Part One: Taken
Jessie Coford had a plan: work hard, save money, open her own restaurant. She sacrificed her relationship with the man of her dreams to get it. Then, in the blink of an eye, she lost her job and her apartment and her life crashed around her. Until a letter taking her to Fort Mavis, Texas, and an unexpected windfall.
Part Two: Tamed
Shea Prescott was astonished when million Cruz Castillo chose her to design his new home on his ranch. They hardly traveled in the same circles. But Cruz had been hot for Shea since he first saw her and at their first meeting the chemistry between them ignited. Cruz coaxed her deeper and deeper into a whirlpool of erotic s*x, awakening latent s****l desires and bringing her orgasms beyond her wildest imaginings. Her body screamed yes at his every touch, but will she say yes to the most important question?
USA Today best-selling and award-winning author Desiree Holt writes everything from romantic suspense and paranormal to erotic. and has been referred to by USA Today as the Nora Roberts of erotic romance, and is a winner of the EPIC E-Book Award, the Holt Medallion and a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice nominee. She has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in The Village Voice, The Daily Beast, USA Today, The (London) Daily Mail, The New Delhi Times and numerous other national and international publications.
Taken by Surprise is created by Desiree Holt, an EGlobal Creative Publishing signed author.
Part One: Taken by Surprise
How was it possible my life can suck this much?
Jessie Coford stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror and asked herself that question for perhaps the hundredth time. Had she pissed off the gods of fate? Was Mercury in retrograde? Had she fallen into an alternate universe? All in all, as far as she was concerned, life was a b***h. Today was just the culmination of a runaway train of bad luck.
Six months ago, everything had seemed to be going her way. Her fifteen-year plan was on target to build her reputation and finally open her own place. She'd been saving and scrimping and putting money aside from the day she graduated from culinary school and got her first job. She even knew exactly what kind of place it would be-a trendy café with interesting but excellent food that people stood in line for.
She was a talented chef employed in one of Houston's upscale restaurants, with a growing reputation and expecting a significant raise. And in a fantastic relationship with an incredible man, a Houston detective with whom she'd instantly connected. With him, she understood what women meant when they said, "He makes my heart sing."
Then she woke up one morning and panic raced through her. Real panic. She realized how desperately she loved Jack Ward and reminded herself she couldn't fall in love with him. With anyone. It wasn't in her fifteen-year plan. She'd worked too hard and sacrificed too much to achieve her goal to let herself be sidetracked by falling in love with someone.
Since she was ten years old, raised by her grandmother while her parents were at far-off places and her brother was winning all kinds of awards in athletics, she'd focused on this. She loved to cook, and having her own restaurant would validate her. She'd finally be somebody, not the leftover she always felt like. People would respect her, seek her out, her name on their lips as a successful restaurateur. She'd once tried to explain it to Jack, but he'd looked at her like she was crazy.
"You are somebody," he insisted. "And I love you. You love me. I thought we had something very special here. What the hell is this all about?"
"It's about achieving success," she cried. "Can't you understand how important that is to me?"
She just couldn't make him understand. She didn't have time to fall in love, with him or anyone. She couldn't spare the energy to put into a relationship. Maybe later, when Cafe Jessie was a huge success, she'd be able to do this. Wait for me, she asked him. We can do this later. She realized now how stupid that was.
Jack was so angry with her that night, an anger borne of hurt.
"It's about money," he'd shouted. "Pure and simple."
"No, it's not."
"Then I don't understand why you can't do both. Why building your career means the end of our relationship."
He'd said things that hurt, things that bruised her heart.
That was six months ago and she regretted what she'd done more every single day. Her heart ached unbearably. Why had she been so stupid? He'd tried to tell her they could make it work without her sacrificing her dream. She'd just been so obsessed with her plan she hadn't wanted to hear it. She had a sinking feeling he wouldn't be hanging around waiting for her to change her mind.
And then her well-ordered life, her carefully-constructed fifteen-year plan, went to hell.
Last night after closing her boss shocked her and all the other employees with the news that the restaurant was closing. That night. Jessie had thought the place was doing so well. Their clientele continued to build and reviews were good. But he'd told them he faced financial problems he had no way to solve except to shut the door. Jessie had wanted to throw up or pass out or both. She knew from checking around that hardly any high-end restaurants were hiring new chefs at the moment. And taking a step down wasn't in her plans. She felt as if she'd been hit by a tornado. At least he'd given everyone a decent severance check.
Then, to top it all off-the frosting on the cake-her landlord informed her that morning the building had been sold and was going condo. When he quoted her the purchase price she'd nearly had a stroke. If she wasn't buying, he told her, she had sixty days to find another place to live. Swell. Just swell. Could her life possibly get any crappier?
Jessie badly needed to talk to someone about this, figure out what to do next. But who was there? Her grandmother was no longer alive. Her parents were off saving the whales or something. Her brother was in the Marines on the other side of the world. And as she flipped through the numbers on her cell phone she realized, sadly, that she'd been so obsessed with her career that she'd let her friendships slide. Sad, indeed.
No lover to ease her pain. She'd taken care of that, a move she'd regretted every day since. No family around. No friends to cheer her up. Nothing but herself and a bleak future. Her plans to open her own restaurant seemed to be taking a nose dive.
With a sigh she made her way into the kitchen to fix herself a mug of coffee from her single serving coffee maker. She carried it to the table along with yesterday's mail she'd tossed on the counter the night before. After she'd opened and read the note from the landlord she hadn't had much stomach for anything else. But, now, as she shuffled through the envelopes, she paused and pulled out an official looking envelope. Marsten and Wohl, Attorneys, she read. And Fort Mavis, Texas.
Where in hell was Fort Mavis and why would a lawyer be writing to her from there?
This has to be a mistake. I don't know anyone in Fort Mavis. Or anywhere else in Texas outside of Houston, for that matter.
More bad news, she told herself. Why else would a lawyer be writing to her? Was someone suing her? And for what? She opened the flap and pulled out the letter inside. And read it. And read it again. And yet once more. She almost forgot to breathe. But no matter how many times she looked at it, the words never changed. It was brief and to the point. Delfina Brandon, who it seemed was her great-aunt, had passed away and left a diner-Delfina's Diner- and a house to Jessie. Great-aunt? She knew nothing about a great-aunt.
Was someone playing a joke on her? She had an inheritance? Really? She had no one to ask about this, to see if it might be a terrible hoax of some kind. Mostly because her parents were saving the whales or something in Alaska and her brother was in Afghanistan.
And a diner?
She burst out laughing, although she was sure it was more from hysteria than happiness.
Well, Jessie, you're going to get your own restaurant.
Not exactly what she had pictured in her mind but she supposed beggars couldn't be choosers.
The letter ended with a request for her to call the attorney, Marshall Wohl, to discuss the situation and make plans to claim her inheritance. Her brain still whirling with everything, she fixed a fresh cup of coffee, grabbed her cell phone, and sat back down at the table.
It wasn't as if she had something else to do, she told herself. Unexpectedly, she now found herself with endless free time on her hands. She had no job. She needed to find a new place to live, but she had sixty days to do it. Maybe a trip to Wherever, Texas would be just what the doctor ordered.
"Well, Jessie," she said to herself, "it can't be any worse than hanging around here feeling sorry for yourself."
And missing Jack. Not to mention cursing herself for her stupidity in walking away from him. Besides, she was curious what kind of shape this diner was in. She was sure it was a far cry from the trendy little café she imagined in Houston, with its sidewalk tables and flowers for centerpieces. Its wine cellar and select premium brands of whiskey. Fancy hors d'oevres. She was sure this place wouldn't even have wine in the box or know how to spell hors d'oevres. But it seemed that's all her dream was destined to be-a dream. Was this letter a message from fate or something?
Before she could change her mind, she picked up her cell phone and dialed the number on the letterhead. Marshall Wohl was delighted to hear from her.
"Delfina was a great lady," he told her. "People around here loved her."
"I'm sure." What could she say? She'd never heard of the woman until now.
"When can I expect you in Fort Mavis?" he wanted to know.
Jessie chewed her nail for a moment. There was nothing holding her here. Nothing to keep her from jumping in her car and taking off. Maybe that was exactly what she needed right now. A change of scenery. A change in her life.
"Sometime tomorrow," she said. "I'll leave here in the morning. I don't know exactly how long it will take me."
"I'd say between seven and eight hours. A full day's drive." The attorney chuckled. "Depending, of course, on how fast you drive. I'll be in my office all day," he told her, "so just come right on over."
"I'll do that. See you then."
She hung up, her head spinning. Was this the craziest thing she'd ever done? Of course, what did she have to lose? There was absolutely nothing tying her here to Houston. Maybe getting out of the city would help her clear her head. Make some decisions about this stage of her life. Find a job. Find a new place to live. But she could put all that on hold for a few days. Right? And maybe in Fort Mavis she'd get some kind of clue as to what she should do next.
I should have asked him about some place to stay. How big is this town, anyway? Do they even have a hotel? Motel?
She gave a mental shrug. She'd just look around when she got there. Surely there'd at least be something out on the highway.
Since she had no idea how long she'd be away, she wasn't sure exactly what to pack. Or even what kind of clothes. Booting up her laptop, she did a search for Fort Mavis, Texas. Well! It didn't look like a bad town. The few photos on the web site showed a town with wide streets and interesting buildings. According to the map, it was a good distance from Houston but maybe the drive would clear her head. Help her focus.
By the next morning, she had her SUV loaded and ready. The clothes she'd thrown into the suitcases were a hodgepodge since she wasn't sure if she'd need anything but jeans. Her laptop, books, other essentials. She could be there for a week or a month, so selecting what to take had been a problem. She stood on the sidewalk outside her apartment building, taking a long look around. Years ago, she'd had such high hopes. First a career as a top chef. Then a loving husband and family. Somehow, things had not worked out quite that way.
She had the feeling, whatever happened in the next two months, she wasn't going to end up living in Houston anymore. And that was probably a good thing. There was nothing left here for her except sadness and disappointment. Besides, she needed to put as much geographical distance between herself and Jack Ward as she could before she humiliated herself and went crawling back to him. Not that she expected he'd give her the time of day. Maybe in Fort Mavis she could find a way to stop missing him so much.
Now, as she opened the door to the SUV, she felt a tingle of excitement rippling through her. She was off on a new adventure, leaving her old life behind. Pulling away from the curb she blended into traffic and headed for Interstate Highway 10. The day was beautiful, with a blazing sun that lit up an azure blue sky. She had her GPS set for Fort Mavis, her radio tuned to her favorite country western station, and a go-cup filled with coffee in her console.
Okay, she thought. Here we go!