I hear that it’s always a good idea to put out a little sample of a soon-to-be-published book. Since By Design is coming out pretty soon, like May 16 (have I mentioned that lately?), now might be the perfect time to post an excerpt.
So, without further ado, here’s Chapter 3. Drop a comment and let me know if it gives you a hankering to read the whole thing. (You don’t have to tell me if it has the opposite effect. 😉 ) If you like it, mark it “to read” on Goodreads and say hey on Facebook (Jayne Denker Author) or Twitter (@JDenkerAuthor).
Emmie slouched across her desk at work, the heel of her hand mashed into her cheek to keep her head propped up. Her night on the sofa hadn’t been very restful. At all. Of course, she could have reclaimed her bed. She could have moved Kyle if she’d tried hard enough. She could have made him sleep on the couch. She even could have woken him up and sent him home, no matter what the time of night. But she hadn’t. Sometimes she wondered if she even knew how to make demands on other people. Maybe she could ask Trish to give her a few lessons in assertiveness.
Right now, however, her only goal was to stay awake without the assistance of caffeine. Wilma never let her make a pot of coffee unless there were clients in the office, and though he was out at the moment, she didn’t even think of disobeying. The most daring thing she could do was to allow herself to slouch like this—Wilma would have murdered her on the spot if he saw her looking so unprofessional. He was worse than a headmistress at a finishing school. Sit up straight, don’t chew your nails, smooth your hair out, be more polite, speak proper English, act like an adult . . .
Emmie’s eyelids drooped. She rolled her shoulders and tipped her head to the left, then to the right to keep herself awake. She wished Wilma didn’t insist on having classical music playing in the office—it wasn’t helping. She had to do something, get herself moving. Was there any pressing work to be done? Nothing that couldn’t wait, said her drowsy brain. Maybe if she just shut her eyes for a moment . . . just one teeny-tiny moment . . .
The clanging noise reverberated in Emmie’s head like a fire alarm. She lurched up and glanced around wildly. Had she actually let her head rest on the desktop, even for a split second? Then she realized the fire alarm hadn’t gone off—it was just the antique brass bell over the door of the shop, and it was far quieter than it had seemed through the haze of her impromptu nap. When Emmie first brought Wilma the bell, which she had found at a flea market one weekend, he had dismissed it as tacky, but she had convinced her boss that customers would like being greeted by its quaint, friendly jingle instead of an electronic sensor’s beep. Now, however, she hated the thing; she never thought it could scare her half to death like that.
She tried to calm her thumping heart as she rubbed her blurry eyes. Yes, someone had come in and was standing by the door. But there was no screaming. That meant it wasn’t Wilma. A man, but taller than Wilma. And definitely quieter, she noted.
“Can—can I help you?” she stammered.
“Er, I hope so, yes,” the man said, in a melodious baritone that woke Emmie up completely. She’d never had her nerve endings put on high alert by a mere voice before (unless she counted the negative physical reaction she had whenever Wilma spoke), but she felt a distinct tingling now. “I’m looking for . . . John, is it?”
The man came closer to her desk; Emmie did her best to smile. She suddenly realized the side of her face was wet, near the corner of her mouth. What . . .? Drool? Dear God. She’d have preferred it if someone had shot her and the dampness was blood instead. Blood was dramatic; drool was just pathetic. Emmie tried to subtly wipe it away, and she heard a faint tick as something landed on the desk. Her earring? She looked down. A paper clip. A paper clip had been stuck to her face. Good grief!
The man was now standing directly opposite her, his hands in the pockets of his relaxed, low-slung jeans, his pose bunching up the bottom of the tweed blazer he wore over an open-necked white cotton shirt. Emmie let her gaze travel upward. She had a bad feeling this person before her was going to be extremely good-looking. She felt her face get a head start on the inevitable blush.
Oh, just great, she thought as she tried to unobtrusively rub the spot on her cheek where there might have been a paper clip imprint. He was definitely hot. But not unrealistic, male-model-type hot. No, this guy’s look was even better. He was . . . realistically hot. Nice build—solid, she noted, but not massive—nice shoulders, friendly face. Black hair, a tad longish, gracefully going to gray at the temples and brow . . . and then her gaze locked onto the man’s blue eyes, and she found herself unable to look away. She had never seen such blue eyes in her life. Not the shocking iciness of light blue eyes—no, his were a deep, rich shade with a depth she could easily fall into. He smiled politely, and the blue eyes were suddenly caressed by the most charming crow’s-feet Emmie had ever seen.
Silence. Emmie stared, and the man’s smile became a bit strained as he tried to sustain it for too long. More silence. Now it was getting stupid, Emmie realized. She fought to find her voice, but failed. Finally the man spoke again.
“John . . . Wilman?” he prompted gently. “This is his place of business?”
“John . . .” Emmie finally snapped out of it at the sound of her boss’s name. “Yes! John! Wilman! Yes! Of course! You’re in the right place!”
She wished with all her heart she could stop bellowing enthusiastically like a game show host. Trying to show a little more class, she stood up and smoothed out her skirt. “Welcome to Wilman Designs. How can I help you?”
Realistic Hottie’s polite smile faded and he gazed at her blankly. “I’m looking for John Wilman,” he reminded her.
“Right! You said. John. That’s my boss!” she said in a singsong voice that horrified her. Where did that come from? She had lost control of herself completely. “Uh . . .” Emmie rifled through the papers on her desk as if she could find Wilma there, then leaned toward her computer, frantically jiggling the mouse to make the screen saver disappear. Staring at the computer gave her the opportunity to get her head straight. She tucked her hair behind one ear and brought up Wilma’s calendar. “He’s, uh, out right now . . . obviously. He should be back in . . . about an hour.”
More silence. Emmie froze, staring at the calendar, even though it wasn’t going to change and wasn’t going to summon Wilma through the door to end this excruciating awkwardness. The density of the silence pressed on her. She forced herself to look at the man again. To her surprise, he was smiling again, but differently this time. He was looking downright amused, in fact, his blue eyes twinkling and a grin playing around the corners of his perfect lips. It was such an intimate look that she felt a blush rising in her cheeks again. What was he grinning at? Did she have more office supplies attached to her face? She imagined herself bristling with thumbtacks and plastic Post-it arrows that read “Sign Here,” and she resisted the urge to run her hands over her face, hair, and neck to brush them off.
She needed to get a grip. “Would you care to wait?” Emmie gestured toward the ornate furniture by the door—a bit spokesmodel-y, but refined, she hoped. “I can get you some coffee or tea or whatever.” Okay, now a random teenager had taken control of her speech. One step forward, two steps back, apparently.
“No, thank you,” he demurred, and Emmie felt her stomach drop with a ridiculously overblown feeling of disappointment. “I’ll stop by another time.”
Was it her imagination, or did Realistic Hottie give her the once-over before his polite, neutral smile took over and he started to walk toward the door?
Emmie found herself desperately trying to regroup to keep him there. “Uh . . . did you want to make an appointment?” He opened the door. “Leave a message, a business card . . . ?” He shut the door behind him. “Marry me?”
And he was gone.