It's here! My third book, Ray of Love (Lifestyle by Design Book 3) is now available.
Once again, completing this book has been a wonderful journey for me. Writing about Faye Summers and Ray Thackery's love story kept me busy and holed up in my study for many days, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
This is the third and last book of the Lifestyle by Design series and, I must say, I have truly loved spending all that time with all the characters in this series. They have become some of my favourite people.
My next series, Secret Dreams, will be coming soon. The good news is that some of the characters from Lifestyle by Design will be featured in that series. They were just screaming at me to tell their story so I have to write about them :-). Watch out for the romance between Jasmine Allen (Jessa's sister) and Kane Summers (Faye's brother). I can't wait to share their story with you.
But for now, enjoy the first chapter of Ray of Love. (Warning: swear words coming up!)
“You need to have a haircut soon, Ray,” Faye Summers said distractedly as she continued to gaze at the man sitting next to her. The more she looked, the more she found little details she hadn't noticed before – like how his brown hair turned wavy when it was longer than its usual length, or how his deep blue eyes had specks of green in them, or how the right side of his mouth quirked into a cheeky, lopsided smile when he was being teased.
“Yeah, I know. I just haven't had the time to get it done,” Ray Thackery agreed, running his sexy fingers through his longish hair. “Is it that bad already?”
“Bad? No, it's not bad, just a little long. You still look hot but you look hotter when you wear it shorter.”
“You think I'm hot?” Ray asked in complete surprise, his brows lifting.
“Sure,” she responded nonchalantly. “You must know you are. Even Clarise and Jessa think so.”
“Oh. And here I was thinking you were flirting with me,” Ray commented dryly.
She laughed and hurriedly changed the subject. “Hey, since those two are both engaged now, how do you feel about them taking some time off for their weddings and honeymoons in a few months' time?”
“I hope they're not planning on being away from work at the same time,” Ray replied absently before jumping back to their original topic. “So how short should I have my hair cut?”
“Hmm, about a couple of inches shorter, I think, and wear it spiky and a little bit messy like you do sometimes.”
He raised an eyebrow and smiled charmingly. “You think it'll be easier for me to pick up women with that ‘do?”
“Yeah, absolutely,” Faye chuckled.
“Well, it would be nice if you picked me up,” he drawled.
“Why don't you have that haircut and I'll consider it.” She was surprised at the husky statement that came out of her mouth but it was too late to take it back.
“Okay, I will,” Ray grinned.
Faye didn't know why she was letting herself have this conversation with Ray. Sometimes her mouth did get her into trouble. She was someone who didn't have problems telling people what she thought or felt. And, oh yes, she was a bit of a flirt.
Ease up, Faye. He might take you seriously, she cautioned herself.
Even for just a one-night stand or a brief affair – no, especially for a one-night stand or a brief affair – Ray was not someone she would consider. She shared too much of her personal life with her best friends, so that a sexual encounter of any kind with him would be complicated.
Her three closest buddies, Clarise Carson, Jessa Allen and Victor Michaels, all worked at Lifestyle by Design Publishing. Based in Sydney, it published one of the most popular magazines in Australia for the entrepreneurial and professional set. Clarise and Jessa were its senior writers and editors, while Victor was its head graphic designer.
And Ray Thackery was its owner.
So why in the hell was she flirting with her pals' boss right now?
Maybe it was the few glasses of wine she'd had. She wasn't a big drinker but they were celebrating Jessa's twenty-ninth birthday and her surprise engagement to Rob Granger.
Or maybe it was because Ray was one of the most attractive men she knew that she just couldn't help herself.
“Hey, guys,” Jessa called as she stepped out onto her courtyard that was decked out with portable outdoor heaters. While it was early spring in Sydney, the nighttime temperatures were still cool and the heaters offered welcome warmth for those who lounged outside.
Jessa held out bags to them. “Here are some leftovers for you. Everyone gets to take home some food; otherwise it'll go to waste.”
“Oh, excellent. Thanks, Jess. It’s really yummy. I still can't believe how much food Rob ordered,” Ray replied.
“Is this your way of telling us it's time to go, Jess?” Faye teased.
“Yes,” Rob called from inside the house. “My new fiancée just can't wait to properly thank me for giving her a surprise birthday party and putting a ring on her finger.”
Jessa rolled her eyes and blushed.
“We can take a hint,” Ray grinned as he stood up and got ready to go. “You sure know how to throw a party, Rob.”
“Well,” Rob said as he leaned on the door frame, “I wanted to make it as hard as I could for Jess to say no when I proposed.”
“As if I'd say no,” Jessa replied as she walked over to Rob and put her arms around his waist. Rob hugged her to him with a tender smile on his face and kissed her hair.
“Okay, guys,” Faye called out to Clarise, Victor and their partners. “It's time for all of us to go and give these two lovebirds their private time.”
As Ray headed for his car, he turned to Faye. “See you after I get my haircut, Faye,” he said with a wink.
Faye couldn't help but smile at his playful demeanour. She suddenly became conscious of the fact that it had been a long time since she and Ray were this comfortable with each other. It was good to joke around with him again. She missed that.
“So what did Ray mean he’d see you after he gets a haircut?” Clarise asked as she glanced at Faye seated in the back of the car while her fiancé, Will Matthews, smoothly navigated the streets to Faye's apartment.
“Oh, we were just joking around. I kind of said I'll consider picking him up after he gets one,” Faye answered dismissively.
“Pick him up? To go where?”
“Not that kind of pick up,” she clarified to her confused friend. “We were just flirting around.”
“Right. So what does all that flirting mean?”
“Nothing. Like I said, we were just joking around. You know what I think about going out with your boss, Clarise.”
“Not interested, Faye?” Will asked, peeking at her through the rear-view mirror.
“If he wasn't my best friends' boss, maybe,” she answered with usual frankness. “But he is and I don't want any drama with my closest relationships.”
Clarise raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You never said anything about being interested in Ray. When he asked you out sometime last year, you didn't even hesitate to say no.”
“I know. I had just met Steve then, remember? Besides, even before he asked me, I'd already considered the complications of having a relationship with him and decided it wasn't worth it. Imagine the drama if I cried to you about my personal issues with him, or if he needed me to listen about work problems involving you guys. It would be very awkward, to say the least.”
“But if you're really attracted to him …”
“I'm not that attracted.”
“So, you're interested but not interested enough to do something about it?” Clarise quizzed.
“Yes, that's exactly how I feel.”
“Okay. You do know Ray might get the wrong impression? We think he might still have a little crush on you,” Clarise admitted.
“Really? What makes you think so?”
“Remember about two months ago when you went speed dating? He asked me and Jess where we were going and we said we were escorting you to this speed dating thing. There was just something about his reaction when he discovered you'd broken up with Steve and that you were available again.”
“You guys didn't tell me about that,” Faye said, her brows furrowing.
“No, we didn't. We knew you weren't looking for anything serious and we didn't want Ray to hope for anything, so …” Clarise shrugged her shoulders.
Faye nodded. It was clear as day that her friends were also protecting Ray's feelings and she could understand that.
Before she met Steve, her last boyfriend, Ray was their frequent lunch buddy. It surprised her that he joined them as often as he did, seeing he was her friends' boss. She eventually learnt that he did make it a point to socialise with his staff to get to know them better. But it also appeared that he had lunch with the four of them far more often than he did with his other employees. It was when he asked her out that she guessed the reason why.
She enjoyed Ray's company and at one point even toyed with the idea of going out with him. But she was also witness to the great relationship her best friends had with him as their boss. Dating Ray could upset that. That was exactly why she decided not to get involved with him.
“I'll be more mindful next time I'm around him,” she promised Clarise.
They stopped at a red light and Will reached out for Clarise's hand and lifted it to his lips before setting it down on his thigh. Clarise smiled at him and left her hand where he placed it, stroking him innocently.
Faye sighed silently. It was very sweet and she was happy that Clarise had found the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with. They were so in love. She wanted that, too.
She gave herself a mental shake. It was the impatience in finding ‘the one' that got her diving into new relationships before she was truly ready to move on.
No rush. There's nothing wrong with enjoying being single for a while, even at twenty-nine.
After breaking up with Steve four months ago, she'd decided to just date around and not plunge into anything that would mean commitment. Her last three relationships moved into serious territory pretty quickly, and none of them lasted more than a year. She figured part of the problem might be that she was too quick to fall in love with the next guy without fully getting over her issues with the previous one. So this time around, she promised to give herself plenty of time to heal whatever conscious and unconscious wounds she had. For a few months – maybe another six or so – she'd focus on simply having fun while dating and leave it at that. Fun.
With her straight, silky blonde hair, long-lashed blue eyes, flawless skin and slim body with gorgeous curves, Faye was considered stunning by most people. There was no shortage of interested men who would give their right arm to date her.
She just needed to be extra selective so she didn't end up going out with someone who'd be in a hurry for a relationship before she was ready.
Ray discreetly checked out Victor Michaels' office as he walked past it. He spied Victor there with his eyes glued to his computer. Good. That was Victor accounted for. As for Clarise and Jessa, they were out on assignments. Clarise was meeting with the owner of Sydney's fastest growing beauty spa chain and Jessa was sampling the culinary delights of one of the city's newest Japanese restaurants.
None of them was having lunch with Faye today. With a little bit of luck, he would be having lunch with her.
When he found out two months ago that she had broken up with her boyfriend, he had convinced himself not to go down the path of asking her out again. But after spending that time with her at Jessa's birthday party, all that swirled in his head was the question ‘why not?'
He shoved his hands in his pockets and strode purposefully out of his office building. It was absolutely silly. Hell, it was crazy. But for the life of him, he just had to give it another try. Maybe this time she'd agree to go out with him so he could either get her out of his system for good or make her fall in love with him.
Okay, who was he kidding? There was only one choice that mattered and it was the second one. After more than a year of searching for a woman who would make him forget about Faye Summers, he hadn't succeeded yet. Now that she was available again, he simply couldn't resist grabbing this new opportunity.
He was still kicking himself for not being persistent enough sixteen months ago. But when she told him then that she just started dating another guy, he backed off straight away. It was clear she preferred the other man and he wasn't desperate for a date. After all, he had his fair share of female admirers.
But how was he to know that he had already fallen for her and was just too proud to admit it? When he realised the extent of his feelings, the relationship she was in was already serious. She seemed happy and he didn't want to ruin her bliss.
He still couldn't believe how he had fallen for someone he hadn't even slept with. Jesus, they hadn't even gone out on a real date! But from the very first time he met her he was totally bowled over, not just by her captivating beauty but also by her personality.
Faye was a confident, funny, outgoing, smart, loyal, caring and straight-to-the-point woman. But beyond that, there was something about her that called to that deep, hidden part of him that no one else had ever touched – except her. She had cast a spell over him and he couldn't seem to escape it.
There were no explanations for how he felt. He had already questioned and analysed his feelings until his brain hurt but he couldn't deny the fact that every time he saw her, even if it was simply bumping into her on the street, his heart raced and he wished with everything he had that he was with her – that she was his.
He'd given up trying to fight it. Instead, he'd resigned himself to the fact that he could be spending the rest of his life feeling incomplete and unfulfilled. That was until he learnt she was single again. And heavens above, he would be more persistent this time in getting her to give him a chance.
He walked to the vicinity of Faye's office, where she worked as a senior career consultant for one of Australia's largest career consulting firms, and stationed himself outside a coffee shop across the road from her building. He got there at exactly twelve noon. He didn't know what time Faye would be taking her lunch break but he would stand there until she came out. He just hoped he didn't have to wait around for too long.
And what if she had brought lunch with her and didn't have to leave her building?
He knew if he missed her today he'd just try again tomorrow.
He shook his head, unable to believe what he was willing to put himself through. But then again, patience, resilience and tenacity were some of his major traits that enabled him to build a highly successful business, even after a number of failed attempts that almost bankrupted him. He was determined to succeed when it came to Faye, too.
It would be mortifying, though, if Faye rejected him again. So for now, he would have to be sneaky and make everything look as if it was pure coincidence.
He checked the time and noticed fifteen minutes had passed. He was tempted to order coffee while he waited for her but a woman walking out of the building he was watching made his heart pound like mad. There was Faye, looking just as beautiful as always, strolling towards the nearby food court.
He sighed with relief and quickly followed her. All of a sudden, he found himself more nervous than he had been for a long, long time.
For fuck's sake, Ray. You're thirty-four, not fourteen. Relax!
To get your copy of Ray of Love, click here.