New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

of Contemporary Women's Fiction, Romantic Comedies, and Historical Romances

 

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She was an adventure he hadn't counted on...

Dr. Brett Thornton's latest discovery--an anti-aging formula--should have had him set for life.  Instead, everyone he meets wants a piece of him.  He needs to get away, to clear his head.  And he figures a once-in-a-lifetime trip into the wilds of Peru should help him put things into perspective.  That is, until a gorgeous fellow tourist messes with his quest...and his libido!

 

Kayla Watson used to like traveling on business.  But that was before her boss insisted she spy on scientist Brett Thornton on his trek into the Andes mountains.  Now she's tired , dirty...and seriously in lust with sexy Brett.  Lucky for her, he encourages--and helps her exercise--that lust.  Again and again.

But will Brett still want her when he finds out what she's really after?

 

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"You’re a scientist,” Kayla said.  “You could dazzle me with some interesting scientific facts."

"One square inch of skin contains six hundred and twenty five sweat glands."  Brett slipped his hand under her skirt and slowly traced his fingers up her thigh.  He noted with satisfaction that her own fingers stilled on his leg and her pupils dilated when his fingers traced leisurely figure eights on her exquisitely soft skin.

"I believe it," she murmured in a breathless voice.  "I feel like every one of mine is pumping steam."

Without taking his gaze from hers, he rose, then gently pulled her to her feet.  Hidden from the rest of the room in their private alcove, he drew her into his arms and slowly skimmed his hands down her back.  "In the adult human body, there are forty-six miles of nerves.  The most sensitive cluster of nerves is here..."  He lightly massaged the small of her back, urging her closer, until their bodies touched from chest to knee.  “At the base of the spine.”

"Fascinating," she murmured, skimming her hands up his chest then looping her arms around his neck.  "What else?"

"Minks have sex that lasts about eight hours."

"Oh...my."

"Moose intercourse usually lasts about five seconds."

"Note to self...would much prefer to be a mink."

Leaning forward, Brett nuzzled the warm, smooth skin just below her ear with his lips.  God, she smelled delicious.  "Bats have sex in the air."

She breathed out a sigh then tilted her neck, affording him better access.  "Sounds...adventurous."

His teeth lightly nipped her earlobe.  "A female praying mantis devours her partner while they're mating."

"Mmmm.  Depending on your definition of 'devour', that could also sound adventurous."

"A female ferret can die if she goes into heat and can't find a mate."

Her fingers fisted in his hair and with a groan, she tugged his mouth towards her.  “I know exactly how she feels," she said in a husky whisper against his lips. 

 

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Chapter One

 

        “You want me to go where?  To do what?  With whom?”

        After uttering those questions, Kayla Watson stared at Nelson Sigler.  Until thirty seconds ago, she’d thought her boss was a rational human being.  Clearly, however, the man was insane.

        Nelson stared right back at her over the tops of his bifocals.  “To Peru.  To spy.  On Brett Thornton.”

        Brett Thornton.  Kayla barely managed to suppress a grimace.  How was it possible to so thoroughly dislike a man she’d never even met?  In the course of only four months, he’d become the bane of her existence.  She was well accustomed to dealing with everything from the media to demanding executives to high-maintenance, diva-like models.  Who would have thought that some unknown nerdy scientist could prove such a problem? 

        “I flunked Spying 101,” she said with a breezy laugh.  “So clearly I’m not the best choice.”

        “You are the best choice,” Nelson said in the deep, implacable tone Kayla recognized all too well after working for him for the past ten years.  It was the tone that indicated he’d made up his mind and there’d be no changing it.  “Thornton’s claims of developing an anti-aging formula that will not only render cosmetic surgery obsolete but that has aphrodisiac qualities as well is the cutting edge we need.”

        “Unfortunately every other cosmetics company in the world feels the same way.”

        “Exactly.  Which is why I want to make sure Le Fleur has the upper hand right from the beginning.  We lost out two years ago on that new sunless-tan formula.  We’re not losing again.”

        “But Thornton’s been dangling that golden carrot for four months and hasn’t produced yet.”

        “Doesn’t mean he won’t.”

        She made a disgusted sound.  “My personal opinion is that he’s loving all the attention every cosmetics firm--including us--is lavishing on him.  Basking in the perks, the wining, dining and wooing--he’s milking it for all it’s worth and then when it finally comes time to put out his so-called miracle product, he’ll have nothing.”

        “That is a possibility,” Nelson agreed.  “But it’s also just as likely he’s being cautious, and as aggravating as that is, I can’t blame him.  If his claims are true, the product will revolutionize not only skin care but foreplay as well.  Who could resist such a product?  You know as well as I do that sex sells.  And Le Fleur will own the product.”

There was no need for him add or else--it was fully implied.  And certainly if Thornton’s claims were true, Kayla wanted Le Fleur to own the miracle formula.  But after months with no physical proof, she had serious doubts as to whether Thornton’s claims were valid.

And then there was her personal dislike of the man.  While she’d delegated and therefore been spared dealing with him personally, her staff had not been so fortunate, reporting that Thornton was standoffish, refused interviews, and didn’t return phone calls.  Bad enough--but her one “almost” encounter with him two months ago convinced her he lacked any redeeming qualities.

She’d spent weeks arranging a fabulous party in Thornton’s honor in order to introduce him to key Le Fleur people, seen to it that every mover and shaker in New York had been invited, along with a host of local celebrities and all the Le Fleur models.  And what did Brett Thornton do?  He’d abruptly left--without a word, before the party had barely begun.  And before he’d been introduced to the managerial team, herself included.  Furious and appalled by his rudeness, she’d been forced to improvise a plausible excuse to the company’s president, CFO, and board of directors who looked to her to explain why the guest of honor was MIA.

Just thinking about it now fueled her anger all over again.  As far as she was concerned, Brett Thornton--oops, sorry--Dr. Brett Thornton as he’d insisted upon being called--was more of a headache than a roomful of hungover supermodels.  He was just another arrogant overnight sensation who courted media interest then turned into a first-class whiner about the “intrusive” attention.  Exactly the sort of person she most disliked.

Nelson slid a sheet of paper over his lake-sized glass-topped desk toward her.  “Here’s your itinerary.  Your flight to Lima leaves at nine o’clock.  That gives you plenty of time to go home and--“

        “Whoa, hold it,” Kayla said, extending her hand like a stop sign. “Nine o’clock tonight?”  Good grief, she hadn’t even unpacked yet from yesterday’s re-booked Miami flight.

        “Tonight,” Nelson confirmed. 

        Everything inside Kayla groaned.  In an effort to save herself, she said, “I’m attending the launch for the Hidden Secrets fragrance line tomorrow--“

        “I’ve reassigned that to Caroline,” Nelson interjected, naming Kayla’s senior publicist.  “She and Ted can handle your calendar until you return.”

        “Caroline or Ted--or someone else on my staff--can just as easily make this trip to woo Thornton.”

        Nelson shook his head.  “You’re missing the point.  This trip isn’t about wooing or schmoozing.  It’s about gathering information--discreetly.  I want to know why he’s going to Peru, of all places.”

        Kayla’s curiosity piqued in spite of herself.  “You think it has something to do with his formula?  That maybe there’s a secret ingredient in some plant found only in South America?”

        “Maybe.  If the man merely wanted a vacation, why not just go to the Caribbean, or Hawaii or even Europe?  Why Peru?”

        “You have a point--it is a bit off the beaten track.”

        “That’s what I thought.  Especially since it’s obvious he’s gone to great pains to keep this trip secret.”

        “How did you find out about it?”

        Nelson treated her to a razor-sharp smile.  “I’m not at liberty to say.  Suffice it to know that my source is impeccable.”

        “And how do you know that Lancome and Estee Lauder and all our other competitors aren’t sending spies to Peru as well?”

“I don’t, but I’d lay odds that no one else knows about Thornton’s plans.  It was just by a stroke of freakish luck that I found out about them.  Worst case scenario is that the competition will be there, too, in which case, I’d want and need you there to run interference and represent our interests.  But my gut tells me that won’t be the case and that this is the perfect opportunity for us to learn more.  Not just about the formula and its properties, but the man himself.  All without him realizing it’s being done, especially by someone connected to Le Fleur.  Which is one reason why Caroline is out--she’s met Thornton.”

        “What about April or Ted?” she asked, naming two more of her staff.

        “No.  Ted met Thornton last week.  You’re the best, and the best is what’s required for this trip.”

Part of her was flattered at Nelson’s recognition of her job skills.  But another part--the part that had lately grumbled with discontent over some of the things she’d done to be the best--was less than pleased.   “Thank you, but April is very competent and she’s never met Thornton.”

“She has back problems.”

        Kayla frowned.  “What does that have to do with anything?”

        “The trip would be too vigorous for her.”

        “Vigorous?”  Her eyes narrowed with suspicion.  “What sort of trip is this?  Some kind of rafting expedition down the anaconda-filled Amazon?”

        Nelson looked insulted.  “Of course not.  I know you don’t like snakes.”

        “Amen to that.”

        “Besides, you’d need yellow fever shots for the Amazon.”

        She blinked.  “It scares me that you even know that.”

        “Not to worry.  This trip is perfectly safe and doesn’t involve the Amazon at all.  I know what a girly girl you are.”

        “Uh huh.  And this seems like a good time to remind you that there’s nothing wrong with that.  This is a cosmetics company after all--not Extreme Sports-R-Us.”

        Nelson smiled.  “Not to worry--“

        “The fact that that’s the second time you’ve said that in the last ten seconds is not reassuring.  Exactly what sort of trip is this?”

        “You want the good news or the bad news first?”

        “Oh, God.”  She squeezed her eyes shut for several seconds, took a bracing breath, then said, “Good news.  I definitely could use some good news.”

        “The good news is that the hotel where you’re scheduled to stay in Aguas Calientes is incredible.  Breathtaking views, gourmet food, five-star treatment all the way.”

        “And the bad news?”

        “It’s a four day hike to Aguas Calientes.”

        A deafening silence filled the room.  When Kayla finally found her voice, she said, “Hike?

        “Hike.  Aguas Calientes is the town nearest to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas in the Andes mountains.  You’ll enjoy a four-day hike along the famous Inca trail to the ruins, which are reputed to be spectacular.  Then, at the end of the journey, you’ll be pampered at the Sanctuary Lodge which is the height of luxury.”

“You sound like a travel agent.”

“Just trying to focus on the positives.  And it’s not as grueling as it sounds.”

“That’s a relief, because I must tell you, a four hour hike sounds grueling.  A four day hike sounds...insane.”

“You’ll have a guide and porters who carry the tents and cooking gear.”

“Tents and cooking gear are the positives?”  She shook her head.  “Limos and facials and sun-drenched tropical beaches are positives.”

“You’ll be fine.  I recall you once mentioning you were a girl scout.”

“Yes.  When I was ten.  Nowadays, I’m afraid my idea of roughing it is staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Hyatt.”

“You have a gym membership.  You can handle this.”

“I’m not worried about my ability to hike up the mountain.  Unfortunately neither yoga, spinning, nor Pilates prepare one for roughing it in the wild outdoors.  In tents.”

“Think of this as an opportunity to do something new for a change.  To step outside the box.”

Nelson’s words halted her, and she immediately recalled the article she’d read yesterday.  No change, no gain.  According to the article, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you’ve always been.  That to get your life back in balance, you needed to challenge yourself.  Step outside your box.  Go somewhere you’ve never been, and do something you’ve never done. 

        No doubt about it, a four-day, tent-sleeping, gear-lugging, outdoor-roughing-it hike in the Andes qualified for waaaay outside her box.  She’d been thinking more along the lines of a spa trip to St. Barts for a seaweed wrap--something she’d never done in a place she’d never been.

        But even she had to admit that such pampering wouldn’t qualify as “challenging”.  Was it fate that had Nelson scheduling her for this trip?  Let’s hope so, her inner voice whispered.  Right.  As opposed to it being a bone-breaking, nightmarish, hikers-eaten-by-snakes coincidence.  Which probably just proved that this trip was fate.  A mighty, between-the-shoulder-blades shove outside her comfort zone.  One that, based on her St. Barts spa idea, she sure as hell wouldn’t have planned on her own.  And one that was exactly what she needed. 

        In fact, if Dr. Brett Thornton wasn’t in the mix, everything would be perfect.  Or at least as perfect as a four-day hike up a mountain could be.

        The timing, however, was not great.  With Meg’s wedding only a month away, her sister was bound to freak when she heard Kayla would be away for a week.  Kayla took her maid of honor duties seriously, and she hated to leave Meg now--especially since her future in-laws were arriving this weekend from California.  But, unless she wanted to resign from her job here and now, she had little choice.

        “Listen, Kayla, I know this is a bit outside your realm,” Nelson’s voice jerked her away from her thoughts, “but surely if Thornton, who no doubt spends all his time peering through microscopes, can make the hike, so can you.”

        “So far you’ve flattered me, appealed to my vanity, and now you’re trying to rev up my competitive spirit.”

        Nelson smiled.  “Is it working?”

        She wanted to say no.  Tell him that she was tired.  Physically, emotionally exhausted.  And so damn weary of doing things she didn’t really want to do.  Like trek to another continent to partake in what boiled down to spying on a man she had no desire to spend one minute with, let alone one week with.  That between work and her crappy personal life, she was completely out of balance.  But clearly Nelson wasn’t going to take no for an answer, and Thornton’s miracle product was too much of a temptation to ignore.  As was the opportunity to exact some spy-filled revenge on the arrogant scientist.  Yes, a bit of payback for the way he’d treated her staff and embarrassed her by ditching the party she’d worked so hard to plan was exactly what he deserved. 

        She smiled.  “Put me in, coach.”

“That’s the spirit.  You’re booked to spend a day in Cusco, the city where you’ll overnight before departing on your hike to Machu Picchu.  Maybe you can even strike up a conversation with Thornton during that time.  According to our travel agency, your hotel is less than a quarter mile away from Thornton’s.  All the information is on your itinerary.”  A satisfied smile curved his lips.  “The time with Thornton should give you ample opportunity to befriend him and find out what his plans his are for his formula.  And to make certain that Le Fleur is in those plans.”

He rose, indicating their meeting was concluded.  “I’m out of the office for the rest of day,” he said, leading the way into the hallway, then turning toward the elevators.  “I’ll want updates on your progress, although I don’t know what the cell phone service will be like.”

Nervous jitters tingled down her spine at the thought of dead air space.  Maybe this was stepping too far outside her box.  But then she shook off her apprehension and mentally chanted her new mantra:  No change, no gain

They reached the bank of elevators and Nelson pushed the down button.  “Bring home the goods here, Kayla, and the Le Fleur world will be your oyster.  We’re talking bonus, perks, another promotion.”

Only a few short months ago, she’d have been thrilled by those words.  Now, for reasons she didn’t quite understand but that undoubtedly had to do with her life being out of balance, she felt a strong urge to tell Nelson that as far as she was concerned, oysters were nothing but icky bits of slime.  Instead she smiled.  “You can count on me.”

“I knew I could.”  The elevator doors slid open and he stepped inside.  “Oh, and be sure to pack some warm clothes.  It’s hot during the day, but I understand it can get pretty chilly on the trail at night.”

The elevator door closed, and Kayla found herself staring at her own reflection in the polished brass door.  She looked a little shell-shocked.

Not a big surprise, considering that’s exactly how she felt.

But, according to the U.S. Weekly Review article, this trip was exactly what she needed.  And she’d learned long ago that when life handed you lemons, you made lemonade.

Of course, in the case of a four-day hike up a mountain with a man she disliked regarded with high suspicion, she suspected this was more a case of life handing her limes, so she needed to make margaritas.

And thanks to Brett Thornton, she didn’t doubt she’d need a margarita.  Or two.

I understand it can get pretty chilly on the trail at night.

Three or four was definitely not out of the question.

 

 

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Excerpt

Chapter One

Reviews (coming soon)

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Awards
(coming soon)

 

Reviews

 


 

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Excerpt

Chapter One

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Reader Comments

 

Coming Soon

 

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Excerpt

Chapter One

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Awards
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Awards

 

Hopefully Coming Soon!
 

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Chapter One

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Awards
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