New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery invites you back to Fool’s Gold, where a newcomer to town might finally meet the man she never knew she needed…
Angel Whittaker earned his scars the hard way, but the scars that can’t be seen are the ones that haunt him the most. Since he moved to Fool’s Gold, California, he’s cobbled together a life for himself as a bodyguard trainer. If he’s not exactly happy, at least his heart is safe.
Working with pro-football superstars taught tough-talking PR woman Taryn Crawford one thing—she can go toe to toe with any man. But then dark, dangerous former Special Ops Angel targets her for seduction…and challenges her to resist his tempting kisses.
Even in four-inch heels, Taryn never backs down. Unless, somehow, Angel can convince her that surrender might feel even better than victory.
“We both know where this is going.”
Taryn Crawford glanced up at the man standing by her table and ignored the rush of anticipation when she saw who he was. He was tall, with broad shoulders and gray eyes. But the most compelling feature—the one she would guess people pretended didn’t exist—was the scar on his neck. As if someone had once tried to slit his throat. Taryn idly wondered what had happened to the person who failed.
She supposed there were plenty of women who would be intimidated by the man in front of her. The sheer volume of muscle he had might make someone apprehensive. Not her, of course. When in doubt she put on a power suit and killer heels. If those failed her, she would simply work harder than anyone else. Whatever it took to win. Sure, there was a price, but she was okay with that.
Which was why she was able to stare coolly back and ask, “Do we?”
One former of his mouth curved slightly in a sort of half smile.
“Sure, but if you’re more comfortable pretending we don’t, I can make that work, too.”
“A challenge. Intriguing. You don’t expect that to be enough to make me defensive so I start saying more than I had planned, do you?” She made sure she was plenty relaxed in her chair. She would guess the man was paying as much attention to her body language as her words. Maybe more. She hoped he wouldn’t make things easy. She was tired of easy.
“I would hate for you to be disappointed,” she murmured.
The smile turned genuine. “I’d hate that, too.” He pulled out the chair opposite hers. “May I?”
She nodded. He sat.
It was barely after ten on a Tuesday morning. Brew-haha, the local coffee place she’d escaped to for a few minutes of solitude before she returned to the current chaos at her office, was relatively quiet. She’d ordered a latte and had pulled out her tablet to catch up on the latest financial news. Until she’d been interrupted. Nice to know this was going to be a good day.
She studied the man across from her. He was older than the boys, she thought. The three men she worked with—Jack, Sam and Kenny, aka “the boys” –were all in their early to mid-thirties. Her guest was nearer to forty. Just old enough to have the experience to make things intriguing, she thought.
“We’ve never been introduced,” she said.
“You know who I am.”
A statement, not a question. “Do I?”
One dark eyebrow rose. “Angel Whittaker. I work at CDS.”
Otherwise known as the bodyguard school, she reminded herself.
For a small town, Fool’s Gold had its share of unusual businesses.
She waited, but he didn’t make a move.
“We’re not shaking hands?” she asked, then picked up her latte with both hers. Just to be difficult, because being difficult would make things more fun.
“I figured we’d save the touching for later. I find it’s better when that sort of thing happens in private.”
Taryn had opened Score, her PR firm, eight years ago. She’d had to deal with unwelcome passes, assumptions she was an idiot, being asked who the boss was, pats on her butt and people presuming that if she worked with three ex-football players, she must have gotten her job by sleeping with them. She was used to staying calm, keeping her opinions to herself and gaining victory through the unanticipated side run.
This time Angel had been the one to put the first points on the board. He was good, she thought, intrigued and only slightly miffed.
“Are you coming on to me, Mr. Whittaker? Because it’s still a little early in the morning for that sort of thing.”
“You’ll know when I’m making my move,” he informed her. “Right now I’m simply telling you how things are.”
“Which takes us back to your comment that we both know where this is going. I’ll admit to being confused. Perhaps you have me mixed up with someone else.”
She uncrossed, then recrossed her long legs. She wasn’t trying to be provocative, but if Angel got distracted, it was hardly her fault.
For a second she allowed herself to wonder how she would have been different if she’d been able to grow up in a more traditional home. One with the requisite 2.5 children and somewhat normal parents. She certainly wouldn’t be as driven. Or as tough. Sometimes she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
He leaned toward her. “I hadn’t taken you for the type to play games.”
“We all play games,” she told him.
“Fair enough. Then I’ll be blunt.”
She sipped her coffee, then swallowed. “Please.”
“I saw you last fall.”
“How nice,” she murmured.
When she’d been scouting locations. Moving a company required time and effort. They’d only truly settled in Fool’s Gold a couple of months ago. But she had been in town the previous fall, and yes, she’d seen Angel, as well. Found out who he was and had wondered about…possibilities. Not that she was going to admit that to him.
“I watched you,” he continued.
“Should I be concerned you’re a stalker?”
“Not when you were watching me right back.”
He’d noticed? Damn. She’d tried to be subtle. She thought about lying but decided to simply stay silent. After a second, he continued.
“So we’ve finished sizing each other up,” he said. “Now it’s time to move on to the next phase of the game.”
1. WHEN WE MET’s hero Angel Whittaker appeared in your 2005 book Living on the Edge. What made you decide to bring him back?
I never forgot about Angel, and I always knew I’d write a book for him when I found the perfect woman for him. When I started brainstorming this year’s Fool’s Gold romances, Taryn Crawford came to me. She’s a very powerful, confident, self-made woman. She started her PR firm from nothing, and she is the clear leader over her three NFL-star partners. She needed a man who was equally strong, someone who would stand up to her when need be, and someone who would cherish and protect her when she wasn’t feeling all that strong. Angel, who’d been hovering in my subconscious for years, stepped forward and claimed her.
The idea was a little disconcerting, to be honest, because Living on the Edge is a romantic suspense, and Fool’s Gold is sooooo not a suspense-y series. Which meant Angel, this very serious, hard-core sniper type was going to have to move to a quirky small town in California. I paired him up with buddies from the military who opened a bodyguard academy in Fool’s Gold last year.
Angel grew up in a small town, so in some ways, Fool’s Gold felt very familiar to him right away. After a few months of living there, he decides that he wants to give something back, to contribute, because that’s what people do in small towns. A decision he lives to regret… the project assigned to him by the all-knowing Mayor Marsha isn’t exactly what he has in mind. I think readers are going to really laugh when they see what he’s gotten himself into. Fortunately, Taryn will help him over the rough spots.
2. What book would you love to take a weekend vacation inside of?
I’d love to spend a weekend on Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street. I wouldn’t even have to travel far—I live in Seattle, where that series is set. I’m hopeless at knitting, but since this is fantasy, let’s pretend that I’d whip up a gorgeous sweater during my weekend visit.
3. With the release of WHEN WE MET, as you look back, what was the biggest surprise that occurred while you were writing the story?
I was a little surprised by how hot things got between Angel and Taryn. I tend to write sexy, but Angel and Taryn are a little older than my typical hero and heroine—40 and 34, respectively—and significantly more experienced. They know what they want, and they’re not afraid to ask for it. There were times when these two were so in-your-face with their sexy repartee that I was sort of gasping and laughing as I wrote.
4. What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to face or as a writer? How did you overcome it?
The hardest part of what I do is making sure each book is better than the one before. In the beginning, when I was still learning, it was pretty easy to improve. But now, after over 100 books, it’s challenging. But that’s always the goal. That the characters are more real, the dialogue funnier, that the story draws you in even faster. There’s not a single day that I sit down to write without thinking about how to do it better than I did yesterday.
5. You wrote in a recent Facebook post that you started writing a new Fool’s Gold book for 2015 and rewrote the beginning a few times because you didn’t know the heroine well enough yet. Can you explain this process and how you are able to finally get to “know” the character you’re writing?
I first start thinking about a book somewhere around 18 months to two years before it’s released. This is particularly true with a series like Fool’s Gold. I need to know what’s coming so that I can set up the stories in advance, so the characters feel naturally integrated into the town.
When I’m ready to really get started, I write until the characters click for me, usually about a chapter. I have to know who they are so that I can know how they will react to whatever might happen in the book. Once I know them, I stop writing and thoroughly plot the story.
Because of all the prep work, once I get to the actual writing of the book, I can write pretty fast. But it’s kind of like when you ask an artist how long it took them to create a beautiful painting—a few hours… plus years of practice and study.
6. You often turn to your fans to help you come up with names for your characters. What makes you decide to do this and how do you pick?
Oh, I loooooove asking my friends at facebook.com/susanmallery to help me brainstorm, whether it be character names, business names, or even country music song titles for a heroine who will be coming to Fool’s Gold next year! Sometimes a character comes to me complete with a name, but mostly, they come with heart and soul, and I have to think of a name. I could easily look at naming websites for ideas, but I think my Facebook friends love being involved, and it’s fun for me to see what they come up with. I choose the name that I think best suits the heart and soul of the character in my head. Whenever possible, I give that character the last name of the reader who suggested the first name I selected.
7. If WHEN WE MET were made into a movie, who would you have play Angel Whittaker and Taryn Crawford?
Have you heard of an actor named Sullivan Stapleton? He’s British, but with an American accent, he’d be perfect as Angel. Tall and dark, with a dangerous edge. His pale gray eyes are almost hypnotizing, like the cobra in Jungle Book. Except, you know, sexy guy, not at all a snake.
For Taryn, I’ll go with Sandra Bullock. Taryn’s a high-powered fashion plate. She likes what she likes, she wants what she wants, and she makes no apologies for it. Everything she has, she has earned. She’s not just smart, she’s street-smart.
8. What makes Taryn stand out from the other heroines you’ve written?
Contradiction is what makes any character come alive, and Taryn is full of them. On the surface, she has it all together. She runs a very successful PR firm. She has a wardrobe that couture fashion models would envy. Your first impression of Taryn is that she wants for nothing… but she went through a lot of pain to get where she is today. She’s a survivor. She has pulled herself up from very tough circumstances, and to do that, she has had to guard her heart. But there’s a softness, a vulnerability inside her that no one but Angel can see. He will treasure her forever.
9. What’s next for the town of Fools Gold?
Up next are BEFORE WE KISS and UNTIL WE TOUCH, featuring two of Taryn’s partners at Score PR. In BEFORE WE KISS, Sam Ridge, a former NFL kicker, has to hire Dellina to help him plan a major company bash. He’s very reluctant to work with her because a few months ago, they had a little fling that went terribly (and comically) wrong. Dellina’s going to make him pay a little bit before she forgives him. So much fun to watch a strong man grovel!
At the start of UNTIL WE TOUCH, former quarterback Jack McGarry is shocked when the mother of his personal assistant and best friend Larissa Owens tells him to fire Larissa because the big-hearted beauty is in love with him. That’s news to Jack… and when he tells Larissa what her mom said, it’s news to Larissa, too! She’s not in love with Jack. Except, just by saying the words, her mom has opened both their eyes, and things between them suddenly get very hot.