Guest blogging today!

I’m guest blogging today with paranormal romance author, Laurie London.  We’re talking about my VK Sykes books, the sexy contemporary romances I write with my hubby.  Stop on by to find out about our writing partnership – and how we manage to not kill each other – and post a comment for a chance to win HOT NUMBER or FASTBALL.

See you there!

A New Era In Publishing & Lots Of Prizes, Too!

I have a fabulous author guest blogging with  me today.  She’s Joan Swan, and she writes romantic suspense for Kensington Brava.  Her debut book, Fever, has gotten great reviews and received tons of attention.  Trust me – if you like gritty romantic suspense, you will love this book.

But like many authors, Joan is also branching out into self-publishing or, as it’s often called, indie publishing.  In fact, she’ll be releasing her first indie book in May.  You can check out all the details on her website.

Joan and I have something in common.  We’re both members of Rock*It Reads, a collective of print authors who are also indie publishing.  I blogged about it a few weeks ago, and Joan is here to give you the latest update, which includes a very exciting announcement.

Over to you, my friend!

The publishing industry has turned the corner into a fast and furious new era.  The changes are undeniably exciting…and daunting.

For authors a whole new area of choices await—how your cover will look, which editor you’ll choose, what story you’ll write next and in what genre.  But there are also more worrisome concerns, like how you can make your work stand out in this overflowing market.

For readers, this new era gives you an amazing body of work to choose from that would not have been available even just a year ago.  Many talented authors, both previously unpublished and traditionally published, have a new outlet for their work—both new and backlist titles.  The low prices associated with most epublished books certainly helps out in tough economic times as well.  Add to that the portability and flexibility of ereaders and you’ve got a near-heavenly situation.

Why just near-heavenly?  Because you, the reader, have to wade through the millions of books available to narrow down your choices.  Might sound easy, but it only takes a few duds to the tune of $3-$5 to make those “off” choices add up pretty quick.  And I have to admit that’s one of my pet peeves – taking a chance on a book — spending the money, investing my time, my hope…and being let down.  For a romance reader, there is not much less disappointing than this.

This is a conundrum that the authors at Rock*It Reads also found troubling.  Rock*It Reads is a group of NY traditionally publishing authors who are also venturing out into indie epublishing.  The coop we’ve created supports a group of authors who get not only goes into a quality read—editing, design, proofreading, etc., but what it takes to stand out in an ocean of unknown titles.

So when you see the RIR, Rock*It Reads logo on a book cover, you’ll know each book has been professionally handled from cover to cover, by authors who have done this many time before in the professional realm of New York publishers.

As authors who appreciate amazing writing and long for an awesome story as much as the next reader,  we have partnered with Barnes and Noble to bring outstanding self published titles to readers’ attention through a brand new review column: Love Rocks.  At Love Rocks, Rock*It Reads authors will showcase a fabulous Indie read they’ve discovered and review the book.  We’ll be focusing on the lesser known authors and titles whose brilliance has yet to be recognized, which I personally find thrilling.  What reader doesn’t love to find a talented new author to read?

Our very first column launches today!  So, swing by Barnes and Noble, catch Love Rocks and stay to chat!  We look forward to seeing you there.

Come back here and leave a comment on your thoughts about the Love Rocks column and you could win one of the following fantastic prizes – donated by many of the RIR authors.

Love’s Portrait by Monica Burns

Skin Deep by Pamela Clare (Available May 2012)

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Sweet Release by Pamela Clare

Undone by Lila DiPasqua (Available May 2012)

Hot Number by VK Sykes (aka Vanessa Kelly)

Fastball by VK Sykes (aka Vanessa Kelly)

Hardball by VK Sykes (aka Vanessa Kelly)

His Wicked Revenge by Vanessa Kelly

Claiming Her by Kris Kennedy (Available May 2012)

Stolen Fury by Elisabeth Naughton

Fever by Joan Swan (print copy)

Intimate Enemies by Joan Swan (Available May 2012)

Vanessa, here.  I have to tell you, I’m very excited about LOVE ROCKS.  So what do you think, readers?  Do you like this new world of indie publishing?  What do you think about this leap into the future?  Leave a comment for a chance to win one of these great books!

#SampleSunday: HOT NUMBER by V.K.Sykes

This week hubby and I released another one of our sexy contemporary romances, written under the pen name of V.K. SykesHot Number is set in Las Vegas, and it features Sadie Bligh, a geeky math professor from Chicago, and Nick Saxon, the assistant chief of security at a large casino.  Sadie is having a really bad year–her work life has flat-lined and her social life…well, that’s pretty much non-existent.  Desperate to shake things up, she heads to Sin City with a friend for a wild week of fun.  The thing is, Sadie’s not really sure how to do fun, which is apparent in her first meeting with Jake:

“See that big guy standing a couple of rows over, beside the pillar?” Cassie nodded toward her left. “Don’t look right away.”

Sadie tried to appear nonchalant as she swung her head around. When she located the pillar and the man in question, she realized he was staring directly at her, his gaze hard and assessing and implacably fixed on her. Not on Cassie. Not on anyone else at their roulette table. On her.

She desperately wanted to avert her eyes, but something kept them locked in position. Maybe it was the intensity of his focus, or the heat emanating from his dark eyes. Even from this distance she would have sworn they were about the deepest brown she’d ever seen, so deep they looked almost black.

Most men would be embarrassed to be caught staring so shamelessly at a woman. But not this guy. He never even blinked.

“He’s staring at me, Cass,” she hissed.

“No kidding. Hell, I wouldn’t mind a hunk like him looking that way at me. Whew, he thinks you’re hot, Sade.”

Sadie swallowed nervously. If that intense gaze was a come-on, she wanted nothing to do with it. “Uh, I don’t think so. He looks like he thinks I’m an idiot.”

Cassie gave a reluctant laugh. “Maybe you’re right. Now that I think about it, I’d say he’s casino security. He sure looks the part. I guess he’s probably keeping an eye on you to make sure you don’t bowl over anybody else.”

Casino security. Cassie probably had it right. She should just ignore him. No doubt he would lose interest as long as she didn’t do anything else to cause a commotion.

Sadie lowered her gaze, staring down at the colorful piles of chips on the table. But the man’s image had burned itself into her retinas. Though his frowning stare had unnerved her, she had to admit that his looks were mesmerizing. Everything about him left one overwhelming impression: big, tough, and more than a little dangerous. The deep navy suit and white open-necked shirt accentuated his tanned, rugged features, as did his black hair and heavy five o’clock shadow. A gorgeous specimen. Gorgeous, but scary.

Then again, casino security agents were supposed to look scary, weren’t they?

Lifting her head, she braved another peek at him, letting her gaze run over his brawny chest and broad shoulders. Then she returned to those hard eyes and almost fell off her stool. They were still relentlessly fixed on her, and still making her as edgy as hell.

She sucked in a shaky breath, her head spinning both from the effect of the alcohol and that unnerving inspection. “I need to get out of here, Cass. Not just away from this table. I mean right out of the casino.”

Cassie looked dumbfounded. “What are you talking about? We’ve just started to play. Is that guy the problem? If it’s bothering you that much, I’ll go tell him to back the hell off.”

Sadie quickly shook her head. “Please, no more drama tonight. I’m not sure what’s wrong. I just feel really uncomfortable all of a sudden.” She swiped the back of her hand across her brow, surprised at the perspiration beading on her forehead despite the near-frigid temperature of the casino. “You stay, okay? I need to go up to my room for a while.”

“You sure? You want me to come with you?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll rendezvous with you later.” Sadie grabbed her drink, scooped up her small stack of chips and gave Cassie an air kiss.

Unfortunately, the shortest route to the elevators ran directly past Mr. Scary Security Man. She gave a quick thought to walking straight up to the guy and telling him to lay off the surveillance, just like Cassie had threatened to do. But that idea, along with her courage, disappeared in the time it took to process it. No. Better to steer completely clear of him tonight and hope not to see him again.

By the time she reached the main aisle, a quick glance to her left told her he hadn’t moved. But at least he wasn’t still looking straight at her. She turned to her right. Going in that direction meant she’d have to practically circle the casino floor. Just what she needed—extended navigating in her skyscraper boots. But so be it. She needed to get back to her room, calm down, and remind herself why she was here in the first place.

As she stumbled along, trying to keep her balance, she belatedly realized that she should have left her drink back at the roulette table. She did not need another accident—or more alcohol, for that matter.

Spotting a casino waitress serving drinks at a nearby Pai Gow poker table, Sadie pivoted to head in that direction. The last thing she felt before becoming airborne was a small tug on her spike heel as it caught in the carpet. Then she crashed head first into the poker table. Her drink sailed out of her hand as she landed heavily onto the hard surface.

She didn’t move right away, so dazed she barely realized what had happened.

A shocked female screech blasted out from somewhere behind her. “What the hell?”

“Holy shit, lady!” another voice lashed out. “You just screwed the best hand I had all night!”

Sadie’s stomach gave a sickening lurch at the man’s nasty tone. With her face buried in a pile of chips and her butt sticking up in the air, she was too stunned to fully comprehend the profanity-laced invective hurled her way. While nothing felt broken except her pride, her thighs throbbed where they’d made a bruising impact with the edge of the table.

She groaned, not just with the blossoming pain but with the humiliating realization that she’d made an ass of herself again. If only a chandelier would land on her head and knock her senseless, she would be happy. But no such luck. She knew she had to get up and apologize to…well, to everyone in sight. Maybe to the whole damn world.

Wedging her hands underneath her chest, she began to push herself up when a pair of very big, very strong hands clamped around her hips and lifted her backward off the table. Those same hands then set her carefully on her feet. She shoved the hair out of her eyes and gave a horrified squeak at what lay before her. The table was a disaster, with cards and chips flung haphazardly. Her drink had smashed, scattering booze, ice cubes and shards of glass over the chip tray and onto the poor dealer. Brushing himself off, the young man glared at her with undisguised contempt.

Upright now, Sadie carefully turned around to thank whoever it was who had helped her off the table.

She must have looked like a wide-mouth bass as her gaze met the obsidian eyes of Mr. Scary Security Man. Stomach lurching—this time all the way into her throat—she had to bite her lip to keep from letting out a groan of dismay.

“Are you all right?” he asked through clenched teeth.

His deep voice, as dark and menacing as the rest of him, shot a ripple of anxiety along her already over-taxed nerves. She had just enough of her wits left to notice him scanning her body from head to foot.

Dropping her gaze to the floor, she struggled to compose a dignified reply. Then she dredged up a smile and forced herself to look at him.

“It would seem so, thank you. I suspect I’ll be rather sore tomorrow, but apparently no lasting harm has been done.” She glanced back at the chaos she’d left in her wake. Players were collecting their chips and leaving the table in a huff. “Other than possibly ruining the surface of a card table and destroying some winning hands. But I suppose I shouldn’t minimize that.”

She tried to straighten out her rumpled shirt, noticing how his eyes followed her hands as she smoothed the fabric over the top of her jeans.

“Ma’am, I’m with casino security,” he said in a calm voice. “Please come with me.”

Without waiting for her reply, he grasped her wrist in one of his big hands. His touch was firm but not harsh, and Sadie felt a surprising and unfamiliar jolt as warm fingers closed around her bare skin. Not fear. This was something…well, she didn’t know what it was, but it still made her nervous.

Now that she’d declared her lack of injury, his eyes had reverted back to chips of black ice. She caught herself wondering what they might look like if something lit them and turned them to burning embers. He’d probably resemble Lucifer himself.

“I simply tripped, for heaven’s sake.” Sadie shook out of his grip, wincing at the shrill tone to her voice. But she didn’t want to spend a second more with this man than she had to.

His mouth thinned into a brutal line. “I can’t detain you, ma’am, but I can remove you from the Desert Oasis Casino. Not just for tonight, but permanently. You might prefer the option of talking to me for a few minutes.”

Cassie rushed up to her, breathless. “Sadie, are you okay? I heard the crash, but I didn’t know it was you till one of the waitresses told me.”

She gave Cassie a shaky smile. “I’ll live. Just a pair of bruised thighs and a whole lot of bruised pride.”

The security man began to look both annoyed and impatient. “Ma’am, please. Come with me.”

Darn it. There was obviously no point in arguing with the pig-headed brute. Better to get it over with than cause yet another scene.

“All right, Sheriff, lead on,” she replied, ladling on the sarcasm. “Do your worst. I’m ready.”

He shot her a look of sheer disdain and waved her in front of him.

“Hey, wait a minute! Just where do you think you’re taking her?” Cassie demanded. “Who the hell are you to treat my friend like that?”

“Casino security, ma’am. I’m simply taking her for questioning. It shouldn’t take too long. But the longer we stand here, the longer it’ll be.”

Cassie planted her feet like a prizefighter, ready to deck him if need be. “I’m going with her. I’m not letting her go off with you alone.”

The security man fixed Cassie with the coldest stare Sadie had ever seen and, sure enough, her friend bristled with outrage. She had to get the situation under control before Cassie wound up getting herself in big trouble, too. “It’s okay, Cass. I can handle this. I’ll catch up to you as soon as the law here is done with me.”

The big man switched his glare to her and then gave a sharp nod. “As I said, follow me.” He turned and strode off at a rapid pace.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” she burst out, exasperated by his mental density. “Sheriff, it appears necessary to remind you that I’ve been having a certain degree of difficulty with this footwear. I really could use some assistance. Or would you prefer to have to hoist me off a card table again?”

The man stopped and turned as gracefully as a panther. A big, terrifying panther. Cassie was right—the brute was undeniably handsome, in a dark, rugged, and altogether intimidating way.

“Sorry,” he said, sounding genuinely apologetic. “You’re right. I should have thought about that. Here, ma’am, take my arm.”

Sadie almost fell over, yet again. Where had that gentlemanly behavior suddenly come from? Cautiously slipping her hand into the crook of his arm, she encountered an impressively hard set of arm muscles. They flexed beneath her fingers and her edgy feeling returned. This time down low in her belly and between her thighs.

As he led her away, Sadie couldn’t help but wonder what kind of trouble she’d stumbled into this time.

Hot Number is currently available on Amazon and Smashwords for only $2.99.  Within a few weeks, it will also be available on Barnes & Noble, and at other e-tailers.  And don’t forget to check out our other books, CaddyGirls, Fastball, and Hardball.

Have a great Sunday, everyone!

#SampleSunday: Fastball, by VK Sykes

Here’s another excerpt from Fastball, my latest contemporary romance that I wrote with my husband under the pen name of VK Sykes.  In this scene, superstar baseball player Jake Miller is warming up for a game.  This is his first meet with the heroine, sports reporter Maddie Leclair.

After about ten minutes of warm ups, Jake jogged over to the batting cage to wait for his turn. As he leaned on his bat, watching other guys take their cuts, he got a prickling sensation on the back of his neck, like someone was eyeballing him. He was used to that, but this felt different and slightly unnerving.

A moment later he heard a voice as smooth as a shot of the finest single malt calling out from behind him. “Hey, Jake. Got a minute for me?”

Unable to resist those rich amber tones, Jake turned and looked back at the rail behind first base. A woman stood there, a woman so freaking gorgeous the sight of her caught up him up short, as if he had run nose-first into a sheet of Plexiglas.

The eyes got him first—eyes of startling, vivid blue that were made even more striking by her flawless, lightly tanned complexion. Her mouth was pink and full, her smile an intriguing combination of sensuality and, weirdly enough, innocence. She was short, not much more than five-three, but she held herself with a slender, athletic strength that took nothing away from her bombshell looks.

She stood just above the barrier, her knee-high leather boot propped casually up on a concrete step. That pose hiked her short skirt up, affording him an unimpeded view of her shapely legs. Her black stockings emphasized the unconscious sensuality of her stance, and a slow crawl of lust began to build in his muscles. Letting his gaze drift upward to the sweet curve of her hips and her slender waist, he took in the gently swelling breasts outlined in a trim-fitting black jacket.

Finally, he returned to her striking face and those magnetic blue eyes, framed by glossy, short black hair. And what he liked even better was her aura of quiet confidence.  No simpering smiles, no overtly flirtatious glances or wriggling her hot body in an effort to attract him.  She just waited for him to answer—cool, collected, and totally beautiful.

Oh, yeah, I’ve got a minute for you, sweetheart. No worries.

Jake did his best to look nonchalant as he crossed the dirt path and approached her, but the truth was that he wanted to hustle over like he was trying to stretch a single into a double. As he closed in, the woman’s engaging smile made him break into a grin himself. She held out a small, slender hand for him to shake, and he took it firmly but as gently as he could. But he needn’t have been concerned about crushing her hand. The pressure of her grip surprised him.

“I’m Maddie Leclair,” she said in that amazing voice of hers. “I’ve been covering the Patriots for the Philadelphia Post since the beginning of the year.”

Jake knew who she was as soon as he heard her name.  He was not one of those athletes who ignored the sports press. In fact, he liked to read all the coverage he could, from the daily papers to the magazines and the Internet sites. It was just something he’d always done, because he wanted to know what was going on—what people were saying and thinking about the game.

“It’s a pleasure, Maddie.” He slowly released her hand, letting his fingers graze her smooth skin as he pulled back. “I’ve read your stories and columns.  But that grainy little black-and-white photo on top of your column doesn’t even much look like you, let alone do you justice.”

What he was really wanted to say was that no picture on earth could possibly capture her luscious magnetism. He’d only just met her and she was exerting a pull stronger than a riptide.

She sighed dramatically, even though her eyes laughed at him. “The only worse shot of me is my passport photo, which should tell you something.” That amazing gaze dropped briefly, giving his body a quick up-and-down. “But your picture in the media guide doesn’t exactly capture your many qualities, either.” Her lips tilted in a knowing smile that shot heat right to his groin.

“Well, I appreciate that. I think.” Jake almost had to laugh at his lame reply. He was normally at ease with banter and pretty quick with a response, but little Ms. Leclair was making him feel like a tongue-tied fool.

She moved to lean against the barrier, her posture a little tense. In an instant, her startling blue eyes turned serious. Intent. All business.

“Jake, I know you don’t have much time to talk, so I’ll get straight to the point. I was wondering if you’d be willing to do a feature interview with me tomorrow. I’d like to write an in-depth piece on you for the Sunday edition. You’ve been away for quite a while, and I think the readers would really like that.”

The idea of spending time with Maddie Leclair sounded pretty attractive, even in a professional setting. The little slip of a thing was pulling on Jake’s imagination and hard, which was a hell of a surprise. Like most players, he’d been pursued by beautiful women throughout his baseball career. It was something he’d learned early on to keep in perspective, so his extraordinary response to her didn’t make sense a lot of sense.  All he knew was that when he saw her again, he wanted to be alone with her, not in some formal interview under the watchful eye of one of the team’s PR guys.

It was a crazy idea on his part, but it had already taken hold and he couldn’t seem to shake it.

He nodded. “I think I could manage that.”

Just as he was about to suggest some conditions for their meeting, Maddie jumped in.  “Great!” She flashed him a blinding grin. “How about tomorrow morning? If that works for you, I’ll get Media Affairs to set it up. Here at the park, as usual.”

That’s what he’d expected to hear, but it was definitely not what he had in mind. He didn’t say anything for a few moments, rapidly formulating a plan.

“Here’s my problem with that, Maddie,” he finally said, frowning a little. “I don’t think you’re going to get the kind of interview you’re looking for if we’re stuck across a table in some formal media room, like we’re a couple of lawyers facing off against each other.” He shook his head slowly, as if pondering. Yeah, he was being manipulative, but he had the feeling it would be well worth it. “It’s one of the reasons I don’t give many interviews, and tend not to say a whole lot. I’m afraid that if we do it the way you said, all you’re likely to get from me is stuff everybody already knows.”

Maddie shot him a quizzical look, edged with a tinge of wariness. “Do you have an alternative in mind?”

You bet.

“Absolutely. This is a little unorthodox, for sure, but why don’t we meet for dinner tomorrow evening? That way I can give you all the time you need, and I guarantee you’ll get a much better story that way. I can relax and not worry about some PR guy waiting to jump down my throat.” Jake casually swung his bat, keeping an easy smile in place and knowing he risked putting her off from the get-go. It was obvious from the way her eyes had narrowed and her body tensed that she was surprised, if not shocked, by his unusual proposition.

“Hmm,” she murmured in a suspicious tone. She dropped her arms from the railing and crossed them over her chest, clearly perplexed by his request.

“You don’t have to answer right now,” he said. Actually, he wanted to push her for an answer, but he sensed she would bolt if he did. “You can catch me after the game, or leave a message at the hotel.”

Maddie smiled but didn’t look particularly happy. “I’m not sure taking time will help, Jake. We both know that all formal interviews with players are supposed to be set up by the team and take place in the media room or another approved location. You know what could happen if we violated those rules. Media Affairs hates it when players go rogue. It wouldn’t be smart for either of us to do that, as I’m sure you realize.”

Despite her words, Maddie’s assessing gaze suggested she might actually be mulling over his suggestion. And she hadn’t said no. She’d said it wouldn’t be smart, which he figured was a long way from a flat turndown.

He dropped the bat at his feet and leaned both arms on the barrier. “I admit it’s a bit unorthodox. But the PR flacks don’t have to know, right? We can make it an informal interview,” he said, playing on her words. “And we can pick a totally out-of-the-way restaurant, like somewhere up the coast. We meet, we eat, you ask all the questions you want, and then we go our separate ways back to the hotel. We’re in San Diego, not Philly, so it’s pretty unlikely anybody would recognize you, anyway. Then, if somebody asks where we did the interview, we can say we did it over the phone.”

“Lie, you mean,” she said in a doubtful tone.

“A harmless lie. And we can have a phone call, too.”

She peered down at her feet, suddenly looking a bit shy and fidgety.  Jake could practically hear her thinking it through, weighing the pros and cons.  God, she was cute.  He decided to push it another notch.

Fastball is available for only $2.99 on Amazon and Smashwords.  For more details about Fastball and other VK Sykes books, please visit our website.

Have a great Sunday!

#SampleSunday: Fastball, by VK Sykes

Here’s an excerpt from my brand new VK Sykes book, a sexy contemporary romance that I wrote with my hubby.  Fastball is actually a prequel to our award-winning romance, Hardball.  It stars Jake Miller, baseball superstar, and Maddie Leclair, intrepid sports reporter.  Maddie has just landed the job as the reporter assigned to the Philadelphia Patriots, Jake’s major league baseball team.  She’s about to join him for dinner and a private interview, although Maddie suspects that the sexy ballplayer had ulterior motives in agreeing to meet her…

After what seemed like an interminable and altogether tense cab ride, Maddie arrived at the restaurant shortly after eight. She spotted Jake immediately, already seated and looking astoundingly handsome in a navy sports jacket that framed his broad shoulders, a crisp white shirt, and a gold silk tie. The tie alone would likely have cost her at least a week’s salary and, for a moment, she couldn’t hold back a flash of anxiety. Jake Miller was so far out of her league it wasn’t even funny, and she had to fight the urge to back slowly out of the room before he even saw her. Impossible, of course, since the maitre’d was conducting her to the table with as much ceremony as a drum major led the band before a college bowl game.

Suck it up and act like a pro, girl.

She plastered a smile on her face as Jake stood to greet her, his sexy mouth parting in a slow grin, his gaze flicking appreciatively over her body. For a few seconds, she actually felt faint with pleasure and nerves, and she had to clamp down hard on the dizzy sensations rocking her body. Despite the effort, she could still feel the blush spreading over her cheeks, and the butterflies in her stomach went into full flap as Jake gallantly brushed the maitre’d aside and pulled out a chair to seat her.

As a sportswriter, Maddie was used to being around hot guys. She’d had her share of locker room encounters, and had seen enough naked chests and towel-wrapped asses to make such sights routine. But no player had affected her quite like Jake Miller, and she’d only seen him fully dressed. All he’d done so far was smile and pull out her chair for her, but she could already feel her hormones sparking in reaction.

And she couldn’t even remember the last time a guy had pulled out a chair for her, waiting until she was settled before taking his own seat. She had to get a grip on her all-too-eager libido or she might be offering to have his babies before they finished the first course.

“Thanks, Jake. Sorry if I’m a bit late. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.” She tried for casual, even though she felt anything but.

He shook his head, sending a lock of thick, wheat-colored hair sliding onto his forehead. He quickly raked a hand back to put it in place. “Maddie, would you mind if I say that you look absolutely spectacular tonight?”

She accepted the compliment with a smile and fussed with her purse for a moment before meeting his gaze. Casual wasn’t working, so maybe a little honesty was called for. “I’m not exactly sure how to do this, Jake. I’m obviously not used to conducting an interview under these circumstances. Maybe the best thing would be to eat, and then I’ll get out my recorder and we’ll talk business over coffee. Would that be okay?”

Jake shrugged, and Maddie found herself mesmerized by the slide of his brawny shoulders under the smooth, expensive fabric of his jacket.  She blinked and gave her head a mental shake. Man, she truly needed to get a grip.

“Sounds good,” he said. “But why don’t we make a start on it now, after we get you a drink?”

“Even better,” she said, relieved to focus on work. Right now, it felt just a bit too personal for her comfort.

Jake motioned to the waiter. Since it was supposed to be a business meeting, she thought about ordering a coke or mineral water. But she opted instead for a glass of Sauvignon blanc, secretly acknowledging she could use a drink to settle her nerves. Jake ordered a bottle and Maddie retrieved her digital recorder, placing it on the table between them.

“Okay to start?” she said.

He leaned back, elbows resting on the arms of his chair, fingers laced in an easy grip. “Fire when ready,” he replied, looking totally relaxed. Maddie had never met a man who seemed more comfortable in his own skin, and it had the effect of easing her own nervous tension.

You can do this. Just stick to the prepared questions and you’ll be fine.

A deep breath and she launched into her questions. “Jake, I’m sure you must be expecting that I’ll want you to talk about the progress of your recovery from the ankle surgery,” she said rather formally for the benefit of the recorder. “About your expectations for this season and so on. I do want to talk about all that, but we can get to those things later, if that’s all right.”

He arched his brows slightly. Good.  She had surprised him.

“I say that,” she continued, “because that stuff isn’t really what I’m interested in for a feature piece.”

He unleashed one of those sexy smiles. “Whatever you like, Maddie. I’m in your capable hands.”

It finally dawned on her just how much that devastating smile contributed to his charm. His was an open and honest face with chiseled features, and his easy, masculine grin conveyed both mature intelligence and good humor. Maddie found it disarmingly inviting.

She blinked, losing her bearings for just a second before pulling it back together.

“Um, what I want to write about is what it’s been like to be Jake Miller, ballplayer and man. What was it like for you growing up? What were your hopes and dreams, and have you fulfilled them yet? What your life is like now, both on and off the field—who you’re close to, what inspires you, that sort of thing.”

His sharp gaze narrowed on her, as if assessing her intent. That irked her a bit, since she’d been straight with him from the beginning. If someone at this table had an ulterior motive for the evening, it sure as hell wasn’t her.

“You said you’d tell me what I wanted to know. Well, that’s what I want to write about,” she said, defiantly meeting his gaze. “I want my readers to know something about who Jake Miller really is. I don’t want to simply feed them the usual babble and athlete-speak that players and reporters always trot out. That’s incredibly boring and we all know it.”

When she stopped talking, a short silence fell over the table. Maddie reached over and clicked off the recorder before lifting her eyes back to his face. “Look, Jake, I’m even willing to let you see a draft of the article and talk about it before I submit the final version to the paper. I don’t want you to hold back because you think I’ll sandbag you somehow. That’s not my style, and I think you know it. When this piece is ready to go, my hope is that you’ll be as happy with it as I am.”

She held his gaze, praying she hadn’t made a huge blunder by coming here. She couldn’t afford to offend him, but she had a job to do and he needed to be clear on that. Whatever else might be going on she could address later, after she got her interview.

If she got her interview.

Jake took a drink, his eyes narrowed in concentration. She had to repress the temptation to fiddle with something—always a dead giveaway whenever her insecurities rose to the surface—but she vowed not to back down. She’d be willing to bet that no other reporter had ever stated the matter so bluntly, or under such unusual circumstances. He’d always made it clear to the world that he was a very private person, rebuffing any attempt to get him to talk about anything other than baseball. And although he had a well-deserved reputation for being a gentleman, she knew Jake had told more than one pushy reporter to mind his own damn business. His personal life had always been out of bounds to the press and the public.

As the silence between them lengthened, and Jake’s inscrutable expression revealed nothing, the butterflies in Maddie’s stomach took a synchronized nosedive. It looked like her exclusive, ground-breaking interview would be over before it started.

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