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Excerpt: Fearless

Excerpt: Fearless

Book 1: The Black Brothers

Damn white pants, thongs, and Lainey Wyatt, who convinced me that you can’t wear one without the other.  Thanks to Lainey, who’s been my best friend since we were ten, I’m now sitting in a tastefully upholstered chair in the waiting room of Urology Health Specialists of Houston, waiting to meet with the doctor in charge of the practice’s marketing and trying somewhat unsuccessfully not to squirm.    

Not that anyone here can sympathize with my dilemma. In fact, the elderly men sharing the waiting room with me would probably all have heart attacks if they knew I’m squirming because the white lace thong I’m wearing keeps working its way up my butt.     It seems that the female urology patient is a rare breed.  I noticed the same lack of female population when I was here a month ago to meet with Dr. Matthews about implementing the marketing brochure his practice had hired me to create. 

But when I bought the cute white capris a few weeks ago, Lainey insisted I had to wear a thong with them so I didn’t have panty lines.  I should have known better than to listen to her.  Ever since my divorce a little over a year ago, Lainey has made it her top priority to help me “get my sexy back,” especially since I’ve resisted her more blatant attempts at convincing me to date again.  It’s not that I’m opposed to dating, exactly.  I just don’t want a serious relationship with anyone right now.  I’m content with my life the way it is.  I have my thirteen-year-old daughter, my freelance writing career, and my friends.  I don’t need anything, or anyone else.

As I’m silently cursing Victoria’s Secret, a nurse pops her head out to tell me that the doctor is ready to see me.  Gathering my purse and briefcase, I follow her into a corner office lined with bookshelves and sit down on one of the leather armchairs placed in front of a massive oak desk.  

“He’ll be with you shortly,” she says, leaving me alone in the office.  Five and then ten minutes pass, and I occupy myself responding to a few e-mails and checking my Facebook news feed.  After fifteen minutes, I’ve exhausted my repertoire of things to do on my smart phone and have gone over the discussion points for the brochure in my head twice, so I get up and wander around the office, studying the accolades that line Dr. Matthews’ walls and looking at the framed photos of him and his family that line his credenza.

“Ms. Hart?”

The deep, cultured voice catches me off guard and I turn sharply, running smack into a hard-muscled, masculine chest.  Strong fingers grip my elbows, steadying me, while simultaneously sending an electric shock through my body that raises the hairs on my arms.  Stunned, my eyes travel up the wall of muscle to an impossibly gorgeous face, and my first coherent thought is This isn’t Dr. Matthews.  Dr. Matthews is a kindly looking man of about sixty, with thin graying hair and a slight stoop to his shoulders, as if the cares of running a successful medical practice have slowly weighed him down over the years.  

The man standing so close to me that I can feel the heat radiating from his body is in his late to mid-thirties—tall, broad shouldered and powerfully lean, with thick, slightly unruly black hair that just touches the collar of his white coat, intense brown eyes emphasized by thick dark brows, and sensuous full lips.  The bones of his face look like they’ve been chiseled by a sculptor, with a well-defined jaw and sharp cheekbones.  Unlike Dr. Matthews, whose demeanor instantly sets people at ease, there is nothing about this man that is remotely approachable. In fact, he oozes a powerful air of authority that is downright intimidating.  I remember meeting him briefly during my initial conference with Dr. Matthews, and my first impression then was the same as it is now—he is impossibly gorgeous and more than a little bit terrifying.

“I’m sorry,” I say a bit breathlessly, forcing myself to step away from the inexplicable but undeniable physical pull of his presence.  “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Are you in the habit of aimlessly walking around other people’s offices?” he asks, fixing me with a hard stare. I try not to squirm under the intensity of his gaze.  

“Uh, I…,” I stammer.  “I’ve been waiting a while so I was just familiarizing myself with Dr. Matthews’ education.”  It sounds lame even to me.

Without breaking eye contact with me, he extends his hand for me to shake, and I hesitantly place mine in his as the electricity sizzles through me again.  

“I’m Dr. Beckett Black,” he says, and the rich timbre of his voice does strange things to my insides.  “Dr. Matthews sends his apologies, but he is not going to be able to meet with you this morning.  He asked me to meet with you on his behalf to go over the marketing brochure.”

“Okay, um, great,” I say flustered.  I pull my hand from his grasp. Belatedly I add, “I’m Emmaline Hart.”

“I know,” he says smoothly.  “Please sit, Emmaline Hart.”

Sit.  Right.   Still thrown off balance by his sheer magnetism and my unexplainable reaction to it, I make my way back to the leather chair and sit, fumbling with my briefcase as I open it to take out the mockup of the brochure I’ve created.   I hand it across the table to him and his fingers brush mine as he takes it from me, setting every nerve ending in my body thrumming again.  My eyes dart to his, wondering if he feels the electricity between us, and he stares back at me, his gaze unwavering.  I lower my eyes.

“I’ve taken the information Dr. Matthews gave me at our last meeting and put together this first draft,” I say, trying to pull my thoughts together so that I don’t sound like a complete idiot.  “I have tried to stay true to your practice’s emphasis on patient care, physician expertise, and integrity.  You can look it over, discuss it with the other doctors, and get back to me with any revisions.”

I’m silent then, giving him a chance to look it over.  While he reads, I take the opportunity to study him more closely.  He’s wearing a blue-striped button-down shirt under his white doctor’s coat, and I can’t help but notice the stark contrast between the white cuffs of his shirt and his deeply tanned skin.  I watch, mesmerized, as his long tapered fingers tap the desk lightly, and I have a momentary flash of the image of those skillful surgeon’s fingers stroking my skin.  Dangerously good-looking and aloof, he exudes a raw sexuality that is both powerful and brutal.   I mentally shake myself, forcing my thoughts away from the undeniably attractive but completely unapproachable Dr. Black.  What is wrong with me?

I sigh.  He would undoubtedly be attractive to any woman with his dark good looks and commanding presence, but to a woman who hasn’t technically been with a man in two years he’s downright intoxicating.  

He sets the brochure down on the desk and focuses his intense gaze on me.  I shift slightly in the leather chair.

“Impressive,” he says solemnly. “I will pass it along to Dr. Matthews, and he will get back to you regarding any revisions.”

“Great,” I say, letting out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.  I gather up my things, eager to escape the aura of power and authority that he seems to naturally command. 

“It was nice to meet you, Dr. Black,” I say.  My hand is on the door knob when he stops me, his hand resting on my arm.

“Is this the kind of writing you typically do?”

I nod.  “I have a lot of clients that hire me to do web content, blog writing, brochures, and marketing material like this, but I also do a lot of magazine feature stories.”

“Interesting,” he says solemnly, letting me go.  “Have a nice day, Ms. Hart.”

I see myself out of the office and press the button for the elevator, feeling oddly bereft. The fact that I’m edgy and restless after ten minutes with the gorgeous and powerful Dr. Black makes me realize that Lainey is right—I should try dating again.   I miss that rush of attraction, that feeling of desire and being desired.   Just because I’ve given up on fairy tales and happily ever after doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have any fun.   

My unexpected visceral attraction to Dr. Black is undoubtedly just a symptom of what’s missing in my life, what’s been missing since long before my marriage to Tim ended.  I’m what’s missing. It’s like I’ve been napping for the past thirteen years, putting the needs of everyone else before mine, and suddenly I’ve woken up.  Ever since I signed those divorce papers sixteen months ago, the need to do something crazy and daring, something that will make me feel alive again, has been growing.  I’m tired of being afraid of life and afraid of getting hurt.  Never mind that I’m not good in bed or able to have orgasms. I’ll pretend to be one of those innately sensual women like Lainey, and maybe in time I’ll actually become one.  I will start dating again, and this time I’ll really give it a chance. In fact, I’m going to have sex with the first remotely attractive guy who asks me out.  I am so freaking tired of being responsible!   

My pep talk lasts for the duration of the elevator ride, and then I remember that I have a teenage daughter, a job, and bills to pay. I have a meeting in an hour with a wedding planner whose office is several blocks away from the hospital for an article I’m working on about over-the-top weddings and I don’t have time to go home, so I decide to grab lunch in the deli on the bottom floor of the doctor’s office building.  

I have just sat down with a sandwich and an iced tea when Dr. Black walks in, his stride purposeful and businesslike.  I can’t help but smile.  He’s so…focused.  I idly wonder if he approaches sex in the same uncompromising and intense manner in which he seems to handle everything else.  People seem to naturally step aside when he approaches, unwittingly responding to the power that fairly exudes from his pores.  It’s undeniably attractive, that combination of good looks and confidence, but definitely not for me.  Tim lacked Dr. Black’s innate confidence, but he was good looking in a golden boy sort of way, and I have learned the hard way that an attractive guy gets you one thing….heartbreak.  

I sigh and check my phone for messages.

“Mind if I join you, Ms. Hart?”

I look up, surprised to see Dr. Black setting his tray on the table across from me.  

“Umm, sure,” I say, flustered.

Completely unfazed, he methodically removes a sandwich, cup of soup, drink, and silverware from his tray, setting them on the table in front of him before sitting down across from me.

“That’s all you’re having?” he asks, gesturing at my sandwich.

“Um, yeah,” I say.  “Sometimes I don’t eat lunch at all, so this is a feast.” He is so serious that I smile at him just to see if I can make him smile back.  

He glowers at me.  “You know it’s not healthy to skip meals.”

His self-confidence borders on controlling.  There’s only one way to deal with a man like Dr. Black and that’s head on and without wavering. “I appreciate your concern, Dr. Black.  I’m sure you’re a very good doctor, but you aren’t my doctor, so it’s really none of your concern.”

His eyes darken for a moment, and then a slow smile lights up his face and I am powerless to do anything but smile back.  

“Alright, fair enough,” he agrees.  “But in that case, you must call me Beckett instead of Dr. Black.”

“Okay…Beckett,” I say, trying it out.  I like the way it sounds.  “You can call me Emma.”

“Is it Emma, or Emmaline?  If I remember correctly, your business card says Emmaline.”

“Well, my given name is Emmaline, but I mostly go by Emma.”

“Emmaline suits you,” he says, his gaze intent.  “Old-fashioned, yet feminine and flirty.”

“Old-fashioned?”  I ask, horrified.  I have possibly become even more pathetic than I’d thought if men I barely know think I’m old-fashioned.  I can’t even begin to process the fact that he also just called me feminine and flirty.  The incredibly hot but quintessentially professional and unemotional doctor couldn’t possibly be flirting with me.

“Not in a bad way,” he adds seriously.  “You just seem like the kind of woman who’s confident enough in herself to let a man be a man.”

I think about Tim, who took advantage of my confidence, independence, and sense of responsibility to hop from job to job trying to “find himself,” partying the night away with friends while I was the major breadwinner and primary caregiver for our daughter, before ultimately ending our marriage when he met a woman whom he said “completed him” in a way that I had never been able to because I was too uptight.

“Some men don’t appreciate that,” I say lightly.

“Well, some men are idiots,” he replies with a hard edge to his voice.

He takes a bite of his sandwich, chewing carefully, and then says, “So, Emmaline, do you write books?”

“I’ve always wanted to,” I say, “but I’ve never really had the time for it.  I’m always too busy juggling article deadlines. Now that I’m a single mom, it seems even less likely.  But I love what I do, and I’m lucky I get to write for a living.”

Beckett looks at me thoughtfully.  “My father is looking for someone to ghost write his memoir. Like me, he has a medical degree, but instead of working with patients he has devoted his life to research, particularly cancer research.  Now that he’s retired, he’s interested in telling the story of his colorful life and career.”

“That sounds pretty technical,” I say.  “I’m not sure I’d be the right person for the job.”  Too late I realize I have just assumed he’s suggesting me for the job when in reality he’s probably just making conversation.  “I’m sorry.  For a second I thought you were asking me if I’d be interested in doing it, but obviously that’s not what you’re suggesting at all.”  There’s an empty silence and I add, “Well, this is awkward.”  I flush and look down.

Strong fingers lift my chin until I’m looking at him.  

“That is what I was suggesting, Emmaline,” he says gently, removing his hand. “There is a technical aspect to it, but I’m sure you’d be fine given the way you handled the brochure you did for our office. Besides, he wants it to be more of a narrative of his life as a researcher rather than a technical journal.  He spent years doing research in the Amazon and made some ground-breaking discoveries that have been largely ignored by the media and pharmaceutical companies.  It could be a compelling story in the right hands.   Of course, you would have to sign a confidentiality agreement. But he’s willing to pay a pretty big advance as well as a percentage of the sales once it’s published.”

“Does he already have a contract from a publishing company?” I ask, nervously fiddling with my straw and trying not to act too eager.  It sounds like a dream job.

Beckett nods and reaches across the table for the salt shaker, casually stilling my hand with his in the process.  I blush again as the heat from his hand travels through my body, causing my stomach to clench before seeming to drop down to my toes.  I sincerely hope he doesn’t notice the effect he has on me.

“Yes, and an agent.  He’s a very well-respected researcher and a great storyteller.  But he’s getting older and refuses to learn how to use a computer, and no one can read his handwriting.  It would require a fairly extensive time commitment, but if you think you might be interested I’d be happy to facilitate a meeting between the two of you.”  

He pulls a pen and a business card from his pocket, scribbles a number on the back of the card and then places it in my hand, closing my fingers around it.  He keeps his hand on mine for a moment longer than necessary, looking me directly in the eye.  “Plus, it would give me a chance to see more of you, which I think I would enjoy.  Think about it.”   

He glances at his watch and stands up.  

“I have to get back to the office,” he says.  “I hope to hear from you, Emmaline.”

Speechless, I watch as he walks out of the deli, admiring the way his shoulders fill out the white coat.  I glance down at the number scribbled on the back of the card.  Is this his dad’s number?  His personal number?  There are a million reasons not to do this, but that’s the old, fearful me talking. I already know I will call him.   Career wise, it’s a great opportunity and one that doesn’t come along every day.  It would be nice to focus on one long-term project rather than scrambling to find enough projects to pay the bills.  More importantly, I think with a little surge of excited anticipation, he wants to see more of me! I’m feeling reckless and bold.    What better way to flirt with danger than getting to know the decidedly dangerous and intoxicatingly sexy Beckett Black?