Read an Excerpt
Someone once said that the course of true love never did run smooth. As Mimi Burdette watched two of her good friends sway together in a romantic dance, however, she had to disagree. Because the true love between this couple had been obvious to everyone who knew them, almost from the moment they'd met.
"They look like a prince and princess," murmured Anna, her neighbor, friend, landlady and tonight's hostess.
"Considering the setting, maybe a fairy king and queen."
She wasn't kidding. The woods surrounding the backyard of the old plantation house just outside of Athens had been turned into a mythical forest. As dusk fell and a thousand twinkle lights began to gleam in the night, everyone at the engagement party slowed to appreciate the beauty all around them.
A trio of musicians softly strummed their instruments, the lyrical notes riding a warm, summer breeze. The Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks gleamed silver under the evening dew and the firefly-soft lighting.
Magnolias the size of dinner plates dotted the trees, looking like a thousand full moons, filling the air with their evocative scent. Lanterns hung from the lowest branches of the graceful pines, and the arches of a dozen arbors were draped with writhing, sweet-smelling jasmine and heavily laden grapevines. Otell-allkay, the vines and fruit were fake. But what an effect!
"You really outdid yourself," Mimi said to Anna, who stood watching the proceedings, wearing a smile.
The older woman, dressed as always in colorful, flowing robes, merely shrugged. "Setting the stage for romance is easy when the people involved are meant for each other like Duke and Lyssa." She chuckled. "Of course, it didn't hurt that I'm helping with the costumes and props for the downtown theater group's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream."
With her filmy, billowing clothes, and her long ash-gray hair, loose and wavy and entwined with flowers, Anna looked more like a hippie than a retiree. So maybe it wasn't so surprising that she could take a normal backyard, ringed by normal Georgia woods, and turn it into something out of a storybook.
"Anyway, it was just a few lights, some fabriceasy."
"Maybe for you, but other than advertising, the creative wiring was left out of my genetic code. To me, this looks like pure sorcery and magic."
The soon-to-be bride and groom deserved a magical wedding. They were wonderful people, and she already missed having them as neighbors. They'd already moved into their new house, but until a week ago, had lived right across the hall from her own first-floor apartment in this grand old estate home.
Anna and her husband, Ralphdubbed Obi-Wan because of his love for all things Star Wars and his sage, all-knowing demeanorhad bought the place decades ago and raised their family here. Once the kids were gone, they'd divided the three-story mansion into six small apartments, figuring the rental income would keep them nicely provided for in their retirement.
With the unit across from Mimi's vacant, and another unrented one on the second floor, the big house was feeling empty. Plus, Anna and Obi-Wan's volatile marriage was on the rocks again. Obi-Wan's one fault was his jealous streak. He was always accusing other men of being after his wife. His latest accusation had angered Anna enough that she had moved into one of the vacant units to teach him a lesson.
In this economy, three rentals not bringing in any money was not a good thing. She had to wonder where Anna had come up with the funds to throw this engagement party for her former tenants. Mimi had offered to help payshe could certainly afford it and would have loved to helpbut Anna's pride wouldn't allow her to accept. The most she would allow was the use of Mimi's nice discount on much of the food.
Sometimes it really paid to be the daughter of the owner of a chain of grocery stores. Not to mention being the head of marketing for said grocery store chain, with an express ticket to the executive offices of her family's business.
Some people wondered why she lived here, in a small apartment in an old house, when she could afford to buy her own home, or sponge off her parents at their estate. But Mimi loved this place, loved the history of it. More importantly, she loved the sense of community she found here, where she was free to be herself and didn't have to wear the socialite hat, or the business executive one. She could just be Mimi.
"Oh," Anna said, snapping her fingers as she remembered something. "You're going to have new neighbors. My daughter, Helen, and her little boy are moving from Atlanta next weekend, taking the vacant unit on two. And I rented the apartment across from yours today."
"Really? That's wonderful," Mimi said, surprised.
"I invited the new tenant to come tonight, but he didn't want to intrudehe moved in this afternoon."
"You must be so glad," she said, relieved to know one financial burden had been lifted from her landlords' shoulders. She doubted they'd take rent money from their daughter, who had gone through a bad divorce last year.
"One B is a real hottie," Anna said, her eyebrows waggling.
"There are more important things than hotness."
Definitely more important. She'd been involved with superhot guys in the past and had the psychological burn scars to prove it. The last supersexy, relied-only-on-his-looks guy she'd dated had ended up "borrowing" her credit card and buying a matching pair of his-and-her motorcycles.
That had been bad. Worse? Mimi hadn't been the her.
No way was she stepping close to the flames again. Now when she looked at a man, she was more interested in steadiness, self-confidence and brains. If those things came in nice-looking packages, okay, but looks alone just didn't cut it.
Fortunately, it was possible to have all of the above. She only had to look across the crowded party at her own golden-haired escort to see that.
Dimitri was perfect. He was everything she'd been telling herself she needed, and was nothing like the men who'd hurt her in the past. He'd also been hand-picked for her by her own father, who was notoriously hard to please. Normally, that would be a bad thing; she didn't like doing what was expected of her, and knew her father to be a bully. But considering her bad luck with romance, and her efforts to improve her relationship with her dadwho stood firmly in the path of her going where she wanted to go professionally, i.e., right into his office once he retiredit seemed like a smart move.
The icing on the cake? Dimitri was also very handsome.
But handsome doesn't always equal hot. And enjoying being with someone definitely doesn't always lead to physical heat.
She sighed deeply, wishing that little voice in her head would shut up, even while acknowledging the words were true.
But it didn't matterhandsome was enough. Handsome was movie-star good looks, good manners, holding the door. Handsome was every hair in place, jaw smoothly shaven and a nice suit. Handsome was self-confidence borne of being admired by everyone who knew him, and inspiring fantasies of Prince Charming in just about every woman who saw him. Handsome was a good-night kiss with enough tongue to be provocative but not enough to be impolite.
Handsome was Dimitri.
Hot was sexy, rugged and edgy. Hot was unpredictable. Hot smelled sweaty and male, not doused with expensive cologne. Hot had thick muscles that gave proof of utter strength and could make any woman feel feminine by contrast. Hot had an edge of danger, wasn't always courteous, didn't treat a lover like a fragile object. Hot had a deep voice, knowing eyes and a stubbled jaw that every woman wanted roughing up her inner thighs. Hot would ensnare a woman
mind, body and soul.
She fanned herself, acknowledging the truth. Handsome she had. Hot she hadn't seen in a very long time.
More importantly: handsome she should have. Hot she should stay away from.
She shook off the mental images. Enough with the hot fantasies. Handsome reality was bringing her a glass of wine, drawing the appreciative stares of every person with a uterus.
He was hers if she wanted him. And you want him. Damn it, you'd be crazy not to want him!
But she was beginning to wonder. Heck, she hadn't even been the one to invite him here tonight. Anna had bumped into him at the store and extended the invitation. Mimi had no idea why he'd accepted, considering he didn't know anybody here except her. Since he'd said yes, he'd naturally expected Mimi to be his date, which should make any woman extremely happy.
"Okay, Miss Smarty-Pants, if you're not about looks, care to explain your date over there?"
"You invited him," she pointed out. "Only because you've gone out with him a few times."
"I know, my family swears he's perfect for me. And he is very good-looking," she admitted. Then, speaking more to herself, she voiced the concern that had been niggling at her. "But there's also something called chemistry."
"Hate to break it to ya, but you two ain't got it."
She sighed. "Is it that obvious?"
"Only to an expert like me."
And to Mimi. She'd already figured out that good looks didn't always inspire sparks, and dating someone wasn't the same as wanting to go to bed with him. If it were, she and Dimitri would probably be sleeping together, or perhaps even engaged, which was what her father was pushing for. Pushing hard.
Dimitri was a new executive with Burdette Quality Foods, the family business. He was also her Dad's right-hand man. Cultured, handsome, well-educated. The perfect guy in every way.
But perfect for her?
Anna shook her head and tsked. "Honey, it's obvious you're experiencing a small sexual dry spell."
"Small? Try Sahara-sized," she admitted, wondering, not for the first time, if there was something wrong with her.
"So, sex camel, what are you looking for, a Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp oasis?"
Dimitri would probably be considered every bit as handsome as those men. Still, there was no fire. When he kissed her, she always thought, well, that's nice.
But she never had the urge to rip off his pressed shirt, shove him against a wall and thrust her tongue down his throat. And they'd never done anything more than kiss. He hadn't pushed, and she hadn't wanted him to. Because, for a sex camel, nice sex wasn't an oasis, it was just the last few drops of water from a nearly empty canteen.
If she really wanted an oasis, she needed hot. Forget it. Heat burns. A lukewarm canteen is good enough.
"I honestly don't know," she finally admitted. "He's everything I should want."
"But not what you need? Not what you crave?"
Needing and craving didn't begin to describe what she felt for Dimitri. Respecting and appreciating did. "Like I said, there's more to life."
"You tell yourself that the next time a gorgeous, hot, half-naked man lands at your feet."
"I think I'll go for a walk during the next thunderstorm. I'd have a better chance of getting struck by lightning."
"Thunderstorm?" Dimitri asked. "It doesn't look like rain."
Glad he hadn't overheard their entire conversation, Mimi took the glass of wine he offered, murmuring, "Thank you."
"You're welcome. How about a dance when you're finished?"
Dancing under the stars with a handsome man. It should sound heavenly. But instead it sounded.. just okay. As okay as everything else in her life lately.
Okay is fine. Okay is better than wounded and lonely. Okay is better than wondering what the hell is wrong with you since the last few rounds of ring-around-the-relationship ended with you in the used-and-heartbroken seat.
She'd been following her libido instead of her brain and had lived to regret it. So her brain needed to be in charge from now on. And her brain said okay was good enough.
"Sure, thanks," she said, lowering the glass.
She let Dimitri lead her to the flagstone patio, which was being used for dancing. Mimi held her breath, looking up at his handsome faceall slashing, GQ-magazine-cover cheekbones, haughty brows, dark green eyes that watched her closely. She was waiting for a frisson of sensation, a spark at the brush of his tall, lean body against her own, but it just didn't happen.
Maybe it never will. Maybe acknowledging that he's handsome and smart, and liking him will do.
She did like him, and respected him. She doubted he'd hurt herthe fact that she wasn't desperate for him should be enough to insulate her from too much pain if things went south. And it would certainly make things nice in terms of the business, not to mention her rocky relationship with her dad.