Read Holiday with a Stranger Online

Authors: Christy McKellen

Holiday with a Stranger

Holiday with a Stranger
Christy McKellen
Harlequin (2013)

"Who are
you?
"

After three months of travelling, all Connor Preston wants to do is sink into his own bed. The last thing he expects is to find a stark-naked woman already there....

Josie Marchpane wasn't anticipating company either. Connor may be six feet four inches of pure muscle and boast a disturbingly sexy smile, but a fortnight in the South of France is the one thing standing between Josie and her sanity--and she's not about to give it up without a fight!

Because Josie plays to win. The problem? Connor does, too. And with only one bed between them, things are about to get interesting....

“Who are you?”

After three months of traveling, all Connor Preston wants to
do is sink into his own bed. The last thing he expects is to find a stark-naked
woman already there….

Josie Marchpane wasn’t anticipating company either. Connor
may be six feet four inches of pure muscle and boast a disturbingly sexy smile,
but a fortnight in the South of France is the one thing standing between Josie
and her sanity—and she’s not about to give it up without a fight!

Because Josie plays to win. The problem? Connor does, too.
And with only one bed between them, things are about to get interesting….

SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT FROM

Holiday with a Stranger

Josie’s heart slammed against her chest as adrenaline ricocheted through her body.

She could barely make out the features of the enormous man standing at the foot of the bed, but she’d swear she could feel his anger.

“What do you want?”

“I
want
my bed.”

“What do you mean
your
bed? Who the hell are you?”

“Connor Preston. I own this place,” he said. “Who are
you?

“I’m Abigail’s business partner, Josie Marchpane. Abi said I could stay here for a while…” She tailed off, as his expression grew darker.

“Is that right.” He was abrupt now, unfriendly.

“Look, do you mind.” She forced her shoulders back and tipped up her chin. “I’m not exactly prepared for socializing right now. Can we talk about this in the morning?”

Connor dragged his gaze up from where her fingers grasped the towel and frowned. “Where am I supposed to sleep? You’ve taken the only bed.”

“If I’d known you were coming, we could have worked something out.”

“Worked something out, huh?” He dropped his gaze down her body, taking in the swell of her figure that the towel barely concealed. The disturbing throb began again deep inside her. She reached round and pulled the towel tighter, unnerved by his attention. It was disconcerting being half-naked in front of a total stranger. Especially one as unsettling as Connor Preston.

Dear Reader,

Ah, the South of France, home of the
most
delicious sun-ripened tomatoes, Mediterranean storms, and the sultry air of pleasure and possibility. The ideal setting for a workaholic with a chip on her shoulder to lose her inhibitions and finally start to
live.

As characters on a page, Connor and Josie have been on a long journey together. They’ve been shacked up in the electronic ether for a few years now, but they just wouldn’t let me into their secret world, until I picked them up again a year or so ago and they finally started talking to me. Suddenly I
got
them, and about time, too!

I love these two together. They’re both headstrong and determined but with a soft center, both crying out for kindness and patience and a deeper understanding of what they intrinsically need. They’ve been running from their pasts and the weight of expectations for so long they’ve lost their way. Until they’re forced to share a house, sit still for once and
talk.

I hope you enjoy traveling with them on their journey to emotional freedom and love as much as I did.

With best wishes

X Christy X

HOLIDAY WITH
A STRANGER

Christy McKellen

ABOUT CHRISTY McKELLEN

B.K. (Before Kids) Christy worked as a video and radio
producer in London and Nottingham. After a decade of dealing with nappies,
tantrums and endless questions from toddlers, she has come out the other side
and moved into the wonderful world of literature. She now spends her time
writing flirty, sexy romance with a kick (her dream job!).

In her downtime she can be found drinking the odd glass of
champagne, ambling around the beautiful Southwest of England or escaping from
real life by dashing off to foreign lands with her fabulous family.

Christy loves to hear from readers.
You can contact her
at
www.christymckellen.blogspot.com
,
www.facebook.com/ChristyMcKellenAuthor
and
www.twitter.com/ChristyMcKellen
.

This is Christy McKellen’s debut for
Harlequin® KISS™ and is available in ebook format from
www.Harlequin.com
.

Where do I start with the thanks? So many people have supported and encouraged me with my writing through the years. First of all, my wonderful family, what would I do without you? You believed I could do it even when I didn’t.

To my brilliant critique partners: Jill Steeples, Cait O’Sullivan and Lucy Oliver, thank you for the generous loan of your eagle eyes and the time you took to read the manuscript and help me make it sparkle.

To Aimee Carson, Kristina Knight, Merri McDonagh & Liz Logan for their continued support over the years.

To Flo, my fabulous editor, for believing in this story and making me dance for joy on the beach after The Call.

To my good friend Caroline—who will probably never read this—thank you for giving me the space and time to write.

Lastly, to Tom. You know why.

ONE

Connor Preston couldn’t
believe his eyes. She was sitting on his bed in the moonlight, brazen as you like, with her slender back curved towards him. One arm propped her up, taking her weight, and her head was dipped, as if she were posing for one of those romance book covers he’d seen in the airport newsagents.

He guessed she’d just got out of the shower, because her long blonde hair hung in wet clumps around her shoulders. He watched in irritation as a water droplet ran down the shadowed line of her spine before dripping onto his bedspread.

Through his travel-weary eyes she seemed to cast a glow in front of her, as if all the cloying positivity she used to force on him day after day radiated from her.

Katherine Meers.

He’d thought he’d finally convinced her it was over between them, but here she was, waiting naked in his bed again, in his holiday home. A holiday home that he couldn’t remember ever telling her about. Was nowhere a safe haven from her needy optimism?

‘What the hell are you doing in my bed, Katherine?’ He knew his voice was gruff and unfriendly—nothing like the laid-back drawl he’d cultivated over the years—but he was tired and grumpy and not in the mood for another showdown with his stalker ex-girlfriend.

But even that didn’t explain the way she reacted.

Her scream was so loud he thought he felt his eardrums perforating. Her whole body jerked in fright and something gleamed momentarily in a wide arc in front of her, before raining down onto the bed with a worryingly loud
splat
.

Hair flying, she twisted round towards him and he caught a tantalising flash of her pert breasts—which were rather larger than he remembered—before she grabbed the towel that pooled around her waist and whipped it up around her.

Gazing at her shocked face in the pale glow of the moonlight, he realised he’d made a mistake.

This wasn’t Katherine.

This was an altogether different problem.

* * *

Josie’s heart slammed against her chest as adrenaline ricocheted through her body. After staring at her laptop in the dark for the past ten minutes she had to work hard to get her eyes to focus on the looming shape in front of her. She could barely make out the features of the enormous man standing at the foot of the bed, but she’d swear she could feel his anger.

‘What do you want?’ It was a reflex question—one she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer to—and it came out as a shaky whisper.

‘I
want
my bed.’ His voice was quieter this time, not exactly friendly, but there was a hint of bemusement mixed in with the exasperation.

Confusion engulfed her. Perhaps she was dreaming? The situation was certainly bizarre enough to be one of her dreams.

‘What do you mean
your
bed? Who the hell are you? You scared the crap out of me.’

The man took a pace backwards in response to her rankled tone and raised his hands, palms forward. Surrender.

‘Look, I’m sorry for scaring you.’ His voice softened. ‘I thought you were...’ He paused. ‘Someone else.’

Josie’s eyes were slowly becoming accustomed to the dark as her night vision improved. She watched as the tension left his body. Perhaps he wasn’t going to attack her, but she inched closer to her bedside lamp just in case, her muscles tight with anxiety.

She was distracted for a moment by the tinny sound of her music, playing through the earphones that had prevented her hearing his approach—which were now lying discarded on the bed.

Wrenching her attention back, she asked, ‘So who are you?’ forcing more authority into her voice this time, in an attempt to take control of the situation.

Perhaps if she could convince him she was in charge he might leave her alone. She’d heard somewhere that when cornered the best type of defence was attack. Although her only actual experience of being attacked was fighting for funding for the business—facing down aggressively assertive venture capitalists—which was not the same thing as a midnight stand-off with a strange man.

‘Connor Preston. I own this place,’ he said.

Josie blew out a small sigh, her heart-rate slowing a fraction. Preston. Okay. He must be Abigail’s brother—the wanderer—returning home from a life living off his trust fund. He wasn’t what she’d expected at all. Abigail was the total opposite of her brother: petite and willowy. This man was anything but petite. It was hard to gauge from her position in the bed, but she’d guess he was at least six foot four and built like an ox.
Not
the sort of vision you wanted to encounter alone in the middle of the night.

‘Who are
you
?’ The gruff timbre of his voice coming at her through the gloom was unnerving.

She leant across and switched on the bedside light. Yup, he was big, all right, and rugged and unshaven. His dark blond hair looked as if it could do with a cut and his clothes were creased and unkempt. He looked exhausted; his eyes dull with fatigue. Based on what Abigail had told her, she guessed he must be in his early thirties—only a few years older than her—but he looked as though he’d lived through every second of them. He had a strong face—not classically handsome, but definitely arresting. The type of man who would always be noticed, no matter where he was or who he was with.

Her skin prickled as he scrutinised her in return and a hot flush travelled through her body, leaving a sizzling pulse in the most unnerving places.

‘I’m Abigail’s business partner. Josie Marchpane,’ she said, aware her voice was somewhat squeakier than normal. She waited for a sign of recognition on his face. It didn’t come; he just stared back, assessing her. ‘Abi said I could stay here for a while....’ She tailed off as his expression grew darker.

‘Is that right?’ His tone was abrupt now, and unfriendly.

There was a heavy silence in the room as they looked at each other.

Silence?

Something was wrong.

The music had stopped playing. With horror, Josie suddenly realised that, in the shock of Connor’s appearance she’d forgotten about the drink she’d thrown all over the bed...and her laptop.

Twisting round, she looked down to see the screen had gone black. When she tapped the space bar, then jabbed all the other buttons in panic, nothing happened.

It looked as if her laptop hadn’t agreed with being showered with juice, and had died in disgust.

‘No, no, no, no,
no
!’ All the work she’d done since she’d got here was on that machine. She’d stupidly assumed there would be an internet connection, so she could back her work up, but that had been another surprise that Abi hadn’t warned her about. Deliberately. She was sure of it.

‘What’s wrong?’

Connor’s deep drawl broke into her consciousness. She’d almost forgotten him in her panic.

‘I just killed my computer with orange juice.’ It would have been funny if it wasn’t so absolutely devastating. Losing her laptop was tantamount to losing her right hand.

‘Orange juice?’ He nodded slowly. ‘So that’s what you’ve christened my bed with.’

Irritation got the better of her. How could he be concerned about the state of the bed when her laptop had kicked the bucket?

‘I’ve just lost three days’ worth of work.’

He appeared unfazed by her snippy tone. ‘Do you always work naked?’ Crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow, he gave her a look that bordered on seductive.

The hairs on her arms stood up in response and heat burned in her belly. Acutely aware of her nakedness under the towel, she broke eye contact and looked around for her clothes. She’d have to walk past him to get to them. That meant skirting the end of the bed and passing within a foot of him. The thought made her uneasy and a little tick throbbed in her eye.

Rubbing a hand over her face, she tried to wipe away the befuddling mix of sensations. ‘I was in the shower and I had a thought.’ Her voice trembled and she cleared her throat to relieve the tightness.

He tilted his head in an approximation of bewildered understanding.

She sighed. ‘I’m writing a tender document for work and I was hit with inspiration. I didn’t want to forget it before I had a chance to write it down.’

‘I get it,’ he said, giving a bemused shake of his head.

Good God, he knew how to get under her skin.

‘Look, do you mind?’ She forced her shoulders back and tipped up her chin. ‘I’m not exactly prepared for socialising right now. Can we talk about this in the morning?’

Connor dragged his gaze up from where her fingers grasped the towel and frowned. ‘Where am I supposed to sleep? You’ve taken the only bed.’

‘Try the sofa.’

The look on his face almost made her laugh.

‘I’ve been travelling for three months. I was looking forward to finally sleeping in my own bed.’

‘If I’d known you were coming we could have worked something out,’ she retorted.

‘Worked something out, huh?’ He dropped his gaze down her body, taking in the swell of her figure that the towel barely concealed.

The disturbing throb began again, deep inside her. She pulled the towel tighter, unnerved by his attention. It was disconcerting being half-naked in front of a total stranger. Especially one as unsettling as Connor Preston.

‘You know what I mean,’ she said, nerves making her tone snappy again. The heavy unease she’d been wrestling with for the past week stretched its tentacles. She blew out a steadying breath, counted to three. ‘Look, can we sleep on it tonight and work it out in the morning? I doubt you want to sleep in a damp, orange-soaked bed anyway, right?’ She cocked what she hoped would come across as an affable smile.

He continued to size her up for a moment. ‘Okay,’ he said slowly, then ran a hand over his tired eyes. ‘I’ve been travelling all day and I haven’t got the energy to deal with this now. I’ll sleep on the sofa tonight. We’ll talk in the morning.’

He turned abruptly and left the room, slamming the door behind him and leaving her shaky and bewildered.

* * *

Josie woke late the next morning.

After failing to resuscitate her laptop she’d scribbled down as much as she could remember from the tender document, trying not to let panic sink its teeth into her, before falling into a fitful sleep. Her senses had been on high alert following the run-in with Connor, and every creak and groan in the old property had made her jump. She’d finally dropped off just as the birds started their dawn chorus, exhaustion winning the battle over her adrenalised body.

She lay staring at the ceiling, cursing her bad luck. It hadn’t been the best few weeks ever and it didn’t look as though things were about to improve any time soon. Hopefully her computer would dry out and boot up again in a few hours, so she wouldn’t have to spend the next week reconstructing the whole document. If not—well, she’d have to find a repair shop somewhere and see if it was salvageable. More delays. Just what she didn’t need. Just what the
business
didn’t need.

And she had another problem now. Abigail’s brother was obviously annoyed to find someone else using his house—which was understandable; if she’d come home to find someone in her bed she’d have been totally thrown too—but she’d promised Abi that she’d have a proper break away after the whole humiliating debacle at work.

If only she hadn’t lost her cool and flipped out like that in front of everyone perhaps Abi would have taken her worries about the state of the business more seriously. She’d ended up looking like a total loon.

No wonder her business partner had been so firm about her staying here for a couple of weeks—in her words ‘to give everyone a chance to calm down and work things through’—and she hadn’t wanted to argue and strain their precarious relationship further. Agreeing to a couple of weeks here had seemed like a sensible compromise, but Connor wanting this place too had thrown a spanner in the works. She really didn’t need the hassle of finding some faceless hotel to stay in during peak season. Anyway, this place was just as much Abi’s as Connor’s, and
she’d
arrived here first.

With newfound determination she tossed back the covers and slipped out of bed, pausing for a moment to luxuriate in the feel of her toes digging into the soft Persian rug before going to the antique wardrobe to find some clothes. Grabbing a pair of jeans and a loose T-shirt, she pulled them on, then stripped the king-sized brass bed, bundling up the sheets ready to stick in the washing machine.

When she’d arrived a few days ago she’d been blown away by the beauty of the place. She’d expected a rundown holiday home in the middle of nowhere. Instead she’d found a characterful farmhouse a twenty-minute drive from Aix-en-Provence.

It had a large kitchen diner and a cosy, snug downstairs, complete with battered leather sofas and an old wood-burning stove. The air smelt delicious—like herbs and woodsmoke and sunshine. Nothing like the sanitised holiday lets her mother had used to scour with foul-smelling disinfectant when they first arrived on their interminable family vacations. Upstairs there was a large bathroom with an enormous claw-footed bath and a separate shower cubicle, along with a beautiful antique vanity unit. Worryingly, she remembered, of the three bedrooms only one was furnished: the one she was currently sleeping in. The others looked as though they were being used to store various strangely shaped equipment and large crates of goodness only knew what.

So only one bed.

She needed to talk to Abigail’s brother and find out his plans. Then, if he meant to stay, gently persuade him to change them. Or maybe not so gently, if it came to that. The last thing she needed was someone asking questions and spoiling her fragile peace. She was going to do her time here, prove to Abi that she was fit and rested enough to come back to work, then get on with advancing the business.

She was used to hard bargaining at work; compared to that, this ought to be a relatively easy battle to win.

Glancing at herself in the mirror, she was confronted with a scary sight. Her normally immaculate sweep of blonde hair was mussed and sticking out at odd angles after she’d slept on it wet and she had dark circles under her eyes.

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