The Undercover Playboy: Chapter One

One week to go!

Have you marked the 14th of July yet? That's when The Undercover Playboy is released. So excited to share Carter and Cassie's love story with you. I have a good feeling you'd love it 🙂

But for today, here's Chapter One. Enjoy!

TheUndercoverPlayboy-1200x1800

The Undercover Playboy Chapter One

Cassie Stephens startled herself with the gushy breath she let out. Had she just swooned?

She hid her smile as she continued to watch the sexy Carter Garrett make his way towards a spotlighted section in the backyard of their newly engaged friends, Rick Donnelly and Lexie Mead. The dark-haired, blue-eyed hunk joined three other handsome men already standing there, snickering as they patted Carter on the back in a gesture of faux commiseration.

“I knew I wasn’t just imagining it before,” a teasing voice said beside Cassie.

She peeled her gaze off Carter to turn to Natasha Garrett, Carter’s younger sister and her flatmate of eight months.

“You are totally checking him out,” Natasha whispered as she slid onto the seat next to Cassie, which Carter had vacated.

Cassie shrugged nonchalantly even as she blushed. “What’s wrong with that? I’m not the only one.” She looked around to see if the other females at Lexie’s birthday party were indeed looking at Carter. She instantly spotted at least three single women openly gazing at him with admiring eyes. She frowned, not liking that her point had been proven.

But she couldn’t blame them. Apart from his crazy-good looks, Carter exuded authority and masculinity that made any red-blooded female stare. And right now, with Carter deciding to take off his leather jacket, it was easy to make out the muscular chest underneath the navy-blue shirt that hugged his torso. Who wouldn’t want to check him out?

Cassie was surprised, though, that Carter was feeling hot enough to strip off a layer of clothing. It was late autumn in Sydney, the temperature mild but slightly below average. Even though there were several patio heaters strategically scattered around the vast garden to make the place nice and comfortable for everyone, it was still a cool evening for just a shirt.

Was he nervous? She smiled, enjoying the thought that Mr. Confident could be rattled from standing in front of more than fifty people to parade himself with the other bachelors. She’d have to tease him about this later.

“You like him,” Natasha said, her tone betraying the fact that she was pleased with this development.

“I never said I didn’t.”

“But you keep on insisting you’re not interested in him.”

“Liking him and being interested in him are two different things, Tash. Your brother might be one hell of a looker but I have no intention whatsoever of going out with him.”

“Why not? The two of you get along so well. Whenever Carter joins us for dinner, he spends more time chatting with you than he does with me.”

She chuckled. “I’m sure it’s so I won’t mind that he freeloads dinner whenever he comes around.”

A snicker made Cassie turn to her other side, and she noticed that everyone else sitting with them at one of the elegantly decked-out dining tables was looking at her and Natasha. Her three best friends—Lexie, Jade Tully and Erin Baker—along with Rick and Lucas Renner-Bilton—Jade’s fiancé—were smiling widely, not hiding the fact that they were listening in on their conversation.

“Well, I’ve never seen you show interest in a man so obviously before, Cass,” said Jade.

“What?” she whispered in shock.

“Yes, I’ve noticed how flirtatious you’ve been lately,” Lexie said from across the table, winking at her.

Her jaw dropped. “I have never! And definitely not in public. If you noticed anything, it’s just me being friendly with Carter, that’s all.”

“Oh, Cass,” Erin said with a shake of her head. “I don’t know why you’re lying to yourself.”

She opened her mouth to utter another protest when the voice of the gorgeous Marilyn Grant came through the wireless speakers. Everyone hushed to listen intently to one of Rick’s long-time friends.

“Do we seriously have only four bachelors in the running for this round?” Marilyn asked, squinting her eyes at the guests, who were sitting and watching the proceedings, trying to spot an eligible man who hadn’t joined her on the makeshift stage.

“Remember that two of the guys are overseas and one’s in Melbourne,” Rick called out.

Marilyn nodded. “Well, we can’t include them if they’re not here. So, everyone, here are the contestants for this round’s Captured by Love betting game. At some point during the night,” she said, holding up a sheet of paper, “please write your name here, plus the name of the bachelor you think will come off the singles market next, and the amount you’re willing to bet. Whoever correctly chooses the next guy to fall in love and renounce his single status will be the winner, and the losers will have to hand over their money to the winner’s favourite charity. If we have more than one winner, the amount will be split equally among the selected charities.”

Whistles and applause came from the guests.

“Two of these guys are here for the third time,” Marilyn continued, grinning at the four men beside her.

Simon Alexander and Tristan Grant raised their arms in the air in a triumphant gesture.

Simon leaned towards Marilyn to speak through the mic. “Girls, I’m still happily single,” he said in a low, sexy voice. “And I’d love your phone numbers.”

Marilyn pushed him away playfully. “Ladies, don’t be fooled by this playboy talk from Simon,” she said. “He’s really looking for his soulmate.”

Simon laughed out loud, throwing his head back.

Marilyn sighed. “Admittedly, I’ve already lost twice because I picked Simon. Maybe I’ll bet on my cousin this time around.” She stood next to Tristan and swept her hand in front of him with flourish. “Ladies, may I say that Tristan is a great catch? Sure, he can be aggravating sometimes, but deep inside he’s fiercely loyal. You’ll be doing my auntie a favour if you ensnare him. She’s dying to have her son finally settle down.”

The audience laughed while Tristan rolled his eyes, shaking his head in bemusement.

“And we also have two new bachelors joining this round,” Marilyn said. “Most of you already know Brad.”

Lexie’s older brother bowed theatrically as the audience clapped.

“So, Brad, can you tell our friends why they should bet on you?”

Brad snorted. “Well, I can tell them they shouldn’t. Settling down isn’t on my to-do list yet.”

“Hey!” Vivian, Brad’s mother, called out. “Shouldn’t the older sibling get married first? Since Rick proposed to Lexie tonight…”

“Mum,” Brad said with a chuckle. “The four of us up here intend to stay single for a while. Where would the fun be in this game otherwise?”

Vivian frowned. “How can anyone give money to charity if none of you settle down?”

Brad shrugged. “Well, don’t look at me.”

Marilyn exhaled loudly through the mic. “Carter, maybe you’re our best hope. Do you want to say something to the punters?”

Carter good-naturedly took the mic Marilyn offered him. “Well, all I can say is that I’m honoured to have been invited to this party and meet you wonderful people. Oh, and that I was really enjoying myself until Cassie there practically forced me to walk up here and offer myself up as a pawn for this game,” he said with mock displeasure, narrowing his eyes at Cassie.

Cassie grinned at him and gave him two thumbs up.

“She said she’s not betting on me, though,” Carter said, his lips twisting. “And you guys should follow her lead and pick someone else.”

“Honestly,” Marilyn said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I don’t believe any of you with your I’m-happy-being-single posturing. Rick and Lucas said the same thing, and look at them now.”

Everyone turned their heads towards Cassie’s table, where the two men in question were sitting next to their fiancées. Rick and Lucas grinned at each other, then Rick turned to Lexie, grabbing her face and kissing her passionately on lips. Not to be outdone, Lucas did the same to Jade.

The crowd cheered.

A vision popped into Cassie’s head as she watched her engaged friends smooch in front of everybody. Her gaze involuntarily went back to Carter… then travelled to his crotch.

She blushed, quickly looking away. Damn it. What the hell was wrong with her?

If anyone had asked her last month if she had a thing for Carter, the answer would have been no. Sure, she found him attractive. Incredibly so. But she wasn’t looking for a relationship. She was too busy studying for her MBA, wanting to finish it with flying colours. To add to that, she was going for several job interviews so she could leave the dead-end role she hated. Her main priority was to get her career on the right track first. She’d already wasted four years with a company that zapped her energy and humour for a salary less than what she knew she deserved. A relationship would distract her from her goals.

But distracted was exactly how she’d been since she had that dream. It had been so vivid that she could still remember every single moment in her head. More frustratingly, she instantly got hot and bothered every time those memories came, unbidden.

She shifted in her seat as certain scenes played in her mind. Of course, she had no idea if the bottom half of Carter’s body really was as magnificent in real life as it had been in her dream. Her breath caught as she recalled wrapping her hand around his hardness and—

Stop it, Cassandra!

She crossed her legs, feeling the tingling sensation she now constantly suffered whenever she remembered that dream—which was too damned often for her liking! These days she was always craving. For Carter. Which wasn’t good.

He wasn’t boyfriend material. Every time Natasha quizzed him about his dating life, he always mentioned a different woman.

But then again… Hadn’t Cassie herself said she wasn’t into anything serious at this point? So what would be the problem if she and Carter hooked up?

The problem is you’ve lost your mind!

She shook her head, annoyed at herself. She shouldn’t forget that she needed to focus on her MBA studies first. She’d already got her CPA designation two years ago, but she still wanted to enhance her qualifications. First and foremost, though, she wanted to find a better job so she could say goodbye to her hellish current boss once and for all. She was already twenty-six. She wanted to settle into a good role with a good company now, not later.

But…

Wouldn’t having something casual with Carter help with getting him out of her system so she could concentrate on her studies?

Oh, for heaven’s sake, Cassie! Shut up already! Why would Carter want you?

That last thought hit her hard, and she took a sharp breath. Why indeed would someone like Carter be interested in her? She was the quiet type who hated stereotypical girly things like clothes shopping. If it weren’t for her best friends, who constantly helped her with her wardrobe, she’d always be wearing the same black dress at parties. And if it weren’t for contact lenses, she’d be wearing the thickest glasses among anyone she knew.

No, someone like Carter went for supermodel-looking women—those who were born to be the centre of attention at parties because of their bubbly personalities and fashion sense. Why wouldn’t he? He was a gorgeous, outgoing person himself.

Heck, she really should be grateful for that dream. At least she’d got to see Carter in all his naked glory—even if it was just in her head.

*****

Carter smiled wryly as he watched the other guests cheer and laugh as Rick and Lucas kissed their fiancées. Here was a group of friends and family who enjoyed each other’s company, letting their hair down and revelling in the celebrations.

It had been a long time since he’d been to a real, fun party like this where he’d felt free to relax and be himself—well, up to a certain extent. With his job as an undercover detective, it wasn’t always possible to fully open up just because he wanted to.

Melancholy hit him. He missed times like this. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been to a gathering where people knew who he really was. In the last couple of years, most of the parties he’d attended had involved him rubbing shoulders with characters he’d only pretended to be friends with so he could get what he needed in order to catch criminals.

Fortunately, he had the time to attend Lexie’s birthday party tonight. He usually didn’t accept invitations like this when he was in the middle of a case, but he’d become good friends with Rick. The two of them had bonded after he’d saved Rick from a gun-wielding perp. Then their friendship grew from Rick providing information that eventually helped catch a whole gang of criminals.

And then there was Cassie, his sister’s flatmate.

He glanced at the brown-haired, brown-eyed woman who, incredibly, had no idea how beautiful she was. Tonight, she was shining. She had on a new red dress that she’d said Jade had helped her pick. And she had matching high heels on, which made her shapely legs look even sexier.

He knew, though, that she’d prefer to be wearing flats. And from the way she constantly blinked, she’d also be hoping she had on her comfortable black-rimmed eyeglasses rather than her contacts. She was pretty without her glasses, but frankly, he preferred her with them on. They made her look attractively studious. He had a thing for brainy women.

He chuckled mirthlessly. If he could, he’d ask Cassie out. Unfortunately, that was out of the question. All he could allow at this point in time was the light flirtation they exchanged regularly—the kind that wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.

Marilyn turned to him and the other three guys and he pulled himself out of his musing.

“See? I bet that one of you would soon end up like those two,” Marilyn said, gesturing to Lucas and Rick.

“Can I ask one of the bachelors a question?” Katrina, one of the single ladies, called out.

“Sure,” Marilyn answered.

“Carter, I’m so glad that you’re here with us tonight,” Katrina said with a sultry smile. “I’m curious… how old are you, and what do you do for a living?”

“Ooh, Katrina’s taking a special interest in Carter,” Marilyn said in a teasing voice, then handed the mic to Carter.

He took it, hiding a sigh. “I’m thirty, Katrina, and I’m an electrician. Currently, I also do part-time work as a personal trainer for a friend’s fitness company,” he answered, flashing a smile. He hoped it covered up his unease with his answer.

Out of everyone in this party, only his sister and Rick knew that he was an undercover detective. And there were several people in this group that he hated lying to, including Cassie. They’d considered him a friend and welcomed him with open arms. Unfortunately, the cases he worked on called for discretion and secrecy. And lies.

He usually stayed undercover for a lengthy period of time. Twice already, his life and those of others had been jeopardised because he’d bumped into acquaintances who’d recognised him and inadvertently blown his cover. Similar situations had to be avoided as much as possible.

But expecting each and every single person who knew him to immediately pick up that he was undercover and play along with it was near impossible. The best way was to tell people that what he did for a living was his undercover role. Only family and close friends knew the truth.

His “part-time” work changed whenever he worked on a different case. But being an electrician was the constant answer he gave. Fortunately, he really was qualified as one. His parents owned one of the most successful electrical services company in Australia.

“So do you see clients in a gym? And do you work with them one-on-one?” Katrina pressed.

“Yes. And sometimes I see clients at their homes,” he answered. “The personal trainer gig is only temporary until the guy I’m filling in for comes back from an overseas holiday.”

Katrina smiled cutely at him, but didn’t have any more questions to ask.

He breathed a sigh of relief as Marilyn gave the okay for the four of them to return to their tables. He saw Natasha return to her original seat next to Erin, giving him back the place beside Cassie.

He hid a snicker, knowing what his sister was up to. His mum and Natasha had been conspiring for a while now to find him a date. They believed that a steady girlfriend was one more person of influence who could convince him to take extra care while working on his cases. From Natasha’s recent actions, it was obvious that Cassie was her selected candidate.

“Mum would be happy to know that you’re one of four men racing to be the first to fall into a relationship,” Natasha said as he sat back down.

“Sure,” he said sarcastically.

“Watch out for Katrina,” Rick said, leaning across the table. “She’ll be beating a path to your door in no time.”

“Yeah. She can be pretty intense,” Lucas said conspiratorially. “And I think Vicky’s also eyeing you.”

Carter sighed as he turned to Cassie. “Your fault for telling me to go up there.”

“Why is it my fault? You’re the hot one,” Cassie replied, before her eyes widened. “I mean… you know… ’cause you’re the… uh… personal trainer,” she said weakly, blushing furiously.

He smothered his grin. It hadn’t escaped his attention that even though Cassie flirted with him in private, she was shy about it in public. She wasn’t the type to openly go after a man.

It was a shame that Cassie seemed intent on not dating while she focused on her career and studies. Not that it mattered to him, because he couldn’t date her anyway. In fact, he couldn’t date anyone. He was supposed to be a loser playboy so he could catch that heartless bitch who’d shot his best friend Gavin Redford, and had Gavin fighting for his life.

***End of Chapter One***

Chapter Two's coming tomorrow!

You can pre-order The Undercover Playboy right now from the following stores:

Amazon US | Other Amazon Stores | Apple iBooksBarnes & Noble | Kobo

Links to Google Play, All Romance Ebooks and Smashwords will be available on July 14th.

And to celebrate the upcoming release of The Undercover Playboy, The Unwilling Executive is on sale for a limited time!

Unwilling 99c promo1

Much love,
Miranda xxx

 

The Unyielding Bachelor: Chapter Two

Hi again! Hope you enjoyed Chapter One of The Unyielding Bachelor. Without further ado, here's Chapter Two 😉

TheUnyieldingBachelor-200x300The Unyielding Bachelor: Chapter Two

“Ow,” Lexie said under her breath as she gingerly walked towards the elevators.

“You okay?” Rick asked, clasping her arm in assistance.

“My feet are killing me,” she said with a rueful laugh. “I should have sat out that dancing marathon game. These heels weren’t right for it.”

“Mine are killing me, too,” Jade said, her steps as short and slow as Lexie’s as she hung on to Lucas.

“I’ll make sure Drew’s already waiting for us at the front,” Lucas said, fishing his phone from his jacket pocket to call his driver.

“Thanks, Lucas,” Lexie said, grateful for the thought and the fact that she and Rick were getting a lift with the couple.

In the past, she hadn’t taken full advantage of the time she’d spent with Rick whilst in the company of their friends. When surrounded with other people, she’d toned down her flirting, not wanting to appear as desperate as some of his admirers.

Right now was a case in point. Rick still had his hand on her arm, ensuring she had some support while she tried to walk with dignity. But what was she doing with this unexpected benefit from her aching feet? Nothing.

Well, that was about to change.

“Ow,” she said again—deliberately—and clung to him.

“Not far to go now,” Rick soothed.

That was a shame, because she was now hugging his arm. She only had to rest her head on his shoulder and they would look as sweet as Jade and Lucas.

“It’s funny how women’s shoes are so expensive, yet can be so uncomfortable,” Rick said.

“The things we do for fashion,” she murmured, wondering if Rick was minding the way she was grasping his bicep.

“And how do you know how much women’s shoes cost, bro?” Lucas teased.

“Try having a fifteen-year-old sister who’s starting to want to dress up like a grown-up,” he said dryly. “I tell Shelley she’s too young for high fashion and she tells me I’m too stodgy.”

“You sound more like a dad than a brother,” Lexie said with a chuckle.

“I do, don’t I?” he murmured. He had been both a brother and father to Shelley ever since their dad passed away three years ago.

“Have you seen her much lately?”

“Last time I saw her was almost a month ago,” Rick said wryly. “Funny how she used to be my shadow when she was younger. Not anymore.”

They made it to the hotel entrance, where the limo was already waiting for them. Drew opened the back door and Jade walked in first. Lucas stood aside so Lexie could follow but she pretended not to notice his gesture. She continued to hold on to Rick’s arm and patiently waited until Lucas took the hint and got in the car.

She could feel herself blushing. She was being obvious. But so what?

She rolled her eyes at herself. What happened to the promise she’d made not to chase after a man or fight over one ever again? Since finding out that the ex-boyfriend she’d set out to win back had been cheating on her for so long, that had been her motto.

But, no. She didn’t think she was softening her stance with Rick. This was a different situation. Besides, simply letting him know how she felt wasn’t exactly chasing after him.

She climbed into the limo and was grateful to see that Lucas and Jade were already cuddling inside. That meant she was definitely sitting next to Rick.

“I’m so tired,” Jade said, yawning.

“Well, you’ve had a bit to drink,” Lucas murmured, kissing her forehead.

“Hey, maybe Drew can take you guys home first,” Rick said to the couple as he settled himself next to Lexie. “Your place is closest from here.”

“Good idea,” Lucas said, then gave instructions to his driver.

Lexie cheered silently. She’d be alone with Rick at the back of the car for at least fifteen minutes.

*

“Lex.”

Lexie smiled as she felt Rick’s lips against her hair.

“Lexie.”

“Hm,” she said, keeping her eyes closed to savour the moment. It was nice hearing him say her name so softly. She shifted so she could snuggle against him even more, snaking her arm around his waist.

Rick chuckled. “Maybe I should carry you inside. I don’t think we can stay in here. Drew has to go home.”

The fog of sleep lifted and she bolted upright, reddening as she realised how she’d practically wrapped herself around Rick as she snoozed.

“Sorry,” she said, glancing at Jade’s and Lucas’s empty seats. “Have they gone?”

“Yes. You slept through the goodbyes.”

“Oh.” Great. She’d wasted her alone time with him.

Drew opened the door from the outside and she didn’t have a choice but to get out. To her delight, Rick followed.

“I’ll walk you to your door,” he said.

“I thought I heard you say you’ll carry me,” she teased.

Next thing she knew, he was sweeping her off her feet and into his arms. She let out a high-pitched shriek, clinging to his neck in surprise.

“Never let it be said that I disappoint a damsel with distressed feet,” he said with a grin as he strode towards her apartment building.

She giggled, suddenly shy and speechless. She tried to think of something funny or sexy to say, but all that ran through her head was how Rick must be hearing how hard and fast her heart was hammering in her chest. Gosh, she wasn’t expecting this.

With a sigh, she rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.

“You’re not falling asleep on me, are you?”

Was he kidding? Fall asleep when she was in his arms? “No,” she answered. “Just enjoying the ride.”

He chuckled. “Well, we need your key,” he said as he stopped by the main door of the building.

She waited for him to put her down. But he didn’t.

“Key, Lexie,” he said, staring at her expectantly.

“Oh.” She hid her grin as she fumbled with her purse while still hanging on to his neck. “Here it is.”

Rick angled her so she could insert the key in the lock. Together, they managed to open the heavy front door with Rick still carrying her.

“You don’t have lifts,” he observed, looking around the foyer for the elevators.

“No. There’s only three floors in the building.”

“What floor are you on?”

“Second. So I guess you’ll have to put me down now.”

With a sigh, he did.

Holding on to him for support, she unstrapped her stilettos and dangled them in her hand. “See? Next best thing for distressed feet,” she said with a grin.

Rick chuckled. “Well, I guess you don’t need me anymore, so I better go. See you tomorrow night for dinner at my place,” he said. Then he waved and started to walk away.

She stared at his back in hurt disappointment. That was it? There was nothing more to carrying her than being a gentleman who was helping a friend with aching feet?

“Rick,” she called out.

He looked back just as he was about to open the door.

“You can’t go without getting your thanks.”

Rick raised his brows.

With as much sexiness as she could muster, she sashayed to him and slung her arms around his neck. “Thank you,” she whispered, then kissed him on the lips. Lingeringly.

Her heart was galloping, but at the same time there was calmness about her. He had to know. No more being coy about it.

She ended the kiss and watched his face for his reaction. His eyes were wide, his breathing shallow.

“Wow,” he said. “You’re very welcome.”

She smiled, staring into his eyes.

Rick cleared his throat and stepped out of her embrace. “Well, goodnight, Lexie,” he said in a too-loud-and-cheerful-for-the-moment tone. “That was a great way to end the day. Bring your appetite tomorrow night.” Then he left.

What?

She exhaled her chagrin. There was no way anyone could have mistaken that kiss for a friendly gesture.

She waited to see if Rick would at least turn back and wave. But no. He got into the car and closed the door without a backward glance.

Ouch.

He was plainly and simply not interested.

She took one long, deep breath to compose herself before she turned around and trudged up the stairs. When she opened the door to her apartment, a sleepy Erin Baker was walking out of the bathroom.

“Hi, Erin,” she said glumly to her other best friend and flatmate.

“What’s wrong?” Erin asked in a drowsy voice.

She smiled sadly. “Nothing.”

Erin frowned. “Nothing? When you and Jade called earlier to say that we’re all celebrating their engagement at Rick’s house tomorrow night, you sounded super excited. So what—or who—burst your bubble?”

She plopped on the sofa. “The same man. Rick.”

“What happened?” Erin asked, sitting next to her.

“You know how I’ve decided to be more overt with my feelings for him?”

Erin nodded, now seemingly wide awake.

“Well, I kissed him downstairs. And now I don’t have to wonder anymore. He’s not interested in me.”

“Oh, Lex,” Erin said with sympathy, putting a hand on her arm. “Did he push you away?” she asked softly.

“No.”

“He didn’t kiss you back?”

Lexie’s brows furrowed. “Actually, he did. There was even some tongue there.”

“So he did kiss you back and he didn’t pull away?”

She nodded. “But when I ended the kiss, he just said goodnight as if the kiss meant nothing.”

“He didn’t say anything else?”

“Well, he did say ‘wow’ and that I was very welcome—because I thanked him first before I kissed him.”

“He said ‘wow’?” Erin asked, her brows lifting.

“Yeah.”

“So he did enjoy the kiss.”

“I guess. But like I said, after that, he brushed it off.”

“Hm. Maybe because it’s late and he’s tired and you surprised him?”

She stared at Erin. “You think? But that’s how he always reacts every time I flirt with him. I thought before that I just haven’t done enough to make him notice that I like him. But this kiss was different. It definitely wasn’t friendly.”

Erin sighed. “I don’t know then, Lex. Sorry.”

“But do you think kissing me back and saying ‘wow’ could be something?” she asked, wanting to hang on to whatever possibility was left. “Plus, he carried me to the door.”

“Carried you?”

She told Erin the whole story.

“Geez, it’s hard to tell, Lex. But if you’re game, why don’t you keep persisting with your flirtation plans? Who knows what might develop from there?”

She chewed her bottom lip, worried and uncertain.

“Alexia, I know what you’re thinking,” Erin said with soft censure. “But you’ve gotta be a little more flexible with this no-chasing-after-a-man thing. I think you’re backing away too early. Why don’t you see how he interacts with you tomorrow night and go on from there?”

“Okay,” she said, marshalling her courage again. “I guess I could just have surprised him tonight. Tomorrow might be different.”

“I’ll be watching his reaction, too,” Erin said.

She nodded, eager and apprehensive for what was to come.

*****

“Hey, gorgeous!”

“Hi, Rick,” Lexie said with a bright smile, preparing to tiptoe and kiss him as close to his lips as she dared with people watching.

But she wasn’t fast enough. Rick had already leaned down to plant a peck on her cheek. A very light, almost-nothing peck.

Well, what should she make of that?

With a sinking feeling, she watched as Rick gave her friends smacking kisses and warm hugs.

“Shelley’s in the kitchen. She’s excited to see you guys,” Rick said, walking towards the back of his impressive house and motioning for everyone to follow.

Erin pulled her so they lagged behind.

“He is most definitely different with you,” Erin whispered.

“What did I tell you?” she asked dryly.

“That’s a good thing, I think.”

She frowned at Erin. “How can kissing the air instead of my cheek be a good thing when everyone else got something more enthusiastic? If that wasn’t a clear hint that he’s not interested, I don’t know what is.”

“But I also saw the way he looked at you.”

Her heart jumped. “How did he look at me?”

“It’s hard to explain, but there was something in his eyes.”

“What something?”

“Something different.”

“That doesn’t help, Erin.”

“Well, there was… tenderness, I think. Or warmth. I don’t know. He might have been distant with his kiss, but his eyes gave me the opposite impression. To be honest, I’ve noticed him look at you differently before. I just didn’t want to bring it up because I’m not sure what it meant.”

“Really?”

“Hey, didn’t Jade say that Rick could have a good reason to stay single?” Erin said. “What if he’s interested in you but just can’t act on it?”

She frowned. “So how can I find out if that’s the case? And what’s stopping him?”

“We’ll work on finding out,” Erin said with determination.

She smiled at her friend, giving her a quick thank-you hug. Even though Erin was still getting over her recent breakup with a guy she’d been with for a couple of years, Erin had remained upbeat about love. She was an incurable romantic.

“All our guests are here, Shel,” they heard Rick say as they entered a large kitchen fit for a serious chef.

“Hi, guys!” said a pretty blonde girl who ran to them with exuberance. “I’m so glad to be feeding all of you tonight.” She gave each of them a massive bear hug, with a shriek of congratulations for the engaged couple.

Lexie grinned, returning Shelley’s greeting with a tight embrace. She loved Rick’s sister. She wasn’t a brat at all, even though Rick had that nickname for her. Shelley was warm and open, with a delightful sense of humour. Tonight, she was wearing an apron that said I’m my brother’s boss.

“Nice apron, Shel,” Lucas commented.

“Well, it’s true in some ways,” Shelley said with a grin.

“Having it printed on your favourite piece of clothing doesn’t make it true, brat,” Rick said, patting his sister on the shoulder.

“I’m so excited, Shelley,” Jade said. “And we’d all love to help.”

“Yes, we’re here to get our hands dirty,” Lexie added. “Tell us what you want us to do.”

“Well, since this is an engagement dinner for Jade and Lucas, maybe the two of them can just sit and watch. I do need extra help or we won’t be eating for another couple of hours because Rick is sooo slooow with everything.”

“Gee, thanks, sis,” Rick said sarcastically. “Glad to know my efforts are appreciated.”

“Why don’t you just pour your guests some drinks?” Shelley asked him with an unapologetic but sweet smile, then proceeded to give instructions to Lexie, Erin and Cassie.

The three women happily did what Shelley had assigned to them, leaving the girl to focus on preparing some special sauces for her dishes.

Lexie was reminded why Shelley impressed her. The girl was a pro in the kitchen. At this rate, they’d be having dinner in no time. She couldn’t wait. She was starving.

But busy as she was, she made sure she took the time to give Rick provocative looks. She even gave him flirty nudges whenever the opportunity presented itself. She wanted him to know that kissing him last night wasn’t meant to be a one-off thing.

He didn’t respond in kind, though, which was a bit of a downer. But she wasn’t going to let his lack of enthusiasm get to her. For all she knew, Rick was just feeling self-conscious in front of their friends. That was a possibility, right?

“By the way, Rick,” Shelley said, looking up from her task after quietly concentrating on it for long minutes. “I was talking to Aileen earlier today. She said she might pass by here tonight to drop something off.”

Lexie noticed how Rick’s head jerked towards Shelley.

“Didn’t you tell her we’re busy tonight?” Rick asked, glaring.

“Yeah. But she said she won’t be staying long. She just wants to hand me something.”

“What?”

Shelley shrugged just as the doorbell rang. “That’s probably her,” she said.

Lexie stared surreptitiously at Rick as he walked out of the kitchen. He was clearly uncomfortable with the arrival of this Aileen woman. Why? And who was she?

“Who’s Aileen, Shel?” Lexie asked casually.

“His girlfriend. I mean his ex-girlfriend,” Shelley answered, looking very pleased, like things were going the way she’d planned. It wasn’t hard to guess the girl’s intentions.

Gloom swiftly descended onto Lexie. But this wasn’t the time and place to wallow in the reasons for Rick’s ex being here, so she tried to push it away.

“Hi, everyone!”

Lexie looked up and saw a brunette standing by the threshold.

“Aileen!” Shelley cried delightedly.

Lexie’s heart sank. Aileen was absolutely stunning.

###End of Chapter Two###

That's it for now. You can enjoy the rest of the story when it comes out on the 19th of May 🙂

Can't wait for release day! Until then, take care.

Much love,
Miranda xxx

You can pre-order your copy of The Unyielding Bachelor from:

Amazon US | Other Amazon Stores | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play

 

The Unyielding Bachelor: Chapter One

Not long to go before May 19! That's the day when The Unyielding Bachelor (Captured by Love, Book 2) is released. Yay!

I've thoroughly enjoyed writing about Lexie and Rick's love story, and I can't wait for you to read it.

It's time to share the beginning with you, so check out the hunk on the cover, then enjoy Chapter One!

TheUnyieldingBachelor-1200x1800

The Unyielding Bachelor: Chapter One

Lexie Mead cast a narrowed gaze towards the hunky Rick Donnelly, sipping the excellent wine he’d poured for her as she wracked her brains for fresh ideas that would help her fulfil her mission.

It was exactly twelve months to the day since she’d first met him—right here in the same ballroom of a five-star Sydney hotel—and it frustrated her how little progress she’d made in making him take her flirtations seriously. What else could she do, apart from acting desperate, to make him see that she wanted to be more than friends?

They’d been introduced to each other at this same function last year—the Staff and Partners Halloween Dinner held by Bilton Machineries, Lexie’s employer and Rick’s business partner. Back then, she’d fallen in an instant crush.

Today, she’d be lying to herself if she didn’t admit that in one year, not only had their friendship developed, but her feelings for him had grown deeper. Much deeper.

With mutual friends and work connections, it had been easy for her to find ways to get into Rick’s circle of friends. With Rick also rekindling his friendship with Lexie’s older brother Brad—his former schoolmate—after years of losing contact, Lexie had been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Rick in the past year.

But Rick couldn’t seem to see past the friendship barrier. Even right now, the gorgeous man was oblivious to her attention as he chatted with Minda, the recently hired business development manager, who was being way too tactile with him.

Lexie huffed. She knew Minda’s game. She was sure that the woman’s friendly gesture was to hide the fact that she simply wanted to feel Rick’s bicep. Lexie wouldn’t even be surprised if Minda would soon try to—

Ah, there! The flirt had grabbed Rick’s hand, giving him a come-hither look as she tried to pull him to the dance floor.

Lexie gave her officemate an evil eye although, of course, it had gone unnoticed. Fortunately, Rick shook his head, raising his wine glass, probably indicating he wanted to finish it.

Good! So he should. An expensive, limited edition Cabernet Sauvignon shouldn’t be ditched just because some female wanted to dance with him.

Unless, of course, that female’s name was Lexie Mead.

Lexie sighed. Sometimes she wondered if Rick meant more whenever he hugged and squeezed her tight, or teased her with that tender look in his eyes, or made sweet comments that made her heart race. But with Rick never asking her out on a date, she had no option but to believe she was merely reading more into his actions than what was really there.

Minda finally left and Rick noticed her gaze. “You look deep in thought there, Lex,” he said, grinning in that cute way of his.

She smiled mysteriously. “Yes. I’m trying to come up with a plan to make you fall in love,” she said lightly, stopping short of adding ‘with me’ at the end of her sentence. Last thing she wanted was to scare him off.

“You’re not really gonna bet on me, are you?”

She grinned at the scepticism on his face. His squinting brown eyes and lopsided smile indicated he didn’t believe she’d go ahead with her intention to join the betting game set up by some of his female friends. With the number of bachelors in Rick’s circle fast dwindling, some of the women had decided to bet on who would be next to come off the singles market.

“I am most definitely betting on you,” she answered.

Rick shook his head. “Don’t waste your money, Lex.”

“Your warning and concern are duly noted. But I understand that the winners have to donate their winnings to charity. So if I lose, I won’t mind. Besides, I’ve had an unexpected windfall. I can afford it.” She waved the gift certificate she held in her hand. It was her prize for coming first in tonight’s pantomime game—the highlight of every Bilton Machineries Halloween Dinner. The amount on the gift certificate was eye-popping. As one of Australia’s biggest companies, her employer was well known for being generous to its staff.

Rick smirked. “You’re gonna risk your hard-earned prize to bet that little-old-me would be the next guy to be captured by love?” he said, a hint of mockery in his tone. “I’m trying to help you here, Lex. I’d feel guilty when you have to pay up.”

She shook her head. Clearly, the man had no idea why she was joining the game—and why she was going for him.

“I think Lexie would win this bet, Rick,” teased Jade Tully, one of Lexie’s best friends who was also PA to the Bilton Machineries’ CEO—and who’d gotten engaged tonight to the CEO’s son, Lucas Renner-Bilton.

“C’mon, Jade,” Rick said. “I’m telling everyone not to put money on me, and here you are, encouraging your friend to squander her fortune on a lost cause. Lucas, say something to your fiancée.”

Lucas, who also happened to be one of Rick’s closest friends, shrugged. “I’ve already told Jade that Lexie’s chances are slim if she’s picking you to be the next to fall,” he said.

“Aw, Lucas,” Lexie said. “You, of all people, should know that men like Rick do fall. Look at you. No one won the first round of bets because no one picked you. And yet just a few minutes ago, you were up on stage proposing to Jade.”

“And you think Rick would follow in my footsteps? I’m just lucky to find Jade, Lex. Rick doesn’t have the same kind of luck I have,” Lucas joked.

She could only smile because she wasn’t at all certain that Rick was ready to get into a serious relationship. In fact, he’d openly declared that he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend.

Nothing surprising about that. Rick was a ladies’ man who had attractive women flirting with him left, right and centre. And at thirty, he was a successful entrepreneur who owned a chain of luxury car dealerships. His clients were among the wealthiest people in Australia.

Any guy who had lots of wannabe girlfriends like he did would find it hard to want to settle down. What for, when there were plenty of girls who weren’t demanding exclusivity?

She repressed a sigh and smiled instead as Jade sat next to her. “Had enough of snogging your new fiancé at our company party?” she teased.

“No,” Jade said with a giggle.

“You are so glowing, Jade,” she said with a smile, truly happy for her friend yet envious at the same time.

“Thank you. But let’s talk about you and the bet. You ready to let Rick know how you feel?”

She glanced at Rick and Lucas, who were busy having their own conversation. “Since my flirtations are going unnoticed, I think I need to come out a little bit more,” she whispered.

“Lucas said something to me a few minutes ago.”

“What?”

“He said that Rick has a very good reason for staying single,” Jade said conspiratorially.

She frowned. “What reason?”

“Lucas said he’s not at liberty to say.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s intriguing,” Jade said. “I could cajole Lucas into telling me about it, but I don’t want to pressure him. It sounded like he’s made a promise to Rick to keep it confidential.”

“Maybe Rick himself would tell us.”

“Well, since you’ll be seducing him…” Jade teased.

She grinned. “You know what? Now that I’m quite set on it, I can’t wait to start.”

“Rick better watch out,” Jade said with a laugh. “His days as a free man could be numbered.”

Lexie sighed. “And I aim to be the one to put an end to it.”

*****

“Are you gonna tell Lexie?” Lucas asked Rick in a low voice.

“Tell her what?”

“The reason why you have to stay single for a few more years?”

Rick shook his head. “You know I’ve gone down the path of telling a woman that in the past, with almost disastrous consequences. It’s not worth the risk. Besides, I don’t really see the point in letting Lexie know.”

“The point is she’s interested in you. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”

“Of course I have,” he answered, trying not to stare at Lexie, who looked extra stunning tonight. Her long caramel hair was in a bun with curly wisps flowing freely around her beautiful face. Her light brown eyes—he liked to think of them as honey—were perfectly framed by those extra-long lashes of hers. And hell, her black evening dress accentuated her sexy curves so well that he had to constantly remind himself not to drool.

No, Lexie showing interest in him had never gone unnoticed.

“And you do know what she meant when she said she was betting on you, right?” Lucas asked.

He nodded, exhaling a heavy breath. Lexie cranking up her flirtations would drive him crazy. It was hard enough to pretend that her actions didn’t affect him. If she pushed the envelope further, even by just a notch, he’d be in big trouble. He didn’t have much resistance left when it came to her.

Acting like he only saw Lexie as a friend was taking its toll. He knew that when he got home tonight, he’d be staring at his ceiling with a heavy weight on his chest, wondering what it would be like if he could let her know he was attracted to her, too.

His jaw tensing, he silently cursed his stepmother for his predicament. If Betty Donnelly weren’t the scheming woman that she was, there’d be no need for all this pretence.

His phone vibrated in his pocket. He checked it and excused himself to take the call.

“Hey, Shel,” he said to his fifteen-year-old half-sister, whom he loved to death.

“Hi, Rick. Can I stay with you tomorrow night?” Shelley pleaded.

“Why? What’s wrong?” he asked, frowning.

“Nothing. Mum’s taking home this new man for dinner tomorrow and I don’t wanna be home for that.”

“Ah. And I thought you were just missing me. I should have known better,” he said with a mock sigh, loving to tease her.

“Hey! Just because I get too busy spending time with my own friends doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. You know you’re still my favourite guy in the whole wide world.”

He smirked. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” His sister was a responsible kid with maturity beyond her years, so he didn’t usually worry about her getting into any trouble.

“So can I sleep over at your place tomorrow night? Please?”

“And here I was, looking forward to a no-brat weekend.”

“Why? Do you have a new girlfriend coming over? Remember I’m not twenty-one yet!”

“Can’t you grow up faster?”

“Sorry,” Shelley said, her tone turning remorseful. “You have to wait another six years before you can have a proper relationship.”

He relented. “Hey, it’s not your fault. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

“Aileen still calls me and asks how you are.”

“Does she? You don’t need to entertain her calls, you know.”

“She said she’s still waiting for you.”

“Oh, God,” he said with a groan. “Shel, please don’t keep her hopes up.”

“But you only broke up with her because you had to! Because Mum is just so… so… unreasonable!”

“I didn’t have to, Shelley. Aileen and I weren’t working out.”

“Well, I still think it’s nasty of my mother to force those conditions on you,” Shelley said with resentment.

He sighed. He didn’t have a problem disliking Betty. They weren’t blood related. But it saddened him that the woman lacked certain traits to be the ideal mother Shelley could look up to.

“Can we talk later, Shel? I’m at a corporate function.”

“Oh, sorry. I thought from the noise that you’re in some club. So can you tell Mum that you want me to stay over tomorrow for some brother-sister bonding time? You know how disappointed she gets when I refuse to meet her dates. Apparently, she really likes this one. His name’s Todd.”

“Will you cook something for me?” he quipped.

“No problem.”

“And clean up afterwards?”

“That’s child slavery! I’ll cook, but you clean up.”

“Hey, who’s doing who a favour here?” he said with a chuckle. Shelley hated cleaning up as much as she loved cooking.

“You can always leave it to your housekeeper,” Shelley suggested hopefully.

“No, Shel. She has the weekends off.”

“Well, then, tell you what,” Shelley said. “There’s a couple of new dishes that I’ve learned how to cook and I want to practice making them in bigger quantities. Why don’t you ask some of your friends to dinner? I’ll cook for everyone. Then you can ask them to help you with the cleaning up.”

He laughed. Shelley was one smart cookie who knew how to twist his arm. At a young age, she was already a phenomenal cook who was always keen for opportunities to show off her culinary skills.

“Maybe I’ll invite Lucas and Jade. They got engaged tonight.”

“Ooh, did they? Let’s make it a special engagement dinner for them, then,” Shelley said excitedly.

“Okay.”

“Great! You’ll have to pick me up early, like three o’clock.”

“Why so early?”

“Because we have to go grocery shopping first. And I’ll need plenty of time to prepare.”

“Right. But I still have to ask Lucas and Jade. If they can’t come, it’ll just be you and me, okay?”

“Okay. By the way, Mum asked me the other day if you’ve decided to increase my monthly allowance.”

“Why?” he asked with instant suspicion.

“Something about the cost of living going up and how I need to pay more towards food and the house upkeep.”

“What?” He suppressed his curse words for Betty. “House upkeep already comes out of your account because you own the house. You know she doesn’t pay a cent towards it. So what did you say?”

“Nothing. I told her to talk to you and, of course, she won’t. She’s just being her usual self—always complaining how unfair everything is.”

Rick bit his tongue to stop himself from ranting against Betty. He didn’t want to say anything else that would make Shelley lose respect for her mother. Even with Betty’s obvious faults, Shelley was still keen to maintain a good relationship with her mum. She did have a lot of love for the woman who’d given birth to her, and vice versa.

“I’m glad it’s you who’s now managing my money, Rick,” Shelley said quietly.

He pressed his lips. That came at a high price. But he had no choice but to bear it for both his and Shelley’s sake.

“You’ll talk to Mum about tomorrow night, right?”

“Yes. And I’ll drop you off to school on Monday.”

“Thank you, best big brother in the world,” Shelley crooned. “I love you heaps.”

“Love you, too, brat.”

He hung up and went back to join Lucas, Jade and Lexie.

“Hey, you guys doing anything tomorrow night?” he asked, including Lexie in the conversation. Why not invite her too, right? Shelley wouldn’t mind.

“We’re having a get-together with Erin and Cassie to celebrate our engagement,” Jade said.

Damn. Jade and Lexie’s two other best friends had beaten him to it.

“Why do you ask?” Lucas said.

“I was just talking to Shelley. She wants to stay over at my house tomorrow night. When she heard that you guys got engaged, she said she wants to cook a special dinner for us.”

“Ooh,” Jade said, a delighted smile appearing on her face. “I’m sure Erin and Cassie won’t mind if we reschedule.”

Rick laughed. These guys had tasted Shelley’s cooking once before. Needless to say, they’d loved it.

“Erin and Cassie can come, too,” he offered, “so you don’t have to miss out on your girlie night.”

“Shelley won’t mind?” Lexie asked. “There might be too many of us—although we’ll be more than happy to help her in the kitchen.”

Rick pulled out his phone and rang his sister, who was ecstatic at the thought of more people eating her food. “The girls said they’ll help, too,” he added.

“But I’ll be the head chef, right?” Shelley asked.

He rolled his eyes. “She wants to be the head chef,” he said to Lexie and Jade.

“Of course!” the women responded.

“I heard that. Yay!” Shelley said.

He was grinning when he hung up.

“I can’t wait, Rick,” Lexie said. “I’ll have to remember to bring my special recipe notebook so I could jot down some notes. Your sister’s such a genius in the kitchen.”

“I have to say that’s not an exaggeration,” he said proudly, smiling at her.

Lexie grinned back, and something in her eyes hit him hard.

Warmth.

The kind that he could wallow in for hours on end. The kind he’d find hard to leave.

He shook his head surreptitiously and peeled his gaze off her. He already knew how dangerous it was to stare into Lexie’s eyes. How many times did he have to remind himself to keep eye contact to a minimum?

He could always suggest the no-strings thing with her—that wouldn’t be against the rules. But he had a feeling that would be such a bad idea. He only had to look at her and his heart would go freaking haywire. Why start something that could get him in deep trouble?

He hid a sigh. He’d never had a problem avoiding women who could rope him into wanting a relationship. But Lexie had been sorely testing his restraint. And he was getting exhausted of pretending. So exhausted.

Unfortunately, he had no choice but to stick with the only safe thing: keep Lexie at a distance.

###End of Chapter One###

The Unyielding Bachelor is now available for pre-order from the following stores:

Amazon US | Other Amazon Stores | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play

Book Description:

He has to stay away from her.
Thirty-year-old entrepreneur Rick Donnelly is under contract to remain unattached until his fifteen-year-old half-sister turns twenty-one. If he breaks the rule, not only will he have to hand over the management of his half-sister’s substantial inheritance to his reckless stepmother, but he’ll also have to transfer twenty percent ownership of his company to the untrustworthy woman. When the tempting Lexie Mead decides to knock down his heart’s defenses, he finds himself in danger of breaking the contract’s strict condition–something he simply cannot afford to do.

She intends to win his heart.
Twenty-six-year-old Lexie Mead has long had feelings for the hunky Rick Donnelly. Tired of being treated as just another one of his friends, she sets out to win his heart from prettier and more aggressive women admirers. But Rick has complications to deal with… and enemies who will do anything to see him fail. She doesn’t want him to lose the things he’s worked hard to keep. But how can they have a future together when she is forced to walk away and Rick can’t ask her to stay?

The Unyielding Bachelor can be enjoyed as a stand-alone or as Book 2 of the Captured by Love series. I recommend reading the books in order to fully enjoy the series.

Book 1: The Unwilling Executive (Lucas Renner and Jade Tully) – still only US$0.99! Click here if you haven't got your copy of this book yet.

*****

Stay tuned for Chapter Two of The Unyielding Bachelor!

Much love,
Miranda xxx

The Unwilling Executive: Chapter Two

Hi again! Hope you enjoyed Chapter One of The Unwilling Executive.

Pre-order for this book is now available from Amazon and Kobo at a special price of $0.99.

It's not up on the other stores yet, but hopefully it won't be too long before you can pre-order it from the other places.

For now, here's Chapter Two. Enjoy!

The Unwilling Executive Chapter TwoTheUnwillingExecutive-200x300

Jade stood by the threshold of Thomas Bilton’s impressive office, her boss so focused on his computer that he hadn’t noticed her standing there. For a man who was almost sixty-five and could retire with more money than Jade would know what to do with, Thomas still worked at least fifty hours a week.

Jade had already experienced how exacting Thomas was as a boss. She didn’t mind it. It was actually quite inspiring. In the handful of days that she’d worked for him, she could see why he’d become very successful.

Besides, she’d heard from Lexie how generous Thomas was to his dedicated employees. Jade hoped to be on the receiving end of some eye-popping bonuses, too.

But right now, she wasn’t looking forward to the conversation she was about to have with her boss. Contrary to what Lucas had accused, she wasn’t someone who did things without question. So even though she’d be risking her boss’s ire, she had to say something about the way she’d been kept in the dark about what Lucas had been told. She didn’t want to establish a precedent she wasn’t comfortable with.

She rapped on the door, making Thomas look up.

“Jade!” Thomas rose from his chair and gazed at her with hopeful anticipation.

Jade hid a sigh as she walked towards her boss’s desk.

“Lucas turned up?” Thomas asked, gesturing for her to take a seat.

“Yes, sir,” she said, sitting down. “His answer was no. He also said he didn’t appreciate being conned—”

Thomas gasped. “He read the letter?”

“Yes. But—”

“He read it?” Thomas asked again in delighted disbelief.

“Yes, and he said no to whatever’s in it, sir,” she repeated, wondering if her boss hadn’t heard her earlier. “But, Mr. Bilton—”

“Oh, Jade. Thank you!”

Jade frowned in confusion.

“This is progress,” Thomas said, still looking thrilled. “Do you know how many times I’ve tried to get him to listen to what I have to say? I sent him emails and tried to call him. But he didn’t want to listen to a single word. Then I got other people to intervene on my behalf. Still no success—until now. I don’t expect him to have a change of heart from the one letter you handed him, but I’m encouraged that he read it.”

Jade took a deep breath. Well, that was an unexpected reaction.

“What did you say to him?” Thomas asked eagerly. “How did you get him to read the whole letter?”

“I pleaded with him, sir,” she said with a shrug. “He really wasn’t happy, Mr. Bilton. And if you don’t mind me saying, I wasn’t either. Lucas said he’d been lied to just so he would turn up to our meeting. I would have appreciated if you’d told me that.”

“Oh, Jade, I apologise. You see, I needed you to look innocent to boost the chances of his reading the letter. If he got an inkling that it was from me, he wouldn’t have opened it. So it worked!”

Jade stared at Thomas. The man was practically glowing, making her ignore her annoyance. Whatever this was about, it was clearly very important to her boss.

Thomas leaned back in his chair. “We must keep on chipping away,” he declared.

We?

“I’ll need you to get him to talk to you again, Jade. And work on changing his mind.”

What?

“I know this is highly unusual,” Thomas said. “But I really need your help.”

“Sir, after today I doubt he’d want to see or hear from me again.”

“Oh, but you must try. You’re the first person who’s gotten him to pay attention to something from me. And at your first attempt too!”

Jade didn’t know what to say.

“You have no idea how important this is to me, Jade,” Thomas said quietly. “It’s an order.”

She sighed. How could she say no when he put it like that? Besides, she’d be lying to herself if she didn’t admit that Lucas Renner intrigued her. She wouldn’t mind knowing more about him.

“I can only try, Mr. Bilton,” she answered. “I can’t promise you the results you want.”

“And that’s all I expect,” Thomas replied, beaming at her. “There are things I need to sort out regarding this, and they’re taking more time than expected. I’ll let you know when I need you to make contact with Lucas again.”

“Um, sir, I know you said this is a personal matter. But since I’ll be working with you on this, would you mind telling me what this is all about?”

Thomas considered for a moment. “I guess that’s a fair request. When I have the information I’m waiting for, we’ll talk about it, okay?”

Jade nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

“Well, that’s it for now. And thank you again, Jade.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Bilton.”

Jade walked back to her desk, curiosity tickling her hard. Thomas hadn’t mentioned a time frame for their conversation, but she’d have to settle for a promise.

*****

Jade entered the apartment she shared with one of her best friends. She lifted her eyebrows when she found Cassie Stephens looking glum as she sat in front of the TV, eating a bar of chocolate.

“Hey, Cassie, what’s wrong?” she asked.

“My boss is a prick,” Cassie said. “Someone resigned today, and he announced that he won’t be looking for a replacement. He expects the rest of us to share the work, but we’re already overloaded as it is!”

“I keep telling you to look for another job.”

“I’m still waiting for you and Lexie to recommend me for a role at Bilton Machineries,” Cassie said with a grin.

Jade chuckled. “Don’t worry. We’re keeping an eye open for you.”

“How was your day?”

“Weird!” Jade sat down to tell her friend about the meeting with Lucas and her conversation with her boss.

“Wow. Sounds very intriguing.”

“I know. The best—or worst—part, I’m not sure which yet, was that Lucas Renner is a total hunk.”

Cassie lifted an eyebrow. “You met someone today who you think is a total hunk?”

“I looked up at the ceiling as if it were the most interesting thing in the world when he caught me staring at him.”

Cassie gasped. “You know what this means. You are so interested, Jade Tully.”

“Yay. Glad to know my heart hasn’t permanently turned to stone after all,” she said dryly.

“Yes. Yay,” Cassie said, looking pointedly at her. “It’s okay to give your heart a rest after it’s been hurt. But it’s been too long since you’ve taken a risk in the relationship department, Jade. That’s why I think it’s exciting that this Lucas guy had a strong effect on you.”

“But don’t you think it would be totally unprofessional if I flirted with him? Besides, considering his obvious issue with my boss, I doubt he’d even want to be in the same room as me again.”

“But didn’t Thomas say he wants you to keep working on him? Use your charm and see how effective it is,” Cassie teased.

“Ha-ha. I don’t think my feminine powers would have any effect on him. He’s too good-looking,” she said with a pout.

“Ah, you are most definitely interested.”

“You should have seen him, Cassie. You’d know what I mean. But then again, I think I’ll keep him to myself.”

“Now you’re really making me curious about this guy. Maybe the next time you have to meet with him, I could lurk in the background.”

Jade sighed. “Then he’ll see you and fall for you. And there goes another guy stolen from me by a so-called friend.”

“Excuse me. How dare you think I’m like that woman you used to call friend?” Cassie said, giving her a censuring push. “But… if this Lucas Renner is as hot as you say he is…”

They chortled.

“Glad you’re able to laugh at that joke, Jade,” Cassie said quietly.

“Yeah. I guess I’m really ready to move on now,” she said with a grin, Lucas Renner’s handsome face floating in her mind.

*****

“Jade, I know it’s late in the day but I need you to do something for me before you leave for home,” Thomas said over the phone.

“Sure, Mr. Bilton,” Jade answered.

“My wife’s niece just had a baby girl. We’ll be visiting her in the hospital tonight, and Diana and I want to bring a big bunch of flowers and some gifts for the newborn. Could you get them, please?”

“Of course,” she answered. “Do you have a particular gift in mind?”

“Diana’s niece had hinted that a bracelet engraved with her child’s name would be nice, along with some clothes and toys. You can get the bracelet from our favourite jewellers.” Thomas gave her the name of an exclusive store.

“What’s the budget, sir?” she asked.

Thomas told her.

Jade gulped. Her most expensive necklace was less than half the price of the bracelet Thomas wanted her to buy.

*

Jade walked towards a flower shop two blocks away, carrying a large shopping bag full of baby stuff. The expensive bracelet she’d just bought was safe in her handbag.

Ruby, the florist, would be surprised to see her back again so soon. She’d been there just last week.

Since her nephew had been diagnosed with a heart condition, Jade had been buying flowers every two weeks for her brother and sister-in-law. At first, Jerry had asked her not to waste money on things that wilted and got thrown away after several days. But the lovely blossoms cheered his wife so much that sometimes Jerry would even remind Jade to pick up a fresh bunch on her way home. Good thing that Ruby had been giving her a good discount for being a frequent customer.

Jade used to buy from a different florist, but when Cassie came home one night with flowers from her workmates for her birthday, Jade had started buying from Ruby. Ruby’s arrangements were much more beautiful and the quality of her flowers was superb. She’d been a regular of Ruby’s now for over four months and had developed a friendship with the older woman. Ruby had been an additional source of comfort when Jade had been so worried about her nephew’s heart surgery.

Jade walked into the inviting flower shop, spotting Ruby with another customer. Her assistant wasn’t around, so Jade put the shopping bag down in a corner and browsed the greeting cards section while she waited. Thomas hadn’t asked her to buy a card, but she’d get one anyway. There were several cute ones for welcoming a new baby girl into the world.

“What are you doing here?” a low growl came from behind her, making her jump and whirl in surprise.

“Lucas!”

Lucas glared at her, looking more pissed off than he’d been when he’d left her at the café yesterday.

“So?” he whispered harshly, his handsome face marred by a deep scowl.

“Um… I’m here to… buy some flowers.” She gave herself a mental shake to get back her composure.

“I don’t believe you,” Lucas said in a soft but angry tone. “Please leave now.”

“What? No! I told you I need to buy some flowers,” she whispered heatedly, annoyance replacing her earlier fluster. How dare this guy order her about?

“Come with me,” Lucas said, grabbing her arm and steering her to the exit.

She resisted, frowning at him. What the hell was wrong with this man?

Cheery goodbyes came from Ruby and her customer, then Ruby appeared from around the corner.

“Jade! Hello. I thought it was you,” Ruby greeted, looking at her and Lucas with curiosity.

“Hi, Ruby,” Jade said, walking away from Lucas with relief. “I need a big bouquet for someone who’s just had a baby girl.”

“Sure,” Ruby said as she lifted her eyebrows at Lucas. “You two know each other?”

“Yes,” Lucas answered, smiling at Ruby. “Jade’s a friend of a friend. Anyway, Mum, there’s something I need to talk to her about first. Excuse us for a while.”

Mum? The revelation disconcerted Jade enough that she let Lucas lead her outside.

Lucas faced her when they were far enough away from the entrance to Ruby’s shop. “Thomas sent you here, didn’t he?” he asked. “What’s your assignment this time? To get my mother to talk to him?”

“No!”

“Don’t lie, Jade.”

Jade gasped indignantly. “I am buying flowers for Mr. Bilton, but he did not send me here. For your information, I was Ruby’s customer way before I started working at Bilton Machineries. And I had absolutely no idea she’s your mother, because in the four months that I’ve been coming here every other week, I’ve never seen you around. So please don’t accuse me of a hidden agenda.”

Lucas narrowed his eyes, but she held her head high and glared back at him. She might find him attractive enough to get muddled every once in a while, but she refused to get intimidated by this infuriating male—even though her lashes were batting involuntarily despite her anger.

Argh! Damn him for being so good-looking.

The suspicious look in Lucas’ eyes disappeared and his lips curved upwards.

Shit. Jade Tully, you’re so freaking obvious.

“I’m sorry,” Lucas said.

Her brows rose.

“You really didn’t come here to talk to my mum about Thomas?” Lucas asked.

“No.”

“And you didn’t know she’s my mother?”

“No. How could I have known that, Lucas?”

“Does she know you work for Bilton Machineries?”

She shook her head. “I only just started, so we haven’t had the chance to talk about it yet. I’m sure she’ll ask where I work now, though. She knew I was looking for a new job.”

“Please don’t tell her.”

“Why not?”

Lucas rubbed his face. “It’s a long story, Jade. And it’s private.”

“In other words, it’s none of my business,” she said.

Lucas gave her a tight smile that held sadness she was surprised to see. It pricked her conscience and, unthinking, she squeezed his arm in a gesture of comfort.

Whoa. Muscles.

She pulled away, cursing herself for being too touchy-feely towards a man she hardly knew.

“Lucas, I see your mum every two weeks,” she said hurriedly. “Unless there’s a long line of customers waiting, we usually have a friendly chat. What should I tell her if she asks me?”

“Anything, as long as you don’t say you work for Bilton Machineries. It would upset her if she finds out that Thomas is trying to contact me. Please.”

There was no sarcasm on Lucas’ tone, only a soft plea. She had lots of questions for him and opened her mouth to ask one. But she shut it and nodded instead. Judging from Lucas’ stance, Thomas would be more forthcoming with details. She’d have to wait.

“Thank you, Jade. I appreciate this. Let’s go back in.” Lucas motioned for her to go first.

She headed back to the flower shop, trying to get a fake story clear in her head. She didn’t look forward to dishing out fibs to Ruby, but she couldn’t find a good enough reason to argue with Lucas’ request. Her gut told her it was the way to go for now.

She only hoped she could be convincing. Her expressions and gestures often gave her away even if her words didn’t.

###End of Chapter Two###

I can't wait until the book goes live on the 17th!  Hope you're looking forward to it as much as I am 🙂

Till next time, take care.

Much love,
Miranda xxx

Pre-order for this book is now available from Amazon and Kobo. Coming soon in other stores.

 

The Unwilling Executive: Chapter One

Just a few more days to go before March 17th, the official release date of The Unwilling Executive (Captured by Love Book 1). And it's time to share Chapter One with you!

Without further ado, here it is!

TheUnwillingExecutive-200x300The Unwilling Executive Chapter One

Jade Tully exhaled her frustration as she checked her watch for the umpteenth time. It was thirty-five minutes past the scheduled start of her meeting with a guy called Lucas Renner, and he still hadn’t turned up.

She drummed her fingers on the wooden table of the busy café in the middle of Sydney’s bustling business district while surveying the patrons. Perhaps Lucas was already here, waiting?

No. She was the only one sitting by herself.

Unfortunately, she didn’t even know what Lucas looked like. She was relying on her new boss’s assurance that Lucas would get the message of where she was sitting and the colour of the top she was wearing.

“Can I take this for you?” a wait staff asked, indicating her empty mug.

“Yes, thank you,” she answered. “And I’ll have another latté, please. Decaf, this time.”

“Sure.”

Jade didn’t want another drink, but the establishment was full and she felt guilty hogging a table when there were people waiting for a seat. She grabbed her phone and dialled the direct line for Thomas Bilton.

“Jade,” her employer answered.

“Hello, Mr. Bilton. I just want you to know I’m still waiting for Mr. Renner. He hasn’t turned up yet.”

“Hang on a minute. Let me check if he’s left a message.”

A few seconds later, Thomas was back on the line.

“There are no messages, Jade. Please keep waiting. He must be held up somewhere.”

“Okay, sir.”

“Jade, remember it’s of utmost importance that you get him to read the letter and get his answer. And as I’ve said before, don’t worry if he gets annoyed. He’ll be reacting to the message, not to you. Okay?”

“Yes, sir,” she answered, her curiosity spiking once again.

Thomas hadn’t told her anything about this errand, except to say that it was a private but extremely important matter. So she didn’t press for more information. Anyway, how hard could it be to get someone to read a letter and get an answer?

She took out a sealed envelope from her handbag and inspected it again. Not even the recipient’s name was on it.

It was all very strange, and she couldn’t help but think that this extraordinary task demonstrated Thomas Bilton’s eccentric tendencies that Lexie Mead, one of her best friends, had told her about.

Lexie worked in the marketing department at Bilton Machineries and had witnessed some of the odd demands Thomas had made to their team. Evidently though, Thomas had always known what he was doing. After all, the man had single-handedly built a construction machinery company in Australia that now had branches in several countries.

Who knew, maybe Thomas and Lucas Renner were partners in a top-secret project, and they didn’t trust email technology for delivering important documents.

Jade rolled her eyes at herself. Gosh, she was so bored with waiting that she was coming up with ridiculous ideas. In all probability, this assignment might be her boss’s way of testing to see if she was indeed the best person to be his new PA.

Lexie had nominated her for the position when Thomas’ long-serving employee had retired last week. Aided by a glowing reference from her old boss, Jade was the last person standing after a gruelling selection process.

The job offer came at the right time. Jade was still in shock from her previous employer selling the company to an overseas buyer, who’d subsequently closed the Australian branch. Heaven knew she needed a good salary to help her older brother Jerry and his wife with their financial needs. Their baby boy had just had open-heart surgery to fix a congenital birth defect and was in for years of medical care. Even though Jerry didn’t like taking money from Jade, it wasn’t a matter of choice.

But Jade wasn’t guaranteed to keep this new job. She was on the usual three-month probationary period, and Thomas had made it clear that if she didn’t perform to expectations, she’d be replaced immediately.

So it bothered her that Lucas Renner still hadn’t turned up. Damn it. Another important task waited for her in the office—one she was supposed to finish before she went home for the day. It was taking her longer than expected to complete because she was still learning the system.

A commotion outside drew her attention. Someone must have knocked down a lady, who was now gathering what looked like pamphlets from the ground—chasing after some that were being blown by the breeze. Passers-by helped, and a tall, dark-haired man caught Jade’s eye.

He was good-looking. Extremely.

The guy turned his back to her as he stooped down to pick up a loose sheet. While he was wearing a business shirt, she could already picture a hard and muscular body underneath his clothes. He was pure male from the way he moved.

Jade rested her chin on her hands and continued to watch, enjoying her unexpected reaction to the stranger. It had been such a long time since someone attracted her enough to make her want to gape.

A gust of wind blew the paper he was trying to retrieve, causing Mr. Hot to face her way again.

Suddenly, he glanced up and caught her staring at him through the window.

Jade’s eyes widened before she found herself hastily averting her gaze up towards the ceiling, as if something there had captured her attention.

She almost laughed out loud when she realised what she’d done. Wow, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d behaved like that from being caught ogling.

A wait staff delivered her second latté. She smiled her thanks before looking out the window again. But Mr. Hot was nowhere to be seen.

Ah, damn. Why couldn’t she have smiled at him? She wasn’t shy around men.

She smirked. No she wasn’t usually shy unless the guy was really attractive—as in incredibly. Then she got flustered—an irritating reaction she’d been trying to change. But it hadn’t been easy making improvements in that area when she hardly stumbled across such men. She guessed she had ‘high standards’ when it came to who could make her blush.

Well, considering her luck with men, Mr. Hot was probably already taken anyway.

“Hi.”

Jade’s heart fluttered as she glanced up. Mr. Hot wasn’t outside because he was inside.

“Hi,” she responded.

“Jade Tully?”

Her jaw dropped. “Yes.”

“I apologise for being so late. I’m Lucas Renner.”

What? She’d expected to meet with a man close to her boss’s age of sixty-four. But the hunk in front of her seemed no older than thirty—about five years older than her, if she wasn’t mistaken.

“Seeing how tardy I’ve been, I can understand why you’re reluctant to shake my hand,” Mr. Hot said, his tone apologetic and teasing at the same time. It was kind of cute.

“Hi, Mr. Renner,” she said, rousing her addled brain and going for the handshake while her face burned. Ugh. Did she have to blush?

“Please call me Lucas,” he said as he sat on the chair opposite her. “I’m really sorry for making you wait. I was at another meeting that took much longer than expected. I didn’t have your contact details so I couldn’t update you. But thanks so much for waiting.”

“No problem,” she responded, her earlier annoyance dissipating. His excuse was understandable, she guessed.

A wait staff approached and offered Lucas a menu.

“What else would you like, Jade?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Are you sure? I made you wait for so long that I owe you at least a cake or coffee. Please have another one with me,” Lucas said, smiling.

Her lips curved up in response. “Maybe I’ll have sparkling mineral water then.”

“Just that?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“Don’t you want something sweet to go with it?” Lucas asked, cocking his head to the side.

Was it her imagination or did Lucas’ tone drop a tad? And was that a flirtatious look he was giving her?

“Just that,” she said, taking a deep breath.

Lucas gave his order to the waitress, then leaned on the table, a charming smile still on his face.

“So, Jade, you’re here to interview me about my work?” Lucas said.

Jade’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Uh, no. I’m here to hand you this letter.”

Lucas frowned as he took the envelope from her. “Are these the interview questions?”

“I don’t know, actually. I was just told to give it to you and ask you to read it.” She fidgeted in her seat, getting uncomfortable. What the hell was this about?

Lucas tore the envelope open and pulled out a sheet of paper.

In a second, his friendly countenance disappeared, replaced by a glare of displeasure.

Eek.

*****

Lucas stared at the signature line of the printed letter. Scrawled in black ink were three unmistakable words: Your father, Thomas.

Heat rose to his face and he didn’t bother hiding his scowl.

“This is from Thomas Bilton,” he said accusingly to the brunette in front of him.

“Yes,” Jade said with a hint of apprehension. “I’m his new PA.”

“I don’t appreciate being conned like this,” he rasped, slitting his eyes.

“Conned? I don’t understand,” she said, her eyes rounding.

He crumpled the sheet and put it in his pocket. “Did you type the letter?” he grunted as he took a couple of bills from his wallet and dropped them on the table.

“No. Mr. Bilton must have typed it himself,” Jade answered, sounding nervous. “I don’t know anything about it. He just told me to come here and hand it to you.”

He inhaled deeply, scrutinising Jade. She held his gaze, looking bewildered… and damned attractive. It was a pity she worked for Thomas Bilton.

“I wouldn’t have turned up if I knew this was Bilton’s doing,” he said, standing up. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m leaving now.”

“Wait, Lucas, please,” Jade said, rising to her feet. “Could you please just read it? I’m supposed to relay your answer back to Mr. Bilton.”

He snorted.

“Please, Lucas,” she said quietly. “He told me it’s imperative that you read it.”

Something in Jade’s tone made Lucas pause, and he found himself pulling the letter out and smoothing it. Admittedly, this whole business of a beautiful woman hand-delivering him a letter made him curious as to its contents.

He read it and his lips twisted. The old man was good. He penned quite a moving piece—if Lucas didn’t know any better. But he did. Thomas Bilton was simply trying to manipulate him to protect his reputation.

He shoved the paper back in his pocket. “You said you don’t know what this is all about?”

Jade shook her head.

“So if your boss tells you to jump off a cliff, you’d do it without any question?”

Jade’s face reddened. “Of course not. I didn’t ask questions because he said it was a private matter.”

“So you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care if your job requires you to lie, as long as you get paid good money for it.” Why he felt the need to goad the truth out of her, he didn’t know.

Jade lifted her chin up in defiance. “I’m sorry, but I never lied to you. I was simply following instructions to meet you.”

They glared at each other, and Lucas felt his anger start to evaporate. Jade’s expression seemed honest enough. And hell, her captivating face was distracting him. Those long lashes that framed her beautiful hazel eyes didn’t seem embellished by mascara. And her lips—full and sexy, and—

“I need your answer, Lucas,” Jade said.

The bitter taste came rushing back in his mouth. “My answer is no. And if the circumstances were different, I would have said it was a pleasure meeting you, Jade Tully.”

Then he walked off.

*

Lucas entered the Bondi car service centre owned by his close friend, Connor Reid. He walked to the state-of-the-art service area at the back and found Connor there, checking a computer monitor that gave the condition of one of his client’s vehicles.

“Hey, bro,” Connor said. “How was your meeting with Jade what’s-her-name?”

“She was a fake,” he said flatly.

“What do you mean?”

“She wasn’t there to interview me for an article. She’s Thomas Bilton’s PA.”

Connor stared at him before pressing a button on the screen. Then Connor led him to his office.

Lucas started for the sofa in Connor’s big room, but changed his mind and sat on a chair by the desk.

“What’s wrong with the couch?” Connor asked.

“Please,” he said with snicker. “I’m not going to sit where you and your wife have sex when no one’s around.”

“Hey, it’s been treated with a stain-resistant thing. And Amanda changes the blanket all the time.”

“Amanda was here last night while you worked overtime, wasn’t she?”

Connor just grinned at him and sat on his chair behind the desk.

Lucas shook his head good-naturedly. There had been a time, when he and Connor had worked for the same Formula One team as mechanics, that the two of them had competed for the title Mr. Fuck King—a label jokingly given to Connor by their workmates because of Connor’s popularity with women from different parts of the globe. Now the title was all Lucas’, but it had lost its lustre. He’d only wanted it for the fun of stripping it away from Connor, anyway.

A picture of Jade Tully popped into his head. Unfortunately, it came with the remembrance of whom she worked for.

“So this Jade woman was sent by Thomas to talk to you?” Connor asked.

“Yup. She made me read this letter where Thomas pleaded for me to talk about the possibility of being part of Bilton Machineries. He said he’s getting old and wants to make sure that the company continues to be owned and operated by his own flesh and blood. And since I’m his sole heir…” He couldn’t help but say the last word with a good dose of sarcasm.

“And you still don’t want to have anything to do with the company? Or him?” Connor asked gently.

“Come on, bro. You know the whole story. Why would he want me to run his company?”

“Hey, you’re the one responsible for making your mother’s flower shop a success because you made sure she has efficient systems for online ordering and fast delivery. Sure, there’s a difference between a flower shop and a billion-dollar company, but—”

“That’s not what I mean, Connor,” he interrupted. “This is all a joke. Thomas never acknowledged me as his son, much less his heir, until recently. He’s up to something.”

“Okay, fine,” Connor said, raising his arms in surrender. “So did you tell off that Jade woman for lying?”

Lucas sighed, Jade Tully’s apprehensive but beautiful face appearing in his mind. “I don’t blame her. I’m sure she was just following Thomas’ orders. She’s new, so she must be desperate to keep her job.”

“You have to admit she was effective,” Connor commented. “How many times did the other PA try to get you to talk to Thomas, or read the emails and letters she sent for him?”

“Yeah,” Lucas said, wondering if he’d ever cross paths with Jade Tully again.

###End of Chapter One###

Stay tuned for Chapter Two! It'll be hitting your inbox soon 🙂 .

Enjoy your day/night!

Lots of love,
Miranda xxx