Hi there, Romance Readers!
Well, as you’ve probably gathered if you subscribe to my monthly newsletter, the publish date for When You Close Your Eyes (formerly published with Loose Id as At the Heart of the Stone) has been delayed. The novel will be under contract with a new publisher shortly in an effort to better sustain the integrity of the storyline. I’ll have news soon! In the meantime, please enjoy this beautiful artwork of Lark and Niall by artist Bianca Duarte. This is the first character art I’ve ever had commissioned of the couple.
Bianca drew the characters based on actors Lilly Collins and Irish-born actor Rory Fleck-Byrne, both whom I would love to have cast as the characters if the book was ever made into a movie.
Enjoy this excerpt from the novel below, and be sure to enter the $25.00 Gift card giveaway which ends on May 30th! I will have news on the novel soon!
Knuckles brushed her cheek, and the weight of his gaze fell on her. “You’re so beautiful,” he murmured.
Lark gave up her blind fight and self-lamentations as his lips pressed against hers. “Mmm, yes,” she moaned between kisses. “Kiss me, God, yes. I don’t want to feel anything anymore but you.” The freedom of the darkness emboldened her. She touched his chest and encountered the lapels of a jacket. She yanked him down, moaned, and sucked his lower lip between her teeth.
His body yielded to her, but his kisses changed. Where they had demanded and enticed before, they became timid and reluctant.
Yet the more she gave to him—putting her arm around his neck and releasing the fury of her frustrations out on him—the more he relaxed and responded. Tentative at first, with a hint of reluctance he’d never shown before. What was this? A cool breeze blew past her face, and a sense of déjà vu of the night before overtook her.
* * * *
If the kiss had stayed careful and guarded, she might have continued to question it. But the blindfold disappeared. She’d fallen asleep. Her eyes flew open, and he was there. Oh my God. He was there! Heated eyes watched her. Rakish dark hair fell over his forehead as he breathed hard, and the morning sun lit up the world behind him. She shuddered and took a deep breath to speak, but his hands moved to cup her face. He held still and closed his eyes as his lips took her mouth. Right then and there, it was crystal clear this was real. This was the weight of a real man on top of her, clothed. He smelled citrusy and freshly laundered. What in the hell is this?
How did he get here? He was only her dream lover.
Or was he?
Confused beyond all comprehension, Lark didn’t have any time to contemplate a single thing. His lips delivered a breath-stealing, soul-shattering kiss, and then they were all over each other. This, ah, this she knew. Lark hooked her ankle over his, put a hand on his shoulder, and tried to rid him of his jacket as she drew him closer. She fisted his hair as he devoured her mouth. He tasted the same as her dream lover, and she put her tongue in his mouth to savor more of his tangy sweetness.
They both made noises they never had in her dreams, breathy gasps and blasts of air as their mouths met and separated as they sought new angles and depths to their passion.
He made a disgruntled sound as he tried to get more comfortable in the cradle of her hips over the hindrance of clothes. This wasn’t a dream. He nibbled on her lower lip as she opened her mouth to tell him to stop, but then she was carried away in the undercurrent of his large, warm hands, which caressed the skin of her stomach beneath her hoodie and T-shirt. She continued to accept his kisses but pawed her still zipped-up sweat jacket. Okay, so she was still clothed. He was rock hard against her, and he ground his hips into her. A disbelieving grunt escaped his lips. Lark rolled her eyes back, shivering at the jolt that went through her.
“Wh— Mmm. Whoa. Stop,” She managed against his mouth. She furrowed her eyebrows and scrutinized him as he breathed in and out. He braced himself on the weight of his hands above her, his bright green eyes bearing into hers. His face was the face of her dreams—the sensual, bowed lips and cleft chin, the built body, and the thick hair. His hair… She blinked. It was cut at the nape and styled for a day at work. She glanced at his clothes.
“Um, why are you wearing a suit and tie this time?” She squinted against the sunlight. Please, God, let this be a dream. He moved his head, and put her in shade.
“This time?” He lifted an eyebrow, perplexed. “You’ll have to forgive me, lass, but I’ve no idea what the devil you’re talking about.” He maneuvered himself off her and sat upright at the end of the swing.
She tucked her feet against her, sat up, and blinked at him in utter disbelief.
“I came to knock on the door when I saw you on the swing. You tossed and turned, and with the way you grunted, I assumed you were in the middle of some sort of a seizure.”
He turned his head and licked his lips, full and abused from her kisses. A mushroom cloud of mortification bloomed inside her, steadily bigger by the minute.
“Erm, you…begged me to kiss you, and then you yanked me down. One thing led to another and, well, that was pretty much the way of it. I am only human, though I know it’s no excuse.” He swallowed and stared at her, his Adam’s apple moving in his throat. “I apologize. I shouldn’t have gone down when you pulled me, but it was strange—like you knew me or something.”
Lark leaned forward and rubbed her eyes. This couldn’t be real. It had to be a hallucination. When she opened her eyes, she’d see a man in his fifties with a receding hairline, glasses, and a beer gut. She reopened her eyes, and there he was: The full package. In the flesh. He was impossibly sexy, but there was an air of intelligence in the way his eyes scrutinized her. She planted her feet on the porch, then put a hand to her head. The vertigo from earlier returned. “No, I’m sorry. I was dreaming…”
“Excuse me for saying so, but it must’ve been one hell of a dream.”
Lark nodded and tried not to black out as a wave of dizziness came over her.
“You look like you’re dehydrated. Hold on.”
The lilt of his familiar Irish accent soothed her like warm milk. He stood and walked over to a black laptop case propped near the front door that had several thick manila folders sticking out of its open center. One read BRAITHWAITE in large, capital letters on an index label. He crouched, unzipped the front pocket, and extracted an unopened plastic water bottle.
He unscrewed it and held it out to her. “Here.”
“Thanks.” She accepted the bottle and took a long sip. It instantly revived her. She wiped a little water off the corner of her mouth with the top of her knuckle as he watched. She offered it back to him, but he shook his head and reclaimed his seat next to her.
“Keep it. Drink.”
“Thank you.” She closed her eyes and took several large gulps, the cool liquid a balm to her throat.
“My name’s Niall O’Hagan.”
His voice was deep and pleasant. It sounded different, lighter than the sultry bedroom voice she was used to from her dreams.
“I’m the Braithwaites’ attorney.”
Lark paused in midsip and lowered the bottle in her hands. “You—no.” She glanced at him.
His mouth lifted at the corners, as if it dawned on him he was the butt of a joke he wasn’t aware of. “I…what?”
Oh, the irony of dreaming about her father’s lawyer this whole time. Oh my God. She giggled like a madwoman. This was it; she’d officially lost it. She rose and walked to the top step of the porch, put a hand over her face, and plunked herself down. “I am so messed up.”
An unwanted flash of Gemma’s flirtatious “darlin’” to Charles yesterday surfaced, and tears stung her eyes. She went silent and willed them not to fall. It was no use.
After a moment, Niall sat on the step beside her. “I’d offer you a drink, but I quit ten years ago.”
Lark laughed, despite the tears. “An Irish attorney who doesn’t like Guinness is like an Englishman who doesn’t like fish and chips or something.”
“I know; shameful,” he said with mock contrition. “Don’t hold it against me. I’m doing the world a favor. Trust me. I was a horrible drunk. Are you okay, miss?”
Lark scoffed and gesticulated with her hands to the sky. “It’s Lark. And what a loaded question of the day.” She couldn’t look at him, not after what happened. She clenched the edge of the step on either side of her and stared out at the trees.
“Well, since we’ve already nailed second base, we might as well be open with each other. Forgive me if I’m candid, but it seems you were in the throes of an alleged, eh, intense dream, and you awoke and believed I was him. Is that right?”
Horror dawned on her at what she’d done, and her jaw dropped. “No!” Yes. She glanced at him, and his knowing expression begged to differ.
“I see,” he said, his tone careful but persistent. “Then why did you kiss me like that?”
“I-I don’t have to answer.” She lifted her chin with defiance.
He scooted closer to her. “No, you don’t. But I wish you would.”
She scratched her head in frustration and jumped up. Screw this, she needed to get inside before she made even more of an idiot of herself.
“I’m sorry to embarrass you,” he said, and she paused with her hand halfway to the doorbell. “I’m decent. I would never— I never meant to take advantage of you at all, please know that. When you kissed me like you did, so familiar, I…”
It occurred to her Niall was a lot more of a gentleman about the whole situation than most men would be. And she, meanwhile, was being a total bitch. And the poor guy had no clue as to why.
He met her in two nimble strides. His proximity alarmed her, because they’d never both stood in any of her dreams. He was a big guy, at least six-foot-three, well built with wide shoulders and a lithe, muscular frame to complement the height.
He stepped even closer and assessed her in return, appearing to like what he saw. His mouth opened to speak, and his eyes widened with realization. “Wait. Lark? Lark, Lark? Rick’s daughter? But… You’re so little,” he said, surprised. “From the pictures, I assumed you’d be, erm—”
“Fatter?” she asked, glad she was at least back on sure ground. She could always toss self-effacing jokes around about her heavy days. “It’s okay. You can go ahead and say it. I’ve lost a lot of weight.”
Niall put a hand to the back of his neck. His eyebrows rose. “I think ‘a lot’ is an understatement. Good on you. My mam struggled with her weight too; I know how hard it was for her to lose it. My hat’s off to anyone who has to do it. Well, you look amazing. Wow.”
He rolled his eyes at himself and glanced away. She was so used to his prowess as a smooth sex panther in her dreams. This was bizarre as hell.
“I’m sorry. God, I sound like an idiot. Look, I hope you don’t think I’m a leering wanker or anything. This is…awkward.”
“You can say that again,” she murmured. What would he say if she told him she’d been having erotic dreams of him every night for the last six months? It was bad enough she’d just made out with him. He probably had her pegged as a crazy nymphomaniac.
She held out her hand but didn’t make eye contact. “Listen, how about we forget it ever happened, okay? I’m Lark Braithwaite. I flew in a couple of days ago from London.”
He took her hand and closed his long fingers over hers. “Niall O’Hagan. Pleasure.” He stepped closer. “And I’m all for a clean slate, but forgetting’s not on my agenda, lass. I’m taking it to the grave. Hands down the best snog I’ve ever had in my life. Client’s daughter or no, you can’t take it back.”
When You Close Your Eyes was previously released with Loose Id Publishing in February 2016 as At the Heart of the Stone. It won the Coffee Time Romance Reviewer’s Award, and was given a glowing 5 star review by Midwest Book Review.