“Ellie Cahill is definitely one to watch!” raves bestselling author Cora Carmack, and this steamy, upbeat modern romance about connecting in all the best ways proves it once again.
line, but he doesn’t know her real name, or her famous pedigree—which is just the way Clementine likes it.
can’t fake, the only thing that matters: The heat between them is for real.
“Is that okay? If I listen to your music, I mean.”
“Yeah, go ahead.” He seemed excited. I liked the sound of his voice like that.
“Anything you’d recommend?”
“I’ve only got a few playlists. Just pick one.”
“Okay.” I was curious to check out his music preferences, but not so curious that I wanted to end our chat. There was something about his easy manner that made me want to keep talking to him. “You can check out my music if you’d like.”
“I’m gonna have to. What am I supposed to do while I work out, listen to my own thoughts?”
I laughed, knowing exactly what he meant. “I do have Spotify and all that if my musical tastes are not to your liking. And plenty of data, so go for it.”
“You’re not a big Adult Contemporary fan, I hope?”
“No, pretty much not. But . . . well, you’ll see.”
“I’ll have to report back to you.”
A lull fell between us, and I knew I should let him go back to his family, but I was reluctant to break the easiness between us. “So, what part of Florida are you from?”
“Central. Near Orlando.”
“No beach?” I asked.
“I guess I’ll just have to enjoy the beach for both of us this week.”
“Send me a picture.”
“I—what?” Total Zack flashbacks. My heart hammered noisily in my head, making my temples throb while my armpits prickled with fear-induced sweat.
“I meant—sorry. Was that weird?” For the first time he sounded nervous. “I just meant I like the beach. You could send me a picture of the beach. Or not. It’s—I’m not stalking you, I swear.”
My pulse throttled back a bit. Okay. Maybe he wasn’t one of those guys. His distress was so obvious, I almost wanted to laugh, but I knew it would be one of those weird, ugly laughs. Instead I managed to say, “I-I could send you a picture of the beach.”
He cleared his throat. “Yeah?”
Another little silence fell and I squirmed in my seat.
“This is frustrating, isn’t it?” Justin said softly.
My stomach fluttered. “What do you mean?”
He exhaled into the microphone. “I wish we’d actually met at the airport.”
“Because I’m pretty sure I would have asked for your number, and now I’ll never know if you’re only talking to me because you feel bad that you stole my phone.”
Was that a line? I couldn’t tell. “Oh, come on. I’m sure you say that to all the girls who fall on top of you and nearly break your laptop.”
“Well, I am a Southern boy, remember. We’re all about chivalry.” He spoke with an awful, thick accent.
“I didn’t think Southerners acknowledged the existence of Florida.”
He laughed and tried the accent again. “How dare you insult my people!”
Ugh, he was so damn charming. It wasn’t fair to be inhumanly gorgeous and charming. And yet I found myself wanting to respond in kind. “I wouldn’t dream of it, sir.” I gave him my best Scarlett O’Hara, which was, admittedly, not very good.
“That was terrible.”
“So much for chivalry.”
“I’m sure you have many fine qualities, but your Southern accent is not one of them.”
“I speak Hindi in a passable accent,” I volunteered. Which was just plain stupid, because the entire goal was to not let this guy know too much about myself. I was completely failing at keeping this professional and it had been all of thirty hours. It was no wonder I was the family disappointment.
“Seriously?” Justin pulled me back from my self-flagellation.
“Yes.” And I could say a few useful phrases in a handful of other languages as well, but I’d said enough about that thank you very much.
“I was born in India and I lived there until I was three.” Stop talking, Clementine.
“Why did you leave?”
“My mother was doing graduate work over there at the time.” Oh my god, stop talking, Clementine.
“That’s kind of cool.” Justin sounded genuinely impressed.
I shrugged. “I guess. It’s a real pain in the ass getting through airport security.”
“Why?” He laughed.
“I’m technically an Overseas Citizen of India, because I was born there. And that’s apparently enough to get you labeled a ‘person of interest’ by the TSA. I get searched all the time.”
“So, are you a ‘person of interest’?”
“No. I’m not even a terribly interesting person most of the time.”
“Now I know that’s not true.”
“You don’t really know me at all,” I reminded him.
“All right, tell me something else about yourself.”
“What do you want to know?” The little voice in my head telling me to stop threw up her hands in total resignation.
“I don’t know. Anything. Let’s start with your last name.”
Oh crap. Of all the things he could have asked, it had to be that.
There is one thing you learn early when you grow up in a family like mine—a lot of people will treat you differently as soon as they find out your net worth. A lesson I’d learned the hardest possible way when I was nineteen. Thus the code names and the nearly blank phone.
Of course, not everyone is after you for your money, but even if they never want a dime, most people get a little weird once they know they’re dealing with the American equivalent of royalty. My great-great-aunt was an actual English duchess, and her grandson was the current duke. You have to admit, if you found out you’d been chatting casually with a princess, you’d freak out. At least a little. Anyone would.
So even though it wasn’t Justin’s fault that we’d been forced into this odd little relationship, I did what I’d had drilled into my head: I lied.
“Davis,” I said.
“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Davis,” he said, then after a pause asked, “It is miss, right?”
I laughed. “I’m not married.”
“And you are?”
“Justin Mueller with a –u-e.” He pronounced it “Miller.”
“Hi.” I felt the familiar mixture of guilt and apprehension that I always felt when I lied to a new acquaintance.
“Well, now that we’ve been formally introduced I should get going,” he said. “My mother is watching me through the patio door and it’s giving me bad high school flashbacks.”
“My . . . friend is probably wondering what happened to me.” I’d already given more personal details about myself than I should have, so I randomly held back on saying I was with my cousin. Yeah, that’ll throw him off the scent, Clem. Nice work.
“Okay, well . . . I’m sure I’ll talk to you later,” he said. “Listen to that song I told you about, okay?”
We said goodbye.
I blew out a loud sigh and propped my feet on the bedpost as I lifted Justin’s phone up to eye level and tapped my way into his picture album again. There he was, gorgeous as ever.
What was wrong with me? I had seen this man in person for approximately fifteen seconds. Why on earth was I obsessing about him like this?
I pressed the power button, blanking the screen.
Then I rolled onto my stomach and powered the phone back on. I searched his music collection for the song called “Clementine” and let it play while I browsed the rest of his list. Classic rock, classic rock, classic rock. To be fair, his taste in the classics seemed to run the gamut from the almost clichéd Led Zeppelin and Rush to the less-expected Jefferson Airplane and Cream. He seemed to have it all from the ’60s, right up through today. If a band had an easily recognizable lead singer and an unmistakable guitar style, Justin was into it.
I sent him a text message: Try the playlist I’m Not Cool.
The song he’d recommended was soft, acoustic guitar, and sweet vocals. I liked it, just as he’d predicted. I smiled as I moved out of his first two playlists. The next one raised my eyebrows. It was called Original Classics, and was populated by the likes of Beethoven and Bach. Next, I checked one called Softer. There, I found the home of The Decemberists and some other more recent artists. Very alternative and generally soft, soothing music that I tended to favor myself.
It was the last playlist, however, that made me smile and get all swoony again. It was called Standards and it was inhabited by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and even a few more obscure performers of the Great American Songbook. I rolled onto my back again, holding his phone to my chest and feeling like I’d just been handed the last ingredient in a recipe for falling in love. Was this guy for real?
My heart was beating hard, and the phone began to slip, so I slid it farther down to rest on my stomach, just below the inverted V made by my ribs.
I wanted him. Not that I could do anything about it, but at least I could admit it. I’d wanted him since the moment I laid eyes on him, and so far he’d done nothing to discourage my desire.