Posted by Lexxie Couper on Friday, September 21st, 2012
Lexxie Couper write a non-erotic romance? Is it even possible? Apparently, it is. And here’s the first five pages to prove it. Yes, boys and girls, it’s Five for Friday time and today, it’s Suspicious Ways, my very first non-erotic (but still quite spicy) contemporary romance.
“Goddamn it.” Ali Graham cried out, hopping up and down in awkward shuffles, her big toe a throbbing world of pain. She scowled at the heavy mainsail cleat that only a second ago had been in her hand but now was lying oh-so innocently on the deck of her yacht. Frustration and anger shot through her, rivaling the ache in her newly struck toe. “That hurts.”
She glared at the cleat some more, her toe throbbing in time with her pounding heart. Holy hell, did it hurt. That’s what she got for working on her boat without wearing shoes. She should have known better. “Bum poo crap,” she muttered, the childish outburst strangely satisfying as she crouched down to retrieve the heavy metal cleat. Thanks to her stupidity, she’d be walking with a limp for the rest of the—
“I have to say, that’s some colorful language you’ve got there, Ms Graham.”
Ali froze, cold terror slamming into her at the deep, smooth and entirely too-familiar male voice sounding behind her. Her heart smashed into her throat and she squeezed her eyes shut, terror turning to stunned disbelief. You’ve got to be kidding, she thought. He can’t be back in Australia. He can’t be.
Entirely uninvited, an image of the owner of the voice filled her head and her pulse quickened. She hadn’t seen Jackson McKenzie in four years, but that made little difference. His image was just as clear and sharp and vivid as if she’d only seen him an hour ago. And just like it had four years ago, her body was reacting as if she was a silly teenage girl with a sillier crush—her nipples pinching hard, her breath growing rapid and her mouth going dry.
Maybe that’s because four years ago you were a teenage girl. Well, three months out of being a teenage girl. Now, however, you’ve got no excuse. You’re twenty-four years old and—
“Are you going to turn around any time soon and say hello?”
The voice—his voice—caressed her senses some more, each word thrumming with sardonic humor. The same sardonic humor she’d loved so much back when she’d been a naïve idiot.
She ground her teeth and closed her fist tighter on the cleat. Am I going to turn around and say hello? How about I turn around and break your nose instead?
She dropped her gaze to Wind Seeker’s deck, following its line to the bow. It was a beautiful boat, a majestic forty-five-foot sloop designed and built by her father ten years ago—a gift for her mother as a wedding-anniversary present. The yacht had been her father’s passion. Since his death, it had been her passion too. And her livelihood.
He’s not going away. You know that, don’t you, Ali?
With a sharp sigh and a muttered “shit”, Ali turned, directing her churlish glare away from her still-throbbing toe to the tall man standing on the jetty beside her boat. She jutted out her chin, letting him see her contempt. “What the hell are you doing here, Jack?”
Jackson McKenzie, her father’s best friend and once business partner, cocked a thick golden-honey eyebrow. “That’s an interesting way to greet your old sailing buddy.” Sea-green eyes pinned her from behind thin gold-framed glasses and a small grin played over lips that were entirely too kissable. He chuckled. “Anyone would think you haven’t missed me.”
Ali scowled. “You were my father’s sailing buddy, Jack. Not mine. And I haven’t missed you. Not in the slightest.”
Jack’s chuckle met her ears again, the relaxed, somehow far-too knowing sound igniting a flare of anger in her chest and—God help her—a blossom of heat deep between her thighs. His grin stretched wider, flashing white even teeth at her. “Liar.”
Ali bit back a scream. “What are you doing here, Jack?” she repeated, fighting like hell to ignore the unnerving sensation stirring in the pit of her belly. He didn’t turn her on any more. He didn’t. “And don’t tell me it’s a social visit, because I’m not that gullible anymore.”
The corners of his mouth twitched. “It’s been a while, Ali.” He ignored her question—again. “You’ve grown up.”
She gave him a flat look. “You’re right. It has been awhile. Four years in fact. My father’s funeral. I wore black, remember?”
As if she hadn’t mentioned the horrible day, Jack’s mouth played with a smile some more. “Are you going to invite me aboard?”
Ali raised her eyebrows, crossing her arms across her breasts. “Hmmm, let me think… No.”
Jack’s smile turned mocking and he shook his head, those green eyes of his never leaving her face. “Still the spoilt teenager, I see.”
Renewed frustration and anger rolled through Ali. She jutted out her chin some more. If she wasn’t careful, the way she was carrying on she’d put her neck out. “I’m twenty four, thank you very much,” she snapped. “Not a teenager.” Damn him, why did he make her so flustered so fast?
Jack suppressed a laugh. “And yet so easily provoked. Nothing has changed.”
Ali’s breath caught in her throat. Goddamn it, Ali Graham. She gave herself a savage mental rap. Get a grip. Do you want him to see you like this? Do you want to give him the satisfaction?
With forced bravado, she turned her back on him, her heart a wild trip-hammer slamming against her breastbone. “I’ve work to do,” she flung over her shoulder, determined to sound indifferent as she pulled on the boom’s rigging. “It was…nice…to see you.”
There was a moment of silence long enough for Ali to decide he’d left. She let out a soft sigh. Oh man, why did she wish he’d stayed? Why did she wish he’d ignored her and climbed aboard her boat? Why did she wish he’d slid his arms around her waist and drew her close to his body like he had all those years ago?
Damn it. He still did it to her. Still messed her up even after what he’d done.
“Two missed payments, Ali?”
A chill cut straight to Ali’s heart at Jack’s soft question. She tightened her fists on the rigging, the steel rope biting into her flesh.
Damn it. He knows. He knows about the loan.
Of course he knew. Why else did she think he was there? To say sorry for four years ago? To beg her forgiveness? To make love to her again?
Staring at Wind Seeker’s deck, Ali let out another long, soft sigh. No, it wouldn’t be to say sorry. It was to look her in the face when he knew that she’d failed. That was why he was here. Any other hoping and wishing was just that, hoping and wishing. And hopes and wishes got you diddly-squat. She’d learnt that the second she’d taken over running With the Wind Charters.
Running a sailing charter business on Sydney Harbor was never going to be easy. It was a cutthroat world dominated by men and money. It didn’t help that she was an American, not a born-and-bred Australian. Nor did it help most of Sydney’s sailing world held her responsible for her father’s death, a man embraced by his adopted countrymen with open arms. “An upstart Yank” she’d heard herself described by some of the old salts around the yacht club, “a silly little girl too big for her boots” was another phrase she’d heard, a “know-it-all American” another, and worst of all “foolish and dangerous”.
She wasn’t any of those things. She loved Australia and gladly called the country she’d lived in since she was seventeen home. She knew she still had so much to learn about the sailing world and the rhythm of Sydney Harbor and was willing to do so. She wasn’t a little girl anymore, and she’d never been silly, even when she was one. And she wasn’t dangerous or foolish. But she’d promised her dad at his funeral she wouldn’t let his dream—his business—die, and damn it, she wouldn’t.
Despite the hostility from her father’s mourning peers, despite her age, despite her nationality, she’d refused to give in. She’d done everything she could to keep With the Wind Charters afloat. Everything humanly possible. Yet here was Jackson McKenzie, her father’s sailing partner and closest friend. He would only be here if the bank had contacted him about her missed payments. Which meant he now knew, as guarantor, that she’d failed in everything she’d endeavored to achieve.
A hot prickling along her spine, like a thousand fire-ants on her flesh, told her Jack was watching her. Waiting. “Want to tell me what’s going on, Ali?”
“No.” She turned back to him, chin lifted, jaw clenched. “I don’t.”
Jack held her gaze, an unreadable light glinting in the green depths of his eyes. “According to Greg Matthews you’ve been struggling to make the monthly payments for some time now.” He cocked a dark-honey eyebrow. “Not really the right way to pay off a loan.”
Ali took a silent breath. Her bank manager hadn’t wasted any time calling Jack. He must have been on the phone the second she’d missed that last payment. Anger rolled through her. At herself and the whole terrible, messy situation. “Not that it’s any of your business,” she said, exaggerating her tone to the point of childish sarcasm, “but a four-week charter cancelled on short notice. It left my funds a little out of balance.” She crossed her arms, trying for total confidence. She couldn’t let him see how rattled she was. She wouldn’t. If she did, he’d use it to his advantage and she’d be damned if she’d give him any further advantage over her. “It won’t happen again,” she continued. “In fact, the upcoming months couldn’t look better. I’ve quite a few bookings already, two of which will pay exceptionally well, and there is the possibility of a three-week charter to the Solomon Islands.”
Jack’s eyes seemed to bore into her soul. A slight frown creased his forehead. “Now you see, Ali, we’ve a bit of a problem here. As of this afternoon it is my business. I’m taking over your loan.”
Ali’s mouth fell open. “You’re what?”
“Taking over your loan. And your business.”
Shocked anger smashed through her. “Says who?”
“The loan agreement. If you default on more than one payment, the guarantor—me—takes responsibility for the loan. Your bank manager contacted me when you missed the second payment and we began the necessary procedures. I called him late this afternoon and arranged to finalize the payment.”
Ali stood, numb. “I don’t believe you. Why would…?”
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