Dares, Lies & Geminis
By: Kat Alexander
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: May 29th, 2018
Two women, different as night and day.
Tristana likes to keep to herself, devotedly working all day so she doesn’t think about all she is missing in life.
Seraphina, shrouded in mystery, hunts at night, surreptitiously looking for someone good, noble, and honest, while proving to herself they don’t exist.
Two men who won’t succumb to failure.
After his brother’s death, Peter spends his days trying to build a life as far away from the accusatory eyes of his hometown.
Nathan has a nightly obsession—Seraphina.
The truth that everyone is afraid to whisper.
As Peter starts to chip away at Tristana’s walls, one dare unknowingly releases something he thought he lost long ago.
And as Nathan moves in on Seraphina, one lie breaks apart the foundation of everything he thought he knew.
Meet the Geminis.
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This is a story that bares all. It’s not just about me. It also includes Tristana, Peter, and Nathan. All our lives are entangled in a web of sorrow, deceit, despair, and love. Each strand is woven into a net that trapped all those around us, hurting many, ruining lives. Yet, new friends were made, new families forged.
There is always light in darkness, as there is always darkness where there is light.
I knew Tristana’s story. She did not know mine. Even then, I don’t think I know all of hers. Same could be said for Peter and Nathan. They certainly never knew everything.
This is a story about all the facets that drive human beings: vulnerability, courage, pain, love, hate, despair, family, friends, lovers, an opportunity.
This is a story about survival. About running from the nightmares humans are capable of inflicting on others. About running from the monsters out there who want to harm you, running from the monsters inside that you could become. Running from your past. Living with all the tools ingrained in your DNA. The need to survive, to adapt, to overcome.
This is a story. ~ Seraphina
About the Author:
Kat Alexander is a freelance editor for Indie authors. If she’s not editing or working on her own stories, then she’s a chauffeur for her busy children, or you can find her here:
OMG, what an amazing cover for The Dragon’s Playlist by Laura Bickle. If this is any indication of the story inside, I can hardly wait to get started. How about you?
Cover: Danielle Fine
I have heard some rumors about Laura Bickle’s writing and now I know, IT’S TRUE! She can spin a heart pounding tale of love and loss, and fantasy and fiction, that blend together in a spellbinding read that you will not be able to put down.
Diamond came home to see her ailing father. It is terrible to see a parent weak, ill, a parody of their former self. He had been hurt in a mine cave in.
Oh man, she’s got a porcelain unicorn collection. Me too. She talks of her love for trees and the forest. I love them too. I also had a treehouse, and, like hers, it was really just a couple of boards nailed to a couple of branches. BUT, I never had a fiery something coming my way. Hmmm…is it a shadow…is that fire?
Money issues force her to take a break from college and she is not happy about it. She is resentful, even though she knows it’s the only way to help her parents. Her ex-boyfriend, Jason, seems to be a permanent fixture at her parents home. She thought it was odd, until she found out why Jason and her dad had such a close relationship.
Another mining story with the same theme, attitudes, danger, treehuggers…and the miners who need the jobs. I have read several books, recently, about coal mining and it pisses me off every time it comes up. We shouldn’t be underground, like rats, mining for an obsolete product. Well…let me collect myself…These type of stories get my emotions roiling and I am filled with anger, disgust, sadness, and a feeling of ambivalence.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the mention of noodling, and if you haven’t heard of it you are in for a laugh or two. It’s a southern thing. They were supposed to be looking for Buzzard Bill, but the kids are easily bored.
Whoa…Not what I was expecting and I love it. Reminds me of Mothman…a bit.
The characters have some decisions to make, some attitudes to adjust and some romantic feelings to sort out. Their futures are not easy to discern and their problems read like a true story as they struggle day by day. Sometimes we don’t get all the dreams of our youth, but, like Diamond, there can still be love, happiness and a feeling of contentment.
At seventy percent, I am feeling so sad. I went from childlike wonder to anger and disappointment, sorrow and hope. So much heartache. Can there possibly be any happiness left?
I cannot stop reading…I must know…OMG! Fabulous, fiery, fantastic, flaming, flawless fantasy!
I voluntarily reviewed a free copy of The Dragon’s Playlist by Laura Bickle.
The explosive continuation of the Evergreen Series from New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo.
The seeds of doubt have been planted. Two to six weeks.
That's how long it takes, on average, to get a divorce in Oregon. With Jack convinced I betrayed him, I expect to be served divorce papers within hours of moving out. But weeks pass without word from Jack, and the papers never arrive. Though my heart isn't ready to give up on him, I can't shake the feeling that we may be better off apart. And Isaac is more than happy to help me move on.
But just as I begin to build some semblance of a life and career, a new and improved Jack arrives on my doorstep. Divorce papers are the furthest thing from his mind as he delivers news that both shatters me and restores my faith in the love we shared. But is it too late for us?
May 10, 2015
“Stay with me, baby,” I murmured as I stroked Laurel’s hand to keep her from falling asleep. “You realize our son is going to be born on a very special day.”
Her eyes rolled back in their sockets as another contraction hit. “What?” she groaned.
I had been trying to keep her mind distracted from the pain with idle conversation about the things she most liked to talk about. So far, I’d engaged her in a wide array of topics: Stoic philosophy, ridiculous names for baked goods, inappropriate wedding songs, and her favorite topic, names for baby boys.
“His birthdate is going to be May 10th, 2015. In numbers, that five, ten, fifteen.”
She managed to groan and chuckle at the same time. “You’re so American. The rest of the world would say it’s ten, five, fifteen,” she said. She breathed in and out a few times through pursed lips before she continued. “Drea would make fun of you if she heard you say that.”
“It’s a good thing Drea’s not here then.”
As soon as I said the words, I wanted to take them back. I didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that, besides Drea, Laurel’s mom also was not here.
As if on cue, Laurel asked, “Where’s my mom?”
I squeezed her soft hand, which seemed to be getting colder. “She’s stuck in traffic, baby. There’s an accident. But she’s trying to get here as soon as she can.”
I didn’t have to lie for Beth. I had to lie for Laurel. I didn’t want her to worry that her mother was abandoning her in her time of need. This was probably the most important day of Laurel’s life, and her mother couldn’t be bothered to come when called.
Beth insisted this was a private moment for Laurel and I to share. According to her, most grandmothers weren’t in the labor and delivery room to see their grandchildren born. That was the parents’ “job.” She insisted she would get here as soon as the baby was born.
The fact that Beth referred to what I was doing at this moment as a “job” only made me angrier. I wasn’t here with Laurel because it was my job to be here. I was here because I loved Laurel, and this was where she wanted me to be. If Laurel told me to leave, I’d leave. She was the one making the decisions today, not me or Beth or the fucking Dalai Lama.
The midwife came into Laurel’s room just as the baby’s heart rate monitor began to beep loudly. The swift, hollow tap of our baby’s heartbeat had slowed to a slow, muffled thump. The midwife’s black eyebrows shot up as she raced to the monitor to get a better look at the flashing red numbers.
“What’s happening?” Laurel asked, but her eyelids were only half-open as her voice trailed off. “Is the baby… Is the baby okay?”
Maisie, Laurel’s Filipino midwife, lifted the sheet covering Laurel’s legs and her dark eyes became as wide as planets.
“What is it?” I demanded as the doctor rushed in.
“Get Florence and tell the others to get the OR ready,” the doctor ordered Maisie, who quickly disappeared into the corridor.
“Dr. Eastman, what’s wrong?” I demanded.
But as my words fell like stones at our feet, Laurel’s hand went slack. Suddenly, four nurses raced into the room and shoved me aside as they locked the side rails on Laurel’s bed and systematically disconnected her from various machines.
My stomach went sour as they rushed her out of the labor and delivery room to the operating room. As I followed closely behind them, I felt as if I were having an out of body experience. I was watching these medical professionals pushing a gurney with someone else’s unconscious wife. Maybe I’d fallen asleep in the chair in Laurel’s hospital room and this was all a nightmare.
But when we arrived at the double doors to the OR, someone grabbed my arm to stop me from entering. That was when I knew this was really happening.
Before the doors swung shut, I caught a glimpse of three more nurses inside the operating room. They appeared to be hanging bags of blood on IV stands and prepping instruments.
“She’s hemorrhaging,” Dr. Eastman finally said, as I watched what was going on through the windows in the double door.
“What do you mean? How? Why?” I replied as I watched two nurses wheel Laurel’s bed into the center of the OR.
“Mr. Stratton, please look at me.”
I turned toward the doctor and the grave look in his eyes sent me into a panic. “What’s going on? Tell me what the fuck is happening to my wife!”
“Do you remember at a previous sonogram when I said we would have to do more sonograms every three days instead of every week, to keep an eye on the placenta?”
I nodded vigorously. “Just cut to the chase and tell me what the hell is happening to my wife.”
Eastman sighed. “The placenta was not over the cervix at the start of labor, but it seems the contractions have moved it down and Laurel’s losing a lot of blood. We’ll have to deliver the baby via C-section.”
I tried to follow a nurse into the OR, but Maisie and Dr. Eastman stopped me again. “I have to be in there!” I shouted.
“We need to scrub before we can enter the surgical suite,” East said. “Follow me.”
In the washroom, Eastman introduced me to the anesthesiologist, Dr. Brunei, who was already washed up as a couple of nurses helped him slip into a fresh pair of scrubs.
“Doctor, I need you to be straight with me,” I said as I set down the disposable nail brush and proceeded to rub the red Hibiclens soap all over my hands and up to my elbows. “Should I be worried?”
“Hemorrhaging in labor is not ideal, but it’s not uncommon. It’s a situation we’re always prepared for, especially with what we saw in the previous sonograms. You’re in good hands today. We’re going to deliver your baby and replace the blood your wife lost. I just need to verify that neither you nor your wife have any religious objections to receiving blood transfusion?”
I shook my head as I held my arms under the running water. I couldn’t speak. This couldn’t be happening.
When Eastman and I were gowned and gloved, we entered the surgical suite in time to see the nurses using a sheet to lift Laurel’s limp body off the hospital bed and onto the operating gurney, her arm flopped over the edge of the mattress.
Her skin was drained of the usual golden-peach glow. Her fingers were blue.
No. I shook my head, unwilling to accept what I was seeing.
I turned my head to the right and found four-foot-eleven Maisie staring up at me.
“You’re very pale, Mr. Stratton. You should sit,” she said, motioning to a chair on the other side of the room, closer to Laurel.
I nodded as I trailed behind her like a lost puppy. “Thank you,” I muttered, but I didn’t take a seat. I couldn’t rest when both my babies needed me.
Due to the hemorrhaging, Laurel would be put under general anesthesia instead of the usual spinal block used for C-sections. Maisie made it clear that this meant I would be the first person to hold our baby, not Laurel. I knew this would make Laurel sad, when she woke and I had to tell her what happened. But I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel about it.
I held Laurel’s hand through the entire surgery, stroking and kissing the back of her hand and murmuring words of encouragement as if she were awake. When our son was pulled from her womb, his blue skin covered in blood, I stopped breathing. Mere seconds passed before he took his first wailing breath of life, but it felt like an eternity.
As the nurses cleaned him up, I kept a firm grasp on Laurel’s hand while I whispered in her ear, narrating what was happening. I hoped that somewhere in her subconscious mind, she was listening, and maybe someday she could piece together this moment.
Maisie smiled as she approached me with the bundle wrapped in a striped baby blanket.
As I took my son in my arms for the first time, I was overwhelmed by a wave of emotion so powerful, it should have knocked me out of my chair.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I looked down at his puffy, pink face. “This is my boy,” I said with a chuckle. His tiny body moved in my arms and it my chest filled with sheer wonder and joy. I shook my head, unable to believe I’d made something so pure and so real. “This is our son.” I put my finger next to his tiny hand and my heart nearly burst when he grabbed on. I kissed his fingers the way I’d kissed Laurel’s hand earlier and his eyelids fluttered. “Laurel, baby, I wish you could see this.” I looked up at Maisie. “Doesn’t he need to be breastfed or something?” I asked.
She smiled. “They will bring her out of anesthesia in a few minutes, once she’s stitched up. For now, he needs to be held by his papa.”
The words echoed in my mind. His papa.
My face screwed up as I was overcome with emotion. The fear and doubt I’d felt about becoming a father seemed like a distant memory. I’d never been so filled with absolute joy in all my life.
I was a father. I was papa.
I had let my jealousy and rage distract me from what was truly important. I’d driven Laurel away twice, at a time when my pixie needed me most. I knew Laurel didn’t owe me a third chance, which was why I was going to earn my way back into her arms. And there was only two ways to do that.
One way was to catch the bastard who stole our happiness. The other way might prove more difficult. It would involve closing my case files and admitting that my need for justice was tearing my marriage apart. But I couldn’t do that, not until I gave my quest for justice one final effort. If I couldn’t get justice for my boy by the time Laurel turned thirty next month, I would pack away my case files and do whatever I took to get her back.
I handed my suitcase to the guy wearing the fluorescent safety vest, then I climbed the steps of the private charter plane at exactly eleven a.m. Immediately, I slid my cell phone out of the interior pocket of my sport coat and called my assistant, Jade Insley.
“Good morning,” she answered cheerily.
“Jade, I need you to forward all my calls, even the ones to my cell, to your desk phone. I’m out of town and I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“Absolutely,” she replied. “What should I tell the partners?”
“Tell them I’m visiting family. I’ll check in occasionally for messages.”
I ended the call and immediately removed the SIM card from my phone, tossing the tiny chip over the side of the staircase before I stepped inside the plane. I gave the attendant my drink order — club soda with lime — then I tucked my cell into my coat. Sliding the burner phone out of the front pocket of my slacks, I took a seat in the plush leather seat. I turned the phone on and shot off a text.
Plane taking off. Should land in less than two hours. We still on for three p.m.?
I’ll be there with bells on.
I pulled my rental car into a space in front of a two-story office building clad in weathered cedar shingles. The dark tinted windows and lack of signage made it look like a place one would go to get illegal plastic surgery. Other than my rented Chevy Tahoe, the only other cars in the lot were a beat up Cadillac Eldorado and a pristine 80s era cherry-red Porsche.
When I stepped into the lobby, I was not surprised to find a directory missing a third of its letters. But I was still able to determine that “SEA D GHE TY PI 2 1” meant Sean Dougherty, Private Investigator was in suite 201 or 211. That narrowed my options down significantly.
I opted not to take my chances on the wood-paneled elevator and took the stairs up to the second floor. The smell of body odor and desperation engulfed me as I walked down the hallway. The first door I saw was 201 and I quickly reached for the doorknob, eager to escape the smell in the corridor, but the knob didn’t turn. I rapped on the steel door a few times, certain that no one would hear me. I was surprised when my knocking was met with a loud grunt from within.
I immediately lifted the right side of my sport coat, my hand hovering over the gun holstered on my hip as I waited for the door to open.
“Who is it?” a gruff voice called from the other side.
“Jack Stratton. We have an appointment.”
The door opened slowly and we both smiled when we realized we both have our hands poised over our sidearms.
I slowly moved my hand away from my weapon and held it up in front of me. “All good.”
The man lowered his hand and pushed the door wide open. “Good to meet you, Jack,” he said, holding out his hand. “I’m Sean.”
We shook, and I was not at all surprised to find his calloused hand had a killer grip. “It’s really good to meet you,” I replied as I stepped inside suite 201.
My shoulders relaxed instantly when I realized Sean’s office was actually quite clean and modern and smelled like coffee. Not a hint of despair. Sean was a sturdy man in his early fifties, with thick salt and pepper hair and muscled limbs clothed in a crisp button-up and slacks. Not at all what I expected from a gritty private investigator who worked in the ninth circle of office park hell.
“The exterior throws people off. Only the people who are serious make it past the front door,” he said as if he were reading my thoughts. “Have a seat.” He continued speaking as I took a seat across the glass desk. “Hood River PD approved my request to see the file this morning, and I was able to go through most of it before you got here. We’re both obviously most interested in this memo they received from Boise PD. Have you spoken with Detective Robinson yet?”
I shook my head. “She couldn’t say much over the phone. I have a meeting scheduled with her tomorrow. She didn’t seem very optimistic that this would lead anywhere. She hasn’t had a whole lot of luck with sealed adoption records. But I’m working on a piece of software to cross-reference birth records and the NCIC persons files for individuals in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. I should have the code finalized and ready to run in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I wanted to get you on the case to see if we can track down that adoption decree. I mean, I don’t even have the guy’s name. I’m flying blind.”
NCIC stood for National Crime Information Center, the database shared between the FBI and federal, state, local, and tribal criminal justice users to cooperate on investigations and policies.
Sean leaned back in his desk chair and cocked an eyebrow. “So what put you onto this lead anyway? This is a pretty serious accusation.”
I shook my head as I stared at the manila folder on his desk. “Just a hunch, I guess. I always felt like there was more to Beth than any of us knew.”
“And Beth is your wife’s mother, right?”
I nodded. “Don’t get me wrong, Beth was a great mom and I couldn’t have asked for a better grandmother for my son. She… She gave her life trying to protect my boy. I hold no ill will toward her. But there was always something about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“I used to chalk it up to the same mysterious quality Laurel has. A strange, otherworldly kind of beauty and wit. But with Laurel’s mom, there were other signs that I didn’t know the real Beth.”
“Just general secretiveness when it came to what caused her divorce from Laurel’s father and stuff like that. It wasn’t until someone in our Facebook group passed on the tip to Boise PD about Mike O’Toole that Detective Robinson decided to do a little digging into Beth’s past.”
“So who’s Mike O’Toole?”
I waved off the question. “A dead lead, but it did get Robinson asking questions and that’s why I’m here. The PI I spoke to in Portland told me that it could take years to win a battle to unseal adoption records. She said my best bet, if the suspect is living here in Idaho, would be to try to find someone who could track him down here. So here I am, hoping like hell you can help me find the piece of shit that killed my son, because… I’m on the verge of losing everything.”
Sean is silent for a long while as he stares at the glass desktop, and when he finally looks up, his square face is fixed with a tight smile. “Well, you were honest with me, so I guess it’s my turn for a little show and tell.” He reaches behind him, opens the top drawer of a two-drawer file cabinet, and pulls out a silver picture frame. “This is my Rosie,” he says, placing the picture on top of his desk so I could see the photo of a teenage girl with wavy blonde hair and a beaming smile. “Rose hated when I called her Rosie,” he said, staring at the picture with a wistful look in his steel-gray eyes.
“She’s beautiful,” I said, stopping myself before I could say she reminded me a bit of Laurel.
“Rose was seventeen when she went to an ice skating rink with some friends. Same as she’d done every winter since she was eight years old. But this time, she went outside to have a smoke. A nasty habit. I kept grounding her to try to get her to stop, but she just wouldn’t listen. She was too pigheaded.” He finally looked up and met my gaze. “That was the last we saw of her until her body was discovered two months later, in a creek forty miles away.”
I clenched my jaw as I imagined how I would have felt if I’d had seventeen years with Junior before he was murdered. Or if, God forbid, it had been Laurel who had been taken away from me. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without Laurel.
“That was a knockout punch. I was down for the count. No coming back from that, I thought,” Sean continued. “So I doubled down on how fast I could wreck my life. I was a financial crimes detective at the time, but I began sleeping in my office, poring over the case files day and night. I became obsessed.”
I lowered my gaze as his words shamed me. All the nights I’d spent sleeping on the couch in my home office instead of in the bedroom with Laurel were mirrored in Sean’s story. And somehow, I didn’t think his story had a happy ending.
“Did you find out who did it?”
Sean smiled as he shook his head. “Nope. I lost my job. Lost my marriage. Lost my house. That bastard took my daughter from me, but I willingly gave him everything else. You understand?”
I nodded in silence. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t think of a single cynical thing to say. I was only in this office because this was my last resort. I couldn’t come back to Laurel emptyhanded. I’d given her every material thing she could ever want. I gave her shelter and security. I gave her my love. But I hadn’t given her my full attention.
Unfortunately, I knew myself too well to know that I would not be able to focus on my marriage and work until I was certain I’d done everything I could for Junior. And, yes, even for Beth. She may have had her secrets, but I meant it when I said Junior could not have asked for a better grandmother. She deserved justice as much as my boy did.
Sean Dougherty and the software program I was working on, which I had dubbed PNW Checkmate, were my last hope. If the software helped us find Junior’s killer, I would expand the software to include all fifty states and territories. For now, I had to focus on this area, and specifically Boise. If Ava Robinson’s suspicions were correct that Beth and Junior’s murders were not random, this was surely the missing piece of the puzzle we needed to help us crack this case. Laurel and I might finally be able to turn the page on this gruesome chapter of our lives.
Sean and I chatted for more than two hours. I filled in any holes in the case file he’d received from the Hood River Police Department. I laid out my suspicions about Beth’s past, information I’d gleaned through conversations with Beth and Laurel over the years. The most interesting tidbit being the time Laurel told me her mother had left her father for a few months when she was about five years old. It wasn’t definitive evidence, but it was one brushstroke in a colorful picture of a woman who lived her life with as much verve as the flowers she so carefully nurtured.
“Whatever you do, do not—I repeat, do not attempt to approach any potential suspects or interviewees on your own. You hear me?” He glared at me with his thick eyebrows raised, awaiting my agreement.
“You have my word,” I replied, probably not as definitively as I should have.
“I’m serious, Jack. Don’t get yourself killed or arrested for this shit. It’s not worth it. Tell me you understand.”
I nodded. “I understand,” I said with a bit more vigor.
He eyed me warily. “I’ll handle all interviews. You’ve got too much at ´stake. Too many emotions that pose a threat here. And I’m the experienced interrogator. So this is not a request. This is an order. You hear me?”
I looked him dead in the eye. “Loud and clear.”
New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she's not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she's not binge watching, she's usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book. Find her on...
Blurb: Football is everything, but love is the only game that matters.
Tate Durham, the newest Philadelphia football hottie, has been in love with Gia Capri since the moment he laid eyes on her back in college. Unfortunately, that happened the same night her destructive and doomed relationship with the troubled Matt Lampert began. Tate didn’t stand a chance.
In the year since Matt took his own life, Gia’s been sleep-walking through her days and just barely surviving her nights. She’s not sure that she’s capable of anything else . . . until Tate finds her sitting on the floor of a grocery store, crying over potato chips.
Tate’s patience and honesty begins to heal what’s broken in Gia’s soul. Still, no matter how hard he tries—or how much he loves her—making her whole again might take more than he can give.
But love never gives up. And neither will Tate.
#99cents Keeping Score Boxed Set:
“So . . . no pressure, either outright or implied, right?” I spoke slowly, feeling my way. “You won’t push me, and you won’t . . . I don’t know, look at me or touch me in ways that could be construed as pressure?”
I expected Tate to agree readily, but he hesitated. “I don’t know if I can promise that. I’ll do my best not to gaze at you soulfully, and I’m not the kind of guy to mope around after anyone, but I can’t say you might not see what I’m feeling in my eyes. Can’t help that.”
I laughed a little. “You know, dude, if you were any other man, when I asked why you were here, you would’ve just fed me the friends-only line. I might not have bought it, but it would have given us both plausible deniability.”
Tate rested his chin on his hand and smiled serenely at me. “I’m not any other man.”
For a solid moment, I felt electricity crackle between us, and I couldn’t breathe. This was new, this hyper-awareness of another person, and I didn’t know quite what to do with it. I stared at Tate as my brain scrambled to figure out what to say or do next.
And then he sighed, breaking the spell.
“Ready for dessert?” He pushed back his chair and reached for my plate, carrying both his and mine to the sink. I cleared my throat and attempted to find normal again.
“Dessert? Need I remind you that we ate the cannoli several hours ago, when you claimed we hadn’t eaten lunch, and you were on the verge of starvation? Or did you buy a cake when I wasn’t looking? Or are you planning to whip something up in the next twenty minutes?”
Tate quirked his eyebrow at me over his shoulder. “Twenty minutes? Does that mean you’re tossing me out at nine?”
“No.” I shook my head and played with the spoon still in front of me. “It was just a figure of speech.”
“Good to know. But to answer your question, no, I didn’t buy any baked goods, and I’m not going to toss something together now. Nothing I have to bake, that is.” He rinsed off the scrubbed the plates with my new dish brush and set them into the drainer before turning to the fridge. “C’mon, woman. On your feet. This is something you can help me with.”
I stood up, watching as Tate withdrew the berries he’d bought. Dumping them into the colander, he washed them carefully before picking up the cutting board he’d used earlier to chop the potatoes.
“I’ll slice these if you’ll handle the whipped cream.” He reached for a knife.
I frowned. “We didn’t get any whipped cream.”
“Sure, we did.” Tate opened the refrigerator again, this time emerging with a small milk carton in his hand, which he set down on the counter in front of me. “Here you go.”
“Just what am I supposed to do with this?” I saw the words on the container. Heavy whipping cream clearly meant that whatever was inside the cardboard could somehow be transformed into the frothy goodness I loved, but I had no earthly idea how to go about making it happen.
“You’re going to whip it.” He winked at me. “Whip it good. I’ll get you started.”
I watched him moving around the kitchen, and I thought again how odd it was that such a large man could have such grace. I was willing to bet that it came from playing football, where I imagined his talent for maneuvering probably paid off.
Within a few moments, I had a small metal bowl, the brand-new electric hand mixer, a bag of powdered sugar and a bottle of vanilla laid out before me. I surveyed all of it with undisguised suspicion.
“Now pay attention, because this is tricky. Here’s the hardest part: dump the cream into the bowl.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ha, ha, ha, Mr. Smarty Pants Chef Guy. I think I can manage that.” I slid my thumb up the small crease and deftly opened the cardboard carton. The cream was thick and velvety as I poured it into the bowl. “Now what?”
“Plug in the mixer, submerge the beaters in the cream, and turn it on. Move it around a little now and then. And that’s pretty much it.” He turned back to his cutting board, slicing the tops of some luscious-looking red strawberries.
Gingerly, I dipped the shiny silver beaters into the liquid and used my thumb to move the switch to on. The small machine sprang to life, whirring in my hand. I held the bowl with my other fingers, staring into it, waiting for magic to happen.
A few minutes later, I was still waiting. “Tate, this isn’t working. It’s still just, like, cream.”
“Uh huh. Give it a little longer.” He didn’t even bother to look at me over his shoulder.
“But it isn’t changing. It’s just swirling around and around.” I raised my voice, in case he didn’t understand how serious this was. I was ruining the whipped cream.
“Yep, that’s how it works.” His voice remained serene and unconcerned.
I kept it up a little longer. “I think we must’ve gotten defective cream. It’s still all liquidy. Or maybe I messed it up.”
“The only way you can mess it up is if you whip the cream too long and it turns into butter. I don’t think you’re in danger of that yet.” He finished cutting up another berry, and drying his hands, stepped over to check out my work. “Okay, turn off the mixer for a minute, and then add some sugar and vanilla.”
I did as he instructed, resting the edge of the mixer against the side of the bowl. “How much?”
“Eh, two or three tablespoons of the powdered sugar and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla.”
I was troubled by his lack of precision in measurements. “Two or three? Which is it?”
Tate sighed. “Start with two. We don’t want it too sweet, just sweet enough.”
“All right.” I flipped through the measuring spoons he’d bought today and found the right one before I carefully measured the sugar into the bowl. Next I poured two precise teaspoons of vanilla. “I did it. Now what?”
“Back to whipping.” Tate used a paper towel to gently dry the blueberries. “Just incorporate all of that into it.”
Setting my jaw, I got back to work, peering intensely at the whirling white that was threatening to hypnotize me. The cream made a pretty design as it ran through the beaters, and it reminded me a little of snow. As a matter of fact, it almost looked like . . .
“Tate!” I flicked off the mixer again. “It worked! It’s thickening. Look!” I stood back so that he could see into the bowl without moving away from his spot at the cutting board.
“Excellent. I knew you could do it. Now keep it up a little longer. It’s not quite ready yet. But watch it, because too long there and it really will turn into butter.”
“Huh.” I squinted down, nearly afraid to look away in case what was in the bowl might suddenly betray me. “Does it honestly happen that fast?”
“Nah. I mean, hypothetically speaking, if you had a stand mixer, and you were whipping cream, and you got distracted doing something else while it was mixing, and you forgot to check on it for a while . . . then yeah, it’s a possibility. But you’re on it.” He scooped all of the berries into a round glass bowl and moved over to stand closer to me. “I think you’re good now. See how it’s forming nice peaks?”
I did see, and I felt an unaccustomed surge of pride. “I did it. I can’t freaking believe it, but I made whipped cream.”
“Yes, you sure did.” He swiped one finger into the cream and stuck it into his mouth. “Mmmmm, and you got the flavor right, too. Just sweet enough.” Before I could protest, he stuck that same finger back into my bowl again.
“Hey! Yuck! No double dipping. You’re going to ruin my masterpiece.” I scowled up at him.
“But I wanted you to have a taste, too.” So saying, he held up his whipped cream-covered finger a few inches from my lips. “Don’t you want to try it?”
My heart thudded a little. I hadn’t done anything like this . . . touched my tongue to any part of any man . . . for a long time. I swallowed and resisted the urge to fan myself. The kitchen was all of a sudden much warmer than it had been.
With a deep breath, I closed my eyes and lifted my mouth to his hand, closing around the creamy goodness. The second the flavor hit my tongue, I forgot all about how it got there.
“Oh . . . my . . . God.” I moaned the words. “That is amazing. So much better than the stuff I get in the can.”
“The real thing always is better.” Tate’s voice was hoarse, and he slid his finger out of my mouth. As I watched, he turned his back to me, busying himself with pulling out two small plates and a couple of forks. I wondered what I might have seen in his eyes if he hadn’t turned away. I wasn’t sure I’d have been able to deal with what whatever might have been there.
“Grab a spoon for your, uh, masterpiece, and let’s eat.” He lifted the berries on the cutting board and set the whole thing down on the table. “Serious conversations make me hungry.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is there anything that doesn’t make you hungry?”
Dragging out his chair, he shot me a wicked smile. “That’s for me to know and you to find out. And lucky girl, you’ll get to find out, because as long as you’ll let me, I plan to spend as much of my free time with you as possible.”
Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include young adult and new adult paranormal romance, new adult and adult contemporary romance and adult paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.
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