Erin Andersen specializes in motivation. When Stephen Spence misses one too many deadlines, the publisher sends Erin to salvage the book.
He blames writer’s block, but Erin thinks he’s narcissistic and lazy. To her dismay, Erin discovers that his distraction is contagious.
Erin Andersen specializes in motivation. When Stephen Spence misses one too many deadlines, the publisher sends Erin to salvage the book. He blames writer’s block, but Erin thinks he’s narcissistic, lazy, and spending too much time partying at his beach house. When Spence sails to the Florida Keys for some undeserved R&R, Erin tags along as first mate to avoid losing the contract. After a week at sea, her disdain gives way to desire and she discovers sexy Stephen Spence can focus – when he wants to. Worse, she finds that distraction is contagious. Fun in the sun is fine, but Erin has a job to do. Her new plan is to isolate Spence at her family’s farm in Eaton, where she grew up, and where she can control the situation on her terms. Or can she? Erin’s reckless compromises prove costly as the six-figure book deal slips through her fingers. She must choose between her career and her foolish heart. Whatever she decides, she might lose both.
The first in a wonderful romance series, “Distracted” by Madeline Sloane introduces readers to Eaton, a fictional, idyllic town tucked away in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Other books in the series are “East of Eaton" and "West Wind." The second series, “Secrets of Eaton” contains the romantic suspense novels “Consequence,” “Incandescent” and “Dead Line.” The third series is the spooky “Mysteries of Eaton” and consists of “Charnel House,” “Well of the Dead” and “Skinterns.”
Here’s what reviewers said about Madeline Sloane’s Women of Eaton trilogy, containing the novels Distracted, East of Eaton and West Wind:
5 out of 5 stars Distracted, East of Eaton and West Wind: The Trilogy “Distracted, East of Eaton and West Wind are filled with independent, strong, wonderful women. This series shows women the way they should be. Able to cope and function on their own, but increased when they add the right man to their life. Doing their job and raising their family the way everyone should, when these men happen into their world. Love comes without them realizing it but with all the bells and whistles. I very highly recommend this series to everyone!! It's romantic, sweet, funny and will cause butterflies in your stomach. This is romance the way it should be written. Not about some woman who can't live life without a man, but a strong woman made stronger when you add the man she loves. It's a terrific series that I've read 3 times already. You will enjoy this and end with a smile. ~ Kissablysweetone
Erin fidgeted in the pin-striped chair. The “two-minute” wait promised by the receptionist stretched into ten.
She glanced again at the magazines spread on the side table. The titles were unfamiliar. Some scholarly, some technical, none very interesting. She pushed them aside until she found a new copy of “Them” magazine, a slick tabloid that specialized in reporting the latest scandals and love interests of the stars.
The cover featured its typical fare of movie stars and beautiful people. In one photograph, a man and woman ducked their heads to avoid the paparazzi. He wore sunglasses, an unbuttoned island-print shirt, a pair of baggy, khaki shorts and sandals. Hmmm, nice abs, she thought.
The woman looked familiar. An actress, maybe? She was wearing a pink bikini top and a black sarong knotted at her slim, tanned hip. They were holding hands and walking down a pier in a tropical locale. Erin glanced out the large window at Washington’s overcast skyline and shivered. Smog and low clouds nearly obscured the Capitol dome.
She flipped through the magazine; the first ten pages or so were filled with advertisements. Then she came to the cover feature: The island couple. There were several photographs of the hunk with various beautiful women. In one, he was standing at the wheel of speed boat, shirtless, sunglasses on again, his sun-streaked wavy hair whipping in the wind. In another, he was strumming a guitar at a beach bonfire.
“Like what you see?”
Erin dropped the magazine and stood up.
“Patricia. How are you?”
“Fine. Sit down, Erin.”
Patricia McDowell slid behind her massive desk. An imperious veteran of the publishing trenches for more than thirty years, Patricia’s company churned out quality non-fiction that often made university professors’ reading lists but always made the New York Times bestselling list. Her diamond-hard veneer and keen business sense aside, she was the patron saint of artists, musicians, and historians who needed help writing books.
Patricia had tapped Erin after the young woman interned at McDowell Publishing while earning a master’s degree. As an editorial assistant, Erin helped senior staff move manuscripts through the system, from the authors to the production department.
She became efficient, but it was her combination of charm and persistence that Patricia valued most. She discovered that Erin could succeed, often through guile and wile, when experienced editors failed.
Her easy-going personality put many shy and introverted scholars at ease as she helped them complete their books on time.
Patricia couldn’t care less if the girl recognized a split infinitive or a dangling participle. She had plenty of grammarians on staff. She wanted results and Erin delivered.
“Nice-looking man, isn’t he?” Patricia nodded towards the tabloid Erin had tossed on the stack.
“George Clooney? He’s still yummy.”
“No. The man on the cover.”
“I didn’t really notice,” Erin said. She picked up the magazine, thumbing through the pages until she found the photo spread.
“He’s okay, I guess. Who wouldn’t be with that kind of money? How much do you think that speedboat cost?”
“I’m not sure, but the sailboat cost at least $500,000. I know. I bought it for him.”
“What? You’re kidding me! You know this guy?”
“That, my dear, is your next assignment. The boat was an advance on his forthcoming book.”
She smiled at Erin’s disbelief.
“Yes; it’s that important. That’s why I need you. He’s already missed three deadlines. I’m afraid he’s a bit lackadaisical. His first chapter was due last month.” Patricia leaned back into her leather chair and arched a silver eyebrow. “I cannot tolerate that.”
“Is he local?” Erin flipped through the magazine to the feature article and this time looked closer at the photographs.
“No. I hope you don’t mind, you’ll have to travel for this one. He lives in North Carolina, just a few hours away,” Patricia added, noting Erin’s frown.
Erin chewed her lip. She preferred to work with D.C. writers, primarily retired professors. She kept an apartment in Dupont Circle, near the fashionable northwest but not as expensive. Still, living in the capital was expensive and she could not afford to turn down a job.
“Can you leave right away?”
Erin fumbled through her jacket pocket and pulled out her mobile phone. Flipping through its digital calendar, she scanned the months of April and May. Nothing she couldn’t reschedule.
“Yes. Do you have a bio on this guy? What does he do?”
Patricia paused. “I’m sorry, no bio unless you count the ‘Sexiest Man in America’ feature in ‘Them.’ He’s an artist and for some reason he’s popular in L.A. You won’t believe what they’re paying for his paintings. Anyway, your job is to make sure he finishes this book. Hell, I need you to make sure he begins it. I envision a book that can be used in a university setting by art students, and still entertain the layperson. It’s important we publish his book right away while he’s on top. He’s an exciting talent, and a richly illustrated, very personal book about Stephen Spence would be extremely marketable.”
“What’s his name? Stephen Spence?” Erin echoed distractedly.
“Have you heard of him?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to some research. I guess these kinds of magazines would be the best place to begin,” Erin said, dropping the tabloid on the table. “The paparazzi apparently like to follow him. Who are the women?”
“Who knows? You seldom see him with the same one twice. He doesn’t appear to be lonely, does he?”
Erin heaved a sigh. “Men like him seldom are.”
* * *
She wasn’t sure how long the project would last, so Erin over packed. She decided to keep her appearance professional and maintain a dressy-casual style for work. To her traditional “librarian garb,” she added a new cocktail dress. She also packed a few cotton tops and shorts since spring came earlier in the Carolinas. Stephen Spence lived by the Atlantic, so she could beachcomb, maybe swim during her free time. She tossed an assortment of undergarments, stockings and her bathing suit into the mix.
She didn’t keep a toiletry bag packed so she went through the medicine cabinet and the shower and dumped products into a water-proof tote.
Aidan leaned against the bathroom door, eating a protein bar. “Hey, what’s going on?”
Aidan Carter was Erin’s ex-husband and a full-time student, still working on his doctoral degree. Their marriage ended a year ago after she discovered his affair with another student. It was a bitter breakup. After their divorce, Erin discovered it hurt more to lose her childhood friend so they remained close and, temporarily, roommates.
Sometimes, though, Aidan forgot they were “roommates.” Sometimes, she did too.
“I have an assignment. I’ll be gone for at least a month, I imagine,” Erin said.
“What’s the assignment?”
“I’m going to North Carolina. Patricia has a client who can’t meet his deadlines. I have to go down there and crack the whip.”
Aidan nodded. “Who is this client and how old is he?”
“Well, don’t be. It’s work,” Erin said, relieved she hadn’t brought home the magazine with photos of Stephen Spence. “Besides, you have your life and I have mine. Remember?”
It wasn’t exactly the truth, but Erin refused to admit it. During the past four months that Aidan had been back, they had ended up in bed together a few times. It wasn’t that odd, really, she rationalized. He was gorgeous, with dark hair, steady gray eyes, and chiseled features. He also was a brilliant scientist, or would be when he finished his doctorate. Sex with Aidan was safe, she told herself.
“I remember, but I worry about you. You know I care,” he said, stepping into her bedroom. He cupped her chin and gently kissed her lips. Then he glanced into her suitcase and noticed the mass of frilly underwear and her bathing suit.
“Looks more like a vacation to me.”
Erin closed her suitcase and zipped the flap, suppressing a grin at the thought that she would be spending the next few weeks at the beach with a handsome and rich playboy.
“Well, it’s not.”
Erin drove the twelve hours to Hatteras in a short-lease SUV. Living in a major city with a subway meant she rarely needed a car. Since Patricia was picking up the tab, she opted for something large and luxurious. It was dark by the time she rolled into the ferry parking lot at Swan Quarter and it was empty.
“Great. That’s just great,” she muttered, climbing out of the vehicle and walking to the pier. A weather beaten “Closed” sign swung on a chain strung across the entrance. The last ferry to the island faded to a speck in the distance.
Back at the SUV, Erin turned on the overhead light and studied the GPS, flipping through the digital maps. There was no other way to the island. She would have to stay on the mainland and catch the morning ferry.
She backtracked a few miles to Route 264 and checked into a small roadside motel. In the lobby, she found a shelf with colorful brochures. She shuffled through them until she found one with the ferry schedule, then tucked it into her purse while the desk clerk ran her credit card.
“Is there a restaurant close by?”
The clerk, a dark-skinned quiet man, shook his head. “There is a convenience store across the street,” he suggested.
Instead, Erin stopped at the vending machines near the staircase and punched the buttons for a bottle of water and a pack of peanut butter crackers. She fed more dollar bills into the machine, and then selected a bag of chips and a chocolate bar.
An hour later, showered and wrapped in a fleece robe, she sat cross-legged on the motel bed, the remote control in one hand and the candy bar in the other. She flipped through the local channels searching for a weather update, but the old television only brought in local channels, and none of them included a forecast. The bed was littered with junk food wrappers and cracker crumbs. Her cell phone trilled, and she dove for her purse. She scanned the caller ID before pushing the green answer button.
“Hi. How was the drive?”
Erin chewed her lower lip. “Okay.”
“Did you make good time?”
“Aidan. You don’t have to check up on me.”
“Yes, you are.”
After a few silent seconds, Erin continued, “We talked about this, Aidan. We go our own ways.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“You already have.”
“No, I haven’t. I’m right here.”
“I’m not going to talk about this again,” she said. “You’ve got things to do; I’ve got things to do. I can’t have you calling me up every night. You’ve got to stop pressuring me, Aidan.”
“Fine. Good night.”
Erin shook her head at his abrupt farewell, turned off her phone and tossed it on the bedside table. Too energized to go back to bed, she pulled out her tote bag and carried it over to the bathroom sink. She ferociously brushed her teeth and then flossed until her gums bled. She twisted her long, blonde hair, tying it into a loose knot then leaned towards the dark glass and glared at her reflection. She growled and muttered, “Men!”
Picking up her cell phone, she programmed it to send all calls from Aidan to voice mail.
* * *
In the morning, Erin placed three outfits on the bed and stepped back. The first was a La Vintage skirt and jacket she had found at a boutique specializing in black and white haute couture clothing. It was a “power suit,” but it still exuded sexiness. A soft gray blouse with its plunging neck line complemented the pencil skirt. The heels on the black, patent-leather Vince Canuto dress pumps probably were a bit too high for an island visit.
The second outfit was a sleeveless, blue mock turtleneck sweater and a pair of flare-legged Armani khakis. The pants emphasized her slim waist and curvy hips. The sweater showed her trim, strong arms to an advantage. A pair of Hugh Boss boots – shiny, calfskin with a side zipper – finished the ensemble.
The third outfit was a pair of brown, lightweight shorts by Dockers, a black, cotton T-shirt with a handkerchief hem and a pair of leather sandals. She had selected the outfit on a whim. In fact, she bought several in different colors. They were modest and comfortable and less intimidating than the first two choices. Considering the photographs she had seen of Spence, she decided a low-key approach may be the best and opted for the shorts.
Weather also could be an issue. The forecast for the North Carolina coast, printed from a web site and taped to the motel’s front desk when she checked in the previous night, had not been helpful. An ominous black cloud with a single raindrop beneath it was partly obscured by a gray sun. A cartoon thermometer called for a high of seventy-three degrees.
“Partly cloudy with a chance of rain,” the forecast boldly predicted beneath the pictures. She imagined the manager’s choice to print daily forecasts in black ink had been motivated by frugality.
Wearing only panties and a bra, she peeked between the heavy, vinyl drapes to see … almost nothing. A blanket of fog lay over the parking lot. She could see only the front bumper of her rental SUV, which may or may not have been the only car in the parking lot. She shivered, then went back to her suitcase and pulled out a sweater.
Twenty minutes later, after a hastily eaten continental breakfast in the hotel lobby, she drove back to the Swan Quarter ferry with time to spare. She sat in the SUV after paying for a ticket and waited for the “Governor Hyde” to begin loading. The Sound Class ferry was more than 160-feet long and carried thirty-five vehicles. Hers was the twentieth in line, and only five cars followed.
Soon it was her turn and she drove up the creaking, steel ramp. An old man with a stubbly beard and wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap stood near the SUV’s right front fender. He coaxed her forward with a gloved hand. When her bumper was only a few inches from the car in front, the man signaled halt, then gave her a quick thumbs up. She shifted into park, turned the engine off, and set the parking brake as instructed.
It was still a bit chilly for shorts but she ignored the cold, damp wind, pulled her sweater on, and climbed out of the truck. The dull yellow disc of the rising sun grew brighter over the bow of the boat as it plowed eastward through a light chop. She leaned over the rail, settled a pair of sunglasses on her nose and watched as seagulls wheeled and circled around the ferry. In the distance, as visibility improved, she spied a sailboat. Slowly, the morning fog burned away and the ship chugged noisily through the Pamlico Sound.
* * *
More than two hours later, the ferry landed at Ocracoke. First car on the ship meant last one off, so Erin disembarked after a few minutes. She drove the SUV to a lonely corner of the parking lot. Once again she consulted the GPS receiver, having entered Spence’s address into the device the day before. She zoomed in the tiny screen and studied the network of roads until she located his house. The mechanical voice of the GPS commanded: “Head south on Northpoint Road toward Pamlico Shores Road.
Erin smiled. During the past two days, she had become accustomed to the disembodied female voice and nicknamed her “Becky.”
She put the SUV into gear and drove out of the ferry lot towards the small village of Ocracoke.
“Turn left at Pamlico Shores Road and drive point-one miles before turning right at British Cemetery Road,” Becky ordered.
“And we’re on our way,” Erin chimed.
She drove down the small paved road to the stop sign and looked right. Beyond the brown beach house at the curve was the glimmering sound. To the left she saw scrubby shrubs, a few bent and twisted cypress and oak trees, and the roof tops of island cottages. The roadway was narrow with no markings and no other cars were in sight.
She drove on.
“In 500 feet turn left onto Back Road,” Becky piped.
Erin glanced to her right and noted a small, rundown cottage. Folding chairs were stacked on the porch. A live oak’s limbs stretched over the structure, shading it well and inhibiting any grass that may have taken root. A rusted blue truck and a trailer hauling a white bass boat were parked in the driveway. A hand-lettered sign offered night crawlers and cut bait.
“Hmmm… Spence’s neighbors aren’t that fashionable.”
On the left she noticed a small cemetery bordered in a gray, weather-beaten wood fence.
“Hence the name ‘Cemetery Road,’” Erin said aloud, having started to converse with Becky the previous afternoon. Becky had no reply.
She stopped the SUV in the middle of the road and looked at the headstones. Most were small, thin eroded stones, discolored with black and green mildew. The trees at the back of the cemetery were stunted, windswept oaks.
She drove on, passing more houses. “The neighborhood’s improving,” she told Becky.
She braked the SUV to a crawl and turned onto Back Road. On her right, an octagon, cedar-sheathed house contrasted with an elegant, older house covered in whitewashed siding and with a large wrap-around porch. Erin noted that most of the houses on the island were situated on pilings, probably because of rising seawater during tropical storms and hurricanes.
“Continue point four miles, then turn left at State Road 1341,” Becky monotoned.
Erin drove through more of the same: an unmarked paved road bounded by rustic cottages mixed with newer construction, shrubs, sawgrass, palmettos and stunted oak trees.
“Drive point three miles, then turn left onto unnamed road.”
“No name, eh?” Erin squinted into the sun as she searched for her turn.
“Satellite signal lost,” Becky announced, and the little cartoon car on the GPS screen became a question mark.
“Thanks a lot, Becky.” Erin slowed even more after checking the rear-view mirror and seeing nobody on the road. She had to be close. In the distance, she could see houses. Most were three-story wooden and glass sentinels amid the saw grass. They all faced Pamlico Sound.
“Ahhh, here’s the money,” Erin noted.
She passed two unmarked, black-topped roads and decided to keep looking. Ahead, on the left, she saw a battered, unmarked mailbox. Just beyond it she saw the edge of a narrow, unpaved road – a trail really. She imagined the entrance to Spence’s property would be somewhat grand, like some of the houses she passed earlier. It seemed unlikely that the rusting mailbox, impaled by an unpainted wooden post and set in a five-gallon bucket filled with concrete, would belong to a famous artist. “And playboy,” she thought.
“Probably not the road I want to take, right Becky?” she asked the GPS receiver. No answer, of course. Becky’s screen only showed the question mark. “Afraid to commit, are we?”
She smiled and accelerated past the mailbox, then braked to an abrupt stop. Numbers or letters on the box were more likely to be on the right side, so the postal carrier could see them when delivering the mail. She could at least see if she had passed the address.
Erin pressed the button to lower the window, leaned out for a better look at the box. It bore only stick-on letters that announced: “S_ence.”
“You would think a guy like that could afford a decent mailbox,” she said. After checking the mirrors for oncoming traffic, she put the SUV into reverse, backed up a few yards, then shifted forward and turned onto the sand and gravel trail.
Erin drove slowly and admired the change in topography. There was much more open space now, although it was still swampy.
“Arriving at destination on left,” Becky chimed, having regained her bearings.
Erin stopped in front of a massive gray house that floated in the field of sea grass. Unpainted and on pilings, the wood-shingled house featured a gabled roof and long engaged dormers. Hinged, wood-batten shutters were held open with a stick, protecting the old-fashioned sash windows. The house was encircled by a wrap-around porch and behind it she glimpsed a long stretch of white beach and blue water.
She didn’t see a driveway, so she stopped her truck close to the edge of the road. She checked her watch. It was just after noon and, according to Patricia, Spence expected her. She hiked the fifty yards to the front door, wading through the sea oats and saw grass that whipped and scratched her bare legs.
“Shoot,” she hissed, licking a finger and rubbing it on a long, bloody scratch. “I should have worn pants.”
After plucking sticker burrs from her shorts and shaking sand from her sandals, Erin pressed the doorbell. She waited a minute or two before pressing it again. After a few more minutes, she tried knocking on the door. There was no answer.
She frowned. Spence knew she was arriving today, so he wouldn’t have left town, she reasoned. After peeking in the windows and detecting no signs of life, she knocked harder, calling, “Mr. Spence. Hello. Mr. Spence?”
She considered calling Patricia and asking for the artist’s telephone number, but decided she couldn’t give up that easily. Looking for another entrance, Erin walked around the side porch but a locked screen door barred access. She retraced her steps to the front, went down the steps and around the porch. Just past the screen door the land sloped downward. With no stairs in sight, she decided to climb through the railing while she could still reach it. She tossed her purse first. Then, using the railing as a ladder she scrambled up and slithered onto the porch.
She leaned against a gray piling and studied her surroundings. A few feet away, swinging slowly in a white, cord-twisted hammock was a man. He was wearing faded, ragged shorts and sunglasses. A pair of flip flops and three empty beer bottles on the deck beside him completed the vignette. The mailbox seemed appropriate now, Erin thought.
She stood up slowly, brushed sand off her shorts and walked towards the sleeping man. She hesitated waking him. Instead, she spent a few heartbeats assessing him. He was tall and tanned. His wavy, sun-streaked hair was a bit long and unkempt. He had a broad forehead and a wide mouth. He kept in shape, she noted. His arms were large and heavily muscled. He had a spare tire, however, so if this was Spence he had forgone the crunches. The hair on his arms and legs was thick. A thatch of copper hair traced down his chest, snaking into the waistband of his faded Bermuda shorts. His feet were long and his large toes splayed and tanned. He must not wear shoes often, she thought.
“Do I know you?”
His slow, Southern drawl caught her by surprise. She thought he had been sleeping. Playing opossum instead. She took a step back.
“Mr. Spence? I’m Erin Andersen. I’ve been sent by Patricia McDowell to help you with your book.”
He slowly lifted his sunglasses. Steel blue eyes squinted in the morning sun.
“Hey, move over here, would ya? Can’t see who I’m talkin’ to.”
Erin picked up her purse and moved to the far side of the hammock, the afternoon sun shining on her face. Spence took in her sandals, her legs, shorts, and shirt. He stared at her chest a few seconds before moving up to her face. Then he grinned. His teeth were bright white against his dark skin.
“Well, howdy. I forgot you were coming. You want a beer?”
Erin hesitated, then decided she needed to make friends fast.
“Sure. It’s been a long, thirsty trip,” she lied.
Stephen Spence pointed to a bar against the back of the house and said, “Me too. Why don’t you grab us a couple. What’d you say your name was?”
He hadn’t moved out of the hammock. Just pointed a finger and dropped his sunglasses back into place. Erin placed her purse on the deck and walked to the bar. Behind it, she discovered a small refrigerator. She had to bend over to open it. Inside were Coronas – at least two dozen and nothing else – so cold they formed ice crystals when she pulled out two bottles.
“Opener’s on the counter there. Limes, too.”
She picked up the bottle opener. It was ancient and rusty. Glad I’ve had a tetanus shot recently, she thought. On the counter was a basket of limes. Recalling college days with tequila shots and lemons, she rolled the lime, softening its rind so the juice would flow. She pulled open a couple of drawers until she found a sharp knife. She thought about neatly tucking the sliced lime into the opening but decided she should just shove them into the long necks. Lime pulp clung to the inside of the bottle and the beer fizzed. She walked over to Spence and handed him one. The other, she upended. She was amazed at how good it tasted.
“Ahh, be still my heart,” he said and drained half the bottle.
Fascinated, Erin watched as he licked the lime from his lips and smiled at her.
Well, I’m off on the right foot, she thought. She searched for a chair and, not finding one, headed back to the bar, brushed off a few stray crumbs and hoisted herself up onto the counter. Obviously, this was a one-person deck and guests had to make do. If he wasn’t going to provide a chair, she would have to find her own seat.
“You know, sometimes that’s my kitchen table.”
“I don’t mind. These are old shorts,” she lied again. She lifted the bottle to her lips. Another shot of courage, she thought.
She heard him chuckle, a low rumble. “You’re kind of feisty, aren’t you?”
“Not really, Mr. Spence. I’m your assistant. I’m here to do whatever it takes to help you write your book.”
She waited. She had learned that sometimes, in situations where the client didn’t appreciate professional intervention, reaction was better than proaction. She would bide her time.
Unfortunately, Stephen Spence was the kind of guy who didn’t mind the time spent biding. The hammock rocked gently as he occasionally put one of his big feet against the deck and pushed.
Erin was nearing the bottom of the bottle when she finally gave in. “Do you have any questions?”
He upended his beer, savoring the last of it. He shook the bottle at her expressively and then set it on the deck beneath him where it joined the other three empties.
Erin exhaled a bit forcefully, blowing wayward tendrils off of her forehead. She lifted her bottle and drank its contents in a series of chugs, then licked the lime pulp off her lips. After setting her bottle to the side, she jumped off the bar and once again bent over to open the fridge. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Spence lift his sunglasses.
“Are you checking me out?”
“Yes ma’am. You sure have nice legs.”
Erin shuffled her feet to the left, giving him a profile of her rear instead of full-on view. “Perv,” she muttered. She pulled two more beers from the ice box and, again, slid lime slices into bottles. She walked to the hammock and put the icy beer into his hand. Then she picked up her purse and went back to the bar. She lifted her long neck bottle in salute and took a deep pull before hopping back up.
“I’m told you’re having problems meeting your deadlines.”
Spence did not reply, just rocked slowly in the hammock, the cold beer cradled in his right hand.
“You do understand why I’m here, don’t you Mr. Spence?”
Erin felt a flash of impatience. “You do understand why I’m here, don’t you?”
She pulled a small notebook out of her purse and clicked her ink pen, the tip poised over a fresh sheet of paper. “I think the first thing we should do is make a schedule.”
Spence snorted softly and raised his beer to his lips.
“You think that’s funny?”
He lifted his sunglasses and winked at her. “Honey, I don’t have a schedule.”
“Well, now you do, Mr. Spence. You’ve signed a contract to produce a book, and there are deadlines to meet. I’m here to make sure you do. And,” she added, “I’m not your ‘honey.’”
“Touchy, eh? You married?”
“No. Not that it’s any of your business,” Erin said, stonily staring across the wetlands.
“Relax, sweetheart. Just don’t want some angry husband knocking on the door next week.”
“Well, you won’t. And don’t call me sweetheart, either.”
“Don’t you like men?”
Erin sputtered angrily. This conversation is getting way out of control, she thought. “Mr. Spence …”
“Mr. Spence! I’m here to do a job. My sexual preferences are none of your concern.”
“So hands off, huh?”
“If I want a relationship, I’ll get a puppy,” she snarled.
“Hmmm. Sounds like the voice of experience,” Spence observed.
Erin frowned. In the distance, the Pamlico Sound shimmered.
* * *
Four beers later Erin was sitting on the deck, her legs stretched in front of her, burning in the mid-afternoon sun. She felt loopy. Her continental breakfast had consisted of a plain bagel and a Styrofoam cup of bitter orange juice. She missed dinner the night before. She began chewing on lime rinds and peeking into the cracks of the deck for stray peanuts.
So far she had learned that Stephen Spence rarely got up before noon, and it was only because he fell asleep in the hammock late last night that she had the pleasure of his company now.
He also talked a bit about Ocracoke, telling her how his family came to the small island.
“I was born here. There’s not many of us; about 800 or so year-round residents. My folks came to the Outer Banks in the ‘60s and opened one of the first dive shops in the area. My dad was in the Navy and learned how to dive. He taught my mom, and they worked together for years.”
Erin nodded gently, relaxing at his soft, Southern accent.
“How long have they been married?”
“My dad is gone now. He died a few years ago.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that.”
Spence sobered. “He died of emphysema. He smoked.”
“What about your mom? How is she?”
“She gets along. Still runs the dive shop. She’s a tough old lady.”
“How old is she?”
“Well, I’m the youngest, and she had me late. She was in her forties, I think. Surprised as hell when I came along. She’s in her seventies now, but she doesn’t act like it.”
Finally, he swung his legs out of the hammock and walked over to his guest. She licked her lips. They felt swollen and more hairy than the kneecaps in front of her. He offered his hand. She put her left hand into his and waited.
“One, two, three.”
He pulled her to her feet at “three” and smiled. Devastating, she thought, her gut clenching at his brilliant, white smile.
She leaned against the bar and burped.
“Oh, my gosh! Excuse me,” she said. “I’m not used to drinking beer for lunch.” She valiantly swallowed the next burp.
“Don’t apologize. I’m impressed. “ Stephen Spence smiled again, disarming her. “Let’s go inside. You’ve had too much sun.”
He picked up her purse and slung it over his shoulder. Then he put a hand on her shoulder and steered her towards a sliding glass door. Once inside, her head began to clear. It was at least ten degrees cooler and she spied a large, white sofa.
“I take it you’re not from the South?”
Erin slumped on the couch and, uninhibited by the alcohol, stretched out and sighed.
“No. I live in D.C. but I’m from Pennsylvania.”
“How ‘bout I let you take a nap while I shower? You mind if I leave you alone for awhile?”
Erin snored softly.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
He stood in the middle of his living room a few moments and watched her sleep. Honey blonde hair spilled out of her ponytail and covered her face. He was tempted to brush it back.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, Erin woke up and realized she had to pee. She sat up and immediately felt woozy. Whoa, she thought, what have I done? No matter; her bladder was more important. She walked slowly down the hall and opened every door she came to. She found the bathroom on the fourth try. She frantically pulled her shorts down and sat on the toilet. Relief was immediate. She put her elbows on her knees and began rubbing her eyes. They were filled with salt.
“Could you hand me that towel?”
Her head snapped up and she looked towards the shower. Stephen Spence, half hidden behind a fogged glass door, had turned off the water and noticed that his guest had found him once more.
She hid her face in her hands and muttered, “Good lord.” She shook her head slightly then, reaching to her left, picked up the towel he had asked for and proffered it in his direction.
“Thanks. ‘Preciate that.”
He closed the shower door and turned away, whistling “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?”
Erin peeked through her fingers and watched through the foggy glass as he rubbed down with the towel, his back to her. Despite her best intentions, she let her eyes slide down, taking in the wet curls against his neck, the broad expanse of his back tapering into a slim waist. A few seconds later, she was slipping through the door but not before stealing one last peek at the man in the shower. He finished drying off and wrapped the towel low around his waist. As he stepped out of the shower, she quickly closed the door and sprinted towards the living room.
Spence didn’t bother dressing. He followed her into the living room and collapsed into one of the large armchairs. He exhaled loudly.
“That’s a chore. You ever notice that taking a shower is a lot like work?”
Erin looked away.
“No. I, um, generally take showers early. I find it very refreshing.”
“That so? I don’t generally get up early.”
Erin laughed. Embarrassed, she attempted to act and converse normally, though she still looked away. “Mr. Spence, I apologize. I didn’t mean to intrude. I had to use the bathroom and didn’t realize you were there also.”
“Spence. Call me Spence.”
“I don’t think I’ve gotten off on the right foot here. I …” Erin trailed off. She stared out the sliding glass doors at the back bay and licked her swollen lips. “If you want me to leave, I understand. I’m sure I can find a hotel on the island.”
“Are you thirsty?”
“Are you thirsty? You keep licking your lips like you’re thirsty.”
She bit her lower lip, confirming the fact that they were still there although she still couldn’t feel them. Alcohol did that to her. “I am. I could use some water.”
He stood up, retied his towel, and walked into the kitchen. Now she was looking.
Erin heard ice clinking into a glass followed by a stream of water. He brought her the glass and, as she reached for it, sat down next to her. She downed it in several large gulps. He watched as her throat jiggled. She lifted the glass to her forehead and closed her eyes.
“It’s so hot here. It feels like summer already.”
Smiling, Spence took the glass from her.
“Why don’t you lie down and relax. You got a little burned out there. You may have sun stroke.”
“Really? Is that serious?”
“Can be. Some people die from it. You’re probably just dehydrated.”
Erin’s head swam. She closed her eyes and sank into the cool, white sofa. Spence stood up and, after placing a pillow under her head, went into his bedroom to dress.
* * *
Hours later, Erin woke up. For a moment she felt lost. She blinked to clear her vision then sat up and straightened her clothes. She heard music in the distance and followed it down the hallway. She found him in his studio, standing at one of his canvasses.
He frowned as he concentrated, then glanced back and forth from the painting to several photographs he had clipped to the corner. A tackle box filled with paint tubes sat on a tall table next to his hip. He had pulled out the tackle box tray and was using it as a palette. The table top also served as a palette with layers of dried oil paint stacked one on top of another like an artistic archaeological dig. He had a brush behind one ear and was chewing on another. He didn’t move for several minutes, studying the scene before him. He didn’t notice Erin, her footsteps muffled by the carpet.
He glanced first over his shoulder at the sun now sinking into the Pamlico Sound then back at his canvas before he spied her. She didn’t move.
“The light’s wrong now.” He put his brushes in a bottle of linseed oil and the tray on a table behind him, then sauntered towards her. “How ya feeling?”
“Fine. I think I should find a hotel on the island and freshen up.”
“Thought you were going to stay here?”
Erin backed up as he came towards the door. “I think you and I need a bit of privacy and maybe a fresh start.” Even as the words came out, she realized they did not sound convincing.
“Nah, no worries. I’ve already put your suitcase in your room. It’s at the end of the hall,” he said, taking her arm and escorting her to the opposite side of the house. He opened a door and Erin was dazzled by the view from the large windows. The room seemed to float in light as the mirrored closets on the far wall reflected the blues and browns of the wetlands. Centered in the middle of the room was a king-sized bed covered with a champagne silk spread. Minimally decorated, there was no other furniture in the room other than mahogany floating shelves attached to the walls. He moved to one of the mirrored doors and opened it.
“See? Your own bathroom.” He emphasized the word “own” and his smile was overly bright.
Erin cringed. She was embarrassed but it was the memory of his wet, tanned, muscled body that flushed her cheek, not his gentle teasing.
“I unpacked for you,” he added, stepping towards the built-in dresser and opening the top drawer. He pulled out a lacy bra and swung it around his index finger.
She gasped. He had retrieved her suitcase out of the SUV while she slept and put her clothes away? She blushed furiously. He dropped her bra, closed the drawer and changed the subject.
“Yes,” she replied, disarmed by the simple question.
“I don’t have much in the way of vittles here so we’ll go out. I suppose you’ll want to take a shower? You might want to lock the door. You know, to keep out intruders.”
He stifled a laugh, backed out of her room, and closed the door.
Functioning on auto pilot, Erin stepped into the bathroom. It was exactly like the one she had barged into earlier, except this room had her toiletries on the counter, her shampoo and conditioner in the shower. She opened the mirrored medicine cabinet and found her toothbrush, her floss and even her birth control pills.
She stepped out of the bathroom and into the closet area. Pulling open drawers she found her lingerie, her stockings, shorts and shirts. Her dresses hung on satin-padded hangers. He had left out her red La Rok, a short-waisted cocktail dress with a cut-away back and short tulle skirt. He had even arranged her silver Stuart Weitzmore slingback sandals, with their corsage straps and four-inch heel, beside the dress. So, he had even decided what she should wear tonight.
Erin sat on the bed and fumed at the invasion of her privacy. She thought about calling Patricia. Instead, she went back into the bathroom and turned on the shower.
“It’s on,” she growled.
Soon Erin was sleek and polished. The skirt of her strapless red dress flared high above her knees in baby-doll fashion. Her high heels made her legs appear long. They were a bit sunburned from her morning on the deck so she decided not to wear stockings. Instead, she slathered them with fragrant lotion. She used makeup sparingly, but the dress called for a bit of war paint.
The casual, tomboy approach hadn’t worked. Sharing a few beers on the deck had been a bad idea. Maybe the glamour puss would succeed.
She stepped into the living room, her small silver evening bag in her hand. Spence, sitting in an armchair and toying with the TV remote, whistled.
“I didn’t think you’d wear it,” he said, referring to her dress.
“Why not? That’s why I brought it.”
“You clean up nice.”
She sashayed into the center of the room and batted her lashes. “Thank you. Wish I could say the same.”
It was another lie. Spence was dressed in a pair of tan, baggy pants, a black silk shirt and leather sandals. His wavy dark hair was pushed back and he hadn’t bothered to shave. He looked reckless and sexy.
He placed his hand over his heart and tossed his head back, laughing. “Now that’s just unkind.”
He walked towards Erin. “What can I do to improve your opinion of me?”
“Obey me. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
Spence bowed. “As you wish.”
She smiled and turned towards what she hoped was the front door. They didn’t speak as they walked outside. Without a word, Spence whisked her into his arms and waded through the tall grass towards her SUV.
Erin gasped at the touch of his warm hand cupping her bare legs while the other snaked around her back and curved under her arm. His fingertips brushed the side of her breast.
“Hey! Put me down.”
“Quit complaining,” Spence said. “You’d never make it through the field in those shoes.”
Erin flinched as his warm breath caressed her cheek. She closed her eyes and held her purse tight.
Seconds later, Spence set her on her feet at the passenger door and held out his hand. Erin shrugged; he knew the town best, so she handed him the keys and he opened the door. He smiled as she maneuvered into the high vehicle, then obligingly tucked her short skirt under her thigh and closed the door. He climbed behind the wheel, started the truck and wound his way back towards town.
A few minutes later, Spence pulled into the shell-packed parking lot of a local restaurant. “You like seafood?”
“No,” she said sniffing at the tantalizing aroma of grilling meat. “But I do like steak.”
She didn’t wait for him to open her door. Instead, she slid down carefully, placing one high heel on the running board while the other floated inches from the ground.
“You need help?” Spence asked, keeping his eyes on her thighs as her dress rode high.
“No thank you; I’m fine,” she said as she dropped, groping for the door handle.
“Yes you are,” he agreed softly.
A Cute Romance
A Cute Romance, January 28, 2011
By Ruth Ann Nordin "Historical Romance Author" (Springfield, NE USA)
This review is from: Distracted (Kindle Edition)
This was a cute romance. Erin is supposed to help Stephen hurry up and get his book done, which turns out to be an impossible task. Stephen's tendency to put things off and enjoy life is cute and funny, but in real life, this guy would annoy me to no end. (And I'm laughing as I write that.) He's hard to commit to anything. Now, like I said, in fiction, this is funny, and since it's fiction, it works. And Erin has to be relaxed enough to roll along with it.
So instead of doing the book he's supposed to, he talks her into traveling on his boat, eating out, and having sex. I didn't think there would be sex in this book because on Smashwords, it's not labeled as being for mature readers, though to be fair, 'sexy' is in the keywords. It's just that I've seen some clean romances labeled as sexy and assumed there was a lot of kissing and maybe some necking going on, which is what I'm used to finding. The only reason I bring this up in the review is to let the reader know I think this is a book for a mature audience. I don't have a problem with sex but I know some people would rather not read it.
Overall, it was a fun read with lots of great humor because Stephen has a certain charm about him that is hard to resist. And surprisingly, he is able to bring in a good income. I couldn't imagine how because of the way he procrastinates, but the author explains it so I won't give that one away.
Thoroughly enjoyable, January 22, 2011
By Lucinda J. Knier
This review is from: Distracted (Kindle Edition)
Madeline Sloane brings romance to the table with her first book! "Distracted" is cleverly written; the dialogue is well-delivered, easily readable and certainly enjoyable. I like how Ms. Sloane changed locales throughout the book as well, giving a diverse look into different regions of the eastern coast, including rural north central Pennsylvania. Additionally, the intimate knowledge of boats Ms. Sloane wrote about made it easy for me to envision being on board and watching the romance play out before my eyes.
I think what was most enjoyable was that Ms. Sloane didn't "dumb down" the story; her style is refreshing, tantalizing, and current. I'll be looking forward to her next release!
I loved it took me 2 days to read it and never put it down good chemestry between Erin and Spence!!!! It felt as if the romance never stopped between them and by the end Adin got in the way but Erin & Adin went there sepret ways. I had a feeling that when she git an R.S.V.P for the art show Spence had to be in it. I loved how the love between them grew at the middle and didn't stop. Just because he was a Playboy artist he didnt stop loving her and nither did she stop loving him.
(Anonymous, Posted December 11, 2011 on B&N)