It all started with a not-so-innocent sprig of mistletoe …
In retrospect, Rina Lowell should have known that Emma Montgomery’s mistletoe was a matchmaking ploy.
Rina is new to Ashford, to her newspaper job, to her whole life. And she can’t wait to write “Hot Stuff,” a series of columns that will definitively pin down what men really want.
When Emma maneuvers her under that pesky sprig of evergreen with Ashford’s prodigal son, Rina can’t resist the chance to plant one on that dark-haired, blue-eyed man’s sensual mouth. She never expected that kiss to go down like a shot of fine tequila. The man is perfect for her, or so she thinks.
When his adoptive father Joe falls ill, globetrotting news reporter Colin Lyons doesn’t hesitate to drop everything to fly home and take over Joe’s baby, the Ashford Times. Which, Colin discovers, is veering away from hard news to sexy, smutty fluff. Something he can’t let happen.
He’s only got until New Year’s to save this sinking ship, and to do that, he needs an ally. Rina, with her sparkling brown eyes and frumpy clothes that make his fingers itch to discover what’s underneath, is the perfect target to help him. Even if it means the job she loves will be cut in the end.
He never expected one kiss to take his simple plan to save the Times and tie it into impossible knots … and possibly cost him the woman he loves.
Release date: June 15, 2021
Publisher: CP Publishing
Print pages: 153
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Listen to a sample
Emma Montgomery stood by the window in the newspaper offices and tapped her manicured nails impatiently. Snowflakes told her Christmas was around the corner, and she adored the holiday, the cheer, the parties. She had no patience for imbeciles, a thought which reminded her to look back at the road. Still no sign of her driver. The man came and went on his own schedule. She wished she still had her license, but those days were gone. Thank goodness, she had other skills that hadn’t dwindled with age. Matchmaking was her specialty and obviously, Corinne, the present publisher of the Ashford Times, had recognized her talent.
Emma was now the columnist for the Ashford Times’s “Meet and Greet” column, published in print and online. And she couldn’t forget that this job had also saved her elegant behind from a nursing home. Her son, the Judge, had had it with her parties and antics, and if she didn’t get busy with something, he’d threatened to put her in an senior living home.
She shivered, blaming the cold seeping in from the window. But the Judge’s bellowing had done her a favor. She loved this job and the people here appreciated her talent and humor.
“Oh, Rina!” Emma called out to the only employee left in the office, the new girl named Rina Lowell.
Pretty name. Pretty woman. No makeup, but if Emma had that gorgeous skin, she wouldn’t bother with blush, either.
Rina glanced up from her desk where she was typing away on her computer. “Yes, Emma?”
“You know that expression, all work and no play makes Rina an old fuddy-duddy?”
“I don’t think you quite nailed it.” Rina laughed, a light sound that would be musical to a man’s ears. “Are you saying it’s time I went home for the night?”
“Goodness, no!” Emma waved her hand in the air. “I’m saying we should hit the town and celebrate the new lives this news outlet has given us.” Emma had been working for a few months and Rina had just recently started.
The young woman obviously wanted to make a good impression, arriving early and leaving late. But even the most dedicated worker had to have some fun.
“What did you have in mind?” Rina asked.
From the corner of her eye, Emma saw her car approach with her good-for-nothing driver, hired by her son, at the wheel. She might as well make use of his time and let him earn his money. “I thought we could go to O’Dooley’s and have a beer.”
Rina burst out laughing. “I’m sorry. I just can’t picture you drinking beer.”
“Phooey. You shouldn’t make fun of an old lady. Would you prefer I have a shot of tequila?”
“I’ll do one with you,” Rina offered, her eyes twinkling with the challenge.
“You’re on.” Emma stuck out her hand for a shake. “At least I don’t have to worry about drinking and driving. And if you come with me neither do you. Leave your car here. I’ll drop you off at your home tonight and pick you up on the way to work tomorrow.”
Rina pretended to give the idea some thought, but Emma caught the smile on her lips and knew the young woman had already decided.
Finally, she nodded. “Okay. I’m up for partying.” She slid her chair back so she had room and pushed herself in a circle, hanging her head back and spinning the chair around before letting loose a loud whoop.
“What was that for?” Emma asked.
“I just wanted to act as free as I feel.” Rina giggled. “I’m just so happy to have this job and so excited to start life over in Ashford.”
Emma took in the young woman’s pink flushed cheeks and wide smile. With her carefree attitude, she was the perfect candidate for Emma’s matchmaking skills. She rubbed her palms, warming them together. “So, we’re off to O’Dooley’s.”
“Do you think we’ll meet any men t?” Rina asked as she pulled her purse out of the drawer in her desk. “Because with my new ‘Hot Stuff’ blog, I could use some good interaction.”
Rina might claim her interest was in work, but Emma didn’t miss the sparkle in Rina’s gaze at the mention of meeting a member of the opposite sex. Oh, this was going to be fun, Emma thought. “With your cheekbones, you’d meet men anywhere.”
“Why, thank you, Emma.” Rina fluttered her mascara-free lashes with obvious exaggeration, then grabbed her winter coat from the back of her chair.
Emma wrapped her heavy shawl more securely around her shoulders. Together, they started for the door, but as they walked by the empty desk beside Rina’s, Emma paused. “Can you believe the news?” she asked.
Rina shook her head. “I came in late today and worked all afternoon.” She pointed to the earbuds she often wore when deep in thought. “What news?”
“The prodigal son has returned.” Emma ran her hand over the old, empty desk. One no one was allowed to take in case Colin Lyons should return.
“I don’t understand,” Rina said.
“You already know that Corinne took over the paper from her sick husband, Joe.”
The young woman nodded. “He’s in the hospital and Corinne’s worried.”
“Right. And so is Joe’s son. The man’s a wanderer. He never stays in one place, to his poor father’s chagrin.” Emma placed a hand over her heart, knowing how she loved having her children and grandchildren around her. Even New York, where her granddaughter, Grace, lived, was too far away from Emma’s home in Massachusetts. She couldn’t imagine having a world traveler in the family. “But he’s home now. And Corinne said he’ll be working here.” Emma pointed to the empty chair… a chair a few feet from Rina’s desk.
The possibilities flitted through Emma’s mind, giving her an adrenaline rush. Colin was a gorgeous man with sparkling blue eyes and the most amazing smile. But he’d never stick around for longer than he had to. Emma knew this because he’d been her grandson Logan’s college roommate. She loved Colin like he was her own grandchild but felt he was missing out on so much that life had to offer. A warm bed to come home to, a good woman…
A woman like Rina.
Emma pursed her lips in thought. This was definitely something to consider. “Let’s get going and I’ll tell you all about Colin,” Emma suggested.
“Sounds like a good plan.” Rina headed out first, holding the door open for Emma. “Is he cute?” Rina asked.
She raised an interested eyebrow. “Attached?”
Emma shook her head. “Completely free,” she said and hoped she wasn’t lying. She hadn’t heard much about Colin’s personal life lately. She’d have to ask Logan.
“What does hmm mean?” Emma asked as she pressed the elevator button. She needed to know that Rina was open to a short-term relationship before she hooked her up with Colin. She’d never intentionally set anyone up for heartache, and though Emma would work toward something more permanent with these two, she couldn’t be certain Colin would ever settle down.
Rina shrugged. “Just hmm.” She tipped her head to the side. “You know, with this new job and new life, I can’t help but think a little fun and excitement with a man ought to follow.” She wriggled her eyebrows playfully. “You know what I mean.”
Emma nodded. She certainly did. Fun meant something short-term. If Rina meant anything else, she would have chosen the word relationship. “You’re horny.”
“Emma!” Rina blushed a deep crimson. “You’re terrible.”
“I beg to differ. Holding back your thoughts is terrible. Speaking your mind is completely appropriate. Well, when among friends. And you are my friend.” She put a hand on Rina’s arm. “Something about you reminds me of my granddaughter, Grace. Or, at least, the way she was before I sent Ben to look after her. All this youthful exuberance and pent-up energy. All you need is the right man to let loose with.” Emma nodded, certain she was correct.
“You think I’m horny, huh?” Rina laughed. “Believe whatever you want, but you’re right about one thing. Letting loose is exactly what I have in mind.”
One Month Later
“Mark my words, Joe. Sex will lead to the end of the world as we know it.” Colin Lyons glanced at the hospital bed where his adoptive father and mentor lay sleeping.
Asleep, not dead. Thank God. After finding out Joe had had a stroke, Colin had hightailed it home from South America. He’d been covering a rigged election in a country where money laundering commingled with drug trafficking and guns blazed on the sunbaked streets. Now, one week later, Colin sat in the quiet hospital room watching the monitors prove to him Joe was alive. In the background, snow fell outside, a serene and peaceful reminder of winter. Of Christmas, of life, and hope.
Colin had taken leave from his job to come home and run Joe’s beloved Ashford Times until the older man recovered, only to discover that he’d been usurped. Prior to his stroke, Joe hadn’t been feeling well. Yet instead of calling on Colin, Joe had given his second wife, Corinne, power of attorney, which she’d used to almost run the newspaper—and Joe’s legacy—into the ground. Colin’s stomach cramped and twisted with guilt because he hadn’t been around when Joe needed him. Worse, Joe hadn’t thought his health was important enough to bother Colin with while he was on assignment.
He glanced toward the bed. A loud snoring sound reassured him that Joe wasn’t down for the count. The doctors promised a full recovery, and he’d already begun the slow road toward recuperation. But time was something neither Colin nor the Times had on their side.
“Do you know that Corinne’s turning the paper into a fluff-fest?” he asked, wondering if his words would penetrate Joe’s sleepy fog.
They didn’t. Joe’s mouth opened wider in slumber as the clock on the wall ticked away the minutes of the day. Colin didn’t mind. “There’s a new blog on the online site called ‘Meet and Greet: Matchmaking for the Aging but Still Sexually Inclined.’” Colin didn’t expect a reply and wasn’t surprised when he didn’t get one.
He not only blamed Corinne for the beginning of the paper’s change away from hard news but also for squandering the bank account, not keeping up with advertising, and her general lack of oversight. She’d brought the paper to the brink of bankruptcy, then foolishly thought she could fix things herself. Beginning by moving Emma Montgomery, a spunky senior citizen and his best friend’s grandmother, from a desk job to a columnist.
He leaned back in his chair. “Emma means well but she takes this matchmaking thing too far. It’s Christmas season, right? I had to stop her from hanging mistletoe and us getting slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit.”
Colin doubted Joe knew how bad the Times’s financial situation was, and telling him would only add stress and compromise his recovery. Besides, Colin already had things under temporary control.
He’d borrowed money from Ron Gold, an old friend of Joe’s who believed, like Colin, that the paper had to return to the hard news that had made it a success to begin with. Based on a gentleman’s handshake, Colin had promised to do everything in his power to shift things back.
Colin could handle working on Corinne to affect a change, but he needed time. Ron Gold understood. The paper’s biggest advertiser didn’t. They demanded Corinne’s promise in writing to turn things around—focus on the news and get rid of the—in their opinion—“risqué” columns that now graced the front page and the main page online.
Otherwise, they threatened to pull their new ads scheduled for the first of the year, and the Times would lose its largest source of funding. Then even Ron Gold’s loan wouldn’t save them. Colin had until January 1. No longer. And he had no idea how to accomplish his goal with a woman who wouldn’t listen to reason.
“Hello, Colin.” Corinne breezed into the room, bringing with her the scent of heavy perfume. “How is he?” She walked over to the bed and stroked Joe’s forehead.
Her gentle treatment of Joe didn’t mesh with Colin’s perception of her as being cold and self-absorbed. Then again, he hadn’t been home often enough in the last couple of years to know her well. “He’s sleeping.”
She nodded and shrugged her jacket off her shoulders, revealing a low-cut, designer suit. Like the direction she was taking the paper, Corinne, her exposed cleavage and outward demeanor, oozed sex.
He glanced at his watch. Nearly three. “Long day at the office?” he asked.
“No, a fabulous one.” Her eyes lit up as she spoke. “Wait until you read Rina’s first column,” she said of her newest addition to the Ashford Times’s staff.
Rina Lowell, a woman who Corinne had hired to write a weekly column with the heading “Hot Stuff.”
A woman who intrigued him on many levels.
She had a creamy complexion and didn’t bother with makeup to enhance her image. He was fascinated by a female comfortable in her own skin. Her hair was pulled into a conservative bun he was dying to undo and see just how far the strands fell down her back. Her bare, naked back if he had his way. She possessed a husky voice with a New York accent she’d refined and hid her assets beneath bulky sweaters and baggy pants.
He had no idea what lay under the packaging but damned if he didn’t want to find out. Hell, his fingers itched to strip off the thick layers and explore, inch by tantalizing inch.
Even with her eyes hidden by a pair of black-rimmed glasses, it was obvious that she thought and felt deeply. Rina got to him in a visceral sort of way and incited his journalistic blood, making him wonder what secrets she hid behind her intelligent brown eyes.
“Do you want a preview of what Rina has to say?” Corinne asked, breaking into his thoughts.
“Go ahead. I’m sure it’ll be the highlight of my day.”
“It’s simply sexy,” she replied, either missing or ignoring his sarcasm.
Her excitement over her new employee was almost tangible, reminding him of why he needed to steer clear of Rina Lowell. She sided with the opposition and contributed to the fluff Corinne still seemed to think would sell papers.
That alone put Rina off-limits. “What’s simply sexy?” he forced himself to ask. “Rina’s column?”
“No, the title of her series of articles is Simply Sexy.” Corinne shook her hair, deliberately letting her blond mane flow over her shoulders. “Simply fabulous if you ask me. She’s going to bring in a whole new set of readers.” She still sounded so certain despite her track record of mistakes in the past few months.
He shook his head, amazed reality hadn’t set in. She hadn’t conceded defeat, not even when forced to accept Colin’s check to keep the paper afloat for an extended period of time.
“Corinne, people subscribe for one reason. To read the news.” He figured he’d try one more time to make his point.
“The news is everywhere. Television, radio, even on people’s computer screens. They can buy the Boston Globe for news. I want to give them something different.” She waved her hand for emphasis, and her gold bracelets clinked together.
Surprisingly, Joe didn’t react. It was a noise he must be used to hearing in his sleep.
“I admit I started off slow and on the wrong foot, but with Rina and Emma on board, I’m getting there. People may be resistant to change, but that doesn’t mean I can’t win them over,” Corinne insisted.
Colin groaned, resigned to the inevitable. She wasn’t ready to cave in yet. But no matter how hard Corinne tried, sex wouldn’t sell newspapers.
It wasn’t that Colin had anything against sex. Hell, he was a man, wasn’t he? But sex had its time and place. And it had been sadly lacking in his life, he silently admitted. The dry spell had gone on too long. Still, he wasn’t about to embark on a meaningless fling. Casual sex was neither smart nor satisfying, and travel didn’t lend itself toward establishing long-term relationships.
Apparently, neither did sticking around. His marriage had bottomed out fast because his wife didn’t know the meaning of fidelity. She’d cheated on Colin. Twice. Two different men, Lord knew how many times with each. Colin had left town soon after the discovery. Sick of the reminder of past failure, he’d booked a flight to Europe, trading in a local TV anchor job for one abroad.
“I’m going to make sure Joe’s doctor knows to stop by and talk to me before he leaves the hospital tonight,” Corinne said as she walked toward the door.
“That’s fine. I’ll stick around until you get back.” He wanted the older man to know he had people by his side and a family to return to when he walked out of the hospital even if Colin wasn’t sure Joe knew that anyone was in the room.
Corinne disappeared out the door just as Joe’s snoring became obscene. Colin grinned, the sound calming him in ways only his heart understood. Joe and his first wife, Nell, had taken Colin in when his parents died. At twelve, he’d been a pain-in-the-ass kid who thought he knew best and resented the world because his parents were gone. But Joe and Nell understood. They gave him time, space, and a home in which to adjust. Later on, they’d adopted him, even knowing he couldn’t bring himself to call anyone but his birth parents Mom and Dad. They’d just wanted him to feel loved and know he had family. The same thing Colin wanted for Joe now. Which was why he forced himself to get along with Corinne even if he wanted to throttle her.
Joe’s snoring continued and Colin laughed. When Joe wasn’t at work, he’d always spent a great deal of time snoring in his old recliner chair. A chair Corinne had dragged to the street corner the day she’d said, “I do.” Colin didn’t know what possessed Joe to marry a woman the complete opposite of Nell. But he had.
“I’m back.” Corinne carried two soda cans in her hand. “I brought you a cola.”
Again, Colin was struck by the incongruity of her actions. “Thanks,” he muttered. Obviously, Joe had seen something in her, which was another reason Colin wanted to give her a chance.
Just not where Joe’s beloved paper was concerned.
“When you get back to the office, take a look at Rina’s column. I promise you’ll be impressed,” Corinne said, taking his place in the chair by Joe’s bed.
Colin forced a nod. But at the reminder of what he had waiting for him, he snorted in disgust. Matchmaking ads, self-help articles, and a series on what men want? He was beginning to doubt either Corinne, Rina Lowell, or any other woman had a clue.
He let himself out of the hospital room and leaned against the back wall next to a utility cart. Corinne had already told him she didn’t believe their advertiser would pull their new ads, not once they saw how readers reacted to Rina’s first column and the other assorted new things she had planned. Reality wasn’t a part of Corinne’s thinking, and Colin’s frustration flew as fast and furious as his thoughts.
Corinne was so caught up in her newest scheme she didn’t care or understand that her livelihood and Joe’s legacy were at stake. How the hell could he reach her? She was so damn excited about Rina’s new series she wouldn’t listen to reason.
He ran a hand through his hair. And the solution dawned.
Rina. Corinne’s newest flavor of the week. An employee she obviously trusted. Someone with whom he’d heard Corinne shared a family connection. A bond. Rina Lowell might be the only person who could make Corinne see the error of her ways. If Colin could get Rina on his side.
He’d have to spend time with her in order to subtly sway her to his way of thinking. Considering she’d piqued his interest from day one, being with Rina would be no hardship. But gaining her trust under false pretenses didn’t sit well with him, and guilt gnawed at his insides. He’d be pursuing friendship, all the while knowing he was plotting a return to hard news at the expense of her job.
He attempted to assuage his guilt with the facts. Rina would be out of a job whether Corinne ran the paper into the ground or Colin got things back on track. But if he got to know her first, if she believed he wanted what was best for all involved, maybe she’d be willing to help him talk Corinne into accepting the best of all possibilities. They could save the paper, and in return, he could promise Rina a good recommendation for another, more appropriate job.
He groaned, still feeling like a shit for considering the plan. But feelings didn’t change the fact that the Times was a newspaper, not a woman’s magazine, something the advertisers—and now Colin’s lender—understood. The money he’d contributed would only hold out for so long. They needed positive cash flow again soon.
A smart man would hop on the next plane back to South America. But Colin couldn’t. Not yet. Financial debt and gentleman’s agreement aside, Colin had more compelling reasons to stay. He hadn’t been here when Joe first got sick, and Colin lived with that knowledge every damn day. He loved, respected, and owed the man. Joe had given him a shot in life, and Colin wouldn’t betray him now.
Colin wouldn’t allow anyone to destroy the paper Joe had built. He’d do anything he had to for the older man. Even if it meant using Rina Lowell.
* * *
Rina watched with amusement as the head of the maintenance crew tried to hang mistletoe according to Emma Montgomery’s direction. The older woman had already hung sprigs in unsuspecting places around the Ashford Times’s offices and had taken to adding a bit more each day. Of course, she did her decorating after five, when the core staff had gone home for the day.
“A little more to the left. No, to the right. Left. No, right.” From her seat, Emma tried to choreograph everything and everyone in her sphere of influence, a mean feat for an eighty-year-old woman. At least, Rina thought she was eighty. Emma never discussed her actual age.
“Geez, lady, make up your mind.” The man’s weight tipped the ladder precariously with each stretch of his arm in a different direction. “I haven’t got all night.”
Emma sniffed. “That’s the problem with today’s generation. Everyone’s in such a rush. What do you think, Rina? Come here and check it out from my perspective.”
Knowing Emma wouldn’t be satisfied unless she complied, Rina shut down her computer for the night and joined the older woman. She glanced upward at the ceiling. “Looks good to me. Want to test it out? Emma’s willing,” Rina jokingly told the maintenance man.
He glared, obviously not enjoying his role in holiday merrymaking.
Emma laughed. “You need holiday spirit,” she informed the man, then squinted upward once more. She nodded at last. “That’s it then. Leave the mistletoe there.”
Directly over Colin Lyons’s chair. Despite Corinne’s warning, his return had shocked the staff. Those who knew Colin had expected his long absences to continue. Instead, as soon as he’d arrived home, he’d come on board at the paper. Corinne had agreed to let him take over the small news department, admitting that wasn’t her forte. But even she didn’t think he’d stay. According to office gossip, he never did.
Rina glanced at the greenery over his seat and grinned. “You are one wicked woman, Emma.”
She rubbed her hands together with glee. “Tell me you wouldn’t love to get that man underneath the mistletoe.”
Of course, she would. But Rina wouldn’t be admitting anything to Emma. No way would she give the queen of the “Meet and Greet” column a cause to focus on. She could handle her own affairs, thank you very much. Because if Emma discovered that Rina was attracted to Colin—incredibly attracted, in fact—she’d pull out all the stops to get them together. And the timing was all wrong for Rina to find herself on the receiving end of Emma’s renowned matchmaking skills.
With her series coming up, she had put together a plan to decipher what the opposite sex wanted. She couldn’t have Emma meddling in her social life. Not now.
Even if Colin did light megawatts of electricity inside her every time he walked into the room. Those arresting blue eyes, that thick black hair, his distinctive masculine scent all set off heavy-duty sparks of desire. Instant sexual attraction, she thought. And female intuition, plus the fact that she’d often caught him staring, told her he felt the chemistry between them, too.
Emma narrowed her gaze. “Silence is an answer in itself.” She patted Rina’s arm, rose, and headed slowly back to her own desk.
“Come on, Emma. Pick on someone your own age,” Rina said.
The older woman laughed. “You’re a challenge, Rina. I thrive on challenges and I live to matchmake. What exactly do you live for, dear?”
“Until lately, not much,” she admitted. After her husband’s death, guilt had consumed her. He’d been rushing home from a business trip in the pouring rain, coming to be with her instead of sensibly spending the night at a hotel.
For a long while after, Rina hadn’t thought life had much to offer. But after some soul searching, she sold the New York City penthouse she and her husband had shared and decided it was time to live again. Financially secure and free to do whatever she wanted, Rina had had no desire to return to her job as a legal secretary. It had been a decent means of earning a living, but it didn’t satisfy her.
She’d asked herself what would, looking inside herself for answers. She’d always been curious about human nature, drawn to people and relationships. Like Emma, she’d even indulged in matchmaking with her brother, Jake, and his wife, Brianne. She’d decided to use her people skills and her childhood habit of writing and documenting ideas and put them to good use.
And now, she had her column. “But my outlook is fresh and new since moving to Ashford,” she said, meaning every word.
Emma nodded. “Good thing you packed up and moved on.” She studied Rina with eyes full of wisdom.
“Amen, sister.” Rina grinned and hit Emma’s hand in a high five, laughing at the older woman’s spunk.
Rina had no doubt Emma had seen a lot in the decades she’d lived, and she’d obviously learned how to get the most out of every person she met and opportunity she saw, a philosophy Rina had adopted, too, from the minute she’d decided to sell the penthouse and move on. So what if she’d had to pull a few strings to get this job?
Corinne’s father lived in the same retirement community as Rina’s parents. Of course, Corinne’s father was much older than Rina’s parents, but in Florida, if a man had teeth and the ability to walk upright, golfing and bridge buddies formed. When Rina learned that Corinne had taken over her husband’s newspaper, she picked up the phone, the two women hit it off, and Rina had herself a job. One she wouldn’t hold on to if she wasn’t successful.
But she would be.
“Ah. More silence. You’re thinking. That’s okay. As long as you speak wisely to yourself, that’s what counts.” Emma broke into Rina’s musings. “But if you should want to share your thoughts, I’d be more than happy to listen.”
“You’re so nosy.” Rina glanced at Emma with all the warmth she felt toward her. “Not to mention perceptive.”
“Live as long as I have and you’d better have learned something,” Emma replied with a wink. “Now, I want to hear more about your upcoming series. Did I mention that I admire your gumption?”
“Not lately,” Rina said wryly.
Ignoring the writing implement tucked behind her ear, Emma picked up a pencil and tapped the eraser against the desk. “Catching a man is so much more complicated today than in my youth. Instead of pinching cheeks for color, you swipe on blush, and in place of tissues, implants are all the rage now.” She paused for an obvious inspection of Rina’s attributes.
Rina shook her head. The older woman was unbelievable.
“What do men want? Pfft,” Emma said. “You’ll never know because they’ll never tell.” She waved a regal hand in the air, dismissing the notion out of hand.
“I don’t want them to tell me, I plan to use my powers of observation to figure it out. Methodically.” Rina pulled out her phone and glanced at the list she’d compiled in her Notes. “And it’s not just appearance. It’s also in how a woman acts, walks, and talks.” She swiveled her hips for effect.
“More movement,” Emma suggested.
Rina sashayed her waist and ended with a rendition of Britney Spears that would do any twenty-year-old proud. From across the room, one of the remaining layout editors who was just putting on his jacket applauded.
Rina grinned and bowed. “You see? Attitude makes a difference,” she said with a nod. “The question is what’s more important? Attitude or intellect? Wouldn’t a smart man want a woman with whom he can carry on a breakfast conversation?” she asked Emma.
“No. Men want arm candy.”
Rina cocked her head to the side. “Come on. They can’t all be that shallow a species.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Get with the program, Rina. All men want a woman they’re proud to display on their arm. It’s the male ego, dear.”
“That’s true.” Much as she hated to admit it. Take her deceased husband. After their marriage, he’d ostensibly fired her as his legal secretary, giving her a life of luxury most women would love. In exchange, he’d wanted a stay-at-home wife, one who was comfortable entertaining guests and who dressed well so he was proud to have her by his side. “You do have a point.”
“And trust me,” Emma said. “The reason you’re still flying solo after being in this town for three months is because you’re doing nothing to enhance your appearance.”
Rina put a hand to her unflattering bun and grinned. “I know.”
“Forgive me, but I simply don’t understand.” Emma shook her head, her look of confusion obvious. “I can see your potential. I’ve offered to have my limo driver take us to Bloomingdale’s for a clothing makeover, offered to have my stylist come do your hair. You refuse. Care to tell me why?”
“Corinne hired me to bring life to the paper with my series idea. I can only do that by giving my readers personal experience. So, I started by establishing myself in town as a quiet, inconspicuous woman.”
Emma pursed her lips. “Go on.”
“I’ve been researching from day one here. Recording men’s reactions to this Rina.” There hadn’t been much attention paid to the woman who wore baggy clothes and no makeup, one who possessed a mild-mannered personality. Although Colin’s heated gaze more than made up for the other men’s lapses. “So, now I’m going to alter my appearance and actions and see what kind of changes men react to. So I can impart firsthand wisdom to my readers.”
“You’re going to strut your stuff.” Emma grinned. “I like that.”
“Can I help it if I’ve got my finger on the pulse of male-female relationships? Why, just look at Logan and Cat,” she said, referring to her wealthy grandson and his beloved wife.
Rina knew Emma credited herself with that pairing.
“Then there’s Grace and Ben. If only they didn’t live in New York,” Emma said wistfully. “You’ll meet Logan and Cat at the Christmas party Saturday night, but you’ll have to look up Grace next time you return to New York for a visit.”
The older woman also took responsibility for her granddaughter Grace’s marriage to the detective Emma had hired to look out for her in New York City. Rina suspected that both of her grandchildren would have succeeded without their grandmother’s help, though Rina had to admit they wouldn’t have met without Emma’s meddling.
“So, we’re talking a random sampling of men?” Emma asked.
Rina nodded. “Anyone and everyone, including the deliveryman. And the pizza guy is particularly cute.” Not that he’d been attracted to Rina and her plain, unflirtatious side, but the time had come to change her attitude. Because not only was this series her journalistic debut, but it also marked her return to the social scene.
She was ready to begin flirting again, testing her wiles on the opposite sex. The best part was that she’d been able to use her daily life as research since she met men at the coffee shop next door and at the bar favored by her downstairs neighbor, Francesca—Frankie, for short. They both rented apartments in a Cape house Rina had heard about from Corinne. One look and Rina had fallen in love with the house and made friends with Frankie, whose favorite pastime was discussing dating in Boston. They shared information, and Rina’s ideas flourished. She’d already outlined her series and written most of the first week’s draft.
With work put aside, she could focus on her private life. And Emma had been right on when she’d called Rina horny. She hadn’t been with a man in years, and she was finally open to the concept of monogamous sex. She wasn’t ready for a relationship, but a satisfying fling appealed to her new independent streak and resolve to live life on her own terms.
“Any ideas who should be your first guinea pig?” Emma asked, obviously referring to Rina’s column.
Rina, on the other hand, contemplated what kind of man she’d like in her bed. “A dark-haired, blue-eyed Mr. Perfect,” she said dreamily. An attentive man who catered to her every need and desire.
“Afternoon, ladies.” As if she’d conjured him, dark-haired, blue-eyed Colin Lyons appeared near where Rina stood. She hadn’t noticed him come in, but she was very aware of him now.
She inhaled and smelled the musky scent of his cologne and her stomach curled with delicious warmth. She told herself it had to be the thought of sex that had her hot and bothered, but she knew she lied. Just looking at Colin elicited a definite chemical reaction inside her body, obviously short-circuiting her brain.
“Hello, Colin. I take it you were at the hospital again?” Emma asked, knowing Colin had visited Joe every afternoon since his arrival the day of the publisher’s stroke.
“How is our dear Joseph?” Emma asked.
“Resting more comfortably today.”
“That’s wonderful. I know Corinne’s worried about him,” Rina added, joining the conversation and trying to act polite, not like the oversexed female he inspired her to be.
“Corinne’s got a lot to be worried about,” he muttered, then turned to Rina. “But I appreciate you asking. I’ll be sure to tell Joe you care,” he said, his voice warm.
As usual, his attention set off a tingling reaction. “Emma asked about Joe first,” she reminded him, trying to deflect attention from herself. Surely, Joe would rather hear about Emma’s concern than an employee he hadn’t even met.
“She did. But so did you, and as Joe’s family, I appreciate it.” A smile tilted Colin’s lips into a lopsided grin, and Rina forgot to breathe.
A former local newscaster, he had the chiseled features television adored, dimples, and a gleaming white smile made more charming by the slight overlap of his two front teeth. Razor stubble darkened his cheeks, and that hint of musky aftershave enhanced his potent allure. Her gaze traveled downward. Even his fisherman sweater and worn jeans added to his rugged appeal.
“See something you like?” he asked, arms folded across his broad chest.
“Everything,” she said, immediately biting her tongue, but it was too late. The word had escaped.
Caught, she flushed and quickly transferred her gaze to Emma. Rina tried to look innocent. She really did. But when Emma nodded Colin’s way and murmured, “I agree, he’s hot, but put your tongue back in your mouth,” the slight flush in Rina’s cheeks started to burn.
“You’ll have to forgive Rina. She’s off balance,” Emma said to Colin. “And I can’t really blame her, considering.” She propped an elbow on her desk.
“Considering what?” Colin spoke to Emma, but his blue-eyed gaze never left Rina’s. He hadn’t stopped staring since her blunt admission.
Emma sighed. “Young people. You never take time to look around you and appreciate the scenery.”
Oh, if Emma only knew how wrong she was, Rina thought wryly, realizing Colin’s eyes had small laugh lines surrounding them, a sexy attribute that added character to an already amazing face.
“Look up, children. You’re both standing under mistletoe,” Emma said with glee. With a huge smile on her face, Emma pointed up.
Rina groaned, and Colin, one eyebrow raised, followed Emma’s lead to look at the ceiling. Sure enough, the green sprig hadn’t moved, changed, or fallen to the floor. And neither had Rina since the time Emma had called her over to Colin’s desk.
She’d been had. A notion the older woman verified when she not so subtly picked up her purse.
“Well, Colin?” Emma asked. “Aren’t you going to follow tradition?”
Rina knew from experience life rarely doled out second chances. Standing under the mistletoe with Colin was a one-time opportunity. She’d been doing a lot of talk about living a new life and starting over. True, she was in the office but she didn’t feel there was any pressure on either side.
She glanced up at the mistletoe that teased her and tempted her to follow her most erotic impulses. Emma had obviously caught the sexual undercurrents that had been running between Rina and Colin since day one.
No sense trying to hide them now.
“I wonder,” she whispered softly, for Colin’s ears only. Taking advantage of the new, liberated Rina, she leaned forward, closer to Colin and those super-sexy lips. “Do you have the nerve?”
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