The first steamy standalone in Robin Bielman’s all-new American Royalty series is out today, and I have a sneak peek for you.
The sun is behind the mountains and streetlights flicker on. Twilight is usually my favorite time of day, but right now it sucks. I’m also, I realize, driving the wrong way. I wipe at my eyes, swallow the string of lumps in my throat.
The car beside me honks when I accidentally cut them off to move into the left lane to make a U-turn at the stoplight. I wave in apology and mouth “sorry.” The light turns green. There are no cars coming from the other direction so I make my U-turn. And crash into another car making a right turn. Shit! Isn’t this just the cherry on top of a sucktastic day.
Fortunately, neither of us was driving fast. I put it in reverse since I’m the one kissing the shiny white Porsche SUV’s side fender then follow the car into the corner parking lot of a fast-food restaurant to check out the damage and make sure the diver is okay.
I get out of the car on shaky legs. The breakup with Leo, and now this, has wreaked havoc on my stability. I see an entire one-pound bag of almond M& M’s and some television in my future.
But first I need to deal with this situation. I had a green light, thus the right of way. Meaning despite what it looks like, it’s not my fault we collided. (Confession: I had a minor fender bender a few months ago and my insurance went up. I can barely afford the coverage so I can’t have another claim against me.)
The first thing I notice about the other driver is his long, muscular, jean-clad legs as they exit the vehicle. Next is his hard-bodied torso and a sling on his arm. Last, but definitely not least, are his surreal blue eyes, brown hair longer on top than the sides, and scruff around his full lips and along his chiseled jawline.
Unbelievable. As if my day cannot get any worse, I’ve hit Finn Auprince. Major League Baseball’s golden boy. He’s arguably one of the best center fielders ever. His stats are unreal. On top of that he’s American royalty, a “prince” in the media, his family one of the wealthiest and most influential in the world with their hotel empire. His popularity on and off the field is talked about weekly. Which is probably the reason he thinks he’s God’s gift to all women.
Except this one.
The minute he called my dad a “blind sack of shit” and proceeded to show him up in front of the fans by drawing a line in the dirt with his bat to illustrate the path of the ball off the plate in game three of the World Series, he was removed from my list of favorite players, never to earn a spot back. I was sitting behind home plate. The pitch was clearly strike three. To my dad’s credit he didn’t throw Finn out of the game, choosing as he usually does to tolerate a player’s aggravation and not take it personally.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hi.” He looks at me funny and for a beat we take each other in. Does he recognize me? I’ve sat in the stands dozens of times but he rarely looks at the crowd. Except that once. When our eyes connected and I stopped breathing. “Uh, are you okay?” he asks breaking the charged silence.
“No.” See this gaping hole in my chest? It’s where my heart used to be. Oh, wait. He means am I okay from the accident. “I mean, yes. Sorry. You?”
He smiles, flashing his straight white teeth. Smiles like his make birds sing and flowers bloom. And hearts pitter-patter. Good thing mine is dead. I study him. He thinks I’m flustered because of him. Ha! I will not give him the satisfaction of knowing I know who he is. Or being in any way, shape, or form affected by his good looks.
“I’m fine. My car, however…”
I follow his gaze. There’s a big ol’ dent above the front tire. I turn my attention to my car. The paint is scratched, but otherwise my nine-year-old convertible Toyota Solara—a sixteenth birthday present from my dad—appears undamaged.
“I had a green light,” I say, not sure if Finn is implying this is my fault.
“I had a green arrow,” he counters.
He nods toward the intersection. “You also had a ‘no U-turn’ sign.” He says this lightly. He’s not mad in the least, which is reassuring, yet in this moment I’d rather he be anything but nice. I’m in the mood for a fight.
Not only does the sign spell out “NO U TURN” it also has a picture of the black U-turn arrow with a red circle and line through it. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention. Not so obvious (I hope) is that I’ve been crying and I’m not thinking clearly.
“You should still watch where you’re going,” I tell him.
His eyebrows arch. Playfully. Jeez, he’s charming, even under these circumstances. “You do realize you hit me, right?”
“I think we hit each other.”
“Through no fault of my own.”
“Should you even be driving with that?” I point to his sling. The question isn’t nice. It’s meant to get a rise out of him because…because he’s the guy standing in front of me right now and my feelings are hurt beyond reason. Plus, it’s the best I can do—I really have no experience fighting. I hate confrontation, and will do most anything to avoid it.
“I’d say it’s safer than you driving.”
Some sort of huffy sound comes from the back of my throat. “I’m a great driver.” Besides my last minor accident and this one.
“I’m not so sure about that. Have you been drinking?”
“Your eyes are bloodshot.”
I blink like that will clear the redness.
“Yes,” I quickly answer. From now on I’m allergic to single men. Unless they’re gay. Or already a friend. “That’s exactly it.” I sniffle for good measure. I am allergic to shellfish so I’m not totally lying. Although that allergy is life-threatening not heartbreaking.
Finn stares at me. I shiver. Because it’s chilly out, not because his fixed look feels like he can see I’m fibbing. It’s just his magnetic personality doing its thing.
Which also seems to bring out the responsible side of my personality because I next say, “I guess we should exchange information.”
I reach into my car for my purse, pull out my wallet, and slide my insurance card out from behind my driver’s license. Finn has his phone in his hand when I turn around.
“I’ll just take a picture of your card,” he says. My hope that he’ll say, Hey, accidents happen, don’t worry about this, I’ve got it, have a good night, dies a painful death in the middle of my chest.
I hand it to him. He struggles to hold on to it with one hand while taking a picture with the other, the sling making it difficult. He also winces, and that’s all it takes for me to offer my assistance.
“How about I hold it for you? Or take the picture?”
“Thanks.” He gives me back my card, but still battles with the phone.
“It’s not easy with one hand,” I say with authority. I’m constantly on my phone taking pictures. “How about I do that instead?”
He grumbles, a few cuss words slipping out of his nice mouth. Finn is over six feet tall and probably tips the scales at two ten, so watching him fight with a small electronic device is entertaining. I chuckle. I get it. I’m not one to ask for help either.
“Something funny, Blondie?”
That stops me cold. “You did not just call me that.”
“Blondie? I did. I could call you Freckles instead.”
He noticed my freckles? I have exactly five of them across my nose. “Are you being cute with me right now?”
“You think I’m cute?” A sly smile takes hold of his face, the kind of smile you can’t not be enamored with. The kind that constructs butterflies in your stomach whether you want them there or not.
“Going by the North American informal definition of cunning in a self-seeking or superficial way, yes.”
Finn’s eyes light with amusement. “Did you just quote the dictionary to me?”
“I did. Got a problem with that?”
As you might guess, English was and still is my favorite subject. I’m a lover of words. I use them a lot in my profession and have an uncanny memory when it comes to their definitions.
“No, no problem.” He’s trying really hard not to laugh. “Webster.”
I throw my hands in the air, even though that nickname I secretly like. “Do you nickname all the strangers you meet?”
“Just the pretty ones.”