startled some of the people standing nearby. “You are fucking kidding me, right?” he said in a lower voice only Will could hear.
“What? Why?” Will asked in bemusement.
“Just because you're blinded by love doesn't mean you have to drag me down that path with you,” he replied with an upward roll of his eyes.
“Drag you down? You don't know what you're missing!”
“Will, come on. You know all this love shit isn't for me.”
While he was happy for his friend, Rob didn't believe everyone found the kind of love Will and Clarise had found with each other. Relationships like that were the exception rather than the rule. Besides, he couldn't see himself wanting to be tied down in a serious relationship with any woman. That would be way too constricting. He valued his freedom, first and foremost.
“Okay, okay. Whatever you think suits you,” Will acquiesced. “As long as you're frank and straightforward with Jessa about your intentions, Rob. Before you end up in bed with her,” his friend warned him.
“Don't worry about that.”
To get your copy of Heart Robber (Lifestyle by Design Book 2), click here. Enjoy!