Love Handles Excerpt: Chapter 10

If you’re the type to sample a book by popping open the middle (instead of the beginning) to read a few pages, this is for you.

Bev has just inherited a fitnesswear company. Liam, her VP, is starting to like her more than he’d intended.

The skinny androids in the window were wearing Nike, Addidas, and Fite. “If you want to show me Fite, show me at work. I have to go home and get ready for my sister.”
“You cannot own a fitnesswear company and never shop the stores. This is a boutique. Hardly our bread and butter, but it’ll do.”
“Forget it.”
He propped his hands on his hips. “Coward.”
“Please. I know what you’re trying to do. You said it last night, but you should give up right now because stronger campaigns led by larger armies have been waged and lost.” She wrenched her arm free. “I am not going to work out.”
“Apparently not,” he said. “Not here and not at Fite.”
“That’s not what—”
“Because refusing to walk into a store that sells our product out of some leftover childish resentment you have with your parents just shows you’re not capable of holding a leadership position.” He looked at his watch and glanced down the street at the BART tracks that crossed over College Avenue. “I’ll try to catch the ten-sixteen. Guess I’ll see you Monday.”
“Nice try, Liam.” She let him walk away. Then he kept walking. The shop was small and sandwiched between a used bookstore on one side and a taqueria on the other—nothing fancy. She wondered how they stayed in business, competing against the big box and department stores. Damn. “All right, Liam. Come back. All right!”
Without smiling, but with a funny tension around his mouth that suggested he’d like to, he nodded and walked directly to the door of the shop without waiting for her to catch up. He went inside with her on his heels, swearing under her breath, and nodded at the young saleswoman who was dusting a display of aromatherapy jars and vials along the far wall.
“Morning,” the woman said. “I’m Kimmie if you need help.”
“What size are you?” Liam asked Bev, pushing his way through a round rack stuffed with clothes.
“We’re just browsing, thanks,” Bev told Kimmie, nudging Liam with her hip to get him out of the way. Then she popped another Altoid and muttered to him, “Depends.”
“Don’t tell me you’re shy,” he said. “You don’t seem the type.”
“Female, you mean?” Not many women would want to blurt out their measurements to an Olympian with an attitude problem. “I guess a large—but most stuff doesn’t fit me right. I have to try everything on.”
He tilted his head and let his gaze drop down over her body, setting her nerves on fire. When his lips parted slightly as he stared at her breasts, she thought about pulling up her shirt and demanding to know if he’d seen enough. But the salesperson looked barely twenty, probably made minimum wage, and didn’t deserve the drama.
“You have a very low waist-to-hip ratio. Not to mention waist-to-bust.” He scowled.
“I have big breasts and a big butt. Nobody designs for me.”
“You—” he stepped closer and lifted his hands around her waist, fingers outstretched in the air above her body as though measuring the space around her. “It’s just that you’re so small in the middle. Relatively speaking.”
Heat and more heat. “Relatively.”
Then he was touching her, with no gap between his hands and her body. She felt his large hands wrap around her waist. He barely touched her, but the contact burned. Then the pads of his fingers slid down over the curve of her hips. “Fascinating, really,” he said, his voice like gravel.

Her chest felt tight. “Glad to be of interest.”
He glanced up at her, withdrew his hands and stepped away. “Don’t get upset. I’m just trying to figure out what you should try on first.”
“I’m not upset,” she said. She wasn’t breathing right. His touch hadn’t felt professional. The tension she saw tightening his jaw had not been professional tension. He was thinking about the exact same thing she was thinking about, and from the angry cloud darkening his face as he shoved shirts aside on the rack next to them, he didn’t like it any more than she did.
“You won’t be able to talk to Jennifer about fit problems unless you know for yourself how they feel,” he said. “I’m obviously unable to judge for myself, and my mother and sister have given me their opinion. Now it’s your turn.” He pulled out several pair of dark pants bearing the Fite logo and a pair of t-shirts and thrust the pile at her.
Reluctantly she clutched them to her chest and made eye contact with Kimmie. “I guess I’d like a room.” She walked over to a wall rack of sports bras, knowing he was right but annoyed he’d ambushed her. Since day one she had intended on dropping into Macy’s—wonderfully impersonal Macy’s—to see if she could wear any of the Fite line—but not in a Rockridge boutique with the help of a starved Amazon with buttocks like halved cantaloupes, and certainly not with him looking on.
“This one is totally the best for D cups. And up.” Kimmie held up a white bra that looked more like a very small, thick, short, sleeveless t-shirt.
“That’s quite a lot of coverage.” Bev took it from her. “How do you get into it?”
“You just have to kind of pull like really, really hard. Over your head,” she said. “I can help if you get stuck.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Liam put his hand on Bev’s shoulder and guided her towards the back of the store. “The changing rooms are over there.”
Alarmed he was following so close, Bev said, “You can wait up at the front. Or better yet, go catch your train. No reason for you to be here.”
“Oh, I think there is.” The corner of his mouth twitched.
Kimmie scurried ahead to open one of the doors for her, smiled coyly at Liam, and stepped aside for Bev to walk in.
Bev slammed the door in Liam’s face and locked it. The clothes hung on the chrome bar near the mirror.
She kicked off her shoes and turned away from the mirror to pull off her jeans. Perhaps the excessive reflective properties of the room were meant to inspire, but Bev felt goaded. The walls that weren’t mirrored were covered with artistic, enlarged photographs of naked athletes in motion, just to drive home the message that you really, really weren’t one of them.
Well, Bev wasn’t falling for it; they wouldn’t insult her into feeling bad about herself. She got her feet into the leg holes of a pair of pants and tugged them upward, then unhitched her bra and began the struggle to fit the compression top over her chest. At one point both breasts were shoved nearly down to her belly button like stretched water balloons, but she reached down and pulled them up into the high-tech embrace of the sixty-four dollar bra and felt fairly confident she would be able to remove it herself.
“You all right in there?” Liam ‘s voice was too close to the door for comfort. “I heard noises.”
Just the sound of my breasts deflating. “I’m fine.” She jerked a t-shirt off the hanger and pulled it over her head. With her breasts in captivity, the slippery shirt slid down over her chest without a fight, and, bracing for the worst, she turned to squint at herself in the mirror.
She groaned. Why did they put elastic bands all over the place? With waistbands so low on her hips they would give a Rodin sculpture fat rolls?
“I don’t think so,” she muttered, turning to look at her rear end. “Yikes.” Butt cleavage was not a trend she was going to embrace, no matter how many apparel companies she inherited. The waist of her thong panties reached up above the pants several inches past the public school dress code limits. She turned back to the front, noting the yellowish-pink fabric of the top made her skin look cadaverous. She couldn’t rip the shirt off fast enough.
Liam rattled the door. “Now how are you doing?”
Bev jumped and crossed her arms over her chest, glancing at the Fite shirt sitting in a heap on the floor. “It didn’t do much for me.”
“Let me in.”
“No! I already took it off.”
The doorknob turned. “Then put it back on, because I’m coming in.”
The damn thing came unlocked. She threw her body against it. “Stay out there. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“If you don’t want me to see skin, then put something on. I’m coming in.”
“Damn it.” With one foot pushing the door closed, she craned across the dressing room to grab the next top and pull it on. It was as tight as the first, but only half as long. Her freakishly narrow waist-–the one he had been fondling earlier—was exposed no matter how hard she pulled it down. “You gave me a kid’s size!”
“They don’t have kids’ sizes here.” And then he was standing in the open doorway. Big and looming and looking her over. “Interesting.”
She stretched up to her full height and glared at him. “They need to fix the locks in this place.”
He continued to stare. “Turn around.”
“Liam—”
“If you want to be in apparel you’ll have to get over this prissy self-consciousness.”
“Prissy? Tell you what. You put this getup on. Then we’ll see prissy.” She pulled him all the way inside and shoved the door closed. At least the rest of the store didn’t have to see her.
“It’s horrible.” He shook his head at her body.
“Yes. Thank you. Shall we buy it?”
“The rise is all wrong. Did you put them on backwards?”
She hooked her thumbs under the waistband and tugged upwards but the seams dug into her crotch and she had to wiggle to get comfortable. “The only problem is that I’m wearing them at all. Get out of here and I’ll take them off.”
To her horror he stepped right up behind her, stuck his finger under the waistband right at the flesh above her hip, and pulled the fabric away and over to read the tag. “And these are a large, too. They don’t come in an XL.”
“Yet another miscalculation. Not that extra width would do anything for me. They seem to have put all the fabric for the waist down at my ankles.” Her feet were buried under the flared legs. “Am I supposed to wear heels with them while I’m doing my marathons? They seem a bit long.”
“And you’re hardly petite.”
“Indeed.”
Engrossed in the clothing on her body, he didn’t lift his eyes to her face once as he continued his perusal. “And the top is a bit short on you too, isn’t it?”
“Maybe it’s a hat.”
Again ignoring her personal space, he stuck his fingers under the bottom hem of the shirt and pulled. The rough tips of his fingertips brushed her ribcage and she shivered—not that he noticed. He stuck his hands up higher, to the bottom band of the compression bra underneath, and wiggled his finger under that elastic. “This bra is a best-seller. If we change it, even a little, we get complaints,” he said, then abruptly pulled his fingers out and stepped back. “Jump.”
Unnerved by the shock of his hands on her body, she blinked. “What?”
“Jump. Something high-impact. Don’t worry, there’s a hospital just down the street if you pass out or break something.”
“I am not going to jump.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Jump, or I tell the design team you’ve got the muscle tone of a Cabbage Patch Doll.”
“I’d fire you.”
“It would be worth it,” he said. “Jump.”
To hell with him. Just because she hated exercise didn’t mean she was incapable. She bent her knees and sprung upwards, did it again just to show him she could, then stood with her hands on her surprised hips, glaring at him.
But he was smiling. And from the way he was pinching his lips, she saw he was on the verge of laughing. “Thank you. That was great.”
She jabbed him in the shoulder. Hard as a rock, of course. “Now get out of here.”
“Could you do it again? You moved so quickly—really, quite a blur—I didn’t get to see if the bra worked on you.”
“Out.”
Shaking his head, he leaned over and took another pair of pants off the hook. “Now try these on.”
“Face it, Liam, the company just doesn’t make clothes for average women. They’re not even close.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. Though, let’s be honest, Bev—you’re hardly average.” He thrust the pants into her arms. “We’ve been getting returns on these for being too big. Act like the businesswoman you’re pretending to be and try them on please.” Then he turned around and faced the door, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You aren’t staying in here—”
He unhooked a hand and looked at his wrist. “I’ve only got another ten minutes.”
She stared at his back. He thought he could intimidate her. Never dropping her gaze, she bent over and wriggled out of the pants.
No problem. They’d been trying to slide down by themselves since she put them on.
Stripped down to the cropped top and her thong panties, she waited for him to bolt, or make a joke, or apologize, or laugh—anything but stand there silently just over a foot away.
She thought of the cold breakfast in bed, of him stretching out on her couch, the way he’d scaled her house the night before to help her get in. “Liam,” she said.
Her voice made his shoulders twitch. After a long second, he said, “Ready?”
She wanted to say yes. Turn around and see me. You want to. His sister had said she wasn’t his type, but type or no, Bev was doing something to him. “Just a minute.” She fumbled with the clips on the hanger, her hands starting to tremble. She held the pants up to her body and saw what the customers had complained about—the waistband was cut as wide as the hips.
“Now?” Liam asked.
“Cool it.” Good advice for herself, too. Her face felt hot. She hesitated, looking at his broad shoulders, the clipped hair along the back his neck, and slipped her feet through the leg holes and pulled the stretchy knit over her hips.
And let the air she’d been holding out of her lungs. “All right, I’m decent.”
He turned around. Neither one of them looked at the pants. “I didn’t expect you to do it with me in the room.”
She raised her chin. “I decided a long time ago not to be ashamed of my body.”
As if she’d given him permission to judge the merits of her self-confidence, his gaze flickered downward, slowly and deliberately taking in each limb and curve. He looked back up into her eyes and took a step towards her.
Her heart began to pound high in her chest as though it were trying to climb out for air. She turned her back to him and tugged at the pants, pretending to study herself in the mirror. “What do you think?”
He was right behind her, warm and massive and now looking at her body reflected before them. With a shock of heat, she felt his hands come up around her waist and envelop bare, tender flesh. His lids fell, hiding the expression in his eyes while she held herself still, desperately afraid of what she wanted.
Still he didn’t meet her eyes, but he edged closer, so close she could feel the rough denim of his jeans brush against her bottom. “They’re falling off of you.” His fingers tightened around her waist and slid down over her hips, taking the oversized fabric with them. The tiny black nylon triangle of her panties appeared between the span of his hands in the mirror.
He looked up then. Their darkening eyes were reflected side by side in the glass.

 You can purchase Love Handles (or sample the first three chapters for free) at Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, Amazon UK, and Amazon DE.

Flirting in a Yoga Yurt: Excerpt from a work in progress

Working title: Supermodel’s Best Friend, Billionaire’s College Dropout Buddy

They began with a long period of closed-eye meditation that had Lucy yawning uncontrollably. The only reason she had said she was coming to the class was to get rid of Alex the night before, and now there they were.

She opened her eyes a crack and studied him. He had a nice profile, a strong chin, a healthy body. He had a nice sprinkling of brown hair on his arms and legs, and strong-looking hands and feet.
He was well-educated, ambitious, had a good job, wanted kids. If he’d had drug or gambling or mental problems, Fawn wouldn’t have set them up.
Perfect in so many ways.
The door opened, bringing in a gust of cold, damp air and a large, damp man. Wearing a fleece sweatshirt and jeans, Miles met her gaze from the doorway for a moment before he bent over to unlace his boots.
Lucy’s heart began to pound. She turned back to the front of the room and squeezed her eyes shut, but she could still see him in her imagination—the combed-back hair just out of the shower, the calm intelligence in his eyes, the hint of a smile on the lips she had tasted just the day before.
She had to admit it. Her hormones were jonesing for the wrong guy. It was like her web browser kept sending her to the wrong link. No matter how many times she clicked “Alex,” her body redirected her to “Miles.”
She had to look at him again.
Nice jeans,” Alex muttered, turning back to the front of the room.
Should I change?” Miles asked Mary. “I’ve never done this before.”
Well . . . why don’t you stay and we’ll see. Once you go, you might be reluctant to come back. Getting here is so often the biggest challenge.”
Great.” Miles grabbed a mat and strode over to Lucy’s side, ignoring Alex. “Morning.”
She felt her face flood with heat. Closing her eyes, she ducked her head and told her respiratory system to calm the hell down. “Morning.”
He unrolled the mat and fell down on top of it with a grunt. After manually arranging his legs into a cross-legged position, forcing his knees down with his big hands, he swore under his breath. “Sorry. Sore from a run. Don’t mind me.”
Maybe you need a recovery day,” Alex said.
I thought yoga might be the perfect thing to loosen me up.” Miles looked up at the teacher, excessive innocence in his gray eyes. “Is yoga good for flexibility?”
Absolutely. Just give it time.” Mary beamed at him with evangelical good cheer. “Take it slow and you’ll find yoga is a path away from injury.”
Sounds good to me,” Miles said. “Batter up.”
Lucy folded her lips between her teeth to hide another smile.
Alex exhaled loudly through his mouth, sucked in more air, let out another one.
You can get started now,” Miles said. “I’m ready.”
We already started,” Alex said tightly.
Really? Awesome. I can do this.”
He sounded so sincere, and looked so proud to sit cross-legged on the floor, Lucy caught his gaze in the mirror and smiled at him. He had such a friendly face, broad and open, nothing pinched or held back. When he smiled back at her, a dimple flashed in his left cheek and she gazed at it for a long moment.
Smiling, Mary settled herself in front of them. “Wonderful. Now, reach your hands forward and stretch to the top of your mat, keeping your sitz bones grounded—“
Sit bone?” Miles bent forward, but just barely. His arms pointed rigidly ahead like a kid learning how to dive.
Alex stopped pretending to be self-contained. In fact, he looked like he was about to erupt. “Miles, if you think this is so funny, maybe you should leave.”
A quick frown passed over Mary’s face. “We’ve got a place for everyone here. Nobody should be worried about what his or her neighbor is doing.” She got up and went over to Miles, touched his shoulder. “That’s it. You just need a little support.” She padded off to the racks behind them and returned with two large cork blocks and set them under Miles’s hands.
Alex snorted and Mary shot him another displeased look. Miles appeared to be making a genuine effort to fold himself forward, then from side to side as Mary instructed, and didn’t say another word. Nevertheless, Lucy could feel the tension building in the room like a kettle over the stove.
The next postures had them on their hands and knees, and that was no problem. They all arched their backs and hunched themselves over and breathed as Mary told them, Alex with obvious enthusiasm, exhaling his air out with a hunh that was so loud Lucy glanced at Miles to see what he would do. He caught her eye and winked.
Hunh! Alex went again, and Lucy had to bite her lip and stare at her hands pressing into the mat to stop herself from laughing out loud.
Hunh!
The laugh burst out of her. Alex swung his head sideways to look at her in dismay.
Sorry,” she said, swallowing air and staring at the floor again.
She kept it together for another few minutes, even during the Modified Plank and the Child’s Pose—which for Miles required the addition of another pair of blocks under his arms.
But then came Downward Facing Dog.
He watched Alex, Lucy, and Mary position themselves, then tried to lift his own butt in the air. He didn’t come close to looking like an upside-down V; his knees were bent, his head was lifted, and his chest was parallel to the floor.
Woof,” he said. “Does this work for you?”
Mary stood up from her own pose, went over to him, and tried stack the blocks higher so he could straighten his legs. “It’s not what works for me, it’s what works for you.”
He grunted and dropped his knees to the floor. “Maybe I’m more of a caterpillar. Is there a caterpillar pose?”
She touched his broad back and smiled. “We’ll do Cobra in a minute.”
Should the instructor be touching one of her students so much? It’s not like she could imbue his body with flexibility through the power of her skinny little fingers. And why did she keep smiling at him?
Lucy’s thoughts continued along these lines throughout Triangle Pose and all the Warriors. It’s like Mary was choosing poses she knew Miles wouldn’t be able to do so she would have to stroke his big, strong, inflexible muscles. And then get him hot and sweaty so he had to take off the bulky sweatshirt, exposing the thin, skimpy t-shirt he wore underneath.
His jeans strained against his thighs, his back stretched the jersey of the t-shirt, his strong arms lifted over his head and he looked like Atlas himself.
Lucy lost her balance and fell to her hands and knees.
Listen to your body,” Mary said.
The instructor might have been surprised to know what Lucy’s body was saying, because it had nothing to do with yoga. She got back to her feet and tried to balance with her legs three feet apart. Just don’t look at him.
They folded over and got down into Plank Pose, which was a little more than Lucy’s arms were up to. She slumped down to her knees and then flopped onto her belly.
In spite of Miles’s jokes about being a caterpillar, he wasn’t having any trouble with holding himself off the ground in the Plank’s pushup position. His broad shoulders flexed with muscle and his legs stretched out behind him firm and immobile.
From her bellyflop position on the floor, Lucy watched Mary with narrowed eyes to see if she would find an excuse to go touch him again. “Readjust” him.
Hunh!
Lucy looked over at Alex, caught him looking at her, and smiled politely.
Try Child’s Pose if you need a rest,” he said.
I’m fine right here.” She closed her eyes and put her cheek on the mat, forced to listen to Mary’s footsteps pass by her and hover next to Miles again. Hussy Pose.
OK, you’ve officially lost it, Lucy.
She joined into the rest of the positions as well as she could, grateful when they moved onto their backs for leg stretches and twists and she could stare at the ceiling instead of at Miles’s body, and later when they went limp, closed their eyes, and drifted off into a state of total relaxation.
Yeah, right.
As soon as Mary told them to wiggle their fingers, Lucy was getting to her feet and rolling up her mat. Miles was still sprawled out on his back next to her, a peaceful calm on his face, and she felt a powerful urge to adjust him.
He opened his eyes, those smiling gray eyes, and made a face. “I think I’m stuck.”
Before Mary could rush over to help, Lucy bent over and held out her hand. “Here.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You got superpowers I don’t know about?”
Try me.”
He grinned and her stomach did a chatoranga. “I will.” He lifted one hand, put it in hers, and pulled. She tumbled forward and landed on top of him, her face in the crook of his shoulder and her butt in the air. “Whoops,” he said.
Déjà vu,” she muttered. She could feel his heart pounding under her cheek, smell him.
Ah, French. The language of love,” he said softly in her ear.
Her free hand in the middle of his huge chest, she pushed herself up to kneel next to him, unable to look away from his face. His sensuous mouth was curved up in a smile, but his eyes were serious and dark.
Alex appeared on his other side. “How the mighty have fallen.” He grabbed Miles’s opposite shoulder and rolled him over onto his side, facing away from Lucy. “Yoga’s not for everyone.”
The hem of Miles’s sweatshirt had risen up, exposing the base of his spine and the hint of two dimples above the waistband of his jeans.
The blood rushed out of Lucy’s head. She stumbled onto her feet and carried the mat over to the rack, her mouth dry.
Holy Moses.
Are you all right?” Mary asked her.
Nope, Lucy thought. Not at all. 

Love Handles: First Chapter Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
The funeral was more fun than this, Bev thought, waiting in the lobby of her late grandfather’s fitnesswear company. The young receptionist was on the phone and had been deliberately ignoring her since she came in. Maybe she can tell I got my suit at Ross for fourteen bucks.
Bev glanced around the dim lobby, shifting her weight from one sore foot to the other, surprised Fite Fitness looked more like the waiting room for a used car dealership than an upscale fashion manufacturer. It even smelled stale, like yesterday’s lunch.
That piece of shit car,” the receptionist said. She wore a lopsided cordless headset over her skinny blond braids but was speaking into a cell phone she had slipped under the earpiece. “I hate San Francisco. I just replaced those brakes like last year, and the prick’s like, ‘Oh it’s your fault for braking too much.’ Like I should just crash into everybody. Stupid hills.”
She doesn’t look old enough to drive, Bev thought, feeling ancient at thirty. She checked her watch again. Only a few hours until her flight home to LAX. “Excuse me,” she said, smiling broadly. “I’m Beverly Lewis.”
The receptionist held up one hand, index finger erect, and kept talking.
I have an appointment with Richard,” Bev continued. “The CFO. It’s kind of—”
The girl spun her chair around so that Bev was staring at the tangle of braids on the back of her head.
“—important.” Her mother had warned her the fashion business was filled with self-absorbed, emotional people, but Bev was an expert—she worked with demanding four-year-olds every day. She just had to think strategy.
Next to the desk, racks of clothes were lined up like the under-staffed dressing room of a department store. Curious, Bev stepped to the other side, slid the hangers apart, and ran her hands over the smooth Lycra and polyester. Track suits. T-shirts, yoga pants, running shorts. Cropped tanks with built-in bras.
Poor man must have been senile, leaving his company to me. She was a preschool teacher with no muscle tone—which her grandfather would have known, if he’d ever met her. Shaking her head, Bev pulled out her cell phone and scrolled down to the number she’d got from the lawyer.
The desk phone trilled. The receptionist let out a loud sigh, set down her cell, and realigned her headset. “Fite Fitness, this is Carrie.”
Hi Carrie, this is Beverly Lewis, right next to you. I’m here to see Richard, the CFO.”
Carrie jerked her head around and stared at Bev holding her phone.
Bev smiled, trying not to laugh at the look on her face. “Ed Roche was my grandfather,” she said into the phone, since Carrie seemed to process better through it. “Could you please tell Richard I’m here?”
The woman’s eyes widened. She nodded and swung back to the phone to dial. She mumbled something, dialed, mumbled again, then hung up.
Thanks,” Bev said, this time without the phone.
He didn’t pick up, but I left a message. You should have told me who you were.”
Sorry. Richard didn’t answer?”
I’m sure he’ll come out and get you. It’s kind of hard to find his office.” Carrie pinched her lips together again, this time with an apologetic look. “I’d get you something to drink, but we don’t have anything like that anymore.”
That’s okay, I’ve got my water bottle.” Bev pulled it out of her shoulder bag, waved at Carrie, and walked over to a lint-colored chair that may have been white when it was manufactured in the 1980’s. She thought about the word Carrie had used—anymore—and wondered if business was as bad as it looked.
Not her problem. Her aunt Ellen could figure out what to do with it; Bev’s life was hundreds of miles away.
She sat down down next to a dusty ficus, noticing the brown leaves littering the floor beneath it. She lifted her hand and caressed a crispy leaf with her thumb. “Poor thing. When’s the last time you had a drink?”
She got up onto her knees and leaned over the back of the chair, pouring her Calistoga into the pot. Clouds of dust motes rose up around her head, glimmering in the shafts of light coming in from the street. She sneezed.
“Did you lose something?”
The man’s low voice made her flip around in surprise, hand over her mouth, fighting back another sneeze. Right behind her stood a muscular, blond man in a tank top and shorts. She tilted her head up to gaze into his face, suddenly wishing she’d spent a little more on her outfit for the day. With a face that would impress even her Hollywood executive relatives, the man was well over six feet tall, broad at the shoulder, narrow in the middle, and glistening all over—her classic nightmare.
She realized she’d seen him at the funeral, though not dressed like this.
Thank you.” She maneuvered herself off her knees and onto her feet, trying to look graceful. He must have just had a lovely view of her big butt. Her face burning, she extended a hand. “I’m Beverly Lewis. Are you Richard?”
His cheerfully sun-kissed hair didn’t suit the gloom of the rest of him. His workout clothes were slick and black, his mouth was a hard line, and his penetrating dark eyes made her feel as though he could see through her retinas into the soft, jiggly underbelly of her soul. Not to mention the rest of her.
Why is he staring at me like that?
“I’m Liam Johnson. Executive Vice President,” he said.
He took her hand in his, enveloping it completely. Unlike many men shaking a woman’s hand, he exerted genuine pressure—as though he expected she was strong enough to take it, or didn’t care if she wasn’t. She squeezed back as hard as she could, secretly disappointed he didn’t flinch, then pulled free.
He must have skipped the gathering at Ellen’s house, just as Bev and her mother had. To go running, apparently, from the looks of him—unlike Bev, who’d been eating a cheeseburger.
“So, you’re the granddaughter,” he said. “Our new owner. What a pleasure to finally meet you.”
The sarcasm in his voice made her stand up to her full five-foot-ten. She hadn’t expected a warm welcome, but the depth of hostility was a surprise. He was probably one her aunt’s allies. “I didn’t know about his will until the day before yesterday.”
But you knew you had a grandfather. Funny I never saw you before now.”
Her lips were tight over her teeth, holding up the smile she didn’t feel. “Perhaps you could help me find Richard so I can get on my way. I have a flight in a few hours.”
That surprised him. He frowned. “Today? Where are you going?”
“Orange County. I need to get home.”
For a long moment he just stared. Then a corner of his wide mouth twisted. “Of course. Death can be such an inconvenience.”
A chill settled over her. She studied him closer, trying to remember more of what she’d heard from her aunt that morning about the staff at the company. He must be the guy who grew up next door to her grandfather in Oakland. The protégé. Her grandfather’s death must have been a shock to him. “You’re the swimmer, aren’t you? He hired you right after the Olympics.”
“I’m surprised you would know anything about what he did.”
Ah. That was it. “It’s true we weren’t close,” she said. “But you were, weren’t you?”
His jaw hardened. He shrugged.
“I’d love to hear anything about him you might like to share,” she said. “Our branch of the family has been kind of estranged for a while.”
“Oh?” A lot of unforgiving ice packed into one word.
“Since before I was born,” she added. So lay off, dude.
“Your loss.”
Bev looked past him to one of the doors along the far wall, nodding in agreement. She’d done her best to chat with her infamous aunt Ellen over the past couple days, but her mother still wasn’t talking to her—her only sibling—after thirty years. Not even at the funeral. It wasn’t right.
“Perhaps we could continue this inside.” She looked down at his exercise clothes with a raised eyebrow. “Unless you’re too busy.”
Smoothing the tank top over his chest, the thin fabric clinging to sweat and muscle like synthetic skin, he began to walk towards a doorway. “The administrative offices are back here.”
Great. Thank you.” She waved at the receptionist, but the young woman sat petrified and stared at Liam without blinking. No doubt the sporty ice cube was a difficult boss.
He led her down a narrow, carpeted passageway with offices on one side, most of them empty. The shabby carpeting was brown with tan stripes worn down the middle from the tread of human feet. Pausing in a doorway, he looked over his shoulder at her. “I mistook you for Ellen at first. I thought she might have dropped her phone behind the chair.”
Bev walked faster to catch up. “Some people say I look like her, but I think it’s just the black hair.” Aunt Ellen had the same pale skin too, but their features were nothing alike. Ellen had a cold beauty Bev was happy to live without. It put people on edge, demanded attention, caused trouble.
He ushered her into a dark room, slapping the wall to turn on the lights. She was trapped inside with him. His gaze fell down her body. “You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
She was annoyed with herself for feeling insulted. She lifted her chin and looked past him into the windowless office, noting floor-to-ceiling metal grids bolted to the walls holding up clothes and white foam presentation boards, sketches, magazines. “This isn’t Richard’s office, is it?”
It’s mine.” He crossed his arms over his chest, the sheen of perspiration still visible on his skin.
“I need to talk to Richard.”
“He’s not nearly as important around here as I am.” He walked over to his desk and sat behind it. “Talk to me.”
She snorted. “I’m sure you are very important, Liam. Nevertheless—”
“You don’t understand. Richard is just an accountant.”
“And you don’t understand. He has papers for me to sign.”
Liam froze. His eyes flickered with an emotion she couldn’t read. “Papers.” His voice dropped. “What papers?”
Uncomfortable with the visible clenching of his classic jaw, she considered fleeing back to the lobby, but as a top executive he probably deserved to hear it from her. She sank down to the edge of a chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “Ellen had them prepare some legal stuff to cut me loose. Right now you guys need my permission for everything.”
Cut loose? You can’t possibly sign anything so soon.”
Don’t worry, I’m not making any changes. I’m handing it over to Ellen. They just need my signature.”
Not Ellen. You don’t understand. You can’t.”
Everyone knew she would inherit the business. She should.” Though her mother had liked the idea of Ellen being disappointed for once, after years of being the favorite daughter, the one who got all of Daddy’s love, attention, and money.
Your grandfather left it to you.” He leaned forward. “You have to keep it.”
She smiled. Another four-year-old. “You’ll be just fine. Sometimes we take things a little too seriously, don’t you think?”
He tilted his head and regarded her, silent for so long Bev was afraid she’d offended him. Suddenly he leaned back in his chair, propped his elbows on the arms and regarded her over his steepled fingers. “You’re perfect.”

  

 Today and tomorrow I’ll be polishing the last edits and sending it off for a final proofread. Then I’ll format the Kindle and Nook versions and upload to Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Once those versions are live, I’ll work on getting both Quick Study and Love Handles on the other ebook sites–iBookstore, etc–through Smashwords. If you’re interested in my books, but are unable to get them where you like to shop, please let me know. All my titles are DRM-free and easy to convert to the file format you prefer.

Love Handles is a full-length contemporary romance, the equivalent of about 370 print pages–like a mass market paperback. It’s less steamy than Quick Study, and the focus is more on the main characters’ relationship with each other and their struggles with the fitness apparel company they manage. It’s aimed to appeal to fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jenny Crusie, Sarah Mayberry–my favorite writers. Funny, romantic, fast-paced, and touching.

It should be available for purchase by April 21–just after American tax forms are due. Some of us will need the escape.

Back to work!