Dear romance readers!
I hope everyone is well and staying warm as the weather grows colder. I’ve been busy in the cave writing, rewriting, starting over (twice …maybe more) on When I Fell for You, the second book in the Precious Moments Series. No release date yet but I’m aiming for sometime in the beginning months of 2017. I’m also preparing my home for Thanksgiving next week and look forward to my parents visiting from Florida.
I’m also excited that the release of A Chase for Christmas is almost here! It’s a bittersweet moment for it’s the last book in the series. I had a blast writing the Chasing Love Series and because I’ve added another side of the Arrington family, expect to see updates and pop ups from the Chase family in future books. I also have plans for a book for Megan Chase’s crazy and hilarious best friend, Jade Whitmore. I’ve already started her love story, and I promise I didn’t change her personality one bit! I’m hoping to release it by the end of 2017.
Below is chapter one of A Chase for Christmas. Its available now on Harlequin’s website in paperback and ebook format. It will be officially released in paperback on November 22nd and in ebook on December 1st. Pre order links after the excerpt.
I hope everyone has a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving!
Chasing a dream of love
The pursuit of love has always been high on Preston Chase’s priority list. But the video game developer has yet to find the soul mate he craves. His sister’s best friend—artist and studio owner Blythe Ventura—is a world away from the shallow glam girls who’ve thrown themselves at him. With her creative spirit and passionate commitment, she’s the ideal candidate for his Winter Wonderland project. Too bad she doesn’t seem interested in being the one to win his heart.
After a string of dating disasters, Blythe isn’t ready to believe in a romantic relationship with Preston. Until their work giving sick children hope and joy for Christmas brings them together—and reveals a very different side of the notorious millionaire playboy. All she has to do is trust in the feelings Preston is awakening and this just might be the year that they both find the happy holiday ending they’ve been searching for…
Preston Chase perused the bakery display case and all of the tasty desserts in his view in Sweet Treats Bakery. Everything from decadent chocolate pastries to creative and too-beautiful-to-eat cupcakes seductively screamed his name. His sister was the owner and head pastry chef, so he knew whatever he selected would be delectable. But like his dating life, he couldn’t settle on just one.
Glancing up, he met his baby sister’s angelic but impatient stare. “Quick rushing me, Tiff. You have any more sweet potato pie?”
Wrinkling her nose, Tiffani Hollingsworth sighed deeply. “No, and I don’t want to see another sweet potato anything until next Thanksgiving. I think I baked over two hundred of them in the last three weeks. I’m trying to perfect an eggnog-flavored cupcake. Your nephew insists that I do so.”
“Mmm, that sounds good. I’ll volunteer to do a taste test when they’re available, but for now—” he rested his light brown eyes back on the desserts in front of him “—I need something. Everything looks so delicious.”
“You can have more than one,” she suggested. “While you decide, tell me more about your Winter Wonderland project, and how I can assist.” Leaving her spot behind the counter, she trekked over to the door, locked it and flipped the sign on the glass to Closed.
A sincere smile reached his face at the mention of his upcoming project for the children at the Coretta Scott King Children’s Hospital in downtown Atlanta. Having been a patient there as a child with leukemia, Preston now visited the children there with his service dog, a golden retriever named Hope, who was trained to add a little sunshine to their day.
“I’m having two events on Christmas Eve. One is during the day for the children who can’t leave the hospital, and the other is at night for the children who are still patients but go back and forth for treatments as well as the ones who are in remission. My team worked overtime on the planning, and I developed a new video game in honor of the event. Each child will go home with one along with their Christmas wish list choices. That way I can relieve a little stress on the parents.”
“You’re such a sweetheart,” she said as she counted the money and credit card receipts from the cash registers. “I’ll donate all the cupcakes and goodies you want.”
“Thank you, and I’ll have an éclair.” He pointed to his favorite dessert and said drily, “Just wanted to try something different.” Shrugging, he checked his watch. He needed to head home and prepare for his Friday night date.
Grabbing the tongs, she placed half a dozen into a yellow-and-white-striped box that matched the awning over the door of the bakery. “You select the same dessert every time, Prez.” She paused as a sarcastic smirk crossed her face. “Just like your choice in women. They’re all carbon copies. And you wonder why you haven’t found Mrs. John Preston Chase III yet.”
Chuckling at her saying his whole name, Preston slid the box off of the counter. “Sis, when I tried something different—” he nodded his head toward the Paint, Sip, Chat Studio next door “—I got shot down. It’s like she’s immune to me.”
“You can forget it. My best friend just isn’t interested,” she reminded him. “She prefers someone a little more low-key, not living his day like it’s his last.”
“I like to be free and spontaneous. You know that. ‘Live in the moment’ is my motto.”
Tiffani smiled sweetly. “I know, Prez. Going through what you did as a child, I can’t say that I blame you, but my girl just isn’t into you.”
“Mmm… I wouldn’t say that.”
A movement through the window caught his attention, and his eyes rested on the person in question. Blythe Ventura jumped out of a black truck parked between her studio and the bakery and darted around to the bed, where a medium-size Christmas tree lay wrapped in twine. She unlatched the tailgate, pulled it down and tugged on the tree.
Her jeans-clad hips and rounded butt were provocatively accentuated as she slid the evergreen a quarter of the way out before stopping and wiping her brow with the back of her hand. After sighing, she attempted to try again but halted as a frustrated expression crossed her sweet, makeup-free face. Her natural black curls were pulled up into a bouncy ponytail on the top of her head, which enhanced her beauty even more. Huge gold hoops hung from her ears and hit her cheeks every time she shook her head back and forth. Quite a few multicolored bracelets encircled her right wrist. The black sweater fit snug over her perky, plump breasts that jiggled when she tugged on the tree, and his smile grew wider with every passing second at the glorious sight.
Blythe was indeed a sexy, beautiful, independent woman he’d admired from afar for over a year. However, whenever he attempted to flirt or ask her out, she’d laugh as if it was the funniest joke she’d ever heard. And while most of the time he was teasing her, Preston did find her alluring.
Setting the box on the counter, he walked toward the door and unlocked it. “I’ll be back.” Winking, he left Tiffani shaking her head wearing an oh-boy-here-we-go-again expression.
Sinking his hands in his coat pockets, he strode to Blythe, who started to pull the tree again, only to stop and mumble a curse word.
“Hi there,” he started. “Need some assistance?”
She jumped a tad and rested her brown doe eyes on him. “Hey, Preston. I didn’t realize you were there.” She backed away from the truck. “I’d love some help. Thank you,” she answered sincerely in a deep, raspy voice with a Brooklyn accent. “If you get on the bed, I can pull it out while you push.”
So many sexual innuendos entered his brain as he pressed his lips together in a smile to keep from sharing them. Usually he tried his best to be a gentleman and respectful with her since she was his sister’s best friend. And even though she shot him down, Blythe was always cordial and pleasant with him. They weren’t friends per se, but they were cool, and he appreciated her being a great friend to Tiffani.
Glancing at the tree, he saw it wasn’t much bigger than the one he’d recently carried into his parents’ home. “I’ll grab it. You just open the door to your studio and tell me where you need me to place it.”
She did as requested, and a few moments later, it stood tall in the window of the lobby. Circling the tree, she cut the twine with a pair of scissors while he stretched the branches out. Afterward they both stood back and admired it.
“It’s beautiful,” he complimented her. “I see you’re falling into the holiday spirit the day after Thanksgiving.”
“Yep. I visited Tiffani this afternoon to grab a croissant sandwich, and Christmas music played in the bakery, reminding me I need to decorate the studio.” She ran her fingers along the tree. “I love this time of the year. So festive and family-oriented.”
“Me, too. Christmas was always a big deal in the Chase household. In fact, my mother had everything set up a few days before Thanksgiving. My parents go all out with the lights on every shrub and mechanical reindeer. My dad says he’s going to add a Santa Claus on the roof this year.”
“Sounds like my family.” Pausing, she turned her attention toward the tree once more. “I sincerely appreciate your help.”
“Are you going to decorate it now?”
“No. I teach an art class here on Saturday mornings, and I promised the children last week they could help me.”
Preston’s brain went into overdrive. “Oh, so you like working with children?”
“Yes. Love them. Especially the little ones. I used to teach art at the elementary and high school levels before opening my studio a few years ago. I miss it sometimes, especially during this time of the year with winter-themed programs, making the extravagant sets and festive costumes for the children.”
The wheels in his head began to turn, and he was surprised the thought hadn’t crossed his mind before, but he hadn’t seen Blythe in a couple of weeks. “Mmm…well, I’m planning a Winter Wonderland project for the children I visit at the hospital. Would you be interested in helping me and my committee make it come to life? I have a vision, but I’m not artistic, as you know from the paint class my family and I participated in with you last year.”
She nodded her head. “Yeah, I remember, but your pumpkin didn’t turn out too bad.”
A sly smile inched up his jawline. “Well, I did have a fantastic teacher, even though it would’ve turned out better if I wasn’t so distracted by her beauty.” He stepped into her personal space, and he could’ve sworn he saw her breath suck in, but she laughed out loud as she always did when he flirted with her.
“Oh, Preston,” she replied, patting his chest. “You know your flirting never works on me. Save it for all the other women in Atlanta. However, I’d be happy to help with your project. Sounds like it will be fun.”
He was used to her brush-offs, and he still found it amusing that she always had a comeback for him. Sometimes he flirted just to see what witty remark she’d make, and other times he loved to hear her laugh.
“Well, thank you for volunteering to help.”
“No problem. My mom had breast cancer years ago, so I can only imagine what those children are going through. It has to be utterly scary for them.”
A heaviness settled in his chest at her words. “It is scary. I’ve been in their shoes. I had leukemia as a child.”
A sadness washed over her features. “Oh… I had no idea,” Blythe said emphatically. “No wonder you do so much for the children’s hospital.”
“Yeah, I was in and out for four years.” He stopped when he noticed she still frowned. “Hey, don’t look so sad.” He comforted her with a smile and pinched her chin. “I’m alive and in amazing health…and quite handsome, may I add.” He noticed her expression didn’t change even with the joke.
“It just took me by surprise. I didn’t know.”
“It’s one of the reasons I live each day like it’s my last… Well, I’m not a daredevil. I do love my life. Plus, my mother would kill me if I died while swimming with sharks or something insane like that.”
“I thought Tiffani said you go skydiving every birthday.”
He shrugged. “That’s not extreme.” His eyes landed on a blue storage crate marked Lights sitting on a nearby chair in the lobby area. “Are you going to hang the lights now?”
“I have two paint parties tonight I need to prepare for, and one of my assistants is on vacation. I’ll have to do it once I’m closed. I need to have it done before the children arrive in the morning. That way all they have to do is hang the ornaments.”
“Nonsense. You don’t close until ten. I’ll do it for you.” Strolling over to the crate, he lifted the lid and saw the lights neatly coiled around a huge hook.
“You don’t have to do that. You brought that heavy tree inside for me. I’d still be wrestling with it if it wasn’t for you.” Her eyebrows raised in an amused manner. “Besides, it’s a Friday night. I’m sure you have plans, Mr. Party All the Time.”
“I kinda do, but it’s no biggie. This won’t take long. You just concentrate on setting up for the parties. I’m going to run back to the bakery to grab my box of goodies before Tiffani leaves.”
“But…” Blythe shook her head while trying to suppress a smile. “You really don’t have to.”
He walked over to the door and opened it. He could’ve sworn he read more into her expression and demeanor. Preston knew a woman’s body language. While Blythe had always remained firm and unbothered by him, he wasn’t so sure that was the case at the present moment. Now curiosity had him questioning why.
Glancing at her over his shoulder, he cracked a grin at the thought of perhaps winning her over after all. “No worries. I got you.”
* * *
No worries? The comment had played on repeat in her head for the last ten minutes. How could she not worry when the irresistible Preston Chase graced her lobby, hanging lights on the tree? Blythe walked around the stations, setting a smock on the back of each chair as she heard the giggles of a few ladies walking past in the hallway to the other room, where her assistant Mandi was about to begin class. She also heard catcalls, whistles and “Damn, he’s fine.” Women were even going back for a second peek at the man who was probably enjoying every moment of their attention.
Prez was a mouthwatering, gorgeous hunk of a man. His broad shoulders, muscular build and, she guessed, six-foot-two height were definitely enough to drive any woman crazy with lust when first laying eyes on him. Not to mention his infectious smile showcasing pearly white, immaculate teeth, smooth butterscotch skin and his silky, curly hair that she sometimes hated to admit that she would love to weave her fingers through. And then there were his lips. Succulent. Sexy. She’d never paid much attention to a man’s lips like this before, but there was something about the curve and subtle plumpness of them that made her want to draw them…with her tongue.
Blythe’s thoughts drifted to when she’d first met him a year ago at a paint party her new friend and now best friend had arranged for a family outing. Blythe was aware that Tiffani’s brother was the creator of the famous Dart and Drive video game that had amassed almost half a billion dollars, followed by more popular games. However, she expected a geeky, dorky, nerdy kind of guy with glasses, pants too short and a lisp, for some reason. Tiffani had mentioned that women practically threw themselves at her brother, but Blythe figured it was because he was worth millions. But when she entered the room to begin the party, she had to hold back a gulp and keep her gaze elsewhere. The man exuded a sexiness and confidence on a level that could break the Richter scale and a voice as smooth as caramel. It became worse when he’d roamed his eyes over her and started to flirt; however, she’d managed to remain composed and withstand the temptation to give in to him. His suave manner, good looks and intelligent charm could surely win over any woman’s heart, including hers if she wasn’t careful.
So why did Blythe keep blowing him off every time he flirted or paid her a compliment? Simple. She’d dated his type before. The player. The woman juggler. The pretty boy type that women sometimes fought over. Sure, he seemed like a nice guy. He loved his family, was overprotective of his sister and her son, KJ, and had a soft spot for the children at the hospital where he volunteered. He was an intellectual and even possessed a tad of nerdiness that she found sexy in a confident man like him. But none of that changed the fact that he was a notorious player.
Once the stations were completed, Blythe had about twenty minutes before the women’s group at a church not far from the studio was to arrive. Sighing, she contemplated either staying in the classroom and waiting or venturing back out into the lobby area to greet her class as she always did. A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention as a chill ran through her body. She’d thought it was Preston. However, it was her receptionist, Ms. Bernice, standing in the doorway with her arms folded across her ample bosom. The sixty-year-old woman had a slight, curious smile displayed on her face, and her glasses hung down on her nose, her eyes peering over.
“Hey. Didn’t know you were here,” Blythe said, heading over to her work area and sliding a smock over her sweater.
“Just came back from my dinner break. I see you bought a tree. Did the handsome man come with it? Perhaps I need to go buy a few trees myself,” she teased, running her hands through her gray curls.
“Nooo. That’s Tiffani’s brother, Preston. He saw me struggling with it and offered to help bring it inside.”
Ms. Bernice slowly nodded her head. “Oh, I know who he is. I’m just surprised to see him here. You’re always brushing that fine young man off. If I was only thirty… I mean, twenty years younger…”
Blythe laughed. “Yeah, you’d be a part of his flock of women. No thank you.”
Ms. Bernice turned around to leave but pivoted back. “You only get played by a man if you allow him to do it. Your group is starting to arrive, but they’re chatting in the lobby and ogling Mr. Chase. Shall I send them back?”
“No need. I’ll be out in a moment. Just want to make sure everything is ready for them.”
Ms. Bernice’s stare perused the ten stations set up in the middle of the room. “Seems like everything is in place.” And with that, she finally left.
Moments later, Blythe headed to the lobby to find the lights on the tree and Preston chatting with two women while looking at a cell phone. I guess he’s getting their numbers, she thought as she nodded at him and then strolled to the lit Christmas tree. But she was mistaken. Instead, it seemed like he was showing them how to download one of his free video game apps to their phones. The ladies gave him a sexy, sultry thank-you and followed Ms. Bernice down the hall.
“Hey, whatcha think of my light hanging skills?” he inquired, standing next to her.
His masculine, woodsy cologne caressed her nose in an erotic, sensual way, and she stepped up to the tree to straighten a light that wasn’t crooked.
“You did a great job. Thank you so much.”
“You’re quite welcome. You know, I was thinking maybe we should have Christmas trees as a part of the Winter Wonderland.”
“That’s a great idea, but much taller than this one. Maybe each tree could have a color scheme or something like that.”
“Yeah. I know you don’t have much time to discuss details now, but my committee is meeting on Sunday evening. I know it’s short notice, and I understand if you can’t make it.”
“No. I’m off on Sundays, so that’s fine.”
“Cool.” Slipping his cell phone from his pocket, he punched the keypad on the screen and handed her the phone. “Just input your contact information and I’ll text you the address.”
Once finished, she handed him the phone. He eyed it, typed something and then placed it back into his pocket with a mischievous expression.
Sizing him up, she tapped her chin. “What did you type to make you look at me like that?”
Snickering, he scooped his leather jacket up from a nearby chair and slid it on. Preston stepped into her comfort zone, but this time she didn’t have to stifle a gulp. Blythe decided if she was going to work with him on his project, she’d have to keep him even more at bay than usual. She couldn’t let him know that his presence unraveled her.
“I added your name to your number,” he answered matter-of-factly. “That’s all. Why? You think I’m always in bad-boy mode?”
Pushing open the door, a few more ladies passed through while running their eyes over him, but his own eyes never left Blythe’s face. “Relax, baby girl. I can be nice. I’m not always naughty. Well…unless that’s what you want.” He bestowed a wicked smile on her and exited.
Blythe remained rooted in the middle of the lobby, oblivious to her surroundings, as she watched Preston through the glass door. He strolled casually to his black two-door Aston Martin and sped off as if he knew she was watching.
When she finally made it back to her paint session, her thoughts drifted to the upcoming weeks working on the Winter Wonderland project. She hoped her interactions with him would be minimal. If not, she had a feeling Preston was going to be everything but nice.
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