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Jami Davenport

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Member Since: Jan, 2008

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Category: 

Romance

Publisher:  Siren Publishing ISBN-10:  1606010883 Type: 
Pages: 

400

Copyright:  2008 ISBN-13:  9781606010884
Fiction

What's a girl to do when her former fiancé declares that she's frigid? Take a jaunt on her wild side with the scruffy Puerto Rican next door?

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After being jilted, Mariah Baker decides to take a jaunt on her wild side--if she can find it. The scruffy Puerto Rican leasing the waterfront house next door appears to be just the man for the mission. After all, what better way to defrost than with a sexy Latin lover? Only Rico isn't who she thinks he is, and time is her enemy.

Rico finds fashion-obsessed Mariah intriguing and unique. For starters, she makes horses dance, and his heart does its own tango for her. Besides, a hot summer fling is a welcome distraction from his depressing, uncertain future and dysfunctional, freeloading family.

As their summer together comes to an end, Rico’s phobia toward falling in love and Mariah’s insecurities are a recipe for a trouble in paradise; but in the magic of the San Juan Islands, anything is possible. Or is it?

Prequel to Siren bestseller, "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?"
      


Excerpt

Okay, who turned out the lights?

Was she dead? Did they have mud in heaven? Sticky, gooey, cold mud? Certainly heaven’s mud wouldn't smell like rank fertilizer and stale water.

A distant voice penetrated her muddled brain.

Mariah Baker wiggled her toes and fingers to test each one. Lifting her head, she scraped the mud from her face with her gloved hand. Her blurry eyes focused on two large cowboy boots about a foot away. Angels didn't have big feet and wear scuffed cowboy boots.

“Are you okay?” A deep, sexy voice vibrated with concern.

She tried to raise her head higher. A large hand to match those big feet entered her field of vision.

“What happened...?”

“You fell off your horse.”

Oh, yeah, she remembered now. An invisible horse-eating troll lurking in the nearby woods scared her ditz-brained gelding. He’d bucked and sent her flying like a rag doll, ending with an ungraceful face plant. At least it was a soft landing, as last night’s rain had transformed the footing in her riding arena into a mud bog.

“Are you all right?” The man sounded rattled.

“Mmmm.”

“Don’t move. You might have broken something.”

“Nothing’s broken. I just had...the wind knocked out of me.” She choked and spit out a mouthful of mud. The owner of the cowboy boots squatted next to her. Long legs, strong thighs, narrow hips, broad chest. Definitely heaven.

With a groan, Mariah pushed herself to a kneeling position and came face-to-face with Adonis. Well, at least he could have doubled for a Greek god. His appearance tickled her memory, yet she was certain she’d never met him. She blinked a few times to clear her vision and stared.

And stared.

And stared.

Heaven wouldn’t have temptations like him. He’d turn any good girl into a very bad girl.

A day’s growth of beard darkened his handsome face. His unruly brown hair begged for attention from a decent stylist. He wore clothes most garage sales wouldn’t bother to sell. His threadbare jeans had never seen a designer label. Yet his disheveled appearance didn’t come close to concealing his model good looks. Suffice it to say, the man fit every clichéd description of a hero in a romance novel, despite his scruffiness.

Too bad she'd sworn off men as of last night. So what if he was kiss-your-heart-goodbye gorgeous? Unfortunately, her heart wasn’t listening. Instead, it told her brain to get lost and snuggled up next to Mr. Scruffy, at least in its dreams.

He might appear scruffy, but he smelled wonderful in a clean, masculine sorta way. His scent actually permeated the smell of rancid mud that clung to her body. Without thinking, she leaned closer to get a better whiff of his expensive aftershave. A dedicated shopper, Mariah knew expensive when she saw it or smelled it. She’d also bet a winning lotto ticket he wore a Rolex watch and Gucci sunglasses.

Raising her gaze back to his face, she found him staring at her. He removed his sunglasses and shifted his gaze from her lips to her eyes. The man had the most incredible brown eyes, as yummy as a chocolate mocha espresso fringed with long, black eyelashes. Now why did guys always have eyelashes like that when they never appreciated them?

Those mocha eyes sucked her in like dust bunnies sucked into a vacuum cleaner. She felt light-headed. And hot. Really hot. Taking a deep breath, Mariah gathered her composure—and her dust bunnies—about her like a suit of armor.

Relax, girl, relax. This guy radiated sexual energy like the sun radiated heat. She’d just been gobbled up by his magnetic sensuality. He was dangerous, and she didn’t need a guy like that to complicate her life. Get rid of him, the sooner the better, her boring good girl side warned her.

“I’m Ric...” He hesitated. “I’m Rodrigo Perez.” He studied her with interest, as if waiting for a reaction. “I’m staying at the Delgado’s vacation house for a month. That’d make me your neighbor.” He held out his hand to her.

She stared at it, while her mind stalled somewhere between fantasy and reality. He cleared his throat to get her attention. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. He grinned with amusement. His hand still hovered in mid-air. Mechanically, she removed a mud-encrusted glove and offered her hand to him. His long fingers surrounded her smaller hand with a firm but gentle hold. His thumb traced a sensuous circle on her palm. He lifted her fingers to his lips. His warm mouth grazed her trembling knuckles, lingering on each one. All the while, his dark eyes never left hers. Mariah fell for his technique, hook, line, and sinker; stupid, gullible woman that she was.

A five-alarm siren clanged in her head, and she jerked her hand away. The sudden movement dislodged a mud clump from her riding helmet, and it plopped onto her nose. The irritating man raised one dark eyebrow, while his mouth twitched in a suppressed smile. He dabbed the mud with his thumb. It was a good thing she was still kneeling or she’d have crumpled to the ground in a heap of female hormonal mush.

“And you are?”

“I’m Mariah,” she croaked, feeling like an idiot.

“Well, Mariah, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Thanks.”

Rodrigo straightened to his full height, leaving Mariah to stare at his belt buckle, tight jeans, and... Oh, my.

“Can you stand?” He didn’t wait for an answer but bent down to help her. Avoiding his touch, Mariah scrambled to her feet.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Concern gentled his brown eyes.

“I am. Really. I’ve fallen off many times. It’s nothing. Something in the woods scared my horse.”

“Can’t imagine what that would be.” He shrugged and looked away, shifting his weight from one cowboy boot to another.

Sueño, her gray gelding and the guilty party, wandered over and stuck his head between them. Mariah picked up his reins.

“Where did you...? I mean, how did you...?” Her brain couldn’t seem to form words. His amused grin didn’t help.

“I was walking along the road and saw you launched into the air like a human catapult. I ran over to check on you.”

“Thank you for helping me.” She wiped her face with the bottom of her T-shirt. She must look a fright. And she considered him scruffy?

“I’m just glad to see you’re okay.” A slight accent blended with the rich timbre of his voice. A handsome man with an accent made for an even more deadly combination.

Attempting to be inconspicuous, she rubbed her clammy hands on her thighs. Her horse stirred beside her, and she glanced at him. The big busybody hadn’t missed a thing. One furry ear swiveled to catch each tidbit of conversation. His eyes followed their every move with interest. Mariah glared at Sueño. Maybe you’d like some popcorn and a beer while you watch me squirm? Whose side are you on? After all, who feeds you? Help me out here, will you?

Sueño shook his long forelock over his eyes and ignored her.

Knowing she was on her own, she searched for something clever to say. She turned into a blabbering idiot around most men. She doubted the Prince of Grunge would be an exception. “You’re staying at Max and Carmen’s house? It’s...it’s really nice. I’ve been in it. I did some work for them about six months ago. Carmen wanted the rooms redone in a country style, something relaxed. I looked all over Seattle for just the right...” Now, she was blabbering, but what woman on earth would blame her?

“Yeah, it’s a great place. I’m enjoying it. Very private and peaceful,” he agreed smoothly.

Did the man ever sweat or get nervous? Mariah considered it a good thing he had tacky clothes, or he’d be too perfect.

Pulling herself together once again, she put on her polite cocktail-party voice and inquired, “Where are you from, Rodrigo?” His accent intrigued her, and much to her surprise, she imagined him whispering Spanish to her in the middle of the night.

“I spent the first eight years of my life in Puerto Rico. Now I live in LA. I’m here on Orcas Island for a vacation.” He paused to look around him. “Do you have any idea what a view like this would cost in Southern California?”

“I can’t begin to imagine.” Mariah glanced around, but her mind barely registered the spectacular scenery.

The horse arena sat on a bluff overlooking a small cove. In the distance, the San Juan Islands glittered like jewels on the water. A green and white Washington state ferry wound its way through the myriad of passages bound for the Orcas ferry landing. To the north, the boats in Deer Harbor floated lazily in the morning sun.

Even in her most tumultuous times, this place had brought her peace. Unfortunately, the taxes and expenses on the place were driving her out. That stack of bills on her desk increased exponentially in comparison to her meager income.

Rodrigo coughed and brought her attention back to him. He wrung his hands together. “I have to confess. I’ve been watching you ride for a few days.”

“You’ve been watching me ride?” Oh, great, her neighbor was a stalker. Even as she considered it, she didn’t believe it. He appeared to be a professional heartbreaker, not a stalker. She’d almost married a man like him once so she recognized the type. Besides, tourists from the nearby resort stopped on the road occasionally and watched her ride.

“Uh, yeah.” Rodrigo pushed his hair off his forehead and looked down at his feet. He seemed worried about how she’d interpret his confession. “I was walking by earlier this week, and I saw you through the trees. I’ve never seen anyone ride a horse like that. It’s pretty amazing.”

Mariah glanced up at him. A shock wave zipped through her system. She stepped away and added more space between them.

“Thank you. I’m...I’m surprised you found my riding interesting. Most people would rather watch concrete dry.”

He raised one eyebrow. “What do you call this type of riding you do?”

“Dressage, a very old equestrian sport. Actually, it’s more of an art form than a sport when it’s done correctly.”

“How do you steer him? With your thoughts?”

“No, not really. I use subtle signals from my leg and shift my weight in the saddle, but there are times when it seems as if he’s reading my mind. When we’re in sync like that, it’s the most incredible feeling. It’s like we leave this planet, as if we’re in a different plane of existence. It’s hard to explain. Time slows, has no meaning. It’s almost...holy. Athletes have a term for it. They call it being in the zone. Sueño and I seem to find that zone together more than any horse I’ve ridden.” Mariah stopped. She'd told him way too much. To his credit, his eyes didn’t glaze over from sheer boredom.

“How long does it take to learn to ride like that?”

“It takes years. This horse is my baby. I raised and trained him myself.” Mariah patted her gelding’s coat.

“You’ve done a great job, but it’s more than training, even I can see that.”

She looked away for a moment then met his eyes, feeling a little jolt right down to her toes. “Yes. Yes, it is,” she admitted in a soft whisper. She didn’t speak of her connection with this horse to just anyone. Non-riders didn’t understand. In fact, most riders didn’t understand it either.

Rodrigo reached up to pet the horse. Sueño lowered his head so the man could scratch a preferred spot behind his ears.

“He likes you,” she noticed with surprise. “He’s very picky about his people. I can’t believe he’s letting you pet him. He's very perceptive about people. I should listen to him more....”

“Si, you should. I love animals.” Rodrigo interrupted, stroking Sueño’s neck. Her horse gave him a hard push with his nose.

“Feel free to smack him when he does that. It’s rude.”

“Why does he do it?”

“He wants a carrot.”

“A carrot? Sorry, big guy, I don’t happen to have one on me.” Rodrigo held his hands out, palms up. Sueño sniffed at each hand.

“He doesn’t deserve a carrot when he behaves like that.”

Expressing his opinion against the no carrot rule, Sueno gave her a hard push and knocked her off balance. Rodrigo came to her rescue again and caught her before she fell, holding her a little too close. Her body betrayed her, and her heart and mind followed. Throwing her good-girl reputation to the wind, she fastened to him like Velcro. His warmth soaked into her pores. That hard, muscled chest pressed against her soft contours. She inhaled the scent of his aftershave and filled her lungs with his essence. Heaven could never feel this good.

Sueño snorted again and tugged on the reins, yanking her back to Pacific Daylight Time. Leaping backwards, she extracted herself from Rodrigo’s arms. Keeping a safe distance from the two males, she studied them warily. Rodrigo didn’t seem to notice or care that his white T-shirt now sported several muddy spots.

“You know, you shouldn’t let him get away with that.” Humor glinted in his dark eyes. “He’s being rude.”

“Thanks. I’ll remember that.” She didn’t trust her voice enough to say another word.

She’d just clung to a strange man like he was a Titanic lifeboat and enjoyed every delightful second of it.



Professional Reviews

Euro-Reviews
5 Flags--"I definitely recommend this book, its a great read filled to the brim with real emotions and plenty of heat"

Simply Romance Reviews--Outstanding Read
Grade A--"If you’re looking for a read which will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart then pick up The Dance you won’t be disappointed"

Whipped Cream--Book of the Week
5 Cherries--Right from the get-go, The Dance embraced humor, warmth, very human characters and a wealth of possibilities.

It’s a well told tale about two people who make choices with the best of intentions and get the worst results. However, until they face their demons, and for one of them, it ends up being formidable, they will have an incomplete future.

You might wonder about my word choice, ‘incomplete future’. Think of a scale – you put two items to weigh and they don’t match. Of course you are going to add something to or subtract from the one that needs to be balanced. Thing is, sometimes the item we believe to be perfect ends up being not enough. That is how I see the relationship between Rico and Mariah. It’s a delicate dance to make a relationship work and Ms. Davenport explores this from a very human perspective. Our hero and heroine each end up giving, but the scales remain unbalanced. They have to come to terms with what each is willing to do, to go that extra mile, if they want that balanced future, a complete future.

The back drop totally fascinated me. Oh sure, this occurs in a delightful and romantic location but what hooked me were the horses, especially Mariah’s horse, Sueño. The riding discipline that Mariah practices is called dressage. I had no clue what that was; couldn’t wrap my mind around what that would look like. I found a co-worker who knew exactly what it was because she herself practices it with her horse so I was able to pick her brain. How cool was that? Think of the Lipizzaner stallions and you’ll get the picture. Once I figured it out, I had a new appreciation for Mariah’s character and enjoyed the story on a whole other (new) level. Now I am fascinated with Ms. Davenport’s choice of profession for her character. I wonder, what was her inspiration?

The conflict of the story is meaty and emotional. Ms. Davenport resists, though I have no idea how she did it, the easy way out for her characters. I really wanted Rico to save the day. I wanted the conflict to end as happily as Mariah and Rico eventually become. The author stuck to realism and endeared her characters to me even more. They are not perfect, they are not cardboard and neither are they capable of super human acts. Rico and Mariah are just a man and a woman stumbling through the pile of yuck life has thrown at them, to come out on the other side with bumps and bruises but whole.

The passion they share is sweet and hot. The happily ever after is well earned and emotional. And through it all, Ms. Davenport keeps it optimistic with humor, love of family and hope. Which is a good thing because there are some tense moments which for me, were jarring and emotional. You can’t come away from reading The Dance untouched. I certainly didn’t and I highly recommend this book to everyone who enjoys a well told romance.


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