Title: Dodging Temptation
(The Retreat Series)
Author: Avery Flynn
Length: 200 pages
Expected Date of Publication: September 15th, 2015
Rating: 4 Stars
Love takes aim and fires...
On the cusp of closing a multi-billion dollar deal, Dodge Loving can't afford for anything go wrong at his ultra-exclusive luxury resort, where privacy isn't just promised it's guaranteed. So when he finds paparazzi hiding in the bushes, he'll do anything to get rid of them-even if it means firing their target: the sexy, stuck up bookworm his mom hired.
Harper Conner just wants to be left alone to catalog the resort's rare cowboy diaries. But after slapping her cheating senator ex-husband during a televised press conference-she's a hot commodity for the tabloids.
Alone for the first time, without the protection of her political dynasty of a family, she can't afford to get fired-especially by the Type-A jerk who runs the place. And she definitely should never have kissed him. Now Harper has two choices: get outta Dodge...or fall in love with him. - Goodreads
by Avery Flynn
Copyright © 2015 by Avery Flynn. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Chapter OneFive miles into an eight-mile short run and Dodge Loving had hit his stride. Nothing could touch him right now. Not his younger brothers who were driving him nuts. Not his mom who meddled in everyone’s life. And definitely not the anvil-heavy worry about every fucking thing that could go wrong at The Retreat Spa and Resort that weighed down his shoulders most days.
It was too early in spring for the Wyoming sun to be set to scorching, but still he’d soaked through his wicking T-shirt and shorts. Small clouds of dust puffed up around his feet as he rounded the dirt path’s bend. The Retreat’s main lodge loomed up ahead. Large, imposing, and made from foundation to roof of locally quarried stones and timber, it was a log cabin on steroids. It stood in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming with its own private access roads, landing strip, and helicopter pad. When the rich from either coast wanted to get away from it all, The Retreat was their first choice for a reason.
Privacy. Luxury. Freedom.
That’s what The Retreat promised and what Dodge made sure each guest received, especially Garth Hampton. The aging rock star had arrived last night from his latest stint in rehab looking like death warmed over and reeking of desperation. Dodge had set him up in a private cabin half a mile from the main lodge. Glancing over his left shoulder as his feet thumped against the earth in time with his controlled heartbeat, he could see the cabin’s roof behind the tree line. Like everything else at The Retreat, the cabin was a fifteen on a ten-point luxury scale.
The sun reflected off something in his peripheral vision. The sixth sense for trouble he’d developed running roughshod over his brothers stabbed a path up his spine. Knowing better than to ignore it, he paused his stride, took in a few deep breaths, stretched as if he was ready for his cool down, and covertly surveyed the area. All that stood between the resort’s running path and the private landing strip were wildflowers in full spring bloom, a few trees, several bushes, and the occasional tumbleweed, nothing that could explain the glint of light.
Glancing up at the main lodge, he brought his right arm across his chest until his shoulder muscles protested. Pivoting on his heel, he switched stretching arms and turned so he was facing the landing strip. That’s when he saw it again. The sun reflected off something in one of the bushes next to the path. Dodge sprinted over fast enough to scatter a couple of quail to the sky and reached through the branches. Greasy hair. Pasty skin. Creepy vibe. It only took a second to realize he’d caught himself a trespasser of the worst kind.
He wrapped his fingers around the camera strap curled around the guy’s neck and yanked him to his feet.
“The fuck, man?” The man tried to wriggle free.
In response, Dodge tightened his grip and pulled until only the man’s tiptoes touched the ground. With his telephoto lens, ketchup-stained T-shirt, and three-day beard, it wasn’t hard to guess the guy’s occupation. It didn’t happen every day, but paparazzi snuck in often enough, trying to grab a million dollar shot of one of The Retreat’s guests, that spotting the vermin at a glance—or first grasp—had become second nature.
“This is private property,” Dodge said.
“Oh come on.” The photographer’s eyes bugged out a little. “I’m just doing my job.”
In violation of the “No Trespassing” signs posted liberally around the perimeter. “Spying on The Retreat’s guests?”
The man reached into his bramble-covered pants and pulled a twenty out of his pocket. “Look, take this and walk away. No one needs to know.”
Like too many idiots, this guy assumed Dodge wasn’t in charge. Was it because he was only thirty? Because his skin was about twelve shades darker than the vast majority of people in Wyoming? Could it be the sweat-soaked running shorts? Whatever the reason, Dodge didn’t care. He’d play along to find out what the jerkwad wanted and kick him out on his fat ass. He plucked the money from the other man’s fingers. “So who are you poking around looking for?”
If the press knew Garth Hampton had gone straight from rehab to The Retreat to write his next album, the shit would hit the fan. The Retreat was known for protecting the privacy of its ultra-rich guests. He couldn’t let that track record get dinged or the deal with The Brasch Group to take The Retreat global with locations in some of the hottest vacation spots in the world would fall through, along with his efforts to ruin his bastard of a grandfather’s hotel chain.
Jonathan Kerry owned a lot of businesses, but it had all started with the hotels, and they were what he cared about the most. Times were tough, though, and his grandfather’s hotels were barely hanging on; they were desperate for an influx of cash from The Brasch Group. One they weren’t going to get. Dodge couldn’t wait to see the results of a year’s worth of wheeling and dealing that would result in Kerry Holding Unlimited’s hotels going belly up. It was past time the old man paid his debt, and Dodge was determined to collect.
“What business is it of yours why I’m looking around?” the paparazzi asked.
Bravado didn’t go far when your feet were barely touching the ground. Dodge tightened his grip, and the man sucked in a wheezy breath as he clawed ineffectually at Dodge’s fingers.
“Fine!” he managed to get out.
Dodge dropped him to his feet and waited. It didn’t take long.
“Harper Conners.” The photographer rubbed the back of his neck where the tightened camera strap had rubbed his skin raw.
He knew The Retreat’s guest list like his youngest brother knew supermodels’ dimensions. The name didn’t ring any bells. “Who?”
“Damn, I really am in the sticks. Her family has more money than Midas, and she slapped her cheating senator husband silly on national TV during one of those mea culpa press conferences about eight months back. Ring any bells? How about the leaked audio of her leaving the best I’m-going-to-make-your-life-miserable-if-you-don’t-sign-the-quickie-divorce-papers-now voicemail on her husband’s cell phone? It’s only played on every cable news outlet from here to Timbuktu for the past month. Come on, chief, you can’t be totally clueless.”
A vague memory shook loose. Red hair, big brown eyes, and an ass that made men do stupid, stupid shit without ever wondering why. “She’s not here, so you best be on your way before I call in security.”
The man rolled his eyes and adjusted the camera strap around his neck. “No offense, chief, but I know my job. She’s here working as some sort of consultant.”
Relief loosened his shoulders. Since he did all the hiring and firing at The Retreat, he’d know of any consultant on staff. “Wrong.”
“Check it out.” The photographer pushed a few buttons on his phone and brought up an email.
Certain phrases stuck out: The Retreat Spa and Resort, rare cowboy diaries, book auction, May Loving. His stomach lining evaporated. His mother had hired her. Of course she had. Why should this surprise him? “Shit.”
“And the tabloids are willing to pay top dollar for any photos as long as it’s the exclusive first get.” The paparazzi leaned in and lowered his voice. “I can squeeze a few bills in it for you if you can get me closer. If someone gets it before me, all deals are off. It’s only money if it’s the first.”
What a moron. “You won’t believe how close I can get you.” Dodge pressed the Bluetooth button on his smart watch with one hand and grabbed the photographer’s upper arm with the other.
“Security,” The Retreat’s head of security answered.
“Hey, Frank. Meet me on the running path east of the main lodge. I got a snooper.”
“On my way, boss.”
The smug, hey-bro grin slid off the man’s face like sloppy wet eggs off a plate. “Boss?”
“Dodge Loving, president of The Retreat and despiser of low-life paparazzi.” He tightened his grip on the man’s arm and smiled. It was about a hundred degrees colder than the aw-shucks grin he gave The Retreat’s guests, and the photographer shivered in his tight grasp. “Can’t say it’s good to meet you, asshole.”
If Harper Conner couldn’t hide from the world in a library in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming and figure out how to become a new and improved version of herself, then she needed to hand in her ninja card—and she wasn’t about to do that any time soon, at least not until the ink dried on her newly signed divorce papers.
So she’d work, plot, and plan in the library. Cataloging and authenticating the more than two hundred books in The Retreat’s cowboy library could take a ton of time, but she’d only been hired for two weeks. It wasn’t as long an escape as she wanted, but it still allowed plenty of time for the world to forget what a naive idiot she’d been, so when she went back to Washington they’d see her as the tougher, ballsier version she’d become. Not that everyone would accept the new her, which she knew from the near daily reminders from her mother, who never met a blatant spousal infidelity she could ignore.
But alone with the musty scent of old books and the light filtering in from the floor-to-ceiling windows at The Retreat’s library, Harper could escape and plan her transformation. Books had always been her safe haven, and the job offer from May Loving couldn’t have come at a better time. She settled into her chair, several tall stacks of books hiding her from view, and she eased open a small leather-bound journal. The writing was faded and cramped with a few girlish curlicues that gave away the writer’s gender, if not her devilish nature.
Belle Starr had earned her nickname The Bandit Queen. She’d rustled cattle, stolen horses, and bootlegged whiskey on the western frontier, thumbing her nose at authority for years before dying in an ambush, killed by her own double-barreled shotgun.
“Ain’t life a bitch?” she muttered to herself.
“You have no idea,” a male voice said from the other side of the stacks.
Harper’s surprised yelp bounced off the high ceiling, and her heart slammed against her ribcage as she jumped up from her chair. A man stood just inside the library’s door. Tall—at least six-foot-four—he had warm brown skin, thick muscles, a movie star face and moss green eyes that sent a jolt of electricity beaming straight down to the center of her cherry red panties. He’d scared the bejesus out of her, but that didn’t account for the awareness keeping her feet nailed to the ground. Sweaty, in running clothes, and more than a little bit pissed off, he had an aura of power and danger that twisted girls up and left them begging for more. Harper inhaled a shaky breath. She might need to sit down.
“I’m Dodge Loving.” He stalked forward, all business. “Are you Harper Conner?”
That name sounded vaguely familiar. Because it’s your name, Harp. Pull it together. “Yes.”
He hesitated, seemingly searching for words on the wide hardwood planks that made up the floor, before raising his head and straightening his spine. “You’re fired.”
“What!” Her knees gave out, and she plopped down into the chair. Thank God she had plenty of padding on her ass, or the force of her crash landing might have broken her tailbone.
“You’re on the first flight out tomorrow. We’ll arrange for a car to take you there right away.” He peeked over her book wall. “How quickly can you be packed?”
His blasé attitude cut through her shock. Pretty boy, mean attitude, wasn’t that just her luck? Why did everyone assume she’d just kowtow to any and every authority figure? Sure, she’d spent her entire life up until six months ago with her toes planted firmly on the company line, but she’d crossed it, big time, and she wasn’t going back. She’d made up her mind to take a strategic retreat from public life to learn how to become the new Harper, and this job, getting to do what she loved, was about as perfect for that purpose as possible.
With greater difficulty than she liked, she ignored her all too keen awareness of Dodge and leveled a glare at him that had silenced even the toughest bully at boarding school. “You can’t fire me. Your mother hired me.”
Her death look had absolutely no effect on Dodge, probably because he never looked up from his smartphone to see it. “She has nothing to do with The Retreat’s daily operations. She should have told you that.”
A loophole! “I’m not here on The Retreat’s behalf. She hired me to authenticate and catalog her private collection of cowboy books for possible auction. You can’t fire me, only she can.”
He opened and shut his mouth several times.
“You being here isn’t going to work.” Dodge paced in front of the desk, so tall she had no trouble watching him above the stack of books. “Do you know what I found in the bushes?”
Harper crossed her fingers under the desk. “Quail?”
He rolled his eyes. “No. A slimeball photographer intent on getting photos of you.”
Probably the same one who’d hacked her email right after her divorce became final last month. Why couldn’t people just leave her the hell alone? “I assume you got rid of him.”
That stopped him in his tracks. “Of course.” He said it as if the universe wouldn’t even allow another possibility.
Dodge Loving might be a Type A asshole, but in this instance he was her Type A asshole. She’d hated dealing with the press since the first time her mother had dressed her in something frilly and itchy before her dad plopped her down in front of the cameras for his failed presidential run. That her dad hadn’t become president that time, or the next time he’d run, didn’t lessen the press attention on her family, and they’d crowned her as some sort of political princess. Add to that the fiasco from eight months ago and the slap heard around the world…and yeah, she’d rather eat her own arm off than talk to the press. The fact that Dodge had gotten rid of one of the slimy bastards made her almost like him despite the fact that he was trying to fire her. She relaxed in her chair. “Thank you.”
It hadn’t been easy getting this job, and she wasn’t giving up on it now. She’d been on six interviews before the offer from May Loving dropped in her lap. No one else in the conservative rare book field wanted to hire the woman whose name had become shorthand for a pissed off scorned political wife with a vendetta, but May hadn’t cared. She’d said something about the universe having a plan, and that was that. Harper had gone to the airport and found the Loving family jet ready to whisk her off to The Retreat.
“You still need to go.” Dodge continued to tap away on his phone. “He said there’d be more bottom-feeding reporters coming and we can’t have that here. Our guests require utmost privacy.”
And there probably would be more. Paparazzi replicated like gremlins after midnight. “Good thing I have all of these books here to keep me busy and indoors away from prying eyes or telephoto lenses—and you, of course, to watch out for me.”
He kept tapping away on his phone, obviously confident she’d bend to his will. “If you’re going to stay here, then you’ll need to do an interview so they’ll stop lurking around the place.”
Her stomach lurched. “Absolutely not.” The ironclad employment contract she’d signed clearly stated she’d lose her job if she did any interviews. Her boss, Simon, at Graveson Brothers Books, was militant that she bring no negative attention to the firm because of her past and, unlike what most people seemed to think, she didn’t have millions tucked away in her bank account. Hell, she barely had a thousand dollars in her quickly dwindling savings account. And her boss all but promised that even a whisper of scandal and her employer’s parent company, the Boston-based Kerry Holdings Unlimited, would use all of its many corporate attorneys to rain hell down upon her until she drowned. She couldn’t afford to lose this job.
His head snapped up and he palmed his phone before going perfectly still. His muscular chest didn’t even rise with his breath. The pompous ass had probably trained his organs to obey his every mental order. Five seconds. Ten seconds. Thirty seconds. She wasn’t going to yield, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to squirm. Beads of nervous sweat gathered at the nape of her neck. Belle’s diary wavered in her hand. She gulped down the urge to acquiesce. Old habits die hard, but she was determined to kill that one until it was dead.
Dodge’s mossy green eyes had turned the color of emeralds. “You don’t have a choice. In fact, I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure of that.”
Someone really didn’t like having his plans spoiled. He glowered at her when she didn’t immediately snap back in line. She straightened up in her chair. Being a badass was kind of fun.
“I always have a choice.” That hadn’t been the case forever, but she did now. She’d retired her political princess crown and squashed her knee-jerk reaction to always be the dutiful daughter and wife who did what was best to get a boost in the polls or ensure a vote—no matter what she really wanted. “If that’s all you wanted, I have a lot of work to do.”
He loomed over her, making the desk between them feel like as much of a barrier as a mini Lego. “All I want is for you to do an interview so the opportunity for an exclusive disappears and the jackals stay off my property.”
“It’s good to want things.” Powered by bravado and a stubborn streak three miles wide, she winked. “It keeps you hungry.” Without waiting for a response, she opened Belle Starr’s journal back up to the first page, studiously ignoring the big bad wolf with too much testosterone glaring at her from less than two feet away.
He could huff and he could puff, but it was going to take a lot more than a hot guy with a stick up his ass to make Harper change her mind.
Dodging Temptation offers romance lovers quite the surprise, in more ways than one.
The first and most obvious of which being the decidedly chocolate flavor of oh so delicious leading man, Dodge Loving.
Things get even better.
You see, Dodge and his family own a 5-star resort in Wyoming.
Right in the middle of cowboy country.
Which makes Dodge....
You guessed it!
A real, live, Afro-American, cowboy CEO!
Well...if that doesn't just put the yee in your haw.
Dodge is a man who will settle for nothing less than the best. That "go for the gold" attitude shines nowhere brighter than in his hands on management of the family business.
Much to the chagrin of his mother however, Dodge's pursuit of "the best at any cost" has left little to no room for love or romance in her son's business driven life.
The reason that we are even daring to delve into the pool of 'mother wishes' is because...
What we have here is as much about Dodge's family as it is about his love life. As such, his mother, in particular, has a habit of popping up in some very surprising places during the course of this read.
And then there was Harper...
There is a lot of "hot and cold" going on between these two that tends to get on one's last nerve after a while. Not in a bad way, but in a "I really want to see you two together...so why don't you just get over yourselves before I'm eligible for Social Security" fashion.
The only real detraction in the story comes in the form of Dodge's reasoning for his drive to be "the best". His grandfather's refusal to accept the marriage between his father and mother. This a big 'raison d'etre' that needs to be addressed in far more detail than the cursory explanation that readers get here.
All in all, this is a wonderfully done, delightful, escape from the the everyday romance.
The Loving brothers can ride off into the sunset with my heart anytime.
This reviewer is chomping at the bit for more from The Retreat series.
Avery Flynn has three slightly-wild children, loves a hockey-addicted husband and is desperately hoping someone invents the coffee IV drip.
She fell in love with romance while reading Johanna Lindsey’s Mallory books. It wasn’t long before Avery had read through all the romance offerings at her local library. Needing a romance fix, she turned to Harlequin’s four books a month home delivery service to ease the withdrawal symptoms. That worked for a short time, but it wasn’t long before the local book stores’ staffs knew her by name.
Avery was a reader before she was a writer and hopes to always be both. She loves to write about smartass alpha heroes who are as good with a quip as they are with their *ahem* other God-given talents. Her heroines are feisty, fierce and fantastic. Brainy and brave, these ladies know how to stand on their own two feet and knock the bad guys off theirs.
Find out more about Avery on her website, follow her on Twitter and Pinterest, like her on her Facebook page or friend her on her Facebook profile. She’s also on Goodreads and BookLikes.
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Also, if you figure out how to send Oreos through the Internet, she’ll be your best friend for life.