Twice Tempted (Holland Springs 2) - Page 1

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  • Chapter One

    “The first thing you need to do in Vegas is get laid.”

    Zoe Ambrose choked on a gulp of water. Her sister-in-law, Melanie, pounded her on the back. “Cough it up!”

    With the way Melanie was hitting her, Zoe would be lucky if all she coughed up was water. “Stop,” she gasped before leveling her sister-in-law with a quasi-stern look. “That’s your advice: get laid? This conversation is quickly going the way of clichéd romance novel opening.”

    “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

    Zoe glanced up at the ceiling, then back at Melanie. “It’s not, but—”

    “No buts.”

    “Can I at least get a name first, or maybe something even crazier like dinner?”

    A smile touched Melanie’s lips. “Well, you could gamble at the blackjack table first and hope that a hot guy would show up to teach you the finer points of betting.”

    Zoe snorted. That was her sister-in-law’s response to everything. Okay, so maybe not to get laid or go gambling. But to do something outrageous. Well, outrageous to everyone who wasn’t Melanie. “I’m already taking a gamble with my luggage getting lost since I have about five thousand layovers. And don’t even get me started on earthquakes. It’s always earthquake season there. You can’t plan a trip around one,” she said, setting her bottle of water in the cup holder. “Did I mention I’m seriously scared of earthquakes?”

    “The last one you were in was years ago and it barely registered much less made the evening news,” Melanie said, hitting play on the radio. The perky vocals of a unicorn singing about rainbows and magical carpet rides filled the minivan.

    “Yay,” SmithAnn shouted from her car seat in the back.

    Zoe turned and smiled at her niece. She grabbed a shoeless foot and tickled the bottom. The little girl was the spitting image of her mother, with curly blond hair and warm brown eyes. A sprinkle of freckles danced across her nose as she wrinkled it and squealed with glee.

    The usual longing for a family like her sister-in-law’s hit Zoe hard and fast. She nibbled her bottom lip and bit back a sigh.

    Slowly, Zoe turned around, adjusting the sunglasses perched on her nose. Miles and miles of cloudless, eastern North Carolina skies filled her vision as she looked out of the passenger side window. So blue, so much like—no she wouldn’t think of that right now. Or at all.

    She shifted her attention to the road and frowned. The Johnsons’ florescent green mailbox seemed a lot closer to the road than it usually was. Her eyes rounded. It wasn’t closer; the minivan was practically off the curb.

    “Holy crap,” Zoe shouted, her hands braced against the dash. “Mailbox.”

    Melanie jerked the minivan to the left, narrowly missing the opportunity to scrape a racing stripe down the side of her vehicle. SmithAnn let out a high pitched shriek of laughter.

    “Anyway, what do you think of my suggestion?” Melanie asked, her voice calm despite their near crash.

    “I think you’re the woman my mother warned my brothers about,” Zoe muttered, mentally peeling herself off of the ceiling. She adjusted her seatbelt, pulling it tighter.

    “Please. I am the woman your mother constantly warned your brother about. Proud of it, too.”

    And that’s why Zoe loved her sister-in-law. Melanie was daring, bold and didn’t care what other people thought of her. While Zoe tried very hard to be good, to be responsible. To be perfectly boring while writing novels that, according to her mother, were “scandalous” because they contained s-e-x scenes. Why her mother spelled the word instead of saying it made no sense to Zoe.

    God only knew what her mother would say (or spell) if Zoe revealed that the villain of her series was her favorite character to write, and that the heroine was secretly in love with the deliciously evil Dimitri while settling for the straight-laced Joshua.

    “We’re here,” Melanie announced, parking the minivan by the curb.

    Zoe kissed her niece good-bye, exited the passenger side, then headed to the back of the minivan to get her luggage. Melanie ambushed her, grabbing Zoe’s shoulders and looking her right in the eye.

    “Promise you’ll let loose and have fun. Do the whole book signing and boring meetings while being respectable Zoe. Then go lock her in a closet and be a newly single woman with a rockin’ body who’s looking for a man. Or five.”

    Zoe kept her mouth closed as Melanie continued talking. The quicker Melanie got her speech out of her system, the quicker Zoe could get to her gate.

    “Promise me.” Melanie gave her a little shake.

    She let out a heavy sigh. “Fine.”

    “Say the words.”

    “Aggravating sister-in-law.”

    “Up-tight best friend.” Melanie hugged her, then sent her off with a smile. “Remember, do talk to strangers. Especially if they’re hot and male. If your normal response would be to say nothing, then do it anyway. Oh, I slipped a bikini in your carry-on.”

    Zoe lifted her hand in the air, giving Melanie a backwards wave. “Love you.”

    “Don’t ignore me!”

    “Can’t hear you.”

    The automatic door closed in behind her, or at least tried to. She glanced over her shoulder, watching as the metal and glass smacked her luggage again and again. Holland Springs’ tiny airport could really use some updating.

    So could she.

    Usually she was the luggage, letting life happen to her. At the next opportunity, she pulled her luggage free, straightened her shoulders and marched to security. It was time have a firm grip on her life, where she was going and what she’d do next.

    Then she turned around. Flight check-in was to the right of her, not the left.

    ***

    Christian Romanov sat in the music room of his father’s mansion, staring at the massive antique chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Sunlight filtered through the hand-cut crystal pendants, casting rainbows along the walls and hardwood floor. It had been his mother’s favorite. His father considered it an eyesore but there had been a story attached to it. One that involved Very Important People. Therefore the chandelier remained.

    Unlike his mother. Or Christian for that matter.

    Closing his eyes, he spread his fingers and slid them along the black and white keys of the Borgato, coaxing a soft tune as his agent, Martha Alfred, hit her stride, shouting at him over the phone.

    “Your career is about to go the way of the Dodo once the press learns about this expensive, not to mention illegal, little habit. There are pictures in my inbox. Do you realize that if these are leaked, or discovered by anyone who isn’t me, you will become uninsurable? No financier will touch any film you’re associated with and—”