Four gypsies on a solitary road…until love throws a fork in their paths.
Bethany Briggs is a wallflower who’s always looked for love in the wrong places. Rod Summers is notorious for the string of broken hearted girlfriends he’s left behind. Even when she sees a teddy bear beneath his wild exterior, she isn’t sure she can trust her heart. But this shy girl-next-door is about to prove that the pattern for leather and lace can be tailor-made.
Awards: 4 1/2 stars from Affaire de Coeur, 4 1/5 stars from Scribes World Reviews, 5 stars from The Literary Times
GENRE: Contemporary Romance ISBN: 978-1-921636-66-0 ASIN: B006O4SGPM Word Count: 43,813
A wild man had just walked into the salon. Though Bethany Briggs had always been shy, it had never gotten in the way of interacting with her customers. Most of her clients, however, were older ladies, professional women, or children. This man was first-glance intimidating. He was dressed in black leather pants, silver-tipped boots, and a tiger-striped vest. Maybe he hadn’t seen the no shoes, no shirt, no service sign in the corner of the front door.
Setting down the supplies she was stocking her retail shelves with, Bethany straightened her skirt, then crossed the white and black checkered floor to the reception desk he leaned on. His hair was blond, long and wild. Against his dark skin, it was shockingly light. When she realized that she found him attractive, despite his wildness, she blushed. To hide it, she glanced down at the appointment book, scanning it for his name though she knew it wasn’t there. “You have an appointment?” Her voice was weak with nervousness.
It required all of her courage to look up at him, only to be slammed again with his attractiveness. His eyes were a breathtaking shade of deep brown. He grinned at her as if they’d known each other forever. Blushing again, she lowered her gaze and asked quietly, “What can I do for you?”
“Whatever you got in mind, sweetness.”
It wasn’t as if a man had never come on to her before. She had even had wild men come on to her. But this was a business. No one came on to her in her salon, ‘Beauty by Bethany’. “Do you need a haircut, sir?” she asked, glancing at him quickly, trying to pretend he hadn’t said what he had.
“It’s Rod Summers, and no. I just came to pick up my baby.”
My…? Her gaze flew to his face in alarm, and then she knew he hadn’t been referring to a child. “Oh. You must mean Nicole Martini.” The other wild person in the salon.
Grateful to be able to look away, Bethany confirmed that her stylist Olivia was almost finished with Rod’s ‘baby’. “It’ll only be a few minutes more, if you’d like to sit down and wait.” She pointed to the little reception area near the front door where chairs, magazines, and coffee were available.
About to return to her shelf-stocking, Bethany was caught off-guard when Rod asked, “Hey, what’s your name?”
He was talking to her; she couldn’t mistake that. “Oh. Um, Bethany.”
“As in ‘Beauty by Bethany’?” He indicated the pink logo painted on the picture window next to the door.
“Yes. I own the salon.” Clasping her hands, she waited for him to walk away so she could, too.
“How long you been in business?”
For what possible reason would he want to know? “Two years now.”
He nodded in interest, glancing around. “This building seems too small for a beauty shop.”
She didn’t expect many others had noticed that fact. The building was actually much larger; she rented the whole thing since it only came that way, but she couldn’t afford to expand into the unused portion yet. That part had been blocked off with a temporary wall. After her first successful year, she’d lapsed back into the red when a chain salon had opened a few blocks from hers. “I know. I plan to expand later.” Two, three, five years later, if everything got off the ground again. “Um, there’s coffee if you–”
He moved around the reception desk, and her stomach did a somersault in panic when he came to stand near her. Too near. She could smell the wildness of his cologne, the leather he wore. His body was no longer shielded by the desk. He was at least six foot tall, five inches taller than she was, and he was solidly built. His biceps were golden brown, as was his hairless chest. She wondered if he had any Native American blood, or maybe it was that he wore animal hide and was almost bare-chested that he looked like an Indian warrior to her.
“Bethany. That’s a real pretty name, sweetness. Almost as pretty as you are.”
Her heart was pounding like a tennis ball flying back and forth over a court. How could she be attracted to him? More to the point, how could he be coming on to her while his “baby” was only a few feet away?
Gosh, he was attractive. All that glorious blond hair, those sexy eyes. Not to mention his mouth. It was as full and soft-looking as a woman’s, but there was nothing feminine about it. Everything, everything was one hundred percent male on this man.
She blushed again, couldn’t even begin to control it, when he reached out and touched the delicate lace that bordered the collar of her blouse. For a second, his fingers touched the skin of her throat. In that briefness, she gasped. A hint of a smile lit on his beautiful lips. “You suppose I could have your phone number, pretty Bethany?”
Oh goodness, she stood as though under a spell. His spell. She realized it when she heard Olivia approaching. Without answering, she broke away from whatever trance he’d put her under. Her gaze met Olivia’s, and then Nicole Martini’s as the two came to settle up at the desk.
Bethany glanced back once she returned to her stocking and saw Rod put his arm around his “baby” before they walked out together.
“God save women from playboys,” Olivia said as a prayer, picking up the broom to clean her station. Bethany’s other employee, Kimberly, joined the older lady in gossiping, first, about Nicole Martini, then about Rod Summers. Bethany pretended not to listen.
“I think he dated Cindy Crawford…or one of the supermodels,” Kimberly confided.
“One? I heard there were a lot more than that! He’s got a new flavor every week.”
From her stocking position, Bethany couldn’t help her blush. In a town the size of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, a man who’d dated…and broken up…with supermodels was definitely the center of gossip. Now that she recognized him, Bethany recalled having heard of Rod Summers before, from other customers. No one else in Stevens Point dressed like him, looked like him. Even among the city college students, who sometimes were a little off-beat, he didn’t fit in.
“A friend of mine dated him awhile back,” Kimberly said, and Bethany suddenly found herself straining to catch every word. “She said he was the most charming guy she’d ever met. In bed and out. He bought her all this expensive stuff, took her to these fancy restaurants and hotels… If you can believe this, he broke up with her on what she calls “her dream date”. One minute they’re drinking champagne, eating caviar, he’s giving her a diamond necklace, and the next he’s saying ‘It was fun, but that’s all she wrote.’ He had another girlfriend before the weekend was out–that’s the worst part. God save any woman from a womanizer like that.”
While Olivia commented on the successful business he owned in town, Bethany thought, God save me! It’d been seven years since she’d been that attracted to a man. And she’d learned all she wanted to about playboys and their games.
* * * *
Nicole had only been living with him for a week and already he was bored to death of her. There were three things Rod Summers looked for in a woman: good, responsive breasts; the enjoyment of kissing and cuddling with or without sex; and the desire to have lots of babies.
Nicole Martini didn’t qualify for any of those. She’d been fondled too many times in her life, and so she’d become bored with the foreplay thing–there went kissing and cuddling before, during and after sex. And babies…Nicole wanted babies about as much as she wanted herpes. There was no denying she had the perfect body and pregnancy would ruin it, but she didn’t seem to have a future planned anyway. She was the type who went from guy to guy, letting them “take care of her”. All she foresaw was more of the same.
At the salon, she’d noticed him coming on to Bethany, but she hadn’t said anything. She wasn’t the jealous type, another disadvantage. He liked to feel coveted by a woman, though he’d never wanted to ‘covet’ one of his own.
That little doll at the beauty salon had definite possibilities. Nothing jaded about that little honey. She’d spent pretty much every minute of their interaction flushed an attractive shade of pink. Oh baby, he’d never met a woman with the ability to blush. A woman who was so shy, she could barely look at him.
Plain and simple, she’d been attracted to him, same as he was to her. All he’d done was touch the collar of her elegant blouse and she’d gone on code-red alert. Yeah, that little cutie qualified for his first requirement.
The minute he’d walked in there, he’d noticed her. Everything had been done in black and white, but she was a brilliant flash of blue in that skirt that matched her beautiful eyes. And then those long, slim, silky legs had been coming right for him. As far gone as he’d been, the why of him being there had become her. He’d been there to meet her. Forget Nicole, who was about as sweet and cuddly as a viper.
He had to see her again. Pretty Bethany. What was her last name? Probably could just go back to the salon, but he knew she’d been uncomfortable being hit on there. He’d have to figure out where she lived and go there.
Hearing a noise from that direction, he realized Nicole was still in the bathroom. For a woman who didn’t like foreplay, she spent a whole a lot of time getting ready for the act. He wasn’t worried about her coming out while he made a call or two to find out more about that sweet thing who owned the salon. Nicole always spent at least an hour getting ready, and it’d only been thirty-five minutes.
Finding out more about a woman–he’d done it often, and Travis, his lawyer, was usually the guy he called. “Rod, I’m not a private detective,” was the expected disclaimer Travis gave him.
“Come on, you know Stevens Point better than anybody. You can find out about her easily. She owns a salon called ‘Beauty by Bethany’. Bethany’s her first name.”
“That’s all you know about her?”
It was more than he usually had for Travis to work with. “Yeah. I just need to know her last name, her phone number and address. I can find out the rest from her.”
Travis sighed loudly through the telephone line. “All right. I’ll try to get back to you tomorrow.”
Rod hung up, grabbed a motorcycle magazine, and lay back on the bed. He owned a successful bike repair shop with two friends. He’d taken the afternoon off because Nicole had asked him to. Now he wasn’t so sure it was a good idea.
Nicole came out of the bathroom a while later, wearing an outfit that went against everything she was. Nice breasts, even displayed like that, were no good if they didn’t do anything.
She crawled up on the bed with her incredible body, and he thought of sweet, sexy Bethany. He might be with her tomorrow.
“I’m not in the mood, Nicole,” he said when she ran her hands up his leather-clad.
“What do you mean you’re not in the mood? You were in the mood when we got here.”
Of course he’d been. He’d been remembering that honey at the salon.
She sat up on her knees and looked at him hard. “What is this?” she asked with her teeth clenched slightly.
“We didn’t go into this expecting more than a couple hits.”
Her dark eyes narrowed. He couldn’t believe she wanted any more than he did. Nicole was street smart. She dealt with aces and eights, not hearts.
“You… Are you telling me…? Oh, hell.” She pushed herself off the bed and went to her closet. As she yanked on a pair of skintight spandex pants, she said, “It’s that little blond bimbo at the salon, isn’t it? You think you can have a little cherry like that? She wouldn’t even know the chastity belt’s gotta come off first.”
Rod watched her pull a low-cut shirt over her head, one as tight as her pants, and then stab her feet into mile-high heels. Feeling a little conscience wouldn’t make him stop her from going. “Your suitcases are–”
“Forget it. I wanna get outta here now.” She did get her purse, car keys and jacket before heading for the bedroom door.
“See you around, Nicole,” he called to her pleasantly.
“When hell freezes over, you bastard.”
He laughed, but later he was lonely. Not that he wanted Nicole back. Most of his friends were gone. His sister, JoJo, was in The Keys on business, for her chain of health clubs. Jon Rushing and Blackie Scarpacchio, the guys he owned the shop with and had grown up with, would probably be heading down to Milwaukee soon, to Rainbow Nights, where the four of them spent most weekends. So Rod was alone in the house his sister owned but didn’t mind sharing.
Maybe that was why he’d had so many women here since his sister had started traveling so much. He didn’t like being alone, but he hadn’t liked any of the women he’d invited in enough to want them to stay for more than a week or two. Half of them didn’t have names for him anymore. Or faces. They all seemed the same. Every one of them been forms of Nicole Martini.
No wonder JoJo didn’t pay attention to them when she came back for a day or two here and there. What was the use of going through formal introductions for women who wouldn’t be there long?
He went downstairs and got out the phone book. Beauty by Bethany was listed under the Beauty Salon category, but it only had a business address and phone number, no names. He’d have to wait for Travis to get back to him tomorrow, even if the wait might kill him.
* * * *
Bethany let herself into the apartment she occasionally shared with her big brother. Randy fixed up old houses for a living. He’d been in Minnesota for the last year working on a house but expected to return to Wisconsin as soon as the house sold. During the time he searched for another house to remodel, he would stay with Bethany.
Randy was like a father to her, and she loved him more than anything in the world. Their real father had died long before she could remember, and their mother had died when Bethany was eight, Randy seventeen. He’d raised her, though it’d never been easy financially. Money from his own pocket was what he’d used to put her through technical college and then through beauty school. He’d also put up the collateral when she’d opened her own salon.
In her bedroom, Bethany carefully removed and hung up her skirt and blouse, then put on a comfortable dress. If wasn’t for Randy, she reminded herself, she would have nothing. Everything she owned had been bought with his money. Even the profits she earned at the salon could be considered his, since it was his collateral that had put her in business. Not once had he ever complained about caring for her.
In the kitchen, she put together a “gourmet” salad, her most frequent meal when Randy wasn’t there to cook for. She ate it with candles and music while listening to the one message she’d gotten, from her brother, on her answering machine.
Maybe once she talked to Randy about the meeting, she would stop thinking about Rod. Why couldn’t he have been terribly unappealing? Why couldn’t he have had greasy hair with split ends? That would have turned her off in a heartbeat. But, no, he’d had to have all that beautiful hair, and those compelling brown eyes, and a sweet, sexy grin…
Good thing he’d had his “baby” there to rescue Bethany. How could she have told him no if Nicole hadn’t been there? The two of them were made for each other: Rod and Nicole, two wild animals. Bethany knew she couldn’t handle a man like that. Businessmen and lawyers–they were easy to control. Their lives had order and rules. A man like Rod Summers did whatever he wanted to and expected everything he wanted to come to him easily. He wouldn’t understand things like fear and love and virginity, the way Scott Reeves hadn’t. Men like Rod and Scott didn’t see obstacles. People were just stones they walked over unconsciously on the path to their desires. She’d gotten away from Scott before any major damage could be done. It’d become much easier to avoid the wild side of life now.
Randy called her back later that night, and she told him everything. As expected, he was relieved when she assured him she wouldn’t see Rod again. In small-town Wisconsin, Rod was well-known and notorious. After protecting her for sixteen years, Bethany knew her brother didn’t like the thought of her being seduced by a man who’d had more women than ice cream had flavors.