Read an Excerpt
A Sugar City Novella
By Ophelia London, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Mary A. Smith
All rights reserved.
If the universe was keeping score, it would be Universe: 2 Sharona Blaire: 0
This is so not my day.
Though technically, today had begun thirty-six hours ago.
Her current condition could be blamed on turbulence and the guy in the seat next to her who'd been making nonstop jokes since he'd boarded in Brisbane about this being Sharona's first trip to "the bush."
While gripping a Bloody Mary in one hand, she just needed to stretch her legs after the million-hour flight from Miami. She hadn't meant to wander into first class; it was the siren call — or rather scent — of warm chocolate chip cookies that drew her that way.
No one got cookies in coach.
After receiving the stink eye from a hovering flight attendant, Sharona was just about to return to her seat when a jolt of turbulence rocked the plane and the scary Fasten Seat Belts light illuminated. So, obviously she hadn't meant to spill her tomato juice concoction on the guy wearing a sleep mask in 3A.
Most of it landed on her, anyway ...
"I'm so sorry," Sharona panic-whispered as stink-eye flight attendant took her by the elbow and ushered her up the aisle, back to her seat. She was pretty sure the man heard her rushed apology because there were definite vocal clues that he was now wide awake. Once she was strapped in, the flight attendant tossed Sharona a few napkin squares to lap up the Bloody Mary splattered all over her shirt like a crime scene. When it was obvious she was only making it worse, she sat back, closed her eyes, and tried very hard to ignore her seatmate the rest of the way to Sydney.
Maybe it was karma who saw fit that her suitcase was stuck in Brisbane, even though Sharona hadn't disembarked there. But karma was such a bitch. So, with her wheelie carry-on bag squeaking behind her, she was forced to stroll — as nonchalantly as possible — through Sydney International Airport, grab a cab, and check into her hotel room ... all while looking like she'd just stabbed someone. Awesome.
Two hours later, Sharona curled one hand around the stem of her glass while the other tugged at her too-short hem. What had possessed her to purchase a little black dress instead of a practical outfit she would wear again after tonight, she still couldn't fathom.
She took in the dimly lit bar, the business meetings, vacationing couples, and other hotel guests. It wasn't late, but she felt herself craving a huge, slack-jawed yawn and to inconspicuously lay her head on the mahogany bar and pass out. According to her internal clock, it was the day after tomorrow.
Her travel arrangements had been so sudden that she hadn't figured out the time zone difference.
Let's see ... if it was 10:00 a.m. when I left Miami, and we flew ahead fourteen hours, plus crossed over the International Date Line, and the Bermuda Triangle ... what is the exact Greenwich Mean Time?
Wow. The math was way too exhausting. This might be her one and only free night in Sydney, however, and she refused to spend it crashed out in her hotel room with the blackout shades drawn.
Oh, but how lovely did those blinds sound? And she was pretty sure there might still be some tomato juice in her ear.
Instead of crawling back to her hotel room and crashing, she should have been preparing for tomorrow. She'd scanned the files Garry sent with her on the plane, but when she'd tried to do an additional internet search about the head of the research team she'd been sent to meet, her stomach had decided to do the airsick tap dance. The remainder of the nineteen-hour flight over the ocean had been spent gripping her seat while talking herself out of losing her lunch. And the Bloody Mary incident had done nothing to boost her mood.
A happy-looking couple beside her clinked wineglasses and started in on the "Cheers, darling," "Oh, cheers to you, darling," routine. Maybe hanging at a bar wasn't such a hot idea. Since breaking off her engagement six months ago, she'd spent the appropriate amount of time being bitter. Once that faded, she'd decided she could do very well without the whole relationship thing.
Yet here she was, sitting in a bar attempting to be social instead of working.
"Aw, screw it," she said aloud, already imagining the pleasure of unzipping her dress, kicking it to the floor, and crawling into bed "au naturel," seeing as how she still hadn't received her lost suitcase.
Just as she held up her glass, about to down the rest of her tall Long Island iced tea, her elbow bashed into something rock hard.
"Whoa, there. Careful."
Sharona jerked and swiveled around, in the process, spilling her drink down the front of the person behind her.
"Oh, gosh, damn — I'm sorry!" She grabbed a coaster napkin off the bar and dabbed at the spot on the white button-down shirt that was now soaking wet.
"No worries." The voice was deep, and as she slid her gaze up from the wet chest to the face, she caught a pair of piercing blue eyes.
Hello, gorgeous ...
"Hi," she said, getting that silly, short of breath sensation.
The bright eyes paired with a crooked smile knocked her even more breathless. His grin was an interesting cross between Han Solo and Thor. Wowzers. Straight white teeth flashed behind the smile, and a five-o'clock-shadowed jaw — sharp enough to slice deli meat — made the whole visual package about an inch above Hollywood perfection. Before she could hear "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," the guy glanced down at her hand, which was more or less stroking his damp chest with a mind of its own.
"Sorry." She pulled it back and dropped the napkin. "I can't believe I did that twice in one day."
"Twice?" he said, a single eyebrow arching, again with the Han Solo charisma. "We just met."
She shouldn't have been surprised at his thick Australian accent. She did love an accent. Even the twangy drawls from Texas — that made every man sound like Rhett Butler — made Sharona uncharacteristically swoony.
"I meant that's the second time today I spilled my drink on a stranger," she explained, tucking some of her long dark hair behind an ear, then pushing her mostly empty glass all the way to the back of the bar. It only held a few chunks of ice, but why give karma any ammo? "You're number two, but the first was on an unfortunate passenger on my flight. Tomato juice — tragically. And the glass was full to the rim."
It was easy to laugh off the embarrassing event now, since there was no one in the bar that would know about it.
The guy's big blue eyes held on her for a long moment, and then he chuckled and leaned against the bar. He had broader-than-average shoulders, and with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up, she caught a pair of very impressive, suntanned arms. Her eyes were having a hard time deciding which place to focus.
Arms ... eyes ... shoulders ... eyes ... arms ... eyes ... mouth ... oh, mouth ...
"So ..." He cut into her thoughts. "That was you, eh?"
Sharona blinked. "What?"
He brushed at his collar like he was dusting off lint. "At first I thought I was dreaming, because why would it be raining on an airplane? Unless the tropical weather followed us from Miami."
As his words slowly processed, it felt like the floor was sliding out from under her. And she had nothing to grab onto but his arm. "You're not serious." She held on tight, without thinking. "You're who I ... on the ...?"
He nodded. "And it wasn't just tomato juice. I definitely tasted vodka."
"No ..." Heat of mortification began creeping up her neck, no doubt accompanied by the attractive blotchy, red flush she'd worn like a banner since her awkward adolescence stage. "I can't believe I ..."
He chuckled, then patted her hand that was still death-gripping his arm. A second later, she had the good sense to remove it.
"I heard you apologize," he said, "but by the time I got off my mask, you were gone."
"I'm so sorry. Please let me pay your dry-cleaning bill or ... whatever you want me to do — just name it and I'll do it, I'll ... No, I mean ..." She paused to blow her hair back from her face; now even her ears felt hot.
"Okay, this is officially the most humiliating day of my life."
His crooked smile turned into a laugh, a deep, manly sound. Its vibration registered at the back of Sharona's neck by way of delicate pinpricks, reminding her that she hadn't felt those kinds of pinpricks in a long time.
"You seem all right now. Not a drop of Bloody Mary." He eyed her dress, lingering on the low cut of the neckline.
"That's because the airline lost my bag and this outfit is brand new." She recrossed her legs, a bit more pleased with her wardrobe choice. "They swore it'd be delivered tonight. I grabbed this at the hotel gift shop, the shoes and everything, so I wouldn't mistakenly get arrested for murder. I should've bought jeans instead of" — she waved down at herself — "all this."
"I think you look ... very nice." The way he said it, with a slight pause and that sexy accent, made Sharona forget all about jet lag. Instead, she was on high flirt alert.
"Thanks. I keep expecting to get a phone call any second that my bags are here. Actually ..." She picked up her cell from the bar, reading the calendar event that had just popped up. She needed to remember to call Natalie.
"That the airline then?" His blue gaze darted to her phone.
"Reminder to call my best friend. It's her birthday tomorrow." She bit her lip. "Or today ... I'm not sure of the time difference."
He laughed, sending another shock of pinpricks up her neck.
Hmm, if he keeps holding this kind of close eye contact with me, goodness knows what I'll do. Before her mind had the chance to wander too far, another of her teenage nervous habits took over, and thus commenced a burst of flirt-babble.
"No matter what time it is back home, I could probably call Natalie and she'd be awake. She's always awake when she's busy with work stuff — though I call it obsessed. She just started a new project and she's pretty passionate about it — obsessed, right? Or, you know, it could be all the sugar."
"Sugar?" Blue Eyes asked, shifting a few inches closer. The movement slowed her down, though her heart skipped a beat.
"Yes, she, um, she works at the Hershey factory and gets to be around chocolate all day."
"Ahh, dream job." He gave her a knowing nod, the front of his wavy, dark hair falling across his forehead.
"For Natalie, pretty much. I talked to her a few days ago. She's having, um ... emotional challenges with a new guy on her research team." She bent toward him like they were sharing a secret, twirling a strand of hair. "She had a major crush on him in high school, and now he's got her all" — she caught his eye — "hot and bothered, you know?"
In response, he cocked an eyebrow. "I do know. Though it's not a brilliant move to mix business and pleasure." He stared forward for a moment, then back at her as he ran a finger along the rim of his glass. "But I wonder how long I could resist if I were surrounded by something as tempting as chocolate."
"Agreed." Sharona laughed and set her phone on the bar, drumming her fingers on the face. "It's annoying though, not having my luggage. I've got an early job tomorrow and have to leave first thing. In and out, then back home. "
"You're only here for one night?" he asked, waving to the bartender, then pointing at Sharona's drink to refill. He was suave, this one.
She nodded slowly, wondering what she should read into his question.
"In and out, eh? Your career sounds interesting."
The one thing Sharona did not want to talk about was her job. "It's not really. What about you? Traveling on business" — she paused to shrug — "or pleasure?"
Well, that's not cliché at all.
She'd always been pretty crap at making flirty chitchat with strangers. But something about being halfway around the world made her feel ... unencumbered. Or maybe it was the effects of her Long Island iced tea combined with his dreamy, ocean-blue eyes.
"I grew up not far from Sydney," he said. "But I'm also here just for the night." He lifted his glass and took a drink. Beer. Manly, no flare. She liked that. She also liked how he wasn't forthcoming with his personal info, either. It made the exchange more ... mysterious — dangerous — yet it also felt safe to not know anything.
She'd been meaning to have an adventure, to bust out and get back to living, like Natalie had been begging her to do for the last few months. Hooking up with a tall, dark stranger in a bar wasn't anywhere on her to-do list, but as she eyed those broad shoulders, the thick neck, strong-looking hands, and gorgeous mouth ...
What the hell, maybe he should be on the top of her "to-do" list.
She didn't have a ton of experience with the whole casual-sex thing. Okay, zero experience. But wasn't she due a little excitement after the sucky last few months? She glanced up at him through her lashes and when their eyes met, she giggled at the sexy place her mind had jumped.
"What?" he asked, tipping his head toward her. Man ... he even smelled delicious.
"I was about to say something like, 'What a coincidence we're both here for one night,' but since it's a hotel, it's not coincidental in the slightest."
"Think of it this way," he rubbed a fist under his square jaw, "if we hadn't been on the same flight or at the same hotel, you would've had no one to spill your drinks on."
"Sorry, again," she said, touching his arm. That rock of a bicep. She could squeeze it all day.
When she purposefully didn't remove her hand after the socially acceptable amount of beats, he glanced at it for a moment, then his gaze drifted north to her lips.
Her mouth started to water as heat tiptoed up her spine, tingling at the nape of her neck. Was it the idea of kissing him — a total stranger — or was it the thought of doing something even semireckless after twenty-six years of playing it safe?
She could practically hear Natalie's voice in her head: In the real world, people have one-night stands all the time. Go on, girl. Live a little!
Why had Sharona always been so uptight about that sort of thing? Always needing a committed relationship — or at least the assurance that the commitment was on the horizon — before any fun, naked time. She'd been careful like that in her last relationship, and that had exploded in her face ... an on-going explosion, actually.
Blue Eyes eased onto the bar stool at her side, and his knee pressed against her bare leg, at the same time, he reached for a napkin, brushing her hand. Whether the moves were intentional or not, another excited shiver sizzled at the back of her neck, heat unfolding inch by inch. Up close, he smelled even more amazing — and were those tiny freckles splashed across his nose?
She'd never thought this about a real-life man before, but ... this guy was spectacular. Never had she experienced such intense, instant chemistry, not even with the man she almost freakin' married.
"So," Blue Eyes said, just before Sharona could get angry about Garry all over again, "you're passing through Sydney but you won't tell me why." He leaned one of his toned arms on the bar. "You know that makes you irresistibly mysterious."
Sharona opened her mouth, ready to launch in about her assignment and the stress and terror and baggage that went along with it. But then she wondered if it might be more interesting to play the cryptic card for once. After all, it could be fun pretending to be something she wasn't for one night.
Whether the responsible side of her would have the guts to go through with anything past flirting was another story.
"Mysterious," she echoed, toying with the ends of her hair like she'd seen Natalie do. "You couldn't have described me better, Blue Eyes."
"You're making that up!"
Jeff couldn't help laughing as the woman at his side tossed her head and giggled, shoving him playfully on the shoulder. He hadn't meant to park himself next to the curvy brunette two hours ago, but oh, how revved he was now.
Excerpted from Love Bites by Ophelia London, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2014 Mary A. Smith. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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