Adele Valentin has lost everyone she loves.
Adele is mentally and physically strong, but most people carry some baggage and she is no exception. After moving to Tumble Creek to settle in to her friend's home, her recent past comes crashing down on her.
Takumi Edwards knows what he wants. He's going to make Adele his. And with his expertise and connections, he's going to ensure that she lives safe and free.
Takumi is the town's ex-police officer and runs his own security/rescue business. He's right there to help Adele cope with her baseless guilt.
But when he sees her in a club pole dancing, can he accept that's what she does?
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Amazon Australia bestselling author, Louise Forster lives on the east coast of Australia. In 2000, she won the Romance Writers of Australia award, and in 2008 came third in a US competition the, Charter Oaks Romance Writers Golden Acorn Excellence in writing contest. Her first book was published by Harlequin Escape Publishing in 2013. In 2017 two of her books, Home Truths in Tumble Creek and Tumble Creek reached #1 bestsellers on Amazon Australia. She enjoys writing strong, caring heroes who love their heroines, unconditionally.
Read an Excerpt
'No more tears, sweetheart. When I'm gone, promise me you'll ride your Daddy's bike to anywhere your heart desires. Promise me!'
'Oh, crap,' Adele Valentin muttered behind the bug-juice-smeared visor of her motorcycle helmet. Rumbling down the main street of Tumble Creek, she hadn't considered that her Harley Fat Boy would arouse so much curiosity. Thankfully it didn't take her long to find Veronica's Restaurant. Slowing down, she edged off the road, and sat there a while to gather her thoughts.
A deep throaty sound came from inside the restaurant. Adele turned her head and peered through the mess on her visor to the plate glass window; instantly apprehension grew to a punishing level. Takumi couldn't be missed, and the mountain of a man who was frowning and talking right up into his face, even less so. She quickly turned away from the scene and braced herself for a fight, because something was bothering them, and she hoped it had nothing to do with her. They wouldn't know why she was here ... unless they'd somehow found out.
Despite the heat under her leathers goose bumps covered her skin.
Shit, why the hell had she agreed to this?
Adele had never been so indecisive, and blamed it on Takumi, damn it. Over time his visits to Sydney had become more frequent. Bloody hell, she hated the frustration, the desperation of wanting someone she couldn't have. Takumi was hot, in control, always observant ... a handsome martial arts expert. Through her own training experiences, she knew how much a student needed focus and dedication to do it well.
There was something about Takumi and his careful scrutiny of his surroundings. At times it freaked her out, yet she felt safe being with him.
Yeah ... she was a mess, and it was all Takumi's fault.
Adele took a deep shaky breath, then slowly let it go. She restarted her bike; its deep rumble echoed off the double-storey Edwardian buildings along each side of the wide main drag. A nature strip ran down the centre, its flowerbeds overflowing with colour. She took a moment to take in the town's beauty, homing in on its age, and endurance, using it to strengthen her resolve. This was home for a while, and Adele had to believe that over time, her tattered nerves would be a distant memory. This would be her time to thrive in her own way. So despite a thudding heart, and body strung tight, Adele manoeuvred her bike into the shade nearest the kerb, and reminded herself that to make this work, she had to keep her shit together. If Takumi called her out — on whatever he could dream up — not to bite his head off.
* * *
Irritation spiked through Takumi.
'No way! No fucking way!' he snarled under his breath. Eyes pinned on his target out on the sundrenched street, he shoved his chair back, surged to his feet, and headed straight for the door. Adele Valentin had said she had something important to tell him face to face. Why had she suddenly changed her mind? She revved her Harley's engine, and the thunderous pipes made the restaurant's picture windows rattle.
'Shit!' he muttered, skirting tables and chairs. Teeth clenched, he watched her turn the bike's front wheel towards the road.
Takumi lunged for the door just as strong fingers wrapped around his forearm and a controlled voice he knew only too well quietly stated behind him, 'Don't worry, she won't get far.'
So focused on what was happening outside, he hadn't noticed the big man approach him from behind. Shocked he'd let this happen at all, because no one ever crept up without him knowing — ever — until now. 'Jesus, Brock,' Takumi warned over his shoulder at his friend.
'What the hell's with you? I wasn't even trying to be quiet.' Brock gave him a smug face. 'Keep this up and your ninja status is mud.'
'Happy to prove you wrong, anytime.' A broad grin eased into Takumi's face. Yeah, after the week he'd been through, the shit he'd seen, a little rough and tumble with the big man would do him the world of good. If anything, since leaving the force he'd become sharper — had to.
'Fuck off,' Takumi muttered good-naturedly, hiding his grin. He yanked his arm out of Brock's tight grasp. 'Don't make me do something I'll regret,' he joked, shoving the other man's chest with the flat of his hand; always at the ready, Brock didn't budge.
'You haven't come down yet?' Brock asked, eyes narrowing in on him.
Takumi and his good mate, Lawson Grady, had only been home a few days from a gruelling rescue trip; he was still wired, edgy. They were mentally and physically strong, but this last mission had thoroughly tested them both. It took days to come down from something like that. So he behaved a little too rough, and a little too strong. Brock knew this and handled his moods no problem; nevertheless, Takumi gave him a knowing smile, and muttered, 'I'm good.'
Adele's call to say she was coming to town had filled him with expectations, something he was powerless to do anything about; he'd never had this problem before. But then, he'd never met anyone like Adele before: strong, self-possessed, stunning.
Scary! Yes, because he wanted her in his life.
At least he wasn't a complete dumbass — or was he? Yeah, he was. He should've come clean, should've told her he wasn't having coffee, dinner, or a walk in the park to ask about Britt. He was in Sydney to see her, enjoy her company. And truth be told, he believed she enjoyed his.
Brock thumped his shoulder. 'Hey, where'd you go?'
'Nowhere, I'm good. It's just that woman out there is a free agent; the way she's packed that bike of hers with saddlebags and luggage rack, she's going places.' Scanning the Harley he added, 'You have to wonder how she can move that bike at all. But if she leaves ...' He jabbed a finger towards the window. 'I'll never know what news she has that brought her all the way out here, this time out of her comfort zone and into mine.' Which was bullshit; the real reason was, if Adele left it would take a while to find her again.
That simple word shattered and turned to dust every problem he thought he had, and created a colossal new one. Heat blasted in his chest, then rose up his neck and into his face; shit yeah, this whole scenario was scary as hell. So keep your shit together, or she'll be gone. And he didn't know how he'd handle that a second time.
'Why is it so hot in here?' Takumi stuck two fingers into the neck of his t-shirt and yanked it a few times.
Brock's answer was to chuckle, knowingly. And not taking his searching eyes off Takumi, he gave a sideways nod towards the plate glass window and the scene outside. Pedestrians were passing Adele at a leisurely pace, eyeballing her and her bike. Ignoring them, she shuffled her feet to manoeuvre the Harley, parking its rear tyre to the kerb, then turned the ignition off. The rumbling stopped and all was quiet. Realising she looked to be staying, Takumi shook the irritation out of his body.
Three young blokes rocked up and loitered close by, gaping at her. It didn't matter: they were locals and easily dismissed. Adele straddled her bike, her long, leather-clad legs straight down, her booted feet on hot asphalt. Takumi waited, but she made no move to come inside. Then, she slowly turned her helmeted head, in a meaningful, intimidating way, towards the young guys. They started to fidget. Takumi could read their behaviour: one would either be emboldened to show off to his mates, or they'd all bugger off. Adele kept her cool, straightened her back and waited. Muttering to each other they finally moved on with a couple of looks her way over their shoulders. Takumi chuckled when one of them sidestepped a light pole just in time.
Adele turned to face the road, looking straight ahead. He zeroed in on her chest expanding and contracting as if she were breathing hard. Then she let her head hang low, chin almost touching her chest. His brow furrowed; what the hell was she doing? But with her dark, impenetrable visor down, he couldn't see her expression, couldn't even guess what she was thinking or feeling.
'Give her a minute,' Brock murmured. Takumi allowed his friend's close scrutiny, even when Brock's deep growl gave him a warning, 'Don't look so friggin' grim. Remember what I said, this won't be easy ... for either of you. You lost someone you only ever had in-your-dreams, never in hers, never in Britt's, your friend, but also Adele's.' He hitched a thumb towards the window. 'She has lost everything. Her only friend, and yours, Britt. And now her gran has passed away. The only family she had. Adele is utterly alone! Going somewhere alone! Mate-tread carefully.'
Brock was right; they'd trawled social media sites to see if Adele was on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, but came up with nothing. They checked police records, but nothing of any value cropped up until a detective who remembered an interesting case and dug out the file for them. Adele had survived a car accident that killed her parents, and as if that wasn't enough trauma for a seven-year-old, according to the paperwork, they believed another car was involved. This was supported by Lilly, Adele's grandmother. She had told them that Adele had nightmares about another car and men chasing her.
'You listening,' Brock said, voice rumbling like a roll of thunder, 'carefully?' Takumi nodded and, face deadpan, he muttered, 'Sure ... I'm always in control of my mouth.'
Head tilted, Brock barked out a laugh.
From the corner of his eye, Takumi sensed movement outside. At the sound of Brock's guffaw, Adele had swung her head around to face the restaurant's window.
Takumi smacked him on the shoulder and muttered harshly, 'For fuck's sake-'
Brock brought his mirth down to a chuckle, which came from somewhere near his boots. Sobering, he shoved Takumi's hand away, smacked his big paw around the back of Takumi's neck, and with a tug, drew him to within an inch of his face. Eyes meaningful and caring, he reminded him-yet again. 'You never had Britt; so your thing for her? Let it go!'
Aggravated, Takumi slowly shook his head. Dark eyes slamming into Brock's he muttered harshly, 'For fuck's sake, we both tried to help Britt. Yes I wanted to date her; that didn't work so I took your advice. But I still have to find out what I can. Like with any friend you care about — you know? That Britt is safe, at least; and hopefully happy.' Chest expanding with a deep breath, he looked to the ceiling for deliverance.
'Okay — okay.' Hands up, palms out, Brock waited for Takumi to come back from his eye-roll. 'Tak, pay attention. From what I can read out there —' he nodded towards the girl with the mother of all bikes, still eliciting stares from passers-by before they sauntered on to work, school or whatever, '— she'll probably act like she's in control. You know as well as I do that's a defence mechanism — right? Let her have it and you'll get the answers you want — if she has any. Check her body language and get a grip.'
'Okay — I will, Brock — Jesus,' Takumi replied, his tone emphatic. 'I'm grateful she's here. And I'll do my best to make her feel welcome and comfortable.' He continued with a nod to the road, 'She needed a public place where we wouldn't be alone; like I'm going to ...
I don't know ... be an arse or something.'
Deadpan, Brock arched an eyebrow and said nothing.
'You're pissing me off now.' Takumi frowned, but couldn't hide his lopsided grin.
And with that, Brock palmed the side of Takumi's head and gently bopped him there a couple of times, then turned and sauntered out the back way through the restaurant, mumbling, 'Take it easy ... it's not hard.' He disappeared into the shadows, but his heavy footfalls could be heard going past the kitchen and heading towards the courtyard.
Takumi sighed as he swung around to see Adele kick the bike stand out and effortlessly fling a long leg over the seat, getting off in one fluid movement. A deep spasm seized his gut, rising up to fill his chest, quickly followed by a thought that nearly fried his brain — his life was about to change, dramatically. It worried him that he couldn't get a grip on whether it was ominous, or auspicious. In any event, it was significant, and it had everything to do with Adele.
He imagined her almost naked in barely-there triangles of spangled fabric while pole dancing ... him the lone spectator. Fuck. Dragging his eyes away from the window, he looked at the floor and chuckled mockingly ... Adele on stage would mean a room overflowing with blokes eyes glued to her while rubbing their boners; just the thought made him grind his teeth.
Jesus! He mentally hit himself upside the head to stop torturing himself.
He watched as she unclipped the straps and pulled off her cobalt-blue helmet with orange and gold flowing — Takumi squinted through the window — tails spray painted on the sides? The sun's rays caught the awesome, iridescent paintwork as she set her helmet on the seat of her bike. After removing a hair grip, her fingers disappeared into her hair to give it a good shake; a mass of streaky bronze and blonde waves tumbled over her shoulders and down her back.
'Fuck me!' he whispered to himself, in awe. In a room full of outstanding beauties, Adele would outshine them all.
A couple of utes slowed to a crawl as they went by. The rubber-necking drivers peering at the bikie girl almost had one running into the rear of the other. Word of mouth must have spread through town, like butter on a hot grill, bubbling about the stunning young woman on her shiny, impressive bike. Pretty soon more locals started wandering past, smiling.
Adele carried on as if they didn't exist. Takumi believed it was practised behaviour; and he was rarely wrong. His mind raced — was she covering her vulnerability? She had sounded nervous when they spoke on the phone about meeting for a talk. He reminded himself of Brock's parting words, to get a grip, be polite, and handle with care.
Arms folded over his chest, Takumi waited while Adele rummaged in her bike's bulging saddlebag. He'd never seen her dressed like this before and he had to admit, she was one sexy-as-fuck woman, head to toe clad in tight, black leather, serious motorbike gear. The customised Harley with extra gleaming chrome and amazing paintwork suited her.
Large sunnies replaced her helmet, which she tucked under her arm, and clutching a manila folder, she headed towards him with long purposeful strides on her biker-babe-boots.
Takumi shoved a chair aside and moved away from the door. Hands on hips, he waited with growing anticipation. The closer she got the more tense he became, and then his breath caught. She was finally coming in, and then he'd have to deal with her up close. Her remarkable beauty. Her style. Her scent. Her legs; he could almost imagine them wrapped around his hips, clutching him closer, tighter.
Despite the leathers, her lithe body moved in a fluid, natural way. But of course she did, it was part of her job, he wisely reminded himself in the hope he could put his wayward feelings into proper perspective. No such luck; as he watched the scene play out, Takumi thought that any man worth his salt would be salivating, his hands would be tingling needing to touch her, and his dick would be twitching, wanting a hell of a lot more. Oh yeah ... this woman was why he spent three-hour trips there and back to Sydney; trips that became more frequent just so he could spend half an hour with Adele Valentin.
And fantasise all the way home.
He tried to shake some sense into his thoughts, because dreaming about her was a waste of time; Adele was obviously on her way to somewhere.
It was subtle, but Takumi didn't miss a thing; Adele's body language told him that behind the sunnies, she had already assessed her surroundings, and the restaurant's door. Most women had trouble shoving open the huge, plate glass door with a heavy brass surround, but she didn't. Once again effortless. And for him, familiar movements, which unwittingly disclosed something more about Adele. Despite the tricky situation, he felt a grin coming on and quickly brought it under control. Letting the door slowly swing shut on its ancient, heavy spring, Adele quickly scanned the room. She turned, then stopped when she saw his face, and with the sound of heels clipping on mosaic tiles, and a mesmerising swing to her hips, she strode with confidence towards him.
Excerpted from "Promises in Tumble Creek"
Copyright © 2018 Louise Forster.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd..
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.