Perfect Summertime Romance
Ambitious workaholic Jane MacInnee is about to meet her match in the slow, confident hands of the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks she's never been able to forget.
Jane MacInnee broke free of her backwoods town and now she's aimed at the stratosphere with her newest, richest client.
Nothing's going to stop her, not even the appearance of sexy, bad boy Finn Dante, who used to roam her town and make girls' underwear melt with a smile.
The guy her father locked up every weekend.
The only man who's ever been able to make her lose her cool.
Former Ranger and pawn shop owner Finn Dante zeroes in on Jane the moment he sees her again, eleven years after they shared a explosive riverside kiss.
He knows he doesn't need to chase her down.
He just needs to show her what she's made up. Unwind her, slow and hot. Because he's been waiting for Janey Mac to come undone his whole life.
But letting go with Finn might just mean letting go of a lot of things, including Janey's perfectly-planned future.
All her taut control is about to be tested when her wealthy client makes it clear her low-class boyfriend is standing in the way of the ride to success he's ready to give her.
Will Janey hold onto her control and her future?
Or to the only man who's ever made her feel loved?
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In twenty-nine years of living, I’d only let myself get spun up three times.
I almost always regretted it.
Generally, it took a lot to rattle me. Bright smile, white-knuckled control, that was my way. It was a pretty good way. Simple too. Just hang on tight, smile like a crazy person, and never let go. It got me places, and I probably shouldn’t have got more than ten miles past my county’s swampy line.
I stayed away from things like alcohol or emotions; neither ever went well for me. And anyhow, it’s not what was expected from a daughter of the cream of Dodge Run society. Not that that cream rose awfully high, but still...
Cheerleading, charitable organizations, smiling when hurricanes blew through town, anything to uplift the spirits of Dodge Run, that’s all it took. Every moment of your waking life. A few dreaming ones as well. It was tough maintaining a position atop a social pile in a swamp, but we MacInnees were strong that way.
Some might say being at the top of the social pile in Dodge Run wasn’t saying a whole lot. I’d have to agree. But I didn’t have anything else to go on, so I went on that. It was sort of like driving on fumes.
Today, though, I was reminded, forcefully, of the few times I had got spun up, when I’d felt the tight weave of my self-control loosening.
The list began and ended with Finn Dante. He was like dangerous bookends to my errors in judgment.
As a kid, I’d stayed away from him because I had a brain in my head and a reputation to uphold. There were warnings about the Dante boys, big bad warnings.
“Nothing but trouble, those Dante boys,” Mother told me when I was eleven. “You stay away.”
“I will,” I’d promised, my skin prickling.
“They do things to women, the Dante men,” my friend Emily had said. Calling the teenage offspring of local pawnshop owner Earl Dante “men” was a bit of a stretch, but at thirteen, Emily had been wiser in the ways of men than I am to this day, so I went with it.
“Things?” I’d whispered back, even though Emily hadn’t been whispering. “What kind of things?”
Emily smiled. “Bad things. Bad boy things.”
My whole body had lit up. It scared me half to death. If the Dante boys could do that to a girl simply by being mentioned in a conversation, well… I’d yanked down my shirt and stayed away.
Far, far away.
Until fate threw us together at Emily’s fourteenth birthday party. A disco ball spun overhead, and one by one each boy was blindfolded, the girls kissed him on the cheek, and he had to guess who it was.
So when the youngest Dante boy, fourteen-year-old Finn, was coaxed down into the chair, when the black bandanna went around his blue eyes, when my body started sparking (What kind of bad things?), I darted forward before the others and kissed him not on his cheek but square on the mouth, ducking away before he could grab hold of my wrist, but not before I felt the tip of his tongue press against my lips.
The room exploded in laughter as I tripped backward, melting into the circle of kids, my heart pounding, my head spinning. He’d slid off the bandanna and looked around, his blue eyes settling on me, a small smile curving up his mouth. Then he’d said, “Ruthie,” dead wrong about which crazy girl had kissed him on the lips.
Except he wasn’t wrong. The room was laughing, the girls were making him put the bandanna back on, but he never looked away from me.
He knew exactly who’d kissed him.
And he’d tried to kiss me back.
My belly slid on a roller coaster. My whole body was fluttery, chilled, and wobbling. The moment his eyes were covered again, I’d bolted from that room and Emily’s house and vowed never to look at him again.
I didn’t either.
The second time I lost my head was when I drank two beers in fast succession and waxed my bikini line with Emily, my lifelong and sexually unrepressed friend, during our last week of high school.
The third (and most terrifying) time was when I kissed Finn again, down by the river on graduation night.
I guess I never forgot that disco ball.
My only excuse is that I was still spun up from the memory of hot wax near my hoo-hah and the furious despair of getting a late rejection letter from a college that had been in my last-ditch, D-list pile. I’d never thought I was smart and my test scores confirmed it, but I wasn’t dumb either: this meant I’d be spending the rest of my life in Dodge.
I’d never been as angry as I was that moment. As scared. I felt trompled on. It wasn’t a matter of social status; it was a matter of survival.
It was a matter of failure.
Even Sue Ellen Minor and her big, perky breasts had got into college.
I hollered. Loud.
Then I flung myself into the annual graduation celebration with a sort of furious, vengeful cheer. I was all risky and fired up. I stumbled, sort of literally and mostly accidentally, into dangerous Finn Dante down by the banks of the smoky green river that hosted a couple of alligators and a whole lot of premarital sex.
Finn was trouble. One year older, ten years more experienced, he was more trouble now than he’d been at fourteen. Only I had no idea how much until he kissed me.
Or…I kissed him.
We almost got caught. A bunch of kids stumbled down to the riverbank where Finn and I were climbing up and down each other’s bodies, and I froze with fear. The college plan was dead and gone, but if I was seen with a Dante boy, kissing a Dante boy, getting felt up by a Dante boy, the contingency plan of life here in Dodge would be ruined as well.
Even Sue Ellen Minor didn’t lift her skirts for a Dante boy.
My mother would eat me alive.
At the first sound of others, Finn let me go and I backed up into the shadows of a black willow tree, staring at him. He stared back. I could see it in his glinting, amused eye: he was thinking of outing me to the others who were now crowding around him. Such mischief wasn’t beyond him. Dante boys were known for doing things just for the fun of it. Bad, fun things.
In the end, though, he just moved away, drawing thirty-eight female seniors like moths after him, and a good portion of the males too.
But despite the way he’d toyed with my future, I held a fondness for him. Because in our brief—extremely brief—conversation before I went up on my toes and kissed his mouth, he made me realize that staying stuck in Dodge was a choice.
“It’s just a town, Janey Mac,” he’d said, all lazy and half smiling in the moonlight. “There’s lots of towns. If you don’t like this one, pick another. If you don’t like the way those colleges turned you down, get a back-up plan. If you don’t like cheerleading, do something else.” His gaze dragged down my body like a stick through embers, and I started sparking. “There’s not much need for cheerleaders anymore, now that school’s over.”
He didn’t know so much. There’s always a need for cheerleaders.
Still, this was an exciting thought. I felt hot and fluttery, and attributed it entirely to the new-sprung hope of a Backup Plan, and not at all to the sensual heat of Finn Dante.
Without thinking, I pushed up on my toes and kissed him. In thanks. In grateful appreciation. Nothing else.
I might have started that kiss, but Finn most definitely finished it. Finished me off like a glass of wine, and I went down hot, wet and willing. We used every tool at our disposal, mouths, tongues, hands, zippers. God knows how far it’d have gone if we weren’t interrupted by that group of juniors and seniors tripping down to the tree-lined riverbank that divided our town in two—the have-nots and the wanna-be’s.
I was the wanna-be’s. Finn was the have-nots. But corny as it sounds, that night I thought Finn Dante had it all.
I’m not sure I ever recovered from that kiss. I suspected things about myself after it. Things about what I might be capable of. Things that scared me. Things that felt turned off, right in the middle, like a light switch flipped off.
Like a genie stuffed back into a bottle.
That was the real danger of Finn’s kiss.
I never dated another bad boy. I did, though, get out of Dodge. My mother almost died at the notion of a back-up plan that involved community college, and I almost died at the realization I’d be living with my loving, perfectly coiffed, slightly maniacal mother and totalitarian father until…when? I got married? The thought chilled. Got a job? What kind of job here in Dodge?
Then I recalled my dark, riverside conversation with the have-not Dante boy, the only one who’d ever told me, “Go for it,” and notwithstanding that he meant to stick my hand down his pants, I decided he was right. There had to be another way for a girl who could manage other people’s lives so well and smile through hurricanes.
Turned out there was. If I was willing to work hard.
I found a new town and started my own business, and intended to become the best damned event planner in the entire San Francisco Bay Area, maybe the world. For the moment, though, I was the best damned event planner north of Alameda, south of Vallejo, elbowing my way into Piedmont. But I wasn’t stopping there.
Which is why I was now stuck in traffic in a rental car on a mountain pass near Tahoe, sitting in a sheen of my own sweat, covered by a film of construction dust, contemplating how I was going to save my dream client, the one who was going to catapult me onto maps. Social maps, money maps. Lots and lots of maps.
I was all about the maps.
I never expected to run into Finn Dante again. And certainly not on the only other day in my life when I’d been pushed straight to the end of my rope.
Because that was some kind of voodoo, and I did not believe in magic.