Romance Writers of Australia RuBY Award winner 2017
Long Romance Award
Romantic Book of the Year 2017
Sometimes Mr Right is Mr Wrong, and Mr Wrong is definitely Mr Right . . .
Television reporter Chloe Masters is a woman of cool control . . . except when Casanova rugby league player Nick Savage is around. Then cool control goes out the window. Her boyfriend, Marcus, is everything she ever wanted - but it's getting harder to deny her body's reaction to Nick . . .
Nick Savage has been head-over-heels since he first laid eyes on Chloe - just a moment too late to stop her connecting with his team mate, Marcus. But when the goalposts shift and he and Chloe are thrown together on a week away, Nick dares her to get physical in whatever way she wants - with a kiss, a punch or anything in between. And if Chloe claims to feel nothing, he'll leave her alone for good.
How can Chloe say no to a week of mindless passion with the man she hasn't been able to get out of her head?
Trouble is, a lot can go wrong (or right) in a week . . .
I am awarding 'Escaping Mr. Right' FIVE big, bright, shiny stars! I LOVE this book and don't want it to end. The chemistry between Nick and Chloe is HOT HOT HOT and I don't think I could be more enamored with Nick if I tried.
Wendy Gibson, Goodreads
You will definitely see this book again in my end of the year reads – and that’s saying something since we are just getting started for 2016.
The Book Reading Gals
Escaping Mr. Right was the most perfect, quick, hilarious, romantic book I've read in a while. I totally devoured this book in one massive gulp and was left with the worlds biggest book hangover for days afterwards.
The Never Ending Bookshelf
Excerpt - Chapter 1
Nick Savage was like the human incarnation of a heat-seeking missile.
Unfortunately, his target was me. Always, always, me.
I swear I’d only been alone at the champagne bar for one minute and twenty seconds before Nick locked on to my location, at which point I estimated it would take him five seconds to hit his target[AH1] . Sadly, that didn’t give me enough time to throw myself overboard. It was barely enough time to assume the brace position, ready for impact – switching my regular aloof smile to full-scale hands-off mode, and layering on an extra coating of frost.
As it turned out, it took Nick a whole ten seconds to get to me – but only because he’d lost five seconds de-clinging a buxom brunette from his arm.
He reached around me to take a pre-poured glass of champagne off the bar. ‘On your own, Chloe. Why?’ As if being on a massive cruiser in the middle of Sydney Harbour, with a whole rugby league team and a gaggle of hangers-on, could truly be classified as ‘on your own’.
I raised my eyebrows at him, aloof smile intact. ‘Because I wanted to be on my own.’
‘Ouch! Poor Marcus.’
And there went my smile. ‘Poor Mar–? Oh for God’s –! I was not suggesting I needed to get away from –’ Stop. Right there. Because Nick knew exactly what I was suggesting. Which had nothing to do with Marcus and everything to do with him. ‘That is so funny, Nick. I almost can’t contain my hilarity.’
‘Oh, go on, let it out,’ he said, oh-so indulgently. ‘Repression never did anyone any good.’
‘Ha, ha, h–. Oh, wait a minute.’ I paused, did a little faux yawn. ‘Now where was I? Oh, yes: Ha.’
‘There now, doesn’t that feel better?’
I regarded him with hostility. ‘What I find interesting is that you’re here on your own. I thought we were all invited with partners today.’
He made a tsk tsk sound that had my palm itching to slap. ‘Now, Chloe, I’m sure you’ve read today’s papers, good journalist that you are, and that means you already know Amanda and I are history.’ He pulled a woebegone face that he knew wouldn’t fool me for a minute. ‘So here I am, lonely and looking for love.’
I flicked a disparaging glance at the hovering brunette. ‘Fast work, in that case. What’s the poor girl’s name, and where is she in the harem pecking order?’
He didn’t even look around. ‘Jane, and she’s a consenting adult joining the harem of her own accord.’
‘Lucky Jane! It’s every girl’s dream to win a place in such a respected establishment, you know.’
There was an almost infinitesimal pause, and then, ‘Nobody’s hurting anyone, Chloe.’
‘Hmm. I’m not sure Amanda would agree.’ I smiled thinly. ‘Seeing the man she loves move on to someone else the very day her own break-up makes the news.’
‘Except Amanda doesn’t love me,’ he said, unperturbed.
‘Oh, that’s right. It’s lust, not love, with you.’
‘She’s not here to see it, either.’
‘See it, read about it, same thing.’
‘Camera-free boat, Chloe.’
‘Well, I’m sure it will be a great relief to Amanda to have a break from the publicity, in that case,’ I said, knowing I should drop the subject but somehow unable to do the sensible thing and let it go. ‘I mean, wasn’t it only last month I read about her breaking up with your teammate?’ I made a little moue of distaste. ‘So . . . incestuous.’
Nick was nodding, as though at a memory. ‘Jed. Great guy. But no longer my “incestuous” teammate, since he switched teams at the end of last season.’ He raised his eyebrows at me this time. ‘Oh, you didn’t know?’ Another of those aggravating tsk tsks. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve lost interest in your boyfriend’s game so soon!’
‘Not in the game, only in the tawdry affairs of its players.’
His eyes narrowed fractionally. ‘Just to be clear, Amanda gave the story to the paper, not me. So if you’re getting out the tissue box, do it on my behalf, not hers.’
I managed a dismissive sniff.
‘What is it, Chloe? I don’t have the right to resent getting my sex life splashed all over the papers? Because I can tell you, my sponsors aren’t too pleased. On the other hand, Amanda tells me it’s good for her television career to have her love life in the gossip pages.’
I struggled to find an answer to that, because it didn’t suit my view of Nick. Nick wasn’t the type to be manipulated; he was the type to use and discard women – and yes, I knew women lined up regardless, but that didn’t make his behaviour any more acceptable to me.
‘So tell me,’ he said. ‘Is it?’
‘Is it a good career move for a person in television to date a footballer? Because I notice you got a nice promotion to Around the Globe after that piece about you and Marcus appeared in the gossip pages a couple of months ago.’
‘I’m not a starlet, I’m a serious journalist,’ I said coldly. ‘And I’m not dating Marcus-the-footballer, I’m dating Marcus-the-man-I-happen-to-love.’
‘Well, you love something about him, I’ll give you that.’
Do not rise to the bait, Chloe, do not. ‘I’ll give you a hint about finding true love, Nick, you poor lonely man. It takes being with a person for longer than two weeks.’
‘Hey,’ he remonstrated with a grin – an actual grin! ‘Amanda was a three-weeker.’
‘But Sheila who came before her, and Constance who came before Sheila, were two-weeks apiece. I also recall a Beth and a Samantha and a Jess who didn’t even make it past one week.’ I raised my glass in a mock toast, and took a small sip.
‘You’ve been keeping track?’ he asked, still grinning. ‘Sure you’re not a teensy bit jealous?’
I choked on my champagne. The gall of him.
‘Because you know, Chloe, all you have to do is say the word and I’m yours.’
‘For two whole weeks?’ I laughed, even though I was far from amused. ‘Er, no thanks.’
‘Why put a time frame on it?’
‘Because that’s your modus operandi. Lust not love, two weeks, goodbye.’
‘Well, I’ll tell you, Chloe, I’ll take two weeks, if that’s all you’ll give me. But you can bet I’ll make them the best two weeks of your life.’
And I figured that was about as much as a girl could take without letting fly with a fist – which I’d promised myself never to do again. Ever. It was time to relocate. ‘Excuse me,’ I said, preparing to glide past him.
Nick grabbed my wrist before I could effect a getaway. His grin had fled. ‘Why don’t you give the act a rest, Miss Perfect Girlfriend, and leave Marcus to enjoy himself with the guys?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ I said, and my voice was so arctic, Nick should have sustained immediate frostbite to at least one extremity.
But Nick was apparently immune to the cold; the bastard was an eyelid droop away from a well-heated smoulder.
‘Beg,’ he said, as though he were rolling the word around on his tongue like a drop of syrup. ‘I like that word coming out of your mouth.’
I snatched my wrist free. ‘Beg is something I’ll never do for you.’ And damn, damn, damn, there was nothing arctic about the way I spat that out!
‘But you just did beg me, Chloe. Although it’s not my “pardon” I’m interested in giving you. I’m interested in giving you something else entirely.’
Oh. My. God. ‘You. Are. An animal.’
‘As are all humans. Mammals, to be precise.’
‘Some have just evolved a little further than Neanderthals since the Ice Age.’
‘That’s me. Savage by name, savage by nature.’ He leaned in, so close his breath stirred my hair, setting off a tiny, unwelcome shiver. ‘But the way I see it, you’re the one trapped in the Ice Age. Brrr.’ Pause as he eased back enough for me to take a normal breath. ‘At least, that’s what you want us all to think, isn’t it, Chloe?’
Enough. I was going. And I wasn’t bothering with an ‘Excuse me’ this time.
But his hand shot out again, detaining me. ‘Don’t worry, the thing I want to give you isn’t an orgasm that’ll blow your mind, if that’s what you’re thinking – although I could. What I want to give you, at least at this moment, is advice. Loosen the reins, Chloe. If you loosen the reins, you and Marcus might both find out where you’re supposed to be.’
For a moment, all I could do was blink at Nick, speechless. Blink, blink, breathe, blink – the way I’d trained myself to do, as a way of mastering the urge to scream and thump and claw when things felt like they were spiralling out of my control.
‘I know where I’m supposed to be,’ I said. ‘With my boyfriend. You know, your friend? Teammate? The team captain? That guy? But I’ll tell you what, Nick. If you really think I’ll spoil his fun with the guys, there’s something very simple you can do to keep me away from him.’ I nodded towards the conglomeration of thick-necked footballers surrounding Marcus on the other side of the cruiser cabin. ‘Just go over there yourself. That’s a sure fire way to keep me all the way over here. And while you’re on your way over, try to remember it’s not nice to hit on a teammate’s girl.’
‘Except under certain . . . conditions.’
‘Getting a kick out of tormenting a girl isn’t a valid condition.’
‘Then tell me a better way to get you to notice me, Chloe,’ he said, and for once there wasn’t even a hint of a taunt – not in his voice, his face or the words.
My breath jammed in my throat as I looked at him. His eyes, so dark they were almost black, were both serious and watchful, and there was a grim set to his mouth I’d never recognised before. His hand, gripping my wrist, felt like it was branding me. A little trickle of fear etched a path down my spine. ‘I don’t want to notice you,’ I said.
‘Do you think I don’t know that? But circumstances can change.’
‘And are you going to enlighten me as to what those changing circumstances may be?’
Another pause while he looked at me. He half-opened his mouth, as though to speak . . . but then closed it and shook his head. ‘That’s something you’ll have to find out on your own.’
‘Then I suggest you let go of me. And stop hitting on me – you lack the finesse to carry it off.’
He looked down at where his hand engulfed my wrist. In his grip, my wrist looked thinner and paler than usual. Vulnerable. Or maybe it was just that his hand seemed giant to me, which was crazy, because he was the same size as Marcus. Marcus just didn’t seem so . . . so Hulk-like, somehow.
‘I lack finesse, do I? That’s okay, Chloe. I have other attributes.’ His fingers loosened; his hand slid up my forearm, then back down.
‘Which you share around a little too freely for my taste.’
A dare-you-to-lose-it look was in his heavy-lidded eyes. ‘I don’t share all my toys, Chloe. Remember that, when the time comes.’
I tried to laugh, tried to scoff, to sneer, to . . . something. But I wasn’t capable of making a sound. What did that even mean? When the time comes? The time wasn’t coming, as far as I was concerned. Ever.
Then, suddenly, my wrist was free, and Nick was stepping back, holding up his hand as though to say ‘best behaviour’. I found myself rubbing my wrist against my thigh because it was tingling, somehow. And I did not want to do any tingling around Nick Savage. In fact, I didn’t want to do any uncontrolled tingling, period.
Marcus. I needed Marcus to untingle me.
I looked over at him, and I must have been radiating some powerful kind of electromagnetic ‘save me’ rays, because I managed to snag his attention away from the guys – not an easy thing to do once they were deep in football talk. He smiled and waved me over, and I felt instantly steadier. ‘The time you’re thinking about?’ I said to Nick. ‘It’s the twelfth of never. But right now, my boyfriend wants me to join him.’
Nick turned, and I almost groaned as Marcus included him in the wave to join the group. Seriously, could Marcus not see what was happening right under his nose?
But it seemed Nick had filled his daily quota of Chloe-baiting, because he did a smile/headshake/hand gesture pantomime indicating he was going out on deck instead.
And then Nick turned back to me, and his smile slipped. ‘It won’t be the twelfth of never, Chloe. I won’t wait that long,’ he said, and all the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. ‘In fact, time’s almost up.’
And as I stood there, stunned into silence, Nick threw back his champagne and put the glass back on the bar. ‘What are you waiting for, Miss Perfect Girlfriend? Off you go. Run away.’
‘It’s not running away when you’re going where you’re wanted.’
‘You’re wanted here. More. By me.’
I stared at him, desperately trying – failing – to keep the panic at bay. It was as though everything was stripped away with those words. No more innuendo. No ambiguity. Nothing that could be brushed off or ignored. I couldn’t pretend to myself that he was just getting a kick out of provoking me, or that I was being overly sensitive, or that I was reading something into his words that wasn’t really there.
Blink, blink, breathe. ‘Nick, you have to stop this, or I’m going to have to tell him.’
‘Go right ahead, Chloe, if that’s what you want to do. I’m not scared of Marcus.’
‘You should be.’
‘Then there’s a little thing called loyalty you might like to consider, instead.’
‘I have considered it. I admire your loyalty, Chloe, I really do. I always have.’
‘Not my loyalty. Your loyalty. To him.’
‘I’ll tell you what, you let me worry about my loyalty to Marcus, and in the meantime, try to peer into your own murky waters. Love, lust, loyalty. What do you want, Chloe? Who do you want? And why?’
‘You can be sure of one thing, at least. I don’t want you.’ And on those flung words, I stalked off.
‘We’ll see, Chloe,’ he said, just loud enough for me to hear, and as my step faltered, just for a fraction of a second, he chuckled. It’s possibly the most hideous sound in the world, a chuckle. Only villains in melodramas chuckle. Marcus never chuckled, and certainly never at my expense.
The moment I reached Marcus’s side he drew me under his arm, despite his attention having wholeheartedly returned to whatever his teammates were discussing. It was a natural, comforting, taking-you-for-granted-in-the-nicest-possible-way reflex action, which proclaimed to anyone who was interested that we were together.
Together. The way we’d been for just over a year. Fifty-two weeks and three days. Steady, strong, united, sure of each other. No sniping. No taunting. No teasing. No . . . tempting.
You’re wanted here. More. By me. I shivered as the words played through my mind, and Marcus rubbed my arm.
‘Are you cold, Chloe? Want my jacket?’ Always so considerate of my wellbeing. That was Marcus, the perfect gentleman.
‘No. No, no, no,’ I said, and rolled a metaphorical eye at the overkill of that – not that Marcus seemed to notice anything amiss with those surplus ‘no’s; he tuned straight back into the conversation. Leaving me free to ponder if perhaps I really should tell Marcus what Nick had said.
The problem was, I suspected Marcus would just shrug it off. He simply wasn’t the jealous type. Which I’d always thought was a blessing, me being the ultimate keep-it-cool, scene-free, no-conflict, hold-the-drama type of girl.
But in this instance? If I told Marcus, and he did nothing?
I had an uncomfortable feeling Nick would take it as an invitation to come and get me. A risk I would not take. Which meant I wouldn’t be telling Marcus a damn thing about Casanova Savage’s unwelcome attentions. Score one for Nick.
Something shimmered through me. Like a . . . a premonition, as I recalled what Nick had said: It won’t be the twelfth of never, Chloe. I won’t wait that long.
Change. Something was about to change. Maybe it already had changed. Something I didn’t understand.
Loosen the reins and you both might find out where you’re supposed to be.
It was there, on the fringe of my consciousness, the something, if only I could concentrate. Block out everything else . . .
I jumped, as I felt a touch on my shoulder.
‘. . . where you got it, Chloe?’
It was Kelly, one of the girlfriends, and I quickly put together what it was she’d asked me from the envious look she was casting at the tiny handbag dangling from a chain over my shoulder.
‘I got it in Melbourne,’ I said, as I offered up the glittery pink sphere for closer inspection. ‘But it only holds a lipstick and one credit card.’
‘Who cares? It’s the colour I love,’ she said.
And the flicker of awareness was snuffed out. Leaving behind only a hint of . . . of fear, almost.
Blink, blink, breathe, as I looked around at our little group. The girls talking about fashion, Marcus’s muscular arm around me, one of the guys swapping my empty glass for a full one from a circulating waiter’s tray . . . All those things were as per usual. I told myself that nothing had changed. I certainly didn’t want anything to change. It had taken me long enough to wrench the life I wanted from the chaos of my imperfect childhood, and I liked being exactly where I was. Chloe Masters was no longer that lonely foster kid, being passed on from home to home, like one of Nick Savage’s harem girls. She was a respected television reporter, the poised and stylish girlfriend of one of Australia’s hottest sports stars. She was where she was supposed to be, and she was going to stay there.
A year with Marcus. That was a milestone. Admittedly not as long as Kelly had been with Rock, but it demonstrated stability, commitment, permanence. I looked quickly at Kelly and Rock, wondering if they were about to make things truly permanent. A big step. A huge step. But they seemed so happy, surely it was on the cards. Kelly was nuzzling into Rock, blushing, whispering something in his ear as he . . . he . . . Oh. Ohhhhh!
Rock was squeezing Kelly’s butt!
I looked hurriedly away. Looked back at them. Away.
And felt something in my head go ‘click’.
I couldn’t remember the last time Marcus had squeezed my butt, or any other body part, for that matter. In private, let alone in public.
I counted back, remembering the training sessions, the football functions, the promotional work for sponsors, the community engagements. All major time sucks. Back, back, back, I went. It had to be . . . two months . . .? No. No, three months.
If I hadn’t had such iron control over my facial muscles, my mouth would have dropped open. Could that really be true? Another quick count, to find that yes, it could. It was true. I hadn’t had sex with Marcus for three whole months. I’d simply taken care of any stray sexual urges myself. Why did it seem worse to realise the last orgasm I’d had was self-produced? In fact, the last two. Make that three. Four. Oh!
A spurt of alarm hit me. And doubt. Horrible, crippling doubt. Bad enough that Marcus and I weren’t having sex. Unforgivable that I hadn’t actually noticed until now. So . . . what? Did I need hormone therapy? Did Marcus? Had Marcus sustained a sports injury to his sex organs that he was too embarrassed to tell me about? Was there something I was doing wrong? Something off-putting about the way I looked, smelled or sounded in the throes of passion? Surely not! I was meticulous about all those things before, during and after sex. So . . . what?
Clearly, I needed to get him into bed immediately and figure it out.
‘Marcus,’ I said softly, tugging on his arm.
He looked down at me. ‘What is it?’
‘Do you know if there’s –? I mean, is there somewhere we can go and be . . . private? On the boat, I mean?’
‘What do you mean, private?’
‘You know . . .’ Meaningful look. ‘Private.’
‘Oh, private.’ He gave me a half-smile/half-grimace. ‘Not on the boat, Chloe. Not with these guys all over the place.’
And that was it. Well, that and a quick kiss on my forehead, before he turned back to the conversation with the guys.
Marcus had kissed my forehead; Rock had squeezed Kelly’s butt. There was something not quite right about that comparison.
It was not a good time to catch sight of Nick Savage through the window, out on the deck. Because seeing him, with a blonde swooning at him on either side, made me wonder what Nick would do if a woman asked him to take her somewhere private.
But I knew the answer. She would find herself crowded into one of the bedrooms, the bathroom, a semi-secluded part of the deck, even jammed inside the nearest lifeboat, pretty damn quick. Nick probably had a sixth sense about where to take a willing bedmate, honed by years of illicit sex in public places.
The thing I want to give you isn’t an orgasm that’ll blow your mind – although I could.
An orgasm that would blow my mind . . . How long had it been since I’d had a mind-blowing orgasm? Had I, in fact, ever had one?
I was horrified to find my body clenching at the thought of Nick alone with a woman . . . a woman like me . . . with nobody else in sight, blowing her mind.
No! Not going there. I dragged my eyes away from Nick and back to Marcus, who smiled down at me and then, for good measure, gave me another kiss on the forehead.
Somehow, I didn’t think Nick Savage was going to kiss either of those blondes on the forehead. Inexorably my eyes followed my thoughts, back out onto the deck where Nick was apparently not at all put out that the two girls had now physically attached themselves to him. As though he could feel my eyes on him, Nick looked in through the window. Straight at me. And his smile disappeared.
The girl on his right slid her hands around his biceps. It was ridiculous – even with both hands she only made it halfway round. Not to be outdone, left-hand blonde got in on the act. Two hands, halfway round his biceps.
Exactly the sight I needed to wake up to myself. As if I really wanted to find a private corner with a girl-per-side man like Nick Savage! I was not a biceps-fondling groupie. I was a get-your-butt-squeezed-in-private type. I was classy, I was stylish. I was the girlfriend you had for the long-term, not for two weeks. A perfect girlfriend – and there was nothing wrong with ‘perfect’, no matter how Nick sneered out that word.
Tossing my hair, I angled myself away from the obnoxious sight of the budding ménage à trois.
I looked around at all the partygoers. The surroundings were glamorous, as befitting the brand of Gaz Finaldo, the billionaire owner of both the cruiser and the Sydney Scorpions. Champagne was flowing freely. The party food was exquisite. People were chatting, laughing; a few were even busting out some dance moves. Hunky guys. Gorgeous, fashionable girls. Exactly the kind of event I’d spent my teenage years dreaming of. And I was included.
Yep, I’d finally made it.
And I had never felt lonelier in my life.