Shhh…Here’s SECRET WORDS’ First Chapter

In just a handful of days, Secret Words will be out!  On July 15, you can enjoy the first book in the new series Secret Dreams.  It's hot, sexy and yes, sweet :-).

But before that, here's the first chapter.  Enjoy!

Secret Words (Secret Dreams Contemporary Romance 1)

Secret Words by Miranda P. CharlesCHAPTER ONE

“No, no, no!” Jasmine Allen cried softly as she stared at the bold handwritten ‘Out of Order' sign stuck to the door of the ladies' bathroom.  Hoping against hope that a prankster put up the notice, she twisted the knob.  Locked.  Damn it!

Had she known that the car trip to Sydney's Royal National Park would take more than two hours, courtesy of the broken-down truck that created a traffic jam on the main highway, she wouldn't have drunk all that lemon and ginger tea for her sore throat before they left her sister's home.

She squinted at the map someone pinned to the door showing the directions to the nearest available ladies' room.  It indicated it was about a five-minute walk away.  But with her bladder close to bursting, she didn't have five minutes.

Well, there's the men's room, she thought desperately.

She walked around the small red brick building that stood amongst gum trees and chirping birds, hidden from the view of the picnic area where her sister Jessa, her fiancé Rob, and their friends were gathered for Rob's birthday.

She tried to listen for sounds from inside the men's restroom but couldn't hear anything.  With fingers crossed that no one was inside, she cautiously placed her hand on the door to push it.

She let out a short yelp as the door was yanked open from the inside.  Her eyes opened wide as they landed on a dark-haired man whose blue eyes stared back at her in horrified surprise.

Jasmine's mind went blank, forgetting for a moment why she was there.  There was no other way to describe the man in front of her.  He was a total hunk.  She gaped at him for a long second, until her body reminded her she needed to go.  Now.

“I think the ladies' room is around the corner to your right,” Mr. Hunk said, seemingly recovered from his shock.

“It's out of order,” she squeaked as she shoved him out of the way and ran for one of the cubicles.

Relief flooded her as she let go, followed by a sense of acute embarrassment.  Did she just rudely push someone so she could go to the toilet?  In the men's room?  She felt her face burn.  The fact that the guy she jostled was mega-hot and attractive didn't help her dignity and sense of femininity.

She finished her business and crept out of the cubicle, relieved that no one came in while she was there and disappointed that Mr. Hunk was gone.  Well, what was she expecting?  That he'd wait around for her?

She thought of blue eyes that belonged to a handsome face as she washed her hands.  Maybe he was here on a picnic, too.  If he used this particular bathroom, he must be hanging around close to her group's spot.  Didn't her sister say they chose this part of the park because it was a lot quieter?  A smile formed on her face at the possibility of bumping into him again.

The sound of male voices coming from outside prodded her to hurry up and leave the room she wasn't supposed to be in.  She hastily turned towards the door, eager to get out, when she felt her left foot slip from underneath her.

“Oww!” She landed on her butt awkwardly, her arms thankfully managing to stop her upper body and head from hitting the floor.

Gingerly, she braced herself up and tried to stand.  Pain shot up from her ankle and her face contorted in an ugly wince just as the door flung open.  To her delight and chagrin, there he was again.  Mr. Hunk.  How freaking embarrassing!

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Uh, I think so.  I didn't notice the puddle.”

“Here, let me help you up.”  Her knight in sexy blue jeans leaned down to give her a hand.

She smiled her thanks as she accepted his assistance.

“Ahem,” a voice intruded, causing her to look away from Mr. Hunk's handsome face to find a middle-aged man poking his head inside the restroom.

“Excuse me.  May I go in now?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Hunk answered.  “Thanks for waiting.”

She gave her new friend a quizzical look.

“I told him not to go in until you came out,” he explained.

“You were guarding the door for me?” she asked in disbelief.

“Yeah.  I thought you might need a little privacy while you invaded the men's room,” he said with a teasing grin.

“Thanks.  That's very kind of you.”

“No worries.  There's not many people around in this part of the park and a pretty girl like you shouldn't be found in the men's room.  It always pays to be careful,” he said quietly, then turned his head towards the cubicles.  “Not that I think you're dangerous, sir,” he called out loudly to the older man.

“I understand,” the other guy responded.

“Aahh,” she cried softly as she put weight on her left foot.

“Your ankle?” her knight asked.

“Yes, I must have sprained it.”  Her eyes watered from the pain and the predicament she found herself in.  She prayed her ankle wasn't too bad.  Her sister's wedding was next week and she didn't want to be a limping bridesmaid on the day.

“Where do you need to go?” he asked.

“To the sink first.  I need to wash my hands again.”

Her heart raced as a muscular arm went around her waist as he helped her hobble to the washbasin.

“Why don't I help you walk back to wherever you need to be?” he offered.  “You probably shouldn't be putting much weight on that foot.”

“How do I know you're not dangerous?” she asked with a smile that conveyed she was joking.  She felt safe with him already.  But was that being too naive?

He laughed out loud.  “How about I introduce myself first?  My name's Kane and I work for Krand Architects.  I'm definitely not an axe murderer.”

“Where's your proof?” she asked with a mock frown.

He took his wallet from his back pocket and fished out a business card.  “Here.  See?  Ar-chi-tect,” he said with exaggerated enunciation as he pointed to the title ‘Director and Head Architect'.

She chuckled at his playfulness and snatched the card from him.  “Glad to meet you, Kane … Summers?  Are you related to Faye Summers?”

“Yes,” Kane replied in surprise.  “I'm her oldest brother.”

Oh.  She checked him out with new eyes.  She could now see the resemblance between him and Faye – one of her sister's best friends – especially their blue eyes and the fact that they were both extremely good-looking.

“And you are …?” Kane prodded.

“Oh, I'm Jasmine Allen.”

He lifted his eyebrows.  “You're Jessa's younger sister?”


He grinned at her.  “Well, then, now you know for sure I'm not an axe murderer.  You live in Melbourne, right?  When did you arrive?”

“Yesterday.  I'm here for five weeks.”

“Wow, that's a good length of time to be away from work.  What do you do?”

“I'm a corporate trainer.  My boss wants me to consider moving here to Sydney to fill a position that will be vacant in three months.  Since I have plenty of annual leave up my sleeve, I thought I'd take it now so I could see if I'd like living in Sydney while I house-sit for Jessa and Rob when they go on their honeymoon.  Plus, I also wanted to come early for Rob's birthday.  Speaking of which, we should head back to the party.”

As Kane escorted her out of the men's room, she tried to hide the wince that formed on her face.  She was in more pain than she would like to admit.

“Do you think I should carry you?” Kane asked tentatively.

“Ah, no.  I think that would be too awkward,” she replied, her cheeks turning pink.  The thought of being in his arms heated her up all over and made her heart pound hard.  This guy was doing crazy things to her system.

“Okay,” Kane said.  “But you shouldn't use your left foot at all until you've had it checked by a doctor.  Hang on to me and I'll help you hop along with your right foot.”

“Thanks.”  She put her right arm around his shoulders as he kept a tight grip around her waist and held her against his side.

Whoa, this position won't help me cool down.  Not at all.

“I hope I can walk all right by next week,” she babbled, keen to distract herself from her ridiculous physical reaction to this man.  “I wouldn't want to ruin Jessa and Rob's big day by being on crutches during their wedding.”

“I'm sure you'll be fine as long as you don't do silly things while your ankle's healing,” he consoled her.

Yes, just continue to hold me and I'll be fine.

She decided not to respond in case something totally inappropriate came out of her mouth.


Jasmine exhaled her disappointment when they neared the place where the rest of their group was busy barbecuing, chatting and laughing.  Kane Summers would have to let go of her soon.

She couldn't understand it.  Why this intense attraction?  He might be one hell of a looker, but he was just one of the many handsome guys she knew.  What made him the most magnetic of them all?

“Nearly there,” Kane said.

She wanted to swoon at the husky tone of his voice.  Instead, she forced herself to focus on keeping her left foot raised while she hopped with her right.

“Jaz!  What happened?”  She looked up to see Jessa's worried face.

“I slipped and sprained my ankle,” she answered.

“Oh, no!  Are you okay?  Where did you slip?  In the bathroom?”

“Yes,” she responded in a small voice.

Their group gathered around them, wanting to see what was wrong.

“It's just a sprained ankle, guys.  Please don't worry,” Jasmine pleaded.

“Maybe we should take you to a doctor,” Rob said.

“Rob, seriously, I'm fine.  I'll just put my foot up and relax.  Please carry on with your party.  You'll only make me feel bad if you fuss over me.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.  Please.”  She looked around with embarrassment as about fifteen pairs of eyes stared at her.  She didn't even know who a few of the others were.  She had run straight for the bathroom as soon as they got there.

Fortunately, Jessa remembered to make the introductions before shooing her friends back to what they were doing.  “It's all right, guys.  We got this,” Jessa said.

Kane led her to the nearest bench and helped her sit down.  He squatted before her, gently picked up her left foot and took off her shoe.  He lightly caressed her swollen ankle and oddly enough, his touch made it feel a little better.

“Do you girls know how to treat a sprained ankle?” he asked Jessa and Faye, who stood on either side of him.

“You need to put ice on it and bandage it up,” his sister responded.  “But I don't think we have bandage.”

“We have ice!”  Jessa went to the portable drink cooler and gathered ice cubes.  When she walked back to them, Kane held out his hand for the cubes, wrapped in a tea towel.

“You want to do this?” Jessa asked in surprise.

“Sure.  I'm already holding her foot,” Kane responded, taking the makeshift ice pack from Jessa.

Jasmine flushed at the meaningful look exchanged by Jessa and Faye.  She wondered what they were thinking.  Would they have a problem if she and Kane dated?

Whoa, Jasmine, slow down.  You're getting ahead of yourself here.

At twenty-seven, she had dated plenty of guys.  But even though her family thought she fell in and out of love too often, the truth was she hadn't fallen in love with a single one of her past boyfriends.  She didn't see the point in extending the relationship when she was sure it had nowhere to go.

With her sister's upcoming nuptials, her desire to find that special someone had become stronger.  But finding that one guy might have become harder due to her fear of exposing her little secret – a secret only two other people in the world knew about.  She hadn't even told Jessa, although there were times she had wanted to open up to her only sibling.  But she still wasn't prepared for the repercussions.

She had a mental picture of people – of Kane – finding out about her secret activity and shivered at the thought.

“Too cold?” Kane asked, his concerned look quickly warming her up.

She shook her head and smiled at him.

“So did you two meet outside the bathrooms?” Faye asked.

“I heard Jasmine yell so I went back in and found her on her bottom.  Then we introduced ourselves to each other,” Kane answered, his eyes still fully on her flushed face.

Back in?”

Kane grinned while her face reddened even more.  He raised an eyebrow at her.  She shrugged and gave a resigned chuckle.

“Jasmine slipped in the men's room,” Kane stated.

“What?” Faye and Jessa exclaimed.

“The nearest ladies' room was out of order and I was desperate to go,” Jasmine explained.  “So I used the men's.  I slipped as I was about to come out and Kane heard me.  He was waiting outside to make sure no one else went in while I was in there.”

“That's so sweet of you, Kane,” Jessa said.  “Thank you.”

“Aww, it was nothing.  I'm just glad I was there or one of your bridesmaids might not be able to walk down the aisle on your wedding.”

“If Jaz is still in pain next week then she doesn't have to walk.  Things don't always work out as planned,” Jessa said pragmatically.

“Don't say that, Jess!  I want to be fine for your wedding,” Jasmine insisted.

“Well, then, you have to make sure you rest your ankle until it's recovered.  It doesn't look too bad but we'll stop by a medical centre on our way back home.”

“If you're going to sit around for the rest of the afternoon, you better sit on a picnic blanket so you can keep your ankle raised,” Kane suggested.

“Good idea,” Jessa agreed.  “You can lie down and read a book or something so you won't get too bored while the rest of us play games.  But I'll sit and chat with you most of the time.”

“Don't be silly, Jess.  I'll be fine reading.  You guys should be enjoying yourselves with Rob and not worrying about me.  It's his birthday, and all I have is a sprained ankle.”

“Okay.  We better help you move to the blanket, then.”

“I'll carry her,” Kane said.  With easy movements, he scooped her up in his muscular arms and sauntered towards one of the picnic blankets under the shade of a tree.

Good heavens, this man is literally sweeping me off my feet.


Kane's heart thundered in his chest and his body hardened.  There it was again, that delicious reaction to Jasmine.  He'd known her for less than twenty minutes and he already craved being close to her.  What was this called?  Instant chemistry?

He pressed her closer to him, wanting to bury his face in her long black hair that smelled like some exotic flower.

He was glad he had stayed behind and waited for her while she used the bathroom.  He'd always been a sucker for damsels in distress, especially when the damsel was as beautiful and attractive as the one in his arms.

He gently laid her down the blanket and immediately felt bereft when he released her.

“All right?” he asked.

Jasmine nodded, her eyes locking with his with a look of wonder that seemed to reflect what he was feeling.  Did she feel it too?  That irresistible pull between them?  She looked so mesmerising and vulnerable sitting there that he had a great urge to kiss her.

“Here, put your foot up on this, Jaz,” Jessa said, placing a rolled-up jacket underneath Jasmine's left calf and breaking the spell that encapsulated them.

“Stop fussing.  I'll be fine,” Jasmine told her sister.  “All I need now is my handbag so I can read from my phone, then you can look after your birthday boy.  He looks lonely without you over there.”

“Which one is your bag?” Kane asked, wanting to continue to do something for her.

“Uh, that red one next to the white one,” Jasmine replied, pointing her finger at the location of her purse.

He went to retrieve it for her.  On his way back, he noticed the curious looks Faye and Jessa were throwing at him.  You're being too obvious, he berated himself.

If things were different, he wouldn't have cared if anyone thought he was interested in Jasmine.  But he was in a messy, difficult situation with Hannah and he needed to fix things with her before he could move on.  Faye knew that and, knowing how close his sister was to her best friends, he was certain Jessa knew that, too.  He would be frowned upon if he pursued Jasmine at this time, and he couldn't blame them if they did.

He smiled at Jasmine as he handed her her purse then went to join the boys by the barbecue table.  Right now, it was all too complicated.  So he knew what he had to do.  Stay away from Jasmine.


Secret Words now available at Amazon.



First Look At Ray of Love’s Cover


Sorry for being slack in posting on my blog.  I hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day, whatever it was you did to celebrate it – or not celebrate it ;).

I had been working hard to get Book 3 of the Lifestyle by Design series ready so I haven't had time to share much with you on this blog.  But the good news is Ray of Love (Lifestyle by Design Book 3) will be available in Amazon next month!  The kindle version will be released on the 12th of March while it will be available in print in late April.

So not too long to go before you can finally read about Faye and Ray's love story. 🙂

I will post the first chapter of Ray of Love here soon.  In the meantime, here is the very first look at its cover.

Chat again soon!

Ray of Love 3D cover






Heart Robber Is Out Now To Steal Your Heart

It's out!  The second novel of the Lifestyle by Design series, Heart Robber, is now available on Amazon.

I have truly enjoyed writing the story of Jessa Allen and Rob Granger.  Just like I did with Will and Clarise from Will To Love, I have fallen in love with these two passionate main characters from my second novel.

Let me introduce to you this book that would heat up your reading device and truly warm your heart.  Here is the first chapter and I hope you enjoy it. 🙂  (Warning: some swear words are in this chapter 😉 )

Heart Robber (Lifestyle by Design Book 2) Chapter One


Jessa Allen was vaguely aware she was staring with undisguised interest at the most attractive man she had ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on.  But it was just that – vague.  If someone shoved a mirror in front of her so she could see her dreamy eyes, dilated pupils and slightly open, almost drooling mouth, she would have blushed darker than beetroot red.

She wasn't the type to openly gawk at handsome men.  She was more subtle and reserved than that.  But this hunk with jet black hair and mischievous gray eyes that exuded masculinity affected her with unexpected potency.  She hadn't even noticed that she'd stopped mingling with the other guests who attended Megan Carson's charity fund-raising event.  From the moment they were introduced to each other by the host after dinner, she had been stuck to his side, unable to move a single step away from his magnetic force.

“In so many respects, I just got really lucky,” Rob Granger said with a self-deprecating smile that pulled her attention to his lips.  “I still remember the moment when I realised how quickly my business had grown.  I got a big jolt.  So I decided I better treat it more seriously.  Anyway, enough about my business.”  Rob changed the subject.  “It must be fun writing for a magazine as popular as Lifestyle by Design.”

“Oh, it is,” she answered distractedly.  For the umpteenth time, she wondered what it would be like to be kissed by those full, sexy lips.

“If I wasn't running a marketing consultancy firm, you know what kind of work I'd love to have?” Rob asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“What?”  She gave herself a mental shake and tried to focus on what was coming out of Rob's mouth instead of what it would feel like against hers.

“I was thinking it would be great to have a job where not only do I get to interview owners of top restaurants, tourism businesses and high-end professional services in Australia but I also get to sample their offerings so I could write about them.  Imagine getting paid to do that.”  Rob paused as if he remembered something.  “Oh, that's right.  That's what you do,” he teased.

She laughed.  “I must admit I do have a great job.  That's why when the opportunity arose I didn't hesitate to move from Melbourne here to Sydney.”

“I read your article on David's on this month's edition of Lifestyle.  Sounds like a great restaurant to try out.”

“Yes, you really should go there one time.  Their food's great.”

“Maybe you and I can go.”

Huh?  Jessa was momentarily speechless, unable to believe what she'd just heard.  “Sorry, what did you say?”

“I said, maybe you and I can go have dinner at David's.  Are you free, say, Tuesday?”

“Uh, yes, that would be great.”  She was thankful she was able to respond without showing the astonishment she felt.  Men like Rob didn't look twice at someone like her.

She came to Megan's charity event to support a good cause, not to get a date, but she was definitely not complaining!  To think that before tonight, she was feeling melancholy that she was still single, while her three closest friends had all found someone special.  Then, the most gorgeous man at the function asked her out to dinner.  Who would have thought?

“Rob!  There you are!”

They both looked to see Megan approach them with a lady who looked to be in her early sixties.

“Sorry, are we interrupting something?” Megan asked.

“No, of course not,” Jessa answered.

“I just want to introduce Rob to the lady from whom he bought the box of wine,” Megan said with a big grin.  “Rob, this is my future aunt-in-law, Bonnie Smithson.  She donated that box of wine you won at the auction.”

“It's great to meet you, Bonnie.  Thank you for donating the wine.  They're one of my favourites.

“Well, thank you for bidding for them, Rob.  Just make sure you don't drink them all in one sitting,” Bonnie said with a hearty laugh.  “Now, I heard you run a successful business.  How old are you?”


Bonnie shook her head in awe.  “So young.”  She proceeded to tell them the story of how she and her husband George almost went bankrupt twice while trying to build their business, just as Jessa's attention was caught by her friends Clarise and Faye motioning for her to come over to them.

She dragged her feet away from Rob to walk towards her friends.

“Hey, girls, what's up?”

When Jessa moved to Sydney to take up a senior writing and editing role at Lifestyle by Design magazine four years ago, she instantly bonded with her work colleague Clarise Carson and Faye Summers, Clarise's best friend.  These two women plus Victor Michaels, the head graphic designer at the magazine, were now her best and dearest friends.

“You tell us, Jess,” Faye said teasingly.  “You seem to be busy with a certain someone tonight.”

Her eyes lit up with wonder.  “You wouldn't believe this, girls.  I don't believe it myself.  But that sexy man, Rob Granger, asked me out to dinner.”

“Okay, before I say what I have to say, why are you so surprised?” Clarise asked with a hint of challenge in her voice.

“Clarise, I know you only have eyes for Will, but have you seen Rob?”

“Yes, and?”

“He's gorgeous!”

“Sure, and?”  Clarise's impatience was obvious.

Jessa turned to Faye, who was looking at her with a censuring look.  She shook her head at them fondly.  “You know what I mean.  Men like Rob, who look like they belong on the pages of a magazine, don't usually go for someone average like me.”

Faye put her hands on her hips and Clarise folded her arms across her chest.  Both glared at her.

“Okay, granted I'm not unpleasant to look at–maybe I'm even pretty to some people–but you have to admit I'm still quite average.  In the looks department, I'm not in the league of women such as you two.”  She smiled at her stunning friends with a tinge of envy.  They were truly hot.  And so were their boyfriends.

Clarise and Faye stared at her like she was growing horns.

“Jessa Allen, are you kidding me?  We obviously still have a lot of work to do with your self-esteem issue!” Faye said incredulously.

“Hey, I'm just stating a fact.  The last two guys I went out with were blind dates introduced by Aunt Evelyn.  I hardly ever get asked out.  So when a seriously gorgeous guy asks me out, I'm shocked.  Thrilled, but shocked.”

Clarise shook her head in disbelief and exchanged a look with Faye.  “We need to do the JAB again.  I'll get Victor.”  Faye nodded gravely.

Jessa sighed, resigned to what was about to happen.  She watched as Clarise walked towards the bar area where Victor was chatting with a group of people.  Before Clarise got to Victor, her boyfriend, Will Matthews, stopped her for a quick kiss and a hug.  His reluctance at letting her go was obvious.  He watched her longingly until she reached Victor before going back to his friends.

Jessa felt a certain sadness mixed with envy envelop her.  She wanted that, too – wanted someone to love and look at her like that, like she was the only woman in the world.

At twenty-eight she had had two boyfriends.  They were nice enough, but the relationships she had with them didn't have much passion.  It didn't take long for the little spark that was there to die down.  There was nothing to fan it to flames.

When Clarise came back with Victor, Faye dragged them all inside the house and into the quiet living room, away from the party going on outside in the manicured gardens of Megan's future parents-in-law.

Jessa's palms started to sweat.  She knew her friends meant well.  It got irritating sometimes but she loved them for it.  But they hadn't been and wouldn't be able to convince her that she was as much of a man-magnet as they were.

Her life story had proven that to her.  She was always surrounded by people more attractive and vibrant than she was.  She had learnt to accept she would never command attention like her younger sister did, or her school friend Iris, or her previous flatmate Anna, or her three best friends, who were now ready to put her through another round of JAB – the Jessa Allen Booster.  They believed she had low self-esteem issues when it came to men and relationships.  Well, sure, she probably did.  But for good reasons.

“Won't Megan mind that we're in here when she has a function going on outside?” she worried.

“I could call my sister right now and she would be happy to join us for the JAB,” Clarise said, knowing Megan wouldn't mind at all.  “The charity auction is finished.  Everyone's in party mode now.”

Jessa took a deep breath.  “Okay, then.”

“Why don't we do it differently this time?  I'd like to try something different.”  Faye had a determined look about her that she often had when she was ready to whip someone's ass with her words.

“Sure,” Clarise and Victor responded readily, while Jessa winced.

Faye was a lovely person with a sharp tongue that could cut you with its honesty.  She would tell you what you needed to know, not what you wanted to hear.  As a senior career consultant at one of Australia's leading career consulting firms, this trait had been very effective and beneficial to her clients.

“Don't worry, Jess.  I'm not going to bite you.  I just want you to answer me this,” Faye said in a quiet voice that demanded a no-bullshit answer.  “Why do you think you're so average that it was such a surprise to you Rob asked you out to dinner?”

“Why?” Jessa repeated with a surprised look.  This wasn't the usual Jessa Allen Booster.  The JAB typically had her friends taking turns telling her where they thought she was beautiful and attractive to the point that she got embarrassed enough she would pretend to agree with them so they would stop.  Now Faye wanted her to talk about the ugly truth?  Okay, not so ugly but definitely not so beautiful, either.

“Yes.  Why, Jessa?”

“Well … because men as good-looking as Rob tend to be attracted to women who are as attractive as they are.  You know–the model types.”

“And apart from your height, which is admittedly a little too short for the runway, why do you think you're not attractive enough to be a model?”

She snorted at Faye's reference to her height.  Whichever way you looked at it – five foot three or one hundred sixty centimetres – she undeniably didn't have a model's height.

“I need an answer, Jess.”

“I don't look like one.”

“And why is that?”

“Why don't I look like a model?”


“What do you mean?  I just don't look like one.”

“So tell me exactly why you don't look like a model, Jessa.”

Jessa turned to Clarise and Victor for a bit of help but they appeared riveted at the conversation going on between her and Faye.  They were content to let Faye run this the way she wanted.  She couldn't blame them.  Faye had helped them work on some of their issues just by being blunt, direct and relentless.

She squirmed in her seat.  What did Faye want to hear?  What else could she say?  She was simply not attractive enough.

“My face is not that pretty,” she said.

“Really, now?  Do you remember the magazine we were looking at the other day?  The one where this girl had a make-over?  Wasn't it you who said she went from drab and daggy to hot and sexy?”

“But that's different!  She had some professional help.  And who knows?  Maybe they airbrushed her picture or something.”

“Haven't we encouraged you to have a make-over, Jess?  We're more than ready to bet you'd be surprised at the result.”

“What good would that do?” she scowled.  Every once in a while she would dress up, especially when she went to important client meetings and special occasions, like tonight.  But she didn't see the point in having a make-over.  It would be a waste of time, money and effort.

“See, this is the problem,” Faye said with an exasperated sigh and a sweep of her arm at her.

“What?” Jessa whined.

“You don't make an effort because you don't believe it's worth it, right?”

“Hmm,” she replied cautiously in a non-committal way.

“Why isn't it worth the effort?” Faye asked in a demanding tone.

“Who'd notice, anyway?”

“Ah!  So how come Rob asked you out, huh?”

“That's why I'm so surprised by it!”

She couldn't believe they were having this conversation.  Rob asking her out was a big surprise.  It wasn't something that happened all the time.  She wasn't like Faye or Clarise, who never lacked male admirers.

A thought occurred to her.  “Hey, I think I know why Rob asked me out.  It seems I'm the only single girl here tonight.”

Loud groans came out from all three of her friends.

“Look, guys, that's just the way it is,” she said with a shrug.  She wasn't very pretty and there was nothing she could do about that.  It certainly wasn't a crime.  She couldn't understand why her friends wouldn't accept it.

“Jess, the only reason why we're always at you about this is because we want you to see what we see,” Faye said, as if reading her mind.  “Quite frankly, it's annoying when you mope around and say you want to find ‘The One' but you hold yourself back with your lack of self-confidence about your looks.  You're not just brains.  You're beauty and brains.  You are attractive.  We have eyes, you know, so we know what we're talking about.  We just don't know what you see when you look at yourself in the mirror.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She was lucky to have friends who see her as beautiful.  But there was nothing special about her straight, long black hair, hazel eyes and petite frame.  She was simply plainer than what they said she was.  Wasn't that the reason Jasmine, her pretty younger sister, attracted four guys she had huge crushes on and that Jasmine even ended up dating all of them?  Or why her big infatuation Michael chose to go out with her previous best friend even though she was the one who had the guts to approach him at the bar?  All Michael could say to her was ‘your friend's really beautiful'.  That said it all.  She wasn't.  She had known it since she was a kid.

She stood up and threw her arms wide open.  “Group hug.”

“Oh, Jess!” her three friends cried at the same time as they gave her big bear hugs.

“Are you okay?” Victor asked.

“Of course, I'm okay.  Listen, there are only a very few people in this world who are truly gorgeous inside and out.  For some bizarre reason, I'm lucky enough to be best friends with three of them.  Equally bizarre is the fact that one of the hottest men I've ever seen asked me out.  I'm not going to question that and ruin my fun.  I'm just going to enjoy the fact that it happened.  I certainly don't get that every day.”

Clarise and Faye looked at each other.

“Jess,” Clarise said gently, “just thought I'd let you know Rob recently broke up with his girlfriend.  He's not looking for a serious relationship at this point, just some fun.  He said as much to Will earlier today.”

“Oh.”  She was surprised at the pang of disappointment that hit her.  She had learnt long ago not to get her hopes up with any first dates, but she felt a connection with Rob she couldn't quite put a finger on.  It's my attraction to his face and body.  He's too good-looking, she thought to herself.

“Yeah,” Clarise continued.  “I mean, you can still go out with him and enjoy being taken out to dinner.  He seems like a nice enough guy as long as you don't expect anything more than just to have fun with him.”

“Well, it's not an issue with me.  I wasn't expecting someone like him to fall for me, anyway.  It'll just be great to have dinner with someone seriously gorgeous.”


“When do you go back to Melbourne, Rob?”

“Next Saturday,” Rob answered Will Matthews, his long-time friend.  They'd known each other since their early teens, having gone to school together.  When he moved to Melbourne five years ago, they kept in touch and remained close friends.  “But I'll be back here again pretty soon, probably in three weeks' time or so,” he continued.  “I'd really like to establish a strong client base here.  I'd like to target some of the larger Sydney-based corporate firms.”

“Well, let me know what I can do to help you,” Will replied.  “You've been a big help to me for my Melbourne branch.  I already have some high profile clients lined up to use my company's travel services because of your marketing strategy.”

“Thanks … I'll definitely … let you know,” he responded in a distracted tone, his attention shifting elsewhere.


He was startled by Will's call.  “Huh?”

“What's going on?”


“You better not be staring at Clarise.”

He chuckled.  “C'mon, Will.  Would I do that to you?”

Will narrowed his eyes at him.  “It's Jessa then.  You do know Jessa is one of Clarise's best friends, so I hope you don't have her on your list of potential playmates.  I don't think she's that kind of girl.”

“Hey, I just find her work fascinating.  Maybe I can have an article written on my business in Lifestyle.”

“Oh, right.  That's a great idea.  A good article there can attract loads of new clients for you.  Mine's coming out in a couple of months.”

“I've asked her out to dinner,” Rob blurted out.

“Oh?  To butter her up so she’ll do a good write-up for you?  They don't work like that, you know.  They don't do any favours when it comes to their work.  They're pretty objective.”

“And Clarise is being objective with you?” he ribbed Will.  “When it's so obvious the two of you are so hopelessly in love it's gag-worthy?”

Will grinned, clearly enjoying the thought of Clarise being hopelessly in love with him.  There was no denying he was hopelessly in love with her.  “Clarise isn't writing the article for me, Jessa is.  And both of them have warned me several times they're not going to treat me differently from anyone else.  It's their careers and reputations on the line, after all.”

“I'm not looking for favours.”

“So, then, you want to go out with her because …?”

Rob shrugged.  He asked Jessa out because he found her attractive.  She wasn't the type he usually dated but there was something alluring about her.  From the way she looked at him earlier, it was clear the attraction was mutual.

It just occurred to him that there could be complications because of her friendship with Clarise.  He didn't think about that.  But that shouldn't matter if Jessa also found him attractive, should it?  And it was only going to be one dinner – and maybe some fooling around in bed if she was okay with it.  If she wasn't up for that, then no problem.  There'd be other takers.

“I'm sure she can look after herself, Will.  She can suss me out and make her own decision.  I won't deliberately mislead her.”

After Andrea, his last girlfriend, Rob had made a decision to be upfront with the women he asked out.  He thought Andrea knew the score perfectly well so it came as a shock to him when she demanded they get engaged.  He only agreed to be exclusive with her because it served them both.  Theirs was a relationship of convenience tied with sexual compatibility, not commitment.  That was the only kind of relationship he was interested in.  It was a pity Andrea forgot that.

“How exactly are you not going to deliberately mislead her?” Will quizzed.

“How?  Well, before I end up in bed with her – with any woman, for that matter – I'm going to let her know I'm not looking for a serious relationship.”

“Okay, that could work, although you'll only be with women who only want casual sex.”

“Yeah, so?”

“What about finding a nice girl you could potentially be in a serious relationship with?”

Rob’s roaring laughter startled some of the people standing nearby.  “You are fucking kidding me, right?” he said in a lower voice only Will could hear.

“What?  Why?” Will asked in bemusement.

“Just because you're blinded by love doesn't mean you have to drag me down that path with you,” he replied with an upward roll of his eyes.

“Drag you down?  You don't know what you're missing!”

“Will, come on.  You know all this love shit isn't for me.”

While he was happy for his friend, Rob didn't believe everyone found the kind of love Will and Clarise had found with each other.  Relationships like that were the exception rather than the rule.  Besides, he couldn't see himself wanting to be tied down in a serious relationship with any woman.  That would be way too constricting.  He valued his freedom, first and foremost.

“Okay, okay.  Whatever you think suits you,” Will acquiesced.  “As long as you're frank and straightforward with Jessa about your intentions, Rob.  Before you end up in bed with her,” his friend warned him.

“Don't worry about that.”


To get your copy of Heart Robber (Lifestyle by Design Book 2), click here.  Enjoy!