To celebrate this special day,
I wanted to share
a red hot treat.
by Tess MacKall
is sure to harden Cupid's arrow
and soften your heart.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Eden Riley left her high school geek days far behind. Or so she thought. But when she returns to her hometown and comes face to face with the local heartthrob, sparks ignite like a chemistry set on crack. Super-smooth Nick Lancaster sets her nerves jangling and thrusts her libido into overdrive. But can the former geeky girl overcome her insecurities and jump his sexy bones?
Nothing suits former jock and debate team star Nick more than sparring with the one-time nerd. He’s just itching to get up close and personal with her high-velocity curves and tangle with her on the nearest bed.
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, all bets are off when Cupid draws back his bow and Nick has only twelve days to convince Eden she belongs with him, in his heart and in his bed.
An Excerpt From:
TWELVE DAYS OF LOVE
Copyright © TESS MACKALL, 2011
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
TWELVE DAYS OF LOVE
Copyright © TESS MACKALL, 2011
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
Jingling bells mounted above the flower shop door alerted Eden that a customer had entered the store. She pushed the stem of a pink sweetheart rose into the small wedding bouquet she had just started and wiped her hands on her green wraparound smock. As she turned, she caught a man’s reflection in the glass doors of the refrigerated case.
She couldn’t help but pause and stare. His tall, lean silhouette appeared to be standing there among all those leggy gladiolas and giant spider mums perched in their vases. He reached up to the service counter with one hand and touched the small African violet sitting near the edge. For a moment it looked as though he’d brushed his hand over the big snowy-white spider mum in the cooler.
Eden moaned slightly, his touch so obviously tender. Warm tendrils of longing tiptoed over her skin. She shuddered with the sensation, mentally chiding herself for giving him even a second thought, much less allowing him to affect her physically.
But Nick Lancaster had always worked his way under her skin, even in high school.
He was wet panties and get-naked-quick in one fine-looking package. Bottled sin. A walking aphrodisiac. And all that with just a “hello”. Why did she torture herself with this insane crush? She wasn’t exactly his type, was she? Eden patted her tummy to remind herself of the paunch that sometimes forced her to unbutton her jeans after she’d eaten. Yeah, it hadn’t disappeared, still there.
Nick tilted his head to the side as if to peek into the back of the shop where she stood watching, his mirrored reflection in the glass doors so damn lifelike she took a step back. An exaggerated sigh blew through the workroom’s open doorway, a sure-fire sign his patience had grown thin. He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and glanced up at the ceiling.
Eden squared her shoulders, inhaled a deep, cleansing breath and stepped into the showroom. Both Nick’s eyebrows quirked when she appeared and he grinned. She nodded, smiled and planted herself on the opposite side of the counter. He looked too damn delicious today in his dark green Polo shirt and navy blazer. Why did he have to be so handsome?
“Hi, Nick. I might have known I’d be seeing you. The countdown has begun, hasn’t it?”
A distinct V formed between his brows, his grin fading into a frown. “Countdown?”
“Yeah, countdown.” Eden gestured toward the large, heart-shaped day calendar on the wall behind her.
Emblazoned in sparkling gold against the bright red background over the heart’s two humps were the words “Valentine’s Day Countdown”. The number twelve was displayed in bright red and centered inside a pale blue and white wisp of a cloud with Cupid sitting on top, his bow drawn.
Nick focused over her head. “Oh!” Then he frowned even harder. “Well, what was that crack about ’might have known I’d be seeing you’ all about?”
“Nothing. Forget it.”
He pursed his luscious lips and squinted his gorgeous green eyes. “You don’t like me very much, do you?”
“Where the hell did you get that idea?”
It never failed. Every time he came into the shop, they ended up arguing. She always managed to make some snarky comment, and of course, he picked up on it. They’d been at odds since their freshman year of high school. Both had joined the debate team and had never seen eye-to-eye on a single subject.
Slowly but surely they’d gravitated to different ends of the spectrum in popularity too, which hadn’t made things any easier. He, with his Adonis good looks and nothing-but-net shooting ability, naturally floated to the top; she, with her wide hips, pimply face, geeky glasses and penchant for all things artistic, sank to the bottom.
Now here they were, all these years later, no further from that high-school type of relationship than when they’d started. Except Nick had taken over his father’s string of Chevy dealerships and she had moved back home last year, forsaking her managerial position at an up-and-coming art gallery in New York to take over her ailing mother’s flower shop.
Times and situations changed but evidently people didn’t.
“If you don’t want me as a customer, Eden, why don’t you just say so?” He leaned forward, folding his arms over one another on the counter’s faux granite surface, watching her intently.
Lemon drops. He always smelled of lemon drops—and some expensive cologne she couldn’t remember the name of. God, she wanted to reach over and ruffle that thick, wavy black hair of his. Oh shit. Wet panties alert! He managed to do it to her every time without even trying.
And oh how she wished he would. Fat chance.
“I do want you as a customer,” she said succinctly, trying to put an end to the verbal scuffle.
“So? What was that crack all about?”
“Nothing. Just pointing out the countdown is all. I’m a florist. Valentine’s Day is important to me.” Actually, her remark had been a direct jibe regarding his frequent flower-buying miles. He constantly had arrangements delivered locally and wired over a three-state area with each card signed, “Yours, Nick”.
“Your mother is a florist. You’re a stand-in.” He grinned, wet his index finger with his tongue and painted the air with an imaginary mark. “Score one for me.”
Her mouth dropped open. She had a damned art degree in her back pocket. He, on the other hand, had dropped out of college after year two thanks to a bum knee and the fact he’d no longer be able to pump up his already over-inflated ego with the roar of the fans. How dare he call her a stand-in!
“I’ll have you know that I started working in this shop when I was twelve years old. Every day after school, weekends, all summer long too. I’m the one who made those sweet little corsages for all your high-school dance dates. So don’t say I’m not up to the job.”
He jabbed the rigid fingers of his left hand into his right palm—time out. “Chill, girl. Damn. You’re gonna pop a blood vessel one of these days.” He shook his head. “I was joking, messing with you. But I really meant that as soon as your mother was feeling better, you’re gonna be out of here and back to that fancy New York art career of yours.”
Did she detect a note of jealousy? Impossible. Nick Lancaster had it all. Well, except for his divorce, that is. Her mother had told her all about it right after Eden had taken over the shop. Nick had shown up on Eden’s third day to place an order and their customary enmity from high school had picked up right where it had left off.
Eden had related the entire scene to her mother at home that night and was shocked to learn that Nick and his wife, Jenna, had called it quits. He’d caught her dead-to-rights with her masseuse.
The vision of Jenna’s toothy white smile, platinum pony-tail and deep cleavage bouncing up and down right along with the whimsical sashay of blue-and-white pompoms rollicked in Eden’s mind. The cheerleader prom queen sure had screwed up her life. How the hell could she ever want anyone but Nick?
Eden tucked her fingernails into her palms and squeezed, jolting herself back to the present. Who was she to talk? Her judgment where love was concerned wasn’t so great either.
She picked up the order book and scratched out Nick’s name on the appropriate line. “I won’t be going back to New York.”
“What do you mean?” He leaned in closer.
The lemony scent became downright heady. Have mercy. Her nipples poked at her thin cotton sports bra. Tingles of lust wound their way straight to her pussy. Maybe she should start keeping a supply of clean panties on hand.
He rapped his knuckles on the counter. “Are you listening to me?”
“You looked like you spaced out for a few seconds.”
“Just thinking. Now what would you like to order today?”
He shook his head. “Not so fast. Why aren’t you going back to New York?”
“Mom’s not going to be able to return to work. She’s now on dialysis.”
He glanced down at the floor then back up at her. His usually devilish eyes had softened. “I’m sorry to hear that, Eden. Your mom is a nice lady. I hope her condition improves.”
Eden averted her gaze. He was being nice. And Nick Lancaster’s “nice” wasn’t something she could take. As long as he played the fool with her, she could handle him, but this side? No.
She pressed the pen against the paper. “Thank you. So how many dozen roses? One for each of the Twelve Days of Love? A dozen different women or just one special lady this time?”
He choked with laughter, sputtering, “The Twelve Days of Love?”
She rolled her eyes. “Florist marketing. If you can have the Twelve Days of Christmas, why not the Twelve—”
“Days of Love,” he finished in a sarcastic tone.
Eden perched her hand on her hip and stared at him.
He licked his lips. Lusty butterflies fluttered in her lower abdomen, sending a delicious pleasure-pain to body parts she didn’t even know she had. Her stomach somersaulted. She wondered what it would feel like to kiss him. Damn. She had to stop doing this. They didn’t even like each other. She wasn’t his type—no pompoms. He’d laugh his ass off if he knew how I felt. As long as she didn’t see him, she was fine. But if she had to talk to him, be near him…
He came around to her side of the counter. “How long have we been rubbing each other the wrong way?”
Eden skirted past him and walked over to the display window. She twisted a pot of heavily leaved philodendron so its back side faced the sun. “Forever. I’ve got a wedding tomorrow, Nick. I hate to rush you, but…”
When she turned from the window, he was standing in front of her almost nose to nose. She stumbled backward and he caught her, resting his hand at her waist. He stared into her eyes. How had she failed to notice those little gold flecks swimming in the dark green depths of his? His breath soughed warm over her face—more lemon drops and something else—his unique male scent.
And his hand—was it on fire? He took it away and the temperature of her skin where he’d been touching her plummeted.
“What will you be doing that night?” he asked.
“Wh-what night?” Surprised she’d found her voice, she hurried back to the counter and picked up the order book again.
“Oh.” She shook her head. “I’ll be lucky to get out of here by nine. And love will be the last thing on my mind, I can assure you.”
“No date, huh?”
“I don’t have time for dating. Can we do the order?”
He shoved his hands in his pockets before he moved back over to the counter. “So you didn’t leave any broken hearts in New York?”
Where the hell is he going with this? And why?
“I’m not exactly every man’s idea of the perfect date. Now if you don’t mind—”
“What’s a man’s idea of a perfect date?”
Exasperated, she blew out a burst of air. “I don’t know and don’t care. I have more important things to do these days than worry about the likes and dislikes of men.”
“What’s more important than love? You’re the florist.” He pointed to the Twelve Days of Love calendar.
“Exactly what is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re willing to sell the product of love but you don’t believe in it.”
“And you’re driving a Mercedes but you sell Chevys.”
Nick propped his hip against the counter, grinning. “Nobody’s ever challenged me the way you do, you know that?”
“Nobody’s ever pissed me off the way you do. You know that?”
His expression sobered. He looked wounded. “I don’t mean to.”
Deep down she knew that. Guilt crested inside her. “I guess we’re just oil and water, Nick. No harm done.”
An awkward silence rose between them. They just stood there staring at each other until Eden couldn’t take it another second.
“You still want to place the order?”
“Yeah,” he said, soft and low, in an almost-defeated manner.
A few minutes later, Nick had placed an order for roses to be delivered on Valentine’s Day to seventeen different women. With every name and address he read to her from his BlackBerry, Eden jabbed the paper a little harder with the pen. Her stomach churned at the thought of all those women. In her mind, she pictured them with pom poms, blonde hair and long, tanned legs.
And they giggled.
Yep, she was definitely wasting panty moisture on thoughts of Nick. Her five-foot-four, big-hipped frame capped off by average-sized breasts would never stand a chance against all those big-busted beauties. Even her soot-black hair was a sharp contrast to what Nick wanted.
“All right. I think I’ve got everything. I have your credit card on file. How about the card? The usual ‘Yours, Nick’?”
He sounded dejected. She would too if she’d just spent seventy bucks a pop on seventeen different women. No. That wasn’t it. Nick had money. Apparently their antagonistic relationship had gone a bit too far today.
Maybe this was his last order. How would she feel if that was the case?
“Thanks, Eden.” Nick headed for the door, stopped short just as he reached it, waited the space of a few seconds, then opened it. The bells jingled. He continued to stand there with his back to her. A car alarm blared out in the street. He closed the door and marched back to the counter.
Eden just knew he was going to cancel the order and that would be the end of Nick and her silly schoolgirl crush. Head held high, she braced herself for whatever he was about to say.
“I think it’s a case of practicing what you preach,” he said matter-of-factly.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re right. I should drive a Chevy and you should believe in love.”
His shoulders relaxed and he let out a long breath as if he’d been holding in what he’d said. And now that he’d spit it out, he seemed relieved.
“We’re back to that?”
“Yes, and I think we should do something about this,” he twirled his finger in front of him, “this oil-and-vinegar thing we have going on.”
“Water. Oil and water. You mean try to get along?”
“Whatever. And exactly. After all, it’s that time of year. The Twelve Days of Love.”
She smiled. “Okay, Nick. I’ll try if you will.”
Maybe they could get along. Of course, it wouldn’t help the physical side of things as far as she was concerned. But he didn’t come into the shop more than a couple of times a month. It might be nice not to feel so angry and wet when he left the next time.
“Good. I’ll pick you up at your mother’s house at seven.” He strode toward the door.
It was as if the floor fell out from under her. She grabbed the countertop. Blood rushed to her head and her heart drummed so loudly she thought surely the vibrations would bring the roof down on top of her.
Nick spun on his heel. “Seven o’clock. Jeans will be fine. Twelve days, Eden. Twelve days of practicing what you preach. I’ll be driving a Chevy when I pick you up too.” He yanked the door open so the bells jingled, grinned, offered her a little salute and closed the door behind him.
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