Excerpt from FINDING JOY STREET
Book #1 of The Tarot Series
We’ve reached my office, and I’m out of distractions, but I stop so abruptly in front of the doorway London collides into me.
My skin turns blazing hot when his body bumps up against mine. My arm touching his chest feels molten, and my heart starts racing as the butterflies in my stomach soar. For a moment, I don’t move. I don’t want to move, because that would mean my body would no longer be pressed up against London Shaw’s solid chest.
I swallow hard and will myself to step back from him. If I look up into his face I’ll get confirmation whether the attraction is all on my side or if it’s mutual, and I don’t want to know. I can’t know. Because London Byrne Shaw is threatening to derail every promise I’ve made to myself since I was sixteen years old.
“My”—my voice comes out uneven and I clear my throat hastily—“my calendar is in my office.” I walk inside briskly and pull up the schedule on the computer. “In two to three weeks…let’s see. What day would you like to come in?”
London looks over my shoulder, his left hand lightly touching my back.
I grit my teeth and press onward with the mouse. “How about two Mondays from now at nine o’clock? That way I’ll have more time to prepare.” In more ways than just memorizing my script. I’m going to have to prepare my body to turn off London Shaw, because right now I’m already wet for him.
“Monday’s good.” His voice is low in my ear and his breath brushes my neck.
The scent is minty and perfect, and the warmth sends shivers down my back. I jab at the keyboard with my fingers and type his name into the time slot. Then I press save and step away, forcing him to back up by Nice’s desk...
London Shaw is the kind of man who could really get under my skin. But I can’t let him.
I exhale heavily. The heat burning me up from the inside out is licking every part of me, especially all the hormonally-induced areas, and from my...clenched stomach to what is starting to feel like continuous wetness between my legs, I’m a total mess.
Book #2 of The Tarot Series
This is never going to work. I cannot share a room with a guy. No way in hell.
Especially not this guy. Not only is he hot, but he also looks like he plays make believe for a living. Just the type of faker I always fall for. Used to fall for. The new Paris Sorelli doesn’t fall for any guy. She’s independent. And strong. And single.
I chew on my lip. “Are you an actor?”
He frowns. “No. I used to work in entertainment.” Long pause. “But I switched paths.”
“Are you a model?”
“Then why are you wearing a tuxedo in the middle of the day?”
“Got a photo shoot in thirty minutes. The couple who hired me is doing this whole black-tie surprise party for her grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, and they want me to blend in with the guests.”
Oh. Well, that’s not the same as being an actor. That’s…kind of interesting.
And I suddenly want to know more about Caleb Walker.
“Um, can we talk inside the lobby?” I ask him.
I take off quickly for Jade’s studio, daring him to keep up. I glance over my shoulder as I nearly jog through the entryway to the end of the lobby, but Caleb follows along without complaint.
I come to an abrupt stop just inside the equipment room. Here, surrounded by numerous colored yoga mats, I take a deep breath before telling him my situation, which comes spilling out of my mouth in a rush of uncensored comments.
“Look, I need to get this car to New York within two weeks or my ex has threatened to report it stolen.”
Caleb’s eyes darken. “Nice.”
My cheeks flush. “It’s a long story that goes back to college. He’s not as bad as he sounds.”
California would highly disagree, but she’s not here.
“Anyway, can you ensure that happens?”
He looks a lot more confident than I feel about this trip, and my resolve to rebuff him wanes further.
“The thing is, this trip came up unexpectedly, and I can only afford to stay in motels. Nothing luxurious.”
Caleb inhales and looks right at me when he says, “I’d prefer a motel right now.”
My eyes lock with his and everything around us suddenly darkens, because we’re the only lights that matter. The low hum of the air conditioner in the background fades into silence, and the sound of the vent next to me is extinguished. Caleb’s gray eyes darken until they’re the color of a perfect storm, and I sway closer to him without meaning to.
He puts his hand on my arm, and the heat of his palm on my skin causes those shivers through my body again. I hear his breath catch, and the sound effectively breaks the spell.
I shift backward and clear my throat. “Anyway, I was intending to drive with a female, because I can’t afford my own motel room and I don’t need any distractions like you hitting on me. I’m on a mancation.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Mancation. Got it.”
I look at him hopefully. “Are you gay?”
“In a relationship?”
“Are you going to hit on me?” I ask.
I tap my foot nervously on the floor until—
“How can I be sure?”
He looks at me for a long moment. Up and down, eyes on my breasts, my mouth, until my stomach quivers like I can’t remember it ever doing with Nathaniel. Or anyone else.
Finally, he says, “Because even though you’re hot, I don’t find you attractive. You’re too peppy.”
Insult that’s supposed to make me feel safe. Secure. I guess I’m used to that combination.
“So we’re doing this then?” I hear myself say.
“Seven a.m. tomorrow. Here.” I turn away from him. “See you then.”
I only said that part about not finding Paris attractive because I knew she’d never let me ride with her if I told the truth.
Of course I find her attractive. Those dark eyes the color of coffee, an unending mane of black hair that makes me want to tug her close, paired with a curvy, toned body that’s a blend of fragile and strong. Kind of like her. The first time she spoke to me, in that surprisingly husky and incredibly sexy voice, the air left my lungs. And when she bounced across the room to cross-examine me, all I wanted to do was take her in my arms.
Somehow all that peppiness in the Paris Sorelli package works, and I hate peppy. But Paris is hot. Smoking hot. And she didn’t know who I was. Didn’t have a clue. She was too busy deciding whether or not she could trust me to focus on facial recognition. A burden dropped off my shoulders at the idea of traveling cross-country with a woman who I don’t have to constantly worry about whether or not she’s using me.
Yeah, she’s the opposite of most women I’ve met. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and she doesn’t seem to have a fake bone in her body. I’ve gotten used to a certain type of woman. The superficial kind. The kind that only wants me for my celebrity status and net worth, however outdated those two things now are.
Because I wasn’t lying to Paris. Caleb Walker isn’t an actor. That part of me is dead and gone, and he’s never coming back again.
* * *
My friend, Will, drops me off at JJ’s Coffee & Yoga Studio the next morning and Paris—I think it’s Paris—steps out of a black BMW.
Wearing shades, a purply-pink fitted shirt and jeans, her black hair is now auburn and piled high on top of her head. I blink as she waves at me.
“You look casual.” She gestures to my worn blue jeans and Pepperdine sweatshirt. “No tux today?”
“I told you the tux was for a photo job,” I say firmly.
Then I notice the smile playing around her lips, and I exhale. “Sorry,” I say. “I thought we were still in yesterday’s interrogation mode.”
She smiles wider. “No. I thought I’d leave the attack dogs at home.”
I grin back at her, and my sudden need to touch her is so urgent that I grasp for something, anything, to distract myself.
“What happened to your hair?” pops out of my mouth.
I meant to keep that thought to myself.
She blushes so red I feel instantly bad.
“I dyed it. And got a blow-out.” She gestures to the poof sitting on her head. “My friend, Cali, told me hair holds old memories, and that I had to make a change so I can let it go. You know, the weight of my ex.”
Who is this ex? He sounds like the biggest asshole on the planet. He made her feel like she had to dye all that sexiness?
“You know, his hands in my…”
Another blush and this time she claps a hand over her mouth and a—“whoops.”
I laugh. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure his hands were everywhere, considering you were a couple.”
Her shoulders drop as she visibly relaxes. “Well, anyway, about my hair—I know. My hair’s naturally thick, and right here is why I never go to an unknown salon and let them do whatever they want.”
Her head looks like a poodle moved in on top of it. The auburn color’s okay, but whoever did the styling, well…
“It looks nice,” I say.
Paris takes off her shades and blinks at me. “Caleb Walker. We’re going to spend three thousand miles together in a car I can’t so much as spill coffee on without my ex reporting me for destruction of property. Let’s not lie to each other on top.”
I grin. “Okay. You look like you’re trying to cover up how hot you are with that”—I trace a circle over my head with my finger—“blow-out thing.”
I worry she’ll take offense to me calling her hot, but my joke overwhelms the compliment and she giggles. “Fine. That’s better. And once I shower, my hair will return to normal. Except I’m now auburn.” She gestures to my travel bags. “You want to put those in the trunk? The car’s in good shape, thank goodness. Jade promised she took good care of it, but I’ve been a bit panicked. We’ll just have to stop at a car wash at the end of the trip and really get it spiffed up.”
I follow Paris to the car and try not to look at her ass the whole time she’s bending over the open trunk to grab a sweatshirt and show me the space she left for my luggage.
Because fu-uck. Paris’s ass is clearly her hidden treasure. I couldn’t see it fully yesterday, not like I can today in those snugly fitting blue jeans. Round and perky—all I want to do is come up behind her and put my hands on it. And her long legs are already killing me. How did I not notice those yesterday?
I clear my throat as I toss my backpack and duffel bag into the back of the BMW, and then climb into the passenger side and fasten my seatbelt.
“Were you an athlete?” I ask impulsively as she takes the driver’s seat and fiddles with the keys.
She looks at me, startled. “Why?”
Because you have a slamming body and I can’t take my eyes off you.
“You look like you played a sport of some kind,” I say vaguely. “Soccer?”
She laughs. “Not unless you count getting knocked out by a fly-by while walking past a soccer field when I was ten. My cousin, Diego, plays soccer. I didn’t do team sports real well. But I loved to run. I never ran for my school. I just ran on my own. For me.”
Sounds nice. Sounds hot. And I still can’t take my eyes off her.
Paris widens her eyes. “You’re staring.”
I clench my jaw and turn to look out the windshield. “Sorry. When I don’t get my morning caffeine fix, I’m spacey.”
Caleb, get your shit together. This girl is off limits. If you so much as look at her sideways, she’ll dump your butt on the side of the road and keep going.
But I needn’t worry, at least not about being shoved out of the car. Paris may kill me first with her driving skills, or lack of.
She takes three tries to get us out of the empty parking lot and onto the street. She nearly hits the curb twice, then the street sign, and when we finally pull out onto the street, she goes straight through a red light. Luckily, it’s so goddamn early that nobody’s out.
“Jesus Christ.” I look over at her after I body slam against the back of my seat at the lurching stop.
“Sorry.” She turns toward me. “I may not be the world’s greatest driver, but I swear I’ll get you to New York safely.”
I laugh. “Are you sure about that? We haven’t even made it out of L.A. yet and I have whiplash.”
“Have you changed your mind?” She bites her lip and looks at me. “I can drop you off and go myself.”
Are you kidding me? Paris will be lucky to make it ten miles before collapsing from exhaustion. I can see the tension on her face from here.
“I’m good,” I assure her. “But why don’t I drive us out of the city? You can take over once we hit the open road.”
She turns the wheel so sharply into the closest parking lot I bang my head on the side window. Oblivious, she stops the car and hands me the keys.
“So I’m riding shotgun then?”
“Yep.” I take the keys from her, wanting to hold her trembling hand until she stops shaking. “Relax and enjoy the drive.”
She laughs. “I’ll flip through the radio for us.”
We get out of the car and pass by each other in silence.
Paris puts on a Harvard sweatshirt, and we start driving again. After a couple of minutes, she finds some guy on the radio singing about trucks, guns, and girls.
“So you like this?” I say without thinking about how it sounds.
But she breaks into a laugh. “This song’s pretty bad. But there are some great country songs, too. I like Miranda Lambert. She sings about things I get. Real life things.”
“Like men who are violent assholes and women who are strong and stand their ground despite having been dealt a shit hand of cards.”
I whip my head over to her. “Was your ex—”
She shakes her head firmly. “Never. Not mine.”
But somebody’s was.
I don’t push.
Instead, I say, “So you go by Paris? No nickname?”
“Nope. Paris doesn’t really make for any good nicknames.”
“What did your boyfriend call you?”
“Baby. That’s all he ever calls me. Just baby.”
“Really? Paris is a gorgeous name. I’m surprised he didn’t use it more.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the blush creep into her face.
“He didn’t like my name. He said it confused him because of the city in France.”
“So he was dumb as well as a dick?”
Small smile she hides by pulling her bottom lip into her mouth. “My ex is…privileged. And I’m not. So he thought he was better than me. Even though we both went to Harvard, and I actually got in on my own. With nearly a full scholarship. He’s a legacy kid.”
As we enter the ramp for the I-10, I say, “A scholarship to Harvard’s pretty impressive. You know what else? I love your name.”
Her sharp inhale is audible from the driver’s side. A little gasp that makes me wonder if she makes sounds like that when she has sex. God, I hope so.
Shut up, Caleb. Shut the fuck up.
“You’re sweet, Caleb Walker.” Paris turns away from me to look down at her phone.