When I set out to write the St Helena series I had no idea that it would span four years and eight books of my career. So when I finished NEED YOU FOR MINE, I was equal parts excitement and sorrow. Excited that the Five Alarm Casanova finally found a woman, and a romance, that burned as hot as him, but sad that I had to say goodbye (for now) to the DeLucas, the Baudouins, and all of the pets, old biddies, and towns people of St Helena. Today, I thought we could go back and visit some of my favorite moments. It was so hard to pick just five, but here we go:
Marina’s Top 5 Favorite St. Helena Moments:
Comes to us from the first book in the series, the story that started it all, Kissing under the Mistletoe. Gabe had to work hard for my love, he really rubbed me the wrong way at first and I thought I’d have to rewrite the story, but in the scene where empowers Regan to get her daughter a Christmas tree, he won me over—and I knew that he would end up being one of my favorite heroes.
“I have to get Holly that tree,” she said, stepping back and out of the safety of his body.
“Okay,” he said, bringing the ax up. Regan was about to tell him that she didn’t need a man when he flipped the ax around and held it out to her. “Then get her a tree.”
Blinking back the tears, Regan gave a single nod and took the handle. She pulled the ax back and right as she was about to swing forward she felt Gabe surround her, his front to her back, his hand resting on the ax.
“Go in at a forty-five-degree angle, like this.” He wrapped his arms around her and, placing his hands over hers on the handle, demonstrated how to swing. Then he stepped back and Regan immediately missed his warmth. “Now try.”
She did. And it worked. A small piece of wood splintered.
“Oh my God! Did you see that?” she screamed, and realized she was jumping up and down like Holly.
“I did. Impressive, Vixen,” he said with a smile that warmed her, well, everywhere. “Now, this time hit it straight on and then repeat the angle.”
Regan followed his instructions, and with every swing she took out another chunk of trunk. Finally, the tree started leaning. She dropped the ax and went around to the other side and shoved it over with her foot. With a loud snap it fell to the ground.
She’d done it! She got Holly her tree!
“If there wasn’t a timer ticking away I would kiss the hell out of you right now,” she said.
Gabe kissed her anyway. Short and sweet, and when he pulled back, he gave her a smack on the bottom.
“Then I guess you’d better get that sweet ass of yours moving. You have a tree to win. And I have a kiss to claim.”
Even before I wrote the first word of the series, I knew that I was building up to Abby’s story, a woman who’s husband cheated on her, then embezzled a ton of the town’s money. I needed to tie up her cheating ex, but didn’t want him on the page a lot, so in a wine-inspired plotting secession with my critique partner, we came up with Richard’s perfect last dick-move:
Before she could say a word or throw herself in front of the oncoming disaster that was quickly becoming her life, a nude, Adonis-inspired statue slid down the ramp of the truck, landing gracefully on her lawn with a small thud.
“Oh my,” Nora sighed with an expression of sheer appreciation. “Isn’t that an eyeful?”
Eyeful indeed. Standing well over six feet tall, and except for the embellished bulge and generous amount of hair, the marble statue was a spot-on replica of her ex. Even down to the smarmy smile and trademarked wink.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Rodney asked, and Abby realized she was staring.
“I’ll say.” Nora fanned herself while a series of impressed grunts came from the two men who exited the delivery truck to take in the sight.
“He wasn’t that big,” Abby felt the need to point out, then realized how that sounded and clarified. “Tall. I meant he wasn’t that tall. The man was only five ten. With lifts.”
Looking extremely satisfied with himself, Rodney extended a pen and a clipboard. “I need you to sign here, here, and here.”
“And I need you to remove that”—Abby waved a hand at the statue—“monstrosity, before I call the cops.”
“No can do.” Rodney rocked back on his heels. “I got paid for a delivery. It’s been delivered.”
“Then I’ll pay you to deliver it somewhere else.”
Mulling over her request, Rodney sized up Abby, then took his time sizing up the statue, finally shaking his head in pure male awe. “You sure? It’s a statement maker. Really brings out the character of your yard.”
“My yard has plenty of character and that is not the kind of statement I want to be making.”
This one sums up exactly what the DeLuca family is about, so I had to include it. From Summer in Napa:
“Plus, we’re Italian,” Trey said as they passed the front table and made their way around the ballroom.
“Meaning what?” Marc asked. “We’re leaving the gun and taking the cannoli?”
“No,” Gabe said. “Meaning you don’t fuck with our family, our wine, or our women.”
Comes from my all-time favorite book, with my all-time favorite hero: Marco Deluca from Summer in Napa.
“What other rules?”
“Let’s see.” He went back to her breasts, this time using his tongue. “No…absolutely no touching. Because I knew if we did”—he pulled her into his mouth and she arched back with a throaty cry—“this would happen and I’d never be able let you go. And even if you broke up with Jeff you’d still belong to him.”
She went utterly still. He could feel the doubt creeping through her. “Do you still see me as that girl? As Jeffery’s?”
“No.” He brought his hands to her face so that she couldn’t look away. He’d been battling this attraction for half of his life, which meant he’d been battling some deep-seated guilt about his feelings for Lexi for just as long. After their first kiss last week, he’d come to terms with all of it and he wanted her to know how he could be with her now, like this. “I figure any man who can walk away from you wasn’t a fucking man to begin with.”
Is my all-time favorite scene and comes from Be Mine Forever. There is something about a big, alpha man being brought to his knees by a bit of woman. When it is a five-year-old all the better. Trey and Cooper’s relationship was one of the most rewarding for me to write, and these two made me laugh and cry and melt with sweetness.
“Have you tried unlocking it?” she asked as though he hadn’t already thought of that. As though every time Trey got mid-click, the kid didn’t somehow manage to relock it.
“Your son has quick trigger fingers.”
“I blame video games. How long has he been in there?”
“Almost an hour. We went for pizza, I got out of the car and he stayed inside . . . with dinner.”
Sara got quiet again, and this time Trey felt the concern waft through the phone. “Did he drink a lot of soda before his self-imposed lock in?”
“I might not babysit much, but I know better than to load a kid up on caffeine before bed. He had a small strawberry lemonade.” Which Cooper had spilled even before they left the restaurant—all over Trey. He looked down at the big red glob on his shirt and sighed. “And I had a—”
Trey stood up and looked in the window. The kid was sitting in the driver’s seat, holding Trey’s super-gulp looking back. “Are you telling me he isn’t potty trained?”
Sara laughed. Glad someone could find humor in this situation. “He’s a boy not a dog. And, yes, he knows how to use the potty. It’s just that . . .”
Trey watched Cooper wrap his little lips around the straw and take a long swig. “It’s just what, Sara?”
“Sometimes he has accidents.”
Trey closed his eyes and banged his head against the driver’s window. Cooper laughed then took another long swig. Kid couldn’t suck it down faster if he had a funnel.
“Define sometimes. And please don’t tell me, not since Christmas break.” She didn’t answer. “Sara?”
“You said please so I’m not telling you.”
Trey took another look in the car and noticed that the super-gulp was so big, Cooper had to use both hands to hold it. Meaning that they weren’t anywhere near the door lock. Smiling, Trey turned the phone to speaker and set it on top of the car, slyly grabbed his key, hit unlock and—
Cooper sat on the leather seats, soda balanced in one hand, Trey’s valet key gripped in the other, sucking down that soda like he was a man with a mission. Maybe if he reasoned with him.
“You gotta take a wiz, buddy?” Trey asked and—thank you, Jesus—Cooper shook his head.
“Uh-oh, bad move,” Sara said through the speaker. “Now he is going to be thinking about it.”
“You either have to go or you don’t,” Trey reasoned.
Except Cooper was no longer shaking his head. He was looking at Trey all panicked as though he’d had to go for days and was only now realizing it. The cup was back in its holder and his little hands were now grabbing the front of his pants.
“Ah, shit, he as to go,” he said to Sara, then, “Come on, Coop. Open up and I’ll take you to the restroom.”
“He’s tired,” Sara said as though that was a strong enough reason for a man to pee in another man’s car. “Just talk to him, I’m almost there.”
Trey didn’t think almost was going to cut it. Coop was shifting back and forth, the rubber of his soles making marks on the seat, looking at the super-gulp, and holding himself as though he was about to spring a leak.
“Look, buddy. You know that camo car of yours that we made? The one that won you the trophy?” Cooper nodded. “How would you feel if I up and wizzed all over it, huh?”
Cooper’s face went slack. Now Trey was getting somewhere.
“Well, that’s how I’m going to feel if you go in my car. Understand?”
Bonus scene – And from my new release, Need You for Mine, I thought I’d include a longer scene, give you all a little taste of Adam and Harper. This is when Adam walks in on Harper in nothing but her panties and a sunshine of a smile.
“What are you doing here?” Harper demanded, looking up at him, and he could see the fire lighting her eyes.
It was a good question. One Adam had crafted a great answer to when she’d first turned around in that pink, teal, and gold embroidered number with the tiny matching thong, which looked as if she’d recently escaped from the Copacabana. Then she’d tossed her dress at him and things had gotten really interesting. Little Miss Sunshine wiggled a lecturing finger his way, which caused everything in silk and lace to do a little cha-cha of its own, and Adam’s mind went to a bad place.
An incredibly good, bad place.
Oh, Harper was all sunshine and freckles up top. With her pert nose, twinkling blue eyes, and wild mass of waves piled on top of her head, she was cute, he decided. The crazy kind of cute. But she was a secret freaking bombshell below. High breasts, tiny waist, curvy hips, long lush legs that went on for miles. All that silky skin and willowy allure was intoxicating. Who knew she kept all that hidden under her Rainbow Brite attire?
Not the dildo with the kid who’d asked her to babysit, that was for sure. Because if he’d seen the view Adam was privy to, the guy would have taken her inside the shop—and right up against the wall.
“Apparently, I’m just in time for the show,” he said, looking down into her face. If she’d been wearing heels instead of those granny flats, she would have nearly been eye-to-eye with him. “Nice panties. Need help?”
“They’re called Parisian peek-a-boos, and there’s no show,” she said. “And no, the last thing I need is your help.”
And wasn’t that a damn shame. He was pretty sure he was the perfect man to help her with her problem, only she crossed her arms and snapped, “What are you staring at?”
“Apparently, Parisian peek-a-boos with a matching lace bra.” He wiggled his brows. “A see-through lace bra.”
“They’re called boobs, Adam.”
“Oh, trust me, I know, sunshine,” he said, stepping closer and, being the expert on that subject, sizing her up in a single glance. Firm, perky—the perfect little handful who wished she were a C. That explained the creative clothing choices. “Just wasn’t sure if you knew, with your outfit and all.”
“What’s wrong with my outfit?”
“You look like a yellow crayon who stepped in grape juice.”
She looked at him in disbelief, then outrage. “I do not! That dress revealed more secrets than Victoria’s new summer catalog.”
He held up the dress and she grimaced. “Secrets or not, the only thing you’re going to attract with this dress is honeybees, not a hookup.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not looking for a hookup,” she mumbled, snatching her dress back. And because he already knew the truth, just like he knew one more frustrated huff would have her popping right out of that bra, he let her take it. Even turned his back when she slipped it back on. Because getting a boner for Pollyanna wasn’t a smart move.
“But if I were . . .” she said so quietly he turned back around to see if she’d even spoken. She was once again in the yellow jumper, zipped up to her sternum, and fiddling with the little silver heart charm dangling from her necklace. “Are you saying I have to change how I look to get a guy?”
“No.” He actually liked the crazy cutie exactly like she was. Her blinding fashion sense was loud, quirky, and kind of adorable. Except, he remembered, those of the crazy cutie variety tended to want more than he was willing to give. So he checked himself, then gave a silent lecture that she wasn’t asking about his preferences, but Dr. Dildo’s. “However, if you want that guy with the kid, then yeah, you’ve got to up your game.”
Her confusion apparent, he reached for the front zipper of her dress.
She smacked his hand away. “Hey.”
“You asked for my help, so let me help. Here.” He grabbed a red belt off the silk robe and tied it around her waist, cinching it in to showcase her flat stomach. With Harper no longer looking like a chewing-gum wrapper, Adam tugged the zipper south, far enough that the collar of her dress opened and slid down one arm. Her shoulder was now exposed, as well as a nice hint of her copacabanas. “Sexy is in the accessories. Oh, and you need new lipstick.”
“My lipstick is not the problem. This is the third color I tried this month, and the saleslady at the drugstore guaranteed it is the perfect shade.”
“The first problem with your statement was drugstore, since we both know that the saleslady in question is Mrs. Peters, who hasn’t changed lip color since Carter left office.” He undid her hair, which was secured by a chopstick. Not a decorative one, but a wooden one from the takeout joint down the street.
“I wouldn’t do that. My curls are out of control,” she said, her hands moving up in a defensive action that had him laughing.
He intercepted them, mid helmet pose, and set them back at her sides, squeezing her wrists so she knew to leave them there. And miracle of miracles, she actually listened.
“You have slept-in bed waves, not curls,” he corrected. One pull and all of those soft brown waves came tumbling down to her midback. Like walking sex, he thought. “Back to the lipstick. Are you really wearing pink with glossy shine and glitter?”
She shifted on her feet. “So?”
“So, it’s a problem.” He handed her a tissue and waited while she wiped it off. Then he put his fingers in her hair and gave it a little shake, stepping back to study his work. “Better. But still missing something.”
“Wow, you sure know how to sweet-talk a woman,” she mumbled, and that’s when he realized what it was. Sunshine was looking self-conscious, which he’d never seen before. She usually marched to her own beat and flashed those pearly whites at anyone who looked at her strangely—the good-girl version of flipping the bird. But right then, standing there looking bed rumpled and sexy as hell, she was uncomfortable.
So Adam did the only thing he knew would work. What he wanted to do wouldn’t be appropriate, so instead, he slid his fingers deeper into her hair, and then he kissed her.
And holy shit, Harper Owens with her warm smile and rainbow dreams might have looked like the kind of girl one would bring home to Sunday dinner at the parents’, but she kissed like she’d rock your world on the car ride over.
She made a soft little mewling sound that drove him crazy, because it was half surprised and wholly aroused. Without warning, she pulled his lower lip with her teeth, sucked on it for a good minute, and he manned up in the most embarrassing way. But then her hands were on him, threading through his hair, playing with the ends at the back of his neck, and he forgot what the problem was.
Forgot why crazy cuties were a bad idea.
Forgot every hard-learned lesson that had gotten him through fifteen years as a smokejumper for Cal Fire. Such as: the key to not getting burned was you had to get in, scratch some line, hook it, call it good, and cut out before catching too much heat. It was a technique that had saved his ass a dozen times over in wildfires—and with women. Only he was too busy enjoying the flame to notice it had gotten out of control.
Released: March 29, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Heroes of St. Helena #3
Published by Montlake Romance
Every red-blooded male in St. Helena wants Harper Owens…as a friend. Despite her efforts at seduction, Harper seems to be destined to end up alone. The only guy with a knack for unleashing her inner vixen is firefighter and resident rule-breaker Adam Baudouin. Agreeing to a faux-mance could help him secure a promotion—and save her family’s lingerie shop, the Boulder Holder. But playing with fire has consequences. Especially when the flame comes courtesy of St. Helena’s own Five-Alarm Casanova…
None of Adam’s quick-and-easy hookups have prepared him for a connection this extraordinary. There’s more to the milk-and-cookies art teacher that he’d love to explore. But first he has to convince her to trust the town’s most notorious playboy. Even tougher—he’ll have to trust himself to be the real-life hero this warm and sexy woman deserves.
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