Mmm...first encounters. I love it when characters in both movies and novels meet for the first time. It sets the tone for what's to come. Sometimes there's snap, crackle, sizzle...or maybe there's that slow burn of borderline contempt that you just know is gonna be fun to watch.
Today we're lucky enough to check out TD Hassett's new release, Darling's Desire. So what do you think? Is it love…or lust…or maybe neither at first sight?
When the hero and heroine first meet…
The champagne was flowing, and Darling was feeling a happy buzz hit her. At least until she noticed the two men approaching from down the street. She recognized Madison’s husband, Link, and the drummer from Becket in an instant. Link would be easy to chat with, but John Ross was another story. It was just so sad; his wife had died in a boating accident and he was in deep mourning. She never knew what to say to people who’d experienced such a loss. After all, she’d lost her mom when she was only nine years old, and nobody had ever said anything that helped her.
Madison continued talking about her son as Darling watched the men get nearer. Link put his finger to his lips, indicating that she should not say anything about his impending arrival. She almost nodded in response but stopped the action at the expression on his bandmate’s face. John Ross looked irritated. As if he was scowling at the whole world. His stride was stiff, and he appeared as if he hadn’t shaved in days. His longish light brown hair was stuffed under a cowboy hat, and he wore faded jeans and a black T-shirt, even in this heat. Even dressed sloppily he was taking-her-breath-away gorgeous. She was just noting his black boot tips when the men stopped behind Madison’s chair.
Link bent to place a kiss on Madison’s lips and brushed his fingers against her cheek. She jumped in her seat and flushed red in the face before swatting at his hand. Link laughed gently at his wife before coming around to Darling’s side of the table and chastely kissing her cheek. “You two ladies look up to no good. What have you been plotting?” Link asked, walking over to stand behind one of the empty chairs.
“I’m always on good behavior. It’s your wife you have to watch out for. She gets these ideas in her head.” She glanced over to see Madison welcoming Link’s friend, whom she wasn’t sure if she’d ever been introduced to before. Link and Madison had so many friends it was hard to keep track. She knew John Ross from pictures and videos but didn’t think they’d ever really met. Most of the time she and Madison did stuff, just the two of them, but she’d met some of Link’s friends and bandmates at the wedding and a smaller group at their son’s first birthday party.
“That wife of mine does have a wicked mind.” Link leaned over and tapped his friend. “Hey, Junior, meet one of Madison’s closest and oldest friends, Darling Roberts. Darling, meet Junior.” Link pulled out his chair and sat gracefully. His friend looked her up and down as if he was studying her. She wished he’d just ignore her altogether. Good-looking men made her nervous.
He pulled his chair out and sat watching her for a moment before finally saying, “Hey there, Darlin’, I’m John Ross. Ross to friends,” in a deep drawl.
She nodded her head feeling inordinately shy. She wasn’t sure, but from what few words the man spoke, he seemed to be straight out of the south. He took his hat off, exposing dirty-blond hair that was a bit too long. He was tan, so the outdoors was no stranger to him, and his eyes might’ve been blue or a very deep green; she didn’t want to get caught looking long enough to figure it out.
“Don’t mind him, Darling. He scowls at everyone but is a total pussycat.” Madison pointed at John Ross before adding, “Be nice, this is my BFF.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered and let out a mock purr that sent Link to laughing and slapping his hand on the small table, rattling the glassware. Darling began to count the wrought-iron rungs of the courtyard fence, feeling a bit out of her element now that the party had expanded.
“So, Darling is going to be staying at her late grandmother’s house for the summer and watching Beauty Belle for us there. It’s a big house built right on the water and surrounded by, like, acres of marsh and forest. Darling hasn’t been back to the house since she was a kid, so I got to thinking”—Madison paused, smiling brightly before continuing—“we have to practically drive past the lake on our way to Boston, and I thought it might be fun to go with her and check out the place. We could spend a couple of nights, soak up some sun, and be off to London. I could help Darling and Beauty Belle settle in while you take Will to the beach and all. What do you think? Link?”
“I don’t know, baby. I told Junior Ass here that he could ride up with us to Boston.”
“Oh, that’s fine. He can stay with us too. It’s a big house.” Madison looked at each of the men in turn, waiting for a response. Darling kept her mouth shut, amazed by Madison’s audacity.
Link found his voice first. “Sure, honey, if you want to we could stop by for a couple of nights.” He motioned the waiter over and ordered a couple of beers.
Darling waited with bated breath to see how her friend would proceed. She really should spend more time watching Madison to learn from the master. How did she just get him to agree without raising any suspicions? She was going to tell them the whole deal, right?
“I knew you’d think this was a good idea. You see, Darling inherited the house when her grandmother passed, over a year and a half ago or something like that, and has been meaning to check it out. She’s just a little nervous after so many years away from the family homestead, and well, that little incident that happened a week or so back was a nuisance. But I saw some pictures, and the house is really pretty and right in a quaint New England town.” Madison sipped her drink and picked at the salmon in front of her.
Darling had to hand it to her; she did have a way of avoiding the pesky details and focusing on the positive of any situation. The waiter arrived with beers for the guys and whisked away an empty appetizer plate.
“What do you mean by a little incident?” John Ross asked in a deceptively soft voice.
Darling attempted to answer. “A late tropical storm struck late last fall, flooding the dock, and there was a blizzard over the winter that caused some additional damage to the dock and one of the house’s decks. The house is still usable, and I contacted a company to begin repairs, but—”
Madison cut her off midsentence. “But the house is fine, and it would be an adventure.” She smiled at the seated men and pushed a plate of fruit and cheese toward them.
Ross picked up a few grapes, popped them in his mouth, and waited.
“Is anyone else wondering about this incident that has yet to have its curtains pulled open?” Obviously John Ross was a man of few words; he got right to the point. It was clear he was not one to fall for Madison’s ploys. How unusual.
“Well, there is a little more to it.” Darling attempted once again to explain, only to have Madison interrupt.
“Oh, stop. Just pour me another glass of champagne.” Madison tilted her glass to Link, who obliged, deftly pulling the bottle from the ice bucket. “Darling, you always focus on those little pesky details. It really is a lovely house, and we could use some time sitting on a beach.” She winked.
John Ross looked at her, an eyebrow raised in question. She took her time looking into his eyes; they were green and intense. She was beginning to squirm under his scrutiny. His looks could melt frozen chocolate.
He dropped his square jaw, keeping his eyes level with hers. “I’m thinking whatever you girls are leaving out is more than a few pesky details, so why don’t you, Darling, or whatever your name really is, fill us in on the meat and potatoes of the deal.” He swigged from his beer without breaking eye contact with her. Perhaps he had experience interrogating prisoners or something, because even Madison didn’t try to stop her from speaking this time. She knew she couldn’t follow the lead her friend had set. She needed them to know the whole story.
“I haven’t been to my grandmother’s lake house since the day my mom disappeared thirteen years ago. She was grabbed from the house, her car found abandoned in town, and eventually presumed dead. After that my father and I never went back there and instead summered on Cape Cod. Too many memories, I guess.” The story poured out of her in a just-the-facts manner. She’d had to explain the events to so many people over the years she’d become detached from the details. “My grandmother stayed, living in the house until she passed away. The house has been empty since, as I wasn’t sure what to do about the property. Then, I got a call from my aunt who lives in town and owns a real estate agency advising that I should just put it on the market. I was all set to do that, but with one of the deck pillars dropped and the end of the dock submerged in the lake, I needed some repairs. I wound up calling a local restoration company, and they sent a contractor to assess and repair the damage.”
Madison was opening her mouth to interrupt, but John Ross held his hand up and Link smirked, probably amused that someone could get his wife to hold her tongue.
Darling sipped her drink and went on. “Well, the handyman must’ve had an accident or something because his body was found up at the top of the driveway with a flathead screwdriver in his rib cage—it punctured the poor man’s lung. It was hard for the police to tell much because apparently some coyotes or bobcats got to the body, tore it up, and dragged it toward the street. He was found a few days later by a jogger.” She shrugged her shoulders and waited for her friend’s reactions.
Link just stared at her, perhaps trying to take in what he’d just heard. John Ross was less circumspect. “Holy fuck.”
Madison was done keeping quiet. “Oh please, Darling, you make it all sound more dramatic than it is. The repairman probably just fell down while holding some hand tools, and everyone knows that scavengers will mess with anything they can get.”
John Ross fixed his gaze right on her. “So you’re saying you and Madison want us to go spend a couple of nights at an isolated lake house, surrounded by dangerous animals, and where there may have already been at least two murders? Am I getting it all? Because I thought I was in a band, not guest-starring in a damn Scooby Doo episode. I’m not too gung ho about hopping in the mystery machine and looking to unmask old man Withers.” He slapped his beer onto the table. “Damn, little girl, you must be out of your tree. You ladies should go spend the weekend at the spa or something while the house gets cleaned out and sold for whatever some crackpot will pay. Place is probably haunted to boot.” He punctuated his comments by tipping the beer bottle toward her in emphasis.
John Ross’ comments set her teeth on edge. There had been a streak of bad luck at the house recently, but it wasn’t cursed. She might not have gone there for years, but it used to be a special place where her family spent every summer until her mom vanished. She’d loved to swim in the lake and take out the sailboat with her dad. She was ready to face the memories again and certainly didn’t need some rock-and-roll drummer giving her attitude about what she should be doing with her inheritance. She picked up her champagne flute and tipped it in a toast toward John Ross and asked, “So basically you’re scared, is that it?”
“I’m not scared of ghosts, if that’s what you mean. I just don’t want to go settle in there only to have you girls get all spooked in the middle of the night and start carrying on the way women do once the sun goes down. Not that it would be my problem ’cause I’ll be at the Four Seasons in Boston by tomorrow night.” He winked at her before shaking his near-empty beer at Link.
“Sounds good to me; they have a lobby with a grand piano at the Four,” Link kicked in.
“You know what, Darling, I think both these boys are a little rattled about your house. Maybe I should just come with you for the weekend and meet up with them in Boston on Sunday night?” Madison offered with a knowing smile.
Link signaled the waiter to bring two more beers to the table. “Now hold on, honey. I’m not letting you out of my sight for a whole weekend. Junior can find something to do if he’s spooked, but I’m in.”
“Who said I was spooked or rattled? I’m just thinking about you girls. I’m fine with hanging with the group. Besides you guys are driving me up to Boston. I don’t want to leave my baby at airport parking for two months. She’s getting garaged and wiped down with a diaper every day until I get back.” The waiter dropped the beers off for the guys, and John Ross took a healthy sip.
“So it’s all settled, then.” Madison smiled wide. “See, Darling, I told you I had good ideas. We’ll drive up in the Rover on Friday night and meet you. This is going to be so much fun!” Madison clapped her hands together with glee.
“Just one question before we all pack our bags for this little adventure. How exactly did your grandma pass?” John Ross asked, and all eyes at the table pivoted to look her way.
“She fell off the third-floor balcony.”
Darling Roberts is going back to the lake house her mother disappeared from thirteen years ago. She needs to decide to stay or sell. The locals believe the place cursed, but her best friend thinks it would be a blast to spend the weekend there before heading to Europe. BFF Madison is determined to set Darling up, even if that means dragging a recently widowed rock-and-roll drummer to the scene of a murder.
Ross Daniels has a secret. He can’t stand the pitying looks well-wishers have given him since his wife’s accidental death. The European leg of the Becket tour can’t come soon enough. A weekend stay at a mutual friend’s lake house seems like a decent way to kill a couple of days before hopping a plane, at least until he spends some time with temptation herself.
Passions ignite and Ross feels his heart beginning to beat again. Darling isn’t who he thought she was, and he can’t get enough of her sweet soul and lush curves. Darling is determined to take charge of her life, and the lake house is just the place to begin. Ross is a scrumptious distraction, but she knows she has to keep things in perspective. Why would a world-famous drummer want to hang out with her in a small town even the locals want her run out of?
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