Internet is a wonderful, beautiful thing! And it means that I can introduce you all to debut author Sandra Antonelli today! And can you believe it’s the fourth Tuesday of the month already?! *collapses* (I’ll add links etc when I can for you to buy it! Whee!)
Lesley’s a pro at property redevelopment and making over the old Witteveen place is pretty basic—until rats in the oven send her scrambling to Dominic’s hardware store for d-Con. Poison is exactly what Dominic thinks cute little smart-assed Lesley is. And the reason the one-time quantum physicist’s animosity runs so deep? History. The woman ruined his brother’s life. Now that she’s back in the town, Dominic’s afraid she’ll dredge up a little secret that will demolish his life too. Lesley isn’t beyond baiting too handsome, pompous Dominic, especially since he’s under the impression she’s a lesbian, but when his teenage son is injured she doesn’t hesitate to come to the boy’s aid. Overnight, the single father feels obliged to her. Whether Lesley likes it or not, Dominic steps in to work on the house flip beside her. What starts as a battle to be the last one standing transforms cold fury into a nuclear attraction. This little basic renovation becomes a major life refurbishment for them both.
Beyond nail guns and hammers, the smell of milled timber, caulking and tile grout, there was something earthy, primal about manual labour that made sweating under a coating of cement dust appealing to Dominic. Getting his hands dirty was something he always loved, and brother, had he been thinking about how he could get his hands dirty with the strawberry-blonde examining the rainbow rack of paint sample cards. She’d looked attractive bent over the front counter, but the way she stood now showed off exactly what was wrapped in the pretty package.
Dominic felt his blood flow change direction.
He moved up the aisle to the back of the store, walking towards her. The closer he got, the better she looked, the more ideas he started to have. Cobwebs and crunchy brown pine needles stuck to the back of her sleeveless blue blouse. Most of her sun-kissed ponytail had come undone, but what was secure bounced when she reached out for a booklet of Laura Ashley colour samples. Worn, red cowboy boots accentuated the delectable back curve of her knees. Her olive green cargo shorts were too big for her and sat low over her hips. He got a nice glimpse of creamy, pinkish-white waist when she stretched up on tiptoe for the booklet. She tugged hard at the tightly-packed paper display, jerking so forcefully the entire contents of the rack dislodged and spilled over her in a shower of flapping cardstock.
He heard her swear under her breath as she crouched to pick up the mess she’d made. Another zesty rush of desire hit him low. Glory days, she looked soft, just like a woman ought to. He hated females with sculpted, hard bodies of sinew and bone. God intended women to have curvy bodies and, as far as he was concerned, this woman had everything exactly as nature designed. Lord, he would love to have pulled the band from that messy hair and started something else nature designed.
Mouth twitching over a wolfish smile, he pulled on his sheep’s skin and paused in the aisle behind her. ‘Can I give you a hand with that?’ he asked, all sweet and nice.
She turned slightly, head down, eyes on the Laura Ashley booklets in her hand, hair in her face, just the tip of her nose poking out.
Something about her perfume was familiar. It was light, subtly floral, and tickled his memory in a far off, hazy manner. In the scant millisecond it took his brain to process the scent, to go through a catalogue of females he’d known: Willa, old girlfriends, aunts, ladies he’d worked with at the Sandia Lab in Albuquerque, the woman lifted her chin and turned to look at him. His rakish thoughts deflated.
So did his dick.
Dominic couldn’t believe he’d just had a hard-on for his youngest brother’s ex-whatever one called the female party from an annulled marriage. Were there words for former spouses of an invalidated union? ‘Lesley,’ he said, when his tongue started working again.
‘Hello, Dominic.’ She gave him a small, wavering smile. ‘It’s been a while.’
He looked her up and down, hands on his hips. ‘It’s been what, thirteen years?’
‘More like sixteen,’ she said.
‘Thirteen, sixteen, not much difference there.’ Dominic’s fingertips smoothed over an eyebrow. He was still coming to terms with finding her attractive. He stared at her, trying to figure out why his body had responded so exuberantly.
Lesley stared back and wondered if Dominic was about to spit on her like his mother had. She’d given up feeling awkward and unattractive shortly after leaving Terry and this town, but the scowl on Dominic’s face brought those feelings back. His gaze bore into her as if she were still a naïve twenty-something—with two heads, a mono-brow, buckteeth and horns.
That momentary reminder of ugliness had been enough. Instinct said to avoid him, and she had tried, but he’d sniffed her out and now he blocked her access to the aisle. Lesley was not the type to back down from confrontation and, quite clearly, the way he’d cornered her, confrontation was his intention.
He stood too close, towering over her, which wasn’t hard; at five-one most people did. However, Dominic loomed, in more ways than one. Aloof, and barely twenty-two when he’d received his PhD in Quantum Physics, his intellectual ego was even more imposing than his stature.
Big brains or big bodies, a lot of men used intimidation to their advantage, but that sort of thing never worked on Lesley. That tactic simply ignited her inner Napoleon. Initially, she’d wanted to be civil because she felt that was the right thing to do. She had nothing against him and she’d even tried to smile, but since civil wasn’t going to happen, she could play it his way too.
Sun-burnished threads of gold, red and more than a little silver in his hair made his tanned complexion seem warmer, as hotly intense as his blue-flame gaze. He was, and always had been, intense. Everything about him was just a little too extreme; as if a sculptor trying to copy a piece of Greek artwork had gone a bit overboard. Long, beautiful fingers seemed out of place on hands so huge. He was too tall. His face was a bit wider than it should have been, while his eyebrows were slim, delicate and perfectly arched. Startling aquamarine eyes were too close-set for his broad face and the effect made his crooked nose seem longer than it actually was. The angle of his granite jaw was too severe, too comic book-like, and his smile was a dentist’s dream of perfect whiteness and oral hygiene. His brothers were smaller, classically handsome, but at six-three, forty-six-year-old Dominic was the Mt Everest of the Brennan clan.
Again she smelled cypress, cedar and sweat, and that funny little flutter, the one she’d had up at the counter near the popcorn, was more pronounced than the rumbling of her empty stomach. In fact, it sort of made her aware that something else was and had been empty a lot longer.
The air around them thickened with awkward tension that was compounded by an even more awkward silence.
‘Yeah,’ he said finally, clearing his throat, ‘something’s…different.’
‘I wear contacts now. My hair’s longer.’
She watched the muscle along his sculpted jaw pulse. With his superhero looks, khakis and work shirt, he looked like a guide for an African safari. His sleeves were rolled up, exposing the warm, glowing skin of a man who frequently worked outdoors without a shirt. Lesley had a flash of how he’d look shirtless, as a pin-up boy for a Men of Mensa calendar. It wasn’t fair that time had made him even more attractive. She had another four or five years left of being decent-looking, but as he aged he’d become rugged or distinguished.
She’d just be old.
Dominic had never known what colour her eyes were before. He’d never bothered to take notice, but he did now; his mother collected fancy Wedgwood plates that were the same jasper green. Thick, brown lashes accented that springtime colour, and he thought it was funny that a pair of bookish, wire-framed glasses had once disguised something so vibrant. Her scent was pretty vibrant too and another whiff of it was enough to stir things up. God Almighty, that annoyed him and peevishness flooded into him. He crossed his arms. ‘Oh. Is that what it is? You changed your hair?’
‘Is this where I say you look well, too?’
‘I don’t remember saying you looked well. I said you looked different. Are you different?’
‘I guess you’ll have to tell me.’
‘Here’s what I’ll tell you; in a second, you’re going to leave.’
‘Isn’t that what you do? Walk out?’
‘Whatever gave you that idea?’
‘Oh, Terry. Am I supposed to ask?’
‘How your brother is.’
There was something so wrong with the picture besides the fact he’d found her so tempting. While he was usually quite ambivalent about his youngest brother, Dominic responded like an older brother on the defensive. This woman had started Terry on his road to perdition, but there was something more to it. Lesley reminded him of the one thing in life he intentionally forgot, the one thing he never believed he’d ever have to confront.
The reason Stefanie had left.
Protectively, his hackles went up and he barked, ‘Don’t pretend to fucking care.’
‘I wasn’t pretending anything. I don’t care.’
Dominic glared. His mouth opened, but then snapped shut.
‘I think the word you’re searching for is bitch.’
‘No, Lesley, the word that wanted to roll off my tongue was c—’
Dominic swung around.
Kyle stood behind him. ‘I, um…I…sorry, um,’ he began, fumbling with the band that held back his hair, his eyes darting over Lesley, ‘I’ve got to get out to DP Road for some wood.’
‘OK, go,’ Dominic grunted, jerking his chin toward the store front.
‘You’ve got the keys.’
It only took a second to yank the truck keys from a pocket and toss them over. ‘Go.’
‘One more thing: Mrs Urbanik is waiting for you up front, and I don’t think she’s real happy about your, uh, language.’
Lesley laughed. She slapped Laura Ashley paint books against Dominic’s chest, shoving them into his hands as she shoved him out of the way, and speed-walked to the front of the store.
‘OK boots, start walkin’,’ Dominic taunted, following her. She hurried out the door to the parking lot. He watched her, pull on a helmet, slip on a leather jacket and pair of gloves, and climb on a red motorcycle. She looked directly at him, raising one gloved hand, and gave him the finger.
The bike snarled the way he wanted to. Instead, he turned to bee-hived, bespectacled Mrs Urbanik, and smiled.
Bio: I write quirky romance novels for grown ups & smart asses. By grown up I mean romance fiction about heroines and heroes with more life experience and the associated emotional baggage. This is romance, not “Women’s Fiction’ or the ‘relationship novel.’ I like things with a patina, things and faces that have a history and tell a story.
And Sandra has a question for you: Would you like to see more hawt older women represented as heroines in the romance genre?