Series: Mustang Valley, Book 2
Print Length: 121 pages
Publication Date: December 9, 2019
Publisher: Annabeth Avery
Cover Design: Blackraven’s Designs
Drake Parker has been in love with Cindy Kenner since the moment they met their freshman year in college. But the feisty blonde denies the chemistry that sparks between them every time they’re in a room together. He’s waited years for her to come around to no avail. Tired of waiting, he’s decided it’s time for them to acknowledge their feelings for one another because one kiss will never be enough. When it comes to Cindy Kenner, it’s all or nothing—and he wants it all. So when she seeks out his help, he jumps at the chance for them to spend more time together.
Can the magic of Christmas help two lost souls find their way home to one another? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure, Cindy Kenner will be Drake Parker’s greatest Christmas Temptation.
READ CHAPTER ONE
Eleven Months after Christmas Lullabies
Cindy walked into the Barnes and Noble and soaked up the ambiance. She loved bookstores even more during the holidays. The store was bustling with activity and she could smell the coffee from the Starbucks. The delicious scents only tempted her taste buds and made her hunger for a Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino. She found herself torn between seeking the caffeine her body craved and the stocking stuffers’ table that had books on sale for under ten bucks. Unfortunately for her wallet, the stocking stuffers’ table won out. She laughed at several of the books on sale. Two books in particular caught her eye that looked at odds with one another… sort of like her situation with Drake. “Sh*t Happens So Get Over It” and “The Pocket Book of Calm: Soothing Reflections to Find Peace.”
The more she perused the little orange book full of quotes by famous people, the more she laughed at the irony of it all. The quote by Desmond Tutu immediately caught her attention. “When your dreams turn to dust, vacuum.” Maybe that’s what she needed to do with Drake. Clean House. There was only one problem with her plan. He was like the glass of red wine someone accidentally spilled on your white carpet and no matter how hard you tried to clean it, the stain would always be there.
The next quote that got her attention was by Dag Hammarskjold. “Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible – not to run away.” She was positive Mr. Hammarskjold’s quote had provided someone sage advice, it just wasn’t her. Every time she was near Drake Parker, she wanted to run. But which direction? While her mind screamed away from him, her heart yelled directly into his arms. Their game of cat and mouse started the day they’d met. If she were keeping score, her mind was in the lead.
“Maybe the other book will help me find peace and tranquility,” Cindy mumbled under her breath as she flipped through the pages.
Although most of the suggestions in the book focused on turning off your electrical devices, shutting your eyes to see, focusing on the positive, and combining acceptance and hope to reach true tranquility, the suggestion that grabbed her attention called for turning away from stressful situations. Cindy knew the author had hit the nail on the head. It also wasn’t lost on her that every scenario she liked in the book involved running. The question remained whether it was away from Drake or straight into his arms.
Sighing in frustration at the predicament she found herself in, she continued walking around the store. In an effort to distract herself from the object of her obsession, she redirected her thoughts toward how awesome Halloween had been with Taylor, Sam and the twins in Mustang Valley and smiled. They had settled on an Aladdin theme this year and it had proved to be an ingenious idea. In fact, almost as good as last year when they dressed up as Mary, Joseph, and the Three Wise Men.
Taylor had been the perfect Jasmine. She had put on a teal satin headband that had a fake emerald in the center. Her long, dark hair had been braided and fell to the center of her back. The top of her costume had been constructed around a strapless bra and decorated with jewels, crystals, beaded trim, fringe, attached arm cuffs and straps.
Her pants were made out of aqua satin and had a sparkling organza overlay. They were also decked out in beaded fringe, Swarovski crystals and gold metallic trim. Large, gold hoop earrings adorned her ears and gold ballet slippers covered her tiny feet to finish off the look. She resembled an exquisite Princess. Looking at her, no one would have ever guessed she had recently given birth to a set of adorable twins.
Sam dressed up as the quintessential down-on-his-luck Aladdin in white, ‘Hammer style’ baggy pants with a yellow patch at the bottom. Unlike the bare-chested Aladdin, he kept it kid friendly by wearing a white T-shirt under his purple vest. A brown waistband, and a red, felt hat finished off the look. He had truly transformed into the street rat Aladdin had portrayed in the movie.
Stephen was dressed as his best friend, Abu, in the cutest monkey outfit she had ever seen. The matching felt hat on his little head was absolutely adorable. The moment she saw him, she wanted to kiss his pink cheeks and breathe in his wonderful baby scent.
Not to be outdone, Allie was equally adorable as Raja in her tiger costume. She had no doubt that one day her sweet Goddaughter would become the supreme ruler her Disney character had professed to be, especially since grown men and women were already bowing at her little feet.
Since Drake had been unable to join them this year, she had elected to go as Jakar, the wicked royal Vizier to Sultan Hamid of Agrabah. Although Jakar was considered a masterful manipulator and one of the deadliest villains in the Disney universe, she was determined to focus more on the fact that he was one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world. So, she would use her powers for good instead of evil.
She wore his signature red cloak, iconic red turban, and pointed Elf shoes of the olden days with pride. Her trusty King Cobra Magic Stick was an absolute must, as she bestowed riches on her friends and enemies. To finish off the look, an Iago Plush Doll sat on her shoulder as she held a gold Genie Lamp to make all her wishes come true. Unfortunately, her only wish that night had been for Drake to join them.
It had been eleven, long, agonizing months since she had seen Drake Parker, but it wasn’t for his lack of trying. After the panty melting kiss he had laid on her in the hospital parking lot the night the twins were born, he had been true to his word and pursued her with a single focus in mind… catching her. But she had managed to outsmart him at every turn… so far. She knew it was only a matter of time before he caught up with her, but until then, she would continue to remain in denial regarding their attraction to one another.
She still couldn’t remember why she had been so upset with him the night of Taylor and Sam’s wedding. Maybe it was because he looked absolutely gorgeous in his tux and she hadn’t been the only one who had noticed. The women had been swarming around him like bees to honey, which only increased her level of aggravation because he seemed to be enjoying it a little too much for her liking.
Or, maybe it was the way his heated gaze warmed her body in all the right places and tempted her to give in to the dark desires coursing through her veins. The most plausible explanation was that she had just been exhausted from planning Taylor’s wedding and had needed a good night’s sleep. Yet, none of those feeble explanations justified her reaction to him in the hospital parking lot.
He had wrapped her in his arms, spun her around, and laid a toe curling, heart-stopping kiss on her that liquefied every molecular cell in her body. That fateful night, she had almost caved to his every whim and desire.
She also couldn’t explain the way her traitorous body had leaned in closer to soak up his warmth and enticing smell. Not to mention, the moan that had escaped her mouth when he deepened the kiss. Or, the way her body trembled from the sound of his husky voice. She was in serious trouble, whether she wanted to admit it or not. But hopefully, once Taylor and the twins arrived, they would come up with a plan to deal with Drake Parker once and for all.
If not, she’d just have to move to another country because as he had told her in no uncertain terms the night of the wedding, they were far from over. Sighing deeply, she thanked the barista for her Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino and found an empty table in the Starbucks cafe. Still lost in thought over her quandary, she hadn’t realized that Taylor and the twins had arrived and were currently standing in front of her.
Taylor maneuvered the twins’ stroller next to the table and took a seat. “Cindy? Are you okay?”
Still a little dazed from her musings of the delectable Drake and the emotions he evoked throughout her body, it took her a few minutes to answer Taylor’s question. “Yeah. Why do you ask?”
The concerned look on her best friend’s face had Cindy sitting straighter in her seat.
“Because I’ve been trying to get your attention for the last five minutes. Normally, you’d have one of the twins in your arms by now cooing and making silly faces at them, but instead, you seem a little sad. What’s wrong?”
Cindy made a shooing gesture with her hand like nothing was wrong. “Nonsense. I’m fine. Now give me one of those little darlings so I can spoil them rotten.”
The false bravado she presented to her best friend was just that—false. She was sad, lonely, and missing Drake something fierce. Cindy watched as Taylor settled Stephen in her lap before looking her directly in the eye and asking the one question she’d been avoiding for months.
“Why don’t you just call him? I have it on good authority that he would love to hear from you.”
Cindy kissed the top of Allie’s head and tried to look dumbfounded by Taylor’s suggestion. “Call who?”
Unfazed by her feeble attempt at playing coy, her best friend leveled her with a glare that would have put the fear in any child or adult. She had really honed her parenting skills over the last couple of months. “Seriously? That’s how you’re going to play this.”
“I can’t. Besides, we’re like oil and water. He’s all hot, sexy, and comes from a family that makes more money in a week than I’ll make in a lifetime. He’s Upper East Side and I’m West Side Story. We’d never work.”
“The last time I looked, you both lived in Texas, not New York City. Besides, what does your social standing have to do with you having a relationship with Drake? He’s a nice guy and he absolutely adores you. The sexy bantering you engage in is just your version of foreplay and extremely entertaining might I add,” Taylor chuckled.
Cindy glared at her best friend and in a dry, sarcastic voice said, “I’m glad we were able to entertain you.”
“Me too! Sam and I hope to get an encore performance during Thanksgiving. You are coming for Thanksgiving dinner, right?”
Cindy scoffed and then replied to her friend with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Of course.”
The idea of seeing Drake again after all these months was somewhat exciting. While she’d never come out and divulge that information to Taylor, she could admit it to herself if for no other reason than to give her girl parts permission to be excited about seeing the tormenter of her dreams.
Not only did she love his fresh, clean scent, but also the way his eyes devoured her when they were in a room together. Her petite body fit perfectly against his hard, sculpted muscles and the devil in her wanted more. She wanted to lick his soft, luscious lips, feel his five o’clock shadow on her skin, and stake her claim the same way he had done to her at the hospital, but that wasn’t an option. She was trying to get rid of the man, not find her Happily Ever After.
Taylor gave her best friend a knowing smile. “Did you hear what I said?”
It was obvious by the smirk on her best friend’s face that she knew they were perfect for one another. Heck, everyone knew… except them. Well, maybe she was the only one in denial, but she had good reasons… sort of. Taylor had voiced her displeasure on more than one occasion about how ridiculous their game of cat and mouse had become over the years. Her constant lecturing played like an old 45 vinyl in her ear.
“If you would both just sit down and talk to each other instead of at each other, things would eventually work themselves out.”
Unfortunately, both of them were as stubborn as a bull in a China shop who didn’t want to move, no matter how much you waved the red flag in front of him.
She thought Taylor might have said something, but she couldn’t be sure. Her thoughts were focused solely on Drake Parker and the way he made her traitorous heart and body stir with feelings and emotions she shouldn’t be experiencing. Why couldn’t she just let it go and move on?
Maybe because you’ve never felt this way about anyone in your entire life and it scares you to death.
Ignoring the rumblings rolling around in her head, she cleared her throat, continued rocking Allie in her arms, and faced her best friend’s recriminations.
“Taylor. Listen to me carefully because I’m only going to say this once. Drake Parker and I will never come to fruition. While some believe in the old adage that opposites attract, I assure you that’s not the case when it comes to us, so let it go.”
Taylor gave her clueless best friend a questioning look as she gently lifted Stephen to burp him. “Let’s get real. The only person in denial about you and Drake is you. Over the last year, someone could have confused you for a bobble head the way you’ve been ducking and dodging that man.”
Cindy scoffed as she denied her best friend’s accusations, albeit weakly. “I have not been ducking and dodging him. I just don’t have anything to say to him.”
She took a sip of her peppermint mocha and avoided eye contact with her know-it-all best friend. Then, she braced herself for what was about to come next as her friend shook her head in exasperation and chuckled.
“From what I can see, you two have more to say than you’re willing to admit. Honestly, I don’t understand why you won’t give him a chance. It’s obvious that you’re both interested. The sparks flying between you are so palpable when you’re in a room together, it makes me want to grab the fire extinguisher and hose you down.”
Floored by Taylor’s revelation, Cindy looked at her best friend in astonishment. Had they really been that obvious? Or maybe oblivious? Either way, she’d have to do a better job of keeping her guard up around him in the future because giving in to her desires was not an option. With the exception of her father, everyone in her life had disappeared without a word. If Drake became one of those people, she would never survive the aftermath. Besides, she had no desire to become someone else’s collateral damage ever again.
Her mother had left without a word when she was five and it had taken her years to finally accept that she was never coming back. Admiring the way her best friend cuddled her sweet, baby boy, she still couldn’t understand how a woman could abandon her child.
Had she been that unlovable as a kid? There were so many questions she had wanted to ask her father over the years about her mother. Why had she left? Did he ever try to find her? Did he miss her? Was she really that unhappy with them? She must have been to leave in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.
“Are you okay, Cindy?”
It was obvious she’d done a poor job of masking her feelings by the worried look on her best friend’s face. She wondered if Taylor realized that the situation with Drake wasn’t the only thing stressing her out these days.
Shaking off her morbid thoughts, she placed a sleeping Allie back in her stroller and pasted on the warmest, fake smile she could muster up. “I’m fine. Just a little tired. The long hours at the counseling center has me a little on edge. No worries. This semester is almost over and it will be Thanksgiving before you know it.”
Taylor knew Cindy had been working long hours at the counseling center, but she was still convinced there was more going on. “Are you sure?”
“I’m positive. Let me help you get these sweet babies in the car, so that you can get back to Mustang Valley before dark. I don’t like the idea of you on the road by yourself with these sweet, bundles of joy. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks. I promise.”
They finished bundling up the babies and walked toward the entrance of the store to leave. Cindy waited as Taylor buckled each child in before she gave her best friend a hug. Taylor had been a blessing in her life from the day they’d met their freshman year in college.
“I love you. Call me whenever you’re ready to tell me more about what’s really bothering you,” Taylor whispered in her ear.
Instead of responding, Cindy simply nodded and hugged her best friend tighter. It was crystal clear that she’d done a poor job of hiding her feelings.
“I love you, too. Take care of those sweet babies and be safe.”
A few minutes later, she waived at her best friend and the twins as they pulled out of the parking lot before walking to her own car.