Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Perfectly Able - Chapter 2

My last post includes the first chapter of PERFECTLY ABLE (PERFECTLY ABLE is a new adult contemporary romance intended for readers 17+ and is available on Amazon.). Here's the second chapter:

Chapter 2




I squirmed as a balmy breeze swept across the deck and the trees rustled around us. He looked at me with such intensity that it almost seemed if I told him the truth, he’d hunt down the last guy I dated and either beat the crap out of him or pelt him with marshmallows.

Of course, there was a third option. He could see things the same way Jack had seen them, which was why I was terrified that if Ridge knew the truth, he’d clothe that glorious body of his, pack up his belongings, and start walking, never to be heard from again, just like Jack.

I groaned inwardly. It angered me that I had allowed the last guy I dated to affect me so deeply. Jack wasn’t his real name, but I didn’t even want to think his name, let alone have it pass from my lips. So I decided to give him an appropriate nickname, Jack, a shortened version of jackass. And he was a jackass. In the end, I’d found out the hard way that he didn’t know the first thing about loving a woman. It’d been a painful revelation, and one that was necessary for me to realize that he didn’t deserve me. So if I knew all of that, why did I still allow him to make me feel this way?

I had been meeting challenges head-on since I was sixteen, giving me five years of practical experience. But I supposed when it came to relationships, a whole new kind of insecurity seeped into my soul. Gone was the cocky, overconfident girl that I had become in all other realms.

My eyes fell to his magnificently carved body. His biceps flexed as he repositioned his arms, and he was still watching me, waiting on me to tell him what Jack had done.

“It doesn’t matter. He’s long gone,” I said, shielding my eyes from the sun, so that I could see him more clearly.

He had a strong jawline, and as he stood before me, I couldn’t deny that I wasn’t immune to his bronzed, muscular body.

His brown hair was relatively short with streaks of blond, indicative that he’d probably spent a lot of time outdoors this summer.

“So what do you do?” I asked, hoping to shift the conversation to more pleasant topics.

“Well, I just graduated from college a few months ago.”  He walked toward me, sitting on the side of the chaise lounge, just inches from my feet. My body stiffened and a wave of self-awareness swept over me. I bent my knees slightly, giving him a little more room at the end of the lounger.

“What was your major?” I asked.

“Electrical engineering.”

“So if I needed someone to change the light bulbs in my apartment, you could help me out?”

He laughed. “Yeah, I think I could handle that.”

“Good to know.”

“I was an intern at an engineering firm, and I was fortunate enough to get hired on after I graduated.”  He ran his fingers through his hair, which was quickly drying, and the movement caused his muscles to ripple into action.

“Sounds like you’ve got it together.”

“Meticulous planning. That’s the key,” he said, turning to look at me.

“I agree that planning is important. Just make sure you remember to be spontaneous every now and then. We wouldn’t want you to be boring and predictable.”

He laughed then. “Have no fear, Ava. I may be a bit predictable because once I set a goal, I don’t stop until I’ve accomplished it, but no female has ever accused me of being boring.”

He stood, his red swim trunks riding low on his hips. My line of vision rested on his well-defined abs. “I’ll be right back,” he said.

I didn’t respond, just watched the graceful display of muscle and sinew as he moved. As I watched him, I wished things were different. I wished that Jack hadn’t deflated my confidence. Perhaps I was even angry with myself for allowing him to do it. But it didn’t matter. Knowing that I shouldn’t let a guy affect me that way wasn’t enough for me to keep it from happening. That had been part of the reason that I’d wanted to come here alone. I wanted to get over this hump, gain my confidence back, and tackle life, but being here with Ridge all week would keep my insecurities at the forefront of my mind, impeding any progress that I’d hoped to make. I lowered my head into my palms. I needed to dig deep and find a way past this.

“Are you feeling okay?” he asked as he stepped back onto the deck and shut the door behind him.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” I replied, lifting my head and pasting a smile on my face. I noticed that he had his phone in his hand. “Did you get a signal?”

He glanced down at the phone. “No. I just wanted to access my calendar.”

“Oh. Still planning, I see,” I joked.

“Yeah. Old habits….”

He sat back down on the side of the chaise lounge near my feet and punched the keys on his phone. “So do you have any goals, Ava?” he asked, without looking up.

“You mean other than stringing up my sister and her friends for putting us in this awkward situation?”

He grinned. “Guess at this point, you’re stuck with me for an entire week.”

“Guess so,” I agreed. “You’re stuck with me, too. Still doesn’t keep me from plotting ways to torture her.”

“I know what you mean. Kelsey has aggravated the shit out of me over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantasized about getting even for all of the pranks she’s pulled. Knowing her, she’d just aggravate me that much more. Having one, little sister is bad enough. I can’t imagine having two.”

“Yeah, sometimes it can be a pain, but we actually get along pretty well, considering.”

London was definitely going to get an earful from me. Having expected to be totally alone, I hadn’t even brought my makeup. Part of me thought that I shouldn’t care, but what girl wanted to be stranded with a gorgeous guy and no makeup?  It certainly didn’t help my confidence level any.

Even though he had no Internet access, he scrolled through his phone, and it crossed my mind that Ridge was the type of guy who could easily become a workaholic.

The soft chirping of crickets lulled me, replacing my carefully constructed wall of vigilance with the tempting notion of relaxation. I watched Ridge, who exuded confidence and ease around me, even though he’d never laid eyes on me before today. Envy slithered into my belly as I wished I could be so comfortable around someone of the opposite sex.

He moved then, his thigh brushing against the tip of my shoe. My body went rigid, my breath frozen in my lungs. I knew I was overreacting, but that didn’t prevent the spasms of panic that shot through my veins. Instinctively, I scooted my feet closer to me, needing more than a mere modicum of distance between us before I could even begin to regain control of my emotions. I breathed in deeply, hoping that I was being inconspicuous. The last thing I needed was for him to stare at me like I was going to have a seizure or something.

Inwardly, I cursed myself. It was beyond ridiculous that I had allowed Jack to bring me to this point. But no matter how much one side of my brain told me that it was absurd, the other side was telling me that I wasn’t good enough for someone like Ridge, that he would never find me desirable. So yet another internal battle began.

I took another deep breath, exhaling slowly. Refusing to fall prey to my traitorous brain, I forced myself to rekindle the conversation. “So you’re training for a triathlon?”

He looked away from his phone, his hazel eyes focusing on my face. I could tell I’d gotten his full attention with a subject that interested him. He shifted on the end of the lounger, facing me. I concentrated on slow, even breathing.

“Yes,” he said in a smooth, deep voice.

I watched his pronounced Adam’s apple as he spoke. My gaze traveled lower to his well-defined pectoral muscles, lower still to his washboard abs. He was definitely male, and that made me giddy and nervous all at once.

“Will this be your first one?” I tamped down the uneasy feelings that prickled along my spine, refusing to succumb to them.

“Yes. I watched a video online about a competition. It was a triathlon that consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.2-mile run that has to be completed in seventeen hours. Can you imagine doing all of that back to back?” His eyes met mine, but I didn’t answer. “So, anyway, in the video, the triathletes are pushing themselves to get across the finish line before time’s up, and as they near it, crowds of people are lined up along the side of the street cheering and holding out their hands. But it was the look on the triathletes’ faces that caught my attention. To know that they’d pushed themselves both mentally and physically to the brink of their boundaries and were still triumphant. If I could feel that kind of energy and emotion from a video, imagine what it must be like to be there. Imagine what it must be like to cross the finish line, to hear the crowd cheering you on. As soon as I watched it, I knew that was going on my list. I want to feel what they felt.”

He grinned. “It sounds kind of cheesy when I say it like that, doesn’t it?”

I smiled and a little bit of my anxiety melted away with his words. “No,” I whispered, not expecting my voice to sound so strained. I cleared my throat. “I understand exactly what you mean.”

He looked at me a little surprised. “You do?”

“I do.”

“I’m glad somebody does. Most of my friends can’t understand why I’d want to go through such torture.”

“It is torture.”

He straightened his back and looked at me hard. “You say that like you’ve done it.”

Did I?  I repeated the last bit of conversation in my head. Crap. I hadn’t intended to say anything. Since when did I let my guard down around a guy for even a moment?  I tried to decide how I’d play it off because I knew that beginning a conversation like this would lead to places that I didn’t want to go.

I couldn’t lie about it now. I’d just have to go with it. “We have something in common, Ridge. I know exactly what you’re talking about because I competed in a triathlon about a year ago.”  That was the truth.

“You’ve already completed a triathlon?” he asked, leaning forward like I’d just gotten a whole lot more interesting.

“Yes, I completed it.”

He exhaled loudly. “You just let the air out of my big bag of macho.”

A smile pranced on my lips as I watched his face deflate and his shoulders slump. Even though I knew he was joking, there was something humorous about such a manly man being shamed by the thoughts of a female completing such a physical contest before him.

“If it makes you feel any better, I missed the deadline by eleven seconds, although I did complete the course.”

He lifted his head. “No shittin’? Eleven seconds?”

I pursed my lips and nodded. “Eleven lousy seconds. Do you know how many times I’ve replayed that over and over in my head, trying to decide what I could’ve done differently to cross the finish line on time.”

“That seriously sucks.”

“Tell me about it.” It had sucked, and I’d never forget the overwhelming feeling of defeat.

“My goal is to complete it in less than twelve hours. I think I can do it faster than that, but since it’s my first one, I’m not sure what to expect.”

I closed my book, completely engaged in my conversation with Ridge. “I have no doubt that you’ll make it,” I said, meaning it. I hadn’t even known him a full day, but it was quite obvious that once Ridge Sutherland decided to do something, he didn’t release it from his sights until he had accomplished it.

“You should try it again,” he suggested. “I’m sure a lot of people who don’t make it the first time come back and conquer it on the second try.”

“I should,” I agreed. “Have you ever given up on anything on your list?”

He shot me a look of disbelief, a steely resolve in his amber eyes. “Failure is not in my vocabulary. If something makes it on my list, it’s going to happen.”

“You make it sound so simple,” I said.

“It is.”

His confidence wasn’t unfamiliar to me. In fact, I shared his level of confidence in most of my activities, but there were times when it seemed to slip. Times like now.

“If I add swim with Ava by the end of the week to my list, guess what you’re going to do?”

A strange mixture of excitement and fear welled in my chest. I wanted to swim with him, but contrary to his philosophy, it wasn’t going to happen. “Laugh at you for failing?”

“Sweet, sweet Ava. I think I just explained to you that I never fail.”

“Are you issuing a challenge?” I asked, unsure of his intent.

“Are you offering one?” he asked, his brows raised as he awaited my answer.

Part of me wanted to say “yes,” but the other part had no desire to provoke Ridge into doing something that could possibly lead to disappointment for both of us. I should end this conversation now. I should remember how things ended with Jack, and…damn him.

“Yes,” I blurted before I overthought things, before I chickened out, before he could change his mind.

A wide grin spread across his face. “Challenge accepted.”

I was already second-guessing myself. What had I done?  I had just made the conscious decision to give this guy a reason to talk to me all week. Why? Because I wanted him to want something from me. He was handsome and ambitious and sweet, and I strongly suspected that the two of us had a lot in common.

But I also knew that I had just set him up for failure. Not that I personally thought failure was that big of a deal. To me, failures were a chance to learn, to grow, a chance to take a step back and decide if another alternative was the better choice.

Maybe that’s what scared me the most. Maybe Ridge would decide that there were better alternatives to me. Even for something as simple as a swim partner.

He brought me out of my insanity by asking a question. “Why don’t you change into your swimsuit?”

I smirked. “You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?”

He winked. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”

I watched the ripple of muscles as he stood up and walked over to the rail. “Hey, did you notice this canoe?”

“It’s bright red. How could I have missed it?”

He turned and grinned at me. “Well, I don’t know, but I didn’t see it until now.”

“Women are more observant than men.”

“Has that been scientifically proven or are you making it up as you go along?” he asked, grinning at me.

“It’s just my own observation.”

He laughed. “Then who am I to argue? Besides, I’ve made a few observations of my own, one of them being that men rarely win when it comes to arguing with women. So I don’t do it.”

“Smart man.”

 He turned back towards the canoe. “You wanna go for a canoe ride with a smart man?” Leaning on the railing, he looked over his shoulder at me.

“You think I’m going to fall for that trick?  I know how that works. You get me in the middle of the lake in a canoe, and then, you accidentally tip it over, which leaves me having to swim to shore and leaves you proclaiming your victory. Um, no, not gonna happen.”

He chuckled. “That is a good plan, but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I just thought it might be fun. I haven’t ridden in a canoe since middle school. When’s the last time you rode in one?” He gazed out over the lake as the water lapped softly against the bank.


“Like ever?” he asked, turning back to look at me.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Man, we’ve got to do something about that this week. You won’t have the proper cabin-on-the-lake experience until you get in that canoe and paddle out to the middle of the lake. And if you’re worried about me tipping you over, I’ll stay here while you go, but seriously, you’ve got to go.”

“Not today.”

“What are you waiting for?” he asked, a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.

“I like to take my canoe rides in the middle of the night with some cinder blocks, a few feet of rope, and a dead body.”

A crooked grin shot across his face. “Guess that’s my cue to move on. I need to run, anyway.” He picked up his phone and glanced at the time. “I should be back in a couple of hours or so.”

I wasn’t sure why he found it necessary to fill me in on his schedule. We were just two strangers who happened to be staying in the same cabin. “Okay.”

Once he went inside, I began to breathe easier. Before the incident, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to going for a swim or a canoe ride with him. But now, things that I once did without thought required me to summon courage, to cling to bits and pieces of positive experiences in my mind and remember that I was the same girl I’d always been, to beckon the confidence that was still within me, although now it seemed to lurk in the recesses of my soul, just out of my reach.

Frustrated that I had allowed my mettle to suffer at the hands of Jack, I cursed myself for the tenth time today. I had hoped to come to terms with how I felt about him this week, deal with it, and move on. No man should have this kind of power over me. No man should be allowed to make me feel so damn inadequate. I knew that. I did. Now, if I could just get my brain to agree, to stop sliding in thoughts that would make me think otherwise.

I opened the book in my lap. The main character was dealing with worse situations than I was, and I desperately needed to escape my own world.




I awoke to a tap on the shoulder. Startled, I sprang into a sitting position, only to realize that it was twilight and Ridge was standing over me with a huge grin on his face. My book slid out of my lap and thudded against the deck flooring.

“Sorry, I contemplated on whether I should wake you or just leave you alone, but I thought you might be getting hungry.” He offered me a plate with two slices of pizza. “Besides I thought it might be nice to watch the sunset.”

“You cooked?” I mumbled, running the back of my hand over my mouth, hoping I wasn’t drooling all over myself.

“Yeah. My skills in the kitchen aren’t quite as good as they are over a grill, but I can usually handle frozen pizza.”

I took the plate from him, and he handed me a bottle of water. “Thank you.”

He smelled clean, and I realized that he’d already showered. How long had I been asleep?

Ridge took a seat at the picnic table, facing me in a dark green tee shirt and khaki shorts. His feet were bare. “So you ready to go for a swim?” he asked, right before he bit into a slice of pizza.

“Is your plan to wear me down by asking me every five minutes?” I asked.

“Considering you’ve been out here snoring for a good three hours or so, I’m not sure how you came up with your theory.”

“You haven’t even been back for three hours,” I accused. Had he?

“Well, I did stay gone a lot longer than I had intended, but I’ve been back for three hours and five minutes. And you’ve barely budged.”

“You were watching me sleep?” I asked, horrified, hoping he was only joking about the snoring comment.

“It’s not like I snuck in your bedroom or anything. I mean, you are out on the deck.”

I wanted to slink down into the chaise lounge and become part of it.

“I was starting to wonder if you had passed out drunk. I don’t know anyone who could sleep on a lounger that long.”

“I don’t normally drink,” I said, and then took another bite of pizza.

“I guess that rules out that you were up all night having a party.”

I was up all night, but unfortunately, a party had nothing to do with it. I rubbed my eyes and exhaled. “I just haven’t been sleeping well lately.”

He took a drink of water. “I know the perfect cure for insomnia,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked, almost desperate enough to try anything.

He motioned toward the lake with his thumb. “A nice, long swim. It relaxes the mind and exhausts the muscles.”

“Has it even been five minutes?” I asked, referring to the last time he asked me to go for a swim.

“Hey!” he exclaimed, pointing at me. “I didn’t ask you if you wanted to go for a swim. I merely pointed out that it was a great way to cure insomnia. But now that you brought it up, I’ll go for a swim with you, if you want.”


“Okay?” he asked, surprised. “That was way easier than I expected it to be.”

“Swim out to the middle of the lake and wait for me there,” I ordered.

“Let me guess. You’re gonna deliver some cinder blocks that you want me to hold for you until morning, right?”

I giggled at the thought. “Maybe.”

As the sun dipped below the tree line and exploded into massive streaks of pink and orange and yellow, I watched Ridge as he looked out over the lake. He had a strong profile, and I found his chiseled jawline extremely appealing. We sat in silence, drinking in the beauty and peacefulness of this place. I suspected that if I had been alone this week, the cabin would’ve contained all the special healing powers I had been hoping for.

The moon rose into the night sky, a silver ball suspended in the inky blackness. Its reflection glistened on the surface of the lake, rippling with the movement of the water.

After several minutes of silence, Ridge finally rose. “I’m going to bed. I want to get an early start on running. Oh, and in case you get any ideas, I’m going to lock my door.”

I smiled into the darkness. “Good night, Ridge.”

Monday, December 9, 2013

Perfectly Able - Chapter 1

Previously, I posted a teaser from Chapter 1, but I thought I'd go ahead and post the entire chapter. PERFECTLY ABLE is a new adult contemporary romance intended for audiences 17+. So here you go....

Chapter 1




I slid the key in the doorknob and turned it. This vacation couldn’t have come soon enough. I was still aggravated with my boss after his little stunt yesterday, and I’d just spent a forty-five minute drive with my younger sister, Kelsey, and her best friend, Brandy, both of whom talked nonstop the entire time. I was relieved that they had finally dropped me off at the cabin. Until they came to pick me up next week, I was completely and utterly alone, not one soul to get on my nerves.

Pushing the door open, I immediately caught sight of the huge lake that glistened just beyond the wall of windows at the back of the living room. Leaving my luggage and groceries on the front porch for the time being, I entered the room, drawn by the majestic beauty of the lake and the solitude that I craved.

“Don’t move,” a soft, sultry voice informed me.

Ignoring her command, I spun around in search of the voice’s owner.

“I said don’t move,” she repeated, and just to prove her point, she extended her arms, the barrel of her pink .38 revolver daring me to snub her instructions again.

“Holy sh**,” I mumbled, throwing my hands in the air. “Don’t shoot, babe.”

She motioned toward me with the gun, her long, blond hair swaying with the movement. “Don’t call me ‘babe’.”

“Okay.” Psychotic lunatic. “Unfortunately, I didn’t catch your name.”

I kept my eyes on the girl, afraid that if I looked away for even a second, I’d be shot by a girlie gun. D***, my friends would never let me live that one down, not that it’d matter if I actually died.

My captor looked to be in her early twenties, and her red tank top hugged her body like a second skin, falling just short of reaching her low-rise jeans. The resulting gap revealed a narrow strip of flat abdomen.

If I weren’t under duress at the moment, I might spend a little more time noticing that she was sexy as h***, but considering my current predicament, I chose to concentrate on finding a way out of this precarious situation.

She looked nervous, like maybe she didn’t know what to do.

“Put the gun down,” I said softly, keeping my voice calm and even as I took a step toward her.

She lifted it even higher. “What do you want?”

I wanted a lot of things, and at the top of the list was to be left the h*** alone. This was my vacation. No crazy people allowed.

Taking another step toward her with my hands out in a conciliatory manner, I tried to gauge whether I could grab her hand before she could get a shot off. “I’m supposed to be staying here.”

“Don’t come any closer,” she warned.

Her eyes darted toward the window, and when they did, I lunged forward and grabbed her hand, forcing it and the revolver into the air. I spun her around, her back against my chest, and put her in a chokehold while simultaneously ripping the gun from her grasp.

She shoved her elbow into my stomach, and I grunted in reaction to the sharp pain that exploded from the point of contact. I tightened my hold on her neck and tucked the gun into the back of my pants, freeing my other hand to snake around her body and pin her arms down.

“Calm down,” I whispered in her ear. She was panting heavily and writhing like an alligator taking down its prey.

“Let me go,” she demanded.

“I will,” I agreed, “as soon as you calm down.” She smelled good, a tropical scent.

“Who are you?” she demanded. “What do you want from me?”

“I’m just a guy trying to take a d*** vacation and train for a triathlon. I don’t want anything from you.”

“Why are you in my cabin?” she shrieked.

I exhaled heavily in her ear. “I could ask you the same thing.” Why was she in my cabin, the cabin that I was supposed to have all to myself for an entire week?

“My sister’s friend arranged for me to stay in this cabin,” she explained.

“When did you get here?” I asked, loosening my hold on her.

“Last night,” she answered.

“I didn’t see a car out front. When are you supposed to leave?”

“My sister wanted to borrow my car. I’m supposed to be picked up next Sunday.”

What the h*** was going on? Her story was identical to mine. Kelsey had wanted to borrow my car, and it was her friend, Brandy, who had arranged for me to borrow her parents’ cabin.

“Who’s your sister?” I asked as theories began formulating in my mind.


The name sounded familiar. “Who arranged for you to stay in this cabin?”


I chuckled in disbelief. “We’ve been duped. Brandy’s also the one that arranged for me to stay in this cabin—by myself.”

I released her, and she spun around and looked at me. “You know Brandy?”

I nodded. “She’s my sister’s best friend.”

Pulling her gun from the waist of my jeans, I opened the chamber and spun it around. “No bullets?”

Her brow furrowed. “I have bullets.”

I handed her the gun. “And the emperor has new clothes.”

As I fished my phone from my pocket, I watched her check the chamber herself.

“I had bullets.” She stared at the open chamber, astounded. “What’s going on?” she asked, tucking the gun in her waistband and looking way too sexy as she crossed her arms over her voluptuous chest.

I started to dial Kelsey’s number only to realize that I had no signal. “S***.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t have a signal. Do you have a phone?”

“Yeah, but it won’t do you any good, either. I tried to use it last night, and I had no bars.” She studied me intently. “So who are you?”

H***, where were my manners? For some reason, having the barrel of a pink gun aimed at me had impaired my social skills. “I’m Ridge Sutherland, and it appears that Brandy and my little sister, Kelsey, are being devious.”

“Kelsey’s your sister?”

“Yeah, you know Kelsey?”

“I’ve met her a few times.”

“I assume that you’re not in a relationship,” I said. “No boyfriend?  Husband?”

“Nope. I’m single.”

I laughed at my stupidity for falling so completely for their trickery. “That’s what I thought. I think what we have here,” I said motioning back and forth between us, “is a clear case of matchmaking by my annoying little sister and her best friend. This isn’t the first time that they’ve pulled something like this.” I thought about almost getting shot. “But it will be the last.”

Her mouth dropped open, and she quickly closed it again. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I had no idea.”

“I figured as much.”  I motioned toward the door. “There’s gotta be a cabin rental office around here somewhere. I’ll just go see if I can find one or maybe a landline.”

A flicker of emotion crossed her face, but before I could decipher what it was, she pasted on a smile. “I understand if you don’t want to stay here with me, seeing how I almost shot you and all, but there’re three bedrooms. It wouldn’t be terrible if we both stayed here this week, would it?  We can stay out of each other’s way.”

A pang of guilt spread across my chest. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I just figured you wouldn’t want to stay with a total stranger.”

“Well, you may be a stranger, but you’re Kelsey’s brother. So you’re not really a total stranger. Kelsey’s a real sweetheart, so I assume that you must be a decent guy. Otherwise, I don’t think Brandy would’ve left me alone with you. Although, it would’ve been nice to have known ahead of time, before I pulled my gun out.”


“Why don’t you stay?” she asked.

“If you’re sure….”

She smiled again, and her mood seemed to lighten. She held her hand out to me. “I’m Ava Nottingham.”

I shook her hand, noting how warm and soft and small it seemed in mine.

“Nice to meet you, Ava. I guess I need to bring in my things and find me a bedroom.”

She pointed back towards the living room. “I took the master bedroom at the end of the hall. There’s two more, but the first bedroom on the right has a spectacular view of the lake.”

“First bedroom on the right it is.” Stepping out on the porch, I gathered up my duffel bag and the plastic bags from the grocery store. I dropped the food off in the kitchen and went in search of the bedroom that Ava had suggested. The door was open, and I tossed my duffel bag on the bed as I walked to the huge picture window to absorb the view. Ava was right. The view was spectacular.

Sunlight glinted off the surface of the lake, and I was eager to start my training for an upcoming triathlon. I’d been swimming in the lap pool at the gym, but I wanted to experience swimming in open water. I quickly shut the bedroom door and changed into my swimsuit.

After grabbing the flip flops and beach towel that were stuffed in the bottom of my bag, I dropped the flip flops to the floor, slid my feet in them, and went to find Ava. I found her bent over, putting groceries on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, and I caught myself smiling.

“I didn’t mean for you to put the groceries up,” I said, although I certainly had no complaints.

She stood up and twisted around, surprised to find me standing a few feet behind her. Her hand flew to her chest. “You scared me,” she said breathlessly.

“I’m sorry.”

She pushed loose strands of golden hair from her face and tugged at the hem of her tank top, lowering it back into place. Her eyes locked on my bare chest.

“I’m going for a swim. You wanna go?”

She opened her mouth as if she were going to speak, but quickly shut it. She shook her head. “No, you go ahead.”

“Are you sure?”

She pursed her lips and nodded, her eyes darting up to meet mine and then falling back to my chest. “Yeah.”

“Okay. Here, let me help you finish putting up the groceries.”  I began pulling items out of the bags and found a white envelope with my name scrawled on it. “What the h*** is this?”

Opening the envelope, I found a letter, and I read it out loud.


Ridge and Ava,


By now, I guess the two of you have met. Don’t be mad. Just relax and have a fun week. Ava, just so you know, London took your bullets. Believe me when I say, both of you will thank us later.



Kelsey, London, and Brandy


“Just as I thought,” I grumbled, turning my attention back to the groceries.

“I guess we can kill them later,” Ava said, folding it back up and tucking it back in the envelope. “For now, we may as well make the best of it.”

“May as well,” I agreed.

When we had emptied all of the plastic bags, I picked up my towel. “Come on out if you change your mind.”

Ava smiled. “Okay.”

The water refreshed me as I walked into the lake, although the mud at the bottom squished between my toes giving the experience a little bit of a yuck factor. I scanned the width of the lake, wondering in which direction I should swim. After a few minutes of warming up my muscles, I finally decided to just plunge ahead, not too far away from the shoreline, and swim until I became winded. Then, I’d turn around and hopefully be back at my starting position before I became too fatigued. I figured on twenty minutes each way.

I practiced my breathing technique and my stroke, as my hands sliced through the water. I knew that it would be much different during an actual triathlon because I would be surrounded by other swimmers. After several minutes, I slowed, allowing myself the luxury of catching my breath and scanning the coastline to see how far I’d gone.

I turned around and forged ahead, back toward the cabin.

As I approached the shore, I spotted her. Standing on the back deck in her jeans and sexy, red tank, she shielded her eyes from the sun and leaned against the railing, scanning the water in my direction.

I hadn’t planned on an audience, and I frowned, aggravated with my sister for putting me in this predicament in the first place.

Water sluiced down my body as I walked toward the shore, taking deep breaths. Standing in two feet of water, I leaned over and propped my hands on my knees, allowing myself a few moments of rest. Fish nibbled at my toes, and I started moving again, making my way to my towel and flip flops on the edge of the shoreline.

I slid my feet into my flip flops and toweled my hair dry, leaving it in disarray. My fingers pushed through the short strands, and then, I dried my torso and arms, flipped the towel over my shoulder, and made my way back to the cabin.

She watched as I approached the steps that led to the deck.

“Are you hungry?” she asked, pulling her hair up into a ponytail and fastening it in place.

“Maybe a little bit. You?”

She nodded.

“Let me rest a few minutes, and I’ll fire up the grill. Do you eat hot dogs?”

She nodded again. “I’ll get everything ready.”  And before I could respond, she had disappeared into the house.

I plopped down at the picnic table, my body facing away from the tabletop. Gazing at the lake, I noted the tranquility as water pooled at my feet. I was aggravated at Kelsey and Brandy for ruining the week that I had dedicated to training and organizing my game plan, so that I could succeed at the triathlon. Planning was an essential part of meeting my goals. Looking at Ava all week wouldn’t be difficult, but that had both good and bad consequences. It was obviously good because what guy didn’t enjoy looking at a beautiful female. It was bad because I had a very specific purpose for coming this week, and it had nothing to do with women.

Standing, I kicked my flip flops off and crossed the deck, the freshly-stained planks of wood warm against the soles of my feet. I uncovered the grill and ignited it.

A few minutes later, Ava reappeared with everything necessary for our meal.

“I can cook them if you want,” she offered, brushing a loose tendril of hair from her face. I caught myself watching the gentle movements of her fingers.

I forced my eyes to the grill. “I got it.”  I set the plate on the side shelf of the grill and placed the wienies over the fire.

She watched me silently, wringing her hands. Then she said softly, “I’m really sorry about pulling my gun on you.”

I gazed at her. “No harm done. I’ll let my sister carry the blame for that one.”

“We don’t have to eat together if you don’t want to,” she said.

I may not have planned on company this week, but I wasn’t a total a**. “I definitely think we should eat together. I mean we did just wrestle each other. We should be able to make it through a meal with no problem.”

A hint of a smile crossed her lips, and I had the distinct feeling that she was relieved.

“Besides, how am I gonna hear you compliment my mad grilling skills if we aren’t eating together?”  I winked at her, hoping to smooth things over in case I’d sent her the message that I didn’t want to be here with her.

“So you’re the Grill Master?”

“I’ve mastered several skills. Grilling just happens to be one of them.”

Her eyelashes fanned across her cheek as she coyly shifted her line of vision from me to the deck boards around our feet.

I turned my attention to the grill, using a fork to turn the wienies. “So you know I have a little sister, and I know you have at least one sister. Any more siblings?”

“I have two sisters. Daisy’s the youngest. She’s eighteen, and she just graduated from high school. London’s in college, and she’s twenty. Do you have other siblings?”

“Luckily, no. You see how much trouble Kelsey is. I’m not sure I’d survive another sibling.”

With the smell of the grill wafting through the air, I turned off the gas and removed the wienies. “Hot dogs are served.”  I carried the plate to the picnic table, where Ava had arranged the drinks and the condiments.

I loaded two hot dogs with all the trimmings and sat across the table from her. “So what do you do, Ava?”

She squeezed a thin line of mustard down the middle of her hot dog. “I’m a real estate agent.”

“So if I wanted to buy a house, you could help me out?”


Her eyes lifted to mine, and I noticed they were the color of blue topaz. She wore no makeup, but with her natural beauty, she didn’t need any, and I imagined that if she had worn makeup, I wouldn’t have noticed the smattering of faint freckles that dusted her nose, which for some unknown reason, I found hot as h***.

“Good,” I said, concentrating on our conversation, “because once I cross complete a triathlon off my list, the next item is buy a house.”

Her lips weren’t quite as plump as I usually liked them, but they were shapely and I found myself staring. She puckered them into a frown and pointed at me. “You have a list?” she asked, her eyebrows arched in question.

“Doesn’t everybody?”

She laughed in disbelief. “No. Most people our age don’t know what they’re gonna eat for supper, much less when they’re gonna complete a triathlon or buy a house.”

“Well, most people do have some kind of goals. I just write mine on a list and keep them in my wallet, so I can look at them every day.”

“I would’ve never imagined you as a list-maker.”  She took a bite of her hot dog.

“And why’s that?” I asked as my curiosity piqued.

She swallowed. “I guess because I would picture a list-maker with a pocket protector and glasses.”  Her gaze fell to my bare chest.

“Now how do you know I don’t own a pocket protector?”

“Do you?”


The corners of her mouth tilted up. “There’re some things a girl just knows.” She looked me in the eyes. “So why do you keep a list?”

“Because a lot of successful people write their goals down and look at them every day.”  I tapped my temple with my fingertip. “It keeps you on track by keeping the things that you want to accomplish in your mind.”

“Ah,” she said, grinning as she took another bite of hot dog.

“Go ahead. Laugh,” I taunted. She hadn’t been the first woman to make wisecracks about my lists, but I didn’t care.

“I’m not laughing,” she countered.

“But you are smiling,” I accused.

She lowered her gaze to her hot dog. “Yes, but it’s because I’m….”

“Because you’re what?  Amused?  Humored?”  I watched her, waiting for her response.

Shyly, she lifted her eyes to mine. “Impressed.”

Impressed?  H***, now she had me totally off-guard. I was used to my girlfriends thinking it was some kind of an odd quirk, kind of like my acute aversion to liars. And maybe it was, but….

“I would say that you, Ridge Sutherland, will live life to the fullest. You won’t spend one minute wishing you’d done anything differently because you know what you want, and you’re going for it. That’s impressive.”

I was flabbergasted. I ran my palm across my chest as I stared at Ava Nottingham. She had just amazed the hell out of me. “D***, a woman who gets it.”

A smile broke across her face, reaching the depths of her azure eyes. Looking at me thoughtfully, she asked, “So what else is on your list?”

“Just the usual stuff. It’s anything that I’m determined to accomplish, any goal or activity, like buying a house. I really do need a real estate agent soon.”

“Let me know when you’re ready, and I’ll hook you up.”

I held my hand across the table. “It’s a deal.”

She slipped her hand in mine, and we shook on it.

We fell into a comfortable silence, and after we had finished eating, Ava stood up and said, “You’re right. You do have mad grilling skills. I really liked your wienie.”  Her face turned bright red, and then she collapsed back down on the bench and facepalmed. “No, I did not just say that,” she whispered to herself.

I laughed. “Don’t worry. I don’t kiss and tell.”

She groaned. “I am so embarrassed.”

“Don’t be.”  I shifted the conversation in hopes of easing her discomfort. “I’m already wearing my swimming trunks. Why don’t you put on your bathing suit and go for a swim with me?”

She froze. “Uh, n-no,” she sputtered. “I need to clean up this mess.”

“I’ll help you clean up. Then we can go for a swim. You did bring a swimsuit, didn’t you?”

“I did, but I think I’m just gonna catch up on some reading tonight. Thanks, anyway.”

I stood and put the condiments back in the plastic bag, while she closed up the remaining hot dog buns.

“You can go ahead.”  She motioned toward the lake. “I’ll get this.”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll help.”

“I got it, Ridge. You should go ahead and swim.”

I watched her, wondering if this was one of those times when a woman just wanted to be left alone. Finally deciding that it must be, I released the bag of condiments. “Okay.”

When I reached the lake, I waded out waist-deep and dove in, my body gliding along just beneath the surface. I kicked powerfully, propelling myself rapidly.

I replayed our conversation over in my head, hoping I hadn’t somehow offended Ava. Failing to come up with anything, I decided that it was the fickle ways of women and brushed it from my mind. I had a triathlon to complete, so I swam harder, concentrating on my goal.

I returned to the cabin a half hour later and found Ava sitting in a chaise lounge on the deck reading a book. Her jean-clad legs were crossed at the ankle, and from the bottom of her tennis shoes, her feet appeared small, at least in comparison to my own.

“How was your swim?” she asked as I sat at the picnic table.

“Awesome. How’s your book?”

“It sucks.”

“It does?”

She nodded, her sky-blue eyes peering at me over the top of the book. “The main character’s boyfriend just died.”

“Ouch. Succumbed to a disease?  Injured in a car wreck?  Devoured by a man-eating shark?”

“She killed him.”

“That’s not good.”

“Actually, that’s the good part. He was an a**.”

“Then why did you say it sucked?”

“Because she got caught.”

I chuckled, thinking maybe I should thank London for taking the bullets. “Remind me not to piss you off this week.”  I scanned the scenery. “There’re way too many places here to dispose of a body.”

She lowered the book to her lap, shooting me a mischievous grin. “It’s good for a man to feel a little fear.”

“Should I sleep with my door locked tonight?”

Her smile widened. “You should sleep with your door locked every night.”

“I’ll add that to my list.”

Her laughter tinkled through the late summer air.

I toweled off my chest and arms, and I could feel her watch me. When I looked at her, she quickly diverted her attention back to her book.

“So why did you come here this week?” I asked, sliding my body around and sitting down backwards at the picnic table, so that I could towel off my legs.

“I don’t know. To meditate, I guess. Think about things, about life, about what I want.”

“Did you just break up with your boyfriend or something?”

She sat up a little straighter and stared at me. “Why would you say that?”

“I don’t know. You’re a beautiful girl who’s secluded herself in the middle of nowhere and who’s fantasizing about killing off men.”

“He wasn’t officially my boyfriend. We had just dated for a while.”

“Ah,” I said. “Let me guess. He was an a**.”

“You’re very perceptive.”

“Not really. Most all girls say that about guys they’ve dated.”

Her laughter floated through the air again, and I decided I liked the sound of it. “Good point.”

I flung my towel over the railing to let it dry.

“So what did he do to you?” I asked. “You need me to kick his a**?”

She shook her head. “All joking aside, I don’t really like violence.”

“I could fling marshmallows at him with my slingshot.”

The corners of her mouth tilted upward. “That could be fun.”

I grew more serious. “So, what did he do?” I heard myself asking again, wondering why in the h*** I cared.