Trail of Kisses

Trail of Kisses

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by Michelle Monkou

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For recently laid-off Asia Crawford, an all-expenses-paid vacation to the Colorado Rockies—courtesy of her sorority sisters—is just the getaway she needs. Until Trace Gunthrey shows up, claiming he's booked in the same rustic cabin! The only solution? To split the two-week time-share. But with the gorgeous single father sharing her


For recently laid-off Asia Crawford, an all-expenses-paid vacation to the Colorado Rockies—courtesy of her sorority sisters—is just the getaway she needs. Until Trace Gunthrey shows up, claiming he's booked in the same rustic cabin! The only solution? To split the two-week time-share. But with the gorgeous single father sharing her intimate living space, sleep is the last thing on Asia's mind….

In Atlanta, Trace is a judge who moves in high-powered circles. Here, he's just a man at one with nature…and the earthy beauty who seems set on seducing him. Trace came out West to get closer to his daughter. Instead, Asia's the one who's bonding with both of them, making the captivated widower long to let nature take its course—one scorching kiss at a time!

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Kimani Press
Publication date:
Harlequin Kimani Romance Series , #176
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"I understand the purpose of Operation Oasis in Colorado, no less." Asia Crawford lifted a devilish red lacy thong with the crook of her pinky finger. She eyed the offending object with a raised eyebrow. "What I don't understand is why I'll need this—or any of those." Her gaze shifted to the gifts of books and candy, before she jutted her chin toward the tiny mound of square latex packages.

"I provided the books," Denise remarked. "I don't know what your other sorority sisters have in mind." She wrinkled her nose with distaste.

"Actually I've come to expect this of you, Denise. You've made my birthday parties quite the talk." Asia surveyed the pile of sex accessories. "I'm not sure about what's the connection between getting laid off and getting laid?"

"Sex soothes the soul." Naomi folded her long, athletic body onto the sofa next to her. "Plus, it's been a year since you've been with a man. Although I don't consider Jack to be a real man. So you've had what is called a dry spell. Not good for maintaining positive karma."

"Well, being summoned in the middle of the day at work to Human Resources with an escort, and told that I have to exit the premises immediately, doesn't make me want to have sex." Asia remembered spending the first hour in a fog unable to grasp reality as she'd driven home. When the fog lifted, the full impact threw her emotions into a tailspin. She'd cried, railed at the unfairness and lain in bed staring at the TV into the weekend.

Despite her rationale that her dismissal was purely a business decision, the creeping sense of failure ate at her fragile confidence. Her life appeared to be crumbling like dominoes, as one thing crashed into the other until she lay flat, almost lifeless. Everyone told her that another door of opportunity would open. The thought was sadly comedic. In this economy, she'd have to open the doors, along with the windows.

"Here's a cosmo."

Asia took the drink from Sara. She prepared herself for a lecture, as Sara was known for delivering.

"I know you can't completely put this nasty business out of your mind. But today this intervention has one purpose—a much needed trip to get away from Chicago for a while."

"An intervention?" Asia almost choked on the heavy serving of vodka laced with a hint of cranberry. She had to thump her chest until the hit of alcohol faded. "I don't have any addictions, other than T.G.I. Friday's Brownie Obsession. Not sure what you've heard, although, thanks for all this…I think."

"I'll leave that comment alone. Now, getting back to the matter at hand, Operation Oasis is more than sexy underwear and physical gratification. You've always been there for each of our trials and been there for the celebrations. Let me remind you that the undergrad sorors presented you with the mentorship award for reaching back to pull up your sisters and for serving as a role model. You've done so much for so many. The least we could do is to provide a retreat of sorts with this spring trip to Colorado." Sara's presentation struck a humorous note with Naomi, who snorted. Asia bit her cheek to keep from giggling. "You need some spark back in your life," Sara added, waving off their silly behavior.

"And heck, it can't hurt to jump on a harmless booty call with a sexy, consenting hunk," Naomi added, banging her fist into her open palm.

Asia shook her head, making a face at Naomi's skewed philosophy of life and the role of sex. She shoved the lacy undergarments back into the gift bag. Her sorority sisters meant well when they planned and executed rescue missions. After all, she had participated in, and even led, several. Being on the receiving end was beyond embarrassing, though. All playing aside, her sorors' love threatened to start her tears. And she'd cried enough.

"This is supposed to be a good thing, Asia." Naomi threw her arm around her. "I thought that you'd cheer up."

"Sorry. I'm touched. Y'all are too much… Thank you." This time the tears surfaced. "This is a bit like winning the lottery."

"Yep, an all-expenses-paid getaway in the beautiful springtime Rockies, with a couple of Benjamins thrown in, and the possible bonus of getting picked up by an old rich man." Naomi nudged her in the ribs. "See if he's got a friend."

"Or being picked up by a fashion model on vacation. Good-looking, sexy, confident." Sara sighed with a dreamy expression.

"Hmmm…or a gorgeous bad boy running from the law." Denise did a little dance shuffle.

"Er…that's not going to happen," Asia answered. "None of those other fantasies, either. I plan on catching up on sleep, reading and updating my résumé. I may even go back to college. I'm using this time to kick my butt in gear and get focused. I have bills to pay. No way, no how, am I moving home with my parents." Asia shook her head for reiteration.

Naomi sighed. "You're hopelessly boring at twenty-nine. As the saying goes, Asia, 'Never say never.' Let me get you to the airport and send you on your merry way."

"But let us know how things are going. I wanted to come on the trip, but Naomi wouldn't let me. She thinks that you needed a solitary retreat," Sara added, pouting.

"I'll call, text, tweet." In reality, Asia welcomed the solitude. Having a twin made that goal difficult to attain sometimes.

She used to enjoy the attention, as a child, whenever she and Athena, her identical twin, were together. Dressing alike wasn't distasteful until high school, when she liked the same guy as Athena. When he obviously didn't bother noting the differences between them and crowed about dating twins, she and Athena dumped him, then decided to find their own styles.

Athena took the more brash approach to life, with lots of drama, at least one grounding a month and trips to their grandmother for stern lectures. Asia stayed on the sidelines as a spectator, seeing the distress and disappointment from her parents. Although she envied Athena's zany attitude, she quelled her impulses and worked on pleasing her parents and, in particular, her grandmother.

Now, her sister pursued her dream as a teacher on the small Caribbean island of La Isla del Azur. More importantly, she'd found her soul mate, Collin, and was head over heels in love.

The wild streak in her nature had taken a turn toward calm self-assuredness. Asia wondered if her sister could still understand the tumultuous feelings of discontent. Thank goodness she also had the strong relationships with her sorority sisters.

Naomi clapped her hands. "Party over, my ladies of distinction. Got to get Asia out of here on time. Take whatever food you'd like. Since Asia will be gone for a few weeks, no leftovers allowed."

Asia took the cue to retrieve her suitcases from the bedroom. Naomi had given her a hint about the trip earlier that week with the statement that she stop focusing on pleasing everyone but herself. And her friend had relayed her observations, in excruciating detail, of how Asia had dumbed down who she was to maintain the facade of the perfect life with Jack, her former boyfriend; and how she'd stayed on the same career track in the health field to impress her parents, as Athena had found true happiness.

Naomi, as did the rest of her line sisters, knew her dreams, those that may be far-fetched, along with those tiny wishes that required little of her but to accept willingly. Her candor sealed the decision for Asia. Only then did she pack, because doing so with a time crunch would've made her more frazzled than she already felt.

A knock on the bedroom door interrupted her progress.

"Come in." Asia paused over her makeup bag. "Oh, hey, Sara, what's up?"

"Everyone is diving in to the food. Wanted to take a few minutes to chat with you."

"All right. What's up?" Asia continued tossing in a few last-minute toiletries.

"Nothing." Sara walked over to the edge of the bed and sat. Then she took a deep breath.

"Okay, now you've got me worried. Is something wrong?" Asia set down the bag and joined Sara.

"Gosh, no. This is about you, more than about me." She reached out her hand until Asia felt compelled to take it. "You've been keeping to yourself lately. I'm worried that it's more than being laid off. I'm worried that you're still feeling blue over that jerk."

"You mean Jack?"

"Jack, the jerk…yes, him."

"You don't hold back." Asia liked her privacy, including her personal business. Most times her sorors accepted her quirks. But Sara wasn't one to follow rules. "Jack messed with my head, more than my heart. I'm not brooding about it. But I'd be lying if I said that I plan to go down that romance road anytime soon. My heart has a Do Not Enter sign at the moment."

"Learning a lesson is always a good thing. But you know what I'm going to say."

"That I can't paint all men with the same brush." Asia held up her hand. "I appreciate your words of wisdom but you're the ultimate romantic."

"Don't brush me off. You plan out everything in your life. Success is your middle name. You expect high results and, for the most part, it comes your way. I know that you expected a long relationship with Jack, maybe even ending up in a wedding."

Asia shrugged. Her sorors always did like to psychoanalyze. But she wasn't the type to pull up a chair and share.

No one knew how hurt she was after Jack accused of her not letting him be "the man" in the relationship. The women in her family prided themselves on being strong and in charge of their destinies. She didn't set out to be anything less than that.

Her style intimidated him. So without any warning, he'd rejected her. Their plans to marry, have a family and grow old together were destroyed. He wanted a woman who needed him. Whatever that meant.

She wanted his friendship, commitment, respect. She would've told the whole world, including her sorors, that they had those things between them. Reality forced her to be honest—she saw all of Jack's failures from the beginning. Trying to change him was a futile exercise. Not once did she miss him after they went their separate ways. Her ego, more than her heart, suffered the bruising. However, she didn't plan to repeat the same mistakes or go down the same path.

"Promise you'll get your head together and not dwell on what could have been." Sara reached into her pocketbook and tossed out an additional box of latex protection. "These are highly recommended. A couple of weeks to let the freaky side of Asia emerge. That jerk tried to destroy who you are. The job used your talents and then discarded you. Time for you to relax and do a whole lot of releasing. I know you have it in you. College days weren't so long ago." Sara grinned with too much mischief.

Asia looked down at the box in her hand. One more thing to add to the makeup bag.

"Hurry up, Asia. We need to get on the road." Naomi popped her head into the room.

"Don't overthink. Go. Live life a little. Get your mojo back." Sara kissed her cheek and left the room.

Asia looked around the bedroom. Everything was neatly in its place, thanks to the Container Store. Her life used to fit in neat cubbyholes. Organization, planning ahead and setting goals gave her comfort. She pulled up the handles of her suitcases and yanked them behind her.

She stepped into the living room. "I'm ready."

"Have a blast!" Denise hugged her.

"If you're having too much of a good time, call me. I'll be there in a jiffy." Sara added her hug.

And with a boisterous send-off, Asia accepted her sorors' farewell. Minutes later she headed to the airport for her attitude intervention program in the Rocky Mountains—specifically, Brewers Ridge, Colorado.

Asia walked the path leading to the house. Naomi had promised her a nice rustic vacation spot in the mountains, but the building in front of her wasn't exactly an old-fashioned log cabin. This house, built of massive logs, belonged in a high-end architectural magazine. It was three stories high and separated from any neighbors by lots of surrounding land. For a few weeks, she would have full access to this luxury vacation home. Her line sisters could definitely use this for a girls' retreat.

"Naomi, you sure know how to hook up a sister," Asia mumbled as she pressed the doorbell.

"May I help you?" A middle-aged woman smartly dressed in a tailored pantsuit stood in the doorway. An assessment was made of Asia, with a lingering measured look at the slightly tattered sneakers she wore.

"I'm Asia Crawford. I think you were expecting me."

"Yes." A small frown worked across the woman's head. "Let me see. There you are. For one second, I thought maybe my associate misplaced your reservation. She is new, you see, and still a bit unsure of herself. By the way, I'm Veronica McBeal." She stepped back for Asia to enter. "Did you have any problems with your flight or driver?" Confirmed as a client, Asia now received a warmer reception.

"Nope. As a matter of fact, it was one of the best trips I've had." Flying first class did make a difference—leg room, fine food and passengers of the upper income persuasion.

"Great. Let me give you a tour and then I'll turn over the keys. We have the credit card information already, so we are all set on the little details."

"Thanks." Asia didn't want to know how much this place must cost. Even if she'd planned to use her credit card, she didn't think the limit would've been enough to cover a couple of nights, much less a few weeks.

The rental associate dutifully led her through each level. Her polished presentation reflected excitement as they toured the bedrooms, and then checked out the various amenities, such as the oversize tub with jet propulsion openings. Quite clearly the bathroom facilities held a very personal charm over the woman. Asia planned to discover if her hype was true that night.

"You must have a waiting list for this place." Asia held on to the key with both hands.

"Yes, we always do. The location allows for privacy, but it's close enough to the resorts for ski enthusiasts in the winter. Spring is a perfect time to walk along the hiking trails. We've got a security detail overseeing the property, so you don't have to worry."

Asia nodded. Having a millionaire assaulted or kidnapped would ruin business. Even though she wasn't anywhere near that income bracket, she would have fun playing with the fantasy. Already the urge to relax and let loose stirred in her. An all-expenses vacation tended to have that effect. Too bad she didn't know a soul and didn't plan on making friends.

Meet the Author

Michelle Monkou became a world traveler at three years old when she left her birthplace of London, England, and moved to Guyana, South America. She then moved to the United States as a young teen. An avid reader, mixed with her cultural experiences, set the tone for a vivid imagination. It wasn't long before the stories in her head became stories on paper.

In the middle of writing romances, she added a master's of international business to her bachelor's in English. Michelle was nominated for the 2003 Emma Award for Favorite New Author. She continues to write romances with complex characters and intricate plots. Visit her web site for further information and to sign up for her newsletter at

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