By Martha O’Sullivan (Guest Blogger)
My love affair with California began at the tender age of fifteen and continues today, nearly four decades later. So it should come as no surprise that the book of my heart, which somehow turned into a trilogy, is set there.
Maybe it was the ineffable thrill of a Midwestern girl seeing the ocean for the first time. Or the unapologetically bronzed beach bums with movie-star teeth playing volleyball in the sand. Perhaps the towering palm trees swaying against the impossibly blue sky. But that was in Southern California; my Chances Trilogy takes place in Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, hundreds of miles north.
I was an only child of the ‘70s, growing up in a place where short, fleeting summers became long, cold winters seemingly overnight. In high school, I often opted for the city bus because it stopped in front of the public library. It was just a branch, but they had loads of paperback books. And I always found myself drawn to the wire rack of slightly musty and lovingly tattered romance novels. The books took me to places all over the world where effortlessly beautiful, strong-minded heroines were swept off their feet by magnetic, irresistible heroes. I preferred the books to the afternoon soap operas because I could use my imagination to mold the characters to my liking. And if I found the ending disappointing, I would simply finish the story in my head with a more suitable outcome.
Writing such ideas down, however, took another thirty years. In the interim, I went to college and met my own hero. And he took me to San Francisco on our honeymoon. And, as cliché as it sounds, that’s where I left my heart. Well, part of it anyway. Because eight years later I went to Lake Tahoe for the first time. And my love affair with California moved farther north.
I hope my Chances Trilogy—Second Chance, Chance Encounter and Last Chance—will take you there. And you’ll leave a little piece of your heart behind too. Read on for a excerpt from Last Chance, the conclusion to the trilogy. I definitely saved the best for last!
Moira Brody knows Paul Webster better than he knows himself. But neither one of them know that he is as desperately in love with her as she is with him. Still, she isn't going to wait around forever, especially on Valentine's Day. When Paul learns that the hard way, he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. He can't lose her. Or let the past dictate the future.
So Paul and Moira will have to do something they've never done before—go on a real date. A first date that turns into a passionate night, something for which Moira has waited a long time.
These friends turned lovers will have to look at each other with fresh eyes and brave hearts. But not everybody is on their side. And Paul will have to choose between following his head and listening to his heart. Or risk losing Moira forever.
The black ice cast an eerie sheen on the road ahead and the glare from the oncoming high beams had Paul squinting as if at the summer sun. The weather was coming in fast and he wondered if Moira had gotten home safely.
Or at all.
He should have gotten her roses. But he didn’t. Because she’s Moira. Effortlessly beautiful, remarkably grounded, perpetually good-natured Moira. And tonight she was something else. Incredibly sexy. In tight-fitting jeans and a silky top he’d never seen before. With her dark, thick, begging to be touched curls skimming her shoulders. And eye makeup and red
lipstick. She smelled pretty good too. Like spring rain and lilacs. All for the guy begging for roses at the flower shop. For someone he’d been “interested in for some time." For whom he had a last minute arrangement thrown together. From his cuttings. For his girl. Paul huffed out a harried breath. Is that what she was? Apparently not. But he sure as hell wanted her to be. He slammed on the brakes and the SUV swerved, then leveled, sliding into the precarious U-turn.
It took Paul twice as long as usual to get back to Reno with the slick roads. And by then the temperature had dropped enough to turn the spitting rain into steely pellets. A frigid, damp sleet akin to the block of ice that had staked a claim in the pit of his stomach. Turning the corner onto Moira’s street, he heaved a half-hearted sigh of relief when he saw no car in the driveway and a hodgepodge of lights burning inside. She was home. Alone it would seem.
Unless they came in one car, he prepared himself through gritted teeth.
Paul knew the garage code, but didn’t want to scare her, so he opted for the conventional route. He could see her profile through the slats of the plantation shutters as he made his way up the path to the front door. She was in the kitchen fussing with something, still dressed up like she hadn’t been home long. His throat muscles contracted as his mind began to race. Had her date seen her home or had they parted ways at the office? Gone somewhere for a drink after dinner? Made another date? He looked on as Moira stepped back from the kitchen island, arms drawn across her chest, and appraised her work. The fancy jeans sat just below her hips, hugging every one of her curves from hip to ankle and Paul found himself disturbingly envious. The sheer shirt rested on her slim waist and reminded him of holding her in his arms when they danced at Lindsay’s wedding. And her breasts looked bigger somehow, like they’d grown overnight. The mere thought of touching them made his heart skip a beat and his cock begin to swell.
Seemingly pleased with her work, she reached for the dish towel flung over her shoulder and dried her hands, inadvertently catching a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye. She did a double take, then held his gaze momentarily. He thought the corners of her mouth curved slightly upward, but the distance between them was too great to be sure. She shook off whatever she was thinking and walked toward the door. He visualized her on the other side,
squeezing her eyes shut and taking a few deep breaths before opening it. She greeted him in a wobbly voice, “Hey.”
She looked mesmerizing in the amber light. Her emerald green eyes were soulful and clung to his as if unwittingly attached. Her full lips were naked now and Paul told himself it was from eating. The coal-black tendrils had doubled, the errant strands falling in sexy waves around her fair face. Also from natural causes, he told himself. “Hey. Can I come in?”
“Of course,” she invited, ushering him in.
Stepping inside, Paul rapid-fired, “I’m glad you’re home. I wanted to—”
“Where else would I be at eleven o’clock at night?” she cut him off.
“I don’t know.” His mind was suddenly a mare’s nest and his palms were beginning to sweat. “I wasn’t sure what your plans were for the rest of the evening.”
“I’ve been home for almost an hour,” she informed him evenly.
“Alone?” His eyes scanned the living room.
“It was just dinner, Paul," Moira patronized.
On Valentine’s Day, he silently added. “About that, I came by to apologize.” He wondered if she sensed the audible relief in his voice. “I shouldn’t have assumed we’d see each other tonight. And I certainly shouldn’t have assumed you’d be,” he bit off the word, “available.” He looked away then, into the kitchen, and saw what she’d been doing. Arranging flowers.
She must have acquired clairvoyant powers in those few seconds, because her tone softened and she said, “I had to bring them home. They're too beautiful to waste.
With four long strides he advanced into the kitchen and glanced around. “Where are the roses?”
She followed him. “At the office.”
“They’re not too beautiful to waste?” he asked in a thick voice, turning to face her.
“No, they are.” Her breath hitched. “They’re just not from you.”
Her eyes were filling behind their dark lashes and she was biting her bottom lip, trying to hold back the tears. Paul couldn’t have stopped himself from going to her if he’d wanted to. “Moira, what are we doing?” he implored, gripping her forearms. “What have I done? Have I lost you?”
She shook her head from side to side and the tears began to fall, leaving sooty tracks on her cheeks. Tipping his head back in silent gratitude, Paul gathered her in his arms. She instantly moved into his body, sniffling through sawed-off breaths.
“Tell me nothing happened. Tell me there’s nothing between you and him,” he prayed out loud after a long moment.
She answered by burrowing her head into his shoulder and wreathing his middle. He felt her breathing level and he kissed the top of her head. She smelled like a subtle version of earlier, infused with wine and garlic. Hope replaced the trepidation in his stomach and he heard himself say, “I had to force myself not to go back there. I’ve been driving around for hours, going crazy.”
She angled out of his grasp just enough to make eye contact. Suddenly she was the girl he used to know again, not the woman tying his insides into knots. Or maybe the perfect combination of both. Her eyes began to shine and a satisfied smile curved her lips. “You have?”
“Yeah. Like outside my mind crazy.” He laid his lips on hers and tasted the salt from her tears. She melted into the kiss, then the next. He wondered if she could sense him growing behind the zipper. Or the spool of want unwinding into a thousand frazzled threads in his gut. Gasping for air, he released her mouth and cupped her face in his hands. “You make me crazy, Moira Brody. Absolutely crazy.”
Her breath caught in her throat and she swallowed hard. “Then I like you crazy.”
Resting his forehead on hers, he let the night roll off his back like sweat. Then he closed his eyes and asked, “Do I need to fight for you, Moira?”
She laughed a little. “Well, Jason did bring flowers, dinner, wine.”
“I brought flowers, dinner, wine,” Paul defended high-mindedly, straightening. “Did you ever get the Chinese food?”
“Yeah, it’s in there.” She nodded over his shoulder at the sub-zero refrigerator they’d picked out together.
“It’s your favorite. Cashew chicken.”
“Thank God,” she said lightly, dabbing the outer corners of her eyes.“I’m starving.”
Paul sent her a confused look. “Did Bernini’s have a bad night?”
“Not from what I picked at.”
“Poor guy,” he gloated through a chuckle. “Went to all that trouble for nothing.”
“I wouldn’t say for nothing,” Moira demurred, her eyes dancing with innuendo. “He seemed to enjoy the evening.”
“Oh?” Paul inquired, stepping out of her embrace.
Beaming now, she raised her eyebrows mischievously. “Yeah.”
He felt his expression fall. “Did he kiss you good night?”
“He did,” Moira preened.
Paul couldn’t believe how much that bothered him. “Did you want him to?”
Her face instantly sobered. “No,” she paused, then finished with hushed care, “I wanted you to come back.”
“I did.” As if he’d had any choice in the matter. Paul drew her to him again and ran his hands up and down her back. “I had to.”
“That was all I could think about during dinner,” she admitted into the crook of his shoulder. “That I could have spent Valentine’s Day with you.”
“It’s not over quite yet.” He leaned back and dried her tearstained cheeks with his thumbs. “Think he’ll call you?”
She shrugged matter-of-factly. “Yeah.”
“What will you say?”
“What should I say?”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” He reached into his jacket pocket.
Her eyes narrowed in confusion as she took the small box from his open hands. “Paul, what is this?”
He gestured toward the bow-topped lid with a tip of the head. “Open it and find out.”
Moira obliged as Paul looked on eagerly. A tiny gasp escaped her throat when she saw the diamond studs inside.
“I know they’re on the small side, but you aren't one for flash.”
She glided her fingertips over each diamond. “They’re beautiful.”
“Emily thought they were perfect.” Just like you, he almost said.
Her astonished gaze shifted upward. “Emily?”
“She’s not sick. She found another sitter for tonight.” He paused to let the benevolent betrayal sink in. “So we could spend Valentine’s Day together.”
“Oh, Paul! I’m so sorry!” Moira exclaimed. “I had no idea.”
Neither did he. Until just now. And the realization hit him like a ton of bricks. “You can make it up to me tomorrow night,” he told her on the fly. “We’re going on a date. It’ll be our first one.”
About the Author
Martha O'Sullivan has loved reading romance novels for as long as she can remember. Writing her own books is the realization of a lifelong dream. She is a graduate of Illinois State University where she wrote for the school newspaper and was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha. She is also a former Acquisitions Editor at MacMillan Computer Publishing. Martha writes contemporary romances with male/female couples and happy endings. Her Chances Trilogy—Second Chance, Chance Encounter and Last Chance—is available in print and digital formats at retailers everywhere. Her current work in progress is Christmas in Tahoe. A native Chicagoan, she lives her own happy ending in Florida with her husband and two daughters.