Here we are at Day 9. Congratulations Patricia C – you’re the winner today.
When I wrote my very first novel, I had no idea I’d be writing series. I just had an idea and wanted to write a book. But once I started thinking about my novels as a businesswoman, I knew series were the way to go. I myself love reading series by some of my favorite authors. You get to know the characters deeper. You start to understand their quirks and personality.
Very quickly, Ann from my Destination series became a central character. And I knew she had a story. When she met MJ at the bar that first night, they hit it off. When he said yes to the job and began working along side her as the TravelVentures publisher, they pushed love and romance aside. But when two people have a spark between them, you can only stay away for so long.
I had so much fun writing Ann and MJs story. It’s one of my favorites. You’ll love it too.
1 Chapter One
Ann Mathison kicked off her Jimmy Choos and put her feet up on her desk. She leaned over to rub her toes.
As much as she loved Jimmy, twelve hour days were some- times too much.
She glanced at the dark gray heels lying on the floor. Still, they were kick-ass shoes. And really, did anything else matter at the end of the day?
She heard a rustling out in the main office and looked up. Through her doorway, she could see MJ Williams moving papers and opening drawers. Busy as usual.
That man works harder than I do.
She snickered. She’d thought that was impossible until she’d met him. Her counterpart. Her equal. He always seemed to match her work ethic every step of the way.
Ann put her head back on her chair for just a moment. She stretched. She breathed deep.
Her mind drifted back to the moment she’d met him.
Six months earlier she’d made her way to Sophia’s to relax before a big meeting. And as she checked email and scrolled through her messages, MJ had materialized next to her.
They talked. They flirted. Hell, she would have probably taken him home if things had been different.
He’d made her insides do somersaults, something that hadn’t happened in a very long time.
Then they discovered their connection.
Ann had started a company with her two best friends, Liz Cohen and Kate Hendricks, just a few months earlier. And when Liz mentioned she had the perfect person to help them along, Ann had agreed to meet him at Sophia’s. She never connected Liz’s friend MJ with Morgan, the gorgeous man who’d sat next to her, until Liz had shown up.
The flirting ended. MJ was hired. And the rest, as they say, is history.
They worked. They lived it, breathed it, even fell asleep with it half the time. That was to be expected with a startup.
But in the end, it was worth it.
The first edition of their magazine, TravelVentures, had just been released to rave reviews.
It was beautiful. Even more impressive than she’d ever dreamed.
She’d never settled for anything but first class before, and she wasn’t about to start slipping up with the magazine. Her two best friends agreed. And as she quickly found out, MJ believed the same.
They’d worked side by side, week after week, for six months to get their baby up and running. And the last thing they need- ed to confuse matters was an office romance.
Ann had said no. And MJ agreed. For a while.
They’d been careful on all those long days and nights they’d worked together.
Even late night dinners alone never turned into anything but discussions between friends.
Still, the flirting continued.
And the daydreams. Oh, the daydreams.
Like right now.
Her eyes flickered back into the main office. Were those
pants perfect or what? He really did have a great ass. It looked even better when he was bent over the drafting table the way he was right now.
He knew how to dress.
And he always smelled so good.
He’d caught her on more than one occasion, stepping in a little too close, just standing there breathing in him.
He’d grin. She’d smile.
And life would move on.
They never talked about it. They never did anything about it.
But lately. that was becoming more difficult. And MJ had
hinted more than once he was ready to take it to the next level. If anyone else in the office noticed the electricity between
them, they’d never mentioned it.
She’d spoken to Liz and Kate about her feelings on more
than one occasion. But they’d never offered an opinion or judgment. They’d simply said they’d leave it to her. To them.
If it happened, it was meant to be.
She’d never felt ready before. She’d never wanted to explore. She’d never had time.
Running a new company took a lot out of a person. Starting
a magazine in the competitive travel media market was considered crazy at best. Setting up an online world at the same time
was often called insane. She’d had several people in the industry call her just that.
But she’d had a dream, and luckily her two best friends had bought into it, too.
They dreamed big, made even bigger plans, and had every- thing fall perfectly into place.
And now today, edition one of TravelVentures was on dis- play on her desk as proof it could be done.
The first issue was complete. Edition two was being finalized. Editions three and four were in progress.
She had an office with a view.
She had a great place to live.
She was happy.
Yet something was missing.
MJ mumbled as he wadded up paper and threw it in the
trash. He leaned over, pushed paper, moved things around. Ann watched every movement with interest.
Finally, she sat up and grabbed her iPad. She switched it on, opened up an app. She checked her notes, moved things around.
It was now or never.
She’d chatted with Liz and Kate before they’d left. Now, with only MJ still in the office, she was ready for him.
She leaned down, kicked her Choos up and snuggled back in- to them. She stood, adjusted her skirt, grabbed her tablet and walked into the main space.
“MJ, are you busy?”
He glanced behind him. “Give me a minute.”
He worked a few more moments, laying things out and add-
ing things to the cover layout. He stood up, crossed his arms and tipped his head as he looked at his results.
“Perfect. I think this is it. What do you think?” He glanced behind him, watched as she walked beside him. “This is for the
third edition. I like the way this falls off the page,” he said as he motioned beyond the left side of the layout.
He’d been playing with ideas for the third cover for several days. And with the new images that had come in earlier, he felt it was finally up to all of their expectations.
“Wow. Who took this? Great photo.” Ann leaned in, study- ing it a little closer. Their featured article included a charming village in the south of France. The photo nailed the image they wanted to leave in their reader’s minds.
“A friend of the writer’s. I’ve never used her before, but if she shoots like this all the time, we’ll be seeing a lot more of her photos in our magazine.”
“Agreed. Run it.”
Ann leaned down once again. The color was brilliant, and this was just the mockup. The flowers on the cafe tables popped off the page. The old-world buildings off in the distance were captivating. The brilliant blue sky beckoned: visit me.
“Makes you want to go, doesn’t it?” MJ smiled as she stood up and turned to face him.
“It really does, right? I can almost smell the bakery that undoubtedly is nearby.” She took a deep breath, almost salivating as the scent wafted from nowhere. “Have you ever been to France?”
“Once. Paris. With Jennifer.” He dismissed the thought, leaned down once more for a final modification.
Jennifer. Ann watched as MJ’s hands quickly moved back and forth. Jennifer had hurt him, bad. Sure, exes were always ex for a reason. But in Jennifer’s case, there were a lot of reasons. Jennifer had gone from angry and mean to flat out nasty in the years since their divorce.
MJ had taken this job to be closer to her, closer to the nine- year-old daughter they shared in common. And Claire was eve-
ry bit her father’s daughter. She loved him desperately. And she had him wrapped around her little finger.
Every other Friday night, Claire arrived like clockwork a little before five. MJ and Jennifer used his office as neutral ground, a place to switch parental roles where the likelihood of a fight breaking out was kept to a minimum. When the discus- sion heated, Claire would drift into Ann’s office, and the two would talk about everything from clothes to books to school. Invariably she’d remain there until the arguing ceased, Jennifer said goodbye, and MJ went into dad mode.
Ann had learned a lot about Claire over the months; she en- joyed their conversations.
She’d also learned a thing or two about Jennifer, and what she heard she didn’t like.
Jennifer was the last thing she wanted to think about. She was the last thing she wanted MJ to worry about. So Ann changed direction.
“I want to tell you about an idea I’ve been playing with. I mentioned it to Liz and Kate earlier while you were out of the office. They both loved it, so I wanted to spring it on you too before I move ahead.”
MJ motioned with his hands to head back into his office.
They settled into two leather chairs in the corner. With the sun sinking in the west, a soft glow filtered across his room, making it the perfect place to get lost in conversation.
“What’s the one thing almost everyone wants more of?” she asked
“Travel,” he shrugged, knowing it was the answer she expected.
“Travel. But why don’t people travel more?”
He thought for the moment, then answered, “A lot of reasons. But I would say the two biggest are they’re too busy, and they can’t afford it.”
“Exactly. I am willing to bet those two groups of people make up the majority of readers for today’s travel magazines. Buy a magazine, and you can travel anywhere in the world, and see it all in several hours from the convenience of your sofa. It’s cheap, and it doesn’t interfere with life-stuff.”
Ann moved her iPad to the table. She scooted forward, then continued. “But out of the two reasons, I would say that cost is probably the bigger of the two. How many people would love to leave everything behind for a week and travel to France?” She motioned out towards the cover they’d just finalized.
“Everyone, precisely. Leave your world behind for a week. Go to someplace new, like France. Who hasn’t daydreamed about that from time to time? Then reality sets in when you have to look at your checking account as you slap down your credit card for an unexpected car repair, or have your kids whine for new shoes. So you climb into your car and go back to work.”
“Such a romantic, aren’t you?” MJ chuckled at her description.
“Just the truth. That’s life.” She scrunched her shoulder in agreement.
She moved forward in her chair, closer to MJ. “But what if you were given a trip for free? What if someone came to you right now and offered you an all-expense-paid trip, let’s say it was to Provence. Here’s the ticket, your flight leaves in an hour. Would you do it?” She held out her hand to him with her pre- tend ticket.
He surprised her by grabbing her hand, pulling her up and heading for the door. “Hurry, let’s go.”
She laughed as she was thrown off guard, falling into him. He righted her in his doorway, but somehow couldn’t quite let go of her. He lingered, hands on her hips. Staring.
His hands zipped up her sides, across her arms, settled on the sides of her face for just a moment, before realizing his actions and dropping his arms down. Still, his eyes never wavered. “I think it’s safe to say I’d say yes.”
Her breath caught, just a little. Okay, then.
Her brain did cartwheels picturing the two of them sitting at that little cafe in Provence, eating croissants, smelling the flowers, basking in the sunshine underneath that bright blue sky. After a phenomenal night together, of course.
She recovered. She looked at him, smirking in the way only he could. Caught.
She shook her head. Yes, she had every intention of continuing this game. But first, her idea. So she continued, “What if we give people a chance for free travel?”
She went back to her chair, grabbed her iPad, pulled up her whiteboard and motioned for him to join her.
He sat, moved forward and glanced at the tablet balancing on her knee.
“So I thought we’d call it Destination Roulette. The premise is we set up computerized game boards in airports, giving people a chance to jump at traveling to a new destination. The on- ly catch is they have to leave within the hour. No thinking. No planning. They have to act immediately.” Ann scrolled through photos she’d found to represent different ideas. She filled in de- tails as necessary, added comments when he had questions.
The idea was simple enough, and it didn’t take MJ long to see the possibilities. He dropped back into his chair, brought his hand up to his chin, contemplating.
Ann watched his eyes, judging his reaction.
He turned, eyeing her. And broke into a full-out grin. “Brilliant.”
Her grin matched his. “So you like it? Think it’ll work?”
“I don’t see why not. It needs tweaking. But the premise is there.”
“Of course. I just came up with it this week.” She tapped her screen to get out of the app. Flipped it off.
“It’d be a great addition to what we already have in place with the magazine.”
“The social media possibilities are endless, aren’t they?”
He chuckled. “Remember when I first started? You quizzed me all the time on who the hell used Twitter in the first place and why we needed an account.”
She nodded. “I’ve grown.”
“That you have.”
They were so comfortable together. Like brother and sister. Scratch that. Ann looked at the five o’clock shadow forming
across his face. He wore it well. He wore everything well. His shirt, a deep green that accentuated his eyes. His pants, tan, hugging his hips impeccably. His shoes, classy.
His hair, the ideal length to run her fingers through, hold on- to while they …
He was searching her face. She knew she was an open book by the look in his eyes.
“MJ, why did you grab me and run a few minutes ago?” “I’m sorry, what?”
“Why did you do it? When I asked you if you’d drop every- thing and leave for Provence, you grabbed my hand and ran. Why?”
He scrubbed a hand over his face, clearly buying time while he considered his words.
He moved forward, moved closer to where she sat.
“Because you’re all I think about. And if we’re talking about wishes, about daydreams or fantasies, you’re mine. If I won a trip, I’d want you with me. If I had the chance to explore a place like Provence, there’s no one else I’d want along.”
He sat back in his chair. “But we’re not going there, are we.”
No, they’d agreed on that the moment he took the job. Office politics were rough. And this magazine was Ann’s baby.
But here’s the thing about love. Sometimes it creeps up on you slowly, so gradual you have to look closely to determine when it first appeared. Then when you know it’s there, it hits you like a freight train, crashing into you at the speed of sound.
Right now, sitting here with him, Ann felt something she’d never felt before.
She’d been in love. She’d lived with men before. Thought she’d spend the rest of her life with one of them. But looking back, she could see just how flawed that love had been.
She’d given one hundred percent; he’d given her only what he could, which often fell significantly below one hundred per- cent.
But right now, right here, she could see this man giving his everything to her if she’d let him.
She hadn’t wanted it before. She’d wanted her magazine and her business more.
But somehow he’d crept into her life, into her heart, and shown her she could have both if she simply opened up and said yes to it.
So she did the only thing she could.
Because she was tired of safe. She was tired of having to choose. She was tired of having one side of her life fucking- fantastic. The other side completely nonexistent.
So she did what had to be done. She said yes.