“Sweet thunderation—deliver me from pretty men!”
— Cassady McClare, Dare to Dream, by Julie Lessman,
Book 1 of The Cousins McClare
And sweet thunderation, what a week! I’m closing in on a 100 pages of book 1 of The Cousins McClare, and I gotta tell you that I am LOVING this book so far!! Which is SUCH a relief because after being joined at the hip with the O’Connors for FIVE YEARS (from the point of writing to now), I’ll be honest—I was worried.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I trust that God will guide and direct me like He always has before, but it has been such a struggle falling in love with this family because let’s face it—they are not the O’Connors!
“Oh man, Keith,” I whined to my husband on the porch swing out on our deck where we chat and pray for a half hour every morning, “It’s SO hard to get the reader warm and fuzzy in a cold San Francisco mansion with servants and Nob Hill socialites. Especially when there is no happily married couple like Marcy and Patrick O’Connor to fill the house with a warm glow.”
Heavy sigh. “I mean, let’s face it,” I continue to moan, “the setting is cold. You have sea-damp San Francisco, upper-crust rich people, a lonely matriarch, a rogue brother-in-law who is still in love with her, and servants who wait on them. YIKES!! Not a whole lot of cozy, hearth-fire warmth going on there!”
“Well,” he says, taking a sip of our hazelnut coffee (which his cousin Mike calls “sissy coffee”), “maybe you could give them a pet.”
“Gosh, I don’t know, babe. I thought about that, but a dog just doesn’t seem right in a mansion, you know? Besides I already used golden retrievers with the O’Connors.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” he says, squinting into our wooded backyard. Well, how about giving them a parrot, you know, like you had growing up?”
I turned and stared at him with mouth agape. The man is a bloomin’ genius!
BINGO! Suddenly I had a vision of the parrot we had growing up, and everything clicked into place. You see, my dad was a widower and a little eccentric (uh, do you see a pattern here??), so he kept this parrot named Pancho in a large cage on a table next to his chair. Now, my dad was not weird or anything (he was an eye surgeon, so you can’t be too weird with that, right?), but every night at 7:00 PM, he had to have two ice-cream brown cows (on a stick), and it was our job (my sisters’ and mine) to make sure they were on his other end table at precisely 7:00 PM. If we were late, you don’t want to know what happened, trust me!
Anyway, it was my job to clean the family room and Pancho’s cage, so while I would be sweeping the dirt under the rug (yes, I really did that, but you will be happy to know, I don’t do it any longer), I’d teach Pancho songs to sing. For instance, I taught him how to sing the first bars of “What’s it all about, Pancho?” to the tune of “What’s It All About, Alfie?” and then I taught him “I love Pancho in the springtime” to the tune of “I Love Paris in the Springtime.” Now, mind you, it was not just enough for Pancho to sing these songs, which he did quite well, I might add, enunciating pretty clearly. Oh no, this bird had to dance side-to-side on the bar in his cage at the same time, his orange and black eyes getting bigger and smaller, bigger and smaller while he’d sing and dance. Soooo cute! Another trick I would do is to shake a bag of potato chips, and that little guy would follow me around the room, either stomping or flying—it didn’t matter. There was simply no question about it—I thought this bird was flat-out adorable!
Uh … until my dad yelled at me one night for only giving him ONE brown cow ice cream bar. Only I’d given him two, but sweet thunderation … one came up missing!! Yeah, you guessed it. There sat Pancho in his cage on the bar like a green-feathered angel, a half-eaten brown cow in his claw while those pin-wheel eyes just flashed and glowed. Gosh, what a hoot that bird was … “was” being the operative word.
You see, my dad liked to walk around the house with Pancho on his shoulder sometimes and this one day he forgot and went outside and, of course, Pancho flew away. My dad was SO broken-hearted that he got my sisters and I out of bed very early that morning (which was when it happened) and made us go outside and look for him. I’m guessing I was about fifteen or so, and I used to sleep with big curlers in my hair, which I kept in place with a pair of leopard underwear (I know, don’t ask!). Across the street from our house was a wooded hill that had a very old cemetery, and Daddy told me to go look up there. So, in my robe, curlers and leopard underwear, I took a bag of potato chips and went into the woods singing “What’s it all about, Pancho?” but alas, the bird had flown the coop … or in this case, the shoulder, never to be found again. Suffice it to say that the next pet was a black lab … a little harder to lose, thank God!
Well … now The Cousins McClare have a parrot, a very mischievous parrot who says things she shouldn’t (insults, not swear words) and her name is … Miss Behave! I am having SO much fun with Miss B. in this book, plus I’ve added a precocious five-year-old sister (you gotta have a kid, right?) and a crusty, old housekeeper who is sort of an Irish Ma Kettle (Google her if you’re too young). Throw in a spunky heroine who is a Texas cowgirl oil-heiress-gone-broke that would just as soon hog-tie a pretty boy as look at him and a to-die-for hero (is there any other kind in a Julie Lessman novel???) looking to marry well, and trust me—I’m having a total blast with this book!
So … to wrap up my Journal Jot today, I thought it appropriate to give you a sneak peek at my first “romantic” encounter between the heroine Cassie McClare and the hero, Jamie MacKenna, to show you just why I’m having so much fun. I hope reading it will be fun for you too!
Let’s set up the scene. Jamie is the man who accidentally mowed her down at the train station in the very first scene of the book, so Cassie has given him the cold shoulder all night when she meets him again during a dinner given by her cousins. Wanting to escape his unwanted attention, she goes to her uncle’s billiard room to play pool by herself, where Jamie seeks her out.
Lost in her game, she was oblivious when he quietly entered the room and closed the door, watching as she methodically chalked her stick after every play before circling the table with all the ease of a saloon pool-hall hustler. His jaw dropped when she executed a three-ball shot he’d only seen one other time in a bar down on the wharf. A low whistle escaped before he could stop it. “Remind me not to play you for money.”
She whirled around, almost losing her balance, knuckles white on the cue and her face leeching past pale. “You could have knocked,” she rasped, the shimmering bodice of her seafoam-green dress quivering with every heave of her breath.
“And miss that mesmerizing display of skill and prowess?” he said, respect lacing his tone. He slipped his hands in his pockets and strolled in, his gait as casual as his smile. “The likes of which I’ve never seen in a man, much less a female?” He perched on the edge of the table. “Not on your life, Miss McClare. Where’d you learn to play like that, anyway?” he asked, his fascination with this unconventional woman growing by the moment.
“Uncle Logan,” she said with a heft of her chin, his compliment dusting her cheeks with a pretty shade of rose that actually accentuated her freckles.
Jamie shook his head with a fold of arms. “Oh, no you didn’t. I’ve played with Logan many a game, and I have never seen a shot like that out of him or Devin.”
The blush deepened. “He says I’m a natural,” she said defensively, almost sounding like an apology.
He studied her through a squint, in total agreement with Logan that she was, indeed, a natural. Heart-shaped face, luminous green eyes a man could drown in and hair the color of summer wheat, her creamy skin glowing with just enough freckles to give her that clean, wholesome air of the outdoors. A sliver of gold hair trailed her shoulder midway to her bodice, a shimmering stray from the pretty upsweep that framed her head like a halo. The silky curl trailed the curve of her breast, and he had a sudden urge to see her hair down, spilling as free as he suspected Cassie McClare liked to be, untethered by convention or fashion.
He rose and sauntered over to retrieve a cue from a casing on the wall, then casually twirled it in his hands, his eyes connecting with hers. He smiled that little-boy smile that had gotten him farther than any law degree. “He says the same about me, you know—in billiards, boxing and the law.”
She folded her arms and cocked her head, her smile as flat as the effect of his, apparently. “And women?”
He grinned, his eyes never straying from hers as he chalked his cue. “Sometimes. You up for a game?”
“With you?” She arched a brow. “No, thank you, Mr. MacKenna—I don’t play games with men like you.”
Ouch. She was obviously a woman who was honest and forthright, what you see is what you get, and God help him, what he saw, he definitely wanted. But … she didn’t want him. Yet. He softened his approach. “Come on, Cassie, one game of billiards isn’t going to kill you, and then you’ll have the chance to give me the thrashing I so obviously deserve.”
She hung her head and huffed out a sigh, finally meeting his gaze with a candid one of her own. “Mr. MacKenna—”
“Jamie, then …” she began slowly, as if attempting to soften the blow of what she was about to say. Sympathy radiated from those remarkable green eyes that reminded him so much of a pure mountain stream—unspoiled, refreshing … and icy enough to tingle the skin. Long sooty lashes flickered as if begging him to understand. “Look, no offense, but you just broke my heart.”
He blinked. “Pardon me?”
“Oh, not you exactly,” she said, dismissing his train of thought with a wave of her hand, “but a man just like you—you know, handsome, smart, the kind that melts a woman with a smile?”
A ridge popped at the bridge of his nose. “Uh, thank you—I think?”
She looked up at him then, head tilted in much the same way a mother might soothe a child, expression soft and tone, parental. “I’m sure you’re a very nice person, Mr. MacKenna, and we may even forge a friendship before the summer is through, but you need to understand something right now if that friendship is ever going to see the light of day.” She fisted his hand, patting it as if he were five years old, and in all of his twenty-six years, never had a woman given him a more patronizing smile. “You have zero chance …” She held up a hand, index finger and thumb circled to create an “O,” then enunciated slowly as if he were one of the livestock back on her ranch. “Zee-ro chance of ever turning my head because I have no interest in you or any man right now, especially a pretty boy.” She gave him a patient smile edged with just enough pity to get on his nerves. “I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I see no point in hemming and hawing around a pesky hornet when I can just stomp on it before it stings.”
His jaw effectively sagged. “Hornet?” He’d been called a lot of things, but somehow, out of the pursed lips of this Texas beauty, this sounded like the worst, stinging his pride more than that blasted hornet. A nerve pulsed in his cheek as he carefully replaced his cue in the rack, her words barbing more than he liked. He turned, his smile cool. “Is that so? And what makes you think I have any interest in turning your head?”
She folded her arms again and hiked one beautifully shaped brow, her no-nonsense look daring him to deny it.
And, oh, how he wanted to. His jaw began to grind. But he couldn’t because it would be bald-faced lie, and they both knew it. He exhaled and pinched the bridge of his nose, finally blasting out a sigh. “Okay, you’re right, Miss McClare—I was trying to turn your head, but I’m not stupid—I can see you obviously have no interest in me whatsoever.”
“None,” she confirmed, brows arched high in agreement.
He nodded, head bowed as he kneaded the back of his neck, peering up with a lidded gaze. “Which means, of course, that you have no attraction to me whatsoever …”
“Oh, heaven forbid.” Her body shivered in revulsion. “Not in a million years …”
He cocked his head, mouth slack and a trace of hurt in his tone. “Nothing—not even a glimmer?”
She shook her head, face scrunched as if she tasted something bad. “Absolutely not.”
He exhaled loudly. “All righty, then,” he said with a stiff smile, his pride effectively trampled. Rubbing his temple, he supposed there was only one thing left to do. He extended his palm with a conciliatory smile. “Well … I’m glad we got that settled and out of the way, then. So … friends?”
She stared at his hand as if it were a rattler about to strike, then shifted her gaze to his eyes, her lids narrowing the slightest bit. She absently scraped the edge of her lip before slowly placing her hand into his.
His hand closed around hers and he smiled. Ah … sweet vindication.
In a sharp catch of her breath, he jerked her to him so hard, the cue in her hand literally spiraled across the plush burgundy carpet. Thudding against his chest, she emitted a soft, little grunt, and her outraged protest was lost in his mouth, the sweet taste of her lips shocking him even more than he’d shocked her. She tried to squirm away and he cupped her neck with a firm hold, deepening the kiss until the fight faded away and her ragged breathing became one with his. Her scent intoxicated him—a hint of lilacs and soap and the barest trace of peppermint, and he stifled a groan while he explored the shape of her mouth, the silk of her skin, the soft flesh of her ear. Her pulse throbbed beneath his lips and he returned to kiss her with renewed urgency, relief flooding when her faint moan grazed warm against his skin. He gentled his mouth against hers, softly nuzzling before finally pulling away, satisfaction inching into his smile when she swayed on her feet, eyes in a glaze. “Nope, not in a million years,” he said with a tug of his coat. He planted a quick kiss to her nose and made his way to the door, delivering a grin over his shoulder. “You have a deal, Cassie McClare—friends it is.”
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Have a great weekend!