Friday, February 21, 2014

Love for the boxed sets! Here are some deals for you

Thanks for all of your support in making  UNFORGETTABLE HEROES an Amazon Bestseller! 
Eight award-winning and bestselling authors share their favorite contemporary romance heroes--all boxed up for you in one sexy and irresistible package! 
Still only $.99! Amazon 
You might also like the following bestselling boxed sets. I highly recommend! ~ Maddie
Riding Desire: Alpha Bad Boy Biker Set
Hop on for the ride of your life in this NEW exclusive limited edition box set of 14 never before published books from the industry's hottest authors in contemporary romance.

Whether you crave alpha heroes, possessively wicked boyfriends, sexy inked rock stars, or passionately naughty lovers, Riding Desire will fulfill your bad boy biker fantasies like no other boxed set you've ever read.

Priced at only 99 cents, this is your chance to enjoy books from today's New York Times, USA Today, Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestselling authors. Get Riding Desire now before it's gone.
Limited Time - $0.99. Now at Amazon 

LOVE in a Small Town
Ladies of Legend Boxed Set
An Amazon Bestseller in Contemporary Romance

Nine bestsellingromance novellas/novels in the Ladies of Legend series. 
Nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, the town of Legend boasts of small town pride and southern elegance. Porches are still for sitting and troubles for one family affect the entire community. 
Welcome to Legend, TN, where Romance Lives Next Door. 
Get yours at Amazon
Heroes With Heart
Anthology of 8 Navy SEAL novellas by New York Times, USA Today and award-winning bestselling authors: Marliss Melton, Gennita Low, Teresa Reasor, Elle James, Delilah Devlin, Stephanie Tyler, J.M. Madden and Sharon Hamilton.
NOW at Amazon
Perfectly Matched
...and the rest of the matchmaking chef books!
THE MATCHMAKING CHEF COLLECTION (Ladies of Legend Spin-off Series)
The eight novellas of The Matchmaking Chef Series (romantic comedy)

When Suzie Matthews (Bed, Breakfast & You) accidentally cooks up a scene that causes her sister to get back together with her high school boyfriend (Home for the Holidays), she wonders if she can help other singletons living in the small mountain town of Legend, Tennessee find the loves of their lives.

Matchbaker, Matchbaker, bake me a match?
NOW at Amazon

"...heartwarming and tender... James shows a special talent for traditional romance." Affaire de Coeur

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day - A day for Romance!

Happy Valentine's Day
Did you know that this first novella in the Matchmaking Chef series is free? Haven't tried out the series? Perhaps download this one first and take a peek into Suzie Matthews, the Matchmaking Chef's world! 

What do you have to lose?

Today is a special day for lovers and I thought it appropriate that I share two new releases with you today. One, because they are all about romance (of course) and two, because they are a great deal, and I don't want you to miss them! 

I realize that those of you who have signed up for my newsletter do so because you want to know of new releases and special deals -- and that's the only time I will cross over into your inbox. Both releases below are on sale for a limited time -- and The Matchmaking Chef boxed set just went live a couple of days ago!  But that price is limited and only for the next couple of weeks at $0.99. In honor of Valentine's Day, and in honor of you, my readers! Much love to you!
Matchmaking Chef Collection

Brand spankin' new! And for an extremely limited time, and only for my readers, you can get this just released boxed set of all 8 matchmaking chef novellas for an insane price of $0.99. Act now, because the price will go up again later in February! 
Sale Price: $0.99
List Price: $5.99

Get yours now at:

Watch for it to come live soon at BARNES & NOBLE, KOBO and iBOOKS.
Who doesn't want an UNFORGETTABLE HERO for Valentine's Day?

My bestseller, RAWHIDE AND ROSES is included in this boxed set. If you have not read it, now is a good time to snap it up, plus get 7 more awesome books! Eight award-winning and bestselling authors share their favorite contemporary romance heroes--all boxed up for you in one sexy and irresistible package! From a sexy carpenter to magnetic CEO, a rough-and-ready cowboy to a homeless man, a classic car buff, a starving artist, a Latin-style dancer, and an FBI agent--each unique hero has his own story to tell, and a heroine who just can't forget him. Ever.
Sale Price: $0.99
Retail Price: $4.99 (April)
I wish each and every one of you a wonderful Valentine's Day!
With love,
Maddie James

Offer Expires: March 1, 2014

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Cowboys are my heroes!

Amazon bestselling author, Maddie James

Good morning! My last featured book in the UNFORGETTABLE HEROES boxed set is, well, mine! Rawhide and Roses, a contemporary western novel, is one of my best sellers. If you download the set, I hope you enjoy! Here is the book description:

Rawhide and Roses—She’s roses, he’s rough-and-ready rawhide. Kim Martin is hardly equipped for a Colorado camping trip, especially when her mountain guide is a rough-edged cowboy who is as untamed as the wilderness. Thad Winchester’s patience for city women is wearing as thin as the seat of his jeans. But there is something about Kim that puts his hard-and-fast don’t-touch rule to the test. 

And the opening scene:

This all boils down to one thing—cowboy lust, pure and simple.
Kim Martin squinted, staring ahead at the string of horses leading up the mountain. She didn’t see the pines, or the azure sky, the big white puffy clouds, or the snow-topped Rockies in the background. No, all she saw in front of her was a bunch of horse’s asses—and cowboys. Which may, or may not, be one and the same.
“Of all the things I thought I’d be doing this summer,” she muttered, “spending two hours staring at a horse’s butt certainly wasn’t on the list.”
She leaned down to pat her mount on the neck, hoping that if she was nice to the old nag, she would be nice to her. She grimaced and cooed encouraging words to the huge roan mare—
Or were they to herself?
“Just keep your sweet nose in that horse’s tail, honey, and everything will be just fine.”
Kim glanced one horse up to her best friend Jillie, and tossed her a fake smile. “Just talking to good ol’ Rosie here. We’re becoming fast friends.”
Jillie smiled and turned to face the string of horses. “See, I told you it would be easy,” she threw over her shoulder. “They’re like robots. Nose-to-tail, down the trail.”
Kim made a face. Jillie was an accomplished horsewoman; she’d learned from her father who exercised thoroughbreds back in Kentucky. Kim didn’t know diddly-squat about horses. She was more accustomed to betting on thoroughbreds at Keeneland, or handing out trophies at the Junior League horse show, than sitting on the back of one of the beasts and actually riding. How did she get talked into this?
How in the world had they gone from high school teachers to cowgirl wannabes all in the same afternoon?
The teacher’s conference. The reason they’d come to Colorado. Where they should be right now. But Jillie had this thing for horses, not to mention cowboys....
Kim couldn’t care less about any old cowboy. She was a born-and-bred city girl. One used to the finer points in life. And she liked her men the same way. Civilized.
She sucked in a cleansing breath. She’d made it this far, certainly the rest couldn’t be that bad. Glancing at her watch, she realized the corral was only fifteen minutes behind them. But the ride was two hours long! Two long, insufferable hours on the back of this piece of smelly horseflesh. She sneered at Jillie, who was totally at home on her horse’s back.
Kim felt ridiculously out of place.
Her chin length blonde bob fluttered about her face. Risking letting go of the tight grip she had on the reins, she tucked each side behind an ear.
How did I get into this? Bribery, pure and simple. And cowboy lust.
Kim loved Jillie dearly. In short, she’d do just about anything for her. Jillie had whined the entire evening before about a trail ride and Kim? Well, she’d caved.
Big time.
Rosie lifted her head and impatiently shook it back and forth. A burst of adrenaline shot through her. Muffin, Jillie’s horse, had picked up a little speed and put several feet between them. Rosie’s sonar kicked in and she loped toward Muffin’s tail. Kim bounced nervously in the saddle and tightened her grip on the reins as Rosie sped forward.
She wished she hadn’t lied about having ridden a horse before.
“Speak of the devil,” she mumbled as the cowboy she’d lied to rode closer. Kim hoped he wasn’t the one who’d put a hand to her rear, helping her into the saddle as she struggled to get a foothold in the stirrup. She’d nearly sailed over to the other side. Jillie had laughed hysterically. Kim’s cheeks grew hot at the memory.
She really hadn’t thought it funny.
The cowboy tipped his hat to Jillie, then glanced back at Kim. “Everything all right back here, ladies?”
She eyed him curiously as Jillie struck up conversation. Casual, friendly, familiar conversation… Jillie laughed out loud, shaking Kim out of a momentary trance. She looked into her friend’s face.
Something’s fishy, here.
“What?” Jillie must have asked her a question, for it seemed she was expecting an answer.
The cowboy chuckled.
“Oh, nothing,” her friend returned. “I was just sharing with Mack here your equine-phobia.”
Kim tightened her grip on Rosie’s reins and straightened her back. “Oh, and I suppose you think that’s funny?” She risked letting go of the reins a second while reaching to rub Rosie’s neck. See, she wasn’t afraid.
Jillie shook her head. “No, not that. He was telling me about a man they had here last week. Tumbled right off his horse and rolled down the mountain a few feet. I told him I hoped that didn’t happen to you.”
Kim gave her a saccharin-sweet smile.” Thank you very much, but I fail to see the humor.”
Mack pulled his mount closer. “Don’t worry, I’m watching the back of the trail. Lean forward when we go uphill, lean back in the saddle when we go down. Let Rosie guide you. She knows what to do.” He started to turn away. “Oh, and keep her right behind Muffin and don’t let her stop to eat. We lost the last rider who did that.”
A wry grin broke his face, then he glanced back at Jillie who flashed him a healthy smile. He tipped his hat to Kim before he turned his horse around and started toward the middle of the string. Kim turned her gaze on her so-called friend.
What’s going on here?
She kept the thought to herself. “Cute, Jillie. Now everyone will know I’m a novice.”
“Honey, everyone knew you were a novice the moment you put your little Skecher-clad foot in the stirrup.”
“Ha, ha.” Kim let her gaze fall from Jillie’s face to the pack of horses in front of her. She couldn’t help it if she didn’t own a pair of riding boots, could she? Her Skechers were as close to sporty as she owned.
“Isn’t he cute?” Jillie tossed over her shoulder, her gaze riveted to the cowboy.
“What? Who?”
Mack? And when did you make this intimate acquaintance, my friend?
“Oh. Yeah. I guess.” For a cowboy. She huffed out an exasperated breath. Cowboys, in her limited experience, were not cute. They were scruffy and dirty and rude and ill-mannered.
“The other one’s cute too, don’t you think?”
Other one? “Who?” She was beginning to sound like an owl.
“You know. Thad Winchester. The cowboy way up there in the front, leading us up into the mountain.”
She glanced to the lead horse. Ah, yes. Thad Winchester. The owner of the ranch and their leader extraordinaire. He’d certainly left a lasting impression before they’d started out. To say the least, she wasn’t impressed. He was about as cute as a porcupine and as gruff as an old grizzly. Too business-like. The way he’d shouted instructions before they’d started the trail ride, you’d have thought they were getting ready to head into battle, or something.
“So what do you think of him?” Jillie asked.
“I don’t think about him.”
“C’mon, Kim, you know what I mean.”
Rolling her eyes, she returned, “I imagine he’s about as tough as an old armadillo,” she muttered. “Cute just doesn’t jump into my mind when I look at him.”
Jillie ignored her. “Mack says their good friends. Maybe after the trail ride, the four of us could—”
Kim risked lifting her right hand into the air. “Whoa. You’re not doing this to me, Jillie. When we get out of here I’ve got a date with a hot bubble bath and a pint of Double Fudge Ripple. You’re not setting me up with half of the cowboy-stud-twosome from Durango.”
Jillie turned in her saddle.” But they’re cowboys, Kim. Honest to God cowboys.”
“Forget it.”
Kim didn’t give two hoots about any old cowboy. She’d take a suit and tie and wing tips any day. She liked a man to smell of after-shave, new leather, and squeaky clean soap. She liked a man to drive a sleek sports car, shiny and smooth, not straddle the back of an animal.
Kim required polish. Sophistication. A glimmering diamond. Preferably one who came bearing roses.
Thad Winchester just didn’t fit the bill.

UNFORGETTABLE HEROES features 8 fabulous contemporary romance novels from 8 talented authors. Get yours at any one of these retailers (iBooks coming soon!)

Friday, February 07, 2014

Renee Vincent's SILENT PARTNER, today's featured UNFORGETTABLE HERO

Renee Vincent, award winning author of historical and contemporary romance.

Today's unforgettable hero comes from Renee Vincent, and her book Silent Partner. This book is Renee's debut book into writing contemporary romance, after having penned the successful Emerald Isle Trilogy, and launching her Viking historical romance series. 

Silent Partner is about Grayson Anders, a talented Latin-style dancer and wealthy co-owner of a happening nightclub. Chloe LaRoche is a talented artist, but failing entrepreneur with her once thriving studio now on the brink of foreclosure. When the two indulge in a passionate, out-of-control, one night stand, they awaken the next morning consumed with inspiration. Grayson finds his perfect dance partner while Chloe finally finds her muse. Will her secret destroy both their dreams?

Let's take a peek into the story....

There he was.
Shaking his cute little ass on the dance floor of Gyrations, the hippest night club in downtown Boston, amid a flock of beautiful women.
Chloe had first noticed him, chatting with the bartender, when she entered the strobe-lit room and wandered up to the bar. Their discussion looked important since they were both hovered over a business calendar. But, once a change of song had happened, he skirted away from the conversation with a look of intent on his face—probably to score one of the many loose women who had caught his eye earlier in the night.
She couldn’t tell which one he was looking to get lucky with as there were so many dancing around him, their barely-there clothes shimmering underneath the illuminating black light, each one competing for his attention. She didn’t blame them. He was quite possibly the sexiest man she’d ever seen.
He wore sleek, black, painted-on leather pants, a tight white tank, and a have-your-fill-of-me grin on his handsome face. He was enjoying himself—that was for certain—as he moved his body to the beat of the booming bass, his hips looking as if they were dislocated from the rest of him.
Oh, he knew how to dance—quite well—and he was not afraid to show it among the many who crammed into the joint. In fact, he held many people’s attention—not just hers—as if he had a reputation to live up to. As if the status of ‘the best male dancer’ was up for grabs.
She didn’t think there was such an event going on at the crowded nightspot, but she would definitely cast her vote in his favor if there was. No one in the place could even come close to matching his abilities. His steps were graceful, his rhythm was spot on, and his lithe muscular body moved in ways she didn’t think possible. His hips entranced every female in the club, and probably infuriated every male who was left holding up the bar.
Chloe gazed around the trendy, atmospheric room and took in the many grievous faces of the men standing in random corners, drinks in hand, their attention focused. She assumed they were all either watching Casanova in hopes of learning something, or, more likely, waiting for him to make a move on their girlfriends just so they could have a reason to open a can of whup-ass and vent their jealousies.
As she glanced back at Mr. Gyration, he was now grinding against some blonde’s tight-jeaned derriere, his hands on her hips as though he was having sex with her. She noticed the bimbo’s expressive face, her lips parted and her eyes half-closed from the pleasures he was dishing out, and it was obvious the girl wished he’d get into her pants before the night was over.
Chloe sighed and looked away, tossing back a shot of Tequila, knowing the only way she was going to get ‘lucky’ tonight was if she awoke tomorrow morning without a horrendous hangover. At this point in the game, she didn’t look beyond her next shot, and let the burn of the alcohol soothe her troubled mind.
She was two drinks in and raised her hand for another.
The bartender, cool and confident, opened the broad-bottomed bottle of Patrón and leaned toward her, his weight casually resting on one elbow. “You sure ‘bout this, honey?”
Of course she was sure. She wouldn’t have ordered it to begin with had she been apprehensive about the drink’s potential. She knew well what the hard liquor could do, and since she was there for one thing and one thing only, she had high hopes it would soon help her to forget her worries and drown her stress.
She was an artist—a starving artist. If she didn’t find a way to sell more of her paintings, she was going to lose everything. Her shop. Her home. Her life.
Every little bit of her savings had gone toward the funding of her big dream. And for a while, things looked promising. Her paintings were moving out the door on a relatively regular basis. Her biggest clients had been young, wealthy doctors and lawyers who aimed to spruce up their bachelor penthouse pads with risqué nudity in an artistic form. On occasion, she had even locked in a few hairdressers who wanted the more tasteful pieces for their salons.
But those avenues had soon run dry.
Word of mouth had only gone so far, and with the changing economy, no one was willing to spend their hard-earned money on needless fine art. If she didn’t figure out a way to stimulate the public’s senses enough to open their wallets, she would have to give up her small independent business and kiss her entrepreneur life goodbye.
With a flip of her hand, she gestured for the concerned bartender to pour another shot, fixed on the goal of drinking away her problems.
“This may look like water, darlin’, and go down just as smooth, but it ain’t so easy on the body once it hits your head.” He looked her over, as if measuring her determination, and after a few seconds, he popped the cork-lined glass top. “What do I care, huh? As long as you’re paying…”
“You shouldn’t care at all, Jack, especially if I’m footing the bill. And make that two.”
Chloe looked to her left upon feeling something brush against her arm. To her surprise, it was Mr. Gyration, flipping a twenty on the bar.
Her stomach fluttered and she lost all sense of herself. Being on the receiving end of that cocky smile really did a number on her heart. As her breath staggered out of her, all she could do was smile in return.
She glanced at the crisp Jackson resting next to her shot glass, appreciative of his generosity. At least he was trying to be a gentleman, which was completely opposite of the impression he had made on her from the dance floor. She could only hope he’d continue to be that way, for she had no intention of tolerating anything less.
“You’re a pretty little thing,” he said, leaning against the bar. “A girl like you shouldn’t be anywhere alone. Especially here.”
“Easy Don Juan,” Jack interrupted as he slammed another shot of Tequila on the slick lacquered wood of the bar. “She’s new.”
“I can see that.”

Chloe had to look away. His devilish smile was too much to handle. And even though a warning had slipped from the bartender’s lips, Mr. Gyration didn’t seem to care. He stared at her with such hunger, she half expected him to growl like an animal if some other man-whore got too close.
Silent Partner is one story in the UNFORGETTABLE HEROES boxed set, now priced at 99 cents, for a limited time. Get it cheap while you can!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Can love be measured in frequent flier miles? LONG DISTANCE LOVE by Margaret Ethridge

Margaret Ethridge, contemporary romance fan favorite and TMP top-selling author of Commitment.

I have been in love with Jack and Ellie, from Margaret Ethridge's Long Distance Love, when I read her first short story featuring the couple a few years back. A series of short stories later, and the novel Long Distance Love was born, telling the story of love "on the fly." 

Long Distance Love—Sometimes the distance between two hearts can be measured in frequent flier miles. Love may be a many splendored thing, but it’s rarely convenient. Can FBI Agent Jack Rudolph and fiercely independent Ellie Nichols find a way to make a long distance relationship work?

An excerpt from Concourse Christmas:

How can something so beautiful be such a pain in the ass?
A torrent of fat flakes tumbled past soundproof glass. Ellie Nichols squinted, staring past her own reflection into the curtain of falling snow. An ever-thickening layer of white covered the tarmac and blanketed the hulking shape of the abandoned plane at the end of the Jetway.
She heaved a heavy sigh, her fingers tightening around her cell phone. The smooth plastic casing slid in her sweaty palm. Ellie dragged her gaze from the desolate scene, sneaking a quick glance out of the corner of her eye at the man seated across the crowded waiting area.
Creepy or cute?
She feigned interest in the television monitor mounted in the corner. The closed captioning scrolled across the bottom of the screen. A well-groomed man in a sharp suit waved a futile hand at the map, no doubt bemoaning his ineptitude in predicting the Canadian cold front that precipitated this Christmas Eve storm.
She huffed and turned back to the window. Another ten gazillion flakes drifted to the ground, each one unique, and each one seemingly hell bent on keeping her from reaching Chicago.
Ellie smirked. Yeah, it’s all about me.
She stole another peek at the guy down the row. His legs were crossed at the ankles. Scuffed brown shoes the size of small pleasure crafts anchored him to the floor. Mile-and-a-half-long legs encased in faded jeans stretched across the aisle. A cranberry colored Henley spanned broad shoulders, the pushed up sleeves revealing strong forearms crossed over a nicely muscled chest. Her gaze traveled a little higher. He was staring straight at her. Again.
Okay, creepy.
Ellie met his stare head-on. She was rewarded with a pink flush that lit the tips of his ears and seeped into his cheeks.
Oh, cute.
She blinked and refocused her attention to the monitor just beyond the cute guy’s shoulder. Her phone vibrated, making her jump. She fumbled with the phone as a tinny version of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas Is You’ rang out.
“Hello?” She shook her head and glanced at the departure monitor again. “No, still delayed, Mom.”
Her mother launched into a bleak weather report from the Windy City. Ducking her head, Ellie gnawed her bottom lip as she battled back a wave of frustration and disappointment.
“Okay, well, nothing’s been canceled yet.” She hazarded another glance at the screen and clung to her last shred of hope. “I’ll keep you posted,” she promised before ending the call.
Ellie’s stomach growled. She checked the time, tucked the phone into her handbag, and stood, tugging the hem of her sweater over her hips.
The tiny hairs at the nape of her neck prickled. Ellie didn’t need to sneak another peek to know the guy was watching her when she reached for her carry-on bag. The handle snapped into place. Her fingers curled around smooth plastic and she mustered up a little bravado.
Like what you see, Mr. Talldarkandlackinginsocialskills?
She boldly met his eyes when she passed, and apparently he did like. The heat of his gaze followed her from the seating area. Ellie tossed her head as she waded into the milling crowd on the concourse, a pang of regret sharpening the hunger pangs needling her stomach. The haircut had been an impulse—a lark, a declaration of independence—but for the first time in two weeks she missed having a curtain of hair to hide behind.
Jack tensed when the young woman in the bright green sweater skirted his outstretched legs. He stared after her. He couldn’t stop staring at her, and staring at her was driving him crazy. He wanted to chalk his interest up to boredom, but he found cataloging her every movement and mannerism far too captivating to be bored.
The fascination baffled him. She wasn’t his type at all. He liked his women long-stemmed and light—both in appearance and in attitude. With her close-cropped cap of dark hair, clingy green sweater, and thick-fringed emerald stare, this girl looked more like a Christmas elf.
She’s no bigger than an elf.
He eyed the petite woman teetering down the concourse. His mouth watered. Without conscious thought, his knees bent. The soles of his shoes hit the floor and he stood. As if an invisible fishing line tugged at his belt buckle, he took off after her.
Way to take the bait, buddy. Hook, line, and sinker.
Tall leather boots with toothpick heels molded to shapely calves. He envied that soft, supple leather. An unbearable surge of jealousy washed through him when he noted the way the long, snug sweater cupped her delectable bottom. She weaved her way toward a stand of fast-food outlets and he followed, mesmerized by the gentle undulation of rounded hips.
She barely spared him a glance when he strolled into the food court. Instead, she studied the lighted menu above the sub sandwich counter with an intensity that made him smile. Jack slipped into the line extending from the miniature Burger King counter, hanging back just enough to be able to keep an eye on her.
Twenty-five? Thirty?
She frowned. Her fingers fluttered through her hair.
No ring.
She pulled her wallet from the bag and tucked her chin to her chest as she thumbed through its contents.
Oh, God, is that a birthmark behind her ear?
Until that moment, he’d never been a fan of short hair on a woman, but that tiny strawberry smudge behind her right ear changed his opinion irrevocably. As if sensing his stare, she glanced at him. He almost tripped over his own feet in his haste to turn away.
Good. Nice and smooth. She’ll be filing stalking charges within the hour.
Jack stared at the menu board, steadfastly refusing to risk another peek for a full two minutes. She stepped up to the counter and began to order. He moved to his left, straining to pick up the sound of her voice amidst the hubbub. He shifted a little more but had to jump back when the man ahead of him tried to run over Jack’s foot with a roller bag.
The woman at the counter looked at him expectantly. The teenager in line with him muttered, “You gonna order or what?”
He ordered his usual combo number by rote. Once his receipt was in hand, Jack carefully walked to the opposite side of the common beverage station, determined to put a half-dozen travelers and an island of carbonated syrup between them while he waited for his dinner.
Jack pretended not to notice when she claimed her sandwich. He told himself the click-click-click of heels and wheels on the tile floor could belong to anyone. He sternly reminded himself that there was nothing interesting about the tumble of ice cubes falling from the dispenser, and absolutely nothing sexy about the soft psssht the beverage fountain released.
Get a grip, Jackie. A grip. Boy, I’d like to get a grip. I’d unwrap that pretty little package….
“Dude, your food!” The lanky teenager nudged Jack’s arm with his bony elbow.
Jack grunted. “Dude, I’ve got it.” He surged forward to retrieve the bag and cup the counter attendant waved in his direction. Still muttering under his breath, he filled the cup with enough ice to sink the Titanic and chose the least caffeinated drink available in hopes of calming his jangled nerves.
He zigzagged his way through the lines of hungry passengers to the dining area strung along the edge of the concourse. Every table was taken. Only three chairs remained unclaimed, and one of them happened to be opposite his elf.
Jack closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. “Well, it’s no star in the East, but what can you do?” he muttered under his breath.
“Is this seat taken?”
Absorbed in the task of redistributing the mayonnaise on her sandwich with a plastic fork, Ellie jumped when she realized the question had been directed at her. She looked up and her eyes widened in surprise as she spotted Mr. Talldarkandnotsosmooth leaning close.
She reared back slightly, staring into the deepest, darkest bittersweet-chocolate-brown eyes she’d ever seen. Ellie groped for her voice and found it lodged somewhere in her throat. She swallowed hard then murmured, “That depends.”
Thick eyebrows rose. “On?”
“Are you going to keep staring at me while I’m trying to eat?”
A delicate pink rose high in his cheeks, contrasting with the coarse black stubble that shadowed his jaw. A wide, blindingly white smile revealed a devastating dimple.
“I can’t guarantee that I won’t.”
Ellie glanced down at the partially disassembled sandwich spread on the wrapper in front of her. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and attempted a nonchalant shrug, pulling the wrapper a little closer to free up a few more inches of space.
“Well, you can tell me if I get mayonnaise on my chin.”
“I will. I promise.” He slid into the chair across from her, depositing his bag and cup and groaning as his laptop bag slithered to the ground at his feet. He nodded to the nearest gate area. “What a mess, huh?”
Ellie busied herself with the precise realignment of three anemic-looking tomato slices. “Yep.”
Mr. Talldarkanddimpled extracted a cardboard sandwich box and a giant container of fries from the bag. Ellie watched through lowered lashes as he tore into packet after packet of ketchup, pooling their contents on a raft of paper napkins.
“Where are you headed?” he asked.
She looked up, arching one challenging eyebrow. “Home for Christmas.”
He chuckled and shook his head. A self-deprecating smile made that dimple wink at her again. Mr. Talldarkcondimentabuser wiped his fingers on another napkin and extended his hand.
“I’m Jack Rudolph.”
Ellie eyed that large hand speculatively. His long fingers reached for her, his broad palm exposed and vulnerable. She glanced up and he twitched one eyebrow in silent challenge. She placed her hand in his. Those long, strong fingers closed around hers. He didn’t release her right away, so she fell back on the only weapon a vertically challenged woman has when faced with a formidable opponent and without a shield of hair to flip.
“Rudolph?” She blinked at him then fluttered her lashes. “Can I bribe you to guide my sleigh tonight?”
His deep, easy laugh rumbled through her. “Possibly,” he answered with a grin.
Ellie extracted her hand from his grasp. Her grandmother’s voice echoed in her head.
Good Lord, Eleanor, would it kill you to be a little friendly? You’re far too prickly for such a pretty girl. You’re thirty-two years old. Aren’t you ever going to get married?
Her ears burned. A rush of shame and humiliation raced through her veins. She fumbled with her sub sandwich, slapping both halves back together then flattening one with the palm of her hand.
“I’m sorry. I bet you got that a lot when you were a kid,” she murmured, sneaking a peek at him through her lashes.
A slow, wicked smile curved his lips. Her throat went dry but she’d swear her bones melted into a steaming pool of goo. His chuckle steamrolled whatever was left. “A few times, but I have to admit I’m tempted to try it for you.”

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