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What side would you choose in the Coffee Wars?

Please help me welcome romance author Michelle Miles, author of the Coffee House Chronicles.  Her latest release, The Coffee Wars, is #5 in this hot contemporary series, and one of you lucky readers is going to win a copy!

Thanks for joining us today, Michelle!  Tell us about the Coffee House Chronicles.  What are they about?  How do the individual books in the series relate to each other?

Thanks for having me! All the books are set in and around a coffee house – The Bitter End.

TALK DIRTY TO ME (Samhain, 2006) is about Claudia, who is a phone sex operator, and Blake, a lonely doctor looking for love on the other end of the phone. A chance meeting brings the two together and Claudia realizes the hot doctor could be the sexy voice on the other end of her phone.

NICE GIRLS DO (Samhain, 2007) follows ex-stripper, Cara, on her journey to reinvent herself and gets a job at the local coffee house, The Bitter End. But things go awry when she meets bad-boy Mark and son of the coffee house owner. Especially when he and his brother, David, vie for her affections. When Cara and Mark learn the coffee house is in danger of closing, they team up to keep the doors open and rescue the coffee house.

TAKE ME I’M YOURS (Cobblestone Press, 2009) goes in a little bit different direction with Graeme, whose love is painting but whose bread and butter is designing adult websites. When Marion, the jilted bride of his ex-best friend, comes back into his life, he sees it as a chance to get the woman of his dreams—and paintings. Marion is encouraged by her fashionista best friend, Delilah.

SEX, LUST & MARTINIS (Cobblestone Press, 2010) picks up where TAKE ME I’M YOURS left off, but this time Delilah is in the driver’s seat. Meeting up with her ex-husband after a long separation makes her realize she still has feelings for him, but he’s never been the responsible type. Sam does everything in his power to make her see he’s changed…and he wants her back for good.

THE COFEE WARS is a short novella where David finally gets his turn in the starring role. He meets Lily but there’s definitely more to her than meets the eye.

All the books have one thing in common—love conquers all. Oh, and lots of hot sex. 🙂

What inspired you to write contemporary romances revolving around a cafe?  Did you set out to write a series?

It was all sort of an accident. I wrote TALK DIRTY TO ME in about six weeks and at the time, a friend encouraged me to submit it to Samhain, who was new and looking for submissions. On a whim, I did and about two weeks after submitting, I was offered a contract. The actual coffee house came from a NaNoWriMo novel I wrote in 2005 (which was dreadful). I threw everything out but the coffee house. *grin* I had so much fun with TDTM, I started writing a second one. And then a third…and the rest, as they say, is history.

Do the books need to be read in order?

Not at all. You can read them in any order. They’re all written as stand-alone.

Is The Bitter End based on a real cafe?

It’s one I made up. I wanted a place to sit and drink a latte.

How about a blurb or a summary for The Coffee Wars?

Get ready for a throw down!

Lilly owns the new up and coming, Java Perks. She’s determined to be the number one coffee house in town, crushing her competition down the street, The Bitter End.

Meeting a mystery woman in his coffee house, David immediately wants her for himself. After a hot encounter on his desk, he can’t stop thinking about her. Until he learns she’s the owner of the place trying to put him out of business.

When David confronts Lilly accusing her of using him, she throws down the gauntlet. Now the two are at war and may the best woman win!

What’s your favorite moment in The Coffee Wars?

All the sexy fun on the desk!

Do you plan to write more in this series?

I haven’t quite decided yet. I thought I was done with Delilah’s story but then an opportunity presented itself and I ended up writing THE COFFEE WARS in four weeks to submit for the Christmas line. I may have more stories to tell at The Bitter End.

I have a magic lamp, and I’m going command the genie inside it to bring one of your Coffee House Chronicles heroes to life for a night.  Tell me about each of these sexy men, so I can decide which one I want to meet.

FUN! Okay. Let’s see…

Blake (TDTM). He’s a hot, suave doctor who likes to tease. He knows what words to use to turn a woman on and how to get her right where he wants her.

Mark (NGD). Total bad boy. Knows what he wants and how to get it. He won’t let anyone get in his way (even his brother) to get what he wants. Tall, dark, seriously good-looking.

Graeme (TMIY). Mmm. I love Graeme. He’s the epitome of a passionate guy. He’s a painter, after all! He loves women. He loves loving women. But there’s only one that can turn him into the monogamous guy he’s always wanted to be.

Sam (SLM). He’s the strong silent type who tries to do the right thing. He suffers in silence and pines away for the woman he loves. He goes out of his way to do nice things for her and woo her.

David (TCW). He’s a lot like his brother, Mark, except without the bad boy attitude. He also knows what he wants and this time, he’s not going to let his brother take her away from him.

What are the key elements of a Michelle Miles story?

Sarcasm and a lot of hot sex. 😉 I really want my stories to be entertaining and fun.

What’s your favorite thing about writing contemporary romance?

Even though there’s still worldbuilding, it’s not as intense as writing fantasy. When I want to bang out something quick, it’s a nice change.

How do you balance the erotic and the romantic in your stories?  How do you see those two aspects conflicting or working together in fiction?

I really think they work well in fiction together. I like to let the story dictate how much “erotic” and how much “romantic” there should be. It just depends on the characters and the storyline.

How old were you when you read your first romance, and what was it?

Oh, I remember this vividly. It was Victoria Holt’s The Road to Paradise Island. It’s the story of Annalise Mallory who finds the diary of her long-dead ancestor with a map to a mysterious island. Her brother set sails to find it, but never returns. Annalise decides to find him and is drawn to an island in the South Seas where there is lots of action, adventure, and a bit of romance. It’s a wonderful story.

What was the first story you ever wrote?  What was it about?

Well, the very first thing I ever wrote was fan-fiction (Star Wars/Star Trek/Indiana Jones). The first full-length novel I ever wrote was a fantasy romance and clocked in at nearly 100k. It’s a story that’s still near and dear to my heart but needs a lot of work to be publishable. Maybe someday.

How long was it between when you first started writing fiction seriously and your first publication?

I got back to writing fiction seriously when I was on maternity leave with my son. That was in the fall of 2001. My first novella was released with Samhain in the summer of 2006. Before that, though, I wrote two serials for a now-defunct online magazine called Keep it Coming. One of those serials was actually how my time travel series was both (both books are available in print and ebook from Samhain, A Bend in Time and A Break in Time).

How does your family feel about the fact that you write romance?

My man thinks it’s awesome. *grin* He loves that I’m a romance writer and he gets to be the subject of “research”.

Who inspires you?

In the big-name world, Nora Roberts. To put out the volume of books she writes is amazing. In the real world, there are several people who inspire me. For one, my fabulous critique partners. I couldn’t function as a writer without them.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to read. I also cross-stitch. I find it very meditative. And when I’m not doing any of that, the Man and I like to watch sports: football, hockey, baseball.

What are you working on now?

Honestly, nothing. I’ve been wrapped up in getting a wedding/honeymoon out of the way. *grin* By the time this posts, it will all be behind me. I’ve got plans though! I’m going to finish edits for a book I’ve been working on way too long and trying to sell, plus finish writing a time travel. I also have an idea for something that has cowboys in it. That idea is definitely still in its infancy. I have big plans for 2011!

The Coffee Wars is available from Cobblestone Press:  http://www.cobblestone-press.com/catalog/books/coffeewars.htm

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Interview and Giveaway with Michelle Miles

I’m delighted to introduce the lovely and talented  Michelle Miles, who also happens to be my critique partner.  She writes steamy contemporary and paranormal romance–the sparks really fly in a Michelle Miles story!  One of you lucky commenters will win a copy of her new release, Sex, Lies and Martinis in the e-format of your choice.

Romance Author Michelle MilesPlease tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.

I was born on a dark and stormy night… 😉 Just kidding. Born in Dallas, I was raised in the ‘burbs and finally migrated west to Fort Worth when I became an adult. In high school, my then-best friend and I used to write and illustrate our own Indiana Jones comic books. I wrote fan fiction for Star Wars, Star Trek, Bladerunner. Freshman English was completely boring to me, so I started writing short stories. One memorable one was about princess, her evil uncle the Duke, and the prince who would save her from him. I stopped writing for a long time until I finally came back to it in 2001 when I was home on maternity leave. I wrote a short story and submitted it to Writer’s Digest 2001 Writing Competition and was actually awarded Honorable Mention. It was my first writing-related anything! Finally, about four years later, I discovered Romance Writers of America and joined. I also joined a couple of chapters and met some really awesome people (present company included!). My first book was released with Samhain Publishing in 2006. TALK DIRTY TO ME is a contemporary hot romance and is still available for purchase.

What was the origin of your new release, Sex, Lies and Martinis?

To answer that, I have to go back a bit. I hope that’s okay. 🙂 TALK DIRTY TO ME started it all. I had this coffee house I featured in TDTM, then wrote a sequel, NICE GIRLS DO, then a third TAKE ME I’M YOURS. The latter features Marion and Graeme and has a cameo by Marion’s best friend, Delilah. Once I finished TAKE ME I’M YOURS, I had so much fun with Delilah, I decided she needed her own story. She’s the star of SEX LUST & MARTINIS and reconnects with her lost love, Sam.

What’s your favorite moment in Sex, Lies and Martinis?

I think my favorite is when Delilah sees Sam again for the first time in years. 🙂

Sex, Lies and Martinis is the second in a series, right?  Can you tell us a little about the previous book, Take Me I’m Yours?

It’s actually the fourth. 🙂 The first two (TALK DIRTY TO ME and NICE GIRLS DO) are with Samhain Publishing. TAKE ME I’M YOURS is the third installment in what I call “The Coffee House Chronicles”. TAKE ME I’M YOURS is the story of Graeme and Marion. He designs adult websites while she’s a personal trainer mending a very broken heart. Marion’s meddling ex-fiancé comes back to wreak havoc but Graeme is determined not to let her get away. It’s a fun story.

If you could be one of your characters – Who would you be?  And why?

LOL – Delilah! She believes in high fashion, awesome shoes, great handbags and martinis!

What works of fiction (books, movies, myths, etc.) have influenced you as a writer?

Great question! I love a good romantic comedy but I also love a great action flick. I’m a huge Star Wars/Star Trek fan. I also love Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Indiana Jones. (Yes, I love trilogies). They’ve had a huge impact on my writing. Also, Patricia A. McKillip has long been on my TBR list. I read her for the first time when I was in my teens and have loved her ever since. Victoria Holt is another one that I loved reading when I was younger. Two books that made me want to write: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Road To Paradise Island. Awesome books.

What genres do you read?  Do you write in those same genres?

I’m into urban fantasy/paranormal type books but I also love historical and just about anything by Nora Roberts. My favorite series at the moment is Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. I’m waiting impatiently for the fifth book of that and looking forward to what she’ll do next.

How would you describe your approach to writing?

Haphazard mostly. 🙂 I have focus issues sometimes. I really need to write on a schedule and it’s hard to do that while working full time.

When you have writer’s block, how do you break free?

I have to make myself do it. Sometimes I get 500 words; sometimes I get 1500. And when I really am stuck, I put a placeholder and then move on. Forward progress is always best.

Where do you get your best ideas?

All over the place! Sometimes even from my dreams.

How many drafts do you go through before you consider a story to be complete?

At least three. The first draft to get the story down, the second the tweak, the third after my critique partners have read it. Okay sometimes four. 🙂

How much of your personal experiences do you use in your stories?

There’s a little bit of me in everything I write. That’s all I’m saying. 😉

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Watch movies! We’re avid movie-goers.

What was your favorite childhood book?

Oh I love this question. It was called COULD BE WORSE and I adored that book. I read it so much it fell apart. It’s the story of Grandpa and how all he ever said was, “Could be worse,” when anything happened. Then one day, he told the most outrageous story and the grandkids only response was, “Could be worse!” I love that book. I still have it and I read it to my son when he was younger.

What do you hope readers get from your books?

I hope, above all, they’re entertained and love the characters as much as I do. Books are a form of escapism and I want people to feel like they’re IN the story.

If you give aspiring writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

Never give up. No matter what people tell you. And writing is NEVER a hobby – just remember that. If you’re serious about it, then don’t let anyone put it down. It maybe seem like a hobby to our family members (you know, the ones we ignore while we’re hammering away at the keyboard) but you know better.

What project are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a revision of a fantasy I’d submitted to a publisher who rejected. They agreed to let me revise and resubmit so I’m trying to get it done and out the door. I’m also working on a historical/time travel about jousting.

Will there be a third book to follow Take Me I’m Yours and Sex, Lies and Martinis?

I hadn’t considered it yet, but you never know with me. I do love my contemporaries. 🙂

What question do you wish people would ask you in interviews?

LOL. THIS one!

If you could have a harem made up of your favorite fictional characters, who would be in it?

LOL! Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Wolverine, James Bond (Sean Connery), Jack Sparrow, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler/300)


Buy Sex, Lust and MartinisSam ripped out her heart. Now Delilah wants it back!

Delilah Storm believes in sex, lust, and martinis. She knows what she wants and how to get it. Until she discovers that her favorite sex toy shop has been taken over by her ex-husband.

Sam Ford is a man who doesn’t know what he wants. So when Delilah walks back into his life, he sees it as a sign. And he’s willing to try anything to get her back.

Sparks fly, proving they’re still in lust with each other. Now the two have to put the past to rest, or risk losing each other again…this time, for good.

EXCERPT:

Saturday, one week before the wedding.

She’d been called a goddess in four-inch heels. She’d also been called a bitch in stilettos. Sometimes she’d preferred being a bitch, because trouble usually followed the goddess title. It was hard work being a goddess. It was easier being a bitch.

And Delilah Storm found this moment to be a bitch one of the easiest of all, because the man sitting across from her at brunch was definitely trouble. She’d been thinking about it for the last few weeks when Cliff—Cliff? Why did she even agree to a date with a man named Cliff?—had stood her up time and time again. And when they did finally go on a date, he took her someplace where he could get the meal for free. He had connections, he called them.

And every time they did manage a date, she ended up driving nearly an hour out of her way to get to the place. And despite his claims he had to rush home to the babysitter, being the single dad and all, she had her suspicions he was actually still married. After all, she’d never seen the inside of his house or met the kids. And she didn’t even want to think about the numerous times they’d gotten it on in his car because he claimed he was overcome with emotion.

She’d been swept up in their sheer physical attraction, their whirlwind dating, their meeting and greeting and getting to know each other. She could overlook a lot of things. She could tolerate even more, since she was a no-strings kind of gal. But when she’d sensed he was still married, and she’d overheard the conversation with his “business partner” the night before, she knew it was time to cut him loose.

She’d been so stupid. And she would never doubt her intuition again.

She knew, sitting here now at brunch with this man who claimed he was divorced, today was Cut-Loose Day. Too bad Cliff didn’t know. She had put up with it for nearly three months. What did she see in this guy? A quick meal ticket and hot sex? No, that wasn’t it. He made her feel powerful, as if she were in control. When really she wasn’t in any sort of control at all. He was. And that flat ticked her off.

What was he talking about anyway? Delilah refocused, tried to pay attention to what Cliff was saying. He was chattering about some client party he wanted her to attend with him. She should have been tipsy with glee at the very fact he was actually inviting her somewhere other than (a) his car for sex or (b) some restaurant on the other side of God’s green earth to meet for dinner. Instead, annoyance crawled under her skin.

“Listen, Cliff,” she said, cutting him off. “That sounds nice, but I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

He paused, stared at her across the table as though she’d grown another head. The only sound around them was the clink of silverware on plates, the murmur of voices from the other brunch diners.

“What?” he said.

Oh, crap. Please don’t cause a scene. It was too early for a scene, and she hadn’t had nearly enough coffee. “I’ve been thinking about us a lot lately, and it’s just that…well, I’m not ready to get serious.” There. That sounded plausible.

“It’s a damn client party, Delilah. I’m not asking you to marry me, for Christ’s sake.” He threw his fork on the table, the silverware clinking against his plate.

Did she mention he had a bit of a temper, too?

“I realize that.” This discussion was going sour quickly, and she didn’t want to get into a long, drawn-out conversation about breaking up. Or, worse, a fight. She wanted it to be over and done with. Quickly. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea if we see each other anymore. Even though we’ve only been dating a few months, I’m not ready for the next step.” She leaned back in her chair, hooking one elbow over the back, pleased with her well-practiced speech.

He gave her a blank stare. “The next step as my date to a party, you mean.”

“I don’t think it’ll work out.”

“Because you don’t want it to.” Cliff leaned back in his chair. He pinned her with a hardened gaze. “I know your type.”

She laughed. “What type is that?”

“The type that’s afraid of commitment,” he said. “You’re so scared of being with someone you deliberately fuck it up. Or head them off at the pass by breaking up first.”

“That’s not true.” Immediately on the defensive, she shoved her long, strawberry-blonde hair over a shoulder. “I don’t deliberately fuck anything up. And as far as breaking up first—”

“Sure you do.” He said it casually, cutting her off, as though conversing about the weather. “You don’t want to go with me to the client party because that makes it all too real. It would make us a couple.” He sipped his coffee, looking triumphant.

“No,” she snapped. “Not at all. Maybe I don’t like you that much.”

“If you don’t like me that much,” he said slowly, leaning forward, “then why did you scream at the top of your lungs while you were fucking my brains out last night?”

“In your car, you mean?”

Delilah pursed her lips. “Why” was the real question, wasn’t it? After last night, she’d made up her mind no amount of money or looks could make up for the way he treated her. Like the dirty mistress. They were both going through the motions, and Delilah was sure Cliff would realize that once she made the break.

She was pretty sure he was still married, and she was the mistress.

“Bullshit.” Cliff leaned back again, a smug smile on his face.

“As much as I’d love to stay here and chat about my relationship shortcomings, I have important wedding things to do.” She picked up her purse, preparing to stand.

“Oh, of course. The wedding you weren’t going to invite me to.”

“It’s better if I go alone.” And it was. If she brought Cliff, she’d have to deal with unending questions from Marion about who he was and how long they’d been seeing each other, yadda yadda.

“Go ahead, then. But someday you’ll call me begging forgiveness and asking to come back, and you know what? I’ll say no. Because, Delilah, you’re walking away from something great.” He waved his hand up and down his body, indicating the “something great” was him.

Right. Add egomaniac to the list.

“We’ll see about that, won’t we? Good-bye, Cliff.”

She walked away from the table, her heels clicking on the floor, out of the restaurant and to her car. She always made sure she drove her own car so she could have a fast getaway if she ever needed one. It was her dating Rule #1. Today, her instinct was right on.

And anyway, she really did have wedding things to do today. Since her best friend, Marion, was getting married and Delilah was the maid of honor, she had duties to perform. Like purchasing the happy couple a wedding present. She wanted to get them something different. Not your everyday, run-of-the-mill wedding gift. Nope, no blender or service for eight for Marion. Delilah was different. Delilah was getting the happy couple a vibrator.

Technically the gift was for Marion, but she knew Graeme, her fiancé, would have fun with it, too. Delilah knew exactly which one she wanted to get her—the Super Rabbit with the clitoris stimulator guaranteed to help any woman achieve the biggest orgasm of her life. Marion had never had one—a bunny, that is—and despite her protests, Delilah thought she and Graeme would have a helluva time with it.

Besides, a visit to her favorite toy shop would take the edge off breaking up with Cliff. Delilah hadn’t frequented the store in a while, since she was satisfied with her current collection. Liquid Heat wasn’t the typical adult toy store. It wasn’t the kind that creeped you out when you went inside. Or made you wish you carried a .38 special for your own personal safety in the store or in the parking lot.

The door swooshed closed behind her as she entered the store and perused their selections, looking for the Super Rabbit. A pair of pink fluffy handcuffs caught her eye, and she reached for them to check the price.

“Can I help you?”

She knew that voice. It was a voice she hadn’t heard in ten years. It couldn’t be, could it? She froze mid-reach, not wanting to turn and see him. Her heart did one of those flips in her chest, and she suddenly felt cold all over. She couldn’t exactly pretend to be invisible. Or pretend she didn’t hear him.

“Delilah?”

He sounded as surprised as she felt. The man who had a starring role in all her wet dreams. She turned to him, pasted on her best smile, and flipped her long hair over her shoulder—her signature move. Ten years after their divorce, Sam Ford had reappeared in her life.

Or rather, she’d happened to reappear back into his. Damn the luck.

He had shredded her heart, left her soul for dead. He had taken every ounce of love she ever had and sucked it dry. He had nearly destroyed her.

But Delilah had somehow managed to recover. She had never loved anyone as intensely as she had loved Sam…and she never would again.

“Sam Ford. I don’t believe my eyes.”

Delilah had met Sam—short for Samson, and yeah, she’d heard all the jokes—ten years ago in the place you met those of the opposite sex: a bar. Back then, Sam came strolling in looking all scruffy, with long, unkempt hair and jeans with holes in the knees. She would never forget what he wore: a faded St. Louis Rams T-shirt and beat-up sneakers he never bothered to tie. He had tattoos on either bicep.

They’d sized each other up immediately, latched onto each other instantly, and hours later were screwing like rabbits.

Even now, he still looked damned good, Delilah had to admit. He had cut his hair and shaved his face. He had to be pushing forty, and he certainly didn’t resemble the young man she had fallen in lust with so long ago. He looked…grown-up. And…hot. All those long-buried feelings surged forward.

Before she could take evasive action, he enveloped her in a huge hug. He smelled good. Like something clean and crisp that tickled her olfactory nerves and triggered that part of her brain that remembered how awesome things had once been. He felt good, too. His hard body pressed against hers, making her nerve endings stand at attention. They saluted him valiantly for the male-to-female contact, elated at the familiarity of him. Delilah hugged him back, resisting the urge to grab his ass. His face brushed hers before he drew away, holding her at arm’s length and grinning. His scent lingered on her short-sleeved Gucci sweater, enticing her further.

“Delilah…” He let her name roll off his tongue. That glorious tongue she remembered doing glorious things to her. “How long has it been?”

Ten years, four months, three days. But who’s counting? “Too long, I’d imagine.” She grinned. “It’s good to see you, Sam.”

She was telling the truth—it even surprised her how good it was to see him, and the last of her annoyance over Cliff evaporated. She looked Sam over appreciatively and let him see her as she did so. She covertly checked out his left hand for evidence of a gold band and found nothing. So, he hadn’t remarried either. Unless, of course, he’d become one of those guys who never wore a ring just to trip up the single gals who lusted after him.

From what she could tell, he still had that sexy body under that white collared shirt. Delilah wondered if he still had the tattoos. The memory of lying on his chest, trailing her fingers through the sprinkling of hair there, came forward with such power it nearly knocked her back a step.

But wait a minute. Since when did Sam Ford start wearing golf shirts? It was like the world momentarily tipped on its axis as she processed that. She peered at him closely and could see the faint lines of his tats on his biceps. Whew. What a relief. She’d hate to think Sam had gone and done something crazy like laser removal.

He wore a pair of faded blue jeans that hugged thick thighs and caressed hard calves. All that remained to be inspected was his backside. She could see the shoelaces peeking out from under his jeans—maybe he’d learned how to tie his shoes in ten years. He looked downright delicious.

Too bad he was dead to her.

“I never thought I’d run into you again,” he said, still grinning. He had perfect white teeth in that ruggedly handsome face. He must have endured serious sessions of teeth bleaching for those pearly whites.

Delilah found herself wanting to kiss him. She eyed the thin line of his lips, and he ran his tongue over them as if in invitation. He knew what she was thinking. Aggravation warred with desire. Vexation sparred with longing. She clenched her mouth tighter.

“I guess the world really is a small place. It’s good to see you, too, Delilah.” Finally he dropped his hands and stood back. She hadn’t realized until that moment he’d still held on to her shoulders. “So, what are you doing in my shop?”

“Your shop?” She’d been coming here for a couple of years and had no idea he was the owner.

“I bought it about three months ago.”

That explained why she didn’t know. She hadn’t been in the shop in at least six months.

“Well, congrats on the new business venture.” Delilah wondered if he would have the same enthusiasm—or lack thereof—for Liquid Heat as he did all his other jobs. Sam wasn’t exactly a go-getter. He’d floated from one job to another while they were married, never landing in one for any length of time.

“What brings you here?” he asked.

“Marion’s getting married.” She hadn’t meant to blurt it out.

“No kidding!” He looked genuinely happy. “That’s great.”

Sam had known Marion back then, too. She was dating some guy named Ralph at the time, one of her many beaus B.E.—Before Ethan, the greatest asshole known to man, had dumped her at the altar. That was B.G.—Before Graeme.

“She’s madly in love with him. Imagine that.”

“She’s not marrying that Ralph guy, is she?” Sam wrinkled his face as if he smelled something foul.

Indeed, that Ralph guy was somewhat foul. She shook her head. “She caught herself a painter.”

“How about you? Are you madly in love with anyone?”

A trick question and a trap. One Delilah was all too familiar with. She ignored it altogether and got right to the point. “I’m here to buy Marion a wedding present.” She waved away the discussion. She was here to buy toys, not rehash the past.

“Here?” He quirked one blond brow and laughed. “I see you haven’t changed much. You always did have that twisted sense of humor.”

A flash of anger swelled inside her. Oh, yes, she had changed. She had grown up, too. She had evolved from the naïve, nerdy girl of so long ago who just wanted to get laid to the smart, savvy businesswoman who had shed that geeky persona—and just wanted to get laid. She’d finished college and gotten a great job.

“A little untraditional, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is. This is me we’re talking about here. I’m looking for the Super Rabbit.”

“Oh, sure. I have those in stock.”

Sam walked through the store toward the counter, and Delilah paused long enough to watch him walk. Awesome ass—check. The one she used to plant her hands on and squeeze when he was on top of her. And he still had that strong, muscular gait, hinting that he worked out.

But there was something different about him. She couldn’t put her finger on it and found she really wanted to put her finger on it to find out.

“What made you buy the shop?” Curiosity made her ask; she had to know.

He shrugged, lifting one thick shoulder in a sexy move. God, she wanted him. The feelings of love and hate warred inside her. “I was tired of corporate America.”

Delilah burst out laughing. Who was he kidding? Sam in corporate America? Picturing Sam in an office was like picturing a hippie at a black-tie event. She couldn’t see him wearing shirts and ties and nice pants and looking businesslike.

“Hey, now, it’s not that funny.” He frowned, his brow furrowing. “I worked in an office for about eight years.”

Doing what? Delilah wondered. Sorting the mail? Filing? She knew Sam had ditched college like she had, and she also knew he didn’t really have any skills. “Sorry, but I just can’t see it.”

He leaned on the counter and gazed—or maybe leered—at her, a twinkle in his mellow blue eyes. As if he had something on her. Yeah, sure, ten years ago she was adrift in a sea of bad jobs, too. But at least she was always steadily employed and paid the rent on time. She had this terrible fear of becoming homeless.

He cocked a half grin. “And what about you, missy? What are you doing these days?”

This was where Delilah looked down her nose at him, all haughty. “I’ll have you know I earned my master’s degree and am now the public relations director of an advertising firm.”

She spared him the part where she wore couture, owned a Balenciaga bag and drove a Mercedes, which she got at a police auction for a steal, no pun intended. Sam’s grin fell, as if he’d been one-upped. And maybe he had. She only felt a small twinge of guilt. Finally, she’d proved to him she was better than that girl of long ago.

He chunked the Super Rabbit on the counter. “It’s sixty-nine dollars plus tax.”

“Sixty-nine,” Delilah said, still grinning as she reached for her Coach wallet. “My favorite number.”

Congratulations to Loretta of Harrisburg, PA!

Loretta, who connected with me on MySpace, is the winner of the $25 Amazon gift certificate. (Loretta, please check your inbox for details on how to collect your gift certificate.)

Thanks to everyone else who entered!