Last Chance at Love

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When Alyson McLeod returns to Jove, she never expects her high school sweetheart to knock on her front door. Sam’s arrival stirs memories she thought she’d banished long ago and awakens a fiery need no other man has been able to conjure.

The phoenix tattoo on Sam Crown’s arm immortalizes the woman he loved—and lost—long ago. Alyson’s return should excite him, but instead, she awakens a guilt he’s not sure even love can overcome.

Can these star-crossed lovers finally find happiness or will a wicked matchmaker’s antics keep them apart forever?

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EXCERPT:

Alyson swung her attention from her laptop to the handyman bent over the kitchen cabinet. Chris’ powerful, flawless arms enabled him to wield the screw gun like a pro, and durr, durr, durr added a pleasant melody to the room.

The maple cabinets had been an impulse purchase, but she rather liked how the lighter color made the space appear larger. A bonus to having her kitchen updated, Chris modeled the hero in her current book. His white T-shirt pulled taut across his broad shoulders as he stretched to secure a bolt from a toolbox a foot away.

Jeans sheathed his tight, perfectly formed rear. His thick thighs enabled Chris to lift heavy pieces of lumber while her hero’s enabled him to hold the heroine against the wall during a hot, sexy, clandestine encounter. Chris’ dark blond hair, styled in a buzz cut, accentuated his sharp cheekbones and granite jawline. Her hero had light brown hair that touched the tips of his ears. However, the cheekbones and stubborn jaw…the same.

In a lot of ways, Chris reminded her of Sam Crown, her boyfriend at Chilton Academy nearly thirty years ago. Sam had been the love of her life, the man who’d created a cancer in her heart no other man had been able to cure. Returning to her hometown had stirred memories of their ill-fated romance, and she’d embedded some of those details into her book. In doing so, in giving fictitious-Sam and fictitious-her a happy ending, maybe she could finally eradicate him from her thoughts.

She scooted her chair away from the dining table and evaluated the renovations. The noise and scenery inspired her. She wouldn’t leave the area despite the strong odors of glue and dust. She had to think of another job to keep her handyman on site after the current project ended on Friday. At least long enough for her to write twenty thousand more words. She hated the thought of her “hero” leaving before her book was finished.

The whirring of the motorized tool ended, and wood particles flew into her nostrils. A couple sneezes had her frantically searching for the napkin she’d left amongst the clutter on the table.

“Ms. McLeod?” Chris’ resonant voice matched his six-and-a-half-foot frame. The scent of man-sweat radiated from him, so unlike anything she’d become accustomed to over the course of her marriage. Jasper, her ex-husband, was the type of man to hire people to shift a piece of paper from one side of the desk to the other, so she’d rarely seen him perspire. Not even after he’d played polo, but he’d sure been sweaty when she’d found him naked in their marital bed with his assistant.

She looked away from the carpenter’s sculpted upper torso, and he chuckled, his tools clanking and tingling. Oops. She hadn’t looked away quickly enough.

She lowered her gaze to the keyboard. “Yes, I’m sorry, Mr.—”

“Please, call me Chris.” He nodded to her laptop. “How’s the book coming?”

She glanced into his eyes. The blue-grays were so reminiscent of Sam’s. She had to get a grip on her overactive imagination. Would she see Sam’s face in everyone, all over town? One of her high school friends had told her Sam moved away, hadn’t been seen since the funeral.

“Ma’am?”

“Sorry. Great. Good. The best one yet.”

Chris looped a thumb through a hanging hoop on his leather utility belt. “I’ll have a substitute here tomorrow. My son has a doctor’s appointment, and I need to check on another project. Sam will manage the installation of the countertop. It’s a simple task. He’ll arrive around ten in the morning.”

“No problem.” Good God, even her old flame’s name came into play.

“The sub’s my dad.” At the mention of his father, pride splashed across his roughened features. “He’s a professor.”

“Architecture or construction?”

“He’s a math professor at West Indiana State University. He’s been teaching a reduced load of classes this semester and going stir crazy with nothing to do. This project came at the perfect time.”

She wanted to jot down notes about mannerisms. Some of his phrasing was priceless. She lifted scattered papers and searched for an ink pen. Finding one, she slid a glance at him, put ballpoint to notepad and quickly scribbled to get the ink to infuse.

“I understand that happens,” she mumbled. “Maybe he needs a hobby?”

Wiping his hands on a red, thin square towel, he smiled and showed off his pearly whites. “Oh yeah, a hobby would be good.” He pointed to her computer, the cloth waving like a banner. “Is that the type of book you write? Hobbies?”

Heat infused her cheeks. She’d just finished a sex scene for the vamp character. Nope, not a book about typical hobbies. “Not exactly. I—”

The ding of a cellphone sounded and a light shone through his jeans pocket. He dug the phone out and glanced at it. “Excuse me. I need to take this.”

The younger man swiped a finger across the screen, and after a few mumbled comments, glanced at her as he took a few steps into the corridor. He wouldn’t have privacy in the Echo Wall hallway.

Alyson put the pad of paper in front of her keyboard and focused on the computer screen.

“Dad, Mrs. Clydesdale called and said you ditched her.” He paused.

She leaned forward, wanting to know more. Might be useful information for her book.

“Yes, she does look like her name, but you can’t keep dating women one time and…” Chris exhaled. “No, I don’t want to hear about that aspect of your life. I know. I’ll meet you at the usual place. Someday maybe we could meet at a coffee shop instead. Yeah, I miss her too. I’ll be on time.”

Alyson choked back a chuckle and lowered her laptop’s screen. In her own style of shorthand, she jotted notes. Busy trying to catch up from the previous interaction, she failed to hear more of the conversation. Usually, she couldn’t care less about other people’s phone discussions, but for some reason, the dialogue between Chris and his father had piqued her interest.

“Time to leave?” she asked when he returned.

“Yeah, something came up with my dad.” He tucked his phone back inside his pocket.

She smiled, hoping to reassure him she hadn’t overheard his conversation, at least not all of it. “I understand about complicated families.”

He nodded. “Oh, I forgot you’re a widow too, so you understand. Even after a year and a half my father’s adapting. He and my mother were really tight.” Chris packed up his tools. He slid screwdrivers into the loops of his utility belt and plunked heavier items into the metal toolbox.

She didn’t want to correct him about her single status. Perhaps her brother, Grayson, had declared her a widow. He’d arranged the construction company. Maybe Grayson didn’t want his friends to find out she’d left her husband. Divorcees had their own set of barriers and stigmas.

She dreaded the questions, the ones her friends would ask. From her experience, people were either predominately nosy or, the polar opposite, caring.

Chris looked barely twenty years of age, too young to lose a parent. Then again, maybe his parents had him later in life.

He returned to the table. Tools were no longer distributed throughout the kitchen. A sudden sense of loss snatched the warmth from her.

She slid the notepad forward. “I’m sorry about your mother. How did she pass?”

Chris hoisted his toolkit. “Cancer. She was an amazing woman.” His cell phone dinged. “Dad—Sam—will be here tomorrow around ten to do prep work and accept the delivery of the countertops.” He nodded toward the panel truck in the driveway, visible through the kitchen window. On the side, “Stiles Construction and Remodeling” was written in bold black letters over a sun rising on a blue sky. A ladder sat on top. “But we’ve remodeled a couple of kitchens, so he has skills.”

“Okay, thanks. I look forward to meeting Sam.” She stood, wishing she’d made more notes about the way Chris talked, some of the charming language he’d used and his magnificent facial expressions, but she always had next time.

* * * * *

The next day, Alyson tossed clothing on her king-sized bed. She’d collected a lot of designer eveningwear during her ten years of marriage. She selected a dress for the upcoming Wish Upon a Star charity event but added most of her gowns to the donation pile. She probably wouldn’t use formal attire as often now that Jasper was no longer dragging her to one black-tie affair after another.

With a smaller closet, she should have thinned out the older garments before moving back to Indiana. She’d donate the unused clothing to a local woman’s shelter. From the height of the pile, she’d need a truck to transport them. Most of the dresses could be converted into casual wear or business attire if their new owners were so inclined.

Dressed in her camisole and panties, she tried on summer outfits to determine if she needed new sizes. She didn’t want to think her hips had expanded or back fat had appeared. As a realist, she understood changes occurred in a woman’s body as she aged, but she didn’t want to admit she couldn’t keep a husband or that she’d gained weight in all the wrong places.

A knock sounded on the front door.

She glanced at the oversized medallion clock. Nine. Chris’ dad wasn’t due to arrive for another hour.

Her sleek emerald robe hung off the edge of a beige barrel table. She grabbed it and slid her arms into the sleeves as she scurried down the hallway and into the dining room. She bypassed the security panel and eased the white plantation shutter open to peer outside.

Her heart thudded to a stop. “Sam,” she whispered, not truly believing what she was seeing.

The man on the porch was Sam. Her Sam. The love she’d never been able to forget. The one who’d broken her heart over two decades earlier.

jj

http://www.jj-keller.com

Fantasies with spice and humor.

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Last Chance at Love October 2015

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