Sometimes good things come in pairs! It was already going to be a good week for Kindle Nation fave author Bella Andre, with her novel THE LOOK OF LOVE featured as our Kindle Nation ROMANCE OF THE WEEK. But now Amazon has placed the cherry right on top of the sundae by including the novel in its Cyber Monday week “The Big Deal” program, which means that the price has just been reduced to the unbelievable bargain level of just $1.99!
by Bella Andre
by Bella Andre
4.3 stars – 61 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
Chloe Peterson is having a bad night. A really bad night. The large bruise on her cheek can attest to that. And when her car skids off the side of a wet country road straight into a ditch, she’s convinced even the gorgeous guy who rescues her in the middle of the rain storm must be too good to be true. Or is he? As a successful photographer who frequently travels around the world, Chase Sullivan has his pick of beautiful women, and whenever he’s home in San Francisco, one of his seven siblings is usually up for causing a little fun trouble. Chase thinks his life is great just as it is—until the night he finds Chloe and her totaled car on the side of the road in Napa Valley. Not only has he never met anyone so lovely, both inside and out, but he quickly realizes she has much bigger problems than her damaged car. Soon, he is willing to move mountains to love—and protect—her, but will she let him? Chloe vows never to make the mistake of trusting a man again. Only, with every loving look Chase gives her—and every sinfully sweet caress—as the attraction between them sparks and sizzles, she can’t help but wonder if she’s met the only exception. And although Chase didn’t realize his life was going to change forever in an instant, amazingly, he isn’t the least bit interested in fighting that change. Instead, he’s gearing up for a different fight altogether…for Chloe’s heart.
Bella hopes you will enjoy this free excerpt:
Damn, thought Chase Sullivan, it was good to get out on the open road. Sure, his windshield wipers were barely making a dent in the driving rain from this freak late-May storm, but it had been long past time to get out of his mother’s seventieth birthday party.
All eight siblings together under one roof meant lots of laughs, plenty of ribbing…and at least a couple of major arguments. It didn’t help that Zach’s date for the evening, a big-breasted blonde who almost toppled over a couple of times in her ridiculous heels, had done the nasty with Gabe a couple of months ago.
Throw six brothers between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-six together and things were bound to get messy. But since it was obvious that neither of his brothers was serious about the girl, there was a zero percent chance that they were going to come to blows over her other than as an excuse to blow off some steam with their fists. Besides, as soon as Smith showed up, the girl had become so starstruck she hadn’t paid any attention to anyone else in the room.
Chase always laughed at the way people lost it around his movie-star brother. Smith was just as normal as the rest of them. Well, maybe owning a 150-foot yacht and filling it with young, topless starlets wasn’t exactly normal.
In any case, the real reason the party had been on the verge of implosion was that his twin sisters weren’t speaking. Hell, they hadn’t needed to say a word, not when the evil glances they were shooting at each other across the room spoke volumes.
Long ago, he’d christened Lori and Sophie Naughty and Nice. Were it not for the fact that they were physical carbon copies, Chase wouldn’t believe for a second that they were related to each other. Strangely, at the party it had looked like Nice was the one intent on murdering Naughty. If he wasn’t mistaken, Lori had actually been hiding from Sophie at one point.
Good thing he’d had a reason to get out of there before the hair-pulling started, he thought as he rounded a curve in the narrowing road that led to the Sullivan Winery–owned by his brother Marcus–in the Napa Valley wine country.
For the next four days, Chase was doing a photo shoot for Jeanne & Annie, a quickly growing fashion house that combined haute couture with homegrown style. The models and crew would be staying in town, but Chase was going to be staying in Marcus’s guest house.
A bolt of lightning lit up the sky and if there had been enough of a shoulder on the road, Chase would have pulled over to take some shots of the storm. He loved the rain. Big weather changed the way things looked, could transform an ordinary field into a marsh full of a thousand birds making an impromptu pit stop. Conditions that sent most photographers into a tizzy—especially if they depended on the perfect sunset to nail their pictures—were exactly what got him going.
It was in those moments, when everyone was cold and nothing was going “right,” that magic would happen. The models would finally drop their guard and let him see all the way past their put-on beauty to who they really were. Chase believed there needed to be a true emotional connection with the camera for real beauty—along with the beauty of the clothes or jewelry or shoes that they were wearing—to really shine through.
Of course, early on in his career, being around all that physical beauty had made Chase just as big a player as every other straight guy in the business. It was damn difficult to turn down a nearly naked girl who was so desperate for approval that she’d do anything. You never had to learn their names. Never learned if they had siblings or were good at tennis.
At first that had been one of the bonuses of his job, but then when he hit his late twenties and realized that his flavor of the night hadn’t made it a full eight hours but his photographs were forever, he’d slowed down some.
Between his recent trips in and out of Asia and the fact that there hadn’t been anyone who got his motor going, he’d actually abstained for the past month. He was planning on breaking his dry spell tonight with Ellen, one of Marcus’s head managers whom he’d met briefly while setting up details for the shoot. A fun, strings-free night of hot sex was just what the doctor ordered.
Anticipation had him almost missing the flickering light off on the right side of the two-lane country road. In the past thirty minutes, he hadn’t passed one car, because on a night like this, most sane Californians—who didn’t know the first thing about driving safely in inclement weather—stayed home.
Knowing better than to slam on the brakes—he wouldn’t be able to help whomever was stranded on the side of the road if he ended up stuck in the muddy ditch right next to them—Chase slowed down enough to see that there was definitely a vehicle stuck in the ditch.
He turned his brights on to see better in the pouring rain and realized there was a person walking along the edge of the road about a hundred yards up ahead. Obviously hearing his car approach, she turned to face him and he could see her long wet hair whipping around her shoulders in his headlights.
Wondering why she wasn’t just sitting in her car, dry and warm, calling Triple A and waiting for them to come save her, he pulled over to the edge of his lane and got out to try and help her. She was shivering as she watched him approach.
“Are you hurt?”
She covered her cheek with one hand, but shook her head. “No.”
He had to move closer to hear her over the sound of the water hitting the pavement in what were rapidly becoming hailstones. Even though he’d turned his headlights off, as his eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, he was able to get a better look at her face.
Something inside of Chase’s chest clenched tight.
Despite the long, dark hair plastered to her head and chest, regardless of the fact that looking like a drowned rat wasn’t too far off the descriptive mark, her beauty stunned him.
In an instant, his photographer’s eye cataloged her features. Her mouth was a little too big, her eyes a little too wide-set on her face. She wasn’t even close to model thin, but given the way her T-shirt and jeans stuck to her skin, he could see that she wore her lush curves well. In the dark he couldn’t judge the exact color of her hair, but it looked like silk, perfectly smooth and straight where it lay over her breasts.
It wasn’t until Chase heard her say, “My car is definitely hurt, though,” that he realized he had completely lost the thread of what he’d come out here to do.
Knowing he’d been drinking her in like he was dying of thirst, he worked to recover his balance. He could already see he’d been right about her car. It didn’t take a mechanic like his brother, Zach, who owned an auto shop—more like forty, but Chase had stopped counting years ago—to see that her shitty hatchback was borderline totaled. Even if the front bumper wasn’t half smashed to pieces by the white farm fence she’d slid into, her bald tires weren’t going to get any traction on the mud. Not tonight, anyway.
If her car had been in a less precarious situation, he probably would have sent her to hang out in her car while he took care of getting it unstuck. But one of her back tires was hanging precariously over the edge of the ditch.
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Get in my car. We can wait there for a tow truck.” He was vaguely aware of his words coming out like an order, but the hail was starting to sting, damn it. Both of them needed to get out of the rain before they froze.
But the woman didn’t move. Instead, she gave him a look that said he was a complete and utter nut-job.
“I’m not getting into your car.”
Realizing just how frightening it must be for a lone woman to end up stuck and alone in the middle of a dark road, Chase took a step back from her. He had to speak loudly enough for her to hear him over the hail.
“I’m not going to attack you. I swear I won’t do anything to hurt you.”
She all but flinched at the word attack and Chase’s radar started buzzing. He’d never been a magnet for troubled women, wasn’t the kind of guy who thrived on fixing wounded birds. But living with two sisters for so many years meant he could always tell when something was up.
And something was definitely up with this woman, beyond the fact that her car was half-stuck in a muddy ditch.
Wanting to make her feel safe, he held his hands up. “I swear on my father’s grave, I’m not going to hurt you. It’s okay to get into my car.” When she didn’t immediately say no again, he pressed his advantage with, “I just want to help you.” And he did. More than it made sense to want to help a stranger. “Please,” he said. “Let me help you.”
She stared at him for a long moment, hail hammering between them, around them, onto them. Chase found himself holding his breath, waiting for her decision. It shouldn’t matter to him what she decided.
But, for some strange reason, it did.
* * *
Chloe Peterson had never felt so wet, so miserable…or so desperate. She’d been beating the speed limit for the past couple of hours, before the storm had kicked into overdrive. She’d slowed down considerably on the super-slick pavement, but her tires were old and bald, and before she knew it, her car was skidding off the road.
Straight into a muddy ditch.
It might have been easier—smarter, too—to sit in her car and wait out the storm. But she’d been too keyed up to stay still. She’d needed to keep moving, otherwise the thoughts knocking around in her head were going to catch up with her, so she’d slung her backpack over her shoulders and stepped out into the rain, just as it turned into out-and-out hail.
The hard little pellets hurt her skin, but she’d been glad for the cold, for the sting. Because it gave her something else to focus on, something besides what had happened just hours ago.
She hadn’t been sure exactly where she was—or what she was headed for–but she’d hoped she was walking in the direction of town.
All night long the roads had been strangely empty, but she’d barely starting walking away from her car when she’d realized headlights were coming up behind her.
Fear had knocked into her again as the car pulled over to the side and she’d had to stop to brace herself to withstand it. She was all alone on a dark, wet, country road. She didn’t have her cell phone, and even if she had, she doubted there was enough reception out here in the storm for it to get a signal.
And then a man–a large man–had gotten out of his car and started walking toward her, telling her to get into his car.
He’d tried to convince her that she was safe with him. He’d said all the right things, but she’d had too much experience with people like that, who easily said one thing, then did another.
“I don’t know you,” she told him. He could be an axe murderer. She had feet. She’d walk and find a place to dry off later.
She could see the frustration on his face, knew he was about to try and reason with her again, when suddenly, the sound of skidding tires came at them. Before she knew what was happening, he was pulling her into his arms. She didn’t have time to think of fighting him, didn’t even consider it when she realized a fast-moving motorcycle was practically on top of them.
She closed her eyes, bracing for impact, when the man effortlessly lifted her and jumped into the ditch, holding her tightly against him.
She opened her eyes just in time to watch the motorcycle’s back tires skid and then finally catch hold just in the place she’d been standing. Her heart, which had all but stopped, started racing again as she watched it speed away.
“Are you okay?”
Chloe looked up at the man who had shielded her from harm with his own body, and for the first time since he’d stepped out of his car, she was hit hard with the realization of just how attractive he was.
No, she silently admitted to herself. Attractive was a paltry word for a man like this. Even in the darkness, she could see that he put other men to shame. As big as she’d first thought, even in the cold rain, he was utterly gorgeous.
And her body was reacting with surprising heat.
Or maybe, she suddenly realized, that heat was coming from the fact that he was still cradling her in his strong arms.
The way he’d moved her out of the way of the too-close motorcycle had her teetering on the edge of trusting him. And on any other night, perhaps it would have been enough. But was it?
They were both splattered with mud from where he’d landed with her in his arms and now that they were safe again, she struggled to stand up, to try and right her thoughts so that she could come to some sort of rational decision.
“Wait a minute,” he said, “let me get us out of here.”
A few moments later, he put her down on the side of the road. “It really isn’t safe to be out here. Not for either of us.”
Common sense told her he was right, and yet, she was still wary. Incredibly so.
But at this very moment what other choice did she have?
Replaying in her mind the way he’d protected her from harm, Chloe finally, said, “Okay. I’ll go with you.”
She sincerely hoped she didn’t end up regretting her choice.
Thank god, thought Chase, as she finally agreed to come with him. That motorcycle had scared the shit out of him. He hadn’t thought, had just acted to save her. Both of them.
Now, his instincts as a gentleman had him reaching for her backpack.
She immediately jumped back a foot. “Please don’t.” She carefully banked that quick flash of fear before saying, “I can carry my own bag, thanks.”
The way she’d leaped out of his reach could hurt a guy’s ego if he let it. At the same time, Chase knew it was just plain good sense for a woman to be on her guard with a strange guy in a situation like this.
Unfortunately, as she walked to his car, he found himself unable take his eyes off her sweetly rounded curves.
But any guy with little sisters, especially two pretty girls who got into more scrapes than he was comfortable thinking about, gave an extra bit of consideration to his interactions with women. He and his brothers might like to play—a whole heck of a lot—but none of them would ever do anything dangerous or take a woman against her will. No, they’d much rather have their women begging for it.
And this was no time to be thinking about sex. Not when he had a half-drowned woman on his hands…well, in his car, at least, since he’d promised her his hands weren’t going to come anywhere near her.
Knowing his leather interior was never going to be the same after the water and mud hit them, Chase opened the driver’s side door and slid inside. Steam rose from their clothes, condensation covering the inside of the windows, making the car feel even more intimate than it already was. Chase couldn’t help but notice that his surprise passenger smelled good, like rain and freshly bloomed flowers.
“Where were you headed?” he asked.
Instead of answering his question, she said, “If you could just take me to the nearest motel, that’d be great.” She paused for a moment before adding, “Someplace cheap would be best.”
With his plans for the evening falling apart one soaking-wet minute at a time—along with the fact that he was trying to repress the way her scent was driving his senses crazy—Chase’s voice was gruffer than usual as he offered, “Look, I’ve got a free place for you to stay for the night. We can call road assistance from there.”
It would be better to wait until she was dry and warm again to break it to her that even though road assistance would be able to pull her car out of the ditch, they probably wouldn’t be able to make it run again.
“Thanks for the offer,” she said, her words still wary, but firm, too. “Really, a motel is fine.” She shrugged, an outline of moving shoulders in the dark interior of his car. “And don’t bother calling road assistance. At this point I might as well leave my car in the ditch.”
The exhaustion in her voice fought with an underlying strength for dominance. While she clearly didn’t have the money to deal with any of this, she wasn’t sitting in his car crying about it.
Chase knew he should just take her to a motel. Lord knew she’d told him to do that more than once already. But there was no way he could leave her in some dank motel. Not if he wanted to be able look at himself in the mirror in the morning without seeing the word asshole written across his forehead.
Besides, every instinct he possessed told him she needed more help than just a ride to a motel.
Chase had learned early on from his mother and sisters not to mess with what a woman wanted. He knew better, knew this woman would be pissed off with what he was about to do.
But none of that, none of the warning buzzers that were going off in his head, were enough to stop him from deciding to help her anyway.
He turned the key in the ignition and as he carefully pulled back onto the road, he realized he didn’t know her name. Considering he was taking her to the warmth and comfort of the large guest house at his brother’s winery—whether she wanted to go there or not—he figured a couple of formalities wouldn’t be a bad thing.
“I’m Chase Sullivan.”
No sound came from the passenger seat and, inexplicably, he found himself fighting a grin. When was the last time a woman hadn’t thrown herself at him?
Then again, this one hadn’t told him anything at all, had she? Not just her name, but where she was headed.
Something was definitely up. It would be a much better idea if he could let it go, take her to a motel so that he could get on with his night of meaningless sex with Ellen at the winery.
So then, why wasn’t he doing just that?
And why the hell did he feel strangely drawn to this complete stranger?
He let the silence ride out between them, knowing she’d only answer if she felt comfortable enough with him to do so.
Finally, she said, “My name is Chloe.”
A pretty name. He normally would have told her so, but she was so touchy she’d probably take it the wrong way. He also noticed she didn’t tell him her last name.
She craned her neck to look out the window at a dimly lit sign. “Where are you going?” she asked, panic clearly threaded through each vowel. “Town is the opposite direction.”
Fortunately, right then he saw the Sullivan Winery sign, hit the remote to open the gates, and started up the narrow road.
Her voice held a strong note of warning, but it certainly didn’t stop him from liking the way his name sounded on her lips.
“I told you to take me to a motel.”
He thought about the different ways he could respond, if he should make excuses or be placating. But sensing she’d see through his bullshit in a way most women rarely did, he simply said, “The guest house is closer. Nicer, too.”
She made a barely muffled sound of irritation. “Do you always ignore what people want and do what you want to do anyway?”
Again, there were several possible responses. But only one honest one. “Pretty much.”
“Your mother must be so proud,” Chloe said, sarcastically.
He liked the way the words rolled right off her tongue, as if she was getting a little more comfortable with the idea of being in his car, but a moment later, judging by the way she shifted uncomfortably in the seat, he knew she was worried about her off-the-cuff response.
Speaking as easily as he could, he said, “Fortunately, I have five brothers and two hellcat sisters to distract her.”
He hoped she’d give another unguarded response to that piece of information and was glad when she turned back to him and said, “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Eight of us in all.” He took his eyes off the road long enough to grin at her.
She shook her head. “Your mother must be a saint.”
Good. He’d managed to distract her for a few moments, long enough to pull up behind the guest house. And this time, she didn’t seem to be worried by what she’d said – or how he would react to it.
“Look,” he said softly, “I know you’d rather not be here, but my brother owns this winery and I can’t see how it makes sense to pay for a crappy room in some dump on the side of the freeway when there are five empty bedrooms right here.”
“I don’t know you,” she said again.
“I know you don’t. And, trust me, if you were either of my sisters I wouldn’t want you to trust some guy who picked you up on the side of the road in the middle of a rainstorm.” He noted her surprise at the way he’d agreed with her innate wariness of him. “That’s why all I’m going to do is get you settled and then I’ll leave and head over to my brother’s house on the other side of the property.”
He waited for her to say no again. And the truth was, if she flat-out insisted on going to a motel, outside of throwing her over his shoulder and chaining her to one of the beds in his brother’s guest house, he was going to have to do what she wanted.
He pushed aside the flare of desire that tried to shoot through him at that whole tied-to-the-bedpost scenario. Lord knew if she saw her impact on him now, she was going to start clawing at the car door so that she could run screaming into town to get away from him.
“So,” she said slowly, drawing the one word out, which had the unfortunate result of drawing his eyes to her full, expressive lips.
My God, she had to be one the most beautiful women he’d come across in months. Years, maybe. And beautiful women were his job.
“You’re not going to stay with me?”
Ah, finally. It was the first time she hadn’t argued with him or told him she couldn’t stay here. Seizing the moment, he said, “I’ll just get you settled and then I’ll head over to his house for the rest of the night.”
Before she could change her mind, he reached for her bag, but she shifted and opened the door, moving out into the rain before he could help her with the damn thing. For some crazy reason, it had become a goal to carry it for her. He wanted to get her to trust him enough that she would accept his help.
She moved quickly to the covered porch. His brother’s housekeeper had left the front light on for him and he was graced with his best view of Chloe yet. Her hair, which had started to dry just a little in the car, really was like silk, so glossy she could make a mint in shampoo ads. She had a truly gorgeous figure. Not too thin, with beautifully lush curves that made his fingers itch to touch her.
What the hell was wrong with him? He needed to stop thinking like that. He’d taken her to his brother’s place to help her out of a bad situation, not help her out of her clothes.
As she waited for him on the porch, one hand holding her bag, the other placed over her right cheek again, Chase had to wonder why she was always hiding her cheek like that.
He had a bad feeling about it.
Knowing it wouldn’t help her feel any more comfortable around him if he was scowling at her, he worked to focus, instead, on the way the porch light bathed her in a faint glow. Making a mental note to set up some shots with the models the following evening right where she was standing, he walked up the steps and headed for the front door.
“Let’s go inside and warm up.”
He held the door open for her and she murmured, “At least your mother taught you one thing,” as she moved past him.
Chloe’s scent wrapped itself around him again and it was a hit of potent sensuality. Problem was, she was a gorgeous woman and he was a man who adored gorgeous women. But then her bag bumped against the door frame, pushing her hips into his groin, and he barely stifled his groan in time.
Jesus, if he didn’t know better, if she were any other woman, he’d think she’d done that on purpose. But given the way she all but threw herself across the room and away from him, he knew there was nothing intentional about her effect on him.
It had been nearly a month since Chase had had sex, but his body was reacting to Chloe like it had been a year, like he was fourteen again and hiding out in the girls’ locker room while the cheerleading team changed.
He smiled, thinking about that afternoon. Hell yeah, it had been good to be fourteen that day. Definitely one of Ryan’s better ideas.
A gust of wind blew rain up on the porch and Chase closed the door and moved inside, where Chloe was standing awkwardly next to the kitchen island.
He moved slowly into the room and worked to keep his eyes from devouring her. “Are you hungry?”
She shook her head, her hand still over her cheek.
“You’re hurt.” It wasn’t a question. “Let me take a look at your face.”
She tried to take a step back but the granite counter held her where she was. “No,” she said, “I’m fine.”
He could see how hard she was trying to be tough and strong. But didn’t she get it? He was right here offering to help her. Not moving slowly this time, not bothering to make sure he didn’t spook her, he crossed to her and put his hand over hers.
The first touch had both of them sucking in a breath and he swore her pupils dilated a split second before she wrenched out of his grip.
“I knew I shouldn’t have come here with you,” she said as she began to rush across the room.
But Chase was faster, pulling her into his arms before she could get away. He was just registering her soft heat, the press of her full breasts against his chest, the heated vee between her legs that so perfectly cradled his groin, when he saw what she’d been hiding from him.
“Jesus, Chloe, did that happen in the car?”
Her cheek had a huge mottled bruise across it, all the colors of the rainbow with a long scratch through the center. Tears sparkled in her eyes, but they seemed to be more of frustration than due to any pain she was feeling.
“It hasn’t been my best night.”
Yet again, she hadn’t answered his question. But by not saying yes, he figured it was pretty safe to assume the bruise hadn’t been caused by her hitting the steering wheel when her car had landed in the ditch. Any other woman would have been crying, but not this one, even though she’d clearly had some crazy shit happen to her in the last few hours.
“No kidding,” he said softly.
The more he looked at her, the angrier he got about the bruise. He’d fought with his brothers enough times to know that it must hurt like a mother. But he knew better than to make a big deal out of it. He wasn’t going to bruise her pride…not when someone had already done a hell of a job on her face.
“Have you put any ice on it?”
She shook her head and he reluctantly let go of her and moved toward the kitchen.
After filling a plastic bag with ice, he wrapped the whole thing up in a clean, soft kitchen towel. She hadn’t moved from the spot where he’d stopped her from running. He could easily bring her the ice, but he knew it was important that she start to trust him—at least a little—if he was going to be able to help her.
Every instinct he possessed had been screaming out from that first instant he’d spotted her that her damage was a hell of a lot bigger than just losing control of her car in the rain.
Sucked to be right sometimes.
“I don’t bite. I promise.”
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