Off Kilter

Off Kilter

by Donna Kauffman


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Fire Down Below

Brash entrepreneur Roan McAuley has no problem getting naked. But being the only one in the room dropping kilt and giving plenty isn't his idea of fun--even if it's for the "Men of the Highlands" calendar and a good cause. However, getting feisty photographer Tessa Vandergriff all hot, bothered, and hungry is proving irresistible. . .even though she's not his type. And even if the sizzling attraction between them is changing everything this roguish playboy thinks he knows about lust. . .and love.

Praise for Donna Kauffman and Her Novels

"Give me more." --Linda Howard on The Charm Stone

"Whimsical and sexy." --Jennifer Crusie on Your Wish Is My Command

"Donna Kauffman writes smart and sexy, with sizzle to spare!" --Janet Evanovich

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780758250896
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 01/01/2011
Edition description: Original
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Donna Kauffman is the USA Today bestselling author of chick lit, paranormal romance, and sexy romance. Beverly Brandt writes chick lit and women's fiction, as well as romantic adventure under a psuedonym. Alesia Holliday is the author of American Idle and Nice Girls Finish First, and she writes young adult novels under a pseudonym. Erin McCarthy is the USA Today bestselling author of Bad Boys Online, Smart Mouth, and A Date With the Other Side.

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Off Kilter

By Donna Kauffman


Copyright © 2011 Donna Kauffman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-5089-6

Chapter One

Roan McAuley had never been opposed to getting naked. He wasn't even averse to the idea of cameras being involved. Or being outside all the while. He drew the line, however, at having an audience and being the only one going full monty.

Shee sighed deeply.

He'd only known her a few hours, yet he was already intimately familiar with the deep sigh.

"Drop the kilt, hot stuff, and let's get on with this, okay?"

Because he wasn't having enough fun getting naked in front of his fellow clansmen—and women—he also had the distinct pleasure of going full commando in front of never-so-pleasant Tessa Vandergriff. What had he done to deserve that? And, more to the point, her?

"Aye, drop the plaid, mon! What are ye afraid of?"

That hearty exhortation brought cheers from the assembled crowd.

Roan scowled in the general direction of his soon to be ex-best friend, Graham MacLeod. "Careful, there, mate, or I'll run off with your lovely fiancie and leave you eligible for this particular disgrace."

"Disgrace? I dinnae think so, lad. 'Tis an honor."

"Donning the plaid is an honor." Aiming to maintain some semblance of being in charge of the insanity, he sent a cheeky wink in the general direction of the ladies assembled in the crowd. Some of them were old enough to be his grandmother. What had the world come to, he wanted to know? "Doffing the plaid," he went on, "while often a prelude to fun is something I prefer to do in a more intimate gathering."

Graham chuckled, but Tessa merely rolled her eyes, so Roan played straight to his strength, and called out to the crowd directly. "The lot of you surely have better things to do with yerselves, now," he admonished with a twinkle in his eye and the flash of a dimple, "than stand about, hopin' as ye are, to ogle the naughty bits of the mon who's made it his duty and honor to do right by ye no matter the circumstance—including putting his integrity and pride aside to save our puir, wee island home. So, go on now with yer husbands and loved ones and ogle each other's bits and pieces. I'm guaranteeing we'll all hae a more enjoyable end to our day."

There was a pause, which continued on long enough for hope to build in his heart that perhaps his good humor, not to mention being a good sport about taking part in that cockamamie scheme, had shamed them into leaving him be. Then auld Eliza MacLeod—his very own secretary, no less—who'd celebrated her seventy-third year of tyranny on this good, green earth a mere week ago Tuesday, stepped forward ... and began clapping her hands. Along with that, she let loose a whistle that likely set half the dogs on Kinloch to howling.

"Och, young Roan McAuley, charmin' scamp that ye are, dinnae ye be tellin' us how to spend our Saturday eve. I daresay we know how to amuse ourselves. If that includes ogling yer Godly gifted bits, then we'll do what pleases us." She looked to the other women gathered around her and winked. "What say you, ladies? Is watching this bonny lad make a spectacle of himself what pleases us?"

The grins grew wider, and others picked up the clapping, which turned quickly to cheering. The men that peppered the crowd, initially abashed by the openly assertive stance of their women, quickly picked up the chant, perhaps sensing the benefits to be had later that evening if they supported their partners. Hoots and hollers followed, along with repeated taunts of "Drop the plaid!" and "Are yer bits truly so Godly gifted? Proof! Proof!"

Roan turned a scowl toward Graham. "You know, there is surely some law about this on the books somewhere. If Shay were here—"

"He'd be standing right here, betting me money on this," his friend cut in with a chuckle. "In fact, I have a few pounds riding on this myself."

"We're burning daylight, gentleman." Tessa straightened, her long red curls catching in the warm breeze and lifting out from around her head.

Rather like Medusa's snakes.

As if she could read Roan's less-than-charitable thoughts, she shielded her fierce, crystalline blue eyes from the Western slant of the sun and scalded him with a single, silent look. "Man up, for God's sake, and drop the damn thing."

"We're not sending in nude shots," Roan replied with an even smile, as the chants and taunts escalated. "So I don't understand the need to take things to such an extreme—"

"The contest rules state, very clearly, that they're looking for provocative," Tessa responded, sounding every bit like a person who'd also been forced into a task she'd rather not have taken on—which she had been.

Sadly, that fact had not brought them closer.

She shifted to another camera she'd mounted on another tripod, he supposed so the angle of the sun was more to her liking. "Okay, lean back against the stone wall, prop one leg, rest that ... sword thing of yours—"

"'Tis a claymore. Belonged to the McAuleys for four centuries. Victorious in battle, 'tis an icon of our clan." And heavy as all hell to hoist about.

"Lovely. Prop your icon in front of you, then. I'm fairly certain it will hide what needs hiding."

His eyebrows lifted at that, but rather than take offense, he merely grinned. "I wouldnae be so certain of it, lassie. We're a clan known for the size of our ... swords."

"Yippee," she shot back, clearly unimpressed. "So, drop the plaid, position your ... sword, and let's get on with it. It's the illusion of baring it all we're going for here. I'll make sure to preserve your fragile modesty."

She was no fun. No fun 'tall.

"The other guys did it," she added, resting folded hands on top of the camera. "In fact," she went on, without even the merest hint of a smile or dry amusement, "they seemed quite happy to accommodate me."

He couldn't imagine any man wanting to bare his privates for Miss Vandergriff 's pleasure. Not if he wanted to keep them intact, at any rate.

He was a bit thrown off by his complete inability to charm her. He charmed everyone. It was what he did. He admittedly enjoyed, quite unabashedly, being one of the clan favorites because of his affable, jovial nature. As far as he was concerned, the world would be a much better place if folks could get in touch with their happy parts, and stay there.

He didn't know much about her, but from what little time they'd spent together that afternoon, he didn't think Tessa Vandergriff had any happy parts. However, the reason behind her being rather happiness-challenged wasn't his mystery to solve. She'd been on the island for less than a week. Her stay on Kinloch was as a guest, and therefore temporary. Thank the Lord.

The island faced its fair share of ongoing trials and tribulations, and had the constant challenge of sustaining a fragile economic resource. Despite that, he'd always considered both the McAuley and MacLeod clans as being cheerful, welcoming hosts. But they had enough to deal with without adopting a surly recalcitrant into their midst.

"Well," he said, smiling broadly the more her scowl deepened. "'Tis true, the single men of this island have little enough to choose from." The crowd took a collective breath at that, but his attention was fully on her. Gripping the claymore in one fist, he leaned against the stacked stone wall, well aware of the tableau created by the twin peaks that framed the MacLeod fortress, each of them towering behind him. He braced his legs, folded his arms across his bare chest, sword blade aloft ... and looked her straight in the eye as he let a slow, knowing grin slide across his face. "Me, I'm no' so desperate as all that."

He got a collective gasp from the crowd. But rather than elicit so much as a snarl from Miss Vandergriff, or perhaps goading her so far as to pack up and walk away—which he'd have admittedly deserved—his words had a rather shocking effect. She smiled. Fully. He hadn't thought her face capable of arranging itself in such a manner. And so broadly, with such stunning gleam. He was further damned to discover it did things to his own happy parts that she had no business affecting.

"No worries," she stated, further captivating him with the transformative brilliance of her knowing smile. She gave him a sizzling once over before easily meeting his eyes again. "You're not my type."

That was not how those things usually went for him. He felt ... frisked. "Then I'm certain you can be objective enough to find an angle that shows off all my best parts without requiring a blatant, uninspired pose. I understand from Kira that you're considered to be quite good with that equipment."

The chanting of the crowd shifted to a few whistles as the tension between photographer and subject grew to encompass even them.

"Given your reluctance to play show and tell, I'd hazard to guess I'm better with mine than you are with yours," she replied easily, but the spark remained in her eyes.

Goading him.

"Why don't you be the judge?" Holding her gaze in exclusive focus, the crowd long since forgotten, he pushed away from the wall and, with sword in one hand, slowly unwrapped his kilt with the other.

He took far more pleasure than was absolutely necessary from watching her throat work as he unashamedly revealed thighs and ass. He wasn't particularly vain or egotistical, but he was well aware that a lifetime spent climbing all over the island had done its duty where his physical shape was concerned, as it had for most of the islanders. They were a hardy lot.

The crowd gasped as he held the fistful of unwrapped plaid in front of him, dangling precariously from one hand, just on the verge of—

"That's it!" Tessa all but leapt behind the camera and an instant later, the shutter started whirring. Less than thirty seconds later, she straightened and pushed her wayward curls out of her face, her no-nonsense business face back. "Got it. Good! We're all done here." She started dismantling her equipment. "You can go ahead and get dressed," she said dismissively, not even looking at him.

He held on to the plaid—and his pride—and tried not to look as annoyed as he felt. The shoot was blessedly over. That was all that mattered. No point in being irritated that he'd just been played by a pro.

She glanced up, the smile gone as she dismantled her second tripod with the casual grace of someone so used to the routine and rhythm of it, she didn't have to think about it. "I'll let you know when I get the shots developed."

He supposed he should be thankful she hadn't publicly gloated over her smooth manipulation of him. Except he wasn't feeling particularly gracious at the moment.

He couldn't believe she was Kira's best mate. Kira MacLeod was kind, gentle, and sweet of nature ... whereas Tessa was a temperamental virago. It was hard to comprehend what could have drawn the two together.

"Wasnae so painful after all, was it then?" Graham pushed away from the tree he'd been leaning against as the crowd disbursed. "Ye didn't even have to show off yer manly bits."

He walked over, handing Roan his shirt, and, big as he was, momentarily provided a natural screen that Roan took full advantage of, making quick work of wrapping the plaid around himself again.

"Much," Graham added, with a dry note and an all-too-pleased look on his face.

Roan waited until he was decently covered before shooting his friend a quelling look. "You're taking far too much pleasure in all of this, ye ken. I realize ye think yer gettin' some sweet bit of revenge for me sendin' ye all the way across the pond to retrieve yer beloved—"

"From her own wedding," Graham interjected. "A wee tidbit of information you'd neglected to share."

"Only because ye'd never have gone if I hadn't!" He waved his hand, dismissing the topic. They'd hashed it out already upon Graham's return a month ago. The trip had landed him a bride, and simultaneously given every inhabitant of their tiny Hebridean island a reason to celebrate. With Graham's marriage to a McAuley bride, they had peace of mind, knowing their clan lairdship would continue uninterrupted, in his very capable hands. "I did it for your own good, and if ye dinnae stop going on about it, I'll simply whisk your lovely bride-to-be off to my own lair and book Iain passage back here so he can take the job away from your miserable, thankless—"

Graham frowned. "Has there been any indication of Iain returning?"

Roan knew Graham didn't share his personal concerns in that matter, so he didn't mind ribbing him from time to time. Iain McAuley had been a long lost heir to the island lairdship after the previous chief's death. He had shown up, out of the blue, intending to take what was rightfully his. And would have, if Graham hadn't beaten him to the punch and gotten engaged to Katie. Iain had taken off as quickly as he'd come, and Roan wasn't entirely certain they'd seen the last of him, "No, of course not. I was merely pointing out that you should be thanking me. Several times over. Because of my brilliant discovery and strategy, we've no' only managed to thwart the still unexplained attempt by your late grandmother's heir to usurp your title ... but you might want to be thinkin' on how if it weren't for me, your bed would still be a cold, heartless, wasteland." His smile returned as he swiftly regained his equilibrium, post-virago. "Of course, my own bed still qualifies as such, so I believe the sacrifice on my part could rightly be called sainted."

Graham chuckled. "Aye, yer nobility is second only to your humble servitude."

Roan grinned. "As long as we're in agreement, then."

Graham shook his head at that, then turned in time to watch Tessa stow her gear in the boot of Kira's little Fiat. "She's an interesting one, that one is."

Roan looked past Graham's shoulder. "I can think of other adjectives that come more quickly to mind, but she does make an impression."

Graham glanced back at Roan, squinting against the sun that was dipping lower behind his back. "So, how is Kira these days?"

Roan suddenly found himself fiddling with the buttons on his shirt as he continued to dress. "Fine, I suppose, I dinnae much keep track. Far too much going on, what with your wedding less than a fortnight off, now combined with this ridiculous calendar scheme." He looked up at Graham and quite deliberately changed the subject. "Do ye think we're daft for trying to get into this thing? I mean, when Eliza brought the contest to my attention, I thought she'd truly gone mad, but once I looked into it and realized just how widely distributed the damn things are, it was almost too foolish not to try for it. The attention our inclusion in the calendar would bring to Kinloch would be marketing gold. Only, now—"

"Now you're just pouting because you ended up having to stand in front of the camera and be part of the ridiculous scheme, instead of remaining mercifully anonymous by running the show from behind it."

Roan opened his mouth intending to refute that statement. He'd devoted his entire adult life to doing everything he could to promote their island and its sole supporting industry, keeping them afloat economically, even hoping to push further, to a place where they could thrive. For that he'd do a hell of a lot more than be photographed with nothing more than his ancestors' claymore. Roan smiled. "Says the man who'd rather be out in his fields, taking test samples of flax seeds. You're just relieved that only the single blokes can participate."

"Damn right," Graham said on a laugh.

"And I dinnae pout." Roan straightened and settled the rest of his garb into place. "It's more a scowl. Surly and manly."

"Here." Graham handed over the sword he'd held while Roan got dressed, then turned and started off toward the Land Rover he'd left parked on the side of the road. "Don't think I missed you changing the subject just now," he called back over his shoulder.

Anything Roan might have said to that was lost when several of the villagers went up to Graham and started to excitedly discuss the wedding plans—in minute, excruciating, but ever-so-enthusiastic detail. Roan folded his arms and leaned against the wall again, taking pleasure in watching Graham's knowing smile freeze into something passably congenial as he did his best to nod and agree and look like he was truly interested ... all the while making the escape to his vehicle as fast as humanly possible.


Excerpted from Off Kilter by Donna Kauffman Copyright © 2011 by Donna Kauffman. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Off Kilter 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a little over halfway through this book. It is one of the slowest moving books I've read in a long time. The characters are well developed and very likeable, but the slow moving plot is excruciatingly painful. I keep hoping it'll pick up in the next chapter, so far as of chapter 13 it hasn't happened. She damaged and he wants to help, next chapter same song and dance she's damaged and he wants to help. I'm tenacious and will read the book to the end even though I have to stop at the end of each chapter to go do something more interesting before I move to the next she's damaged and he wants to help chapter. If you read every third paragraph or chapter, you wouldn't miss anything important to the plot.:(
harstan More than 1 year ago
On the Scottish island of Kinloch (see Some Like It Scot) businessman Roan McAuley cannot understand why he agreed to pose in the monty as he must drop his kilt for the 'Men of the Highlands' calendar even if the cause is worthy; he muses that he should have donated money not nudity. Adding to his displeasure is the irritating iceberg photographer Tessa Vandergriff who he assumes is a centerfold fluff taker until he learns she is a highly regarded award-winning war coverage photojournalist who volunteered her time to raise money. Tessa suffers from post traumatic stress disorder from the cruelty she witnessed while covering war. She thinks Roan is a jerk until he shows his caring other side to her. As they fall in love, although he has personal issues too, she must overcome her fear of death that began as a child and affirmed as an adult if they are to forge a permanent relationship. The romance plays second fiddle to the strong character study of a shell-socked woman healing due to the patience of a kind hearted man. Readers will enjoy the relationship drama as first impressions prove false as Roan revises his re the cold photographer and Tess alters her re the philandering hunk. Harriet Klausner
SusanFrank More than 1 year ago
Very good book and more complex than I expected from the description. Roan is a native of Kinloch and the man in charge of running the island business of exporting artisan baskets. He's not too thrilled with being tagged to audition for a slot in the "Hot Scots" charity calendar. Though he could do without the audience watching the photo shoot, he's having a grand time giving photographer Tessa a hard time. Tessa came to the island to visit a friend and to try to deal with the things she's seen as a photojournalist. Shooting "fluff" pictures should be a piece of cake, but Roan's good looks, charm and teasing are getting under her skin. She has no interest in anything serious, but she wouldn't mind a little mutual stress relief. This was an interesting book because it's Tessa that is suffering from PTSD and is avoiding relationships, while Roan becomes intrigued with her and her layers and wants something real. I loved their first encounter, as the attraction between them sizzles and it looks like they're going to jump right in. But Roan has already seen that Tessa could be much more than just a romp and is determined to show her that. Unfortunately for him, Tessa is still running from anything that can make her feel and tries her best to resist his attempts to slow things down. Tessa is used to depending on just herself, and doesn't know how to deal with Roan's attempts to help her. She has come to the realization that she can't go back to what she was doing before, but is at a loss about what to do next. Her nightmares and fears have her feeling too broken to believe that anyone could want her. I loved the development of their relationship. Roan is quietly and calmly determined that they will get to know each other before getting physical. That doesn't mean he isn't going to touch her. I loved all the sweet and gentle kisses that would heat up to more. He was also a very "touchy" guy, who loved to put his hands on her in non-sexual ways. I loved his explanation of why that is. He also listens and sees beneath the surface of what she says. I loved the way that Roan accepts that she has these issues and doesn't play them down. He encourages her to talk about them, but doesn't push too hard to get her to do so. I loved how he was there when she needed him, but not always sure that he was handling things the best way. He had moments of his own doubts but refused to give up on them. I ached for Tessa and the pain she was in. She's certain that a relationship is not possible, but she can't say no to Roan's persuasiveness. She surprised when she discovers that his attentions do have a beneficial effect on her. I loved seeing her start to look at the world through slightly happier eyes and what that means for her professionally. It was wonderful to see the way that she was able to share what she had seen with Roan and the effect that it had on her. Due to space limitations, review is continued at:
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NCLknfan More than 1 year ago
Am reading this now and am checking out the other reviews. I'm not the only one... this book is sloooooooooooow in the middle! Almost makes me not want to finish it. (And I finish everything.) It starts out fun, but then it's chapter after chapter of "how will be make her understand, he's not going anywhere." Ugh.
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