A millionaire with a wary heart…
And a first love worth repeating

Success couldn’t make former model Alexis Armstrong forget the one who got away. When she “rents” Derek Moore at a fund-raiser to show him what he’s missed, things don’t go as planned.

Their sizzling chemistry reignites…with lasting repercussions. Derek wants to be there for his baby, but Alexis will only marry for love. Can he convince the stubborn beauty he’s for real?

She heard a buzzing sound and watched as Derek retrieved his phone. He read for a minute and sighed. He typed something and stuck the cell back into his pocket. 
“If you need to take care of some things, I can always take a rain check.” Though she found herself enjoying his company.
Derek stood and came around the bar. “It’s nothing that can’t wait.” He gestured to the stove. “Smells good.”
She took the cornbread out of the oven. “Hopefully, it will taste the same. Grab a plate. I figured it would be easier to do it this way, rather than carting out all the dishes.”
He picked up a plate. “And less dishes to wash.”
Alexis burst out laughing. “You still hate washing dishes.” It was the one chore he always complained about.
The corner of his mouth kicked up in a slight grin. “Absolutely.” He quieted. “I can’t believe you remembered that.”
“I remember a lot of things,” she said softly. He stared at her with an intensity that made her heart race. “Um…you can go first.” She handed him a serving spoon, then cut a few pieces of cornbread. The temperature had risen by several degrees and had nothing to do with the heat from the oven. 
Alexis placed a generous helping of jambalaya and the corner piece of bread on her plate. She’d just have to work out a little more because she intended to enjoy this meal. They carried their food outside. Derek went back in, topped off their glasses and brought them out.
Derek lifted his chardonnay. “To the cook.”
Alexis touched her glass to his. “Thank you.” For the first several minutes, they ate in companionable silence while listening to the waves crashing against the shore and the birds calling to each other overhead.
“This is really good.” He forked up another portion.
“I got the recipe from a woman while in New Orleans two years ago. She said it belonged to her family and it was one they could share.” She broke off a piece of cornbread, popped into her mouth and chewed. “How’s your mom?”
Derek paused with the fork midway to his mouth. “She’s good.”
“You know, I used to love seeing her photos in the magazines. I always thought she was so beautiful, elegant and poised. I wanted to be just like her.”
“Seriously? You never told me that.”
Alexis shrugged. “You never asked.” Back then, he had been so determined to forge his own way that nothing else seemed to matter. They quieted and continued eating. “She did factor in my decision. I thought if she could do it, so could I,” she said, picking up where the conversation left off.
“My mom was a pretty successful model, but nowhere near what you’ve accomplished.”
“That’s probably because she left the industry so soon.”
Derek chuckled. “Yeah. She said she was tired of seeing me grow up through pictures, and wanted to do something else, something to make a difference. These days, she’s enjoying teaching high school English literature.”
“I totally understand where she’s coming from.”
His brow lifted. “Are you thinking of leaving the business?”
A smile curved Alexis’s lips. “Yes. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy what I do. I just want to do more.” Now finished eating, she went to stand against the rail. “Maybe it’s time to put this business degree to work.”
“Any ideas about what you want to do?”
“Actually, yes. I’d like to do something in the area of African American infant mortality. The rates are much higher than any other race and I want our babies to have a fighting chance.”
Derek came and stood next to her. “That sounds like a worthwhile project.”
She faced him. “I think so, too. But what that looks like, I have no clue right now.”
He tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “I have no doubt that whatever you decide will turn out well.”
The intimate gesture shook her. “Do you think so?” With him standing so close, she remembered that he towered over her five-foot-ten height by a good seven inches.
“Absolutely. You were the smartest girl in class and I know nothing has changed.”
Before she could form a reply, Derek lowered his head and covered her mouth in a sweet, gentle kiss. He slid an arm around her waist and eased her closer. The intensity changed in the blink of an eye, and when it ended, she couldn’t tell who was more surprised.
Still holding her, Derek asked, “Should I apologize?”
“Not unless you want to.”
His soft laughter floated in the air. “So, is this part of the rental?”
“It could be.” Alexis had no idea where those words came from.
Desire blazed in his eyes. “Then I say we should take full advantage and make it worth every penny you invested.”
Her pulse skipped. What have I gotten myself into? Once again, his mouth moved over hers, stunning her with a passion that stole her breath and turned her knees to jelly. This was not some awkwardly cute kiss from a seventeen-year-old boy, but that of a man who had perfected the art of pleasing a woman. He released the band on her hair and groaned as the long tresses spilled over her shoulders. She’d been growing her hair since the age of thirteen, with a vow not to cut it—aside from trims—and it now hung to the middle of her back. It was her turn to moan when his hands roamed up her back and around to massage her breasts. Her head fell back and her eyes closed. Derek transferred his kisses to her exposed throat. She didn’t realize that he’d undone the first two buttons on her blouse until she felt the warmth of his tongue skating along her chest.
“Unless you want your neighbors to get an eyeful, I suggest we move this inside,” Derek murmured against the shell of her ear, his hands and lips still moving.
Alexis opened her eyes. “Inside where?”
Holding her gaze, he said, “Anywhere you want to take it.”
With her body on fire, and since she had declared this a show-him-what-he’d-missed date, there was only one place she wanted to take it.

Celeste Williams has finally gotten her life back on track and the last thing on her mind is dating again. Then she meets Thaddeus Whitcomb, a man as caring as he is handsome. The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible. Celeste thought no man could move her as deeply as her late husband, but Thad rekindles a passion she never believed she’d feel again.

Since his divorce years ago, Thad has lived a full and successful life. The moment Celeste crosses his path, he realizes she’s the piece he never knew had been missing. As friendship blossoms into more, Thad discovers a second chance at romance. But Celeste begins to retreat. Once he uncovers her reasons for becoming distant, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince the sensual beauty that nothing matters more than their love.

Celeste led him to the family room, pausing in the dining room to add the rose to the floral arrangement. “Please, have a seat.” She gestured to the sofa.
“After you.” He waited until she sat, then lowered himself next to her. “Whatever you’re cooking smells good.”
She smiled. “I hope it tastes the same.”
“I have no doubts,” Thad said, not taking his eyes off her.
Her heart rate kicked up again and she busied herself with opening the square gift to cover her reaction. She carefully tore away the paper and her smile widened. He had bought one of Brian Culbertson’s CDs she didn’t have. “Thank you, Thad.” The temperature seemed to be rising by the minute and had nothing to do with the oven being on. Celeste jumped up. “Oh, I need to check on the dessert. I’ll put this on when I come back.” She held up the CD.
He smoothly rose to his feet and eased it out of her hand. “If you show me where your player is, I’ll take care of it.”
Celeste directed him to the BOSE system on the kitchen counter, removed the cobbler from the oven and placed it on a trivet. The music started and the sounds of piano floated across the space and she recognized the song, “Together Tonight.” 
“I love this song.”
“It’s one of my favorites, as well.” Thad held out his arms. “Dance with me, Celeste.”
The softly spoken request made her pulse skip. “Here? In the middle of the kitchen?” she asked with a nervous chuckle. She knew being in his arms for any length of time could be dangerous because it would remind her of how much she missed having a man hold her.
“Absolutely. We have everything we need—you, me, good music. It’s perfect.” He closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her. “Perfect,” he repeated as he swayed slowly in time with the melody.
Celeste almost melted in a heap when he pulled her to his hard frame. Her arms raised up on their own volition and wound around his neck. In her three-inch heels, her head came just above his shoulder.
The man smelled so good, it took all she had not to bury her face in his neck. The light, crisp scent surrounded her like a warm summer day. Thad’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“It’s been a while since I’ve danced with a beautiful woman and I’m a little out of practice.”
Celeste stared up at him. Out of practice? The sexy way his body moved against hers said he was anything but. “If you call this out of practice, I’d like to know what you’re like when you’re up to speed.” She averted her gaze and closed her eyes. She hadn’t meant to say those words out loud.
Thad chuckled and the deep sound enveloped her. “I plan for you to be right here when I do.” 
His hand made a slow path down her back, igniting a blaze as he went and Celeste sucked in a sharp breath.
He leaned back a fraction and looked into her eyes. “You know what that means, right?”
She was almost afraid to ask. “What?”
A wicked grin curved his lips. “We’ll need to spend lots of time dancing to make sure I get fully up to speed. I don’t want to miss a step with you.”

Sheryl Lister is a multi-award winning author and has enjoyed reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She is a former pediatric occupational therapist with over twenty years of experience and resides in California. Sheryl is a wife, mother of three daughters and a son-in-love, and grandmother to two special little boys. When she’s not writing, Sheryl can be found on a date with her husband or in the kitchen creating appetizers.

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