Do you remember the day you first laid eyes on the love of your life? For Tate Newell and Christina Clay, hero & heroine of my debut book with Escape Publishing His Brand Of Beautiful, it was this week.
Actually, it was last Friday, May 24th. It was supposed to be this Friday, May 31st. And because Christina mucked the dates up in her diary, all hell broke loose.
It might surprise you to know that I am really not a winter girl. I love summer. I love the heat. I even like humidity, and one day, I’d love to have a tropical garden in which to potter. But for now, both my novels have been set in a Southern Hemisphere winter. His Brand Of Beautiful in May; and The Goodbye Ride novella is set over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June. (Which by the way, happens to be Saturday week in Australia – June 8, 9 and 10).
So you can read both my stories in ‘real time’ if you’d like to, over the next couple of weeks.
But this week is about Christina & Tate.
Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of His Brand Of Beautiful. Christina is hosting her sister-in-law’s Hen’s Party and she’s waiting for the evening’s entertainment (the stripper) to show up. When he does, he isn’t being particularly enthusiastic about getting the party started.
His Brand Of Beautiful
“Miss Clay, there’s been a mistake.”
“I beg your pardon?” She smoked him with her best glare. No way was he wriggling out of this now, she’d paid her deposit.
“Do I really look like a stripper to you?”
“Actually, yes. We ordered the Billionaire Businessman.” She crossed her arms over her chest and a caterpillar-row of bracelets clanked on her wrist.
He held her gaze for a long moment, slipped a hand in his shirt pocket — a beautiful blue Italian silk a shade brighter than his eyes — and extracted his business card. “Christina, I’m Tate Newell. Outback Brands. Tate, not Nate, I thought I misheard you earlier. We have an appointment.”
Something rolled in the pit of her stomach. “Yes we do. Next Friday.”
He fished in his suit pocket, found his mobile and scrolled. “Here. Christina Clay. 5.30pm, May 24. Initial consultation re: Clay Wines’ brand.” He held up the screen. “I thought those balloons on the gate were your idea of a joke.”
The corner of his lip curved. “I thought you were celebrating that you’d finally got me out here, Christina. That the five hundred phone calls worked.”
Two thoughts flashed through her mind: Dear God. This party’s going to hell in a handbasket and Dear God. My new brand. What she said was: “It wasn’t five hundred.”
With that, her brain started working again, only it couldn’t decide whether the best thing she should do was say shit or sorry and it was still trying to work that out when a voice hollered from the kitchen: “Don’t start without us, CC.”
“Just a minute,” Christina yelled back down the hall and her hand shot to her temple. “Shit.”
Her gaze snapped to the suit-clad body making her hall feel small.
On the premises.
It was a short list.
“Blind Freddie could see what you’re thinking. N.O.” He shoved his briefcase into his opposite hand and leaned his weight toward the door.
“Wait! Tate? Please? I’m trying to think outside the square here. Could you help a girl out?”
“You’re not thinking outside the square. You’re outside the damn hemisphere.”
“You don’t have to get your clothes off. It’s just a paint party. It’s my step-mother’s idea—she lent me all the stuff. There’s just an itty-bitty room full of easels and amateur painters, very low key. You’re a graphic art guru. I bet you’re a dab hand with a paint brush.” The words tumbled from her lips.
“CC! While we’re young, hey?” Marlene’s voice foghorned up the hall and Christina knew she wouldn’t sip champagne and wait. Marlene would come and investigate.
There was an echo of cheers. The girls getting restless.
“Please? It’s my best friend’s Hen’s Night. It’s the only one she’ll ever get.” She ignored the small voice in her head that wanted to add: I hope.
Tate exhaled. “I can’t believe you’re playing the guilt card.”
“You should feel guilty. I’ve been trying to meet with you since February. Every time I called, your receptionist fobbed me off. I don’t think you want my business at all.” She stabbed her finger at his chest. It felt good to be on the offensive. “If you hadn’t been avoiding me, we would have had this appointment weeks ago—months ago—and no way could it have got mixed up with tonight.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “You can’t keep a diary straight and that’s my fault?”
She stomped hard on her temper. Tonight, as everybody kept saying, wasn’t about her, and if Tate Newell walked out she was up the creek, sans paddle, in more ways than one. She could kiss Lacy’s party and her new wine brand goodbye, because right now the odds of a follow-up appointment with Tate were slim.
“Ready or not, CC, I’m counting to ten…” Marlene’s voice boomed up the corridor.