Valentina Cupid has always despised her name and the stupid holiday that goes with it. Starting over in the small town of Blossom Creek, she’s hoping for a miracle. Down to her last few dollars, she has no choice but to sleep in the car with her two kids, hoping to blend in with the other cars parked at Gleason Auto. But one sexy mechanic definitely notices.
Jesse Jameson is no one’s idea of a knight in shining armor. With a checkered past and a trail of broken hearts, he’s not anyone’s ideal. Still, when he sees the single mom sleeping in her car, he knows he can’t just walk away. But Jesse underestimates the temptation that is Valentina Cupid, and one kiss ignites a passion that won’t be denied. He’s going to prove to Valentina he’s not like her loser exes, and he’s going to give her a Valentine’s Day to remember.
Valentina Cupid tried to ease the tension in her neck. Her children, Max and Katy, were asleep in the backseat. It had only been a few days since Gage had walked out of their lives, or more like run. Valentina had come home to find his things packed and gone, and an eviction notice tacked to the door. She’d quietly packed their belongings, put the kids in the car, and just drove until her vision blurred. After traveling for three days, she was down to their last hundred dollars and knew they couldn’t run any further. Blossom Creek, Texas would have to do until she could find a job and earn some more money.
Her hand smoothed over her still flat stomach. At least she wasn’t showing yet. A new start in a new town was just what her little family needed, but she knew once people learned her kids all had different fathers, they’d sneer at her just like the last town had done. She had a thing for bad boys who knocked her up and took off, and never seemed to learn her lesson. If she ever dated again, she’d have to pick a nice, nerdy guy who sat at a desk every day. Tattoos and muscles were overrated.
“Momma, I’m hungry,” Max said from the backseat.
The box of peanut butter crackers lay empty on the passenger seat. She’d bought it yesterday in hopes of spreading their cash a little further, but her kids really needed a hot meal. A diner on the right caught her attention and she pulled into a space out front. Scrubbing her hands up and down her face a few times, she unbuckled her seatbelt and got the kids out of their car seats. They’d been travelling for three days, only stopping at truck stops and rest areas long enough for Valentina to close her eyes for an hour here and there.
She gripped their hands as they entered the diner and waited to be seated. It seemed almost as if every eye in the place turned their way. Valentina’s cheeks flushed and she tried to avoid their gazes. An older woman wearing an apron came over, flashing them a smile.
“You want a table or a booth?” the waitress asked.
Max tugged on her hand. “Can we have a booth, Momma?”
The waitress nodded. “I know just the spot.”
She grabbed a menu and three rolls of silverware before leading the way to a booth in the window. Max and Katy both needed booster seats, but once they were settled, Valentina slid into the other side. She was so damn tired the words on the menu ran together and turned in black fuzzy blotches, but she fought to focus and remain upright. Her kids needed her.
She read off the menu choices they could afford and let Max pick his meal. Katy hardly ever ate anything but mashed potatoes and mac ’n cheese. As much as Valentina wanted to order the biggest burger with the largest order of fries on the menu, she settled for a cup of soup and some crackers. After she placed their order, the waitress returned with some paper and crayons for the kids.
“Thought they might want something to do while you wait for your food,” the woman said. “I’m Barb. Just holler if you need anything.”
“Thank you,” Valentina said with a tired smile.
When their food was delivered, Barb set down a large salad with chunks of grilled chicken and a side of ranch. Valentina opened her mouth to protest that she hadn’t ordered it when the woman held up a hand.
“You need more than soup,” Barb said. “Won’t do your kids any good if you pass out from hunger.”
Valentina’s cheeks flushed.
“You sticking around town or passing through?” Barb asked.
“I thought we’d stay for a while.”
“Diner’s closing in an hour. Why don’t you wait until the customers are gone, and if you’d like, you can help me close up. I’ll pay you cash.”
Valentine’s face burned with embarrassment as she nodded in agreement. Was it noticeable that they were on their last leg? She hated accepting charity, but if Barb would let her work for the salad and a few extra dollars to get them by a little longer, she couldn’t say no. They ate their food and the kids colored a little more while they waited for the diner to empty. When the last customer had walked out, Barb locked the door and flipped the sign to Closed.
“You ever worked in a diner before?” Barb asked.
Barb snorted. “None of that ma’am nonsense. Just call me Barb. I’m going to let you refill the napkins and condiments at each table. Then you can sweep and mop the floor. I’ll be in the kitchen helping Hank prep for tomorrow. Come on. I’ll show you where everything is.”
It took almost two hours for Valentina to get everything done, and her kids had fallen asleep at the table when she was finished. Barb insisted on paying her twenty dollars in addition to the salad she’d already provided, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Valentina pocketed the money and carried her kids to the car one at a time, fastening them back into their car seats. She had no idea where they’d go for the night, but fatigue pulled at her.
Valentine drove until she found a darkened parking lot by a large building marked Gleason Auto. It seemed to be closed for the night, and she hoped to blend in with the other cars in the lot waiting for repairs. She turned off her headlights and shut off the engine. She’d have to wake in an hour and run it again to warm the car back up, but she didn’t have enough gas to leave it running all night.
She reclined her seat a little and closed her eyes, after making sure the doors were all locked and the windows all the way up. Her body felt like lead weights were pulling her down and her eyes burned from exhaustion. She knew pushing herself so hard wasn’t good for the baby, but she had little choice right now. Barb hadn’t mentioned a permanent position tonight, which meant Valentina would have to spend some of her money on a local paper and see if any jobs were posted. It was that or walk up and down the main strip checking with every store along the way. Not that she had any idea what she’d do with her kids while she worked. She couldn’t afford daycare without a job, but she couldn’t work without someone to watch the kids.
Valentina let sleep pull her down, sleeping harder than she had in days. A slight chill in the air woke her a while later. Looking into the backseat, her heart lurched when she saw how flushed Katy looked. Her daughter had kicked off her blanket at some point and shivered in her car seat. Max still dozed, but looked fine. Valentina got out of the car and opened the back door. Katy was burning with fever, but Max felt cool to the touch. Her heart ached as she realized that her heavy sleeping had likely gotten her child sick, since hadn’t been awake to turn the heat back on, all because she couldn’t afford a motel room.
Booted steps came toward her and she spun to face the person, her hand at her throat as her heart raced. A man, who didn’t look much older than her twenty-two years, had a scowl on his face as he approached. Despite the cold February air, his short sleeve shirt displayed the tattoos on his arms. The man drew nearer and brushed his long hair out of his face.
“This is private property,” he said, his deep voice sending shivers down her spine.
Not another bad boy, Valentina. Get a grip.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we were trespassing.”
“We?” he asked as he came to a stop in front of her. The man peered around her shoulder and his eyes widened a little when he saw her kids in the backseat. “Holy shit. Did you sleep in your car last night?”
Valentina’s cheeks burned. “Yes.”
“Bring the kids inside and warm them up,” he said, turning to head toward Gleason Auto. “I have some hot chocolate they can drink.”
She bit her lip. “Is there a free clinic in town?”
He paused and turned to face her again. “A free clinic?”
“My daughter. I think she’s sick.”
The man came closer again, peering into the backseat. “Blossom Creek doesn’t have a free clinic. Do you not have insurance?”
“No, we don’t.”
“Old Doc Johnson owes me a favor. Bring your kids inside and I’ll have him stop by on his way to his office this morning. The three of you can get warm while you wait.”
“I don’t even know you. Why are you helping us?” Valentina asked.
“Let’s just say I have a soft spot for kids. Why isn’t your husband here helping you?”
“I’m not married,” she said softly.
“And their dad?”
“Max’s dad left two years ago. Katy’s dad took off right after I told him I was pregnant.”
“Two different dads?” he asked, his eyebrows lifted.
Valentina placed a hand on her stomach. “Three.”
He studied her a moment and seemed to come to some sort of decision. “You need help getting the kids inside?”
“You’re still going to help us?”
“Figure someone should. Sounds like you’re the type to attract assholes.”
Single-mom and unemployed, not the best combination. Violet has done everything she can to provide for her son, but sometimes you just have to admit you can’t do it all. Dating humans hasn’t worked out so well for her, so why not look for some out of this world kind of love?
There’s just one problem. The official at the Interstellar Love Dating Agency takes one look at her son Simon and nearly has an epileptic fit. Who knew such a sweet and charming little boy could cause such a reaction?
When Tiraz, an alien of the Liptu race, overhears Violet’s pitiful tale, he can’t help but lend a hand. Tiraz might not want a female of his own – just yet – but he knows plenty of males who do. What harm could come of playing matchmaker for this down on their luck family?
Famous last words. The more time Tiraz spends with Violet, the more he starts to feel something. He has no idea what the strange sensation is, but every time Violet is near, he has the urge to hold her, to press his lips to her smooth rosy cheek, and whisper words of comfort in her ear.
What’s a confirmed bachelor alien to do when he realizes what he wants most is the little family living under his roof?
“I have a better idea,” Tiraz said. “I was going to have some boxes delivered here tomorrow so your mom could pack while you’re in school, but what if the two of you pack a bag and stay with me tonight? I can still bring your mom here tomorrow to pack.”
Simon’s eyes lit up. “And we can get something to eat on the way to your place?”
“I’ll go through whatever drive-thru you want.” Tiraz glanced at Violet to see what she thought of his idea. There were tears gathered in her eyes and he watched as she pulled herself together.
“Go pick out an outfit for school tomorrow and some pajamas. You’ll still need a bath tonight,” Violet said. “I’ll get the bag out of the closet.”
Simon whooped and hurried off, leaving Violet behind. When she looked at Tiraz, he had to lock his knees in place. The gratitude, longing, and pain he saw in her eyes was enough to make him come undone. He’d never felt anything for a woman before, but he felt a piece of the wall surrounding his heart crumble a little. Reaching for her, he pulled Violet into his arms and held her for as long as she allowed. When she pulled away, she went up on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to his jaw before hurrying away.
Tiraz reached up and touched the spot, feeling the tingle all the way to his toes. No one had ever given him such a chaste kiss before, and yet it packed more of a punch than any of the kisses his easy conquests had given him. Her kiss touched him and made him want…something. There was a shift inside of him, something he couldn’t name, as he stood staring dumbly at the door she’d just vanished through.
A few minutes later, she returned carrying an open bag, and moved toward the dresser holding the TV. He averted his gaze as she pulled out a bra and panties, wanting to give her some privacy. When he heard the drawer close, he saw that she had zipped the bag and was clutching it in her hand once more. Tiraz wasn’t about to make her carry the bag to the car and took it from her; a look of surprise flitting across her features.
Valentine’s Day—the bane of Rory Sinclair’s existence. Hard to forgive the one holiday responsible for the single most moronic decision of her life. If it was up to her, she’d skip anything to do with cupid, but with her business partner home sick with the flu, she’s stuck delivering a bunch of cookie bouquets to a local firehouse. Who knows, maybe she’ll cure her Valentine’s Day neurosis and heat up the mattress with a hunky firefighter. Her plan of donning some edible undies and getting her freak on goes up in flames though the instant she steps through the doors of Station 5 and spots Bennet Jackson—the man responsible for her decade long Valentine’s Day boycott.
No matter how hard he’s tried, Ben has never gotten over the innocent girl he foolishly let slip between his fingers. When Rory unexpectedly crashes back into his world, he figures it’s his only shot at righting the wrongs of his past and getting her back in his bed and his life. For good. Unfortunately, she has other plans. Ones that don’t include him. He’s well aware that she has every reason to despise him, but if there’s one thing he’s up for, it’s a challenge. Because there’s no way in hell he’s losing the woman of his dreams again. And this time he’s prepared to pull out every dirty, sexy, and hotter-than-sin trick to convince her to stay.
She stepped through the doorway, and resisted the urge to do an about-face when she spotted Bennet standing in the middle of the room, looking devastatingly gorgeous in a navy sport coat and khakis. Pulse thumping in double time, she took in the bouquet of roses and the suspicious heart-shaped box he held. “What do you think you’re doing?” She wasn’t entirely surprised at him showing up. She knew damn well how persistent Ben could be when he wanted something badly enough.
Too bad he hadn’t wanted her that much ten years ago. He wouldn’t have to resort to overpriced flowers and chocolate.
“I couldn’t let it end like that between us, Ro. I’m not giving up on you so easily.”
“You’re wasting your time.”
“Wrong. When it comes to you, there’s no such thing. I’ll wait forever for you if that’s what it takes.”
An undesired sting pricked at her eyelids. Damn it, she wouldn’t cry. It didn’t matter if the tears were ones of anger and frustration. She’d shed every kind imaginable over Ben. No more.
He closed the distance between them. A familiar sweet essence drifted to her nose, and she dropped her focus to the cellophane-wrapped flowers. Tucked amongst the red roses were dainty cotton candy pink freesia. She blinked, her vision blurring. The lump in her throat was almost worse than the threat of tears. Crying was a form of release, at least. This heaviness paralyzing her vocal chords was a mute bully gleefully suffocating her with her own emotions.
So he’d remembered about the freesia. It meant nothing. And it sure as hell didn’t make up for the endless hurt he’d put her through. She jerked her gaze back to his. “I want you to leave, Ben. There’s nothing here for you anymore.”
He shook his head. “You’re here.”
“I was speaking metaphorically. And besides, technically I’m not going to be around much longer anyway. I was about to close up shop before you came in.”
“It doesn’t smell like it to me.”
Damn those butterscotch scones for ratting her out. “This is a bakery. It always smells like that.”
“Nope. There’s something in the oven. I’d stake twenty bucks on it.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He cocked an eyebrow in challenge. “Don’t suppose you’d mind me going and checking it out first hand then, would ya?” Before she could respond, he sidled past her and strode into the kitchen.
Closing her eyes, she sucked in a steadying breath and counted to ten. By eight it was pretty freakin’ clear her patience had decided to skip out for the night. Grinding her molars, she followed after Bennet. She found him hunched in front of the oven, door wide open while he appreciatively whiffed at the scones inside.
“Damn it, shut that door.”
He did as directed, his teeth a bright flash of white highlighting his obnoxious grin. “Looks like someone owes me twenty bucks.”
“I never said I’d take your bet, smart ass.”
He rose to his feet and settled the flowers and chocolate on the prep station. “Admit it, Ro. You had no intention of seeing someone else tonight.”
“No, I did. I mean I do. Once those scones are finished, I’m going to meet my date for dinner.” Praying Ben would buy that load of bull, she crossed her fingers behind her back.
“Uh huh.” He took a step closer; forcing her to angle her head back enough to meet his gaze full on. “I guaran-damn-tee ya he’d be a waste of your time. Because no way in hell he feels a fraction of what I do for you.”
The persuasion in his whiskey baritone combined with the softness in his eyes provided a double whammy in the battle against her defenses. He was giving her no choice but to play dirty. Gripping the edge of the worktable behind her, she steeled herself and blurted out the biggest lie she’d ever uttered. “I feel nothing for you, Ben. Now please leave.”
Rather than slink out of the kitchen like she’d vainly hoped he would, Ben leaned closer, boxing her against the table. “You were never good at lying, Ro. Even if I didn’t have proof from your response to me earlier when I kissed the daylights out of you at the station, there’s still the small fact that your pretty nipples are waving a salute at me right now.”
She didn’t need to look down to verify he was telling the truth. The traitorous offenders had pebbled into hard peaks the moment he’d invaded her personal space. Every breath she dragged in came with the excruciating side effect of rubbing the lace of her bra against her sensitized flesh. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“No?” He slid his hands around her waist and coasted them upward until he came to her breasts. Stalling there, he lazily grazed his knuckles back and forth, following the underside of her bra. “I’ll make you a deal. Allow me one kiss. If you still think it means nothing, I’ll leave. For good.”
Oh God. What hope did she have of pretending he left her unaffected if she went along with this? She probably had better odds of hitting the lottery and getting struck by lightning. Simultaneously. But what choice did she have? It was either agree to his insane proposal or spend the rest of the night arguing with him.
Just one kiss. Surely she had enough willpower not to get carried away. The butterflies in her stomach laughing uproariously at that delusional statement, she acquiesced with a resigned nod. “I have your word you’ll leave when I win this bet?”
The confident set of his jaw spoke volumes regarding his faith in being the victor in this round. “Absolutely.”
“Fine. Then give it your best shot, Casanova.” Oh Lord. Why did she tack on that provocation? She might as well wave a red flag at a bull and charge the beast head on. Ben’s nostrils flared, adding to the overall impression. Half certain he was about to paw the floor with his wingtips, she waited for the inevitable pounce. He surprised her by moving in slowly, his hands roving outward along the swells of her breasts. He inched infinitesimally closer, his mouth a hairsbreadth away from hers. She stared into his eyes, her heart drumming. Time stretched into an eternity. The intimacy of their almost kiss straddled the line of unbearable. He was teasing her. Making her long for that first taste. She licked her lips and watched the responding flare of heat in his irises.
But still the tormenting son of a bitch refused to make the next move. Growling under her breath, she gripped the lapels of his jacket. “Kiss me, damn it.”
His mouth crooked into a half smile. “Thought you’d never ask.” Slipping his arms around her, he cradled the back of her head and closed the scant distance separating their lips. The kiss mirrored his leisurely approach to initiating it in the first place, igniting with a slow burn that steadily built into a consuming flame. He tunneled his fingers through her hair, his lips coaxing. She submitted with a shuddery moan and wrapped her arms around his middle, her legs suddenly too wobbly to hold her upright. Ever the gentleman, he scooped her up by the butt and planted her on the edge of the worktable, all the while never ceasing his kisses. Hooking her legs around his waist, he sent a sliding kiss along the slope of her neck, unerringly locating the sweet spot beneath her ear that always did her in. She gasped, arching against him. He gently tugged on her hair, exposing more of her neck for his feasting. Shivers of pleasure chased after his descending mouth. His teeth scraped and nipped, prodding a whimper to escape her. He chuckled, the dark, smoky sound like velvet over her flushed skin.
Bastard knew she was at his mercy. Well, if she was going down hard she was damn well taking him along with her.
Sweet Sizzle is available at these online retailers:
At the ripe age of seven, Jodi Redford penned her first epic, complete with stick figure illustrations. Sadly, her drawing skills haven’t improved much, but her love of fantasy worlds never went away. These days she writes about fairies, ghosts, and other supernatural creatures, only with considerably more heat.
She has won numerous contests, including The Golden Pen and Launching a Star. When not writing or working the day job, she enjoys gardening and way too many reality television shows.