Shying away from commitment of any kind, Jenna Fallon's rules in life are to have none. So when her car breaks down en route from California to Vancouver--and she's forced to hitch a ride with a sexy stranger--she's thrilled to discover they share the same no-holds-barred views. . .
As a globe-trotting marine biologist, Mark Chambers is used to changing locations--and women. Yet as he and Jenna make their way up the Pacific coast, camping, skinny dipping, and having scorching hot sex, Mark's not so sure he wants to say goodbye. But is Jenna brave enough to meet the challenge of a man who may be perfect for her? Praise for Susan Fox's Love, Unexpectedly
"Readers will enjoy this easy-going erotic romance." --Publishers Weekly
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By SUSAN FOX
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Susan Lyons
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat a fabulously perfect June morning: a stretch of coastal California highway unfurling like silver ribbon ahead of me, the top down on my old MGB, a sun visor shielding my eyes, the ocean breeze cooling my cheeks.
Open roads meant possibilities. What was around the next curve? A sliver of white sand beach, a field of bright orange California poppies or one of grape vines, a hawk drifting high in a clear blue sky?
Or, to be practical for once, a gas station. Mellow Yellow was running on fumes.
Yeah, I'd named the butter-yellow convertible I'd bought when I was eighteen. My mom used to play the old Donovan song when my sisters and I were little, and we all sang the chorus. Little known fact about Mom: though she was now one of Canada's top legal eagles, she used to play sixties music with her kids. Given what she was like now—so f'ing serious all the time—I had trouble believing it myself.
Reality check. On the plus side, the open road. On the less plus, the end of that road, the house where I'd grown up, in Vancouver, British Columbia. I only made it back there once or twice a year. Same with my two older sisters; my family loved better at a distance. But this time we had no choice. Our baby sis was getting married.
When I arrived, it'd be same-old, same-old.
Jenna, we can't believe you're still driving that old clunker. Tell us you didn't pick up any hitchhikers along the way. That'd be my parents. Born to worry, not to mention criticize.
You certainly took your sweet time getting here. Thank heavens we weren't actually counting on you to do anything for the wedding. My two older sisters, Theresa and Kat, were know-it-alls. Not that either of them really wanted my help anyhow.
As for Merilee, I could almost hear her squeal from here. Jenna, I knew you'd make it home for my wedding! But there'd be relief in her voice, because she really hadn't been so sure.
Yeah, the whole gang would be at the house. Including good old Matt, Merilee's fiancé, and—surprise, surprise—a couple of additions. It seemed Tree and Kat were bringing dates to the wedding. Knowing both of them, that had to mean they were serious about these guys.
Oh man, was I dying of curiosity. Not that I wanted the same for myself. For me, single was perfect. There were too many fun, interesting, sexy men out there to settle for just one. Besides, I'd learned my lesson at seventeen. Falling in love shot my judgment all to hell. It made me stupid. And that stupidity had cost me my dearest dream.
When I caught myself stroking my barren belly, I jerked my hand back to the steering wheel and tossed my head. The past was the past. I was almost thirty now and my life was amazing. My family'd never understand me, but—I grinned smugly at the sight of a gas station ahead—the universe approved. It provided pretty much everything I needed at just about the right time.
I pulled up to a pump and got the gas flowing. Waiting, I stretched, enjoying the sun on my skin. I took off my visor and ran my fingers through hopelessly tangled curls, then hiked my patchwork tote onto my shoulder and went inside to pay.
My wallet was stuffed with bills, mostly tips from waitressing gigs in Santa Cruz, where I'd been living for the last couple of months. That was my travel money, together with what I made from selling my used surfboard.
A quick trip to the ladies' room, a fresh application of sunscreen, a refill of my stainless steel water bottle from the tap, and I was ready to hit the road again. Unfortunately, when I turned the key in the ignition, Mellow Yellow didn't share my mood. Not a thing happened.
"Please, please," I pleaded, trying again. "Come on, don't do this to me." A woman filling up at the next pump sent me a sympathetic smile.
"The joys of owning an old car," I said, climbing out again and glancing around.
The older style station had an adjoining set of service bays, so I headed over. The doors were open, revealing an ancient truck in one bay and a modern SUV in the other, but I didn't see any sign of life. "Anyone around?" I called.
An overall-clad man—fiftyish, with a balding head and full mustache—emerged from an adjoining room. "Hey, there. Help you?"
I read the name tag on his pocket and smiled at him. "Hi, Neal, I'm Jenna. Sure hope you can. My car's dead at the pump."
"Okay, Jenna, let's have a look."
When we walked outside, he grinned. "Hey, a classic B. Nice."
"Yeah, sweet. When it starts."
After five minutes of cranking it over and peering under the hood, he raised soft brown eyes to me. "'Fraid your alternator's shot. Gonna need a new one."
I groaned. "How long and how much?"
"Have to get one from San Francisco or farther afield. Run you a couple hundred, prob'ly, unless I find a rebuilt. Then you got two, three hours labor."
Shit, shit, shit! I'd scraped up gas money for the drive home, but fixing the car would take almost all of it, and I didn't have a credit card.
"Want me to locate the part, get you the price?"
"I'd appreciate that."
"Sure. Likely take half an hour." He tipped his cap back and scratched his forehead. "Diner down the road, Marianne's, has good coffee and home cooking."
I wandered in the direction he indicated. Though I didn't have money for restaurant food, I needed a place to wait. And to ponder what to do next.
Leave the car with Neal and spend my gas money on a bus trip home? Get the car fixed and hope the universe would rain money on me? Or, option three: phone home. My parents, Tree, and Kat had all volunteered to pay for plane fare, but I was independent. If I called ... well, that expression No questions asked wouldn't apply. They'd want to know how I'd screwed up this time.
Organization, planning, contingency plans—all that stuff was their shtick, not mine. And vastly overrated. I loved being a free spirit.
A Volkswagen Westfalia camper passed me and turned into a parking lot. I'd reached the diner Neal had recommended, a cute building with white paint and blue shutters. A half dozen cars and a couple of trucker rigs sat in the parking lot. The camper pulled into an empty spot on the far side, under the sparse shade of a palm tree.
The driver's door opened and a man jumped out, a magazine in one hand, then headed toward the diner. Hmm, not bad at all. Loose sage-green tank top and khaki cargo shorts, longish medium brown hair, and lots of brown skin over nicely muscled arms and legs.
My gaze sharpened with interest. I'd done a lot of surfing in Santa Cruz, when I wasn't working on a peregrine falcon survey or waitressing, and had scoped out lots of excellent bods. This one, at least from the back, was right up there. He might even top Carlos, the Mexican surfer-dude I'd hooked up with until a couple of weeks ago.
I wandered past the camper. It was pretty beat-up, covered with save-the-environment stickers, and had a British Columbia license plate.
Hmm. The universe might not have rained cash, but maybe it had sent a different solution to my dilemma. Maybe it had rained me down a ride and a sexy chauffeur.
Mark Chambers closed the door of Marianne's Diner and glanced back through the paned window. The woman he'd passed as he turned into the parking lot was walking toward the building.
Sunshine backlit her so he couldn't make out her features, but saw a dazzling halo of white-gold curls, a slim silhouette, and a long, loose skirt that was so filmy the sunshine cut straight through it, outlining her long legs. All the way to the apex, where the breeze plastered the fabric against her thighs and the sweet triangle between them.
Lust rippled though him, thickening his blood, shocking him. He didn't make a habit of lusting after strangers—usually he was so caught up in work he barely noticed women—but the picture she made was strikingly erotic. And it was ... hmm. Months since he'd had sex, now that he came to think about it.
"Good afternoon," a voice behind him said, and he swung away from the door.
Behind the restaurant counter, a middle-aged African-American woman with short, curly hair and round cheeks smiled at him. "Take a seat wherever you like."
The place, a renovated fifties-sixties diner, was maybe half full, all the patrons seated in booths or at tables. He chose a bar stool and dropped his reading material, the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, on the blue Formica counter. "Thanks. Could I get a coffee and a menu?"
"You bet." She poured a mug of coffee and handed it to him along with a plastic menu. "The fruit pies are great if you're in the mood for something sweet."
For him, things fell into one of two categories: those to be taken seriously and those that weren't worth paying attention to. Food fell in the latter category.
Coffee, though ... He lifted the mug to his lips and sniffed. Mmm. Rich, robust, not acidic.
He should have asked if the beans were fair trade, but he doubted the answer would be yes, and he needed coffee. Every man was entitled to one indulgence. Though, to be strictly accurate, as he tried to be, it was more of an addiction. Even if the stuff was poorly made, as was so often the case, he'd still drink it. Now, he savored the scent a moment longer, then lifted the mug to his lips and took a sip.
Well, now. Another sip, to confirm his first impression. "This is excellent," he told the woman approvingly. If you were going to do a job, you should do it well.
Behind his back, the diner door opened and closed. It'd be the blonde. And it would be rude to swing around and look.
"Thanks," the woman behind the counter said. "You should try the fresh strawberry pie."
"Strawberry pie?" The feminine voice from behind him was light, eager, like a kid who'd been offered a present.
A moment later, she slid onto the stool beside him, and this time he did look.
She was stunning in a totally natural way. Her face was heart-shaped, fine-boned, glowing with a golden tan and a flush of sun across her cheeks and nose. A tangled mass of white gold ringlets tumbled over her shoulders, half hiding a scattering of colorful butterflies tattooed on her upper arm and shoulder.
Then he gazed at her eyes, and oh, man. They were the dazzling mixed blue-greens of the Caribbean, and he was diving in, losing himself in their depths.
Vaguely he was aware of the diner woman saying, "So you'll have the strawberry pie, miss?"
He blinked and dragged himself back before he drowned.
The blonde's delicate tongue-tip came out and flicked naturally pink lips, and again lust slammed through him. She shook her head and said wistfully, "Just a chamomile tea, thanks. So, are you Marianne?"
"That's right, hon. This is my place. One chamomile coming up."
Chamomile tea? That jarred him out of his reverie. Might as well drink lawn clippings in hot water; it'd taste as good. Alicia, his biological mother, had been big on the stuff. And why didn't the blonde order the pie she'd sounded so enthusiastic about? Was she one of those constant dieters?
She sure didn't need to be. He'd seen her legs through that filmy flower-patterned blue skirt. Above it, her faded blue tank top revealed toned shoulders and arms. Full little breasts, unconfined by a bra.
Pink-tipped nipples. Not brown. Somehow, he knew that.
Shit, what was wrong with him?
Besides a growing erection that made him glad his cargo shorts were loose and his tank untucked. He'd been in tropical places where women walked around almost naked and not had so strong a reaction. Okay, he was a man of science. He could analyze this phenomenon logically. It was a simple combination of a bodily need that had gone too long unsatisfied and a woman who was a lovely physical specimen. Perfectly understandable, even if disconcerting.
When he returned his gaze to her face, she urged, "Have the pie." Ocean-colored eyes dancing, she added, "Maybe if I'm really, really nice to you, you'll let me have a taste." Her tongue flicked out again.
Blood rushed to his groin as he imagined that pink tongue lapping his shaft. The blonde would be appalled if she had any idea what he was thinking.
Unless ... His friend and colleague Adrienne—whom he'd known since grad school—said women found him attractive, though he never noticed it himself. The blonde couldn't be flirting, could she? No. No possible way. She could have any man she wanted, so why would she want a science geek like him?
The diner woman put a small china teapot and a mug in front of her and she said, "Thanks, Marianne."
"I'll have the pie," he choked out.
"Sure you will," Marianne said with a knowing grin. She glanced at the blonde. "Whipped cream?"
"Is there any other way?"
He imagined the blonde painting his cock in whipped cream and licking it all off, and wanted to bury his face in his hands and groan. Since he'd first seen her, he'd been ... bewitched. Except, there was no such thing as bewitchment in scientific reality. This was very unsettling. He rather desperately fingered the scientific journal he'd brought in with him. If he buried himself in its pages, he'd be on safe ground.
"You'd rather read than talk to me?" she teased. "My feelings are hurt."
"Uh ..." He glanced back at her.
Her impish grin revealed perfect white teeth. "If we're going to share ..." She paused.
He held his breath. Share? What man wouldn't want to share any damned thing with this woman?
"Pie," she finished, "I figure we should introduce ourselves." She held out a slim hand with short, unpainted nails and several unusual rings. "Jenna Fallon."
"Mark Chambers." He took her hand warily. Sure enough, when she shook firmly, he felt a sexy sensation. A cross between a glow and a tingle spread up his arm. He hurriedly let go, picked up his coffee mug, and took a sip, trying to regain his equilibrium. "You live around here, Jenna?" Likely so, since she'd been on foot.
She shook her head, curls dancing, revealing a couple of simple stud earrings in each ear, then settling. "I'm from Canada. Been living in Santa Cruz, working on a peregrine falcon survey that's run out of UC Santa Cruz."
"Great," he said with relief. She was into the environment like him. A colleague, not a woman. Well, of course she was a woman, but he was okay when he dealt with them as colleagues. He was actually okay in bed, too; sex was one of the activities that deserved to be done well, and his partners always seemed happy. It was the in-between stuff, the social part, that gave him problems.
Carefully, she poured a disgustingly weak greenish brew from the pot into her mug, sipped, and smiled. Eyes bright, she said, "It's part of a really successful conservation project. Did you know the falcons are an endangered species in California? In 1970, they only found two nesting pairs. Now, after a captive breeding program, there are over two hundred and fifty."
On firm conversational ground now, he said, "Yeah, the DDT and other pesticides almost did them in. Thank God those have been banned, and the captive breeding programs worked." He studied her. "Bet it was a challenge to track them down. They have a habit of nesting in remote areas."
When her eyes widened in surprise, he said, "I'm a marine biologist, and I've learned a fair bit about marine birds. Oddly enough, I've been in Santa Cruz too. Working on a research project at UCSC's Long Marine Lab."
"Seriously? Isn't this wild? We never met in Santa Cruz, yet we both happen to walk into Marianne's Diner at the same moment." She grinned. "The universe is pretty amazing."
"Yes, it is." A place of science and of still-to-be understood mysteries. A place mankind seemed hell-bent on destroying. He knew people often found him rigid, but he had no patience for those who didn't give a damn about this incredible world.
Marianne refilled his coffee and put a plate in front of him. He barely glanced at it, except to note two forks, until Jenna enthused, "Now, that's a work of art."
He took another look. Flaky-looking crust, plump red strawberries suspended in glaze, a mound of whipped cream. Not bad at all.
Jenna told the other woman, "Neal at the service station sent me your way, and I'm sure glad." She picked up a fork, then gazed up at Mark with wide, expectant eyes.
How could he say no to those eyes? "Go ahead. I have a feeling I'd have trouble stopping you." He only spoke the truth, but she grinned as if he'd said something amusing.
Excerpted from His, Unexpectedly by SUSAN FOX Copyright © 2011 by Susan Lyons. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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