Saturday, March 17, 2012

Excerpt from CAPTURED IN INK

This is an excerpt from Book Three of the Art of Love series and another "cougar" story--well, okay "puma".

You've probably heard that writers sometimes fall in love with their characters. That was certainly my situation with Shane Larson. It was actually very difficult for me to admit Reesa was the perfect heroine for him. But it's just as well, Shane is way too young for me anyway. At my current age, the "cub" age limit has moved to "over 35" now. This story made me laugh. I hope it makes you laugh too.

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CHAPTER 1

Riding shotgun in his best friend’s beat-up work truck, Shane was more depressed than he could ever remember being in his life. Instead of working on his novel like he should be doing, in a moment of weakness he had rashly promised to do manual labor for Joe just so he wouldn’t have to spend one more frustrated day alone.

Tomorrow would be two weeks. Two weeks since he had met the mysterious Ann who continued to haunt him.

For a man so close to getting a distinguished doctorate from a prestigious school in understanding the human mind, Shane Larson certainly wasn’t being much help to himself. He couldn’t even think of an adequate clinical term for his condition, but he had to admit he’d been a depressed mess since waking up alone without her.

“How is the novel coming along?” Joe asked, trying to bring Shane’s attention out of his head and into the pickup with him.

“Not fast enough,” Shane replied. “I’m probably going to miss my first deadline ever and it’s all her fault.”

“Her fault? You mean the mysterious Ann?” Joe asked, laughing in his disbelief.

“I still can’t believe she ran away,” Shane said sadly.

Joe laughed. “Well, it’s not like you haven’t done that plenty of times yourself.”

“I guess that’s true,” Shane admitted. Maybe part of his problem was that he was usually the one who snuck out and left his bed partner sleeping. It was easy to do when you weren’t interested in staying to get to know the person better, but he refused to believe that had been the case for her. She had responded too honestly to him and he had made her laugh.

They had connected--damn it.

“It was different with her,” Shane said, staring out the window again.

Joseph McEldowney had known Shane Larson since they were in middle school. Shane was the most level-headed person in the world—well he usually was. Nothing much ever twisted Shane’s shorts into a knot. Even the lovely Angela in college hadn’t caused this much soul-searching angst.

“Damn Larson—just how good in bed was she? And does she have a sister?” Joe asked, trying to get Shane riled up because any emotion was better than the funk.

“Yeah right—like I’m going to tell you how good she was,” Shane said, irritated with the lecherous question, even if it was just Joe being Joe. “It wasn’t just the sex. I liked her. Didn’t you ever just like a woman? Why is that so hard to get?”

And he had liked her, Shane thought fiercely, not that the sex hadn’t been life-changing as well. A few months ago his father had chastised him for his dating habits, asking if Shane had ever ached to be back inside a woman. His teasing reply to his Dad had been a resounding no, but he would be answering that question a hell of a lot differently if it ever came up again.

Now he ached for a woman all right, one specific woman, and worse than that, Shane wanted the whole package. He wanted to feel her under him, but he also wanted to feel her laughter when he amused her. He wanted to hear her telling him where to buy shoes and how important it was to follow his dreams. He wanted to hear her respectful, appreciative voice saying just about anything that made her green eyes hold his. And her hands—God, her tiny hands had been so strong and sure on him. He couldn’t imagine anyone touching him intimately now but her.

The way Shane saw it, she had totally hooked him and a woman wasn’t supposed to change a guy this much and then just leave without a word. Two weeks had passed since he’d been with her and Shane had been begging the universe for another chance with her ever since.

I’m not good at comforting people Larson, so snap out of it. You look scary enough without adding to it with that serial killer scowl of yours,” Joseph McEldowney said laughing. “My customer is a single mother with four kids. I’d just as soon not frighten them.”

“Get off my case, McEldowney. I’m doing you a favor even being here. I should be home working instead of playing with you,” Shane said, trying to make enough conversation to distract his brain from dwelling on her. “How long does it take to hang gutter anyway?”

“Not too long. This is a good size ranch house, but we’re just repairing the one side. A couple hours tops, I’m guessing. You got a hot date tonight or something?” Joe asked, trying to tease Shane into a good mood.

“Don’t start on me about hot dates,” Shane said harshly. “If you hadn’t abandoned me two weeks ago for your hot date I wouldn’t have met the woman and brought her home. The woman was like crack and I got addicted in one night.”

Joe’s laughter rang out in the truck cab. “I can’t believe you never got her to tell you who she was. Women bare their souls to you, Larson. All those months of abstaining must have made you lose your magic touch.”

Shane just shook his head. “I did not lose my magic touch. The woman was committed to keeping it to just one-night despite what happened between us.”

For months now, Joe had been watching in stunned disbelief as Shane sent all women away with a polite “no thanks”, no matter how beautiful, how leggy, or how willing. Maybe Shane really was in love, which was not in Joe’s opinion an admirable condition for a man under the age of thirty.

“The universe listens to you,” Joe told him with a shrug. “If I ever see someone fitting her description at the club again, I’ll let you know. I don’t get the urge you have, but I would let you know.”

“Thanks,” Shane said as they pulled up at the curb in front of Joe's client's house. “I don’t believe this. Like I needed more reminders.”

The universe was obviously having a laugh at his expense this morning because a mini-van with a sporty car parked next to it was in the driveway. Ann had said she drove a mini-van, though Shane couldn’t imagine the tiny woman he remembered driving something that large.

He told himself not to angst about it and almost succeeded in wiping the frown from his face when a tall teenage boy walked out of the house, carrying a pretty little girl in his arms.

“Hello,” the boy said. “Did you come to fix the gutter?”

“Sure did,” Joe replied, using his sunny business smile. “Your mother home?”

“You’ll want my Aunt Teresa,” the boy said to Joe, the welcome in his eyes fading slightly. “She’s at a neighbor’s, but will be home in a minute. I can show you what needs fixed.”

“Okay,” Joe said easily, not sure why the kid’s attitude had gone into shut down on him. He was a friendly guy and never had a client complain about his manners.

Shane studied the boy’s quiet demeanor as he climbed from the truck. The look on the kid’s face was sad, but he remained attentively polite to Joe. Something’s going on here, Shane surmised. He stood by the truck door and rolled up his t-shirt sleeves in concession to the unusual heat of the autumn day. He turned to the truck to get tools and heard the kid draw in a breath.

“Wow, Dude. I like your tattoo,” the boy said, coming closer. “Care if I look?”

Shane grinned and held out his arm. The little blonde he carried pulled a thumb from her mouth and reached out to touch it, too. The boy pulled her hand away before she made contact.

“It’s okay,” Shane said with a laugh. “I don’t mind if she wants to touch it.”

“That’s the coolest tat I’ve ever seen. Do you read the Winged Protector?” the boy asked with awe in his voice.

“I have to,” Shane explained, grinning at the boy’s genuine interest because he knew he was talking to a fan. “I’m the creator.”

Seriously? Wow,” the boy said, smiling at Shane. “My aunt and I are huge fans. We wait on every issue to come out.”

“You may be waiting longer than usual on the next one,” Shane admitted, smiling at the little girl the kid held who was smiling back. “I’m stuck on something in the storyline.”

“Wait until Aunt Teresa meets you. It’s nuts that you’re really here. So is this like your day job?” he asked, eyeing the truck.

“No,” Shane said with a laugh, seeing the kid’s disappointment in the unglamorous condition of the truck. “Joe’s a friend and I owed him a favor. He’s using me instead of a ladder today.”

The kid who was almost as tall as Shane looked at Joe and shrugged. “I could have helped with that.”

“Looks to me like you have your hands full,” Shane said, reaching out and pulling the blonde cherub’s thumb from her mouth. The girl laughed at Shane and the boy’s gaze went down the sidewalk.

“Here comes my aunt now,” he said.

Shane turned to look at the woman walking up the sidewalk. His heart stopped beating for one moment, and then picked up a panicked rhythm as he recognized her. The wicked laugh that erupted from Shane was joyous, and a little bit maniacal as he released the tension he’d been carrying around.

Shane looked up at the clouds and the blue between them, filled with gratitude for the mysteries of the world. “Thank you,” he said to the sky, hearing the boy laugh beside him.

“Dude—you okay?” the boy asked.

Joe walked to where they stood, his tool belt in his hand. He looked at the enormous smile on Shane’s face, wondering since when did his friend like kids so much.

“What’s your name?” Shane asked the boy.

“Zack Lansing,” the boy replied.

“Zack, I’ll give you a pre-production copy of the next Winged Protector novel before it releases if you will tell me the full name of the woman walking towards us now,” Shane said firmly.

“My Aunt Teresa? You want to know my aunt’s full name?” Zack asked, confused but thinking it was funny the Winged Protector guy was so interested.

Shane shook his head up and down slowly. “Yes I do. I definitely want to know who she is. So she’s your aunt? How about that.”

“Yes. Her name is Teresa Callahan,” Zack supplied. “Let me think, I think her middle name is—“

“—Ann,” Shane said firmly with a broad smile.

“Yeah, I think that’s right,” Zack said, his gaze narrowing as he assessed the man again. “You know Aunt Teresa?”

“A little,” Shane said easily, not thinking of his calm answer as lying. “But I would like to know her a lot better. Is that okay with you?”

“I guess. Isn’t that up to her?” Zack asked, laughing at the strangest conversation he’d had with an adult in a while.

“I don’t think so—not this time,” Shane said, feeling a bone deep gratitude for having found her. “Your aunt is my destiny, Zack.”

Destiny?” Zack repeated, laughing at Shane’s nod. “That’s pretty heavy, dude.”

Strapping on his carpenter’s belt, Joe’s gaze jumped between Shane and the kid, and then went up the street to the woman with shock.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding,” Joe said in disbelief. “You actually found her? My client is your mystery woman?”

Shane handed Joe the tools in his hands and walked determinedly towards the woman who had changed his life.

*** *** ***

Reesa Callahan’s mind had been on making carpooling arrangements with a neighbor so Zack could go to basketball practice or she would have noticed the giant blonde-haired man walking towards her sooner.

Looking like a conquering Viking, Shane Larson wasn’t exactly a man you could pretend not to see. He had to be every bit of six foot four, she thought. The eyebrow piercing and the tattoo were menacing. A more rational woman would have been put off by that alone. His shaggy hair and unshaven face marred the romantic picture he made, but his sexy, confident, very determined gaze would have set any woman’s heart racing.

Just like it did hers.

She told herself not to smile, but it was really hard not to.

He was definitely a giant, Reesa thought, tipping her head back and up when Shane stopped in front of her. She’d forgotten just how big the man was with those very wide shoulders of his.

“This is one of those weird life coincidences, isn’t it?” Reesa demanded, going on the offense before he could even open his mouth. “Look Shane, do us both a favor and just go away.”

Go away? Are you crazy? It’s taken me weeks to find you. God, I forgot how short you were,” Shane said, reaching down and stroking her cheek with his hand as he smiled into her face. “I can’t believe you didn’t come back to me. I’ve looked for you every day.”

Shane—stop the full court press here. There’s a reason they call it a one night stand,” Reesa said softly but firmly, stepping back and away from his caressing hand. “You know I never meant for you to find me.”

One night stand? Is that what you think happened between us?” Shane asked. “Boy, were you wrong. That was us falling in love which is why we’ve been thinking of each other so much since. Missing you has even been affecting my work.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We did not fall in love, Shane Larson. You don’t even know me,” Reesa said firmly, walking around Shane.

Shane caught up to her in one giant step. “Maybe not, but I want to know everything about you. Now I at least know your real name, Teresa. You can’t hide anymore.”

“That’s not my name,” Reesa hissed.

“Want me to call you Ann, instead?” Shane asked, starting to get annoyed with her. “Zack told me your real name.”

“I—no, we are not talking about this. Just please go away, Shane. I have enough things in my life to deal with,” Reesa said more softly, not wanting him to know how much his presence there unnerved her. “Go find one of those tall, leggy women who like you so much.”

“No woman could possibly follow you,” Shane stated firmly, ignoring the hurt her comment caused him. She had been all he’d thought about for two weeks, and it made Shane mad to think she would lie about returning his interest.

“Who’s the great kid?” Shane asked, changing tactics because the conversation was getting him nowhere.

“The great kid is my nephew, Zack. The little one he’s carrying is Sara. Chelsea and Brian are in the house. They’re my nephews and nieces, but I’m raising them. For all intents and purposes, I’m a single mother with four kids,” Reesa said, fighting the sinking sensation the words caused in her. “Now you know what I was hiding and can see for yourself why a night of casual sex now and again is all I have time for in my life. So go away, Shane.”

Reesa walked up the sidewalk passing by Zack and all the questions in his eyes about Shane. She walked by the mini-van, opened the screen door, and went into the house.

Inside her best friend in the world, Jillian Lansing, was sitting on the couch looking at fashion magazines with fourteen year old Chelsea. She wanted to tell Jillian about Shane showing up and ask her what to do, but there wasn’t opportunity. Three of the four kids were all within hearing distance.

When Jillian let out a quiet expletive, Reesa knew Shane Larson had followed her into the house. She had no choice but to turn around and deal with him which meant looking up almost a foot and half into a face that was remarkably familiar to her considering this was only the second time she’d seen him.

Okay--she could get used to that face, Reesa admitted, even as unshaven and menacing as it was at first glance. Shane Larson was appealing to her on many levels, which was too bad because Reesa had no time for appealing. Reesa had no time for anything.

His brown-eyed gaze was calm, but determined as it held hers.

Her own gaze raked his face looking for some clue as to why such a young man was pushing her to let him into her life when she’d made it more than obvious that she had no interest in pursuing anything more with him.

“Look Shane, I don’t know how you found me or what you think is going to happen, but I guarantee it’s not going to work out like anything you think,” Reesa told him.

Shane only smiled at her protest and looked over at Jillian. “You were the friend who waved at the club,” he said.

Jillian nodded. “I’m Jillian Lansing, also Aunt Jillian to these guys. This is Chelsea.”

Chelsea’s gaze swept Shane from his size fourteen feet to his glinting eyebrow ring.

“Hi,” Chelsea said, her eyes going wide at his appearance.

Shane smiled at the girl. “Hi Chelsea. My name is Shane Larson. I’m dating your Aunt Teresa.”

“Don’t be telling people that. We are not dating,” Reesa said firmly, practically growling the words.

“Maybe not yet,” Shane amended, “but we will be. I’m a great guy, Teresa.”

Zack came through the door with Sara still in his arms. The little girl tapped Shane on the shoulder and held out her arms. As Shane took her, he raised Sara until her head almost touched the nine foot ceiling of the entryway.

“Sara likes me,” Shane said to Reesa, his look daring her to deny it.

“Of course Sara likes you,” Reesa replied snidely, “she’s blonde and female. In twenty years, she’ll be your perfect woman. We’ve had this discussion before and I’ve seen your preferences in person.”

“Yes you have,” Shane said boldly, his narrowed gaze and tight voice the only indication that she was ruffling his composure. “You see my ideal female every time you look in the mirror, Teresa Ann Callahan.”

As lines went it wasn’t all that bad, Reesa thought, but if she rolled her eyes up any higher, she’d be looking at the inside of her brain. What was it going to take to get rid of this guy?

Zack walked up and put a hand on her arm, drawing her attention away from Shane. “Aunt Teresa, you’ll never believe this. Shane’s the artist who makes the Winged Protector novels. He’s the creator.”

Reesa’s swung a startled gaze to Shane. “Winged Protector? Is that what’s on the tattoo?” she asked in a squeaky voice, unable to stop the question or prevent her awe from peeking through her resolution not to be interested. Her gaze went to his arm.

Shane just smiled and nodded, enjoying her surprise and turning his arm around to show her. “See? I told you I was a good guy.”

“I purposely picked the worst guy I could find. I can’t believe he turned out to be you,” Reesa said, turning on her heel and heading to the back of the house.

Shane watched her run away and had to fight the urge to laugh at her cowardice. It was going to take more than just sharp words to discourage him. The ache for her had hit him full force while they had stood arguing in the street.

“Did you do something to make Aunt Teresa mad?” Zack asked tightly, his instinct to protect his aunt momentarily overriding his awe of Shane Larson.

“Maybe. I might have made your aunt fall in love with me when she didn’t want to,” Shane explained, wanting to laugh at the kid’s shock at his frank statement. “I fell pretty hard for her when we met. Maybe I messed it up telling her too soon. I’ve never been in love before.”

Zack laughed at the bold words, though he suspected the man wasn’t kidding, even if it sounded like a joke to walk in cold and announce you loved someone. Obviously, Aunt Teresa wasn’t buying it.

Love? That’s crazy dude. But if it works out, I guess you won’t be any worse than the last guy,” Zack said, following his pronouncement with a shrug.

Last guy? Shane wondered where the last guy was and why such a hot woman been trolling for sex at a club if there was a potential guy in her life.

Then he remembered that the “last guy” had to be gone at least five months. He and Teresa Callahan had ended their celibacies with each other. To Shane, it was one of the best things about that night. He now saw it as a sign that he and Teresa Callahan had been waiting to find each other.

Jillian rose from her seat on the couch and walked to where Shane Larson stood staring after Reesa obviously lost in his thoughts. The man was really tall, not like her brother Jackson had been, but still Jillian knew he would be scary tall for her petite best friend who tended to not date anyone over five nine or ten.

Not that Jillian believed Reesa was seriously worried about the man’s height at this point. She’d already spent the night with him, so height was just the handiest excuse. Jillian figured Reesa was more worried that the man wanted her in his life, something she knew Reesa wasn’t able to contemplate at all at the moment.

She'd like to string Brentwood Addison up by his man parts for that, Jillian thought viciously, sincerely hoping Reesa's former fiancee rotted in hell. Brentwood alone was reason enough to help this new guy as far as Jillian was concerned, but that still didn't make Larson right for Reesa.

“You seriously interested in her?” Jillian asked him.

“More than I can really go into in front of an mixed age audience,” Shane answered sincerely, holding Jillian’s dark, assessing gaze. “I definitely want to date her.”

“Don’t get your hopes up because your chances aren’t good, but at least call her Reesa, not Teresa,” Jillian advised. “She hates her real name.”

“Thanks for the heads up. Can I give you this cutie pie?” Shane asked.

Jillian nodded and he passed Sara to her. “Sara Girl, you are going to have to start walking. You are five and way too big to be carried around.”

“I am not five,” Sara denied, sticking her thumb back into her mouth.

“Sorry,” Jillian said to Shane. “We have some issues we’re working through here. Somebody thinks she’s a baby instead of a big girl.”

Looking around at Zack, Chelsea, Jillian and Sara, Shane made a swift assessment of the situation and an even swifter decision that he belonged in the picture.

“I’ve got to go help fix the gutter, but I’ll be back sometime soon,” Shane said to both Jillian and Zack. “Reesa Callahan. I like it. It suits her much better than Ann.”

Smiling genuinely for the first time in two weeks, Shane walked back out the door and went to find Joe.

Jillian and Zack exchanged looks, both of them shaking their heads.

“She could have dated a nice-looking man who smiled at her all night, but no—Larson was her choice. In my opinion, Reesa Callahan brought this whole mess on herself,” Jillian said on a laugh.

Zack chuckled in response. “He said Aunt Teresa was his destiny.”

Jillian rolled her eyes. “Destiny? Man, it’s getting deep in here now. Bring the shovel around in case Larson comes back and we have to dig our way out of the melodrama. Never date a artist, Zack. ”

Zack laughed at his aunt’s wicked humor and headed back outside to see if the two men needed his help.

Personally, he liked Shane Larson, and the man wrote the Winged Protector. He sort of hoped things worked out between Aunt Teresa and Shane. The man had talked to Zack like he was a real person, something many adults didn't do.

Not to mention, he and Brian would have the inside scoop on their favorite graphic novel for the rest of their lives.
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