Greetings! It’s Alexis Alvarez with an excerpt from my brand-new novel, A Handful of Fire. A taboo relationship…steamy passion…and emotional, poetic prose. It’s a stand-alone contemporary romance with lots of sexy heat and an HEA.
Here are the blurb and the first two chapters.
Single father Gabriel Baystock is rich and powerful, educated and handsome – and helpless when it comes to ensuring his son Michael recovers fully from a childhood cancer. He’ll do anything, even hire award-winning child therapist Shai Bonaventura.
Shai is drawn to brooding, sexy Gabriel, and while she falls in love with the little boy she’s hired to help, she loses her heart to his father. Their powerful chemistry is off the charts hot, and Shai thinks he might be the one to help heal her own demons, even if it means crossing professional boundaries.
But when old secrets from Shai’s past are revealed, it’s not clear if their fragile relationship can survive the harsh reality of the real world…or whether they have the courage to fight for what they really need?
Even from across the room, I can see that his eyes are the color of emeralds glowing in the dark. If I thought his lean body was dangerous, if watching his muscles moving under the expensive suit made me catch my breath, the glimpse of his face only increases my attraction. He’s far more attractive in person than even his best pictures on the internet. I find it hard to believe that this is the father of my newest patient—assuming he hires me, of course; Allison explained how he thinks therapy is usually a “complete waste of time.”
He notices my gaze; a beat goes by, our eyes locked, and then he smiles. Does he know who I am yet? I stand straighter in my heels and fluff my red-brown curls with one hand. I know I look good in my blue sheath dress; I’ve been working out. Still, the people around him are a world apart in terms of elegance.
I turn to my boss with a smile, tuning down the images. “Allison. This is amazing.” I gesture, the word amazing no match for the elegance of the charity champagne fundraiser our company, Frazier Pharma, has sponsored.
“Our entire team worked hard to make it happen. Thank you for being part of the effort. Having my therapy team manager here is critical for our fund-raising.” Allison Emercy is perfection in a crimson gown and blond up-do, looking younger than her fifty-two years. With her at the helm, our charity auctions bring in an unprecedented amount of money. This time our pharmaceutical company is raising money for childhood cancer research. It makes the company look good, that’s a given, but it’s something we all believe in.
“It means a lot to me.” Instinctively I touch my silver locket. It’s fancy enough that it matches any outfit, even formal wear, not that I’d care. It’s a reminder of Mani, and I’ll never take it off.
I shoot another look over at him, but he’s not looking anymore; he’s busy with a cluster of elegant people, doctors and rich patrons.
Allison looks over, too. “There’s Gabriel. When he’s free I’ll introduce you. You’re ready, yes?” She raises an eyebrow.
For a second I feel like my heart hangs at the top of a roller-coaster, ready to head down, then it bangs into action, staccato. “Yes.” But lusting over a patient’s, well, a potential patient’s father, is not professional.
I keep looking. He’s in his early thirties, like I am—but he’s separated from me by a chasm of wealth and privilege. He’s got a sylph on his arm, a few handsome men around him, and several women hover, coming and going like delicate butterflies around a blazing sun.
I know these things from my internet search mixed with information from Allison: He’s a single father, widowed. One of the richest bachelors in Chicago. A difficult ten-year-old son with emotional issues and a genius I.Q. And, although this shouldn’t matter to the job at hand, I can’t help but notice that he’s breathtakingly handsome.
I remember what Allison told me at our last meeting: “Gabriel Baystock could be one of our biggest donors. He already gave to the cancer research fund, but he’s unsure about the therapy program. He doesn’t think therapy works. His son is recovering from pleuropulmonary blastoma that spread—a good prognosis, but the child is having emotional difficulties. Their surgeon recommended therapy, so Gabriel said he’d try our program, and if it helps Michael, he’ll donate to help it expand. He asked for the best child therapist—that’s you.”
When Allison asked if I could work an extra patient into my schedule and still lead the therapy team, I said, “Yes, of course.” Because she wasn’t really asking.
And how could I say no? I love the sparks of challenge and hope that come with each new child. Taking a little person and helping them replace the rotten broken railings on the hanging bridge of their mind, allowing them to cross from anger and pain to a happier place—that fulfills me.
Beneath the pride and excitement, though, came that additional feeling that I get more often these days, the ever-increasing tone of unease. I pour everything I have into this job. But my batteries are wearing out and I don’t know where to recharge them.
I remember how much it meant to me when I had a therapist help me after the incident, all those years ago, and how I promised myself that I’d devote my life to helping other kids out of their own personal hell. So if I’m running on fumes some days, I just have to figure out how to keep going. I brush my index finger down the thin scar on the side of my face, which is usually hidden by my curls, and bite my lip, trying to push back memories. This isn’t the time, or the place. I need to focus.
A passing couple in their sixties stop to greet Allison. He’s tall and lean; so is she; they both walk with the confidence you see, always, in the best surgeons. The man takes her hands and kisses both cheeks. “Dr. Emercy. It is so good to see you.” He’s got a lovely French accent.
Allison steers me forward with one hand on my shoulder. “This is Shai Bonaventura, my Therapy Outreach manager. We started a new initiative at Frazier, a way to connect with the children in our community who need help beyond the lifesaving medicines we work so hard to provide. Shai has received the Chicago’s Best Therapist Award three years in a row now. It’s a peer-driven award and a high honor.”
I smile and shake hands.
Allison adds, “There are many children who can benefit from behavioral therapy while they undergo treatment and recovery for childhood cancer and other illnesses. Shai heads our new department of therapists. For qualifying families, we will provide free therapy sessions for up to a year. Right now it’s a beta program, and after we prove our success in a limited market, we’re going to expand.” She smiles and the couple smiles back. “Shai, can I leave you with Dr. and Dr. Pelletier, Lucas and Lena, to explain more about our program?”
I take the verbal baton. “Of course.”
After I finish selling our project to the doctors, who promise to donate a sum of money that is double my annual salary, I need a moment alone to recoup. I duck out into the hallway.
There’s art on the walls—I recognize the small rapid brushstrokes of Monet; the bolder, rougher ones of Cezanne. These are originals; I’m sure of it. I regard another picture, one by an artist I don’t recognize. It’s like a photograph, but it’s painted. It’s bleak and beautiful and it tears into me immediately, fierce and sad. It’s raindrops on a window, and a shattered alley outside, the only beauty from the smeared wet colors and the perfect desolation, from the way the water distorts the reality into art.
The one next to it is diametrically opposite in tone. It’s sunlight streaming in beams across a field, waving flowers, and so much space captured in so little space that it’s a miracle. Inside bigger than the outside. A trick of a master. It’s a magic wardrobe, a sidewalk chalk painting you can jump into, a book you want to read forever. I can tell it’s by the same artist because—well, I don’t know the artistic words. But I know it in the way I can tell music by Mozart just by hearing a few bars. Songs by Madonna. A painting by Van Gogh. Prose by Hemingway. Some things are so essentially themselves that you always know them, even if you don’t have the language to explain why.
Nor do I know why someone put these two pictures here, side by side, unless they want to showcase the opposite ends of human emotion. My eye darts from one to the other, unable to choose which one is more powerful. They’re both fascinating; I can’t pick which one I like better. It’s almost like both are necessary; they work together to highlight the beauty of the other.
Allison comes up behind me, touches my shoulder. “Gabriel’s ready to meet you now, Shai. He has some time before the next speech.”
Before I can answer, he enters the hallway and comes right up to us, and my heart jumps to my throat as he reaches out his hand. “Shai? I’m Gabriel Baystock.”
I put out my hand, and when he takes it, an unmistakable spark travels down my fingertips and dissolves into my bloodstream. When it pulses to my heart, I catch my breath. “Hello.” I smile, feel my face flush, and don’t care. “It’s nice to meet you.”
His eyes are mesmerizing, deeper than both of those pictures on the wall, and more beautiful. Also, sadder, I think; he’s guarded. This man is sexy and muscular and he seems completely unrelaxed, even though he’s confident. I wonder why.
“I understand you’re Frazier’s top therapist.” His voice sends reverberations into my skin. He’s still holding my hand, and I’m reluctant to take it back when he releases it. His eyes move up and down my body, and it’s like I can feel his fingers doing it. I suck in a breath. I’ve never been so attracted to someone so fast, felt a gaze so intense. But he’s probably just examining me. I don’t want to imagine desire in his eyes, when it’s merely the want reflecting from my own. Besides, I have to stay professional.
“Our entire team is top-rated,” I say; it’s important to highlight the fact that I’m the tip of a huge iceberg of care, although the praise makes my cheeks tingle.
“Allison and Dr. Chandler said they feel you specifically, of the entire team, have the interpersonal skills to be a match for my son. He’s had a difficult time.” His face tightens. “We’ve tried other therapists after his treatment, and they just never work out.”
“Helping children on the journey to wellness is my top priority, ” I say. Then, because this sounds clinically sterile, and because his eyes narrow, I add, “I genuinely like all of my patients. I bond with them, root for them, and do my best to help them regain self-confidence and joy. I’ve never met a child yet that I haven’t been able to help.” As I speak, I can feel my own confidence behind my words. Fumes or no fumes, this is what I do, and I’m good at it. Damn good.
His eyes drill into mine, and I sense a challenge. “‘Well, we’ll see.” His voice is noncommittal but a little arrogant. “Why don’t you meet my son first, before you start making promises.” He walks down the hallway with a “follow me” gesture.
I shoot Allison a look, tilting my head and raising my eyebrows. He may be rich and powerful, but I’m the expert here, and I know I’m good at my job.
Allison gives me a one-shoulder shrug and a small smile. “Follow up with me later, okay? I’m going to head back to catch up with more donors.” She walks the opposite way, back to the crowd.
I nod and follow Gabriel up a flight of stairs, where we reach a woman standing in the open doorway of a large playroom. She has one hand on the walkie at her waist and stands firm, like a guard. “Gabe! Here to check on Michael and the gang?”
This doesn’t make sense, but when I step closer and peer past her to see about a dozen children, I understand: These must be kids of the guests. Babysitting on the spot. It only makes sense to keep them safe. Of course if I had a child I’d do the exact same thi—I touch my scar.
“Lindsay.” Gabriel nods, his voice short. “I’m going to introduce Michael to the therapist. Shai.” He gestures at me and I smile. But Gabriel’s standing back in the hallway so he can’t be seen by anyone inside the room. He doesn’t seem like he wants to do any introducing.
“Okay, um, but…” Lindsay wrinkles her nose. She adds, “Shai, it’s so nice to meet you! But maybe now isn’t…?” Then she gestures across the room, and I see the child who needs someone. Who needs me.
Chapter Two – Shai
The other children are busy together; there’s a PlayStation VR connected to a large-screen TV, and an intricate train set. This kid is alone, sitting with his back to the room, looking out the window. I can only see his profile. His face is puffy, his head bald. I fight the urge to run up and enfold him in my arms. I want to tell him he’s special, miraculous. I want to fix him. But now isn’t the time.
The child looks over. His eyes are green, like Gabriel’s. I see tears in his eyes before he turns back to the window, his arms crossed over his chest.
Lindsay steps out of the doorway and lowers her voice. “I hate to throw a wrench into things, but? He’s just sitting there all sad, and when the other kids come up to him, he snaps at them or ignores them, and now they’re starting to whisper? It’s killing me. I’m worried that if you guys go in there right now and start doing a therapy thing? They might make fun of him? What if you did it after ice cream?”
Gabriel sighs. “Lindsay. I don’t plan to embarrass him in front of the other kids. Why don’t you have Clare take them to the kitchen, and we’ll talk privately to Michael. He can’t have ice cream right now anyway. It’s not on his diet.”
Another helper moves into action, and soon the kids stream past, giggling, running, dawdling, poking, a ragged line of healthy childhood. I can tell that they’ve forgotten Michael as they move on to the next adventure.
When they’re gone, the silence in the room is noticeable. Gabriel crosses his arms. “Lindsay. Would you please go introduce Shai?” He nods his head.
It’s a little weird, but I’m not about to say so. Lindsay walks over and touches his shoulder. “Michael.”
He stiffens and shrugs off her hand, and makes a growly noise without looking at her.
“Michael? I’d like to introduce you to someone.” Her voice is gentle, hesitant. “This is Shai, the therapist. She’s here to meet you and just say hi like we talked about with your dad before, okay?”
Michael looks at my hazy reflection in the black window, and our eyes meet, sort of, as ghosts. “I’m not interested in therapy at this time,” he tells me. “Therapy is for people who can’t handle life on their own.”
I nod. “You’re right. The thing is, though, none of us can handle life on our own. It’s okay to get help when we need it.” I shift my purse on my arm.
He notices my move and tilts his chin. “Let me guess. You probably have a cheap, infantile stuffed animal made for a three-year-old in your purse, right? And you’ll give it to me because it will make you feel so good about yourself, and you’ll never stop to think that it’s just a piece of crap that I’ll add to the ever-growing pile of stuffed animals that people give me that I just want to throw away. I get enough of those from the women who throw themselves at my dad and pretend to be nice to me.”
Behind his back, Lindsay winces and shoots me a pleading look. I wonder if Gabriel is hearing this. He must be. He’s right behind us, in the doorway. For a second I feel stress, then it all goes away when I look back at Michael’s eyes and see the hurt there, the longing.
I crouch down to speak, and he says, “I see what you’re doing. It’s called getting on my level. Now you’re going to talk in a soft voice, like you’re trying to entice a baby deer, and tell me that you want to be my friend. You can just go away.” He crosses his arms and scowls, but I see a challenge in his face. He hasn’t tilted his body away, and he’s looking up at me, almost eager.
I think about this and say, “What was the ugliest one?” I have to win him over. I think I need to match him wit for wit, like in a game of chess. Clearly he wants to be respected, not condescended to.
This seems to surprise him. “What?”
I make my play. “The stuffed animals. I’m imagining a fake Tigger from one of those claw-machines that make me depressed every time I see them in a dirty restaurant lobby. Something so awful that you just know it cost about two cents to create, and it was made by sad overworked kids in some kind of Chinese labor camp, something that nobody in their right mind would buy. And maybe it had a stupid label on its neck with your name written in frilly, fancy purple pen, but maybe your name is even spelled wrong?”
He stares, I stare. I hold my breath. This is the moment of truth—will he accept me or not?
Time goes on and on, and he’s silent. Finally he grins. “The ugliest one,” he tells me, “was a pink plastic kitten with rainbow splotches all over it, with the name Princess Lorelei on a bow around its neck and eyes as big as, like, the bottom of a Coke can. And I think it had been pre-owned, because it was a little dirty. I wanted to roast it like a marshmallow in the courtyard BBQ, but you just know it’s probably made with lots of lead paints.” He gives me a challenging look. “Did you know that the symbol for lead is Pb? Its atomic number is 82. The word comes from Latin.”
I nod, letting out a mental sigh of relief and gratitude. “I do know that the symbol is Pb, but I admit I would have had no idea of the atomic number. But if you decide to see me, we can start by burning all of the toddler toys in a huge bonfire. I’ll bring gas masks so we don’t choke on the toxic fumes.” I grin and add, “I might not know the elemental properties of lead, but I can help protect you from brain damage.”
This makes him smile bigger, and I think he might want to laugh. But he doesn’t. “That’s funny,” he says, and his face looks happy. He waves his hands a few times, small gestures, like little butterflies.
He leans in closer and lowers his voice conspiratorially. “I can tell you’re not in this just to get to my dad,” he says. “We’ve had quite a few women say they wanted to help me out, but they were only trying to get closer to Gabriel. You don’t talk like them.” He narrows his eyes. “Or look like them.”
I’m pretty sure he means it as a compliment, even though it maybe didn’t come out quite that way. “Well, I’m just unique that way,” I say. “It’s kind of my calling card. The hey, I’m not here to snag Michael’s dad look. Very popular these days, you know, in certain circles. I might even start a trend.” Then I add, “Also? I’m an actual certified therapist, I love working with kids, and I’m good at my job.” I smile.
“Because they’re usually models and stuff.” His face is blank. “That’s the kind of women who gravitate to him. His girlfriend, Arielle? She’s a model.” He bites his lip, and the look he gives me now is almost pleading.
I nod. “Got it. My orbital pull is not going to be sufficient to attract your progenitor.” I feel my face get hot. I know Gabriel and Lindsay can hear this.
He laughs now. “You’re smart.” He sounds surprised and pleased.
“Yeah. So are you.” Understatement of the year. “I just might be able to keep up with you if I brush off my calculus book,” I joke.
Michael stops laughing and gives me a shy smile, and I think he’s starting to like me. “If you really need help, I’m on partial differential equations. They’re easy. I think solving them is kind of like cracking a spy code.” Then he turns pink and looks down quickly before meeting my eyes again.
He touches his bald head along a hair-thin scar line and I see him looking at my cheek, at my own scar, which shows now that I’ve leaned forward to talk. I think he wants to ask, but he doesn’t. “Okay,” he announces. “You’re hired.”
I feel a presence behind me as a masculine voice rings out, a displeased voice, “That’s my decision to make, Michael.”
My eyes widen and I feel my cheeks flushing as I leap to my feet. Supermodels. I suck in my stomach and stand tall in my heels and fluff my curls. Maybe I’m no runway model, but I’m damn pretty, and I have nice curves. I have nothing to be ashamed of! Then I’m mad at myself for caring.
Michael rolls his eyes. “Calm down, Gabriel. She’s not murdering me. She didn’t even give me a Beanie Boo.” His voice is sarcastic. “And for that, I am sincerely grateful. I mean, since you parked me here with the Kindergarten Craptastics, I’ve been bored out of my skull. Oh. Too bad the cancer won’t leave my skull along with my sanity, right?”
“Michael.” Gabriel’s voice is tight. “That kind of language is inappropriate. We’ve talked about this—”
Michael turns his back. Gabriel doesn’t say anything, but I can feel the tension coming off him. He runs a hand through his dark hair and curses under his breath. “Fuck.” His green eyes are dark, and the frown makes me forget, for a second, about how handsome he is. When he folds his arms over his chest, I can see his muscles through the dress shirt, though, and I try not to gawk.
“May I talk to you out in the hallway?” I nod my head to the doorway and he scowls, follows me.
“Gabriel. Thank you for letting me meet Michael. I can tell he’s brilliant and creative and mature for his age.” I touch his arm and feel that spark again, and for a split second I think that there’s something in his eyes beyond frustration and irritation, something feral and dark, something just for me.
I pull back. “It seems that he’s feeling a lot of anger and confusion right now, and that it’s getting directed toward you and himself. I can help him. I’d love to work with him.” I feel the absolute need to work with Michael, more than any other child I’ve met.
Michael’s voice pipes up as he steps out to join us. “I like her, Dad.” He tilts his head and smirks. “If you hire her, I bet she could help me figure out how to stop cursing. And how to stop putting beetles in Arielle’s purse. Well, it was just the one time, but it was so rewarding that you just know I’m tempted to step up my game and order some Madagascar hissing cockroaches online. They’re relatively inexpensive, you know. And how to stop—”
Gabriel interrupts. “Michael. This doesn’t concern you. Go back with Lindsay. And why don’t you work on that essay, already, while the other kids are busy. Lindsay can help. It’s the perfect chance right now. Your tutor said this weekend is the last chance to rewrite it before you get a zero.”
Michael’s mouth drops open and so does mine and I speak without thinking. “This entirely concerns him. It couldn’t be more about him if it—if it were a T-rex come alive to eat all of North Carolina.”
Michael laughs. “I love Parasaurolophuses better than T-rexes. Actually, it couldn’t be more about me if it were an airplane full of pretty pink Barbies with glitter glue and,” he hesitates, shooting a sidelong glance at Gabriel, and continues, speeding up his words, “fucking ballet tutus on them that crashes into a pet food factory.”
“That’s enough.” Gabriel’s voice is steel. He points. “I don’t need your cursing or your backtalk.”
“Whatever.” Michael crosses his arms tight across his chest, but there’s something in the gesture that’s sad instead of mad, and tears sparkle in his eyes.
I want to help, but it’s clear that if I argue further with Gabriel, I will make things worse. I shouldn’t even have contradicted him! That’s absolutely forbidden in therapy 101. Never directly contradict the parents like that, so bluntly, even if they’re wrong. You need to have a professional approach at all times. Honest, but gentle. Never lie, but don’t be an asshole. Feeling are delicate.
I look Michael in the eye and say, “I hope we meet again.” I mean it, and I hope he can tell. I add, “You’re a cool boy.”
“I am?” The words come out of him with a force that surprises me. It’s like they’re pulled from him, an animal ripping another one apart. His face teeters on the edge of disaster.
“You’re more than cool. You’re smart and funny and brave. I like you.” I might never see this kid again, and if my words can help him climb one centimeter out of his own personal hell, then I’m going to pour them like water onto a blaze.
“Brave and smart because I fight cancer like a little champ?” His voice is sarcastic but I hear hope, too, a tiny reedy thread of it.
“Brave because you say what you’re thinking, and you’re honest enough to put your feelings out there. And clever because you mentally crashed a plane of Barbies into kibble. If I were a modern artist? I’d paint that and sell it and be the next Andy Warhol. Now that’s good thinking.”
Michael’s face is transformed as he laughs. He makes an airplane noise, then flattens his hand and zooms it down like it’s crashing. He laughs harder than my joke is funny, and I think maybe he’s laughing with relief and joy that someone gets him. And when he laughs, I see his father in his face. Something about Michael’s cheeks and eyes is handsome despite the swelling, and I see the man he’ll be. If he lives to get there.
That thought chills me and I feel like vomiting. It’s the part of my job that freezes off little bits of my soul, turning them black and gangrenous so I have to excise them. I just hope that I can help enough kids before my heart is shaved down to nothing.
“Maybe you can paint it yourself,” I offer. “Or work it into that school essay. Sometimes I think it’s fun to throw people off by doing exactly what they need, but adding in my own little twist. It’s like putting my own needle in the haystack and watching to see who finds it. So what’s your essay supposed to be about?” I look at Gabriel to see if he wants to stop this line of conversation, but he shrugs, gives me a “go ahead” gesture, so I look back at Michael, raise an eyebrow.
Michael stops laughing. “I’m supposed to write a story about what I’ll be doing in ten years. The teacher told me to redo it because my first try I drew a picture of a graveyard and my name on the stone.” He blinks. “It was just a joke! But she said it was morbid and that my sense of humor is inappropriate. Also, Lindsay is not, shall I say, gifted in the way of expository excellence. Just saying.” He crosses his arms.
I nod. “Okay. What if you wrote about, say, ten possibilities? Make a bunch of them funny ones. Like, you’re a famous artists who draws pictures of planes full of Barbie dolls. Maybe you’re a scientist who brings dinosaurs back to life. But include a few that you’d actually do if you could. If you put them both in, that could be fun. And you could totally sneak your humor in there without getting in trouble.”
“I love that idea. I’m going to do it. I’ll get started right now. This is going to be the best essay ever.” He smirks at Gabriel, trots back into the room and starts rummaging in a Transformers backpack. I sense real excitement in his tone, even though I assume that the predominant part of his exuberance is geared toward accepting any ideas that aren’t his father’s.
I shoot a look at Gabriel, and his expression is unreadable, but his hands—they’re clenched into fists, and the knuckles are white. He looks away and speaks. “You’re hired. On a temporary basis. When we meet next week, it will be to discuss time frame and details. Call me tomorrow morning, please?”
I nod, and he adds, “I have an information dossier prepared with Michael’s medical history and all the pertinent information, as well as a list of expectations I have from… therapy.” His voice is just the slightest bit contemptuous, but I think I hear hope as well.
“Okay. That sounds great.” I give him a genuine smile, and my heart leaps with joy that I get to keep working with Michael. I can’t say why, but this kid is already wound into my heart, melted into me in a way that feels good. And the thought of meeting with Gabriel somehow makes a different kind of spark in my body, one that is more of a lazy warmth and a tingling spatter of excitement.
The echo of heels has me glancing back down the hallway. A statuesque woman walks toward us with intent, her movements sinuous and loose, on a runway. She’s the sylph from earlier, the one decorating his arm like a Tiffany masterpiece dripping with diamonds. Her arms have that lanky length, and shoulders and elbows, and her hips pop and sway with each step. Her dress is poured onto her, silver honey, a wrapper that begs to be undone, because it hits at the sweet spot of thigh and pulls your eye up and along her curves. Her hair is long and flowing, a golden brown mane, and her face is pure Botticelli.
She goes right up to Gabriel and folds into his arms. Her kiss is personal, and I step back, an interloper. “Gabe, they’re about to do the Community Donors presentation in ten minutes and I really want you to be there to hear me accept my award.” She smiles into his face.
He touches her bare arm. “Of course. I just need to finish up a few things here.” His voice goes from warm to business, and I’m irritated on Michael’s behalf that his father uses such a cool tone to discuss him and his issues.
She looks at me but doesn’t ask for an introduction; instead, she stands next to Gabriel and entwines their fingers. “I booked our usual resort for next weekend,” she murmurs into his ear, and only then does she put her glance on me. “I’m Arielle,” she announces, extending her hand like a favor. Her smile is warm, but I’m not 100% sure that it goes all the way to her eyes. It sort of looks like it does. Maybe it does?
Nope. It does not. She just gave me a tiny smirk as she looked me up and down, and that’s all I need to know about her. “I’m Shai.” I don’t bother with “nice to meet you,” because—honestly—it isn’t.
“Shai is going to work with Michael on a temporary basis,” Gabriel says. “She’s a therapist with Frazier.” He gives me a smile. Arielle’s eyes follow, and her hand tightens on his forearm. Her nails are perfect.
“Oh! How wonderful!” Her voice sounds so genuine. “You’re such a thoughtful father, always getting him the things he needs. Like this massive playdate opportunity, with kids of the donors. I admire that about you.” She smiles up at him and touches his cheek. “I’m so glad we’ll get the chance to have a private getaway. You definitely need to relax after all the hard work you put in at home. Recharge.”
He doesn’t respond to that, but checks his watch. “Lindsay, can you please take Shai to get the info packet? Arielle, let’s head back now. I need to catch Masterson before your award.” He turns to me. “Thank you, Shai. I appreciate your willingness to work with my son.”
He takes my hand again and nods, and even though Arielle is draped along him, a Prada anaconda, my heart hammers a tune out in my chest, a few sudden notes of surprise and desire, at the touch. I keep my expression even as I smile and walk away.
At the top of the staircase I look back at him, and flush—he’s watching me. I duck my head, then straighten up. I give him a small wave with the fingers of my right hand, and smile. Then I do the airplane crashing motion that Michael did.
Arielle is talking into his ear, but he’s still looking at me. Before I turn, I see him tilt his head toward me and give me a quick one-wave motion with his hand. And I think I see the briefest hint of a smile.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. This is my favorite book so far and I’m excited to share it with you. It’s going to be on Amazon and KU, and the links are here. The pre-order price (which will last through the first few days of sale) is $0.99 in the US and £0.99 in the UK, so grab it now before it goes back to $3.99.
My gorgeous cover was created by Sarah Hansen from Okay Creations, whose work is so far beyond “okay” that it reaches the realm of fantastic. I’m in awe!
Thanks and happy reading. XOXO, Alexis