FRIDAY, MAY 23rd
DANCING BAREFOOT by Amber Lea Easton
All Romance eBooks: http://goo.gl/Hd8eTg
Prequel to the Soon to be Released DANCING BAREFOOT
Prequel to the Soon to be Released DANCING BAREFOOT
A blog exclusive novel, "In Between" is a prequel to the contemporary romance/romantic suspense novel, "Dancing Barefoot," that releases in May 2014. That being said…the answer to the above question may not be as clear cut as you'd expect.
Chapter One Starts Here
Jessica leaned out of the window until her hips pressed against the sill and her toes barely touched the floor. If she twisted her body to the left and arched her back just so, she could see the dome of the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore peeking above the row of buildings lining the streets of Florence. A breeze tossed black curls into her face as she laughed from joy and disbelief. Finally, after years of scrimping, saving, and studying, she had made it to the city of her dreams.
"You like?" The landlord asked from behind her.
"I like." She slid back to her feet and looked around the apartment that would be hers for the next five months.
Wide windows encompassed the street facing wall, a low hanging ceiling fan spun slowly above a sunken living room furnished with a golden sofa that had seen many lives, behind it and up two steps rested a double-bed barren of linens.
Already knowing she would sign the lease but pretending to take more than five minutes to make her decision, she walked around the space. She dragged her fingers over the walls with chipped paint, imagination already dancing with possibilities.
"There is plenty of light here. We are close to everything you could possibly need." A cigarette bobbed in the corner of the landlord's mouth as he spoke. His gaze moved over her with lazy appreciation when she leaned her hip against the kitchen counter. Standing no taller than five foot four, a good three inches shorter than her shoulders, with black hair speckled with gray, a sharp nose, and dark eyes that saw everything, he resembled a silver fox. "We have a deal, yes?"
"Oh, yes. Definitely." She rubbed her hands along the countertop. She couldn't stop smiling.
Graduate school and an internship had come and gone. She'd insisted on taking this time for herself before returning to Boston for a career in architecture. It had taken some negotiating and a whole lotta charm to finagle four months of freedom, but she'd done it.
Excitement and disbelief bubbled through her blood. She ached to be alone so she could dance around the room and soak it all up.
"We sign the lease then. Six months?"
"Four. I can only do four." She bit her lip to stop the laugh. Ever since landing in Italy, she couldn't stop smiling and was starting to feel like a fool for the unfamiliar giddiness welling up inside of her.
"A lot of artists live here. You will be happy. Six months." Luca cigarette bobbed in the corner of his lips with each word he spoke.
"Four. I need to go back to Boston to work." She pushed her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, surrendering to laughter when he muttered something in Italian she couldn't understand. Two years of studying the language, yet the words still weren't tumbling off of her tongue with ease. So much for Rosetta Stone's promise.
"I thought you were an artist." He squinted at her, finally removing the cigarette and smiling.
"I paint," she said the word hesitantly, even though that's why she'd come here. Years of keeping her hobby closeted to do the responsible things like taking care of her mother and working two jobs to get through her undergrad and then graduate school made it hard to embrace that this was now her reality. Temporarily.
He shrugged his narrow shoulders, his gaze skimming over her one more time before he turned toward the hallway.
She followed him down three flights of rickety stairs to his office where she'd abandoned her luggage. The passageway was barely able to accommodate two people shoulder to shoulder so she walked a step behind him, not wanting to get too up close and personal with the landlord. Music from one of the apartments echoed through the space. A woman hummed along, her voice drifting through the air like a haunting melody. Outside a horn honked, someone cursed in Italian. The place smelled as if all the scents that had ever been cooked there had been absorbed into its walls.
It was better than she'd ever dreamed.
"I'll pay you for the four months in advance. Is that okay?" She signed the paperwork without looking up, her mind already thinking about the budget.
"I do not turn down money. It's good." Luca leaned back in his chair and tapped the cigarette against an overflowing ashtray. "How long have you been in Italia?"
"About three hours," she said with a smile. When she looked up, she noticed his amused grin.
"You artists are all the same. Impulsive. It is good for me, though, so I don't mind." He winked and reached for the money she'd put on the desk.
Artist. Her smile widened at the word. How long had she waited to claim that title for herself? Back home she was the dutiful daughter, brilliant graduate student, hard working intern, and loyal friend who hid her artwork behind closed doors. For too many years she'd been told how silly it was to paint, that she needed to do something useful with all of that talent...like architecture. Here she could indulge in her love of both worlds.
Luca smiled when she just stared at him in silence. "I mean it, Ms. Moriarty. You will be happy here."
"I already am." She pushed away from the desk, anxious to unpack, roam the streets for a market, and settle into her fantasy life a world away from where anyone knew her. Artist. She tossed the word around in her mind, appreciating the way it made her feel.
"I will help with your bags." He looked toward the four suitcases she'd stacked in the corner of the room.
"No, no, I have it. I can manage." She looped them together, already accustomed to dragging them through airports and down sidewalks to get here.
"As you wish." He shrugged and settled back into his chair, good humor shining in his dark eyes.
Key in her pocket, she used both hands to tow the bags from the room. She paused at the bottom of the stairs, blew a long curl from her eyes, and looked at the narrow passage. Undaunted, she turned sideways and slowly started her ascent. It wasn't until the second landing that she regretted her decision not to ask for help. The stairway trapped all the heat from the building like a sauna. Sweat slid between her shoulder blades. More hair had come loose from her haphazard ponytail and now either snaked over her face or plastered against her neck.
At the sounds of male voices below her, one of them being the landlord's, she sighed. Onward and upward!
Sweaty palms caused her to lose her grip on the bags behind her. They thudded and rattled before crashing into the wall and continuing their wild descent. Slam! Curses!
She abandoned the other two on the step in front of her and ran after the wayward luggage only to stop short at the sight of the blond man spread out against the stairs covered in camera cases and her baggage.
"Oh my God, are you okay?" She rushed to his side, squeezing between the narrow walls to bend over him.
"American. Why am I not surprised?" He pushed her bag off of his face and twisted onto his side, her other suitcase somehow trapped between his legs.
When he looked up at her, all thoughts evaporated from her mind. Her limited knowledge of Italian...gone. Poof! Hell, all memory of forming a word disappeared.
Green eyes glared up from beneath dark blond hair. His face looked like someone she needed to draw or paint or...touch. Sculpted cheekbones showcased not only the angry glare, but also a full mouth set in a frown. He looked away and grabbed the straps of the various camera cases now strewn about her feet.
She looked down and noticed she stood on one of the straps. His accent wasn't Italian, but she couldn't place it. When he moved, his t-shirt pulled across his back and showed off the lean hardness of his shoulders.
Self-conscious of her travel worn and sweaty self, she looked away, bent to retrieve one of the stray suitcases, tripped over his forearm, and crashed face-first against his thigh. Pain burned through her nose. Certain she'd broken her entire face, she whimpered against his leg. Grabbing his knee to push herself up, she accidentally slammed her foot against his head. Blood stained his jeans where her face had been.
Damn. A bloody nose. She rubbed a hand over her face and winced at the blood staining her fingers.
"You are a disaster," he said, more amusement than annoyance in his voice. "Do not move. Hold on."
Again she wondered about the accent beneath his English. Not British. Not Italian. She flattened her palm against the wall above his hip and tried not to look at her blood dripping onto his crotch.
He had propped himself on his elbows and watched her with a twisted grin. His hair skimmed across his eyes, giving him a dangerous look when paired with that smile that didn't need any translation given their positions. "You're bleeding, I hope you did not break your nose."
"You and me both," she muttered beneath the hand that pressed against her face while she struggled to maintain her balance with the other. If she didn't adjust herself, she'd slide right down his legs into a heap over her bag. Deciding that she needed both of her hands to get out of this situation, she grabbed his knee with the bloody hand, and slid her legs along the wall until she was in a less precarious position.
"Narrow stairway," she said, feeling like an idiot.
He used his elbows to pull himself up one more stair, sliding his body out from beneath hers. She couldn't help but stare at him as he finally stood. The man defined the word sexy. Long, lean, and with a presence about him that screamed "fuck me." The fact that he smiled at her like she was the most amusing thing that had happened in his life in years dampened the appeal.
She tore her gaze away and grabbed her stray bags, wishing her first meeting with a hot neighbor had gone a lot better.
"Let me help you." He grabbed one of the bags from her hands and met her gaze. "Do not argue. You nearly killed me."
"Killed is a slight exaggeration, don't you think? Maimed maybe, but not killed."
"I could have broken my neck." He laughed, not breaking eye contact. "You must be the new neighbor. I live across the hall from you with my sister, Ava."
Mouth suddenly too dry, she ripped her gaze from his. "I have two other bags ahead of you. Don't trip."
Oh, God, did I just say not to trip? She sighed and pretended to adjust her sweaty grip on the bag in her hand.
"I will try to be careful. Stairs can be dangerous places. You never know what is coming down on you." That accent...it would drive her crazy not knowing where he was from.
She couldn't stop staring at his ass as he walked in front of her. How could she help it? It was right there at eye-level. She glanced at the blood on her hand and winced. What a mess. He'd called her a disaster and she wasn't doing much to prove him wrong. But that butt in those jeans combined with the long legs...definitely a view worth soaking up.
Thud, thud, they progressed up the steps. He took the other two suitcases in stride, without looking back at her for permission.
Luca had left the door to her apartment ajar. The blond man walked ahead of her and dropped her luggage near the bed. He glanced around before disappearing into the bathroom.
She dropped her bags and went toward the kitchen sink hoping for something to help with her nose. Nothing. Glasses, plates, and utensils filled the cupboards but not one washcloth or towel.
"Here. Let me." He gripped her shoulders and turned her. His shirt was off displaying rippling muscles and a suede necklace. He'd soaked the t-shirt with cold water, which he now shoved against her face. All she could do was stare at his chest.
It seemed all he could do was laugh at her.
"You didn't need to sacrifice your shirt," she muttered from beneath the material.
"Small sacrifice." He winked and stepped away, letting her hold the t-shirt.
"Thank you. I'm sorry about losing control..." her gaze focused on the center of his chest, "of my luggage, I mean. Of course I mean the bags, I mean...I'm sorry for knocking you down."
He shrugged in response, as if being taken out by a pair of flying suitcases was an everyday occurrence. Grinning, he turned his back on her and looked around the apartment. "Nice light in here. Bigger windows than we have, but we have a balcony. We are two doors down, across the hall."
He stepped down the two steps into the sunken living room, hands shoved into the back pockets of his jeans. He moved like a man who had all the time in the world to do whatever he damn well pleased.
He looked at her over his shoulder and smiled a take-me-to-bed-and-let-me-worship-your-body smile complete with dimples she hadn't noticed until now.
"I am Jacques Sinclair," he said.
"I'm Jessica Moriarty."
"Where are you from, Jessica Moriarty?"
"Boston." The word tore from her throat like sandpaper grating against dry wood. She looked at the balled up t-shirt held against her face and sighed.
He paused a few inches in front of her and let his gaze slide over her face before roaming down her body. "It is good to meet you, Jessica Moriarty. Do you need anything else?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Of course you are. You are Ms. Independent-Do-Not-Help-Me, yes?"
She winced at the amusement in his eyes and the memory of falling face first into his lap. Warmth flooded her face.
She gulped when he stepped around her and walked into the hall. She didn't move until she heard the door close behind him.
Muttering about her lack of grace, she walked to the bathroom to check out the damage and stopped at one look at her reflection. Black curls stuck to her sweaty face and neck, mascara had melted to create shadows beneath her eyes, and blood stained the front of her blue blouse. She tossed his white t-shirt into the sink, again noticing the lack of towels, and added more cold water to it before pressing it again to her face.
The shirt still smelled like him despite the water and the blood. Smiling beneath the materia, she sank onto the toilet and thought about his naked chest.
Bella Italia. Definitely.
Prequel to Dancing Barefoot