One of the things I struggle with as a writer is showing the moment when my hero and heroine realize they have fallen into the huge abyss that is love.
Still, there are signs a person has fallen hard. When it comes to love, my heroes tend to be faster out of the blocks than my heroines. Maybe it’s because I have a tendency to write challenging women with issues and no real need for a man. They are strong, independent, and some say clueless when it comes to love. Or maybe it’s because deep down inside I like the idea of a man chasing a woman, wanting her so badly, he’s willing to do just about anything to win her heart. Sigh… Yeah, that’s probably it.
So here is a Top Ten list for heroines:
You know you’re in love when…
10. When you and your man are together and you automatically walk to the passenger’s side of the car instead of the driver’s side—even when it’s your car. Let’s face it, guys like to drive and a real woman has no need to prove to her significant other that she’s more than capable of navigating the mean streets of Brooklyn or Boise.
9. You go to the store and buy his favorite beer and snacks without thinking twice—although you might wonder how he drinks beer so thick you can stand a spoon in it and spend time pondering his deep and abiding love of beef jerky.
8. You stop sleeping in the middle of the bed unless you’re trying to get closer to him.
7. He comes over to your place unexpectedly, you realize you don’t have a stitch of make-up on, or worse yet, haven’t taken yesterday’s makeup off, and you’re wearing an I’m-too-bloated-for-regular-clothes scary outfit consisting of paint-splattered sweatpants he left at your place and a t-shirt you stole because it smelled like him—and you don’t run screaming into the bedroom to shower and change.
6. You sit through a movie you sooo don’t want to watch knowing the next movie night he’ll sit through a three-hanky drama and not complain about the mascara stains on his new shirt.
5. You notice a lot of his hair on the drain in the shower and you warn him he’s going bald so that ten years down the road, it won’t come as a shock.
4. You find yourself watching the Discovery Channel’s special about the Building of the Hoover Dam for the sixth time without complaining or mentioning that watching it makes sleeping pills unnecessary.
3. You find yourself sharing your food at restaurants. Well except for the chocolate desserts—and even though he’s allergic, he orders one knowing you can’t decide between Death by Chocolate Cake and the Chocolate Covered Cannolli.
2. You look around your empty house or apartment and wonder why it feels weird. You try to figure out what’s missing only to realize the only thing that’s missing is him.
Number one: You know you’re in love when…
You don’t kill him in his sleep after you realize, too late, that he’s left the seat up. Again.
Yup, that’s when you know you know you’ve fallen in love—right after you’ve fallen in the toilet. Ain’t love grand?
So tell me, when did you realize you were in love? I’m giving away a copy of my new book, BACK TO YOU: BAD BOYS OF RED HOOK to two lucky commenters. I can’t wait to hear your stories!
Here’s an excerpt of BACK TO YOU:
“I think you killed him.”
Ten-year-old Nicoletta said it with such immutable calmness, Breanna Collins wondered if this wasn’t the first time a strange man had entered Nicki’s room at three in the morning and been taken down by a woman wielding a cast-iron frying pan.
Bree’s heart traded punches with her sternum, winding her more than a ten-mile run uphill. She sure as hell hoped Nicki’s assessment of the intruder was right. Better a dead burglar than a live one.
The dim glow of a streetlight outlined the shadowy figure lying facedown on the carpeted floor between Bree and Nicki. Dropping the skillet, Bree skirted the body before grabbing Nicki’s arm, pulling her off the bed, and shoving her toward the door.
The man groaned, and, like something out of a horror flick, a vise-like grip closed around Bree’s ankle. She landed hard, kicking and screaming. She reached for the frying pan, only to be flipped like a tortilla on a hot griddle, and covered with one extra-large serving of man.
“Get off me!”
He held her hands on either side of her head as his breath washed her ear. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m going to hurt you.”
“You already have.”
Light flooded the room, causing temporary blindness. When Bree’s vision cleared and she saw he wan’t an intruder, she wanted to crawl under the pink princess canopy bed and hide. Instead, she dove right into the turbulent, ocean blue eyes of an enraged Storm Decker—the past occupant of Nicki’s room. Storm Decker—a man Bree had known since before she started wearing sexy underwear. Storm Decker—a man who epitomized the reason women bought the lacy, uncomfortable stuff in the first place.
“Breezy, a frying pan? That was the best you could do?”
Bree hated that nickname—maybe because Storm was the only one who dared to use it. It didn’t help matters that the sound of it rolling off his tongue had always been enough to make her breath catch. She struggled, trying to slide from beneath him, but succeeded only in pressing her body against his. His heat scorched Bree through her Mr. Bubble boxers and matching tank top. She couldn’t believe Storm would be a witness to the remnants of insanity caused by a wild shopping spree at the Walmart in Secaucus. Women built like her shouldn’t wear tank tops—not even to bed.
Storm didn’t move a muscle, keeping her pinned beneath him. He didn’t behave like a gentleman should and get off her, help her up, and make sure she was all right—not that she was surprised. Storm Decker was a bad boy, and he had the rap sheet to prove it.
He had the nerve to shoot her his guaranteed-good-time grin, the one that made any woman in the vicinity want to remove the sexy underwear she’d purchased with him in mind. “If I were out to hurt you, you’d be in a real tight spot right about now.”
“No, she wouldn’t.”
Storm’s attention snapped to Nicki standing in the doorway, holding the phone in one hand and the frying pan in the other.
“You’d be out cold again, and the cops would be on their way. Now, do you want to get off her, or am I gonna have to use this?” She waved the frying pan and did her best to look menacing.
Nicki was too cute to manage that, but Bree gave her points for trying.
Storm turned back to Bree, their noses almost touching. “Who’s the kid?”
“Storm, this is Nicki. Nicki, meet Storm Decker, Pete’s son.” She tried not to think about Storm’s proximity and concentrated on the pained and confused look on his face. He wasn’t the only one confused. “What are you doing here?”
Storm rolled off her. She thought she’d be able to breathe better without two hundred pounds of man crushing her, but she was wrong. No, the breathlessness was still there. Crap. She was twenty-eight and a far cry from that seventeen-year-old caught in Storm Decker’s wake.
“Logan couldn’t get away from the vineyard—something about harvest season. He got ahold of me and told me Pop was sick. Since Logan was unable to make it, I was elected. I’ve been traveling for”—Storm glanced at his watch—“twenty-three hours, and this is the welcome I get? No wonder I haven’t been home in years—”
“Eleven years.” Bree sat and hugged her knees to her chest.
“So you did miss me.”
“Yeah, like a rash.”
“I might not have seen you, but I’ve been home a few times. The last time was five or six years ago. You were probably away at school.”
Bree rose and brushed herself off, just to have something to do with her hands. “You must have left quite an impression. Funny, no one mentioned it to me.” She took the phone and the pan from Nicki. “It’s late, sweetie. Go back to bed.”
Dropping a kiss on Nicki’s forehead, Bree cut her off. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Storm rose to his feet. He’d looked a lot smaller when he was out cold. He picked up his duffel bag with a grunt, one hand held against his head over what must have been one hell of a lump.
Bree waited for Nicki to climb into bed and curl around a big teddy bear before pulling up the light cotton blanket and brushing a hand over her hair. “I’ll be in the next room if you need me.”
Bree followed Storm out, doused the light, and closed the door behind her. Without looking at him, she headed straight to the kitchen, grabbed a bag of frozen peas, and tossed them at him. “Are you okay? Do I need to take you to the emergency room to have your head examined?”
He sat on a bar stool and winced when he placed the bag against his head. “I’m fine.”
She looked him over—his pupils were equally dialated. “Any nausea?”
“Why, Breezy, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you cared.” The side of his mouth quirked up.
“I don’t. I just don’t want to be charged with murder. Now answer the question.”
“No, I’m fine.” His phone rang, sounding like a foghorn. Pulling it off his hip, he checked the caller. “I’m sorry, I have to take this.”
“Fine.” Bree started out of the kitchen, but he wrapped his fingers around her wrist and held on. The tingle shot straight to her breasts. She didn’t dare look down.
“Storm Decker.” He listened for a moment, and a smile spread across his face as her cheeks ignited. His black hair was cut short, much shorter than she remembered. It only served to accentuate the chiseled features of his face, while his strong, square jaw covered with dark stubble added to his dangerous look. Blue eyes watched her and changed color with his mood. When he’d been on top of her, it had been like looking into an angry sea, and now his eyes were the color of a summer sky—deep blue and full of promise. When he smiled, his perfect teeth gleamed white against his tan skin. His voice was as soothing and buttery as a bottle of Macallan’s fifty-five-year-old single malt scotch. At $17,500 a bottle, she’d bet a case of it that the person on the other end of the line was female.
Bingo. Bree twisted her wrist and pulled away, breaking his grip.
“How are things at home? Any problems today?” Storm’s gaze lingered on Bree’s chest before moving to his pricey watch. She wondered if they sold cheap knockoffs on the street corners in Auckland. She doubted it. It looked more expensive than the run-of-the-mill Rolex. They probably charged extra for the dive watch to withstand the pressure of the ocean’s depths or the corner office. Then again, maybe his watch had been a prize for winning the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. So okay, she’d Googled him and found a picture of Storm and his team holding the Rolex Cup. It was just her luck the photo hadn’t done him justice.
“Tell Laurel I’ll be back in plenty of time to go to the yacht club dinner. This should only take a week, two tops.”
Bree did a quick boob check while she wiped the already-clean kitchen counter and tried to look as if she weren’t listening to every word of his conversation. Unfortunately, the girls were standing at attention. Still, it didn’t keep her from wanting to smack him upside the head with the damn frying pan again on general principle. A one- or two-week visit was no help. She had called Logan because she needed someone responsible to stay for the next couple of months at least. Storm’s plan seemed to be to blow in, stay just long enough to assuage his guilty conscience, then leave for the next eleven years or until Pete’s funeral, whichever came first. It was disappointing, but not unexpected. He probably had Peter Pan tattooed on his incredible ass.
Storm snapped his phone shut. “I guess I should thank you for the great homecoming. Now, do you want to tell me just what the hell is going on and who that kid is in my old bedroom?”
“Who are you to walk in here and start demanding answers? You ignored Pete for years, and now . . .” Storm was . . . God, he was here. Her energy level bottomed out, and she leaned against the counter for support. “Why couldn’t Logan have come? And if he had to send someone, why couldn’t he have called Slater?” After all, Slater was safe. “Slater’s in Seattle. And last I checked, Seattle is a hell of a lot closer to Brooklyn than New Zealand, if you’re still in New Zealand.” With the Storm Chaser, one never knew.
“I get that you’re not happy I’m here. Deal with it, Breezy, because like it or not, I’m all you’ve got.”
“Lucky me. When it comes to helping someone other than yourself, you were always as useless as an inflatable dartboard.”
Storm’s head snapped back, and his chin followed, as if Oscar De La Hoya had hit him with a right cross. “People change.”
She’d won this round. She’d pinned him against the ropes with the two-ton weight of her gaze, willing him to explain his disappearance years ago, but his eyes told no tales. “Pete collapsed at the Crow’s Nest. Heart attack. They did bypass surgery, and he’s not handling it well.” She threw the sponge into the sink and wiped her hands on a towel. “I have a hard enough time managing the restaurant and Nicki single-handedly. I can’t take care of Pete too. I need help. I’m surprised Logan called you, but I’m even more surprised you came.”
“Why wouldn’t I have come? Just because I moved away doesn’t mean I’m not close to Pop.”
“Oh yeah, I heard you friended him on Facebook. I’m sure that means so much to him.” Bree took a deep breath and released it slowly. “He’s at Methodist Hospital, and with any luck, he’ll be out in a few days. He needs to heal, and I don’t know how much he’ll be able to do once he’s back on his feet.”
Storm stood and in two steps was around the breakfast bar. “Breezy? Is Nicki yours?”
“Mine?” She stepped back. “Why would you think that?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
Bree ran her hand through her hair and tucked it behind her ear. “No. Nicki is Pete’s.”
“Pop’s? Since when?”
“It’s been a few months now.” If Pete hadn’t told him about Nicki, it wasn’t her place to do it. “Look, I’m tired. I’m going back to bed. Help yourself to whatever you want. There’s beer and leftover pizza in the fridge. The guest towels are in the linen closet. I’m in Logan’s old room. You can stay in Pete’s room tonight—the sheets are clean. Good night, Storm.” She brushed by him on her way out of the small kitchen.
“Good night, Breezy.”
Bree felt his eyes on her the whole way back to her room. She closed the door and thought about locking it—not sure whether it would be to keep him out or keep her in. Climbing into bed, she fought the searing memory of the last time she’d seen Storm Decker. He’d been running out that same door and leaving her behind.
Storm’s gaze locked on Breezy as she moved away. Reddish brown hair framed her face and gave her that hot, tussled, just-rolled-out-of-bed look women spent a fortune to duplicate—Breezy did it without trying. But then shehad just rolled out of bed. He couldn’t help but smile at the way her big green eyes sparkled with humor or anger whenever she hit her target. She had a hell of an aim, and not just with frying pans.
Her face had softened with time but still showed off those high cheekbones, short, upturned nose, and wide, full mouth. Her face wasn’t the only thing that had changed. At seventeen, she’d been a skinny kid, but she’d filled out in all the right places. Her tank top showed off an abundance of cleavage, and those breasts were one hundred percent natural. He could tell. The rest of her body did anything but disappoint, and it put her in the realm of fantasy material. Damn, leave it to Breezy to be the only woman alive who could make those stupid cartoon pajamas look better than anything he’d seen as a teenager in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue—the poor man’s Playboy.
Storm fingered the goose egg on the back of his head. Shit, he was going to kill Logan when he got his hands on him. Logan failed to mention Breezy worked for Pop. But then, Storm had never asked about her either. The last thing he needed was a reminder of Breezy—hell, he’d dreamed about her every night for at least a year after almost having sex with her.
Storm pulled the phone off his belt and called Logan. He didn’t give a shit what time it was. While the phone rang in his ear, he looked around the apartment he’d grown up in. It hadn’t changed much except for some new carpet, paint, a big-screen TV, and a leather couch. Pop’s favorite recliner still sat in the corner. Even though smoking in New York had been outlawed, since the apartment was above the Crow’s Nest, it still held the faint scent of stale tobacco and beer. It smelled like home—something he hadn’t realized he missed until he’d walked through the door. That was . . . right before Breezy beaned him with the frying pan.
“Do you know what time it is?” Logan didn’t sound happy. Good, neither was Storm, and it was three hours earlier in California. Hell, Storm didn’t even want to know what time zone his body thought it was in.
“It’s twelve forty-five your time. I guess the better question would be, do I care? I’m home, and you have a lot of explaining to do.”
“What do you need explained exactly? Pop’s in the hospital, and one of us needs to help him until he’s back on his feet. I’m in the middle of a harvest, and Slater is doing an internship for school. You were elected. Besides, it got you out of the winter blues down under, so what the hell are you complaining about?”
Storm raked his fingers through his hair, momentarily forgetting about the goose egg until his hand traveled over it. He sucked in air through his teeth, the ones he was currently grinding. “Logan, you never told Bree I was coming. The first thing she did when I got here was hit me upside the head with a frying pan. She thought someone had broken into the apartment.” The deep chuckle on the other end of the phone irritated him.
“What did you want me to tell her? She asked for help, I sent help.”
“You also failed to tell me about the kid.” Storm didn’t know what to do with a kid, especially a girl. Women, sure. Girls, no way.
“What’s this about a kid?”
“You didn’t know either?”
“What the hell are you talking about? What did Pop do now, take in another stray?”
“This one is a little kid. Her name is Nicki.”
“Did you say her?”
“Yeah. Her, as in ‘Congratulations, it’s a girl.’”
“How old is she?”
“How the hell do I know? She’s not walking around with her date of birth stamped on her forehead.”
“Well, is she two? School age?”
“Definitely school age.” He tried to think back that far. He didn’t see many kids, so he didn’t have much to compare her to. “She’s at that awkward age when nothing quite fits together. Her legs are too long and skinny; her teeth are too big.” She was old enough to have the same look in her eyes he’d seen every time he’d looked in the mirror as a kid. Nicki was on a first-name basis with pain and fear and the dirty underbelly of society. Still, that knowledge came to some really young. “I don’t know, somewhere between eight and twelve.”
“Why didn’t Pop tell me?”
“How the hell do I know?” Storm kicked the wall under the breakfast bar, something that never failed to get him a smack on the back of the head from Pop when they were kids. “I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad since he didn’t tell you either. After all, I’m the black sheep.” Pop had never forgiven him for leaving without a word, even though he’d planned to join the merchant marines. He never explained why he’d shipped out two months earlier than expected—explanations were always messy.
“When did the kid show up?” Logan asked.
“Bree said it’s been a couple months. Why the hell has it been months since you’ve talked to Pop?”
“Look who’s talking. I’ve been busy at the vineyard.”
“School and work. Pop came out last winter, and the three of us got together in Vancouver.”
Storm hadn’t been invited. Not that he would have flown to the West Coast, but shit, he used to be one of them. An invite would have been nice.
“It must have been before he got her. Pop never said anything about a girl. He never said anything about a heart problem when he was with us either.”
“A quadruple bypass is a little more than a problem.”
“I was shocked when Bree called and told me he had a heart attack.”
“Yeah, I know. Looks like he’s closer to Bree and Nicki than to any of us.”
“What are you waiting for? The pity platoon to come rescue you?”
Storm groaned. Even to his ears that sounded whiney. After all, Pop had rescued him, Logan, and Slater from foster care and loved them as if they were his own. Then they’d grown up, and Storm had moved on. Hell, he’d left Red Hook, but not because of Pop. He left because he had no choice—he couldn’t disappoint Pop, and he couldn’t stay. There was no future for him in Red Hook, only a past he wasn’t proud of.
“Are you going to see him tomorrow?” Logan asked.
“No, I came all this way to hang out at the bar. Of course I’m going to see him. I’ll be at the hospital first thing.”
“Good, get some sleep. And Storm, you might consider buying a helmet.”
“Don’t laugh. I might do more than just consider it. The woman has one hell of an arm.”
“I’m glad you’re home.”
“Yeah, well, I’m here. But I need to get back in two weeks.”
“I told you, this is the busiest time of the year for me. I just landed a commission for a Class 40 racing yacht. I’m slammed with tight deadlines. As much as I love the old man, I can’t stay in dry dock forever.”
“Okay, I guess we just have to hope Pop’s better. I’m in the middle of harvest, and it’s not something I can take care of from Red Hook.”
Storm ended the call and stared at Breezy’s door, wishing he had X-ray vision. Even after all these years, he hadn’t needed the lights to know who lay beneath him. One breath and Bree’s scent—an intoxicating blend of citrus and spice—tossed him back eleven years, landing him in the exact place he’d been before. On top of her. Between her legs. Hard.
He wasn’t sure what had him reeling more—the conk on the head or seeing Bree.
To read the rest of Chapter One, check out Robin’s website.
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