Finding herself responsible for her troubled sister's newborn son, advice columnist Ella Varner is determined to track down the baby's father so she can get back to her own life. The first of her sister's former dates she confronts is Houston playboy, Jack Travis-who disarms her with his charm and sincerity. Her growing affection for both the baby and Jack throws her ordered life and her relationship with her boyfriend, Dane, into upheaval. Emily Durante provides a polished reading; her voice is smooth and pleasing, but her light tone and youthful manner of speaking would be better matched with a younger character than this book's strong heroine. A St. Martin's hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 2). (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Smooth Talking Strangerby Lisa Kleypas
Jack Travis leads the uncomplicated life of a millionaire Texas playboy. He makes no commitments, he loves many women, he lives for pleasure. But no one has ever truly touched his heart or soul. Until one day, a woman appears on his doorstep with fury on her face and a baby in her arms. It seems Jack is the father and this woman is the baby's aunt. The real mother has abandoned the child to her more responsible sister. And now, Jack is being called upon to take responsibility for the first time in his life. With delicious romantic tension, characters so real they walk onto the page and into your heart, Lisa Kleypas delivers the kind of novel that makes you laugh, love; cry and cheer ...in Smooth Talking Stranger.
“A romantic novel with considerable depth.” Brazosport Facts
“Kleypas's clever pairing of a testosterone-rich hero and a wonderfully endearing heroine gives her latest romance its irresistibly sexy flavor …[a] richly rewarding story of love, commitment, and family.” Booklist
“Masterfully crafted…extraordinarily real. Readers will be thinking about these superb characters long after closing the pages and rushing out to grab everything Kleypas has ever written.” Romantic Times BOOKreviews
“Intelligent and gripping…Smooth Talking Stranger is sharp, sexy and will keep you captivated from beginning to end.” ArmchairInterviews.com
“Filled with charm, wit, and an interesting and adult love story…Kleypas comes out on top again!” ARomanceReview.com
“Simply irresistible.” Likesbooks.com
Read an Excerpt
"Don't get," I said as I heard the ringtone of our apartment phone. Call it a premonition, paranoia, but something about that sound severed every comfortable feeling I had managed to stitch around myself.
"It's a 281 number," my boyfriend Dane said, sautéing tofu in a pan, dumping in a can of organic tomato sauce. Dane was a vegan, which meant we used soy protein in place of ground beef in our chili. It was enough to make any native-born Texan cry, but for Dane's sake I was trying to get used to it. "I can see it on the caller ID."
281. Houston. Those three digits were enough to start me hyperventilating. "It's either my mother or my sister," I said desperately. "Let the machine pick up." I hadn't spoken to either of them in at least two years.
Pausing in the act of stirring a handful of frozen veggie crumbles into the sauce, Dane said, "You can't run away from your fears. Isn't that what you always tell your readers?"
I was an advice columnist for Vibe, a magazine about relation-ships and sex and urban culture. My column, called "Ask Miss Independent," had started at a student-run publication, and I had quickly developed a following. Upon graduating, I'd taken Miss Independent to Vibe, and they offered me a weekly feature. Most of my advice was posted publicly, but I also sent private paid-for replies to those who requested it. To supplement my income, I also did occasional freelancing for women's magazines.
"I'm not running away from my fears," I told Dane. "I'm running away from my relatives."
"Just pick it up, Ella. You always tell people to face their problems."
"Yes, but I prefer to ignore mine and let them fester." I sidled closer to the phone and recognized the number. "Oh God. It's Mom."
"Go on," Dane said. "What's the worst that could happen?"
I stared at the phone with fearful loathing. "In the space of thirty seconds, she could say something that would send me back to therapy indefinitely."
"If you don't find out what she wants," Dane said, "you'll worry about it all night."
I let out an explosive breath and snatched up the phone. "Hello?"
"Ella. This is an emergency!"
To my mother, Candy Varner, everything was an emergency. She was a shock-and-awe parent, the ultimate drama queen. But she had covered it up so adeptly that few people suspected what went on behind closed doors. She had demanded her daughters' collusion in the myth of our happy family life, and Tara and I had given it to her without question.
At times Mom wanted interaction with my younger sister and me, but she quickly became impatient and surly. We learned to watch for every sign that would indicate the fluctuations of her mood. We had been storm chasers, trying to stay close to the twister without getting swept up in it.
I headed to the living room, away from Dane and the clatter of pans. "How are you, Mom? What's going on?"
"I just told you. An emergency! Tara came to visit today. Just appeared with no warning. She has a baby."
"Her own baby?"
"What would she be doing with someone else's baby? Yes, it's hers. You didn't know she was pregnant?"
"No," I managed to say, groping for the back of the sofa. I propped myself against it, half-sitting, half-leaning. I felt sick to my stomach. "I didn't. We haven't been in touch."
"When was the last time you picked up the phone to call her? Have you thought about either of us, Ella? Your only family? Do we have any place on your list of priorities?"
I was struck mute, my heart pounding like a dryer full of wet sneakers as an awful-familiar feeling from my childhood settled over me. But I was no longer a child. Reminding myself that I was a woman with a college degree, a career, a steady boyfriend, and a circle of good friends, I managed to answer calmly, "I sent cards."
"They weren't sincere. That last Mother's Day card didn't say one word about all the things I did for you while you were growing up. All the happy times."
I clasped my hand to my forehead in the hopes that it would keep my brain from exploding. "Mom, is Tara there now?"
"Would I be calling you if she was? She—" My mother was cut off by the angry wail of an infant in the background. "Can you hear what I'm dealing with? She left it here, Ella! She's gone! What am I supposed to do?"
"Did she say when she was coming back?"
"And there was no guy with her? Did she say who the father was?"
"I don't think she knows. She has ruined her life, Ella. No man will ever want her after this."
"You might be surprised," I said. "A lot of unmarried women have babies nowadays."
"There's still a stigma. You know what I went through to keep that from happening to you and Tara."
"After your last husband," I said, "I think we would have preferred the stigma."
Her tone turned icy. "Roger was a good man. That marriage would have lasted if you and Tara had ever learned to get along with him. It wasn't my fault that my own children drove him away. He loved you girls, and you never gave him a chance."
I rolled my eyes. "Roger loved us a little too much, Mom."
"What do you mean?"
"We had to sleep with a chair wedged against the door to keep him out of our bedroom at night. And I don't think he was planning to straighten our covers."
"That's all in your own mind. No one believes you when you say things like that, Ella."
"Tara believes me."
"She doesn't remember anything about Roger," my mother informed me triumphantly. "Not anything at all."
"Does that strike you as normal, Mom? To have large episodes of your childhood blocked out completely? Don't you think she should remember something about Roger?"
"I think it's a sign that she's been doing drugs or drinking. Those things run on your father's side."
"It's also a sign of childhood trauma or abuse. Mom, are you sure Tara didn't just go to the store?"
"Yes, I'm sure. She left a goodbye note."
"Have you tried her cell phone?"
"Of course I did! She won't answer." My mother was nearly choking with impatience. "I gave up the best years of my life taking care of you. I'm not going through it again. I'm too young to have a grandbaby. I don't want anyone to know about this. You come get it before anyone sees him, Ella! Do something with this baby or I'll give it to Social Services."
I blanched as I heard the edge in her voice, knowing it wasn't an empty threat. "Don't do anything," I said. "Don't give the baby to anyone. I'll be there in a few hours."
"I'm going to have to cancel a date to night," she said darkly.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I'm coming. I'm leaving right now. Just hold down the fort. Wait, okay?"
The phone clicked. I was anxious and trembling, the air-conditioned breeze glancing off my neck and making me shiver.
A baby, I thought miserably. Tara's baby.
I trudged into the kitchen. "Until this moment," I said, "I thought the worst thing that could happen to night was your cooking."
Dane had taken the skillet off the burner. He was pouring something bright orange into a martini glass. Turning, he handed it to me, his green eyes warm with friendly sympathy. "Have some."
I took a swallow of gingery-sweet gruel and grimaced. "Thanks. I was just thinking I needed a good stiff slug of carrot juice." I set aside the glass. "But I'd better take it easy. I have to drive tonight."
As I looked into Dane's concerned face, the calmness of him, the sanity of him, was like being wrapped in a soft blanket. He was casually handsome, blond, and lean, with the perpetual toasted-and-salted scruffiness of someone who had just come in from the beach. Most of the time Dane dressed in denim and hemp and enviro-sandals, as if he were perpetually ready for a spontaneous trip to some equatorial region. If you'd asked Dane to describe his perfect vacation, it would have been some survivalist trek through an exotic jungle, equipped with only a nylon water bag and a pocket knife.
Although Dane had never met my mother or sister, I had told him a lot about them, furtively unearthing memories like fragile artifacts. It wasn't easy to talk about my past, any part of it. I had managed to trust Dane with the basics: my parents had divorced and my father had left us when I was five. All I heard of my dad after that was that he had gotten a new wife, new children, and there was no place for Tara and me in his second time around.
Regardless of his failure as a dad, I could hardly blame him for wanting to escape. It bothered me, however, that my father knew what kind of parent he had left us alone with. Maybe he reasoned that daughters were better off with their mothers. Maybe he had hoped my mother would get better over time. Or maybe he feared one or both of his daughters would turn out exactly like her, and that was not something he could handle.
There had been no significant man in my life until I had met Dane at the University of Texas. He was always gentle, reading my signals, never demanding too much. He made me feel safe for the first time ever.
And yet for all that, there was something missing between us, something that nagged at me like a pebble that had worked its way into my shoe. What ever that missing thing was, it kept Dane and me from reaching absolute closeness.
As we stood in the apartment kitchen, Dane put a warm hand on my shoulder. The shaky-cold feeling began to subside. "From what I was able to hear," Dane said, "Tara dumped off a surprise baby with your mother, who's planning to sell it on eBay."
"Social Ser vices," I said. "She hasn't thought of eBay yet."
"What does she expect you to do?"
"She wants me to take the baby off her hands," I said, wrapping my arms around myself. "I don't think she's given much thought to anything beyond that."
"No one knows where Tara is?"
I shook my head.
"Want me to go with you?" he asked gently.
"No," I said, almost before he could finish the question. "You have too much to do here." Dane had started his own environmental monitoring equipment company, and business was expanding almost too fast for him to handle. It would be difficult for him to take the time off. "Besides," I said, "I don't know how long it will take to find Tara, or what shape she'll be in when I do."
"What if you get stuck with this kid? No, let me rephrase—what are you going to do to avoid being stuck with this kid?"
"Maybe I could just bring it here for a few days? Just long enough to—"
Dane was shaking his head firmly. "Don't bring it here, Ella. No babies."
I gave him a dark look. "What if it were a baby polar bear or a baby Galápagos penguin? I bet you'd want it then."
"I'd make an exception for endangered species," he allowed.
"This baby is endangered. It's with my mother."
"Go to Houston and take care of the situation. I'll be waiting for you when you come back." Dane paused and added firmly, "Alone." Turning to the stove, he picked up the pan of veggie sauce and dumped it over a bowl of whole-grain pasta. He sprinkled shredded soy cheese over the top. "Eat something before you go—this'll give you sustained energy."
"No, thanks," I said. "I've lost my appetite."
A wry grin crossed his lips. "Like hell you have. Ten minutes after you leave, you're heading to the drive-through window of the nearest Whataburger."
"You think I'd cheat on you?" I demanded with all the innocent outrage I could muster.
"With another guy, no. With a cheeseburger . . . in a heartbeat."
Excerpted from SMOOTH TALKING STRANGER by LISA KIEYPAS
Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Kieypas
Published in April 2009 by St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
Lisa Kleypas is the RITA Award-winning author of many contemporary and historical romance novels, including the Hathaways series, A Wallflower Christmas, Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, and Love in the Afternoon. Her books are published in fourteen languages and are bestsellers all over the world. Kleypas graduated from Wellesley College and published her first novel at the age of 21. In 1985, she was named Miss Massachusetts in the Miss America competition. She lives in Washington with her husband and two children.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Ella has been so determined to be her own woman and not live her life according to what man and society dictates. When her toxic mother disrupts her plans, Ella has to come to terms with hurdles, one of which is to get her unexpected newborn nephew or he goes to foster care. Within moments, she's handed the second, don't come home with a baby. Where is her sister? Ella has accepted some beliefs that are more about what she doesn't want than what she does. Well worth your time!
I loved Jack and the way he takes care of Ella. It is really touching and the love scenes a bonus. I will recomended to everybody, because make you believe in good people (especially rich people.)
What a great read! This was my favorite book out of the other 2. I have to say, that the cover did not appeal to me. But finally picked it up and read a little bit of it and was hooked. I love that Lisa doesn't repeat!!!!!! She describes the characters ONCE and moves on with the story. Love Jack.....I wish there was more of him. Who doesn't love to read about a millionaire hunk? Lisa, we need more of Jack!!!!!!!another book perhaps. Totally loved this book!!!! Hope Lisa will write more books like this one......
the emotions I felt as I read this book. After reading Blue Eyed Devil, I eagerly looked forward to the story of Jack. I knew it would have to really reach high to meet my expectations, and it certainly did. What I love so much about Lisa's characters are the true to life dysfunctions that many families experience. She doesn't paint them as perfect - more like imperfect just searching for something that makes meaning. Ella is probably one of the best heroine/protagonist I have come alone in a long time. Smart, independent but insecure on the inside due to family pain and a mother who was there, but not there. So many of us could relate to that parental situation in some way. As for Jack - all I can say is that I was literally wishing he would jump off the pages and just smile at me. Wouldn't any of us just love to meet a Jack? This was by far my favorite of the trio so far. It just "zinged" for me on so many levels. And what I love about her stories is there are no implausible plots with so many avenues in different directions. Just normal people trying to find their way and while the wealthy quality is something out of my realm, it certainly is nice to dream. On a rather funny note, I did have a few moments where I just wanted to reach inside and smack Tara. I don't want to read more about her....I could never like her now - but it's hard to not want her to 'wake up and smell the coffee."
Ella and Jack were the perfect couple who didn't fall into the usual "romance-novel" scenario. Ella knew something was missing in her world and Jack knew it was him. I loved how Jack just took over and forced his hand. Ella was caught up and too late to turn back, she realized she was where she needed to be. This addition to the Travis family was a great story of not just romantic love but also that deep, soul binding love that allows you to conquer all. And I loved getting to see Liberty and Gage and Haven and Hardy again. These characters never loss their shine. Kudos to LK.
I loved this book!! I have read the complete series. I liked this book and "Blue Eyed Devil" better than "Sugar Daddy". Should read the other 2 books first for this one to make more sense. Hope she is going to write a book for "Joe" I loved the characters and the plot line. I have turned my niece unto these books. She loved them also. Have recommend the series to friends.
Lisa Kleypas is awesome! I love her characters and loved this book! She puts REAL emotions to her characters and you can totally relate to them and what they are going through. Not some sureal emotional abilites that no true human person would have. Jack Travis in this book is to die for and his romantic side has you sizzling! Ella is strong and is a great match for Jack. This book is going to be one you can't put down. It's a great read!
Smooth Talking Stranger is a winner. The chemistry between Jack and Ella is moving: I just love Jack; he's so smooth. The love these two show the abandoned baby is delightful. The story is real, and the plot is great. I also liked the use of first person point-of-view. Yes, this novel warms the heart.
I loved this book ... loved Jack and Ella, and Luke. I wish Lisa Kleypas would write more contemporary and less historical romances. She is a very talented writer.
This was my first Lisa Kleypas read and I was not only pleasantly surprised, but impressed. She's a great story-teller.
Glad I randomly picked up this book. I love the story.
If your looking for a great read this is it!
Love it sooo much! Such an adorable story! This book has lots of the reasons I read romance novels! I agree the cover is weird, but the book is awesome! Love Love the hero! I want one! Buy!
One of her best books. Loved Jack!
LOVED, LOVED, LOVED THE SERIES! BUT, Lisa can you PLEASE write Joe's story...I miss the family and all the wonderful, vivid characters! VERY heartbroken that you haven't come out with the last brother's story! Faithfully awaiting....one of your biggest fan's! MML
I randomly picked this up at the library after reading some of Kleypas's historical romantic fiction. I'm not a fan of Texas or the cover but I read it anyway. I'm glad I did! I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting and not mundane and as predictable as romance novels can be. I was quite taken with Jack. I went right out and read the two other books in this series. I enjoyed this book so much that I have actually ordered it which is saying a lot since most of the fiction I read, I read once and am done. This is definitely a book for your collection.
This is the first book I have read by Lisa Kleypas and I have already ordered the next one. I can't wait to get it!!
I love Lisa Kleypas. This 3rd book in the series is amazing. Nothing like an alpha male to throw you off your game. If I met Jack I wound't be able to breathe around him and Ella gives up a good fight. Lisa's writing is sexy, romantic, sizzling, touching and so well-written. I have the series in hardback but got this for my Nook to read again and again!
I liked it well enough to go find the books leading up to it. It was a book I enjoyed.
Very nice story
I really love this book. I actually read it before and I loved it so much I bought it. It is really good and easy to read since it just flows together. You probably know the expression "how time flies" but with this book its really true. For the people who haven't read it, if you like a book with a strong female character, kind, compassionate, and willing to take over to get what she wants and help others then this is probably a good romance novel for you.
I absolutely love this series, and this was the best by far! Lisa Kleypas NEVER disappoints.
could not put it down.
You think you know Jack when the book opens, but he's so much more than it appears on the surface. He opens his heart; she learns to commit and what it means to allow yourself to depend on someone else.