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  • Unguarded #Release

    Once upon a time, there was a young woman who'd been treated like a princess all her life. Then her parents died and left her in the care of a beast.
    Ever since she lost her parents when she was eighteen, Charlie has had to put up with Simon Shae, whom her parents made the trustee of her inheritance. He's grumpy and unsmiling and always trying to boss her around. At first, she resented him, but she's twenty-five now, and she kind of likes his beast-like qualities. In fact, she's crazy about him.
    All she has to do is make him stop looking at her as a little girl and see her as the woman she is. A romantic weekend at a grand wedding in the mountains is the perfect opportunity to open his eyes. He reluctantly agrees to be her date, but if she wants to win his heart, she has to be brave enough to make her move.
    Unguarded is the first novella in the One Fairy Tale Wedding series, in which three friends make a pact to get what they really want during one wedding weekend.

    Excerpt from Unguarded

    The alarm kept blaring, and Lady Jane, her four-year-old cocker spaniel who had run into the hall to greet her, evidently decided there was a crisis afoot and started barking as loudly as she could at the console on the wall.
    “What the hell?” The urgent voice came from the top of the stairs. “Charlie? Are you okay?”
    “Damn it, Simon!” she yelled. She was never a quiet person, and at the moment she was louder than usual. “Come turn this damn thing off!”
    Simon hurried down the stairs, wearing nothing but a pair of gray sweatpants, and moved her out of the way so he could reach the console. He entered what was obviously the correct code, and then he pressed a button and spoke to someone at the security company, verifying his identity and assuring them that everything was fine.
    After petting Lady Jane to get her to calm down, Charlie stood in the hall with her heart racing painfully, hugging her arms to her chest.
    She noticed that Simon was carrying a baseball bat—part of her dad’s signed sports memorabilia that Simon must have picked up from the display in the hallway, evidently to wallop an intruder with.
    The image of him knocking out a would-be thief with the bat made her momentarily want to smile.
    When Simon finished with the security company, he turned to face her, his dark eyes making an immediate assessment of her tousled hair, stylish red coat, short dress, bare legs, and very high heels.
    His expression wasn’t admiring. It never was when he looked at her. Over the years, she’d realized he wasn’t as mean and forbidding as he appeared, but that didn’t mean he’d ever be nice.
    Frowning was what he did best.
    “Where the hell have you been?” he demanded. He was still holding the bat.
    Charlie scowled. She’d been getting along with Simon pretty well this week, but she wasn’t going to put up with that tone from him. She wasn’t a child anymore. “Are you planning to hit me with that thing?”
    He blinked and glanced down at the baseball bat he was evidently surprised he was still brandishing. He laid it carefully on the floor. When he straightened up, he was frowning again. “Where have you been?”
    “I’ve been out. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk to me that way.”
    “I’ll talk to you however I want. Why didn’t you tell me you were going out? I thought you were in your room all evening.”
    “Am I supposed to ask permission before I leave the house? You know I’m an adult, right? And this house belongs to me. Am I not allowed to make my own decision regarding whether I stay or go?”
    He made a frustrated face and pushed a hand through his hair. His hair must have been almost black when he was very young, but there was a lot of gray in it now—at his temples and scattered through the rest of it. He wasn’t even forty yet, but he’d had gray in his hair for as long as she’d known him. She’d always assumed the gray came along with his ornery-old-man personality. “Of course you can make your own decisions,” he said. “But you could have at least told me you were going out. I thought you were here all this time.”
    “I didn’t see you on my way out. You were already in your room. I didn’t think I had to report to you my comings and goings.”
    His eyes narrowed like he had something to say about that, but he held back whatever it was. Instead, he said in something close to a growl, “I wouldn’t have set the alarm had I known you were out. You scared the hell out of me.”
    “Well, you scared the hell out of me, so I guess we’re even.” She took a deep breath and tried to calm down her still-racing heart. As she did, she realized they were arguing over nothing. She considered herself a good-natured person. She preferred laughing to arguing, and she didn’t like to feel angry or resentful, so she tried not to as much as she could. “I didn’t think about it as I left. I’d have told you if I’d seen you.”
    “What were you doing out?”
    “I had a date.”
    “I see.” He didn’t say anything else. Just stared at her with those very dark eyes that hardly ever softened.
    She didn’t know how to read his expression. He was so difficult to get a handle on with his stoicism and reserve. For a long time she’d assumed that look was judgmental, but she didn’t think it was anymore.
    He was thinking about her, but his thoughts were deep and hidden. It was frustrating not to know how he felt.
    She couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. She’d only ever seen him in stuffy suits or equally stuffy casual wear. The man had no fashion sense at all and had no colors in his wardrobe but black and gray. At the moment, she was surprised by how fine his body was since she’d never really seen it before. He’d always been big with broad shoulders and the imposing bulk of a football player, but she hadn’t known his muscle development was so impressive. She hadn’t known his abs were so toned, his arms were so sculpted, his chest was so… masculine.
    She hadn’t known he would look and feel so much like a man to her just because he wasn’t wearing his normal clothes.
    She hadn’t known she would like the looks of him this much.
    “Okay,” she said at last, feeling uncomfortable by her response to a man she’d only ever thought about as a bossy old grouch who might get on her nerves but was always there if she needed him. She didn’t always like him, but she trusted him, and she thought she knew what to expect from him.
    She hadn’t expected this.
    In April of 2016, I was trying unsuccessfully to make myself work on A Princess Next Door, which I'd had a partial draft of for more than six months and hadn't known what to do with. For a couple of weeks, I was trying to get myself motivated to work on that story (or ANY story) and I just wasn't inspired at all.
    So I did something I often do when I'm generally apathetic about writing. I reread some of my old books. I read a few of them first (can't remember which ones), and then I reread A Negotiated Marriage. I know A Negotiated Marriage is a reader favorite, but it's never been one of my favorites, and I hadn't read it since it I self-published it in January of 2013. So it felt fresher to me than a lot of my old books (some I've reread so often I practically know them by heart). I enjoyed it pretty well, although it will still never be one of my favorites. But after I finished it, I lay on my couch for a long time, thinking about the marriage of convenience trope and then wondering how A Negotiated Marriage would have turned out if it had been the heroine who was the workaholic who'd wanted a husband for business reasons, rather than the hero. I thought about it for a long time and then planned out possibilities for how it would work, and pretty soon I'd worked out the entire plot of a novel.
    I wasn't sure I should do it because it echoed A Negotiated Marriage so strongly (just in reverse), but then I decided I might as well write Married by Contract as a kind of companion to A Negotiated Marriage. They're both completely standalone novels, but they work together as a pair. So I decided to go ahead and do it, and I was finally inspired to write again. (A Princess Next Door eventually got done, but it was pushed back a couple more months!)

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