I am thrilled to announce that CALLING IT won the “Contemporary Romance, Published” category of the Mid-Michigan RWA’s 2017 Best Banter Contest. A huge THANK YOU to MMRWA, and congratulations to all of the other winners.

Want to read the passage I submitted? Please read on (spoilers ahead)…

THE SET UP: Nate Hawkins is the superstar catcher for the Major League Baseball expansion team, the Chicago Watchmen. He’s been at the Derek Jeter level of stardom for almost half his life—and he’s been librarian Dorie Donelli’s celebrity crush for pretty much that entire time. When he returns to his small town of Inspiration, Iowa, and circumstances bring them together, Nate falls almost immediately. Lust at first sight turns dangerously close to love in no time at all. Since Dorie’s been in love with him since the age of 14, however, it is unbelievable to her that he could truly feel that way after a mere matter of days. And although she’s entirely on board with a short-term fling, under no circumstances will she allow herself to go any further.

Having agreed to a weekend in Chicago with him, she’s been fully thrown into his world after an all-night poker game with some of his fellow superstar cohorts followed by an unexpected encounter with Nate’s ex-fiancee. As far as she’s concerned, that all just goes to prove her point. Nate, on the other hand, sees it in a different way entirely.

 

FROM CHAPTER 17

Was there anything the man wasn’t good at? Dorie honestly didn’t know how she could walk, much less run nine miles, yet here they were on mile two and she was on such a high from all that amazing sex she’d been having that she felt like she could go ten times that without breaking a sweat.

“Are we going to talk about this?”

She glanced up as he ran next to her, which was something she’d been trying very hard not to do. She still wasn’t entirely sure what she was doing here.

He misunderstood her silence. Rolling his eyes, he said, “Are you going to tell me I think like a girl again?”

She wasn’t, but that would be as good an excuse as any. She shrugged. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

And there wasn’t. That was doubly clear after last night as the men in his world had closed ranks around him—supporting him, reclaiming him. And then Courtney, of course, pulling him back to the land of Nate Hawkins, and reminding Dorie that the Nate of this fantasy didn’t truly exist. That even if it did, guys like him did not get all hot and bothered for women who meant what they said when they threw out things like, I don’t want to be the queen of your world; I want to be the king of mine.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t determined to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

“How about we start with Courtney?” he asked, as if putting small-town librarian Dorie in the same category as a trust fund heiress slash morning news anchorwoman made sense—which it didn’t. She knew that, Courtney knew that, everyone in the hemisphere knew that; it was only Nate who didn’t seem to.

Though she felt his glance she didn’t look up to meet it.

“So it didn’t bother you that she basically had her hand down my pants when you walked in.”

Dorie’s cheeks flushed and she found herself running faster. Of course it had bothered her. It had been a slap in the face. But Dorie wasn’t going to tell him that. “If I were her and I’d done what she did to you and was trying to get you back, then I’d probably be putting my hands down your pants, too.”

“Jesus,” he said, obviously irritated. “Do you even want to try to make this work?”

She stopped running. Hadn’t they already had this conversation? “Make what work?” For heaven’s sake. “We’ve known each other for four days. There isn’t a real this to talk about.”

“Five,” he corrected, coming to a stop and glaring down at her.

“Okay. Fine. Five.” Whatever. She’d give him the half hour from Tuesday night even though it was technically Wednesday morning by the time they’d actually begun talking. “Do you have this conversation with all the women you sleep with before you’ve known them for a week?”

His eyes flashed with anger. “I’ve never had this conversation with any woman before. I’ve never wanted to have this conversation. Why do you refuse to believe that?”

He truly needed her to spell this out for him?

She jabbed at his chest. “Because you get paid millions of dollars in a year and I can barely scrape together my car payment. Because you go to benefits for a thousand dollars a plate, but the best dress I own is from the Anthropologie clearance rack. Because…” Oh, hell, no tears. Please, no tears. “Because your ex-fiancée is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and she wants you back.”

And when he was bored with this little interlude into normal life—which he would no doubt be the second he was on his way to spring training—it would just be Dorie all by her lonesome, watching House Hunters marathons and bingeing on ice cream again. After blowing her chance to finally do something with her life because she’d spent all her free time following him from place to place rather than stay and do the job that she’d left her whole family behind for.

But she wasn’t going there with him. She wasn’t going there, period, because this was only a short-term thing. Only sex.

Goddamn. The tears won. She angrily brushed them away.

As he started to protest, she cut him off. “And even if you don’t want her back, too, there’s another hundred women just like her waiting to beat down your door.” Wrapping her arms around herself, Dorie took a step back. “And I don’t want to always be in a competition for the man I lo—”

When he looked up sharply, she realized what she’d almost just said.

Oh, double Goddamn. “You know,” she mumbled, wanting to kick at the ground but settling for rubbing her toe in the dirt instead. “If it ever became more than sex.”

“At the risk of getting my balls chopped off…”

Kneed,” she corrected, glaring up at him only to see his eyes practically dancing with laughter.

Undeterred, he carried on, “Kings are always fighting off someone.” He raised his hands in surrender as her jaw dropped. “Just saying.”

But then he got serious, wrapping his arms around himself as well—they were like the poster children for the Body Language of a Tense Conversation. The gaze he directed toward her was an appraising one. Assessing. He swallowed hard, then looked down at the ground.

“Okay,” he finally said, raising his eyes and giving her a look so piercing that she took another step back. Then he turned away from her and started running again.

Um, well, good. Glad he was on board.

They were practically back to his building when he finally spoke again. “You need to know something. I’ve lived half my life like this, and sometimes I can’t even believe it. And you’re right—the women…” His voice trailed off as he shook his head. “That part has been beyond surreal.”

He slowly came to a stop, waiting for her to draw up next to him. “But it’s been fifteen years, and in that whole time…” He shook his head as he looked down at her. “You say I’m going to get tired of this. I say maybe I’ve waited my whole life for whatever this is. And if you think that you scared me off by saying you want to go all alpha on my ass?” He grabbed her by the elbows and hauled her close. “Then you’d better start coming up with a better excuse. Because you are so off base you aren’t even on the field.”

Then he leaned down and owned her with a kiss so searing it left her breathless. When he pulled away, he smiled. “I also think that the reason you’re resisting is because you’re afraid I’m right and you’re wrong. So maybe you’d better man up and get over it so that we can get on with our lives.”

Still thrown by the kiss, it took Dorie a few seconds to realize what he’d just said. She sputtered, “Did you just… Did you just call me chicken? Is that your idea of romance?”

That made him laugh. He gave a shrug and then reached down for her hand, looking both ways as he stepped forward to cross the street. “Maybe I’ve been taking the wrong approach. Maybe the only way for me to convince you that—”

He stopped suddenly, his eyes on a cluster of people in front of his building. “Shit.” He let go of her hand and dropped down to one knee to tie his shoe. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I have to pretend that I don’t know you. If I thought it would do anything other than make your life a living hell, I’d take you with me. But right now, I have to go.”

Then he was off and running down the street, leaving her standing there. Bewildered. Breathless. She opened her mouth to call his name, but realized someone else had just done that for her. And suddenly the small group of people turned into a frenzied mob, swallowing him up into a sea of flashing cameras and shouted questions. Their intensity was frightening, even from here. With a deep breath, she sank back against the wall behind her and closed her eyes.

He’d just torn the rug out from underneath her, shaken it out and then laid it back down in front of her, daring her to take that step.

She squeezed her eyes shut and brought the heels of her hands up to them. It was a one-night stand. A weekend, at most. This was too much, too soon. She didn’t want something with complications and concessions and compromise.

So rather than attempt to make sense of any of it, she pushed off the building and started running again.

 

Like what you read? You can order CALLING IT now at: http://amzn.to/2yfxanw 

 

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Guess who made it to the Top 16 round of the Harlequin Hero of the Year contest for 2017. Jack Oxford (i.e., my hero in CALLED OUT), that’s who.

So many of you have told me how much you loved him–especially after you were prepared to hate him instead. So please come on over to https://www.harlequin.com/shop/pages/harlequin-hero-of-the-year.html and vote him forward!

THANK YOU!