That April in Santa Monica
Madison receives acclaim for running a talent agency for people with disabilities, but she doesn't know how to take care of herself. When her altruism becomes life-threatening-a matter of either develop healthy habits or die-she joins a reality TV show that pairs her with hot, raven-haired Brandon. He is witty, sexy, and her teacher. That makes him off limits.
After a successful run on a soap opera, Brandon stepped away from empty fame and now focuses on his work as TV's most noted health teacher. He has one fast rule-never fall for a student. But when he meets Madison, their chemistry is combustible. There's no hiding their conflict or their attraction, especially when it's all caught on film.
A ringing phone broke through the darkness, and her vision cleared. She raised her pounding head from the carpet. Looking at the office from her position on the floor made her want to cry. The desk was heaped with papers, candy wrappers, and dirty coffee cups. Stacks of files on the right cut off the view out the window. She stepped carefully through the minefield on her way to the chair. What had she read? A messy desk implies the rest of your life is in a similar state. Maybe—please God—this office wasn’t hers. A girl could hope...
With a turn of her head, she noted a tall man talking on a ridiculously dated flip phone. Did she know him? His posture was as straight as the spines of the books on the shelves along the wall. Was he her lover (nice biceps) or husband (lucky her) or brother? She didn’t think so.
Because of this, the obvious hit her. This hunk might be the reason she was flat on her back. If only her heart would stop racing, the fog in her head might clear.
Mercifully—or maybe not—he knelt beside her with his slow, easy moves as he set the phone down and examined her.
“You blacked out and fell.” He nodded his head full of raven hair. “Help’s on the way.”
Her heavy lids closed on their own, and she forced them open. Given the circumstances, no sleep was allowed. Her gaze darted back and forth until it rested on a photo of a woman and man together with two little girls at the ocean. The family was laughing into the camera, the mom and kids’ hair blowing in the breeze. Temples thudding, she didn’t know who they were. Should she?
“Relax.” His tone sounded as if he didn’t take her whacking herself in the head and forgetting everything to heart.
She...but wait. What was her name? Sadly, nothing sparked an “aha” moment. To make matters worse, her teeth were chattering like castanets. Her lightweight dress wasn’t cutting it in the refrigerated air. “I’m freezing.” Did that frightened voice belong to her?
The dear man shrugged out of his jacket and tucked it around a body a little too heavy to be hers. “There you go.” He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, and the tattooed word samsara came into view on his muscular arm. “You’ll be okay.”
“Yeah.” He lowered thick eyelashes over pools of blue—or was it gray? “Breathe. Let all thought melt into your breathing.”
“I can’t.” Not when her stomach was lurching, and she didn’t even know her own name.
“Let’s try to get your mind off your troubles.” He took three sticks of incense from a duffle bag, lit the tips with a match, and they fired up and smoked in trails. “Take a whiff.” After a few moments, he added, “What do you think?”
“Hmmm, citrus and pine.” She was twelve again and meandering through the peaceful woods. She remembered the way as clearly as if it were still noon on that summer’s day, Mom, Dad, her sister, on their way to the sea.
“You’ve got it. Just kick back and let yourself drift.”
Her breathing quieted and slowed, though he was still bent over her, his jeans worn at the knees to near threads. He had that marketable two-days-without-a- shave look. Also, his face, absurdly gorgeous, had movie star potential written all over it.
A landline phone intercepted the moment. Ching-a- ling-a-ling and her heartbeat skyrocketed into the outer limits.
The man slid a misplaced high heel back on her foot. “A fashion statement can’t appear without shoes, now can she?”
He was on her side, bless him. And he obviously knew her. She didn’t recall who he was but could imagine him climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or ziplining through the Grand Canyon. Had he been a client she’d briefed for an audition? But he didn’t appear to have a disability. Now how had those last thoughts popped into her head?
She pointed a finger in his direction. “Do I know you?”
“We met earlier. I’m Brandon Kennedy.”
Determined to sit up, she lifted her shoulders. Her head sledgehammered, bitter bile rising in her throat.
He tenderly touched her cheek with his hand, and tears gushed to her eyes. She blinked them back. This was...embarrassing.
“Hang in there, trouper,” he said, and she wanted to hug him. At least thank him for taking such good care of her, but the words got stuck between mind and voice.
Sirens screeched from outside on Wilshire, and he spoke in the reassuring quiet she appreciated. “Give me a few minutes more.”
He disappeared into the hall. The distraction he had lent her dissolved, and she took in her surroundings through the aching pulse in her eyes. This was an office, all right. Strange, though, the glossies on the wall were of a man on a stage with hearing aids, a woman with shrunken legs in a wheelchair on a modeling ramp, a child without a left arm. Her heart swelled with emotion, but she didn’t understand why.
Still, it occurred to her she’d forgotten something more paramount than her name. Was it in the familiar people in the many pictures surrounding her?
Her mouth had gone dry as they wheeled her by the paneled walls filled with the press shots of her clients, and she smiled with pride as memories flashed like lightning. She loved them all, loved her work, wouldn’t give up any of it for the world.
She motioned to stop before passing by Brandon. She lacked what he had, tranquility in his every move. Being with him was as soothing as sliding into a jacuzzi or listening to rain tap the window. With her job, her life, how long had it been since she felt any sense of calm?
“Brandon, will you come with me?”
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What’s your favorite part about being a romance author?
I love writing books with an unlikely hero and heroine. The more opposite the pair, the better. I like the buildup that makes the first kiss special and the slow burn that leads to a more satisfying love scene. My favorite part is writing the declaration of love just before the couple gets their happily-ever-after. And isn’t that HEA what we’re all wishing for?
Here’s my tip to add romance to your love life:
Why use the stainless steel when you can dress up the table with your best silver? Don’t settle for the glare of electric light when there’s candlelight to be had. That soft glow is a friend to any face, be it young or old. Scent the room with flowers and irresistible food. Keep the conversation light and the background music mellow.
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Melody lives in Sacramento (the City of Trees). She writes romance novels. She’s partial to poetry, sun, rain, strong coffee, and her writing room surrounded by books. Besides California, she and her late husband lived part-time in a condo in Oregon overlooking the Pacific. That gave her a love for beach towns and whale-watching and sunsets—all the things that inspire the Love is a Beach series. The writing process fascinates her, the alchemy of layering and developing characters, the tinkering with language. There’s so much to treasure in the world: family, friends, and those random, everyday moments that make life grand. She hopes to give her readers all of that.
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