Can love be more than a four-letter word?
Lissa Blanc is a painter on a mission. She filters the world through a lens of color, line, and form and hides her ambition behind a delicate smirk that lets her critics believe life comes easy. To her, art isn’t what she sees. It’s what she feels. Few know that behind the glitz of a prodigious upbringing, she’s driven to emerge from the shadow of painful memories that insist she’ll never be a renowned talent in her own right.
Cole Rathlen is a photographer on the mend. A crippling grief has stifled his once-rising career and compromised his creative instincts. Knowing he can’t stagnate forever, he seeks a twisted absolution in the form of a woman whose paintings give life to the emotions he won’t let himself imagine, let alone feel.
When the two partner for a prestigious project that will pull them from the mountains of Colorado to the palaces of India, Lissa quickly realizes that more than diverging ideals hinder their search for success and salvation. Was Cole’s life upended by a tragic but unavoidable choice or something more sinister? While Lissa can’t delve into the mystery but not the man, Cole can’t resist a tenacious soul that refuses to leave him chained. As the truth closes in on a project finally sprouting wings, will Lissa sacrifice her chance at success to set Cole free? Or will Cole shrug the chains of lingering regrets to prove that those who love the most, love again.
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Before becoming a writer, Libby was first a mechanical engineer in the data acquisition industry (voltmeter anyone?). Preferring writing to technical design, Libby headed to law school and eventually practiced patent law for several enterprising years (patent application covering a voltmeter anyone?). Finally realizing that technology just wasn’t her bag, she traded the voltmeters for alpha heroes and the women who love them.
Today, Libby writes contemporary romances from the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where she lives with her husband, a bona fide rocket scientist (he stuck with the voltmeters!). When not writing, Libby loves good food, even better wine, and traveling the world in search of the next great story.
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Cole was a clear pusher, and frankly, she liked those better. At least they were honest.
A hank of hair chose that moment to abandon the clip that couldn’t quite contain her pony tail. Ruler straight despite a healthy dedication to volumizing shampoo, her hair liked to slip from its confines and lay flat against her head in an antagonizing refusal to hold body. She imagined her looks mattered about as much to Cole as couponing did to Donald Trump, but hell, she had nothing to lose and everything to gain. After the disaster in the driveway, she could at least try to make herself presentable.
Her trek to the spare bathroom two rooms down took her past Cole’s bedroom door across the hall. His rumpled bed sat in silence. Nothing personal hinted at the room’s inhabitant. A dresser and two night stands held a clock and a box of tissues between them. No pictures or knickknacks, not even a stray piece of clothing or a random shoe littered Cole’s studied order, dimmed by heavy shades that blocked the rising sun from cheering the space.
Earthy scents of pine and sandalwood filled her nostrils. Despite his obvious efforts to disappear within the emptiness, the room bore his mark. The hard edges and sanded planks had absorbed his essence without permission.
Even her limited view of the room told her much, and temptation threatened. If she saw a little more… Not a chance. Forcing herself to put one foot behind the other, she backed away from his open door as quietly as she’d arrived.
The copper tub in her bathroom resembled a huge gravy boat. The New Yorker in Lissa marveled at the concept. So often her life demanded three-minute showers, never a leisurely soak in a tub that might have been filled by Mammy herself.
A wicker basket held sumptuous washcloths and a bottle of gardenia bubble bath. She tended toward tasty scents—from oranges to candy canes. They spurred her appetite, a good thing for a skinny girl, and always seemed approachable. Today she availed herself of the luxuries on tap. She sank deep into the tub, telling herself one didn’t indulge in low-grade anxiety in these circumstances. Old world tubs and Egyptian-cotton towels required a certain amount of stress amnesia.
She sighed heavily. She and Cole would adapt.
Heat leached into her muscles, and she slumbered against a neck pillow. Eventually the creeping chill of the water brought her around. Stretching languidly, she climbed from the tub, wet and glistening, her hair streaming rivulets of flower-scented water over her shoulders.
After toweling dry and tossing the cloth down a chute she assumed terminated in a basement laundry room, she rummaged through the basket in search of body lotion. Already, the dry Colorado air had her skin feeling like the surface of Mars. When the search came up empty, she looked under the sink and in the mirrored vanity.
Nothing, which was surprising given the well-stocked state of Cole’s home.
He’d either gotten in touch with his feminine side after his wife’s death or someone came by regularly to make sure the place stayed clean and comfortable. From what she’d seen, an aunt probably showed up the day after Uncle Kent delivered the meals to wash the linens and line the waste-paper baskets with scented trash bags.
Opening the laundry chute, she peered into blackness. The last towel was long gone. With a quiet twist, she opened the bathroom door and peered into the hallway. All was clear and quiet, so she snuck a toe out onto the carpeted runner, then another. When that proved successful, she flew out the door and lurched into her quietest ball-of-the-foot giraffe run toward the body creams she’d unpacked in her room.
“This can only be penance for your last painting or bribery for your next one.”
Cole’s rumbling voice took her so off guard she lurched to a stop. There he stood, behind a panting St. Bernard in his doorway. Heat flared in her cheeks. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He cleared his throat. “Nice ass?”
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