Starting a new series, I have M.Q. Barber on the blog today Please read on for my review, and be sure to check out the excerpt from this steamy new title.
Freshly divorced and still reeling, Eleanora is trying to find her footing in a life very different from the one she always imagined. But, her marriage wasn’t perfect: her husband was distant and remote, and a philanderer, and like all in her situation, her self-esteem took a serious hit.
Rob has been searching for ‘the right woman’, unsuccessfully, since leaving the Air Force. He’s got a solid idea of what he wants, now the time is to find his who.
A night out with work friends finds Eleanora a touch uncomfortable, but hoping to have a good time. And then she meets Rob, and sparks fly. Different from her husband, Rob is kind, interested in what she thinks and feels, and he is willing to gently encourage her to embrace who she is in this new incarnations, that potentially holds a relationship for the two of them.
Told in alternating points of view, the characters relationship develops and grows, and readers see the dates and together time, as well as the changes in the interior monologues about the relationship. These two are on the same page: they both want a person to love them, to be honest with, to explore life and pleasure together. And those moments are sweet, steamy and honest. A wonderful start to a new series, and a perfect read to reclaim your belief in relationships.
Dead last. Again.
The four of them went out after work every Friday, and every Friday Eleanora sat and smiled while guys bought drinks for Sharilyn. Hit the dance floor with Amber. Chatted up Chelsea’s breasts.
Even the sidekicks—wingmen, whatever guys called themselves—refused to give her a second glance. She couldn’t blame their lack of interest on the ring. She’d taken off the meaningless metal circle before the divorce had been finalized.
But to the endless crowd of broad-smile bar-hoppers, she rated five seconds of stilted conversation between texting or checking sports scores or playing Angry Birds. The highlight of four hours of boredom. Single life almost matched the worst tedium of married life.
That’s what she got for saddling herself with David and galloping through her twenties with his ring on her finger. He’d been her first. Her only.
Now she performed rotating roles as babysitter, chaperone, and charity case. She didn’t belong at a too-small table packed alongside tight-skinned and perky-breasted girls who flashed their IDs with the affected nonchalance of twenty-two-year-olds.
She downed the final sip of her third beer of the night. She didn’t dare hop in her car and head home yet. Given her luck, she’d end up pulled over and facing a drunk-driving charge. David would love any excuse to point out her idiocy. Hiring a lawyer without him finding out would be impossible in this town. She’d never live down the humiliation.
“—and it’s deep, too.”
Chelsea laughed along with what’s-his-name. Dog Collar Dude. Not attractive, but he had deep pockets. Probably thought he’d be getting in deep with Chelsea tonight, payment in exchange for buying round after round of drinks. God knew he hadn’t taken his eyes off her breasts.
Laughter came dangerously close to making Chelsea spill out of her silky, sleeveless v-cut. Eleanora’s closet didn’t hold a shirt anywhere near so revealing. Boring and staid, as much an accountant in her fashion picks as in her career choices. And in her bedroom habits.
She tilted her brown bottle. All gone. No magical extra swallows remained to knock David’s voice from her head.
“Whoa.” An unknown quantity stumbled to a halt beside her chair. “Your friend’s hot.”
Fantastic. The newest Mr. Drunk-and-Horny leaned in close and drenched her nose with the scent of teen body spray. Probably the same disgusting brand he’d used in high school. Probably lived in the same bedroom, too.
“Oh? Which one?” She’d come to this lousy bar with three friends— well, acquaintances—and he didn’t have a chance with any of them.
The skinny blond kid blinked as he scanned their table. Jesus. He looked barely old enough to buy the three beers he held, and she’d celebrated thirty-one six months ago.
Sooner or later she’d have to inform her coworkers she wasn’t going out with them anymore. They were twenty-four, twenty-five, and poaching college boys was fine for them. For her, the whole scene smacked of desperation. Three months of this bullshit added up to quite enough.
“Uh, all of ’em?” He presented a dopey smile.
“Damn, Ellie. Picking ’em young tonight, aren’t you?” Sharilyn swung her martini glass upward, sloshing vodka over the rim. “Good for you.”
“Yeah, no, I’m not—”
The kid wobbled into her chair. “I don’t feel—”
Vomit splattered her shoulder and rolled down her chest. Ugh. Should’ve dodged faster. She shoved him back.
Stumbling over his own feet, he landed on his ass, spilled his three beers all over himself, and retched. The acrid stench of puke replaced the flood of body spray in her nose. A toss-up, really.
She laughed over the chorus of oh-my-gods from the rest of the table. At least the night wasn’t boring anymore.
* * * * “
Rob swallowed the last of his beer. Lucas had better hurry up with the refills. “What now?”
They’d hit a handful of bars already. Brian had found trouble with every damned one. With Lucas staying at his place for the summer, he’d been playing mother hen for the last three weeks.
“I think my baby brother’s puking his guts out.”
“Take him home. Happy beer-buying birthday and all, but he’s done for the night.” He’d celebrated his own twenty-first on base with a pack of fellow tech geeks. Good guys, including Brian. How had fifteen years gone by so fast? “Pour him into bed.”
“Yeah.” Brian grimaced. “Soon as I figure out what to say to the woman with puke running down her shirt.”
“Try an apology.” He shoved his chair back and stood, scanning the tables for Lucas’s god-awful sea-green pullover. “Where is he?”
He spotted the vomit-splattered woman about the same time Brian answered, “Your four o’clock.”
Shit. Lucas had spewed at a full table, and he couldn’t get eyes on him. Man down. Threat?
No punches thrown, so far as he could tell. A circle of horrified and disgusted faces clustered to one side, their owners staring at the floor. One guy held his phone up. On the far side of the table sat a laughing woman with a beautiful smile and a stained shirt. Damn. He hadn’t taken a woman home in almost four months, and Lucas had party-fouled the first to catch his eye. “C’mon, let’s go rescue Lucas and get out of here.”
Looked like tonight wouldn’t be the night to break his sexless streak.
* * * * “
Oh my God, Ellie, seriously, how can you laugh about this?” Light glinted off glitter-speckled fingernails. Amber pushed back from the table. “Yuck. Danny, take me dancing.” She dragged her boy of the night away with a theatrical flounce.
“You do kinda reek, Ellie.” Sharilyn wrinkled her nose. “Not your fault, but eww.”
Waving in front of her face, Chelsea nodded.
Dog Collar Dude flipped through his phone. “Fuck, I missed the kid’s first splash. You think he could upchuck again? The visual’d make the video so much better.”
Eleanora glanced down with care. The regurgitated beer soaking into her shirt quickly lost its amusement value. The kid had added a puddle beside her chair. He barked out coughs like a hoarse dog.
“No, I don’t think he’s got anything else in his stomach.” She poked his knee with her foot. “Kid? You all right? You got somebody we can call for you?”
No answer, unless she counted more retching. Between the sound and the smell, her stomach started to turn.
A second man with the same pale hair as the first dropped to the floor beside the kid and laid a hand on his back. “Shit, Lucas, I thought you might’ve passed out.”
“Are you all right, miss?”
Sex on a stick. Thick thighs encased in denim inches from her eyes. She launched her head back and her chin skyward. Eyes up. Ohhh, bad idea. The stranger loomed over her with his strong jaw and his short, dark hair and his no-nonsense eyes.
“No, of course you aren’t.” His aborted hand movement stopped short of her shoulder. “Ugh, he did a number on your shirt. Let me give you a hand.”
He slipped around the other side of her seat. Cupping her elbow in one hand and pressing against her back with the other, he coaxed her to her feet. Large hands. Warm hands.
Her body jangled like a change jar spilling on tile.
“Look, he’s really sorry, or he will be when he’s sober.” The stranger glanced down, shaking his head. “He’s twenty-one today.”
She nodded. The blond guy picked the younger one off the floor. First legal drinking day. Okay. She filed the data under don’t care and waited for details about Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome.
“You can’t wear that home.”
Her chest had snared more attention in the last five minutes than in three months of flaunting herself at bars. She’d found the secret of dating. When introversion and modest assets failed, distress attracted the good guys. Not how she’d hoped to find someone.
The man with large hands squeezed and let her go. Peeling off his shirt, he revealed a to-die-for body. Solid, toned muscles from top to bottom. Too bad his jeans came almost to his waist. Denim blocked the enticing slope heading into his pants. God, David had never reached such nonchalant bare-chested perfection.
Her rescuer held out his shirt and gestured her toward the back of the bar. “Here, let me give you mine for tonight.”
No fucking way. This guy couldn’t be for real. She stumbled over her chair.
He steadied her with a quick hand on her clean shoulder.
“Thanks.” Oh, hallelujah. She’d started thinking she’d never find her voice. “That’s, umm, I appreciate it.”
“Least I can do, miss.” He guided her in front of him past the line for the ladies’ room and stopped at the door.
“Yo, man, you gotta put your shirt on.” A beefy guy in a black shirt with the bar’s logo over his chest held out an arm. “Carrying it don’t count. You can’t be shirtless, not in here.”
She disagreed with strenuous, silent objections. Her gentleman deserved to go shirtless wherever he liked.
“You wanna run around half-naked, you gotta head down the street to the Lazy Eight.”
Making that man put his shirt back on would be a crime. Her skin heated at the slow slide of excitement between her legs. Thirty minutes of fantasizing and foreplay with David left her dry as a desert compared to three minutes of standing next to Shirtless Gentleman. The longer she lingered in his orbit, the harder her lungs worked to serve up oxygen.
Lust walloped her with embarrassing swiftness. She lacked the looks and flirty attitude to pull a guy without adding a vomit-soaked shell to the mix. Riding off into the sunset with Shirtless Gentleman glinted so far out of the picture the location didn’t exist on her map.
“Yeah, I get that.” Shirtless Gentleman raised a hand. “You can toss me out in a minute. Right now, this pretty girl’s got someone else’s puke on her clothes, and I’m going to make sure she’s safe while she’s changing.”
Gripping his shirt, she ducked into the ladies’ room past the line of pissed-off, well-beyond-buzzed women. Shirtless Gentleman’s presence seemed to deflect any cursing about cutting the line.
“No, ma’am,” he rumbled over the din of music and chatter. “I don’t wax and you may not touch.”
Ma’am. Polite. Mannered.
She stuffed her shirt in the trash and grabbed a handful of paper towels.
The damp paper towels scraped her neck under her hardy scrubbing. At least the kid hadn’t destroyed her bra. The practical white soft-cup would serve.
Was Shirtless Gentleman military?
Tucking in the shirt didn’t give her the fitted look it had given him, but she managed to minimize her resemblance to a child swimming in her father’s clothes. Squinting hard almost made the outfit look intentional. A style choice to wear a black wide-neck tee with exposed white bra straps.
She slipped into the hall, her skin electric. His bare chest greeted her from two feet away, his arms crossed and his feet planted in a wide, easy stance. A few hoots and drunken catcalls rose from the women waiting in line.
Shoving aside her embarrassment, she tipped her head back and met his eyes. “Thank you.”
His attention stayed centered on her. The unsmiling bulk of a man sported solid pecs and a penetrating stare.
“Again.” She fumbled for a classy conversation starter. “Your shirt’s really soft.”
Your shirt’s really soft. What the fuck. Her brains had gone soft. Complete mush. Mashed potatoes held the edge in outthinking her.
His mouth twitched. “Must match your skin.”
“Sorry?” She’d heard him wrong. No way had he complimented her skin. Men didn’t say those things to her. “I didn’t catch that.”
He shook his head and dropped his arms. “Shirt looks better on you than it ever did on me, miss. Let me walk you back.”
Turning, he swept his hand behind her and landed with a light touch. Five points of pressure, a half circle of fingertips keeping in contact as they returned to the table. More than a few whistles followed them.
“It doesn’t bother you? Being”—she waved at the crowded tables— “stared at? Graded? Like you’re on display?”
Stupid question. Of course, the attention wouldn’t bother him. He had cool, calm confidence perfected. Anyone with his godlike body would want to show off.
“I got over any fear of public grading in basic training.”
Military. Nailed it.
Not yet, you haven’t.
Her face flamed.
“A’course, the opinions of a bunch of yappy drunks aren’t worth all that much, positive or not.” Shrugging, he tapped her back. “Being on display for the one woman who matters, well now, that’s a whole other thing. That’ll make a man nervous, sure enough, however cool he plays it.”
Great. He had a woman who mattered. Smooth, too, about sliding the revelation into the conversation. No ring, but an empty finger didn’t mean much these days.
“I think you’ve got cool down.” Months of going out with the girls from work had taught her how to categorize the bar crowd. The unholy chaos broke into three groups, all ring-free, with the singular difference whether they were ring-free but committed, ring-free and open or cheating, or ring-free and actually unattached. Limiting herself to the third group hadn’t done her any favors. “I hope your woman who matters sees through the facade and tells you what a great catch she’s made.”
He paused his tapping. “Oh, I don’t—”
“Woo, I didn’t know you were that kind of girl.” Sharilyn slapped her hand on the table. “Swapping clothes in a stall?” Her nosy, flamboyant attitude owed nothing to the drinks she’d downed. She came by her perky personality naturally. “What else did he get on you, Ellie?”
Ugh. She smiled through her irritation. Eleanora was bad enough, thanks to her mother’s obsession with family history. Every girl wanted to be named for the great-grandmother she’d never met.
Shortening her name to Ellie might as well transform her into a cow. Get along now, Bessie, Daisy, Ellie.
Sharilyn made her sound like a cow giving the milk away for free with a man she’d met ten minutes ago.