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The Entire First Chapter of Unconditional

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Some of you may know by now I released a New Adult romance under the name Cherie M Hudson. Today, I’d like to share with you the entire first chapter for your reading enjoyment.

Ready?

Unconditional RT coverThe Arrival

 

Australia was not what I was expecting. Sure, I was only in the airport, but still, where were the kangaroos? The koalas? Where were the hot guys walking around in Speedos? Where were the Tim Tams? Didn’t those delicious chocolate cookies fall from the sky over here? I’m sure I’d read that somewhere? Or maybe I’d dreamt it.

I must admit, the second I’d learned I’d won my college’s scholarship to study Environment Studies abroad—and by abroad, I mean a gazillion miles away from Plenty, Ohio, my hometown and the only world I’d ever known—I’d been experiencing weird dreams about Australia.

In one, I was dating a kangaroo that sounded like Chris Hemsworth. I remember waking in the morning stroking my pillow with the words “You had me at g’day,” whispering through my head. Curse you, Mom and your Tom Cruise movie marathons.

In another dream, a shark called Bruce kept trying to take a bath with me.

See what I mean? Weird dreams. I chalked them up to nerves. Winning the scholarship, partly funded by Plenty’s only college, partly funded by the University of Sydney, was a double-edged sword.

On one razor-sharp side there was the awesomeness of winning the scholarship in the first place. Mind you, winning makes it sound like luck had something to do with it, which it didn’t. Hard work, long hours studying, zero time socializing, movies missed, days and days researching, so many days I sometimes forgot what the sun looked like. That’s what earned me the scholarship. That and my passion for the environment.

I’m what my folks call a tree-hugging greenie. Well, my mom calls me that. My dad—who had grown up in Australia and moved to the U.S. when he met Mom during a vacation to LA—has been dead for over three years now. Killed when a drunk driver ran off the road and struck him and our dog as they were jogging.

I was a tree-hugging greenie wrapped up in the unassuming guise of a twenty-two-year-old hometown girl who still has bangs and wears pigtails on the weekend. Who still eats peanut butter straight from the jar and loves watching Sleepy Hollow and Glee when she’s not studying environmental degradation and its impact on wildlife the world over.

On the other even sharper side of the damn blade was the fact I had to fly over a gazillion miles to Australia. Did I mention I’d never been outside of Plenty? I did mention a drunk driver killed my dad and my dog only a few years ago, right? Leaving my mom a widow?

Did I mention my mom suffers from Parkinson’s disease?

Did I mention I do as well?

No on the last two, huh? Sorry about that.

Yeah, I’m a shaker. But I’ve got it under control. Good meds, meditation, tai chi and did I mention good meds? Add them together and I’m okay. Mom, however, isn’t. And with me being on the other side of the world, who’s going to help her up when she falls down? Which she does. Often.

She told me to go, that’s why I’m here. She demanded I go. But being this far away from her… God, I don’t even…

Sorry. Didn’t mean to get maudlin. Long and short of it, Mom has Parkinson’s. She’s alone and I’m here because I’ve never seen her so proud. How could I not go?

But now that I’m here—and I’m excited to be, I really am—where are the kangaroos? I mean, I know I haven’t even made it out of the airport yet, but you’d think there would be kangaroos at least? Even a stuffed one on a pedestal or something. That’s what the country sells itself as, right? The Outback, hot guys in those little bathing suits, beer, beaches and kangaroos? Where were they?

And more to the point, where was my passport? Oh my God, where was my passport? I was about to go through Australian customs in about twenty seconds and I couldn’t find my passport. It was in my bag on the plane. So where was it now?

“Next.”

I started at the deep, authoritarian command. Shot the man behind the counter a few steps in front of me a harried look.

I shook my head.

He raised his eyebrows, raised his hand and waved his fingers at me. In a come-here gesture.

I swallowed. Suddenly aware my fingers were shaking, I clenched my fist. Was it nerves? Or—

“Miss?”

The customs official was now frowning my way. A prickling pressure at the back of my neck told me my fellow travelers were glaring at me. Why wouldn’t they be? I’d be glaring too at the idiot who was rooted to the spot and holding up traffic in the line that allowed you to enter the country you’d just flown over nineteen hours to get into.

I swallowed again. Cleared my throat. Squeezed my fist—crap, I really was shaking—and stepped forward.

The man behind the counter gave me an expectant look. “Passport?”

During the nineteen-hour flight over, I’d passed the time by imagining my first few moments in Australia. In my admittedly sleep-deprived fantasy, the customs official who granted me access would sound like the kangaroo I dated in my dreams. Yes, I will admit now, I have a thing for Chris Hemsworth. But how could you not? Have you looked at him? Is there a sexier, hotter guy on the planet? No, I don’t think so. He would smile at me and tell me I looked amazing after such a long flight.

I didn’t, by the way. My hair was flat and greasy, my eyes were scratchy and puffy and I’d managed to spill most of the coffee the flight attendant had poured for me somewhere over the Pacific Ocean somewhere around three a.m. all over my shirt. Or maybe it had been two p.m? Who the hell knew? Helpful tip if you’re planning on any long-haul flights, don’t wear a white T-shirt, no matter how cute you think you look in it. It’s a bad idea.

So, going back to my mid-flight fantasy…I’m greeted by a super-hot customs official who tells me I look amazing, just as a camera crew from one of those travel shows they make in just about every country with electricity runs over and asks me if I mind being interviewed about being an American college student in Australia. Added to that, they also inform me Chris Hemsworth is in the airport and wonder if I’d like to meet him. He’s researching a role in a movie about the plight of the dingo in the Outback and has read my paper about the environment and native animals online and wants to talk about it with me.

In that fantasy, I had my passport.

In reality, I had no idea where it was.

God, how could I lose it between the plane and—

“Passport, miss?”

I gave the official, who didn’t appear inclined to say anything to me that sounded like, “you look amazing”, a wobbly smile.

Do they arrest you in Australia for trying to enter the country without a passport? I suspect so. I opened my mouth. A sound that may or may not have been a strangled squeak emitted from my throat.

The official’s frown deepened. I couldn’t help but notice his right hand slipped under the counter.

“I’ve lost my passport,” I said, although I think I may have mouthed it. For some reason, my voice had disappeared. Maybe it was with my errant passport? Perhaps both were on their way to Paris?

The man behind the glass leaned forward. A little. “Please repeat that, miss.”

“I’ve lost my passport,” I said. Again. Louder this time. With less silent asphyxiation.

His eyebrows shot up. “Since you boarded?”

I nodded.

“What flight?”

My mind went blank. Oh God, I was doing a woeful job of representing the USA at this point in time. “Err,” I said. “Big plane. Had a…a kangaroo on the tail.”

The man’s forehead furrowed. “A Qantas plane?”

Relief flooded through me and I nodded, looking, I’m sure, like an unhinged bobble-head. “That’s it. Qantas.”

“So you’ve just deboarded a Qantas flight from…”

His silence told me I was meant to supply the answer. “Plenty,” I gushed. “I mean Dallas.”

I scrunched up my face. Tears prickled at the backs of my eyes. I ached for Mom so badly my heart felt like it was being torn out of my chest. What the hell was I doing here? Where was my brain?

“I’m sorry.” I scrubbed at my eyes with the backs of my hands—right first, then left. My vision went that special kind of blurry that only ever happens when you put way too much pressure on your eyeballs, and I blinked. I needed to get a grip. Or a passport. A passport would be nice.

I wondered for a stupidly surreal moment if the traveler behind me would let me borrow hers. Only until I actually got into Australia. Then she could have it—

“Are you Maci Rowling?”

A deep male voice with an obvious Australian accent caressed my tired, overwrought mind and I jerked my head to the left, my heart pounding fast.

An elderly gent who had to be at least ninety in the shade was standing at my elbow, holding what looked to be an American passport in one hand. In his other, he held a cane. Truth be told, it was the cane doing most of the holding, keeping the gentleman vertical.

I looked at him.

“I found it on the floor in the line a sec ago,” he said, a friendly smile on his wrinkled face. “Think it might be yours.”

He was old and feeble and wobbly and holding a passport.

And if he knew my name, it meant it was my passport.

What else could I do?

I threw myself against his frail body in a massive hug.

Knocking him to the ground.

Three hours later, I was allowed into Australia.

It’s insane how long it takes to apologize copiously to the elderly gentleman you’ve just wounded in your enthusiasm to thank him for finding your passport. Who knew it would be so easy to knock an eighty-two-year-old to the floor with a hug? I didn’t help my hug was pretty…enthusiastic. Of course, after the poor old guy was taken away in a wheelchair, I then took part in a serious discussion about senior-citizen care with the airport police, one of them who seriously looked like Russell Crowe. If Russell Crowe was fat. And older. And a woman. And by take part I mean I continued to apologize for my physically intense gratitude. And after that I was the rather mute member of an even more serious discussion about passport safety from the same humorless officials.

Yay.

Finally, with the public humiliation and authoritarian lectures over and done with, I was allowed into the country.

Only to wait at the luggage carousel, watching it go round and round until I was the only one left, with no sign of my luggage on the conveyor belt.

Thirty minutes later, I accepted the fact my luggage—stuffed full of my clothes, including my Victoria’s Secret bra and panties I’d saved for freaking months to buy just for this trip—wasn’t going to appear through the clear flappy-plastic opening in the wall.

Yay. Again.

I made my way to the service counter only to be informed the airline had no clue where my suitcase currently was.

“I’m very sorry,” the cheery attendant behind the counter said, beaming up at me, alert, awake and wearing un-coffee-stained clothes. “We shall contact you as soon as we locate it. Welcome to Australia.”

Welcome to Australia? Yeah, right.

Suffice to say, I wanted to go home.

There and then.

Badly.

So badly I actually pivoted on my heel to head back toward the customs counters. And then I stopped when I realized I was being silly.

Okay, confession time. I’m not exactly emotionally…stable. I mean, I’m not insane or anything. In fact, I’m quite intelligent and at times grounded—Mom’s word, not mine. But more often than not, I’m impulsive. I’m also sensitive, self-conscious, uncertain and…well, to put it bluntly—broken.

It happens. When you spend almost ten years of your life watching your mother slowly being devoured by a disease with no known cure, a disease that robs her of her ability to smile, and know that’s all ahead of you, it messes with your head. When you’ve read everything you can about a disease that takes from you the ability to move normally, to cut your own food, button your own buttons, talk at a normal volume, have normal bowel movements—hell, have any kind of normal movement, even something as simple as blinking and swallowing—and know one day that disease is going to do all those things to you, you get a little screwed up.

That’s what Parkinson’s disease does to you. It screws you. Messes with you.

That’s what it’s done to my family, at least.

I had to tell people she wasn’t drunk at my father’s funeral, that it was just her muscles refusing to allow her to walk without staggering about because her brain is betraying her. That messed with me.

It was bad enough for me to learn my mom had Parkinson’s when I was twelve. Try being told when you’re twenty-one you have the same disease.

Twenty-one. The epitome of early onset Parkinson’s, that’s me. I’ve been living with it for a year now, and it’s not getting easier. Twenty-two was not meant to be like this, I can tell you. It was meant to be living large, partying, meeting new people…not new doctors and specialists and medical-insurance representatives.

Jesus, I sound miserable, don’t I?

I’m not. Honest. I try to laugh about it though. I tell Mom I’m racing her to complete neural shut-down. Whoever gets there first wins. And what does the winner get?

A complete loss of dignity and—

Holy shit, sorry. I truly didn’t mean to go there. It’s a bleak place, my self-pity, and I hate it. Let’s try not to go there again, okay?

I forced myself to turn back around, hitch my carry-on bag—containing a spare set of panties, thank freaking God—farther up my shoulder, stride through the last stage of customs and out through the Sydney International Airport arrival gates.

I had no food to declare.

No insects, reptiles, items made of wood or animal body parts.

I passed over my declarations card to the smiling lady collecting them and, a few steps later, was in the terminal surrounded by excited people waiting for their loved ones to arrive.

It was then I realized I needed to pee.

I hadn’t peed since somewhere over Hawaii.

Oh boy, did I need to pee.

And the second I acknowledged I needed to pee, the more I needed to go.

Searching frantically for the restroom sign, I spied what I thought was the ladies’ room and ran for it, head down, fist gripping the strap of my bag as if it were a lifeline to bladder relief.

So of course, when I slammed into something rock-solid but warm and firm as well, the first thing I thought was I was going to pee myself. Not, argh, I’ve just run into someone and I need to apologize.

I stumbled back a step, flinging the poor woman in my way a harried glance. And froze when that harried glance found not a poor woman, but a tall, broad-shouldered, stunningly hot—no, change that—stupefyingly hot, gorgeous guy with shaggy dark-brown hair hanging over equally dark-brown eyes so intense and beautiful and sexy and—

He wrapped strong fingers around my upper arms and steadied me before I could fall completely on my ass.

“Hey, I think you’re heading into the wrong loo.”

I gazed up at him and didn’t say a word. I’d like to blame sleep-deprivation and jet lag for my ridiculous silence, but that wasn’t the case.

The guy holding my arms, keeping me upright, was stunning. Gorgeous. Hot. Like a brown-haired, brown-eyed version of Chris Hemsworth. Only sexier.

I didn’t think that was even possible, but there you go. It is. And he was.

Sexy, tall with a crooked grin that made my heart skip a beat and a goddamn divine body, all muscular and sculpted and perfectly proportioned, wrapped up tight in a snug white T-shirt and snugger faded jeans.

And he had an Australian accent.

Oh boy.

I gaped at him. My heart thumped in my throat. My belly knotted.

He chuckled and even that sounded sexy. Oh shit, he was so yummy. Wow.

“Can you speak?”

I blinked at his good natured question. Blushed. Caught my bottom lip with my teeth and shook my head.

His eyebrows shot up. “You can’t?”

“I can,” I blurted out, nodding this time. Talk about being a mess of contradictions. “I’m just…” I paused, stopping myself from telling him I was falling in lust with him. Yeah, not exactly cool behavior. Gushing all over a complete stranger on the way to the bathroom? Welcome to Australia.

“I’m just…desperate,” I finished, ducking my head. I sounded like an idiot.

He laughed, the sound warm and friendly. “To go to the loo?”

I peered up at him through my bangs. “Yeah.”

That crooked grin was back on his face. As before, it made my body do things I wasn’t entirely used to.

“You better go then.” He stepped aside and held an arm out, directing me deeper into the men’s restroom.

Another warm blush swept over my cheeks. I frowned. Shuffled my feet.

He cocked an eyebrow, devilment in his dark-brown eyes. “Something else you’re desperate for?”

“A kiss?” The question fell past my lips before I could stop it.

Holy shit, what was I doing? Was I really that tired? Had to be. Why else would I say something so…so…embarrassing? I couldn’t be flirting with him. I wasn’t any good at it. I was an environmentalist dork with Parkinson’s. As if I knew how to flirt.

Was I delusional? Was my brain finally betraying me compl—

Warm lips brushed over mine in a lingering caress of skin on skin. I would have melted on the spot…if it wasn’t for the fact I yelped so loud in shocked disbelief and stumbled back a step.

Or two.

Or four.

Mr. Broad Shoulders laughed. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to freak you out.”

Just to make it clear before I continue. I’m not a virgin. I’d lost my virginity to my high school boyfriend four nights after my sixteenth birthday, the school quarterback, no less. How’s that for both an achievement and a cliché? But since I found out I have Parkinson’s, I’ve pretty much shut down any and all notion of romance. Who wants to get romantic with someone who’s going to be a shaky mess in a few years? I can’t imagine there are many guys out there willing to roll with that kind of burden, so I stopped putting myself out there. Which might explain my very active fantasy obsession with a married Australian actor, now that I think about it. Hmmm. Desire the impossible to substitute the denied. Makes sense, right?

I gaped up at my mysterious kisser—again. Heart beating way too fast, I pressed my fingers to my lips. “Why did you do that?”

“You asked.” His grin turned wickedly playful, hinting at a dimple in his right cheek, and he leaned a little closer to me, his brown eyes holding mine. “And you looked so damn sexy with your mussed-up hair and coffee-stained shirt.”

A wave of embarrassment flooded my face. I slapped my hand to my left boob, hurting myself in a rather ridiculous attempt to hide the stain he’d already pointed out. Why do we do that, by the way? Try to conceal something once it’s been pointed out? Like the way mining corporations plant rows of trees around the boundaries of their open-cut mines, as if some greenery will conceal the massive gaping wound gouged into the planet by their machinery.

His low chuckle tickled my senses again, drawing a frown from me. “Are you mocking me?” I asked, a distant part of my mind telling me I still needed to use the toilet.

“No. Honest. The second you ran into me, I wanted to kiss you.”

It was my turn to cock an eyebrow. I love that I can do that—cock an eyebrow. It speaks volumes. Attitude from your waiter? Cock an eyebrow. Lip from your study partner? Cock an eyebrow. Absurd claim from a stranger in a public restroom? Cock an eyebrow.

“The second?” I echoed.

His lips twitched. Christ, he was hot. “Okay, maybe the second after the second. When you realized who you’d run into.”

Who I’d run into? Didn’t he mean where I’d run into? The men’s toilet rather than the ladies’?

I frowned.

He frowned in return. “You do know who I am, right?” he asked, curious conviction in his deep voice. Have I mentioned the sexy Australian accent? “That’s why you asked for the kiss. Because of the way my sister met the prince?”

My eyebrows shot up my forehead. I’d like to say I had a hand in their journey, but my brain was too busy being stunned by what I’d just heard for any conscious direction to body parts or facial features. What did he just say? “Prince?” I echoed.

It was obvious I had no freaking clue what he was talking about. Clear enough for him to pull a grimace. A sexy grimace, if that’s possible to visualize.

“You don’t know who I am?”

I shook my head. Deep in the pit of my stomach, a twisting tension curled tighter. A sexual tension. Or maybe it was the fact I still hadn’t peed.

He let out an amused sigh, dragging his hands through his dark hair as he did so. “Fuck, ’eh? So you just asked for a kiss because…”

The question hung on the air between us, looking for an answer. One I couldn’t provide. What was I going to say? ’Cause you’re really, really hot? Instead, I said, “Who are you?”

He flashed me that lopsided grin again, let out another laugh and ducked his head. “No one important,” he said.

And then, before I could stop him, he closed the small distance between us, lowered his head to mine and kissed me again.

Longer this time.

Holy fuck, did he know how to kiss. He parted his lips, dipped his tongue into my mouth—when had my lips parted, I wonder?—and found mine with wicked ease, teasing it with a slow, lingering stroke.

My heart slammed up into my throat some more. The tight twist of tension in the pit of my belly knotted in on itself. The heat in the junction of my thighs fluttered and pulsed and throbbed in a way it never had before and a soft little moan vibrated deep in my chest.

And then someone cleared his throat behind us and I let out another yelp of surprise, this one a violent, full-body yelp involving jumping and spinning about.

A tall man wearing a dark-blue suit and dark sunglasses was standing a few feet into the bathroom’s entryway looking at Mr. Broad Shoulders. “It’s time, Mr. Jones.”

Behind me, Mr. Broad Shoulders—correct that, Mr. Jones—uttered an almost inaudible, “Fuck”.

He slid warm fingers up my arm, making me flinch, and I turned back to face him, for some reason completely unsure of what the hell was going on.

“I have to go,” he said, a grin playing with his lips. Lips that only a second ago had been on mine. “I’ll make sure no one comes into the loo while you’re in here, okay?”

And without another word, he strode past me, past the man in the dark-blue suit, and out into the airport terminal.

Leaving me standing in a public restroom that obviously wasn’t the ladies’, with the moisture of his kiss a cool memory on my lips.

I gaped at the man in the suit, waiting for an explanation.

It didn’t come.

The man pivoted on his heel and stood with his back to me, muttering something into his shirt cuff.

If that’s not a WTF moment, I don’t know what is.

I blinked. Took a step to follow the now-absent Mr. Jones—could that really be his name?—and was suddenly hit with the need to empty my bladder. Again. With all the force of a wrecking ball hitting an outhouse made of paper.

I let out a little cry, doubled over, rammed my thighs together and did that ridiculous sprint for a cubicle you do when you need to go to the bathroom in a hurry. The one where your knees are stuck together, your jaw is clenched shut and your hands are balled into fists.

I hit the door running, spun 180 degrees, slammed the door shut, locked it, dropped my bag, yanked down my jeans and panties in one go and made it without a second to lose.

If it weren’t for the man in the suit only a few feet away, I would have let out an ahhhh of relief.

But there was a man in a suit only a few feet away. A mysterious man who seemed to be connected to an even more mysterious man who’d kissed me because I’d asked him to.

What the hell was up with that?

A few minutes later, with the sound of the toilet flush a loud roar in the surreal silence, I emerged from the cubicle only to discover I was completely alone.

“Huh,” I snorted. “Weird.”

By the time I finished washing my hands, a string of men of various ages and attire was pouring into the bathroom. They all balked at the sight of me just as they were about to approach the urinal, their hands on their flies. No one said anything.

With heat flooding my face yet again, I hightailed it out of there as quick as I could.

I tried not to look around for the mysterious Mr. Jones and the man in the blue suit, but I did. How could I not? There was no sign of them anywhere.

That was probably a good thing. My first few hours in Australia hadn’t exactly gone to plan, and truth be told, if I did see Mr. Jones again, I’d probably make a fool of myself and ask him to kiss me again. It had been that good. I still had the tingles and a fluttering belly to prove it. Whoever he was, he was gone.

Yay, life back to normal for me. Well, as normal as it could be given I was on the other side of the world from everything I know and love, about to spend ten weeks in the country of my father’s birth without a single person I could call a friend and—

Okay, let’s stop right there and get off the self-pity bus. I was here, in Australia, about to start the most amazing experience of my student life. No need for dramatics.

Hitching up my bag, I took a deep breath, scanned the crowd one more time for any sight of Mr. Broad Shoulders and then headed out the exit. I had to catch a taxi to Sydney University, my home for the next five weeks.

Two steps outside, I was almost knocked over by a man running with a camera in his hand.

“Hey!” I protested, staggering for balance. It’s never fun to lose your balance, especially when the disease fighting to control your body likes to throw you off balance just for shits and giggles.

The running man didn’t slow down. Nor did the one following him. Or the one after that.

Suddenly, it dawned on me there were lots of hurrying, rushing, sprinting men with cameras, all heading toward a stretch black limousine parked at the curb a few feet away. A limo Mr. Broad Shoulders, AKA Mr. Jones, AKA my mysterious kisser, was now climbing into, the man in the blue suit guiding his head as he glared at the approaching wave of frenzied photographers.

Confused by it all, I frowned. Who the hell was this guy to deserve so much manic attention?

Camera flashes detonated around the limo. The photographers shouted. Most of the calls sounded like, “Oi, Raphael.” Which couldn’t be correct. Who had a name like Raphael these days? The crowd around me surged forward, sirens wailed from somewhere nearby and then, in a moment of surreal calm amongst it all, a gap in the madness formed between me and the limo, and Mr. Broad Shoulders’s stare met mine.

Met.

Melded with.

Fixed on.

Pinned.

Our gazes held, and in that gaze, an entire conversation took place:

I liked kissing you.

I liked being kissed by you.

Shame it had to end.

Ditto.

And then the man in the dark-blue suit shoved the photographers backward with ungentle care and slammed the limo door shut, ending my ocular correspondence with Mr. Broad Shoulders just like that.

I blinked.

The limo engine roared, the man in the blue suit hurled some rather unpleasant words at the horde and then pulled open the front passenger door and disappeared into the cabin.

A chorus of boos rose from the paparazzi—it’s safe to assume that’s what they were—although I still didn’t know who they were photographing. Someone famous, obviously.

Someone famous who’d kissed me. In the men’s restroom, no less.

I tracked the limo’s path as it sped past me and everyone else on the sidewalk, my tummy twisting and knotting and fluttering and generally being all manner of unsettled. It wasn’t until the limousine vanished around the sweeping bend a few yards away from the terminal that I finally found my brain and grabbed the photographer nearest to me.

“Who was that?” I asked the sneering man trying to disengage my grip on his wrist.

“In the limo?” The photographer tossed a nod over his shoulder, as if the limo and its mysterious passenger were still there.

“Yes,” I answered, trying not to sound agitated. Who else would I be talking about?

“You don’t know?”

I shook my head.

“That was Raphael Jones.” The man smirked.

“Who—”

But before I could finish asking who Raphael Jones was, the photographer had shaken off my hold and was hurrying away, looking at the back of his camera as he did so.

I stood and watched the dispersing photographers and crowd, racking my brain to find any clue as to why the name should mean anything worthy of such frenzied excitement.

Nothing.

I shrugged. “Must be an Australian celebrity.”

Deciding to Google the guy when I finally made it to my on-campus accommodation (my iPhone wasn’t talking to the Australian network yet, damn it), I made my way to the first available cab, climbed into the back and gave the driver the address I’d be staying at while I was a student of the University of Sydney.

The memory of Raphael Jones’s kiss sent a delicious little thrill through me and I wriggled deeper into my seat. So I’d been kissed by an Australian celebrity not even a few hours into the country. Not bad for a college dork from Plenty, Ohio, even if I do say so myself. It kind of made up for the otherwise dismal start to my adventure. Pity I was never going to see him again or I’d show him how an American girl did things.

Okay, maybe not, given how much of a twitchy, emotional wreck I am, but a girl can kick ass in her fantasies, can’t she? It’s not like I was going to see him again. Australia’s a big country, after all.

Right?

***

Sooo….what did you think?

For a limited time (only one more week) you can buy Unconditional for only .99c at Amazon. Yay!

You can check out more HERE (along with some really awesome reviews!)

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Beverley Oakley joins us on the Diva couch

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Once again, please help me welcome my dear friend, historical romance author, Beverley Oakley to the Diva couch,

Jess

Hi everyone,

Yesterday, from my dad’s house in South Australia I watched the awful television footage of the Victorian fires encroach on my home town of Gisborne and the house round the corner go up in flames. At the time I didn’t know where my kids or husband were, so it was very frightening. Especially since I had no wifi or phone connection.

Anyway, all was well when I flew in, though the sky was thick with smoke and as I drove from the airport I could see both sides of the Calder Freeway disappear into fields of charcoal, a desolate wasteland as I drew closer to my home. Many people had evacuated but fortunately, unlike Black Saturday’s fires of 5 years ago, when 173 people burned to death, no one was caught by surprise. 

So, now to what’s occupying me at present. Yes! I have a new book out with Ellora’s Cave called Dangerous Gentlemen and I’m delighted to be a guest on Down Under Divas to talk a little bit about it. 

Regency London’s underbelly of vice and vermin is as fascinating to me as the glitz and glitter, and Dangerous Gentlemen, an erotic Regency intrigue, has a good dose of both. It’s about a viscount’s daughter who poses as a prostitute in order to save her life.

 

I love stories of mistaken identities, and there are plenty in this one. My heroine, Hetty, believes her life depends on pretending to be someone else, my hero is mistakenly believed to be a villain, while Hetty’s sister has her own little scheme up her sleeve, based on her own deception. (Believe me, beautiful Araminta is a real piece of work!)

So do read on. There’s plenty to whip up your indignation, horror and lustful fantasies with a guaranteed HEA (bearing in mind that my wonderful editor on the first round of structural edits demanded to know when she got to the last chapter: “BEVERLEY, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” – but I’m happy to report all was happily resolved.

Here’s the blurb followed by an extract:

Sequel to Her Gilded Prison

Shy, self-effacing Henrietta knows her place—in her dazzling older sister’s shadow. She’s a little brown peahen to Araminta’s bird of paradise. But when Hetty mistakenly becomes embroiled in the Regency underworld, the innocent debutante finds herself shockingly compromised by the dashing, dangerous Sir Aubrey, the very gentleman her heart desires. And the man Araminta has in her cold, calculating sights.

Branded an enemy of the Crown, bitter over the loss of his wife, Sir Aubrey wants only to lose himself in the warm, willing body of the young “prostitute” Hetty. As he tutors her in the art of lovemaking, Aubrey is pleased to find Hetty not only an ardent student, but a bright, witty and charming companion.

Despite a spoiled Araminta plotting for a marriage offer and a powerful political enemy damaging his reputation, Aubrey may suffer the greatest betrayal at the hands of the little “concubine” who’s managed to breach the stony exterior of his heart.

A Romantica® historical Regency erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave

And here’s the extract:

By reading any further, you are stating that you are at least 18 years of age. If you are under the age of 18, please exit this site.

An Excerpt From: DANGEROUS GENTLEMEN

Copyright © BEVERLEY OAKLEY, 2014

All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.

This takes place during a ball when Hetty has nicked off to the mending room to nurse her wounds after her sister has been perfectly hateful. Here she meets a young lady in a similar state of dismal spirits.

Miss Hoskings, who declared she was not going to emerge from the mending room until the night was over, bade Hetty a gloomy farewell once Hetty’s skirt was mended but Hetty wasn’t sure she felt like reentering the ballroom either. The only person of any interest had left and she had no wish to endure Araminta’s preening self-satisfaction as she recounted her success with Sir Aubrey who, if he really were such a dangerous man, would consequently be of even greater interest to her sister, she supposed. No, Hetty had no chance.

“Make sure you turn the right way. The ’ouse is a fair rabbit warren of rooms and the gennulmen’s quarters that way.” The old crone stabbed a finger up the stairs to the left. “Even that Sir Aubrey what’s staying ’ere got hisself lost. Put ’is head in ’ere just afore you came to inquire as to which way was the lobby so he could order hisself a carriage.”

Miss Hoskings straightened, her look suddenly interested. “Sir Aubrey is a houseguest, I believe,” she said with a sharp look at Hetty. “Handsome gentleman, don’t you think? And with that unusual hair.”

Just the mere mention of him made Hetty’s heart leap. So Sir Aubrey’s room was just down the passage and up the stairs? She hesitated as the old seamstress closed the door behind her, plunging her into the gloom of the dimly lit corridor.

The stairs beckoned a short distance away.

What would be the harm in a quick look? No one would see her and she could always claim she’d lost her way. She’d be believed and besides, all the chambers would be empty since everyone was at the ball. The night was still young and no one would be returning yet.

Hetty, curious by nature, found this too tantalizing an opportunity to resist. With a furtive look around her, she hurried left and up the stairs, at which point two corridors at right angles disappeared into darkness. Choosing the one to the right, she found herself face-to-face with a series of closed doors.

Foolish, she chided herself. Of course they were closed and she could hardly open them. As she turned back toward the ballroom, a faint light shining from the crack beneath a door that was slightly ajar gleamed beckoningly.

With a furtive look over her shoulder, she approached it, and when she gave the door a little nudge with her foot, it swung open.

Excitement rippled through her.

“Hello?” she asked in a low voice. She took another step into the room. “Is anyone in here?”

Silence greeted her. A low fire burned in the grate before which was a table, against which were propped several items, including a familiar silver-topped cane. Her breath caught in her throat. The last time she’d seen that cane was when Sir Aubrey had exchanged several words with Araminta in the street as Hetty had been bringing up the rear with Mrs. Monks. Of course Sir Aubrey had not looked twice at her, excusing himself before having to be introduced to the younger sister and the chaperone who’d nearly closed the gap.

Heart hammering, Hetty closed the door behind her and went to pick up the cane.

How fortunate to have stumbled into Sir Aubrey’s room, she thought when she observed the fine coat lying upon the bed, apparently discarded in favor of what he was wearing tonight.

He really was a nonpareil, wearing his clothes as if they were an extension of his athletic physique.

Yet he was dangerous, she had to remind herself. Meaning she should not be here, which of course she shouldn’t, regardless of whether he was dangerous or not.

But how such a scion of good breeding and genteel society could be guilty of such a heinous crime as treason, Hetty could not imagine. And surely the story of the runaway wife was a gilded one. It was all the stuff of make-believe and Cousin Stephen was only telling Hetty he was dangerous to curb her schoolroom daydreams.

Turning, she saw half protruding from beneath the suit of clothes what appeared to be the edge of a silver, filigreed box. It was partly obscured by the overhang of the counterpane, as if it hadn’t properly been returned to its hiding place.

A moment’s indecision made her pause but soon Hetty was crouching on the floor, closing clammy fingers around the box. Might it contain secrets? Ones that would reveal, conclusively, what Cousin Stephen claimed was true?

Alternatively, proof that would exonerate Sir Aubrey?

Hetty fumbled for the catch. Dear Lord, this was too exciting for words. Perhaps Sir Aubrey was a secret agent working for the English, and Stephen had no idea.

Perhaps he was—

Protesting door hinges made her squeal as the door was flung wide. Hetty let the lid of the box fall and retreated into the shadows as Sir Aubrey strode into the room.

He was breathing heavily as he shrugged off his jacket with a curse, raindrops spattering into the hissing fire as he raked his fingers through his hair. A curious stillness overtook him and he froze, obviously sensing all was not as he left it.

He sniffed the air. “Orange flower water,” he muttered, stepping closer to the fire, fumbling for the tinderbox on the mantelpiece to light a candle.

Immediately he was thrown into sharp relief and as he stared at Hetty, it was not his look of shock and suspicion that made her scream—but the copious amounts of blood that stained his shirtsleeves and once snowy linen cravat.

“God Almighty, who are you?” he demanded as his gaze raked her finery. “You’re no parlor maid, that’s for certain.”

Gaping, unable to formulate a sensible answer, Hetty finally managed, “What happened to your arm, Sir Aubrey? Are you injured?”

“Sir Aubrey, is it? So you know who I am but you still haven’t told me who you are?” He grunted as he looked down at his arm, the bloodied linen shredded over the long graze. “It’s not as bad as it looks and I assure you, I gave a good account of myself.” His laugh was more a sneer. “Indeed, my assailant lies dead in the gutter.”

Hetty gasped. “Dueling?” Myriad questions crowded her mind. Could this be to do with Araminta? Had Sir Aubrey left Araminta in the middle of the ball to fight some other contender for her affections?

“Dueling?” he repeated. He shook his head and Hetty drew back at the coldness in his eyes. “There was nothing noble about my activities this evening. I was set upon in a dark alley. A short scuffle ensued, I drew my knife, then…” With his hand, he made a gesture like the slitting of his throat, adding, “I am slightly wounded but as I said, my attacker does not live to repeat the insult.”

Her horror clearly amused him, for his eyes narrowed while his generous mouth quirked. He looked like an incarnation of the most handsome demon she’d ever seen depicted in the fairy stories she loved to read.

“We all have enemies, madam. Enemies who must be eliminated if we are to breathe freely.”

 

Aubrey was enjoying the girl’s wide-eyed terror. No doubt she imagined he’d sliced the throat of a footpad, not the snarling, mangy cur who had leapt upon him as he’d been returning from his brief assignation to settle a gaming debt incurred by his favorite reprobate nephew.

Taking pity on her, he said reassuringly, “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.’ Her wide-eyed look as he removed first his jacket, then the bloodied shirt he tossed upon the bed before he rose to his full height, bare chested, afforded him the most amusement he’d had in a long time. “So, you’re the girl Madame Chambon sent?”

She simply stared at him and he nodded appraisingly as he sat on the bed and pulled off his boots. “You had me fooled for a moment. I thought you really were some innocent who’d lost her way in these catacombs.” Had he not been so jaded he might have been ashamed at the assessment in his tone when he added, “My faithful procuress threatened to one day surprise me—and that I’d not be able to tell the difference.” He chuckled and put out his hand. “Well, come into the light so I can see you better. After the god-awful night I’ve had, you might be just what I need. The retiring sort—for I’m sick to death of women who like to play games.”

Like that Miss Araminta Partington, he thought. Now didn’t she like to play games, with her speaking looks and half-whispered promises? Which wasn’t to say he hadn’t enjoyed his brief assignation with her in an antechamber behind the supper room. He’d been on his way out to settle his nephew’s wager when Miss Partington had waylaid him before proving extremely amenable to a kiss and a fondle. But of course that was as far as it could go and the throbbing of his engorged cock after that little encounter had been one good reason to slip unnoticed out of Lady Knox’s townhouse.

Unsatisfied desire had made him restless in every sense, and while he’d imagined a feisty coupling with whichever ladybird sent to him, this young lady’s contrived innocence was having a curious effect upon him. It would seem Madame Chambon had read him correctly, for even he hadn’t realized how tired he was of worldly sophistication.

“Yes, here.” He patted his knees. “No need to carry the pretense to quite such extremes. That’s right. I want you to sit on my lap so I can…observe you better.”

“Sit on your lap?” she squeaked as he tugged at her hand and her rounded bottom landed on his thighs.

He ran his hands over her contours appreciatively. She was rather a nice little thing with a familiarity that tugged at his memory. Plump and almost pretty. Not quite, but with that slightly gawkish look about her that indicated she was in transition to womanhood and might go either way—turn into a swan. Or not.

He rather fancied she had the makings of a beauty, though that didn’t concern him now since he had her only for one night. Madame Chambon would have sent her on approval. She seemed vaguely familiar. It was quite possible he’d seen the chit at the brothel and unconsciously dismissed her on account of the very reasons Madame Chambon had sent her—for her innocence and youth.

He ran his fingers through her fine light-brown curls and contoured her neck appreciatively, amused that she tensed as if this had never happened to her before. Well, if he liked her, he’d see her as often as he wished over the following month. By the time the abbess presented him with one of her exorbitant accounts, he’d know whether the girl gave value enough to continue the arrangement.

If she pleased him as much as his former mistress Jezebel had, Aubrey would indeed be seeing more of her. The next hour or so would tell.

“Oh sir!” she cried, jumping up as his hand came into contact with her breast. “What are you doing?”

He grinned as he tugged her back down and resettled her across his knees. “Madame Chambon has trained you well. Now I suppose you’ll tell me you’re a virgin.”

She nodded vigorously. “I am, sir. Indeed I am and—”

His scowl made her stiffen with apparent terror. Oh, she was good.

“Really?” He reached for the cutlass that had fallen from his belt and now lay at his feet. Idly he stroked the blade, stained with the dead dog’s blood, while he contemplated her. She was indulging in the charade perhaps a little too enthusiastically but then, as he narrowed his gaze and saw how frightened she really seemed, it occurred to him that every whore had to be broken in sometime and perhaps Madame Chambon had decided to play a little trick on him.

She’d told him he needed softening. That the effects of the opprobrium directed at him since poor Margaret’s death had stripped him of his humanity. Perhaps tonight was the time to cultivate his more tender side.

“A virgin?” Before, he’d spoken with blatant skepticism. Now he would allow that she could be telling the truth.

She nodded, her eyes riveted on the blade he was now using to clean his fingernails.

“So this will be your first time with a man?”

She drew in a trembling breath and repeated stupidly, “First time with a man?”

He tried not to sound irritated. There was only so much of the play-acting he could take. “Madame Chambon obviously selected you on account of your innocence. She knows my proclivities and that experience is my preference but I can be gentle. I won’t hurt you.” He grinned as he was struck by the responsibility of breaking in a virgin. One who would always remember her first time with him, no matter how many paying customers she serviced in her working life.

He licked his lips as he watched understanding dawn, adding as he traced the edge of her décolletage with his right forefinger, “In fact, I promise that you’ll quite enjoy the experience. God knows, you’re going to endure enough during your career, so you might as well start off on a good note. Now, shall we begin?”

AND NOW FOR THE VIDEO WHICH YOU CAN SEE HERE

Please drop by and visit me at my website or blog

Or twitter: @BeverleyOakley

And you can buy Dangerous Gentlemen here.

UNCONDITIONAL: Cherie M Hudson’s New Release

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Who’s Cherie M Hudson?

Me. Lexxie 🙂

Tomorrow, Unconditional, Book One in the New Adult series, Always will be available! YAY!! 

This is my debut novel writing under the pen name, Cherie M Hudson, and deals with a subject close to my heart, Parkinson’s disease (both my father and my brother have Parkinson’s)

For a limited time only, Unconditional will be available for .99c  You can check out the early reviews here at Goodreads but for now, please scroll down to read an excerpt 🙂

Unconditional Ad.001

She has a future she can’t escape. He refuses to let her face it alone.

Twenty-one. The age when adult life begins. In my case, it’s the age I learned my future sucked, big time, and there was nothing I could do about it. Every minute of every day I face the fact my life is only going to get worse. Why? Because I have early-onset Parkinson’s Disease. I’m not going to let it get me down, but I also can’t let anyone close. That’s not fair to them, or to me. Trust me. So that means my heart and my soul, is off-limits.

But then I traveled to Australia on a college scholarship program and life royally screwed me over. Again.

Raphael Jones is an arrogant Australian celebrity, the hottest guy on campus and a pain in my ass. Worst of all, he makes me ache for a life I’ll never be able to have. Especially when he takes me in his arms and does wicked things to my body.

How do I have a hope of surviving ten weeks in Australia when it’s not just the paparazzi who have me in their sights, but Raph as well? Because Raphael Jones is a man who always gets what he wants. And no matter what I say or do, he refuses to accept what I so painfully know: a life and future with me is no life at all.

****

Unconditional will be available within twelve hours at Amazon, Smashwords and will be coming soon from Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Nook. I’ll post the buy links as soon as I get them 🙂 Promise

Excerpt

Warm lips brushed over mine in a lingering caress of skin on skin. I would have melted on the spot…if it wasn’t for the fact I yelped so loud in shocked disbelief and stumbled back a step.

Or two.

Or four.

Mr. Broad Shoulders laughed. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to freak you out.”

Just to make it clear before I continue. I’m not a virgin. I’d lost my virginity to my high school boyfriend four nights after my sixteenth birthday, the school quarterback, no less. How’s that for both an achievement and a cliché? But since I found out I have Parkinson’s, I’ve pretty much shut down any and all notion of romance. Who wants to get romantic with someone who’s going to be a shaky mess in a few years? I can’t imagine there are many guys out there willing to roll with that kind of burden, so I stopped putting myself out there. Which might explain my very active fantasy obsession with a married Australian actor, now that I think about it. Hmmm. Desire the impossible to substitute the denied. Makes sense, right?

I gaped up at my mysterious kisser—again. Heart beating way too fast, I pressed my fingers to my lips. “Why did you do that?”

“You asked.” His grin turned wickedly playful, hinting at a dimple in his right cheek, and he leaned a little closer to me, his brown eyes holding mine. “And you looked so damn sexy with your mussed-up hair and coffee-stained shirt.”

A wave of embarrassment flooded my face. I slapped my hand to my left boob, hurting myself in a rather ridiculous attempt to hide the stain he’d already pointed out. Why do we do that, by the way? Try to conceal something once it’s been pointed out? Like the way mining corporations plant rows of trees around the boundaries of their open-cut mines, as if some greenery will conceal the massive gaping wound gouged into the planet by their machinery.

His low chuckle tickled my senses again, drawing a frown from me. “Are you mocking me?” I asked, a distant part of my mind telling me I still needed to use the toilet.

“No. Honest. The second you ran into me, I wanted to kiss you.”

It was my turn to cock an eyebrow. I love that I can do that—cock an eyebrow. It speaks volumes. Attitude from your waiter? Cock an eyebrow. Lip from your study partner? Cock an eyebrow. Absurd claim from a stranger in a public restroom? Cock an eyebrow.

“The second?” I echoed.

His lips twitched. Christ, he was hot. “Okay, maybe the second after the second. When you realized who you’d run into.”

Who I’d run into? Didn’t he mean where I’d run into? The men’s toilet rather than the ladies’?

I frowned.

He frowned in return. “You do know who I am, right?” he asked, curious conviction in his deep voice. Have I mentioned the sexy Australian accent? “That’s why you asked for the kiss. Because of the way my sister met the prince?”

My eyebrows shot up my forehead. I’d like to say I had a hand in their journey, but my brain was too busy being stunned by what I’d just heard for any conscious direction to body parts or facial features. What did he just say? “Prince?” I echoed.

It was obvious I had no freaking clue what he was talking about. Clear enough for him to pull a grimace. A sexy grimace, if that’s possible to visualize.

“You don’t know who I am?”

I shook my head. Deep in the pit of my stomach, a twisting tension curled tighter. A sexual tension. Or maybe it was the fact I still hadn’t peed.

He let out an amused sigh, dragging his hands through his dark hair as he did so. “Fuck, ’eh? So you just asked for a kiss because…”

The question hung on the air between us, looking for an answer. One I couldn’t provide. What was I going to say? ’Cause you’re really, really hot? Instead, I said, “Who are you?”

He flashed me that lopsided grin again, let out another laugh and ducked his head. “No one important,” he said.

And then, before I could stop him, he closed the small distance between us, lowered his head to mine and kissed me again.

Longer this time.

Don’t forget you can follow Cherie M Hudson on Twitter as well. And like my Facebook Author Page 🙂

Sexy Or Not?

4 Comments

It’s been a while since I drew attention to those out there in the movie/television world who weren’t meant to be sexy but, for some reason, are. Let’s remedy that, shall we…

1/ Agent Phil Coulson (The Avengers)

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I’m not sure what it is about Coulson, but whatever it is, it’s making me continue to watch Agents of Shield long after I would have if he wasn’t in it. I think it’s his calm demeanour in the face of any threat/danger/frenzied. Or his poised confidence. Or his nose. I don’t know what it is, but yes, I do find him sexy. Big time.

2/ Abed (Community)

Community

Okay, this one I know is weird. For those that watch Community, maybe you can tell me why I find this OCD (among other things) community college student so…appealing. I think it has something to do with his geek knowledge. But it could be his nose… Hmmm….

3/ Tyrion (Game of Thrones)

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This one I can explain. It’s aaaaaalllllll in the attitude. The snark. The sarcasm. The intelligence. The wit. The self-contempt and self-confidence. It’s all of that wrapped around a man who just wants someone, anyone, to value him. And his bedroom eyes.

4/ Fusco (Person of Interest)

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It’s hard not to look beyond Reese for make-you-melt sexiness in the show Person of Interest, but Fusco…short, round, reclining-hairline Fusco makes me happy. Why? Because his character arc has been incredible. He started as a corrupt cop and is now all bags of awesome. And not just because he stands up to Reese when he needs to.

5/ Munroe (Grimm)

Grimm-Silas-Weir-Mitchell

Munroe may not actually belong on this list. I don’t know if the creators of the vegetarian Blutbad (i.e. werewolf) intending him to be sexy or not. If they did, they hit the mark, because that sensitive almost-buddhist attitude toward violence of his wrapped around a simmering temper and menace of the most feared Wesen in the Grimm world is downright sexy. Or maybe it’s just his nose…

So, your turn. Is there any one out there in television or the movies who pushes your buttons that probably shouldn’t? Who wants to be brave and confess?