excerpt

Marcus pulled down the long, winding, tree-covered driveway to the colonial-style brick house. His 1979 Camaro sputtered and clanked to a stop on the pavers of the half-circle drive at the front of the house, making him cringe.

“Thanks for a lovely picnic.” Rose smiled, her bright-white teeth a contrast to her shiny, plump lips and strawberry-blond hair.

He slid the gearshift into park and rested his arm on the back of her seat. “The pleasure was all mine.”

She playfully smacked his shoulder then sagged into his chest, kissing him. The smell of fresh lilacs filled his senses and he slid his hand down the back of her soft dress, raking his fingers down the zipper.

With a sigh, she sat back in her seat. “I’ll miss you tonight.”

“I’ll miss you, too. Text me later.”

Rose’s eyes glistened with mischief. “I’ll let you know when I finish. Then you can sneak over and climb that trellis to my bedroom.”

Marcus tilted his head. “Yeah, that’ll go over well. Your father would not only kill me, he’d hack me to pieces and feed me to large coyotes in the middle of the woods so there wouldn’t be any evidence.” He clutched the back of her neck and nudged her to him. “But he’s not home right now.”

“Actually, he is.” It wasn’t her sweet whispers that provoked the terror that flashed through him. It was the meaning of her words.

He shot up and looked straight ahead. There, on the front steps, stood Mr. Burton staring down at them, arms crossed, brow furrowed.

“Guess I better go. I’m totally busted.” She winked and stole a quick kiss. “It was worth it, though.” Rose jumped out of the car and, with her head bowed, ran past her father.

He didn’t spare her a glance, just marched toward Marcus.

Marcus gripped the gearshift and contemplated tearing out of there, but if there was one thing he’d never be, it was a coward. If Mr. Burton wanted to have words, he’d have them. He shoved the car door open and stood eye-to-eye with the man.

Mr. Burton’s hair had grayed around the temple, and his body had softened, but the man still commanded respect. “We need to talk.” He scanned Marcus then the car. “My daughter wasn’t supposed to be out with you today. Did you know that?”

Marcus refused to show his anger at the man’s mocking tone. “Yes, I’m aware. Rose told me.”

“Yet, you took her to God-knows-where anyway? You need to listen to me and stay away from my daughter.”

“Or what?” Marcus regretted his words, but this man always brought out the worst in him. “Are you going to have my dad fired? Oh wait, you already did that.”

“Your father’s a drunk and I can’t have a man I can’t trust running operations in one of my companies.”

Marcus shoved his hands in his front pockets to hide his clenched fists. “Maybe so, but I’m not my father and you can’t have me fired. You already tried, remember?”

“How you have so many people in this town convinced you’re not the reject addict we both know you to be, I’m not sure, but—”

“Listen, Mr. Burton. I’m not going to get into this with you. You have an opinion of me that I’ll never be able to change, but you might want to reconsider ordering your daughter around or you’ll find yourself losing her.”

“To who? You?”

Marcus didn’t answer, knowing the man wouldn’t listen. Instead, he opened the car door.

“You’re eighteen, right? If you touch my daughter, I’ll have you arrested for statutory rape.”

Marcus clutched the doorframe. The thought of ever harming Rose boiled his blood, but the sound of that word infuriated him. “I’d never disrespect Rose. And I’ve done nothing to make you distrust me.”

“Oh? So help me, I’ll catch you one of these days and then have you put away. And even if I don’t, the rumors will spread and you’ll be ostracized from this town. No one wants to be around a sexual deviant. Besides, with your father—”

“Enough. You’ve made your point. I won’t come around your house anymore, I can promise you that.”

“Good.” Mr. Burton turned on his heel. “It’s about time you wised up.”

Marcus slid one foot onto the car mat then said, “But if she comes to me, I won’t turn her away.” With a quick slam of the door, he shoved the gearshift into drive and left the high-browed, judgmental corporate tycoon behind.