I’m happy to present my interview with Rhonda Laurel. Her book is Tempting Fate.
(blurb and excerpt below)
* * *
Hi Rhonda, Thanks for stopping by to talk a little about your writing! Let’s jump right in.
When did you begin writing and why?
I began writing in college as a way to pass the time in between classes. I wrote a short story and sent it to a magazine hoping to get some free criticism from an editor and to my surprise they accepted it for publication. That was the spark that ignited my interest in being an author. It was decades later that Ebb Tide was published but in that time I kept working on my craft. I like to write because it allows me to tap into the worlds in my head and I get the share what my imagination conjures up with my readers.
How important is writing momentum to you?
Momentum is crucial to writing. When I wrote For the Love of the Game I had no idea it would be the basis for The Blake Boys series. By the time I tried my hand at the second book, MVP, I knew the characters or actually, they told me who they were and what their romantic journey was supposed to embody. Had they been written at the same time, MVP would have been a totally different book.
Writer’s block—real or hype?
Writer’s block is alive and well and lurking around every corner. I try to avoid it but when it happens, I ride the wave. I use the down time to give the characters a mini vacation while I gather my thoughts.
On what level must writing succeed in order to resonate with a reader?
I like to believe writing succeeds when you evoke a rainbow of emotions in the reader. A few laughs, a good cry and a hopeful optimism about the story and the characters are a good combination for giving the reader a fulfilling read.
Do you listen to music when you write? Does music ever influence your writing?
Music is very important to my writing process. I create playlists for all of the couples in my stories and post them on my website. It helps set the tone and fortifies the geographical locations in the books. The Blake Boys jet sets around the world but their roots are in Texas and I have plenty of country music as well as other genres on their playlists. Many of my readers follow those playlists and it makes me smile when they write and say they listened to it while they read the book.
What advantages or challenges does a writer in your genre face in today’s fiction market?
The romance genre is taking on a broader spectrum than ever before and provides various outlets for budding writers. The disadvantages are that the market is raging with so many books, it’s a struggle to be noticed and retain the attention of a reader. That’s where unique content and attracting readers who truly resonate with your work come into play.
Tell me a little about the characters and the conflict in Tempting Fate.
Channing Blake is an attorney and baby of the brood in The Blake Boys series. He’s a handsome, smart, funny, earthy cowboy who loves his family and living on the Twelve Horseshoes Ranch. Cassidy Shaw is also an attorney. She is beautiful, intelligent, feisty, independent and guarded about many things. It’s her apprehension to trust and be vulnerable that brings her to a cross roads when she and Channing reconnect at a friend’s engagement party. Channing and Cassidy learn together why facing the past is crucial to living in the present, while hoping for a bright future.
Were your characters difficult to write, or did they seem to spring easily from your mind to the page?
Channing has been on the series landscape for a while, so it was a matter of fine tuning his character. He’s a Blake so the foundation of his character was already there but he’s also kind of nerdy and reserved compared to his women chasing brothers. Cassidy popped up in my mind one day and it was no looking back as the character told me who she was and a little about her history with Channing.
Tell us a little bit about the heroine and hero and the challenges threatening their love.
Channing tries to get his love life in order as he returns home to Texas and begins working at his family’s company. His ex-girlfriend Emma wants him back but he’s leery of her motivation for wanting to reconcile. A visit back to DC for a party brings Channing face to face with Cassidy, a fellow law school student that he had a thing for and old feelings ignite. Cassidy disappeared for a year and Channing wants to know why. Her answer sets them on course that will change both their lives forever.
What do readers have to look forward to in the future from Rhonda Laurel?
The next book in The Blake Boys series is Executive Desires. Shy CFO Bo Jamison has been honing his dating skills since that fateful trip to Las Vegas in Cowboy’s Heart. Bo’s attempt at being a player is short lived when love comes into his life in the most unexpected way. Executive Desires will be book ten in the series and has a tentative release date of July 2015.
Thanks again for stopping by, Rhonda! Readers can discover more about Rhonda Laurel here:
Love can heal the most stubborn heart…
Attorney Channing Blake is looking forward to a new chapter in his life. He’s graduated law school in Washington, DC and has returned home to the Twelve Horseshoes Ranch to take a job with Blake Enterprises. But he’s not the only one who’s back in town. Emma Winterbourne, his on-again, off-again girlfriend, has failed to make it in the Big Apple and is back in Texas, looking to pick up where she left off with good old Channing. Although the chemistry between them has always burned hot, Channing isn’t sure he wants to be her whipping boy any longer.
But when he heads back to DC to attend a friend’s engagement party, he becomes sure of it. A chance meeting with the beautiful Cassidy Shaw dredges up all the old feelings he’d felt for her in law school. He’d dated her once or twice, but she’d mysteriously disappeared without a word. His attempts to find her had come up empty. He’d had no choice but to move on. Now, with Cassidy right there, looking at him with that same longing he was feeling, he knew he owed it to himself to follow his heart. But when Cassidy disappears again and won’t take his calls, he knows something isn’t right. Cassidy is keeping something from him, and he’s not above using Blake resources to find out what.
An Excerpt from Tempting Fate
Channing Blake gazed out of the window of his elegant office at Blake Enterprises and took in the magnificent view of downtown Dallas. It was a beautiful, sunny day. He could feel the energy of the bustling streets below from the fiftieth floor. It had been six months since he’d moved back to Texas and begun working for his family’s company, and the transition of moving from Washington, DC back home to the Twelve Horseshoes Ranch was harder than he’d imagined. He loved country life, but he’d grown fond of the nation’s capital. He’d made some pretty good friends while in law school and was sad to see that part of his life come to an end.
But there was no place like home, and the family had a lot to celebrate these days. Each Blake took their turn spoiling the newest family member Matt, Tate and Isabelle’s newborn. And his oldest brother J.J. and his wife, Sam, were expecting too. Love was abundant on the ranch, but it seemed to be eluding him. He’d given up his pursuit of his old flame, Emma Winterbourne, who was content to drop in and out of his life when she pleased. He’d had a thing for her since high school, and when he reconnected with her a couple of years ago, he thought everything was going great. She drove him crazy with her erratic behavior, and he blamed his inability to completely break things off on their amazing sexual chemistry. They hadn’t been in touch for months, and he had almost started to forget about her. Until she called him yesterday saying she was back in town and wanted to have dinner.
Channing plunked back down in his comfortable black leather chair and grabbed one of the law books sprawled across his desk. Leave it to his big brother J.J. to call with a question about some obscure agriculture law in Kentucky while he was supposed to be on parental leave. So Channing had gone five floors down to the company’s law library and checked out a few books. He preferred a book in his hand over Internet searching, and Gertrude, the elderly librarian who was in charge, loved getting visits from him. There was a knock on his office door, and then it opened.
“You busy?” It was Bo, his good friend and CFO of Blake Enterprises.
Channing waved him into the office. “Come on in. I need the break.”
“I see J.J.’s keeping you busy.”
“I’ve been neck deep in Kentucky agricultural laws for two days.”
“There’s some farm land he’s interested in, and he doesn’t like surprises when he’s negotiating.” Bo shut the door and sat down. “Does he know he’s on leave? I thought he wasn’t working while waiting for the baby to be born.”
Channing laughed. “I think he needs something to do. He’s driving Sam crazy. I went over there for dinner on Saturday. We went to a bakery to get these cupcakes she likes, and when we got back we heard screaming coming from inside the house. J.J. sprang into action and called the paramedics as he’s running into the house. We get to the family room to find Sam watching a hockey game.” J.J. and Sam’s baby was due any day now, and his usually calm brother was bouncing off the walls.
“Sam called and begged me to give him something to do.” Bo laughed. “You want to see a movie tonight? That new action flick is out. We can grab dinner after.”
“How about a rain check? I’m…having dinner with Emma.” Channing pretended to peruse a book.
“Really.” Bo grinned. “How long has she been back in town?”
“That’s a good question. I’ll find out tonight.”
“This will be round three with Emma?” Bo tapped his fingers on the desk.
“Something like that,” Channing murmured. “How are you doing on the dating front?”
“There are a few women in rotation but nothing serious.”
Channing raised an eyebrow. “You dog. What have you done with Bodine Jamison?”
“I blame our adventures in Vegas. Barring the daring escape from the male strip club, I had a good time. Hanging out with no strings attached may be just what I need right now.”
“Good for you. Wanna go to DC? Some friends of mine from law school are having an engagement party next week. Maybe the bride-to-be has some single, stringless friends you can hang with.”
“No way. No more parties in strange cities for me.”
Channing heard a ping coming from his cell phone; it was a text message from Emma. She wanted to know what time he was picking her up. A part of him felt like he was jumping through hoops like he always did when she called. But this time it would be different. They could share a meal, and nothing had to come of it.
His fingers flew over the keys, then he threw the phone down on the desk. “I have to be insane to listen to anything she has to say.”
“That too.” Channing pushed off from his desk. Unfortunately Bo was right about that.
The sex drought had been going on for over a year. He’d made the decision to start thinking with the head that didn’t get him into romantic quagmires and spend his time more productively. He’d taken his precocious nephews to every museum on the eastern seaboard, had a workout routine that could have rivaled his brother Seth’s, and had even helped as a pit-crew member on his brother Tyler’s racing team. Hopefully he wouldn’t do anything stupid tonight. But the temptation to see her again, for better or worse, was just too great to ignore.
Bo stood. “Well, I wish you all the luck one can muster when dealing with a Winterbourne woman.”
“Bubba, do me a favor? Don’t tell anyone I’m going out with her. I think we’ve had enough family discussions about my relationship with Emma.”
* * *
There was a flurry of activity at his parents’ house when Channing arrived home from work. Bo Sr. was there, as well as Tate and Isabelle with Matt, who was enjoying some good spoiling from his grandparents. He could have gone straight to the guesthouse but no way would he miss out on the fun.
The decision to move into his own space occurred one night when he came home and found his parents playing strip poker. He hightailed it out of the living room so fast he narrowly missed knocking over his mama’s favorite vase. But he thought he handled it better than his brother Tyler, who’d have bouts of hysterical blindness at the mere mention of their parents canoodling.
The little ones that flooded the ranch these days were a joy to be around, and he was happy to be an uncle many times over. His baby nephew Matt’s eyes lit up when he saw Channing, AKA Uncle C.J., so he took his nephew and played with him, confident it would be a matter of minutes before his grandma found an excuse to get her hands on him. Like clockwork, Teri-Lyn came over and said she wanted to change Matt’s clothes for dinner. With all the cooing going on, he eased out of the living room, only to run into J.J. and Sam coming through the front door, and was herded back into the family revelry.
J.J. tried to ask him a few questions about work, but Sam told him to give Channing a break. He checked his watch. He had an hour to get ready.
The third time he sneaked a peek at his watch to check the time, J.J. and Tate noticed and began giving him funny looks. The window on his self-preservation was closing. Knowing how devious they were, one of them was going to ask him to do something time consuming so that he’d have to reveal he had plans. One mention of Emma’s name would ignite, in his opinion, an unnecessary discussion. His personal life was private, right? Uh, no. He was a Blake, and meddling was the family motto.
He was finally able to escape when everyone went into the dining room for dinner. He uttered a quick apology to his mama that he was going out with friends tonight. She gave him a kiss and nudged him gently in the ribs, an indicator that she didn’t believe a word he said.
He flew over to the guesthouse and changed clothes, trying his best to look casual yet chic with a pair of designer jeans, shirt, and a suit jacket. He didn’t want to look like he was trying too hard to impress her. She knew what she was missing or she wouldn’t have called him. Still, looking good was always the best revenge. A spritz of cologne and a brush through his hair, and he was out the door.
The minute Emma opened the door of her sister Penny’s house, his heart stopped. She was just as beautiful as the last time he saw her, but she’d changed a bit. She had a sleek new haircut with frosted highlights that made her lovely red hair even more pronounced. He could see every curve of her body, the red dress she wore with the plunging neckline left little to the imagination, but he knew that was the point.
“Ms. Winterbourne. You look amazing.” Channing smiled.
“Thank you, Mr. Blake. You look as handsome as ever.” She kissed him on the cheek. “You want to come in for a drink?”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to drive at warp speed to make our dinner reservation. But thanks for the offer.” He wasn’t stupid. He wanted a nice, cordial public date. He didn’t care that “Little C.J.” was screaming at him to end that ridiculous celibacy pact. He’d steeled himself to the possibility that she may look stunning this evening, and no matter how great the temptation, he could go without having sex for one more night.
Emma’s nervous chatter on the way to the restaurant meant that she was anxious about the evening too. She talked about her career and time in New York in both the present and past tense; he had a hard time keeping up with the conversation. Did she still live there or not? He remembered it was a bad idea to interrupt her when she was in this manic verbal state and figured she’d tell him at some point.
They arrived in the nick of time for their eight o’clock reservation and were seated immediately. Once the waitress had taken their orders and had dropped off their drinks, Channing sat across the table from the beautiful Emma wondering what was on her mind tonight.
“So why did you come back to town?” he asked.
“What makes you think I have a reason other than seeing you?”
“Because my ego isn’t so big that I’d believe it.” He bit into a buttered dinner roll.
“I’m here for Penny’s engagement party.”
“That’s right. Seth mentioned Penny was engaged. I’m happy for her.”
She squinted her eyes. “How does Seth know?”
“They keep in touch. So who’s the lucky guy?”
She rolled her eyes. “A fellow doctor.”
“That’s terrific. Did Caine try to beat him up too?” He waggled his eyebrows. Who could forget Seth and Emma’s brother’s brawl at the Bright Star a few years ago?
“No, Caine’s taking a different tack with Clint. Penny said she wasn’t tolerating his brutish tactics anymore.”
“He’s a little over the top, but he’s just looking out for her.”
“So you’re not mad about the fight at the Bright Star that night?”
“No. I never would have asked you out again if I thought Caine would have me on his radar.” He let out a hearty laugh. “Besides, the Blakes and the Winterbournes have been duking it out for generations. My dad says the tension between the families was going on way before Seth and Penny dated.”
“I didn’t know that. I’m back for this weekend’s events, but I’m also moving back to Texas permanently next month.” She played with her fork.
“What about your job in New York?”
She bit her ruby-red lip. “Things didn’t work out. Turns out I’m not cut out for the Big Apple. So I decided to come home and find work with an advertising firm here.”
Ah, it was all becoming clear. “You were sure that’s where you wanted to be when you decided to take that job.”
When she first informed him of the job, he’d been delighted. New York wasn’t that far away from Washington, DC. It would have taken a bit of traveling, but he visited Seth, Morgan, and the boys all the time in Philadelphia. It was Emma who had stifled the long distance romance. He suspected she’d found someone else or had gotten swept up into that sophisticated city living. DC was just as cosmopolitan, but he held on to his country roots a little tighter. He loved going out and having fun, but he still liked staying at home and enjoying quiet moments. He was, for the most part, a homebody, and he longed to find someone who didn’t need constant outside stimulation to keep a relationship going.
“C.J., I’ve been thinking a lot about us.” Emma reached across the table and touched his hand.
“I didn’t know there was an us. I thought we were two old high school friends who occasionally slept together.” He was going to hold her accountable for her actions, not matter how pretty she looked.
“I really meant to call you, but I got so busy with work.” She pouted.
“I’ve had a full schedule too but I made the time,” Channing countered.
“I’m here now. At least I will be next month. We can pick up where we left off.”
“You think it’s that simple?” His jaw ticked.
“It can be.”
“You can’t just play fast and loose with my feelings.”
“That’s not what I’m trying to do.”
“It feels that way. Did you think about this? Really think about it? What I’m hearing is that New York didn’t work out, and you’re running home to what’s familiar to you. Like I’m an old pair of cowboy boots that you missed. While you were out exploring the world, I was too. Now that I’m home working for my family’s company, my priorities have changed. I want different things now.”
“Why can’t we work on those things together?”
Against every instinct in his body to yell yes, he had to stick to his guns. His heart was not a yo-yo for Emma to play with, and now was the time to lay down the ground rules.
His cell phone rang. Channing looked at the display. It was his brother J.J. calling. Maybe Sam was actually in labor this time.
Thankful for the interruption, he answered the call despite the incredulous look on Emma’s face. “Hey, big brother, what’s up? Is Sam ready? What? I’ll be right there.”
Channing stood up so abruptly from the table he almost knocked everything onto the floor. He frantically searched his pocket for his keys.
“C.J., what’s wrong?” Emma steadied the shaking table.
“It’s my dad. He’s been rushed to the hospital. Where are my damn keys?” He looked under the table.
“You valet parked, remember?” Emma stood and touched his arm. “Come on, I’ll drive you. You’re in no shape to do it yourself.”
* * *
When the valet attendant pulled up in front of the restaurant, Emma took the wheel of his blue Maserati Gran Turismo. Channing didn’t argue. As she programmed his GPS for the hospital and got on the road, he made calls to find out what happened to his father. Sam & J.J. got a call from their mama saying she was taking him to the emergency room, but that’s all he knew. Their father was the picture of health for a man of his age—his mama saw to that—so his mind ran away with the possibilities of what could have happened.
Emma was doing a great job navigating his car. She was talking, but the words wouldn’t seep into his head. Finally he made himself focus on the woman kind enough to drive him to the hospital.
“I’m sorry.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “What did you say?”
“I said this is a nice ride.” Emma smiled.
“It was a graduation present from my parents,” he replied.
“This is a pretty big change from that dusty old pick-up truck. It fits your new lawyer image. Did you get a new wardrobe of expensive tailored suits too?”
“As a matter of fact I did. But I still have my truck back at the house.” He grinned. He kept if for sentimental value more than anything. He worked on it more than he drove it. His father had given him that truck in high school, and he’d had some fond memories in it.
“Please get rid of it.”
“Woman, we had our first kiss in that truck.”
“That’s right, we did.” Emma scrunched her nose. “It must be nice to be back to the open country after being in overcrowded Washington, DC.”
“It wasn’t so bad. I enjoyed the culture and history of our nation’s capital and made a lot of good friends,” he countered.
“I thought I would enjoy New York, but things just moved so fast. Everyone was always rushing from once place to another and didn’t take time to talk to each other. My home sickness became a chronic disease.”
“Seth had that same problem when he first moved to Philadelphia. It took him some time to acclimate to the fast-paced city life.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Emma’s smile disappear at the mention of his brother. The move to Philadelphia when Seth joined the Titans was the final nail in the coffin of his and Penny’s relationship. But that was another lifetime. Seth was happily married with kids, and Penny was engaged to be married.
“I know. He’d write Penny and complain about it. She thought for sure he wouldn’t stay with the Titans for long and would come back home.” She gripped the steering wheel.
“He gave it a shot. Look how much his life changed. He’s married with—”
“So what are your plans?” Emma interrupted. “Going to get a condo in Dallas?”
“No. Why would I do that?”
“You still live in your parents’ house. Don’t you want to have some independence?” She adjusted the rear view mirror.
“I moved into the guesthouse when I returned home.”
They reached the hospital in record time. Emma dropped him off at the door and went to park the car. As soon as the doors opened on the third floor, he could see Tate talking to a frazzled J.J. It must have been worse than they originally thought. Isabelle was holding a very wide-awake Matt while trying to comfort Sam, who was sitting in a chair rubbing her belly. He took a deep breath and joined his family.
“Is there any news?” Channing asked as he approached.
“Mama’s in there now.” Tate gave him a hug.
“Hey, Curly, you still up?” Channing smiled at his new nephew, Matt. He must have been getting ready for bed because the infant had on his jammies, and his trademark curly locks that he’d inherited from both his parents were tumbled all over his head.
“I’m going in there.” J.J. headed toward the room.
“Your mom will be out soon. He’s going to be fine.” Sam stopped her husband with a gentle caress on his arm. She gave Channing the once over. “Where did you sneak off to earlier?”
“I went out with some friends.” He ran a hand through his hair.
“Or did you have a hot date with Ms. Lukewarm?” Isabelle motioned to Emma, who was coming down the hall.
“Well, if it isn’t the woman in red,” Sam murmured.
Emma must have sensed she was the topic of conversation because she nervously adjusted the neckline of her dress so her cleavage wasn’t so pronounced. It didn’t work, so she wrapped the shawl she was carrying around herself. She said hello to everyone and took a seat.
“What happened?” Channing asked again, hoping to distract everyone.
“Mama didn’t say.” J.J. sighed.
“Well, she doesn’t want to leave his side, that’s understandable.” Isabelle rubbed Matt’s back.
A half hour later Teri-Lyn came out of the room.
“How’s Daddy?” J.J. gave her a hug.
“What is everyone doing here? It’s way past Matt’s bedtime.” Teri-Lyn gave her grandson a kiss on the cheek.
Channing put his arm around her. “What’s wrong with Daddy?”
“He’s fine, just a little embarrassed. He just took a little spill in the kitchen.”
“What? What happened?”
She shook her head. “Your dad and I were having some fun cleaning up after dinner, and we…thought we’d try something new. Well, his foot slipped, and he fell off the kitchen table…”
Channing held up his hands. “No. Just, no.” He didn’t want to hear about any shenanigans involving his parents. He was still reeling over the strip poker incident.
“What exactly were you doing?” Isabelle furrowed her eyebrows.
“It really doesn’t matter.” J.J.’s elevated voice echoed into the hallway.
Teri-Lyn turned to her oldest son. “Your father and I are two healthy adults who still have romantic feelings for each other. Just because you get older doesn’t mean you can’t—”
Tate covered his ears. “I don’t want to hear this.”
The elevator doors opened at the end of the corridor, and the rest of the Blakes came pouring out. Seth, Morgan, Tyler, Michelle, and the boys came scurrying down the hall as if the world was on fire. Channing shook his head. It was an official Blake reunion.
“What’s wrong? Is Daddy all right?” Tyler asked as he approached.
“Big brother, Daddy injured himself getting frisky with Mama.” Channing bit back a smile.
Morgan burst out laughing.
Tyler bent over and put his hands on his knees. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Michelle suppressed a grin and caressed his back. “Tyler, stop it. It’s perfectly natural for your parents to still show love in that special way.”
“I left a perfectly good steak at the Slap Shot to round up the troops and come down here.” Seth laughed.
“Leaving a good steak.” Tate shook his head. “Now that is the truly the worst thing that’s happened tonight.”
“So how exactly did the injury happen?” Morgan waggled her eyebrows.
Teri-Lyn giggled. “He pulled something, and that’s all I’m going to say. Sorry it took so long to come out to tell you all, but your father and I were trying to think of a better story. But then his pain medication kicked in, and he wanted to fool around again.”
“You called in a panic. You asked Sam to tell the security people at the ranch not to report the incident to Regency,” J.J. said.
“She’s good at handling delicate situations. I didn’t want an emergency call on record because your father—”
“We got it.”
“John Jacob would have a fit if he knew someone was reading about his private parts in some report.” Teri-Lyn shook her head. “But the good news is I get to see all my grandbabies!”
There was a loud yell, and everyone turned to see Sam taking deep breaths.
“Samantha Jane, what’s wrong?” J.J. ran his hand over the floppy bun atop her head.
Sam pointed to the puddle on the floor. “It’s show time. For real.”
Channing yelled for a nurse, who came right over with a wheelchair.
J.J. started rambling, but Sam stopped him by pulling him down for a comforting kiss. “We’ve been doing these drills for the past month. We’re ready.”
“Sweet! The baby will be born the same day Daddy had his s-e-x injury.” Tyler spelled out, mindful that his nephews were within earshot.
“Tyler.” Sam giggled and gritted her teeth. “Don’t make me laugh or I’ll punch you.”
“S-e-x!” Connor and Colby chanted.
“Mommy, what’s frisky?” Jake asked.
“Yikes,” Morgan mumbled. “Boys we’re not going to repeat any of those words and definitely not in school.”
“Can someone call Sam’s family?” J.J. gave Seth his phone.
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it,” Seth said. “Go bring us back another Blake boy.”
The ladies all gave Seth a frown. Sam and J.J. decided they wanted to be surprised about the baby’s sex, so the bets had been flowing around the ranch since they announced their pregnancy.
“Ladies,” Seth pointed to the boys playing on the floor, “you still doubt the science?”
The family cheered Sam and J.J. on as they headed for the maternity ward. Channing wanted to stay at the hospital, but it suddenly dawned on him that his date with Emma wasn’t finished.
Channing approached her. “Emma, I’m so sorry about all this.”
“No worries.” She smiled. “This was quite an exciting evening. There’s never a dull moment with the Blakes.”
“I’ll take you home.”
“You should be here with your family. I can get a ride home.”
“You will do no such thing. Take my car.” Channing offered his hand to help her out of the chair. “I’ll walk you out.”
As they walked down the long corridor, Channing was grateful that their dinner conversation had been interrupted. He wasn’t quite sure about her newfound interest in starting over, but the turnabout intrigued him. What was it about her that made him suspend common sense? He’d asked himself that question many a day. Yes, she was gorgeous and smart, but there were still so many inconsistencies in her behavior. He wondered sometimes if she thought it was a good idea for them to be together or, like him, if her libido overrode logic. Maybe—
Channing’s train of thought was halted when Emma shoved him into an empty private room and locked it. Before he could get a word out she lunged at him, dug her fingers into his hair to bring him closer, and covered her mouth with his, dipping her tongue playfully into his mouth.
“Emma, what are you doing?” He breathed when they came up for air.
“I missed you.” She kissed his neck and ran her hand down the front of his pants.
“Somebody’s going to come in and kick us out,” he whispered.
“I sincerely doubt it, since your family built two of the wings of the hospital. Have you been working out? Your body’s gotten firmer since the last time we were together.” She giggled and squeezed his bicep.
“Being a full time attorney doesn’t exempt me from ranch work. I think Bo works me harder than he did before.” Channing laughed.
“And I get to reap the benefits. Tell Bo I said thanks.”
The righteous, long-winded speech he’d prepared just in case his libido kicked in and compelled him to do something stupid went right out the window. And pulling her flush against him so she could feel how his body reacted to hers was just plain idiotic. If they got caught he’d never hear the end of it. His family was right down the hall, for heaven’s sake! It was bad enough his father was lying up in a bed because of his sexual acrobatics at home, and his brother and sister-in-law were having a baby. Getting caught screwing in a private room would be the icing on the cake on an already auspicious day for the Blake family.
He was hard as a rock already, but when he unzipped her dress and Emma stood and let it hit the floor, revealing sexy black lacy lingerie underneath, he knew he was a goner. There was still a chance to put on the brakes and start thinking with the right head, but it was hard when she unzipped his pants and grasped his shaft with her silky hands and led him to the bed.
Channing unclasped her bra and threw it on the floor. Her bare breasts against his chest felt like hot silk against his skin. They fumbled clumsily as she helped him undress, stripping him down to his birthday day suit in record time. He laid her down on the bed and covered her body, parting her legs with his knee. She let out a guttural growl in appreciation as he helped her out of her panties. He reached for jeans, retrieved a condom from his wallet, tore the wrapper open, and sheathed himself quickly. He was going to hate himself tomorrow, but tonight it felt like the right thing to do.
He spied the controls on the bed and decided to take advantage. He reclined the top of the bed while maneuvering the bottom portion on an upward angle. Emma wiggled as the motorized bed to inspect his handiwork.
“I like the way you think.” She laughed and kissed him again.
Channing thrust into her and repeated his hungry, manic movements. Emma kept up the pace. He was normally gentle and appeasing but tonight he was rough and in control. Emma locked her legs around his waist to keep him place as she trailed kisses down his chest. Channing pumped into her over and over again until Emma called out his name when she climaxed. His body followed hers into the sexual abyss, and he collapsed on top of her.
“That was awesome,” she panted.
“Sorry, did I hurt you?” he mumbled into her hair.
“No. I like this new side of you.”
“You inspired that performance.”
“I knew you missed me.” She rubbed his stubbled cheek.
He looked at her. “Is that was tonight was all about? Proving a point that I still want you?”
“No. Of course not.”
Channing went into the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face to get his perspective back. Falling back into old patterns with Emma was a bad idea. She’d done it to him again. He shook the cobwebs out of his head and went back into the room. He listened attentively to Emma’s chatter as they finished dressing, noticing the change in her words. She must have said the words dating and exclusive twice, but they were just more words he didn’t want to hear right now.
They eased out into the corridor when the coast was clear after two near misses with hospital staff. Channing escorted her to the car, then bade her goodnight. He kissed her even though he felt like he wanted to throttle her.
“Let’s get together again when I get back from New York. We have a lot to talk about.” She gave him a hopeful smile as he opened the car door for her.
“How about I give you a call when things settle down with my schedule? I have a friend’s engagement party in DC next weekend, and I have to travel for work with Bo.”
“OK.” Emma blinked and got in the car. “What do you want to do about the car?”
“I’ll have someone from Regency retrieve it tomorrow.” Channing reached inside and squeezed her hand. “Thanks, Emma. For everything. It was really nice of you to stick around, even though there was no actual crisis.”
“It’s nice to see people your parents’ age still finding new ways to keep the magic alive. It gives me hope that I’ll be that frisky in my twilight years.” She smiled and pulled off.
* * *
Channing got Sam’s room number from the nurse’s station and went to check on the expecting couple. He opened the door to find J.J. stroking Sam’s hair and telling her how happy he was about their new family. Always in charge and gruff, J.J.’s hard shell melted away when they were together. He didn’t want to interrupt their moment so he returned to the third floor, expecting an inquisition in the waiting room but it was all but empty except for his brother Tyler.
“Where is everybody?”
“Tate and Isabelle took the kids back to the ranch. Seth is calling Sam’s family. Mama, Morgan, and Michelle are in the room with old swivel hips.” Tyler huffed.
“How’s Daddy?” Channing asked.
“He’s fine. He’s getting attention from every woman on the floor.”
“Can you believe he’s still a chick magnet at his age?” Channing chuckled.
“I can believe it. So you played doctor with Emma tonight, eh?”
Channing coughed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Before you lie, you have a trail of red lipstick leading down your neck. Look at you, getting lucky in the hospital the same night your poor father’s admitted for hazardous foreplay.” Tyler tugged at his collar to get a better look at the evidence.
“It wasn’t my idea. She called and asked me out to dinner.” He tried to rub the lipstick off his neck with his sleeve.
“Falling for her charms again?”
“To fall would imply that I picked myself up after the last time she steam rolled over me.”
“Look bro, I know we kid you about the epic sex drought you’ve been having, but don’t think you have to let Emma lead you around by the nose. No matter how much history the two of you have.”
“Nothing to worry about. I’m the boring, levelheaded brother, remember? I never do anything crazy.” Except have sex in an empty hospital room.
“That’s what worries me. Even my smart brother isn’t immune to this woman’s wiles. When Emma’s around, you’re sullen, confused and don’t look like you’re having all that much fun. It’s hard to watch. I just want you to be happy.”
“Maybe you’re right.” Channing shook his head. “You know you’re sappy these days. Michelle has softened you up.”
“She’s encouraging to share my feelings.” Tyler shrugged.
“So what’s new with you? Are you taking any time off after that crash?” The whole family held its breath last month when a car clipped Tyler in his last race and sent him tailspinning into a wall. They were relieved when Tyler climbed out his totaled race car unharmed.
“Just a week or two to make Michelle and Mama happy. You’d swear they’d never seen a car wreck before.”
“Hey, I know how they feel. So what are you going to with your time off?”
Tyler started pacing around like he did before a race, which meant he had something on his mind.
“I was thinking of asking Michele about moving in together,” Tyler blurted out.
“Wow,” Channing stammered.
“There’s an apartment for sale in Seth’s building. I know she likes the Ashcroft, and she’d be close to Morgan.” Tyler ran a hand through his hair. “Do you think it’s a bad idea?”
“No, I think it’s great.” Channing gave him a firm pat on the back. “That’s a pretty big step for you.”
“Yeah. I’m hoping she says yes. I don’t want her to think I want to live together because of the accident.” Tyler rubbed the back of his neck.
Michelle and Morgan walked into the waiting area. “What’s going on?” Michelle glared at the two of them.
Neither of the women looked convinced. Morgan was staring at his neck, which meant he didn’t get all that lipstick off. Channing excused himself and hightailed into his father’s room.
He found his parents kissing. “Ahem. Am I interrupting?”
“Since you were two years old.” John Jacob grumbled.
Teri-Lyn fluffed John Jacob’s pillow. “I’m going to check on J.J. and Sam. I’ll bring you back a sandwich from the cafeteria.” She kissed his cheek before leaving the room.
“So, Tate tells me had a date with Emma tonight,” John Jacob said.
“I’d rather talk about how you got injured.” Channing raised an eyebrow.
“Maybe when you’re forty.” John Jacob gave him a goofy smile.
“Something tells me I’ll never be old enough to hear this story.”
“Is your brother holding up all right?”
“About the same as Tate when Isabelle went into labor.”
“Can you believe another grandbaby this year? I am a lucky man.”
“If this family gets any bigger we’re going to need a bigger ranch.” Channing sat on his father’s bed. “I went into Sam’s room. J.J. looked so happy.”
“That’s because he realizes that after today his life will never be the same again.”
“It’s clear what’s important to him is Sam and the baby.” Channing smiled.
“So are you coming any closer to what’s important to you?”
“I have a job that I love, making a contribution to the family company. That’s what’s important to me.”
“A man can’t work all his life. You have to make time for work and love.”
Channing shrugged. “I think it will be a while before I’ll be joining the rest of the Blake men in marital bliss.”
“Just because Emma isn’t the one doesn’t mean the right one isn’t out there.” John Jacob winked at him.
“Why do you think Emma isn’t the one?”
“You don’t have that look in your eyes when you talk about her. I think you wanted it because you liked her so long, but the chemistry’s not there.”
They were plenty hot for each other, as evidenced to the hospital sex not a half hour ago, but his father was right. Something was missing.
“How am I supposed to know if a woman is the one?”
“You ever look a woman in the eyes and lose all track of time? Like a part of yourself you didn’t know existed, just opened up?”
Channing broke into a grin. He’d had a feeling like that once, the day he met a fellow law school student, the beautiful Cassidy Shaw. When they were together, the world faded away, and he’d fixate on those sultry brown eyes and perfect lips. She was smart, funny, and determined not to let him win a verbal sparring match. Even when she looked peeved, there was a flicker of heat that flashed in her eyes that told him she felt the connection.
After many attempts to get close to her, she’d finally agreed to go out with him. They spent a wonderful day together museum hopping, and when they weren’t fussing with each, they had a great time. That night when he took her home he went in for the kiss, but she pulled away. A woman like Cassidy did things of her own volition. But he was convinced she wanted that kiss too. He tried to find her before he left DC, but she didn’t seem to want to be found. What would he have said had he found her? He had no idea, but she owed him a kiss and an explanation.
John Jacob nodded in reaction to his smile. “It’s a rare connection, son, that many take for granted because they don’t understand what it is. You either run for the hills or surrender to it. If I were you, I’d go get her.”
* * *
Ten fifteen the next morning, John Jacob Blake III came into the world, much to the delight of his parents. J.J. was so beside himself with glee, he gave the entire staff at Blake Enterprises the rest of the day off. Sam was a beautiful new mom. She was a tough lady, but seeing her holding her newborn son in her arms brought out a new side of her that gave Channing a warm feeling inside.
A nurse wheeled John Jacob into Sam’s room to see his newest grandson. Bo surprised everyone by dropping by with Bo Sr., which made the family gathering complete. After debating nicknames for an hour, the consensus was that Jack was the best choice. The baby moved his arms a lot, to the joy of J.J. and Seth, who were certain the baby had football in his future.
After a few minutes of trying to get it out, Tyler announced to the family that he and Michelle were moving in together and had made an appointment to see the apartment in the Ashcroft when they returned to Philadelphia. There was a sense of contentment he’d never seen in his brother’s eyes before. Michelle and Morgan were thrilled and had already started planning a color scheme for their new place. The boys were happy when Morgan explained that Uncle Tyler would still be living in the same building, just one floor down. Channing shook his head, thinking of the new trouble his nephews could find while roaming around the Ashcroft.
By the time Channing crawled into bed that night, his thoughts weren’t of his tryst with Emma but of his father’s inspirational talk. His father’s words about Emma not being the one hit him in the gut, partly because he knew it was true. There was a moment they had as a couple, and when she opted to break contact with him, that moment passed.
Cassidy crept into his daily thoughts, but when she’d disappeared on him, he took it as a sign that maybe it wasn’t meant to be. She was friends with Geoff and Hannah; maybe she would be at the engagement party. If she was, he’d take it as another sign from the universe that he should pursue her. New life was blooming all around him. Maybe it was time to plant some seeds of his own.