Excerpt for Psuedo Personality by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Psuedo Personality

Wasatch Mountains: Book 1





Kimbra Townsend







Psuedo Personality

By Kimbra Townsend for Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Kimbra Townsend for Smashwords

No part of this publication may be reproduced,

stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in

any form or by any means, electronic,

mechanical, photocopying, recording or

otherwise, without written permission of the author.






Acknowledgements



Dedicated to my loving husband, whose support means more to me than life itself.

Special thanks to Hypnotic Proofreading for the professional edit!





Chapter One





“If love were a garden, dating would be the weed killer. Unfortunately, many times the worst weeds survive the initial application, often requiring additional energy not only to identify the unwelcome plants, but to remove them.” Elizabeth glanced around the room packed full of women. She drew in a quick breath as a multitude of blank expressions stared back at her. Did she sound like a man hater or a potential serial killer?

Making a mental note to check the local news for any poisonings committed by jilted girlfriends before using this speech again, she continued. “Take my life for instance.” Her hand slid into the front pocket her pale green suit jacket. “From the time I was a little girl I imagined my first love would be like a fairytale romance. I expected the prince of my dreams to show up one day and whisk me away to an elaborate wedding in a pearl-encrusted gown followed quickly by a Brady Bunch home, and a happily ever after marriage. Instead, I was so shy I barely dated in high school. In fact, my first love was a tattooed ex-marine Harley rider who smoked pot. This was extraordinary, considering I was a straight naive kid who hadn't even tasted alcohol yet. My college years led to more bad choices in boyfriends than I care to admit.”

“Finally, after college, I decided to ‘wise up’ and marry an older man who happened to be a preacher. How could I be any safer? Admittedly, he was boring and straight-laced. He was what I considered moderately attractive, no bulging muscles or chiseled features. He was an average looking man, which I considered optimal since all of the strikingly handsome men of my past managed to cheat on me. So, I gave up on the dream of a man that could make my heart race when our eyes met. I gave up on finding someone my body would ache to touch. I married Mr. Safe. Mr. Safe was supposed to be a perfect husband, a great father, and a good provider. Three years later, I realized he was a well-hidden obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic womanizer.”

Elizabeth paused for emphasis and noticed a handsome man with an amused smirk on his chiseled face standing at the back of the room. He was tall, with golden hair and broad shoulders. His blue flannel shirt clung to his muscular biceps. A pair of faded jeans perfected his persona. What was he doing at a women’s conference? Elizabeth hesitated with her speech, almost forgetting the words.

It’s probably the self-defense instructor, she thought. Yet something about this man’s amused expression irritated Elizabeth. Her eyes met his for one electric moment. She felt the color rise in her cheeks and fought for control of her senses. Forcing her eyes to move further around the conference room, she took a deep cleansing breath. Concentrating on the pale gold and bronze colors of the room, she continued.

“Now this is where I’m supposed to tell you what I learned from that experience.” She glanced back toward the lumberjack to find him gone. She sighed with surprising relief and kept going, “So here it is: you can’t possibly determine if someone is the best man for you from the first date, fourth date, magazine survey, website questionnaire or even a year of marriage. The truth is when you first meet someone they aren’t showing you their true self. They are showing you either the person they want you to think they are, or the person they think you want them to be. I call this behavior a pseudo-personality. This pseudo personality can be very deceptive not only to you, but to your suitor as well. In fact, it is entirely possible for someone to maintain a pseudo personality for several years. More importantly, you could be the pseudo-personality in your relationship. You could be fooling yourself, trying to become the person you think your significant other wants you to be. I caution you not to attempt this, do not echo this behavior, it's very caustic. I believe every single person in this room has used a pseudo personality at some point in their lives. Many of you are using one at this very moment. It’s not exclusive to dating; it’s simply more devastating when used in a relationship.”

With this statement, Elizabeth casually flipped her long dark hair over one shoulder, straightened her stance, squared her shoulders, and smiled softly at her now captivated audience. “Think about it. When you’re on a first date, you’re at your best. You get dressed up, do your hair, get your nails done, and check your posture in the mirror to make sure the outfit does you justice. Then you put on those killer high heels and make sure your hips sway just the right amount when you walk in front of him. You use your best manners at dinner. You eat a salad or light entrée even though you are starving. Unless, of course, you grabbed a snack before he picked you up so you could eat a light meal without starving. You judge his sense of humor and respond accordingly. You respond to his manners appropriately. If he’s a total gentleman or a klutz, you adapt your thought processes for a successful night. If the night is going well, you use your best comebacks and give him that special come-hither look you’ve perfected for just the right moment. You have put on your pseudo persona for the night. First dates are notorious for it. Let me assure you, he has a persona as well. If he’s smart, he’ll open the door for you. He won’t eat with his fingers. He won’t burp or pass gas. He won’t use foul language or tell you a dirty joke, and he’ll try his best not to look at other women or your chest when you’re talking to him.”

The room was silent. All eyes and ears were on Elizabeth. She had them. They were all hers. She could scoop them up and put them in her pocket. She locked eyes with a few of the prominent women in the audience before she continued. “How can you tell if your partner is faking it? How can you know if you are faking it? You can’t. The only cure for this is time: plain, simple time. It can take between two to three years before most people will drop their guard and start allowing their real character to show through to their lover. A regular person can maintain a pseudo personality for up to three years. Where would you like to be when your relationship reaches the point where the pseudo-personality fades away? How committed do you want your relationship to be when your partner reveals who they really are? Wouldn’t you rather be dating them at that moment, instead of married to them? I’m not saying a sociopath will suddenly appear next to you in bed one morning three years after your first date. What I am saying is a few minor character changes are all it takes to ruin a relationship. Those personality changes can be as minor as toilet habits or food preferences, or as significant as views on child rearing, womanizing or physical abuse. Protect yourselves ladies, move slowly and get to know your partner before you commit to sharing a lifetime with them. A slow few years at the beginning of a relationship can save you a lifetime of sorrow.”



Elizabeth signed autographs and answered questions for the next few hours. Afterward, she went to the hotel’s dining room to meet Franklin, her publicist. He was waiting at a table near the back of the conference center’s dining room. The floor to ceiling windows that lined the dining room held a breathtaking view of jagged green mountains. The white linen clad tables held pink and yellow flowers draped with strings of pearls in honor of the women's conference.

Franklin wore a gray silk suit. He was tapping away at his iPad as she approached. His neat short black hair was as perfect as his manicured fingernails. Elizabeth pictured his alligator shoes under the table with a high shine.

What Elizabeth didn’t picture was the lumberjack in the flannel shirt sitting across the table from Franklin. Both men rose as she arrived. Elizabeth concentrated on Franklin as he gave her a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. Franklin turned to the lumberjack across from him and said, “Elizabeth, darling, I’d like to present Joshua Miller. He’s the residential building contractor I told you about.”

Elizabeth turned to face Joshua. Her stomach jumped as their eyes met. Somehow, she knew he’d have blue eyes. The deepest blue eyes she had ever seen gazed keenly back at her. She offered him her hand and said, “Thank you so much for meeting me tonight, Mr. Miller. I assume Franklin’s told you of my plan to build a home on the property my Uncle left me just outside of Bailey.”

Joshua’s face reached perfection when he smiled. The moment he touched her hand, Elizabeth’s heart raced. His touch was electric, sending waves of heat through her body.

He said, “Ms. Stewart, call me Joshua. I’m happy to make time for you. I drove by the property today. You’re going to need a small bridge over the creek to access the building site.” Josh couldn’t pull his eyes away from the luscious vision before him. He expected a female author who was short and mousy with little character. This woman was slender, with curves in all the right places. Her skin was perfect, her lips full and pouty.

Joshua’s voice rang deep and sensual in Elizabeth's ears. He released Elizabeth’s hand and moved to pull out the seat next to him, pushing it in behind her as she sat down. Franklin sat back down, reached out for Elizabeth’s hand, and squeezed it as he waved for the waiter.

Franklin explained, “Elizabeth is determined to make this her permanent residence, so you’ll have to have an open mind. I’m sure she has lots of ideas for the house and property.”

Joshua sat down and concentrated on Elizabeth, ignoring Franklin. He said, “You should be aware of the building restrictions in this area. We’ll need an environmental study to ensure the building on your location won’t have an adverse impact on the surrounding flora and fauna. I have every reason to expect positive results, but we can’t remove the ground until that’s finished. Franklin said you were ecologically conscious, which fits in well with this area. We have quite a few material restrictions. We try to take advantage of renewable resources such as passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic equipment. I brought some examples of green roofs and rain gardens you should find helpful to reduce rainwater run-off. I recommend packed gravel or permeable concrete instead of asphalt for the driveway. It's easier on the ground water.” Joshua stopped himself; he was babbling. Her intense gaze was driving him crazy. Her long, dark brown hair and deep green eyes caused him to swell in an awkward spot. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had to get himself under control, or he’d lose the sale and any chance of getting this doll into bed.

Elizabeth found this ruffian enchanting. She noted his eyes dilating slightly and the hint of a crimson flush was working its way up his throat. Her presence was affecting him. So, the lumberjack had a soft side after all, and he was smarter than she expected. She leaned forward and said, “That all sounds perfect, but why don’t we order some dinner and relax for a bit before we dive into the business. I’ve been running full tilt all day, and frankly, I could use some small talk and a stiff drink.”

Franklin waved frantically at the nearest waitress, who came over immediately. He said, “Ms. Stewart will have a glass of Moscato and another round for Mr. Miller and me, please.”

Joshua stared at Franklin; the guy was a tall pile of New York City stress bent on controlling Elizabeth's every move. She didn’t seem to mind, so Joshua dismissed it. It was none of his business, but it irritated him nonetheless.

Franklin turned to Joshua and said, “It sounds like some deep consideration needs to take place before making any decisions. Perhaps tonight is not the right time to go over all this. Why don’t you leave the information with me? I’ll review it with Elizabeth. We will give you a call in a few days with a list of questions.”

Joshua smiled at Franklin; this guy was just too intense. He needed to get laid. Joshua turned to Elizabeth, “If you are looking for some relaxation, why don’t you try the local cuisine? I know a rustic little bar and grill just up the road. It has the best steak and ribs in the country.”

Elizabeth stared at him in fascination. He was hitting on her. This had to be a record. The man went from business to solicitation in thirty seconds. She couldn’t pass this up. She glanced at Franklin, then turned back to Joshua and said, “Let’s do it.”

Joshua rose, “That’s great, I’ll get my truck. Why don’t you change into something more comfortable?” He picked up the binder and handed it to her. “We can go over the floor plans and options later.”

Franklin rose and stammered, “Elizabeth, I thought we were running over the outline for your next book tonight.”

Elizabeth accepted the binder and rose to follow Joshua out of the dining room, calling over her shoulder, “I’ll catch up with you later. This won’t take long.”

Joshua disappeared through the entrance as Elizabeth rushed up the double flight of stairs to her room. She quickly changed into her best pair of skinny jeans and intentionally chose a tight fitting low cut white blouse over a black lace bra. This was going to be a hoot. She couldn’t wait to see what pseudo persona Mr. Eco Construction pulled out of his hat. She threw on a pair of sexy black pumps and headed downstairs.

Franklin met her at the bottom of the stairs. His face was beet red. His voice rose to a high pitch. “This is a bad idea. You don’t know his guy from Adam, and you don't know where he’s taking you.”

Elizabeth touched Franklin’s cheek and said, “I’ll be okay. It’s just dinner. I’ll be back in an hour or two. Relax.”

When she walked out into the cool night air, Joshua was there leaning casually against a large dark blue pickup truck. Elizabeth smiled in appreciation of his tall stature and rugged good looks. He smiled back and opened the door for her, offering his hand. They drove down the winding mountain road with the windows down, letting the first hint of night air fill the cab.

Normally, the mess the rushing wind was making of her hair would have annoyed Elizabeth. Instead, Elizabeth found it invigorating. She glanced up at the darkening sky. Stars faded into view. Elizabeth thought of her Uncle Wendell. She pictured him in her mind. He was in jeans and a T-shirt, walking his horse out of the small stables on his property. She pushed the thought from her mind as they pulled up next to a handful of vehicles in a large gravel parking lot. To say the bar was rustic was an understatement. It was a small square building with peeling paint and windows so dirty you couldn’t see inside.

Joshua glanced over at Elizabeth’s and said, “Don’t worry.” He flashed a brilliant smile. “They really do have great steak, and it’s one hundred percent pure beef, not Opossum, I swear.”

Elizabeth cringed when they walked in the door. Heavy, darkly stained wooden tables and chairs were scattered around the dimly lit, musty room. They helped themselves to one of the tall wooden booths along one side of the room. A long mahogany bar lined the other. As they sat down, Elizabeth glanced immediately under the bench, almost afraid of what she might see.

She looked up at Joshua and said, “Speaking of Opossum ....”

Joshua laughed. “I swear if you walked into this kitchen you’d find it sparkling clean. I bet it’s a lot cleaner than any of those fancy five-star restaurants in New York.”

Elizabeth said, “I’m not actually from New York.”

“New Jersey?” He asked with a raised eyebrow.

“St Louis.” Elizabeth tried not to smile but failed. He was just too darn adorable.

He nodded his approval and added, “Midwestern girl; St Louis City or County?”

Elizabeth answered, “Jefferson County actually. You’ve been to St Louis?”

Josh said, “My grandparents on my mom's side were from Southern Missouri. I spent several summers on road trips to St Louis. My cousin and I would tramp through the woods looking for a mysterious black panther. I’ve certainly had my share of drunken float trips and jaunts up to the top of the Arch. I love Missouri.”

A tall blonde-haired woman with breasts that overflowed her low cut T-shirt appeared at their table asking if they wanted a drink. Joshua glanced at Elizabeth and asked, “What would you like?”

Elizabeth eyed the waitress, noting her tiny blue jean shorts and high heels. She said, “Jack and Coke.”

Joshua chuckled, “I guess Franklin has you all wrong.” He turned to the waitress and added, “Bring me the usual, Sal, and if the lady has no objections bring us a couple of steaks with all the trimmings, medium.” Elizabeth nodded her approval and Sal disappeared without another word.

Gradually, couples and small groups began to fill the tables. A three-man band appeared and started to sing a variety of time-honored country-rock tunes. As the bar filled with smoke and the lights dimmed further, Elizabeth found herself on the dance floor in Joshua’s arms. He didn’t say a word as they slowly moved to the rhythm of a soulful tune. Elizabeth wasn’t sure if it was Joshua or the three drinks she’d had with dinner, but she was feeling very comfortable and unusually uninhibited. She leaned against him and nuzzled his neck with her nose taking in the scent of him.

When the song was over Joshua released her and announced in a throaty voice, “It’s time I get you back to the hotel.”



Josh pulled his truck into the hotel parking lot. He offered Elizabeth, his hand as she climbed out of the truck. He slid his arm around her waist to guide her through the entrance and up the stairs. They stopped at her door, and Elizabeth pulled her room card from her purse. She gazed into his eyes, those magnificent blue eyes. He flashed what she could only describe as an incredibly sexy half smile, pulled her against him, and kissed her with more passion than she expected.

His kiss burned like fire. Elizabeth's breath left her instantly. When he released her, Elizabeth gasped for air and heard herself say, “Would you like to come inside?”

Joshua's eyes grew wide in surprise. He took the key card from her hand and unlocked the door, opening it for her. “I’d love to,” he answered, and followed her into the room.

Elizabeth spun slowly to face him as he closed the door. Their eyes met as he walked toward her. His hand wandered down her arm hesitating at her elbow to pull her gently against him.

He kissed her softly and said, “You sure you want to do this? You’re a bit tipsy.”

Her pouty lips parted slightly, and she drew a slow, deep breath. Joshua was acting the gentleman, but she could see the fire in his eyes. She said, “Shut up, and kiss me again.” She’d never wanted anyone more.

He slid his hands around her waist and slowly moved them downward, pulling her against him. She moaned as their lips met and gently dug her fingernails into his back. His lips broke away and explored the hollow of her throat as his hands moved to unbutton her blouse. Elizabeth sighed with pleasure and kicked off her shoes. She quickly removed her jeans and allowed her blouse to fall to the floor, then unbuttoned his shirt as he removed his jeans.

Her bra fell to the floor, and Joshua's hands trailed across her breasts. She arched her back and moaned. They fell onto the bed clinging desperately to each other.

**************

Elizabeth forced down her second glass of orange juice and half of the bagel that room service had delivered. Hydration was the key to ending a hangover. She dropped her robe on her bed, took a quick shower, pulled her hair into a ponytail, and dressed in a loose pink T-shirt and a pair of shorts. What happened last night? In one fell swoop, she successfully announced herself to the small town of Bailey as the New York City slut before she’d managed to move into the upper scale rural community. She stopped and touched her throat, remembering the heat of Joshua’s kiss. It was an incredible night of passion she would never forget. Joshua made her feel things she’d never thought imaginable.

She finished her juice, took another bite of the bagel and then headed for her car. Elizabeth had a seven o’clock appointment to look at a rental property. She was going to need temporary housing. Her uncle's home had burned to the ground long ago. The fire completely gutted the inside leaving only the hint of a frame behind. The house sat near the rear of the 200 acres that she’d inherited, but she was going to build near the center of the property, closer to the road. She couldn’t bring herself to rebuild on the site where her Uncle had died in the fire.

The trip to the rental house was quiet and serene. Elizabeth opened the sunroof of her rental and allowed the cool morning air to flow through the car. She turned off the main road and headed onto the wooded property, up a narrow, winding, gravel road with large ruts that mirrored her tire width. A small creek with a thin trickle of water ran across the road. Apparently, no one seemed to care since the road simply sank down into the creek and back out again. No wonder this house was cheap, Elizabeth thought. The renter would need a towering four-wheel drive truck like Joshua’s for rainy days, and a snowmobile to reach it in the winter. The ruts in the road grew deeper; Elizabeth struggled to straddle them with her car’s small tires. It reminded her of the road to her uncle’s house. She was beginning to understand why he always drove a pickup truck.

The trees began to thin as the road curved one last time to show a clearing with a small cedar cabin, detached garage, barn, and a corral. There was a tiny pond with a layer of green on top not far from the corral, and another slightly larger pond with clear water at the far end of the clearing. Elizabeth was enchanted. She pulled up in front of the split-level cabin. It had a big picture window that overlooked the large front lawn. It was a charming, rustic little log cabin with a one-step front stoop and a few small bushes. A large tree grew beside the front of the house. She pictured a rambunctious boy easily climbing out of a bedroom window to skinny down the tree for a midnight adventure. A cobblestone walkway led to the door. She glanced around and noticed a faded gray pickup truck parked behind the stables. An elderly man with a kind face dressed in faded jeans and a blue jean jacket appeared from inside the stables and waved at her.

She waved back and went to meet him. She pictured her dog, Charlie, running across the gap and rushing around the perimeter. Her seven-month-old Golden Retriever would love it here.

The man offered her his hand, “Hello Elizabeth, I’m Gene Weller; it’s nice to meet you.”

Elizabeth shook his hand. “Hello, Mr. Weller, you have a charming place here. I can’t wait to see the cabin.”

He motioned toward the cabin, and she turned to walk with him as he added, “It needs some updating, but everything is clean and in working order. The kitchen is fully stocked. You'll find dishes, pots, and pans, so you will only need the daily food essentials. My son uses it during hunting season and the holidays. He’s an avid the elk hunter. I just checked the stables and did a look around. I only found a couple of snakes. I’ll go ahead and bring Topper and Knobby by for a few days to clear out any that I may have missed. You can’t beat Tomcats as snake eaters. My two boys will clear this area in the wink of an eye.”

“Snakes?” Elizabeth glanced down at the grass when they veered to cut across the lawn.

“Rattlers,” he explained. “These Mountains are full of them, but I don’t think there’s a den close by, so not to worry. I found one snake way back behind the stables. I’ll leave my cats here for the next couple of weeks if you like. They’re crafty. Your retriever won’t even know they’re here.”

Elizabeth stopped and stared at him, “Rattlesnakes? My Uncle Wendell always said they usually kept deep into the woods.”

Mr. Weller stopped and turned to face her, “Darlin’ you are deep in the woods.”



*************



Joshua walked into Sheriff Randal Connor’s office. It was located in a small storefront converted to hold the only law enforcement office in town. He sat down on the seat in front of his desk. The Sheriff glanced up from his paperwork briefly then returned to his work.

Joshua frowned and said, “Don’t pretend to be working. Unless someone robbed the general store or the wolf pack returned to Beldon Falls, you are completely free of paperwork today.”

The Sheriff put his pen down and stared at Joshua. Pushing his light brown hair from his eyes, the Sheriff flashed Joshua a huge smile, “So I take it your meeting didn’t go so well last night. Was she everything you expected? Dowdy, fat, and covered with warts?”

Joshua sighed and put his feet up on the Sheriff’s desk. He leaned back in his seat and said, “Randy, she was the most incredible woman I’ve ever met. The night couldn’t have gone better.”

Randy asked, “Then why are you such a grouch?”

“It was too good to be true.” Joshua sat up abruptly. “I hit on her right out of the gate, and she didn’t bat an eye. We went to Sadie’s, and a couple of hours later we were back in her hotel room.”

Randy stared at him in disbelief and said, “You’re worse than I thought. Did you bed the old shrew? I know you took a hit when the real estate bubble burst, but that’s no reason to prostitute yourself for a contract.”

Joshua’s feet landed on the floor, and he leaned forward in his seat, “First of all, she was gorgeous. Probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Secondly, it had nothing to do with the contract. It was... I don’t know… It was crazy; it was intense, it was more than I expected. What I’m confident of, is it was the best sex I’ve ever had.”

Randy looked at his best friend since childhood and said, “So you’ve entered new territory. Is it safe to say you just might have feelings for this gal?”

“No!” Joshua rose to his feet and headed for the door. “It’s not that at all. She just wasn’t what I expected. I plan to get this relationship back on a professional level. I’m not going to have some lovesick loner hanging all over me for the next few months while I build her home. That’s the last thing I need.”

Randy called after him, “Not every woman is like Joanne.” His response was the sound of a slamming door.



Chapter Two





The phone rang as Elizabeth finished packing. It was the front desk informing Elizabeth that her assistant had arrived with her dog, Charlie. The bellhop appeared at the door and grabbed her bags as she rushed downstairs. Her assistant, a young college graduate, named Amy Rothchild, stood outside the entrance. She held tightly to Charlie's leash when Elizabeth walked out the door.

Amy’s French braid had several strands of hair trying to escape. There were dark circles under her bloodshot eyes. Her light blonde hair and big blue eyes accented her pale complexion and rosy cheeks. Amy’s petite body was no match for the golden retriever’s potential. When Charlie saw Elizabeth, there was no stopping her from greeting her master. Charlie bounded away from Amy with one leap and reached Elizabeth’s side. Amy lurched forward and stumbled along behind Charlie. Elizabeth laughed and caught Charlie’s front paws as she jumped up to greet her.

“How’s my little puppy?” Elizabeth asked, scratching Charlie behind the ears.

After straightening her clothes and checking her hair, Amy handed Elizabeth the leash and said, “Puppy? You have to be kidding. She’s a few pounds away from becoming a horse.”

Accepting the leash, Elizabeth released Charlie’s paws. She smiled at Amy and said, “Amy, what would I do without you! You are my angel of mercy, driving Charlie halfway across the country so she wouldn’t have to fly.”

Amy stared at Elizabeth with one raised eyebrow and countered, “A two day trip in a Mini Cooper is all the way across the country, not half.” She hugged Elizabeth, adding, “Charlie was actually a splendid girl. She made me feel safe.”

The bellhop appeared with Elizabeth’s bags, followed immediately by Franklin. Elizabeth headed for her car, saying, “We’ve got a 20-minute drive to the rental property, then you can relax and even take a nap if you like. Franklin is going to return my rental car after we unpack.”

Franklin hesitated when he saw Amy, then flashed a quick smile and dashed off after Elizabeth. He climbed into the passenger seat and began his interrogation of Elizabeth’s spontaneous date with Joshua before she even reached the road. “Where did you go? What happened? When did you get back?”

Elizabeth shrugged and said, “The steaks were excellent, but the bar was a dive. We didn’t stay long. I went right to bed when I got back.”

“But you were supposed to call me,” Franklin muttered.

Concentrating on the road, Elizabeth refused to look at him. She was scared she might actually see him pouting. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you when I got back to the hotel.” Elizabeth offered gently, “I just wasn’t in the mood for work.”

Franklin frowned and stared out the window. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Was it possible Franklin somehow knew Joshua spent the night? No, they went straight to the room. The hallway was empty, and they didn’t see anyone along the way. Even if he did know, she wasn’t going to discuss it with Franklin. He was her agent, not her father. She did consider him a friend, but her sex life was none of his business. Gripping the steering wheel firmly, Elizabeth wondered why she allowed that to happen. She never had sex with someone on the first date, not even a second date. Most of her relationships never got that far. Elizabeth was a romantic soul. She believed in love before sex. Somehow, last night love didn’t even cross her mind. Last night was only about the sex. There were no emotions involved; there couldn’t be. She barely knew Joshua. Although she had to admit, he was incredibly sexy. Josh had a body like a Mack truck, all brawn, and hard muscle. He made love as if the world was ending. The mere thought of their encounter made her breathe faster.

She flashed a guilty glance in Franklin’s direction, and then smiled in relief as the entrance to her new temporary home appeared up ahead. “Here we are. You’re going to love this place, Franklin. It’s full of character and a little adventure. The cabin backs to the woods. The landlord installed a large picture window on the rear of the house, so there’s a gorgeous view. Mr. Weller said if you are quiet, and leave the lights out, you could watch the deer come into the yard to eat the acorns early in the mornings. I saw a flock of turkeys crossing the road when I left yesterday. This place is fabulous!”

Franklin sighed and shook his head then smiled. He said, “I’m sure it’s awesome, but does it have electricity and indoor plumbing?”



***********

Joshua had a hard time calling Elizabeth. He sat at a desk in his home office and stared at the phone. He’d just spoken to the inspector, and he'd scheduled the environmental study for tomorrow. His last project was in clean up mode. All he needed was her decision on which plan to go with, and he could break ground within the next week. Still, he hesitated. Why in Hades name was he putting this off? Joshua grabbed his phone and viciously punched in Elizabeth’s number. He’d keep the relationship strictly business from now on.

“Hello?” Elizabeth’s sultry voice came over the phone.

“Hi Elizabeth, this is Joshua. The environmental study is tomorrow morning. I don’t expect any complications. So whichever floor plan you’ve decided on, shouldn’t be a problem.” Joshua kept his voice low and monotone.

Elizabeth frowned and walked out the back door of the cabin to watch the sun sink behind the mountains. She was surprised at the lack of pleasantries but held to the topic at hand, “That’s great, Joshua. I’ve chosen the two-story log cabin. I like the design and square footage, but I’d like to add a 2 car attached garage and possibly a three-stall barn, placed deeper into the lot. There is a pond about an eighth of a mile from the building site. I thought it would be ideal to incorporate inside a horse fence.”

Joshua relaxed; she wasn’t going to push the relationship. He said, “That shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll pull up some basic barn plans and get you some samples of fencing. My foreman can check the design of the pond and surrounding landscape, and then we can discuss your options. I’ll check back with you tomorrow afternoon, and we can set an appointment to finalize everything.”

He was blowing her off! Elizabeth couldn’t believe what she was hearing. He wasn’t even going to mention last night. Gripping the phone fiercely, she answered in a quiet voice, “Sounds great! I’ll talk to you tomorrow then.”

“Okay,” Joshua hesitated, “Talk to you soon. Have a great evening.”

“Oh, I will,” Elizabeth’s voice reeked with sweetness, “I’m in my new place, Mr. Weller’s cabin.”

“Gene Weller?” Joshua asked confused, “I thought his son owned that cabin?”

“He does, but he won’t need it until deer hunting season. As long as you stay on track, I should be out of here by then.” Elizabeth felt triumphant at his continued conversation.

Joshua knew exactly where that cabin was. It sat on the edge of Beldon Falls Preserve. “Elizabeth, there have been wolves sighted in that area. Given the fact the cabin is vacant most of the year, I think you should stay inside after dark for the first few days.”

What? Now he was concerned for her welfare. Elizabeth paced back and forth along the small porch as her face flushed with anger. Forget about the fantastic night of wild sex, let’s talk about hiding from fictitious wolves, she thought. She took a deep breath and answered with slightly more irritation than she meant, “Don’t worry about me. I’m not alone. My assistant arrived today with my golden retriever, Charlie.”

“What?” Joshua couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Elizabeth, listen to me. Don’t let Charlie outside after dark. A golden retriever is no match for a pack of wolves or a bear. You are on the edge of a large preserve. There are more than just deer and elk roaming around in those woods. Promise me you’ll keep to the cabin after dark and not go too deep into the woods alone during the day.”

Elizabeth lifted the phone away from her ear and stared at it. Who did he think he was? She placed the phone back to her ear and asked, “Just exactly what gives you the right to tell me how to live my life? One night together and suddenly you’re trying to walk all over me! It’s bad enough you refuse to acknowledge what happened between us last night, but now you have to add to it by being uber controlling.”

Joshua had a bad feeling in his gut. She wasn’t listening, and she was going to get herself, or more likely her dog, killed if she didn’t learn how to respect the animals in the area. “Beth, listen, I’m not trying to boss you around. I’m trying to give you some very practical advice. These woods are not like the forests you hike around in Missouri. There are mountain lions that would sooner eat Charlie or you rather than sit pretty and wait for you to take their picture. Do you own a gun?”

“What?” Elizabeth gasped. She completely missed the point; he called her by a more intimate name. She snapped, “No, I do not own a gun!” Just then, something rustled in the brush at the far end of the backyard; Elizabeth almost jumped out of her skin. Charlie charged out of the back door and headed right for it. “Charlie! No!”

“Beth!” Joshua was on his feet, heading for the door. “What is it? Are you outside? Let Charlie go and get in the house!”

“Leave me alone!” Elizabeth yelled into the phone and hung up just as Charlie dove into the bushes.

Amy appeared in the doorway as Elizabeth started to run after Charlie. She took only a few steps, when a huge deer broke through the bushes and dashed across the yard to disappear into the trees. Charlie was on its heels.

“No, Charlie! Bad dog! No!” She screamed.

Amy ran to her side waving a large knife asking, “What is it? What’s happening?”

Charlie followed the deer to the tree line before deciding to obey her master. Charlie turned and galloped back to Elizabeth who sank to her knees and hugged Charlie with all her strength. She was completely out of breath. Her heart was racing. Damn that Joshua Miller, he’d pumped her so full of nonsense she’d nearly scared herself to death.

She rose and smiled weakly at Amy saying, “Let’s keep her inside for the rest of the night.”

Amy nodded and surveyed the yard, adding, “Us too. Good thing Franklin headed back early. He would have been crying like a baby after all that excitement.”

Laughing, Elizabeth said, “He was terrified it would get dark before he reached the hotel. He does not like the country at all. He told me once that St Louis was too small town for him, not enough cement and high-rises.”

Amy giggled and said, “Can you believe it’s after 9 o’clock, and it’s still bright daylight outside? Frankly, it doesn’t matter; I’m exhausted. The light is not going to keep me awake. I’m closing my curtains and going to bed. I’ll get all your paperwork together for the build in the morning. What time are you meeting with the builder?”

“Builder?” Elizabeth gasped and glanced down at the phone. Should she call Joshua back and let him know everything was okay? She closed and locked the back door, and stood to stare out at the large backyard into the forest beyond. It was so beautiful, but maybe Joshua was right. Her phone began to ring. She glanced down and recognized Joshua’s number.

She hit the answer button and immediately said, “Everything is fine. It was just a deer.”

Joshua growled into the phone, “Dammit Beth! You scared the crap out of me! Is Charlie all right?”

“She’s fine; I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Goodbye.” Elizabeth snapped.

“Oh no, we will talk right now. I’m almost there.” Joshua countered and hung up.

Elizabeth quickly glanced around the room to see if everything was clean. When she realized what she was doing, she chastised herself, ‘What were you thinking? He’s nothing, a one-night stand. Clearly, he considers it just a casual fling so get over it. Everyone has one at least once in their life; it’s just your turn.’ She calmly walked to the front door as the roar of Joshua’s truck could be heard coming up the driveway. Charlie appeared at her side when she opened the door.

Elizabeth allowed Charlie to leap out the door to greet Joshua, who was climbing out of his truck. He turned, and without hesitation, knelt and greeted Charlie with a quick scratch between the ears. When Joshua glanced at Elizabeth, her stomach jumped, and her pulse quickened. Those damn blue eyes. Joshua turned and reached into the back seat of his extended cab and pulled out a long brown case. He whistled at Charlie, who wandered down the driveway, and Elizabeth cringed as her devoted dog came trotting up and escorted him happily to the door.

‘Traitor,’ Elizabeth admonished her silently, and stepped aside to allow Joshua to enter. Her eyes ran up and down the length of him as he passed. He had on a plain white T-shirt and faded pair of jeans. Her eyes hesitated at his broad shoulders and lingered on the pockets of his jeans. She took a quick breath and admired his small, firm behind.

Joshua went straight to the kitchen table and opened the case. He pulled out a short-barreled shotgun and turned to face Elizabeth. He said, “Keep this right here, in the central living area. You don’t have any kids, so there’s no concern about that.”

Elizabeth snapped back to reality and walked over to him. She glared at the gun he held out for her inspection. Elizabeth met his iron stare with open hostility and said, “I am not keeping that gun.”

Joshua couldn’t help but smile at her response. It was all fluff and girl. He calmly said, “If you don’t agree to keep this gun I will throw you over my shoulder, right here and now, and take you and Charlie home with me.”

His ornery smile sent a chill through her, but also made her heart race faster. She refused to back down. She was not afraid. Frowning at him in silence, she searched his eyes. There was no anger there, only concern. He was sincerely worried about her and Charlie. Maybe she should listen to him.

“Charlie seems to like you.” She said softly. “You have a way with animals.”

Joshua bit the inside of his mouth, trying to stop from laughing. Her pouty frown was almost too much for him. She had no idea at that moment he would have agreed to patrol her property all night, if she would only kiss him.

Joshua’s hard smile softened, and he said, “I’ve got a dog too. He’s older; I take him hunting with me.”

Elizabeth took the gun from his hands and sat it on top of the case. She stared down at it and asked, “What kind of dog?”

Joshua tilted his head and stared at her. She was beautiful. Even a plain t-shirt couldn’t hide her large breasts and small waist. He said, “He’s a Malamute and wolf mix. My dad’s girl malamute ran off. Dad wasn’t a bit surprised to find the pups were half wolf. I got my pick of the litter.”

“What is his name?” She turned and met his gaze.

“Kilo,” He answered softly. He wanted to kiss her so badly.

Elizabeth laughed and asked, “Kilo, really? What are you, a drug dealer?”

“Like you’re any better? Charlie? You have a female. You think she’s going to protect you?  The first time she sees a bear in the woods, she’s going to pee herself then hightail it out of there with her tail between her legs.” Joshua was no longer amused.

“Oh Yeah?” Elizabeth felt stupid the instant those words left her lips.

It was Joshua’s turn to laugh, “Well, you better hope so because the first time Charlie tries to play butt sniff with a bear or mountain lion, it’s going to rip her head off and have her for dinner.”

Elizabeth’s eyes opened wide in shock. She said, “Are there real mountain lions around here?”

Joshua sighed and reached out to take her hand. “A few, and bears, that’s why you need to keep Charlie inside, especially at night. It doesn’t have to be a problem if you are careful and keep your garbage can locked up in the garage.”

She gazed into his eyes and found herself fighting the urge to ask him to stay the night again. She hesitated and asked, “Why haven’t you said anything about last night?”

His face softened, “Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t usually get involved with my clients. This is new territory for me. I don’t want things to be awkward.”

She smiled and moved closer, leaning against him. “There isn’t anything to worry about. We are consenting adults, and honestly, I have no expectations. But if it will make you feel better, why don’t we agree to take this one day at a time, with no commitment required?”

He stared at her in amazement and said, “I’m not the kind of guy that dates several women at a time, and I don’t want to be in a relationship with a woman who dates other men.”

She leaned against him and explained, “That’s not what I meant. What I’m proposing is an exclusive relationship between us that has no expectations beyond the immediate future. Therefore, there is no pressure to plan any further than our next date. If either of us finds ourselves attracted to someone else, we end the relationship with no hard feelings and go our separate ways.”

Joshua slipped his arms around her waist. She kissed his cheek and moved to nibble on his earlobe. He asked, “How can I say no to that?”

He cupped her chin and raised her face to his. He kissed her gently. She wrapped her arms around his neck and returned the kiss with fervor. His hands wandered down the hollow of her back pressing her against him as his urgency grew. His lips trailed down her throat to her breasts, eliciting a moan pleasure. He unbuttoned her blouse with one hand while still holding her against him. Then lifted her into his arms and carried her to the sofa. They fell onto the sofa as one.







************

Amy opened the bedroom curtains flooding the room with the soft glow of the morning light. Elizabeth rolled over and squinted at her through sleepy eyes. Amy smiled brightly and said, “Joshua said to tell you he had to get to the site early this morning as they are building the access bridge over the creek today, and that it’s a simple build that won’t affect the environmental study.” She walked to the door and added over her shoulder, “He’s so hot! He’s inspired me to write a book called, How to Date a Hot Construction Worker!”

Amy’s laughter followed her into the hallway.

Elizabeth called after her, “He’s not a construction worker, and he owns the company.”

“Even better.” came Amy’s distant reply. “How to Date a Hot Construction Magnate.”

Elizabeth laughed and climbed out of bed. She took a quick shower and dressed in her favorite jeans with a pale yellow blouse. She pulled her damp hair back into a ponytail as she headed down the stairs. Amy was slicing a banana into two bowls of yogurt for breakfast. Elizabeth popped a bagel in the toaster and sat down at the breakfast bar next to Amy. Sprinkling the fruit and yogurt mixture with granola, Amy handed Elizabeth a bowl.

She flashed Elizabeth a wicked grin and said, “I scooped up your clothes and tossed them in the laundry room.”

Meeting her gaze, Elizabeth said, “Thanks, and quit acting so weird.”

Amy laughed, “I can’t remember the last time you had a man stay over. When Franklin asked me out last year, I was shocked the two of you weren’t an item. From what I know of the very few men you’ve been involved with, none of them has ever been like Joshua. They’ve all been smooth and classy like Franklin. You always go for the CEO or neurosurgeon type. You always go for the type A personality. That’s not Joshua. He’s down to earth, personable, and probably a lot of fun.”

Staring at her bowl for a moment before she looked up at Amy, Elizabeth said, “Don’t let him fool you, he’s got some type A deep inside, but you’re right. He’s not what I usually go for. Don’t let the macho exterior fool you though. He’s intelligent, witty, and from what I can tell, a good businessman.”

“Not to mention, sexy,” Amy said with a giggle.

Elizabeth smiled and added, “Yes, incredibly sexy.” She paused to look at Amy with a raised eyebrow. “You dated Franklin?”

“Not really,” Amy rolled her eyes, “One date was enough. He’s too intense for me.” Amy flipped her long golden hair back off her shoulders and finished her breakfast. She rinsed out her bowl and turned from the sink to ask, “So what’s the plan?”

Elizabeth glanced around and asked, “Where’s my iPad?”

Amy walked into the living room and looked around. She said, “It's not in here. I haven’t seen it.”

Elizabeth frowned and walked over to the sofa adding, “I left it on the coffee table with my bra.”

“Are you sure?” Amy shrugged.

“Maybe I left it in my briefcase.” Elizabeth sighed, and headed to the kitchen table adding, “Let’s set up here. I need to run over the edits for Woman of Steel one last time. Franklin wants to release the e-book and get it submitted to press by the end of the month. He’s pushing me to do some personal appearances. He’s got me scheduled in every major city between here and New York for a slew of book signings the last half of June through the middle of July.”

Amy went to a small hall closet next to the front door and pulled out two laptop cases. She returned to the table and handed one to Elizabeth. They sat down and began to work.





Chapter Three





The little blue mini pulled onto the shoulder of the road as soon as Randy flipped on his red lights. The plates were from Missouri. Apparently, this city slicker didn’t realize the Sherriff drove a white SUV. The little blonde at the wheel zipped right past him as he sat in the intersection waiting to turn. Randy pulled up behind her and ran the plate. Elizabeth Stewart. Wasn’t Josh’s author’s name Elizabeth?

He climbed out of the truck and used his best police strut up to her window. He was rewarded as a beautiful blonde with big blue eyes smiled up at him. His eyes wandered down the length of her. She was petite, slender, and had a nice bust line, not huge but ample.

Amy held her smile, letting him check her out for a bit, then leaned toward the window to allow a clear view of her cleavage and asked, “Hello, officer. Was I speeding?”

Randy forced his eyes from her cleavage and met her gaze. He flashed a serious look and said, “Yes ma'am. I clocked you at 60 in a 45 zone back at the last intersection.”

“Call me Amy.” She cooed as she handed him her driver’s license, and added, “Officer Connor.”

He couldn’t help but smile. She was the cutest thing he’d seen in a very long time. He said, “It’s Sheriff Connor. Randy Connor.”

“Sheriff? Wow, that’s very exciting.” She oozed with feminine wiles. “I’ve never met a Sheriff before.”

Randy forced back the chuckle that threatened and said, “Well today is your lucky day. Not only have you met a Sheriff, but you’re coming away with a signed souvenir.”

Amy’s smile disappeared. She didn’t appreciate his humor.

Randy’s heart melted, but he held his cold demeanor. “Why don’t you tell me why you are driving Elizabeth Stewart’s car?”

“Oh, Beth is my boss. I was just running to the local market to get some groceries.” Amy answered as her smile returned.

Randy bent over and glanced inside the vehicle. “I see. Are you relocating to this area as well?”

“Yes sir,” Amy watched him carefully. He was tall and handsome. His eyes were kind, even when he was trying to be tough.

“Make sure to tell Elizabeth to get her registration transferred over as fast as possible.” Randy’s voice softened as their eyes met. “I’m going to let you off with a warning this time.”

Amy’s eyes opened wide in surprise, “Oh Sheriff, you are my hero!”

He laughed and added, “Would I sound like a total letch if I asked you to have dinner with me?”

Amy’s voice softened to a purr, as she answered, “Not at all. I’d love to try a local restaurant. Beth is a real homebody, and since I’ve been with her, I don’t get out much. I’ve been here for two weeks, and the only place I’ve gone is that little grocery store in town and the gas station.”



***********



Elizabeth surrendered and pulled up the Apple site on her computer to order another iPad. She found it extremely frustrating. All of her quick notes for new book ideas were on that device. Moreover, her favorite bra had disappeared with it. She could blame Charlie for the bra. She was always snatching and grabbing towels or clothing and stuffing them behind the sofa or under the bed. However, it was highly unlikely that Charlie grabbed the iPad. If she had, there would be pieces of it all over the living room.

Amy breezed in the door with an armful of groceries. She rushed to the kitchen and hastily began putting items away. She called to Elizabeth, “Beth! Get changed! We have a date! Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

Leaning back in her seat, Elizabeth watched as Amy danced around the kitchen shoving cans onto the shelves and slamming cabinet doors. “We, Meaning you and I are going out? Or we, meaning a double date?”

Amy stopped and stared at her, throwing her arms up in exasperation saying, “Why do you have to be so literal all of the time? We, meaning the Sheriff, Joshua's best friend. He nearly gave me a ticket on the way home. We are meeting them at that bar and grill the two of you went to on your first date in they’re probably on their way there now!”

Elizabeth rose slowly and walked to the kitchen. She asked, “You almost got a ticket, in my car?”

“Speaking of cars,” Amy ignored her question. “Randy, the sheriff, says we won’t get 10 feet this winter in the Mini once the snow starts. We need a new car. In fact, I need my own car. Oh, and I completely forgot to tell you; Franklin will be here tomorrow to go over the details of your release and tour. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Randy is so hot! His badge makes me quiver.”

“Amy, you are the only woman I know that can not only get out of a ticket, but walk away with a date as well.” She rose and went to help Amy put the rest of the groceries away. Afterward, they rushed upstairs. Beth gave Amy free reign of the main bathroom while she took a quick shower in the half bath off her bedroom. They were dressed and out the door in twenty minutes.

The Sheriff's truck sat out front next to Joshua’s pickup. Elizabeth frowned at Joshua’s truck.

Elizabeth glanced over at Amy. She was perfect. Her golden hair flowed freely around her shoulders. Her makeup was perfect. Her nails were perfect. Her choice of a peasant blouse and dark blue jeans with dangling earrings made her look like she belonged on the big screen, in some steamy drama. Elizabeth was dressed in a tank top and capris. They were quite a pair. Barbie and one of the Bratz dolls go on a date. Elizabeth sighed, and forced away the sense that she was too old for this kind of crap and followed Amy into the bar.

Amy floated across the bar toward Joshua and Randy’s table. Both men rose as they neared. Elizabeth was pleased that Joshua’s eyes remained on her as they approached. He gave her a quick kiss and pulled out her chair before turning to say hi to Amy. Randy was clearly smitten. He stumbled all over himself, pulling her chair out roughly and rushing to push it in a bit too fast. Elizabeth suspected he wanted to throw Amy down on the table and have his way with her, but instead managed to smile and say hello.

Elizabeth was looking forward to the night. Amy was not one to portray a pseudo persona around her, so it would be interesting to see if one emerged in the Sheriff’s presence. It was obvious the Sheriff was on his best behavior. He sat stiffly upright in his chair, with his hands in his lap, his feet flat on the floor. Why hadn’t she thought of double dating with her free-spirited assistant before? It was excellent research.

Amy's approach mesmerized Beth. She maintained her usual mannerisms. Amy didn’t alter to adjust to Randy’s tone or character. The two of them appeared to maintain their individuality while trying to find common interests and goals. Suddenly, it occurred to Elizabeth: these people were enigmas. They had to be. Randy and Amy were not regular. Perhaps Amy was the catalyst. Everyone has a pseudo personality, everyone except Amy because she was an innocent. That had to be it. She was just too naive, too untarnished by the world to know any better.


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