The Ladies' Man
by New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery
Rachel Harper was a kindergarten teacher. She was definitely not a one-night stand kind of girl. But that was exactly what she'd doneshe'd picked up a charming guy in a bar and brought him home. Mortified, Rachel couldn't get Carter Brockett out of her life fast enough. But then, a few weeks later, she discovers she's not quite done with Carter: she's pregnant with his baby.
Some Kind of Wonderful
by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan
Her whole life, Brittany Forrest has dreamed of adventure. And at the age of eighteen, she thought she'd found it when she married bad boy Zachary Flynn. But after just ten days, their whirlwind marriage went up in smoke. Now, the daredevil pilot is back on Puffin Island. The sparks between them are as powerful as ever, but can Brittany risk the life she's built for a second chance with Zach?
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes lively, sexy contemporary stories for Harlequin.
Romantic Times has described her as 'a magician with words' and nominated her books for their Reviewer's Choice Awards and their 'Top Pick' slot. In 2012 Sarah received the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America. She lives near London with her family. Find out more at www.sararahmorgan.co
Read an Excerpt
Rachel Harper had always longed to be more sophisticated. It was right there on her to-do list between "be more aware of current events" and "don't let your handwashing pile up so much."
While she had started watching the national news nearly every night, she wasn't doing so well keeping up with her delicates. And the sophistication thing? A total loss.
Which was why she found herself, at the ripe old age of twenty-five, sitting in a bar and feeling as if she didn't have a clue as to how to act. Not that she was here to do normal barlike things. Instead, she'd agreed to accompany Diane, a new teacher at her school, who was breaking up with her boyfriend and had asked Rachel to come along for moral support. As the next item of Rachel's to-do listright under the issue with the handwashingwas "get out more," she'd agreed to tag along to the Blue Dog Bar.
Rachel wasn't sure what dog, blue or not, had inspired the name. There seemed to be a lot more men than women in the bar. She swirled the margarita she'd ordered, then took a big sip.
"The jerk isn't even going to show up," Diane said from her seat across the small table they'd chosen by the wall. "That is so like him. I swear, I'm going to kick him in the head when I see him." Diane paused, then smiled. "See, I'm talking in 'I' sentences, just like that book said."
"Yes, you are," Rachel murmured, deciding not to point out that the "I" sentences the self-help manual referred to probably didn't fall into the "I'm going to kick you in the head" category.
"There he is," Diane said as she stood. "Wish me luck."
Rachel glanced at the tall, dark-haired man who strolled into the bar, looking as if he could take just about every other guy there. "Good luck," she said and meant it.
Carter Brockett eyed the curvy brunette in the prim dress and knew he was seconds away from all kinds of trouble. The cool, logical side of his brain reminded him that all the pain and suffering in his life could be traced back to one source: women. Life was always better when he walked away.
The part of his brainand the rest of himthat enjoyed a warm body, a sharp mind and a purely feminine take on the world said she looked interesting. And that last bit of consciousness, shaped by a very strong-willed mother who had drilled into him that he was always to protect those weaker than him, told him that the attractive brunette was in way over her head.
He could be wrong of course. For all he knew, she was a leather-wearing dominatrix who came to the Blue Dog because of the place's reputation. But he had his doubts.
The Blue Dog was a cop bar. But not just any hangout for those in uniform. It was a place where guys showed up to get lucky and the women who walked in counted on that fact. Carter usually avoided the placehe worked undercover and couldn't afford to be seen here. But one of his contacts had insisted on the location, so Carter had agreed and prayed no one from the force would speak to him.
No one had. He'd concluded his business and had been about to leave when the brunette had walked in with her friend, who was currently involved in a heated conversation with Eddy. Eddy wasn't exactly a prince when it came to his dating habits, so Carter had a feeling the chat wasn't going to go well. He nodded at Jenny, the bartender on duty, then pointed to the brunette. Jenny raised her eyebrows.
Carter didn't have to guess what she was thinking. Jenny, an ex-girlfriend, knew him pretty well. Yeah, well, maybe after a few months of self-induced celibacy, he was ready to give the man-woman thing another try. Even though he knew better. Even though it was always a disaster.
He glanced around and saw he wasn't the only one who'd noticed the contrast between the brunette's made-for-sin body and her Sunday-school-teacher clothes. So if he was going to protect her from the other big bad cops, he'd better get a move on.
He walked to the bar, where Jenny handed him a beer and a margarita. He ignored her knowing grin and crossed to the brunette's table.
"Hi. I'm Carter. Mind if I join you?"
As he asked the question, he set down the margarita and gave her his best smile.
Yeah, yeah, a cheap trick, he thought, remembering all the hours he'd spent perfecting it back in high school. He'd taught himself to smile with just the right amount of interest, charm and bashfulness. It never failed.
Not even tonight, when the woman looked up, flushed, half rose, then sat back down, and in the process knocked over her nearly empty drink and scattered the slushy contents across the table and down the front of her dress.
"Oh, no," she said, her voice soft and almost musical. "Darn. I can't believe I " She pressed her lips together, then looked at him.
He'd already sopped up the mess on the table with a couple of napkins. He completely ignored the dampness on her dress. Sure, he was interested, but he wasn't stupid.
"You okay?" he asked, curious about a woman who actually said darn. "Yes. Thank you."
He passed over the drink he'd brought. She glanced first at it, then at him. "I'm, ah, with someone."
He kept his gaze on her. "Your girlfriend. I saw you come in together."
She nodded. "She's breaking up with her boyfriend and wanted moral support. I don't usually This isn't " She sighed. "She'll be back soon."
"No problem," he said easily. "I'll keep you company until she's finished."
Even in the dim light of the bar, he could see her eyes were green. Her long, dark hair hung in sensuous waves to just past her shoulders.
Carter held in a snort. Sensuous waves? He'd sure been without for a little too long if he were thinking things like that.
She shifted uncomfortably and didn't touch the drink.
"Is it me or the bar?" he asked.
"What? Oh, both, I suppose." Instantly, she covered her mouth, then dropped her hand to her damp lap. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"It's fine. I'm a great believer in the truth. So which is more scary?"
She glanced around the Blue Dog, then returned her attention to him. "Mostly you."
He grinned. "I'm flattered."
"Why? You want me to think you're scary?"
He leaned forward and lowered his voice just enough to get her to sway toward him. "Not scary. Dangerous. All guys want to be dangerous. Women love that."
She surprised him by laughing. "Okay, Carter, I can see you're a pro and I'm way out of my league with you. I cheerfully confess I'm not the bar type and being in this setting makes me horribly uncomfortable." She glanced at her friend. "I can't tell if the fight's going well or badly.
What do you think?"
He looked at Eddy, who'd backed the blonde into a corner. "It depends on how you're defining 'well.' I don't think they're actually breaking up. Do you?"
"I'm not sure. Diane was determined to tell him what she thought, once and for all. In 'I' sentences."
He frowned. "In what?"
She smiled. "I think you're not treating me with respect. I think you're always late on purpose. That kind of thing. Although she did say something about wanting to kick him in the head, which is unlikely to help. Of course, I don't know Eddy. He may like that sort of thing."
Carter was totally and completely charmed. "Who are you?" he asked.
"My name is Rachel."
"You don't swear, you don't hang out in bars, so what do you do?"
"How do you know I don't swear?" she asked.
"You said 'darn' when you spilled your drink."
"Oh. Right. It's a habit. I teach kindergarten. There's no way I can swear in front of the children, not that I ever used a lot of bad words, so I trained myself to never say them. It's just easier. So I use words like 'darn' and 'golly.'" She grinned. "Sometimes people look at me like I'm at the dull-normal end of the IQ scale, but I can live with that. It's for the greater good. So who are you?"
A complicated question, Carter thought, knowing he couldn't tell her the truth. "Just a guy."
"Uh-huh." She eyed his too-long hair. "More than just a guy. What do you do?"
That changed with the assignment, he thought. "I'm working for a chopper shop. Motorcycles," he added.
She straightened her spine and squared her shoulders. "I know what a chopper is. I'm not some innocent fresh out of the backwoods."
Her indignation made him want to chuckle. She reminded him of a kitten facing down a very large and powerful dog. All the arched back and hissing fury didn't make the kitten any bigger.
"Not a lot of backwoods around here," he said easily. "Desert, though. You could be an innocent fresh out of the desert."
Her lips twitched, as if she were trying not to smile. He pushed her margarita toward her.
"You're letting all the ice melt," he told her.
She hesitated, then took a sip. "Are you from around here?" she asked.
"Born and raised. All my family's here."
Now it was his turn to pause. He didn't usually give out personal information. In his line of work, it could get him into trouble. But he had a feeling Rachel wasn't going to be a threat to much more than his oath of celibacy.
"Three sisters, a mom. Their main purpose in life is to make me crazy." He made the statement with equal parts love and exasperation.
Rachel looked wistful. "That's nice. Not the crazy part, but that you're close."
"You're not close to your family?"
"I don't have any."
He didn't know what to say to that and reminded himself too late that he was supposed to be charming her, not reminding her that she was alone in the world.
"Are you from around here?" he asked.
"Riverside?" She shook her head. Her hair swayed and caught the light and, for the moment, totally mesmerized him. "I moved here after I graduated from college. I wanted a nice, quiet, suburban sort of place." She sighed. "Not very exciting."
"Hey, I've lived here all my life. I can show you the best spots for viewing the submarine races."
She grinned. "Where I grew up, we went parking over by the river. Well, not really a river. More of a gully. Part of the year, it even had water in it."
She shrugged. "I had my moments."
Her gaze drifted to where her friend still talked to Eddy. "Not so much." She looked back at him. "Why'd you come over?"
He smiled. "Have you looked in the mirror lately?"
She ducked her head and blushed. Carter couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a woman blush. He wanted to make her do it again.
"Thank you," she said. "I spend my days with five-year-olds whose idea of being charming is to put glue in my hair. You're a nice change."
"You're comparing me to a five-year-old?" he asked, pretending outrage.
"Well, a lot of guys have maturity issues."
"I'm totally mature. Responsible, even."
She didn't look convinced. "Of course you are."
Carter was interesting, Rachel thought, then nearly laughed out loud at the wild understatement. Okay, he was gorgeous, in a California blond, male-model sort of way. Classically handsome with shaggy hair. She couldn't stop looking at him, which told her she needed to get out more. No waitthat was already on her to-do list.
He was big, with broad shoulders and a smile that made her toes curl inside her sensible, low-heeled pumps even as she wondered if there were any interesting tattoos underneath the chambray shirt and jeans. What would it be like to be a leather-and-lace kind of womansomeone who knew what to do with a guy like Carter? As it was she was blushing, practically stammering and wishing Diane would hurry up so they could go.
Except she wasn't ready to leave. Not just yet. Carter wasn't the kind of guy who usually came on to her, but it was fun to play "what-if" even if only in her head.
So she took a drink of her margarita and imagined herself to be wearing a wicked red-lace bra and a matching thong under black leather and some low-cut bustier. What would that Rachel say to a man like him?
"So tell me a secret," she said, surprising herself and, from the way his eyebrows lifted, him.
Her instinct was to take it back and say he didn't have to, but she refused to crumble now.
He thought for a second, then shrugged. "I keep trying to give up on women. They invade every part of my life and I know I'd be better off if I could just stay away from them. I was raised to do the right thing, so once I'm involved it's hard to get out."
Not the answer she'd expected. "You know I'm a woman, right?" she asked, only half kidding.
He grinned. "Oh, yeah. I noticed."
"You're going to give up women by not avoiding them?"
He sipped his beer. "It's a work in progress," he admitted. "I avoid them for a few months and then I walk into somewhere safe and I'm sucker punched by someone I didn't expect."
Did that mean her?
"So tell me your secret," he said.
"I dance," she admitted without thinking, then immediately wished she could call back the words. "I mean, I used to. When I was growing up and in college. I wanted to be a dancer, but I don't have the right body type."
He was polite enough to keep his gaze firmly fixed on her face.
"What kind of dance?" he asked.
"Everything. Ballet, jazz, modern. I still take classes, which is silly because it's not like I'm going to do something with it."
"Why is it silly? Does everything have to have a purpose?"
She didn't know how to answer. She'd never told anyone about her dancing and she wasn't sure why she'd admitted it now. Maybe because it was easier than talking about her leather-and-lace fantasy.
Before she could answer his question, Diane's sharp voice cut across the floor.
"You're a jerk, Eddy. I don't know why I ever bothered with you."
"Hey, babe, don't be that way."
Eddy reached for Diane, who pushed his arm away. "I hate you. How's that for an I sentence. Go to hell."
Eddy threw up both hands. "I don't need this from you. Just forget it."
Diane glared at him. "Fine, I will. This is the end. Don't bother coming around again. Understand?"
"Clearly. Don't you come crawling back. I'm not interested."
With that, Diane whirled around and marched out of the bar.
Rachel stared after her. "She said she wanted to break up with him, but I didn't think she meant it." She looked at the exit, wondering if her friend would be all right. "I need to go check on her."
Rachel stood, as did Carter. She glanced from him to the door and back.
"Thanks for the drink and the conversation," she said, suddenly feeling awkward. "You were really nice."
His easy smile gave her toes another miniworkout. "Words every guy longs to hear."
"What? Oh." She laughed. "Right. Sorry. You were especially dangerous tonight. I was terrified."
He stepped around the table and lightly kissed her. She had no warning. One second he was moving and the next she felt a soft, tempting pressure on her mouth that was gone before she could fully grasp it.
"Take care, Rachel," he said and headed back to the bar.
She watched him go, then turned and walked out into the still warm evening. Who could have known she could meet such a great guy in a bar? She glanced at the sign showing a sitting, tail-wagging, blue dog in bright neon. And here, of all places.
At least she could check "get out more" off her to-do list, she thought as she moved toward Diane's car. That was
The car was gone.