Té Russ Novels

Sweet romances with a bit of heat.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sample Sunday: Introducing Phoenix Greene



***unedited, subject to change***

"I've got a large orange explosion juice for Scarlette," Phoenix Greene called out.
Phoenix watch as Scarlette Harris made her way back up to the counter of Phoenix's juice/smoothie bar, The Main Squeeze. She pushed the to-go cup, along with an unopened straw in her direction.
"I know it's not your morning coffee," Phoenix said, sympathetically. "But it's good for the baby."
"I know," Scarlette sighed. "I'm just so used to going to Mellow Mocha. But between Valerie and Marcus, they're making sure I don't even smell coffee. It's ridiculous."
"It's them caring," Phoenix corrected. "This juice should also help with your morning sickness."
Scarlette smiled at that. "Then you may see me morning, noon and night, since I stay sick."
"Hey, the more you visit, the more money I make," Phoenix teased with a wink. She watched as Scarlette inserted her straw into the cup before taking a sip.
"Mmm," she moaned. "This is so good. Thanks Phoenix."
"Anytime."
"You need to make a trip to my side of town and come to my store."
Scarlette ran a lingerie shop, filled with high-end undergarments.
Phoenix rolled her eyes at Scarlette's invitation.
"It's not like I have anyone to wear them for," she murmured as she wiped down the already clean countertop.
Scarlette waved off Phoenix's remark.
"Honey, wear them for your damn self. I used to before Marcus came along. Hell I still do. Though I don't know what I'm gonna do in a few more months when I'm as big as a house."
"Maybe you can do a maternity line. I'm sure mothers-to-be still want to feel sexy and desired."
Scarlette's face was thoughtful as she took a long sip from her juice.
"You know...I just might do that," she finally said, a bright smile crossing her face.
"I can't wait to see what you come up with."
"I'm going to swing by Bucky's and see Mom," Scarlette said, referring to her mother-in-law, Viola. Viola ran a bar a few doors down from Phoenix's juice bar.
"Tell her I said hello," Phoenix replied as Scarlette turned to head for the door.
"I will."
As Scarlette was leaving, Phoenix looked up to see her mother walking in. Her arms were full with a basket full of fruits and vegetables. Phoenix was already rounding the counter when her mother nearly dropped the basket.
"Mom!" Phoenix said, picking up the pace to help her mother. "I told you I was going to come by after lunch for these."
Her parents, Fiona and Nick Greene, ran a community urban garden next to Phoenix's bar. They'd been running it since she was a teenager and was the inspiration for Phoenix to open a juice bar. She'd experiment with so much of the fruits and vegetables they'd brought home when she was growing up. When the property opened up next to the garden, it seemed like fate for Phoenix and with the help of her parents, she'd opened up The Main Squeeze.
She'd already paid back the loan her parents had given her, and though they often tried to refuse, she often gave them extra money, since the majority of produce she used came from the garden.
"I saw the rush you had in here today," her mother said as she let Phoenix take the baskets from her. "I figured it couldn't hurt to bring it by a little early."
"Well, thank you, Mom," Phoenix said as they headed back behind the counter.
"I need a favor, Fi," Fiona said as Phoenix handed the basket off to one of her employees.
"What's up?"
Before Fiona could respond another customer came in.
"Hold that thought," she said to her mother, before turning to the customer with a smile. "Welcome to The Main Squeeze, how can I help you?"
"Ummm, can I get one of your strawberry kombucha smoothies?"
"Sure thing," Phoenix said. "Size?"
"Medium."
"And what name can I write down for you?"
"Lois."
"Alright, Lois, your smoothie will be ready in a few minutes."
Phoenix went to work on the smoothie, adding strawberries to the juicer.
"What did you need, Mom?" she asked as she poured the ginger basil kombucha into the juicer.
"Dad and I are going on a retreat this weekend," Fiona started.
Phoenix nodded and then pressed the button to blend everything together in the juice.
"So you need me to run your stand this weekend," she guessed, speaking up so Fiona could hear her over the juicer.
Fiona nodded her response.
"If you can't do it, we understand," she said, once the juicer stopped. "I know Saturdays have become one of your busiest days–"
"Which is why I hired more employees," Phoenix said. "It's fine, Mom. I can do it."
"Are you sure?"
Phoenix refrained from rolling her eyes. She didn't know why her mother went through this whole "if it's not any trouble" bit. Fiona knew Phoenix wouldn't say no. That urban garden was just as much hers as it was her parents.
"Of course, Mom," Phoenix said as she filled a medium sized cup with the smoothie. After she placed a top on the drink she called for Lois to come and get her drink.
"Thanks, sweetheart."
"No problem, Mom. What are you about to do?" she asked, as she grabbed a pineapple to cut up.
"I've got another basket that I'm going to run over to the homeless shelter. Dad's working in the garden."
"I'll take him a juice later."
Fiona nodded with a smile before she took off and Phoenix prepared to greet another customer. 

©Té Russ

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sample Sunday




I pounded on the door again, trying to keep the humor out of my voice.
"Bun, baby open the damn door."
"Go away, Bas!" she growled.
She'd called, in tears, telling me that she'd gotten the chicken pox from Heather's son, Tevin. When I offered to come over, she refused.
"I've already had them," I'd told her. But her insistence on me staying away was more for vanity reasons.
"I don't want you to see me like this," she'd whined. "I look awful."
That didn't deter me from staying away.
Whether my woman knew it or not, she needed me. She was just too damn stubborn, trying to be tough ass, 'Cut-Throat' Carmen trying to take care of herself. But it was hard as hell to be cut throat when your body was covered in a rash that itched like nobody's business.
"Sebastian!"
I turned to find Donatello at his door and smiled. Over the last few months of dating Carmen, I'd gotten to know Donatello a lot more. We'd had dinner at his house several times and we'd even gone to see his opera again. I behaved myself the second time we went – at the opera anyway.
"Hey, Donnie," I said.
"Is everything all right?" he asked.
"Our girl's got the chicken pox," I said. "And she refuses to open the door and let me in."
Donatello chuckled as he headed toward me.
"Well then lucky for you... I have a key," he said, sifting through his key ring. "She gave me one so I can water her plants whenever she goes out of town on business."
Donatello unlocked the door to Carmen's apartment and I thanked him, patting him on the shoulder before grabbing the shopping bags I'd brought with me and going into the house.
"Carmen!" I chastised, once I closed the door.
She was on the couch, wincing as she scratched her arms.
"You know you're not supposed to be doing that," I said, walking over to her.
"And you're not supposed to be here," she said, giving me some major side eye. "I'm taking my damn key back from Donnie."
"No you're not," I replied with a grin. I placed the bags down near the couch and sat down on the coffee table, facing Carmen.
"Shit, Bun," I said, brushing the back of my hand against her forehead. "You're burning up, baby."
I stood and grabbed one of the bags I'd brought with me and headed for her bathroom.
I filled the tub with cold water and then emptied a packet of oatmeal bath treatment I'd bought. Once the tub was full, I went back into the living room and scooped Carmen off of the couch.
"Come on Bun," I said, carrying her to the room. I placed her down on her feet and stripped her out of her clothes before picking her up again and easing her into the tub.
She let out a sigh of relief and laid her head back against the bath pillow. I could tell the oatmeal was soothing against her skin.
"Better?" I asked.
"So much better," she moaned. She opened her eyes and titled her head to look my way. "Thank you."
"Even though you didn't want me to come in," I teased.
"And see me like... this. I'm hideous, Bas."
"You're beautiful, Bun. Scabs and all."
She splashed some of the water at me and I jumped out of the way, laughing.
"You know, you could still leave."
I shook my head, squatting down beside her and brushing her hair off of her forehead.. "Nah, I'm not going anywhere."
"What about the bookstore?"
"Rye's got it," I said shrugging. "Getting you better is my main concern right now."
She smiled and sank further into the water, letting out another sigh.
Half an hour later, I helped her out of the tub, and lathered her body with an oatmeal paste I'd made. I got the recipe from Charlotte, who'd gone through the whole chicken pox ordeal with both of my nieces.
"I have to take the medicine my doctor prescribed me," Carmen said, as she got into the bed.
"I've got it," I said, grabbing it, along with a bottle of water off of the nightstand. I handed her the pills and water and she quickly took them. When she was done she laid back down, her eyes filled with fatigue.
"Get some rest, Bun," I said, and she nodded. In no time, she'd drifted off and I went into the living room.
I turned on the TV, aimlessly clicking through the channels. Who would have ever thought that I'd be taking care of a woman like this, I thought to myself with a shake of my head.
My phone rang and I picked it up off of the coffee table and answered it.
"How's she doing?" my sister asked.
"She still has a fever, but she says her skin is feeling better now that she's taken an oatmeal bath and has that paste on. Thanks again for the recipe."
"Not a problem little bro," she said. "I can't talk long. I'm taking Ava to soccer practice."
"Kiss my niece for me," I said, and then hung up.
I went back to channel surfing and eventually I ended up dozing off on the couch. By the time I woke up, it was dark out.
I stretched and then got up and went to check on Carmen. Her fever hadn't gone down much and that worried me slightly. Contracting chicken pox as an adult was sometimes more severe than when gets got it. But I prayed that wasn't the case for Carmen.
I ran her another oatmeal bath and carried her to the tub. I also gave her some ibuprofen to help get her fever down. I hated seeing her sick.
Thankfully, her fever broke a couple of days later. I had to stay on her ass about scratching, but the oatmeal baths and paste help relieve that quite a bit.
"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" I asked, as she walked me to the door. I'd run out of fresh clothes and since she was on the mend, she insisted that I go home, as well as swing by the bookstore and see how things were going.
"I'll be fine, Bas," she said. "I'm feeling so much better thanks to you."
I nodded and she rose on her tip toes to kiss me, then hesitated. I wiped away her apprehension when I pulled her into my arms and pressed my lips to hers. I hadn't kissed her in like a week. It had nearly driven me insane.
She sighed against my mouth and I pulled away slowly.
"I'll be back later on this evening to check on you," I promised, as I opened the door and she nodded, giving me that pretty little smile, before I took off.



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sample Sunday: “...the sexiest black nerd I’d ever seen."





***unedited, subject to change***
Every time that damn door opened, I found myself looking up hoping to see her walk in. It had been a week since she'd came in giving Bobby the life changing news that she'd gotten him a book deal.
I'd seen Bobby since then. He'd come in to show me how he'd made the top headline on the home page of Publish Now's website.
But Carmen...
"Why don't you just ask Bobby about her, instead of looking like a sad puppy every time the door opens?"
I rolled my eyes before turning to Suzette, my younger cousin and the barista/bartender. She was the reason that I'd been working behind the bar, dishing out coffee all day, followed by the celebratory shots in the evening for Bobby. She'd had a full day of classes that day, and hadn't been able to come into work until later in the afternoon, so I'd stepped in for her.
It had been so worth it, when I looked up to find the gorgeous woman, with toasted almond skin and striking grey eyes, staring curiously at me.
I still remembered the way her blouse hugged her breasts, the way her skirt showed off her round sexy ass, and her heels seemed to accentuate her long legs that I envisioned wrapped around me as I dove in and out of her–
The bell over the door rang, jerking me out of my fantasy.  A couple of college students walked in I heard Suzette chuckle behind me as she added whipped cream to a latte. Rather than hear her continue to get on my case, I decided to head out and start restocking the shelves with our latest shipment of books.
I grabbed a box from the back, cut it open and then carried it up to the second floor. I sat the box down on one of the carts we kept up there for this specific reason and began to make my way through the aisles, refilling the shelves with books we'd sold out on.
I rounded the corner of one of the aisles and stopped. Sitting at one of the tables, that was hidden away in the back, was Carmen, lost in a book, sipping on straw out of one of our signature cups.
She looked completely different from when we'd met a week ago. Gone were the business clothes and neat bun. Now her hair fell past her shoulders in wild, corkscrew curls and she was wearing an open plaid shirt with a white tank top underneath, jeans and some kind of wedge heel. A pair of cat eye glasses were perched on the tip of her cute nose, and she kept pushing them on up on her face.
She was the sexiest black nerd I'd ever seen.
I couldn't gauge how long she'd been sitting there, but she looked comfortable and even though I'd been hoping to see her again – more than I cared to admit – I didn't want to disturb her. But just as I was about to push the cart full of books down another aisle, Carmen looked up.
Her face broke into a huge smile when she saw me, and I found myself smiling back at her.
"Looks like you're really into that book," I said, abandoning the cart to make my way over to where she was sitting.
Her cheeks heated as she closed the book and pushed it to the side, but not before I got a glimpse of the cover.
"Noble Surrender," I murmured, before looking back at her. "Must have been getting good."
"It was," she said.
"If I'm interrupting, I can get back to wor–"
"No!" she said, quickly. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. "I mean... if you're not too busy."
"Nah," I said, pulling out the chair across from her and sat down. We sat there staring at each other for an awkward moment before I finally spoke. "What were you reading that had you all engrossed over here?"
She waved her hand, the blush in her cheeks deepening even more. "There was aerial hammock and...other things...going on. You know, you should just read it. I wouldn't want to spoil it for you."
I shook my head. "Romance isn't really a preferred reading genre of mine."
Carmen laughed and the sound seemed to dance across my skin.
"Oh come on, you should give it a shot. You never know, you might actually like it."
"I'll pass," I chuckled.
"Plenty of men read romance novels, you know," she pointed out.
"Maybe so, but I don't see myself being one of those guys."
"So what were you reading the other day when I came by with the good news for Bobby?"
"Before the Fall," I said.
Carmen gasped, "That was a great book!"
"You've read it?"
"Of course I have," Carmen said. "And if you enjoyed that, you'll love Bobby's book."
"I did love it," I said, sitting back.
"You've read it?" she asked.
"I sure have. I was the one who suggested he submit his manuscript."
"Well, then I guess I have you to thank," she murmured.
"What was that?"
"Oh," she shook her head. "It's nothing really... I've kind of been trying to give the whole literary agent thing a go on my own. I was let go from my job last year."
"I'm sorry to hear that," I said.
Carmen waved off the apology as she continued, "I reached out to a friend over at Publish Now and got an ad put on their site, saying that I was searching for new clients and..."
"And Bobby submitted his work to you," I finished.
Carmen nodded.
"I couldn't put it down," she whispered, leaning forward. "I mean... have you ever read anything quite like that?"
"No, actually, I can't say that I have. I can definitely see those books on the big screen one day."
Her lip tilted up in a conspiratorial grin as she said, "If I have my way, we'll be selling the movie rights in another month."
"So you're a cold ass literary agent, huh?"
"Well, I don't mean to brag," she teased.
"Nah, if you're at what you do, by all means, brag."
Her smile dimmed slightly as she said, "It's been a rough year, but I think things are starting to look up now."
"That's good," I said, reaching over to pat her hand encouragingly.
Her phone pinged at that moment and she pulled her hand from under mine to reach for her phone.
"Shit," she said, hopping up. "I lost track of time. I'm meeting a friend for lunch."
She quickly picked up her bag and I stood as well.
"I want to see you again," I blurted out. She was in a hurry, and there was no use in beating around the bush.
She slowed down at my words and smiled.
"When?" she asked.
"Do you have a pen?" I asked as I pulled one of my business cards out of my wallet.
She dug into her bag and found one. After she handed it to me, I scribbled on the back of my card, as I said, "Meet here, Saturday night."
I gave her the card and the pen back and she looked at the card, her brows scrunching up in confusion.
"Hemingway? What is this? Saturday's wifi password or something?"
I chuckled. "Not exactly. Just give that to the barista when you get here." I let my eyes boldly rake over her body, before adding, "Dress code is cocktail attire."
She tapped the card on chin for a moment before nodding. "Okay, Saturday... What time should I get here?"
"Is eight good for you?"
"Works for me." Her phone pinged again. "Damn, I've really gotta go or my friend is gonna kill me."
But even though she had somewhere to be, she didn't seem to be in a rush, as she slowly backed away, keeping her eyes on mine.
"I'll see you Saturday," I said.
"See you Saturday," she replied, before turning and disappearing down and aisle toward the stairs.
I turned, preparing to get back to work, when my eyes landed on the newly vacated table. And the book Carmen seemed to have forgotten all about.
I reached over, snatched it up and hurried down the stairs. I rushed through the first floor of the bookstore and out the front door, but by the time I got there, she was nowhere in sight. I turned, went back inside, ducking off between the aisles so I wouldn't have to hear Suzette and her big mouth, and headed for the stairs.
I absently flipped through the pages of the book, landing on the page Carmen had bookmarked. I leisurely skimmed over the words and my eyes grew wide as I read about the aerial hammock Carmen had mentioned earlier. And the things Ian was doing to Giselle in said hammock.
"Damn," I whispered as I sank down into a chair at a table when I made it back upstairs.


Maybe I should give these books a try.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Spotlight: BeJeweled: Standing Strong

ABOUT CHELLE RAMSEY:


An original Georgia Peach, Chelle Ramsey is a fiction author, writing stories to encourage, empower, entertain and strengthen readers. Many of her stories are based in her birthplace of Atlanta or her husband’s hometown of Cincinnati, where readers can relate to local hot spots and events. She wants her readers (women and men) to become empowered to rise above adversity, with faith in God, and belief in themselves. 
Chelle holds an MBA in Human Resource Management, which she puts to use in her HR generalist role by day, while she writes her women’s fiction and Christian fiction novels by night. She is also a romance ghostwriter, a genre very diverse from her own.
Her most important roles are those of a wife and mother of three. During her “me time,” she loves listening to music, and becomes enraptured with the enthralling stories of Terry McMillan, and Nora Roberts. She especially relishes trying to solve the engaging mysteries of James Patterson and Stuart Woods, while eating a bowl of her favorite butter pecan ice cream. Chelle resides in a rural community of Atlanta, GA and enjoys writing, family time, and watching NBA games with her husband. 

RAFFLECOPTER:
Two different winners will be randomly selected from the participating blogs. One will receive an autographed copy of BeJeweled: Standing Strong, and another visitor will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. Winners will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter. Simply enter the link below in the blog post wherever HTML can be posted.

RAFFLECOPTER LINK: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CONTACT INFO:

PURCHASE BOOKS:
BeJeweled: Standing Strong: 
Short Link: bit.ly/THOBJ4

ALL BOOKS AMAZON: Chelle Ramsey Amazon

PAPERBACKS: 
(HOBJ IV) (COMING SOON)

BOOK BLURB:
BEJEWELED: STANDING STRONG



Olivia has overcome many challenges and disappointments in her life. Yet, when faced with an unexpected death of a family member, and witnessing the murder of someone she cares for, she isn’t sure she can survive. The losses incurred on this journey may cause her to pay the ultimate sacrifice. 
The return of Black and Kianna means the puzzle pieces of Angel’s life are finally locking into place. The picture is different than she envisioned. Angel must determine if uncovering the truth of their past, is worth the sacrifice of her new relationship.
Kianna’s played dirty in the past, but this time the fight is deadly. She’s willing to go all in to expose the truth, which will cause everyone in the game to ante up. Will her sacrifice be more than she bargained for?
Black’s gambled several times in the past, but this time the stakes are high. With his life and those of his family serving as the bargaining chips, it isn’t that easy to fold. To protect those he loves the most, he may have to sacrifice his own life to save theirs. 
Angel. Kianna. Black. In the end everyone must bear their cross. And the truth is so explosive, the House will never be the same. One will stand strong and walk away. One will stand strong and make the ultimate sacrifice. And one will stand strong and won’t survive!

EXCERPT: 
Angel had been sitting in the waiting room for several hours with Georgette beside her. On her way to the hospital, Angel called Black’s mom to let her know what happened. She promised Angel she would be on the next flight in from DC and catch a cab to the hospital. Angel expected she would arrive at any moment.
“Mrs. Franklin,” a nurse greeted, entering the waiting room and approaching Angel.
“Yes?” Angel replied, standing up.
“Terrence is out of surgery now. He was back in recovery for the last half an hour, and they just rolled him up to his room. You can see him for a brief moment. Please follow me, Mrs. Franklin,” the nurse said. Her name tag read, “Ophelia.”
Angel looked back at Georgette who nodded her head reassuringly. She folded her arms across herself as she nervously followed the nurse through the blue swinging double doors marked Intensive Care Unit 1 {ICU 1}. Georgette had stayed behind in the waiting area, because no one was allowed back but family. Angel had told the nurse upon her arrival she was his wife, conveniently leaving the “ex” off.
Despite all the hell Black had taken her through with his years of selling drugs and cheating, she didn’t want any harm to come to him. There were more years with him as his woman and wife than not. Not to mention he was the father of her child. Although she would not admit it to anyone else, she still cared about Black.
She paused momentarily as the nurse came to a stop outside a room two doors down from the nurses’ reception desk. Angel looked through the glass partition of the ICU room Black was in. Gasping, she placed her hand to her mouth to stifle the sob that threatened to break forth. Angel didn’t try to stop the tears that flooded her eyes, running down her face. She had to be strong right now, for him and her little boy.
“Are you up to this, honey?” Ophelia asked. She placed a tiny, cool hand on Angel’s wrist and cast a warm, blue gaze at Angel.
Inhaling deeply, unable to find her voice, Angel shook her head “yes.” Following the nurse into the room, she warily took in her surroundings. The monitors stood guard over his bed like night watchmen, bleeping out readings that wouldn’t make sense to her in a million years. To the left of his bed stood two machines. According to Nurse Ophelia, one recorded his heart rate and monitored his blood pressure, while the other monitored his oxygen level. A saline drip was attached to his left hand and another pole with a plastic packet stood next to it. She was unsure as to what it was for, but the tubing attached to it; snaked its way underneath the covers to his pelvic region. 
Her heart skipped a beat when she found the courage to lift her eyes to see Black lying inert in the bed. He was on a ventilator. Her Black who was so full of life, so flirtatious and fun one moment and so hardcore the next, but always talking. There were no sounds coming from him now. The endotracheal tube made sure of that. No sounds other than the low beeping and the whooshing of the equipment could be heard. 
“Why is he on a ventilator?” Angel found her voice.
“It’s to assist him with breathing until he is able to do so on his own. It’s not abnormal. It just ensures that if he misses a breath, the machine will do the breathing for him. This tubing here,” Ophelia pointed at the plastic tube coming from his nose, “is a feeding tube that will give him all the nutrients he needs until he’s off the ventilator and able to eat on his own.”
“Do we know how long he’ll be here in ICU?” 
“That always varies depending on the patient, their response to treatment, and how soon he begins coming around. It’s really difficult to say. But what you can do while he’s here is just talk to him, as you normally would. Just be careful not to say anything that might be upsetting to him. It’s okay to rub his hand or arm; you can even kiss him on his forehead if you would like.”
Angel shook her head and sniffed as she blinked back tears.
“All right, I’m going to step out, and I’ll be at the nurses’ station if you need anything. Its 4:30 now,” Ophelia stated, looking at her wrist watch. “You have 15 minutes with him, and then you’ll have to leave until 8:30 tonight. That’s our next visiting time.”
Angel cautiously sat in the chair on the right side of his bed. She wasn’t sure what to do with herself or how to even respond to him. A part of her continued to wait for him to wake up and say something sarcastic to her at any moment, or even ask about his son. 
After sitting there for almost five minutes, she tentatively reached out her hand and touched his wrist. “Black…what happened? Who did this to you? I told you! I told you if you didn’t change your lifestyle…” Angel shook her head, recalling the nurse’s advice. 
“I’m sorry,” she tried again, “I don’t know who did this to you, or why, but I’m sure we’re gonna bring them to justice.” She sat rocking back and forth for a few moments more, staring at him. 

“I don’t know what I’m gonna tell TJ. He was looking forward to spending this weekend with you. Maybe I’ll just say you aren’t feeling well. I know we’ve been through so much, but that little boy loves you. And neither of you deserves this. There’s a lot of things I didn’t say throughout our marriage, which I should have said. But the one thing I never failed to tell you is you’re a wonderful father. You’ve always been the best father that little boy could have. You’re strong, smart, funny, and you have so much love in you for him. And he needs that. So if for no other reason, you have to get well for TJ, Black.” She rubbed his hand and stared at him, fighting back the tears. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sample Sunday: From Noble Seduction





Ivy came out of her sister's closet and held out her arms.
"How do I look?"
"You look great," Isabella said, as she sewed a button on to a shirt she was fixing for Stephen.
"You didn't even look," Ivy complained.
Isabella finally looked up and sighed. "I don't have to look to know you'll look great, because, one, you look amazing in everything you wear. And two, I made the damn dress."
Ivy smiled and went back into the closet to grab a pair of shoes.
"Thanks again," she said, rushing out. She went and gave Isabella a loud, smacking kiss on the cheek before hurrying to the door. "I'm late, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Have fun with 'the anti-Duke'."
Ivy rolled her eyes and slammed the door.
Isabella had been calling Branford that ever since their trip up to the ski lodge. This was her second date in a week with him and things were...not how she expected them to be.
During their first date, she'd been thinking of Duke so much that she eventually told Branford that she wasn't feeling well and needed to go home.
Now she was determined to give it another shot with him.
This was all Izzy's fault anyway, Ivy thought to herself. If that heifer hadn't have bumped her during the bouquet toss at Isaiah and Tessa's wedding, forcing Ivy to catch the bouquet, her mind wouldn't be in shambles right now.
That's where the whole 'You're next in line to get married, Ivy' bullshit had started. She'd heard it all night after that from an endless number of family members.
And then she and Duke had to go and kiss.
She still hadn't talked to him since they'd left the lodge. She didn't know what to say and was afraid of what she'd do. She didn't know how to bring up the subject and clear the air, since she was still so confused about how she really felt about the kiss.
Ivy was a mess.
She caught a cab to the restaurant she'd agreed to meet Branford at. When she got to the hostess stand, she gave the woman his name.
"He hasn't arrived yet, but I can seat you," she said.
"Thank you."
Nearly an hour later, Ivy sat at the table, still alone. She checked her phone and there was no text from Branford, explaining why he was late.
Annoyed, she dropped her phone back into her purse and grabbed her bluetooth headset. She noticed the blinking light on the device and realized she had an incoming call.
She placed the earpiece into her ear and jammed the button to accept the call.
"Hello," she growled.
"Oookay..."
Ivy's eyes grew wide at the deep chuckle that seemed to make her nipples hard instantly. Did his voice always sound this damn deep and sexy?
"At least you're finally answering my calls."
"I can't talk right now, Duke."
"Then why'd you answer?"
Ivy sighed. "I thought you were Branford. He's late."
"And you haven't left already?"
Usually she would have. In fact, she was preparing to do just that. But Branford chose that moment to enter the restaurant.
"Vee, we need to–"
"Duke, now is not a good time."
"Ivy," Duke said, firmly. "We need to talk."
Ivy sighed and lowered her voice as Branford. "I'm checking out a house tomorrow with the realtor my mom set me up with. I'll text you the address later. You can meet me there tomorrow."
"Fine," Duke said. "Have fun with Mr. Missionary."
Before she could say anything, Duke hung up. She took her earpiece out and shoved it back into her purse. Turning her glare toward Branford, she said, "You're late."
"I know, I'm sorry," Branford said. "There was an emergency at work. I would have called but there was no time. I came straight here after I showered."
"If you were two minutes later, I would have been gone."
"I had to do an emergency surgery," Branford said as he sat down and began to chatter on and on about work. That was one of the problems from their last date. She got the feeling that the man liked to hear himself talk. And while he was busy running his mouth, Ivy's mind began to run away from her.
When he offered to drive her home later after dinner, she accepted.
"So you live with your mother?" he asked, when he walked her to the door.
His tone annoyed her slightly, but she chose to ignore it.
"No," she said. "I'm just staying here while I'm in town. Though I will be looking at some properties soon."
Properties she'd asked Duke to check out with her. She wondered how things would go tomorrow when they finally addressed the kiss.
"Good," Branford said, bringing her focus back on him. "A woman of your age should look at having property of her own."
She gave him a tight smile and nodded.
He took a step forward, putting his body close to hers.
"I'm sorry about tonight," he said. "Perhaps there's some way I could make it up to you?"
His apology sounded sincere, so she decided to give him another chance.
"The town's holiday festival and tree lighting ceremony is next weekend. I haven't been in years."
He gave her a smile that she was sure made women all over Sweet Rapids weak in the knees. Yet she found herself standing steady.
"That sounds great," he said, leaning forward. She knew he was about to kiss her, in fact she'd been waiting on the moment. She closed her eyes, lifted her face and felt his lips connect with hers.
And felt nothing.
He moved to pull away, and Ivy grabbed his necked and deepened the kiss. Maybe they hadn't done it right, she desperately thought.
When her tongue touched his, Branford broke the kiss off.
"Whoa. Slow down, beautiful. We've got plenty of time," he said with a wink. "I'll call you later."
Ivy couldn't speak, so she simply nodded and watched him walk back to his car.
After he drove away, she looked up to the sky and blew out a breath, a white puff of air forming before her eyes.

"Shit..."